Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tour de France 2012: Eyeing the Yellow

The quest for next year’s Yellow Jersey is going to be one steep ride.

It seems like just yesterday 34-year-old Cadel Evans assumed the highest step on the podium on the Champs-Elysees, becoming the first Australian to win the 2011 Tour de France title.

However, the Tour’s 99th edition just got one step closer following the announcement of the race’s 2012 routes at the convention center in Paris. The 2012 Tour de France will bring fiercer mountain climbs and longer time trials. With 9 flat stages, 5 mountain stages, its clear next year’s contenders will have their work cut out for them.

The tour will commence on Saturday, June 30 in Liège, Belgium – where the prologue will begin. The race will make its way through France before concluding in Paris on July 22.

New for 2012
Covering a total distance of 3,479 kilometers, the 2012 Tour route will feature 20 stages with two individual time trials totaling 96.1km, more than double of last year’s total and the most time-trial mileage since 2007.

Competitors will reach new heights on 5 new mountains summits.

Riders will be introduced to the Côte de Saulcy in stage 7 in Porrentruy, before facing the long stretch to the stages’ finish atop the brutal Planche des Belles-Filles in the Vosges, featuring a staggering 20-degree gradient.

Another ascent debut is the Col du Grand Colombier in the Jura Mountains, followed by the steep Col de la Croix in the Swiss Jura Mountains, which is an intimidating 2 mile long stretch with a gradient of 9.2%.

Finally, we move into the last pass – and a daunting one, at that. The Mur de Péguère is 9.4km long, with gradients sometimes reaching 18%, a rarity in the race’s history.

The Scenic Routes of the Tour
The 2012 Tour De France will take us through beautiful landscapes and historic towns in some of the most stunning regions in the country.

Once again, the route will pass though the heart of “La Douce France,” which includes the villages of Normandy and the regional city of Rouen, the location of St. Joan of Arc’s execution.

Contenders: In It To Win It
While defending champion Evans is an obvious choice, 3-time Tour winner Alberto Contador can regain his title due to his luminary time trial skills. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins is another favorite because the extra time trials could serve in his favor. And Tour runner up Andy Schleck, a superb climber, may just surprise everyone and finally take a step up on the podium.

Also noteworthy are the vineyards of Champagne and its capital Epernay, known for its bubbly.

Moreover, the race will visit the rolling hills of Southern Burgundy and its old town of Macon, with a history dating back more than 2000 years.

Contador and Schleck

Whatever the outcome, Christian Prudhomme, the tour’s director, said next year “should make for a thrilling race.”

I’m thinking it should make for an epic one.

If you plan to visit France to witness the 2012 cycling event, enrich your experience with a Land Tour of the regions visited by the tour - Normandy, Champagne and Burgundy, or celebrate the race by taking a Bicycling Cruise.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mind your Manners: Restaurant Etiquette in Paris

A new country means a new way of dining. And France is no exception. Food and eating out is a national obsession. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that dining etiquette is considered as important as the cuisine itself. Whether it’s Haute or casual fare dining, these few pointers will help you have a desirable experience in the City of Light and might just help you pass for a Parisian.

Asking for a Table
Once you scope out your restaurant of choice, wait at the entrance and establish eye contact with someone from the staff, which might include the waiter, maitre-d’ or owner. Be certain to greet the individual with a friendly Bonjour Madame/Monsieur. It’s always appropriate to use this expression when entering a restaurant or shop. Don’t shy away from using French phrases, regardless of how faulty it might be. Speaking or attempting to speak French will take you a long away. Proceed to tell the waiter how many people are in your party by saying deux or trois or using the universal language of hand gestures.

Table Manners
When sitting at the table, you must remember to avoid the following no-no’s. One mustn’t place elbows on the table. The French consider this rude and unsanitary. In addition, make sure to keep both hands on the table and out of your lap. Violating these rules will inadvertently portray you as disrespectful.

Grabbing the Waiter’s Attention
After you decide on a dish, close your menu; this shows one is ready to order. Never call the waiter “Garcon” (boy).  Although some Parisians may get away with it, saying this is extremely insulting and will prompt you to receive less than cordial service or even be asked to leave the establishment. Restaurant personnel take their jobs very seriously, and it is therefore imperative to treat the staff like the professionals that they are. Instead, signal the waiter by saying s’il vous plaît or Monsieur.

End of the Meal
Once you’ve finished eating, place your knife and fork together vertically in the center of the plate. This alerts the waiter that the dishes are ready to be cleared. However, you will need to ask for the check. It is considered impolite to give a guest the bill before they request it. Simply say s’il vous plait, l’addition, and your bill will be on its way. 

To tip or not to tip?
Although we’re accustomed and expected to tip, France is quite different. Cafes and restaurants in the country already include a 15% service charge in the total bill. The phrase service compris seen on the menu actually translates to tip included. Thus, it is not necessary to leave gratuity. The French usually don’t leave tips, but in Paris tipping is far more common. However, feel free to leave a little extra something for your waiter if they provided great service. It is typically customary to leave pièces jaunes or small change; leaving 1 or 2€ or 5% is more than generous.
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