Day 16, Bastille Eve - 7.4 kilometers; Day 17, Bastille Day - 0 kilometers
Day 16, Bastille Eve - 7.4 kilometers
Because it had been raining when we rode into town the previous day and the fact that we were on the outskirts, we decided to tour Belfort by bike. We ate at the hotel and looked in the local paper for the details on Bastille day. We found a schedule of events that listed the time for ceremonies and the fireworks to follow, we presumed that the schedule was for tomorrow, the 14th. Once on the bikes, we headed directly to the tourist bureau where the two girls working the counter suggested that we buy a tourist pass that would allow us to visit several museums and ride the town elephant train. The tickets were good for the season and didn't need to be used in a single day. The only problem was that it was Tuesday and some of the attractions would not be open. They assured us they would be open tomorrow. We bought the tickets.
We rode around to the various areas of the town, locked the bikes up and looked around or walked them in the pedestrian only areas. We decided to try to climb up to the huge stone lion that lies on a plateau below the citadel only to find that access was fenced off. We saw some guy jump the fence and we did the same. We climbed up the steps only to find that the area around the base of the lion was being armed with fireworks mortars, dozens and dozens of them. We looked up and could see crews on top of the citadel in the parapets also rigging fireworks. I thought it strange that they would be rigging the fireworks a day in advance. We were approached by one of the crew who told us we were not permitted in the area. I asked when the fireworks were to be set off. He told me that they would be tonight! His information caused a change in plans. We ended up our town tour about four and returned to the hotel to check up on the Tour de France and rest up for the festivities.
The hotel clerk told us that if we walked through the fort property, it was only a 15 minute walk to the town square where the ceremonies would be held and where the best viewing of the fireworks would be. We left at 6:15 and arrived at the town square in time to see a contingent of the French Army in formation in the square. Three ancient veterans were being presented with medals along with one man currently in uniform. We watched along with the crowd. Once over, the units formed up and paraded past the assembly to their applause. We applauded along with everyone else!
It was still early. The fireworks were not scheduled until 10:30 since it didn't get dark until then. We walked to the pedestrian area and found the French version of an all you can eat restaurant, a Flunch. We walked in, totally clueless as to what to do. We just stood and watched for a while and then joined in along with the crowd. I wanted the Veal Cordon Bleau dinner and ordered the entree at the station. The lady handed me the plate with the meat on it and said in English, "Take this to the table over there, (nodding with her head) and choose what ever you'd like to go with it after you pay." I ran over to Jeanette and explained how the place worked. Roxcie, being a precocious 12 year old, had already figured everything out by herself. I picked up a 325ml bottle of wine at a cost of one Euro to go with my dinner. While not haute cuisine, the food was well prepared and since it was an all you can eat place, I couldn't complain about the quantity.
Jeanette wanted to go right back to the square after dinner and stake out a space. She picked out a stone wall and we spread out so that we'd have plenty of room if a lot of people showed up. They did! By 9:30 the square was full of thousands of people and every one of them seemed to have a bag of fireworks. Some of them were huge, the size of sticks of dynamite and we could feel the concussion wave when they went off. Groups would walk down the street and throw them up against the stone walls, at other people's feet, down manholes. It was insane! In the meantime, a radio station had set up huge speakers and was broadcasting live and LOUD, playing old time rock and roll, Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, Beachboys, etc.
At exactly 10:30 the fireworks started. The multiple explosions went on for 25 minutes with the citadel and Bartoldi's lion as a backdrop. Jeanette is absolutely bonkers about fireworks and squealed with delight throughout the whole show. Whoever paid for the show was not a tightwad. The show was continuous multiple explosions along with colored flares lighting the lion and fort as a background. I must say that seeing three to four star bursts every second with Jailhouse Rock and Be True to Your School blaring on the loudspeakers was a pretty heady experience.
We walked up the hill to our hotel well satisfied. We had experienced a French Bastille day! It was great!
Day 17, Bastille Day - 0 kilometers
After finding how close town was when we cut through the fort, we decided to leave the bikes at the hotel for the day and walk the town. We walked directly to the fort and used our tourist passes to view the museum, mostly dedicated to the military small arms from the 1400's to WWII. The museum focused especially in the arms used in the late 1800's, the time of the siege of the Citadel. In 1870-71, the French garrison withstood a siege by the Prussians for 103 days. The heroics of that event caused Bartoldi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty, to design a giant stone lion to be constructed on a plateau dug out beneath the walls of the fort where it faced the town. The lion was completed in 1876.
We continued the day by visiting the lion, riding the elephant train and going to the Belfort Museum of Modern Art. The museum has some major pieces including five Picassos and some Klees. While there I spied an authorized reproduction of a signed Picasso plate in the showcase of items for sale. I asked the clerk for one and she checked and found that the one on display was the last one, took it from the case and sold it to me. For the rest of the trip I harassed the girls about my owning an "Original signed Picasso" worth hundreds of dollars on E-Bay. Each time I packed my panniers, I made sure it was packed in the center, well padded from any danger.
We ended the day by touring the two grocery stores across from the hotel, buying a cooked chicken and enough other prepared food to make a tasty dinner. We all concluded that it was time to move on. We'd spent too long in Belfort. We were excited, tomorrow we'd be riding to Mulhouse and the start of the Alsace Wine Road.
Accomodations and Recommendations:
(170 restaurants in various French cities, another 24 in other European