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During the summer holidays of 2007 I spent 2 weeks in France.

Sunday, July 15th, 2007.
The day before, we (my parents, my sister, my uncle, my aunt, my cousin and I) left home really early in order to get to the vacation park in the mountain village of Vallandry, located in the 'Les Arcs' ski area in the French Alps. It was the first time (for us four) that we had planned to go to a house in advance, so we could only wait for what we could expect there. The trip through Germany went okay, although there were some traffic jams and places where they were working on the road. We arrived at the park at around 20:30 where we were greeted by some Dutch managers. After doing the paperwork we went to the house that would be 'ours' for the next two weeks. The house, or appartment rather, was really huge! It had three floors, of which the middle was the ground floor. We brought our groceries, bags with clothes and other stuff in and then we assigned the bedrooms. The parents went downstairs to the basement and we got the 2 bedrooms in the attic. I had a room all to myself, with a nice combined balcony which had a stunning view of the whole mountain valley (the park is approximately 1500 meters above sea level). The first two photos in the Photo album show you this amazing view, but to give you even a better view, you can take a look at this Panorama photo.
Because the trip to the park took some time we went to bed early. We also had something nice planned for the next day: a visit to an etappe of the Tour de France. Not far from Vallandry is the village of Bourg-Saint-Maurice, and the cyclists would be going through the village just after they descended from a nearby mountain pass. After passing through the village, they would then climb up another mountain pass, and that was something we all wanted to see. From earlier experiences we knew that it would be smart to find a nice spot along the road early, otherwise there would be no place. The Tour de France is very popular with spectators, and especially the mountain climbs. It took us quite some time to find a decent spot, but after some searching we found a nice place with enough shade from the nearby trees. The weather was very warm and sunny, so shade was important. When we settled down at this spot, the long wait started. We were so early that when we got there the cyclists had only just started their stage approximately 150 kilometers away. Via text messaging I had contact with an ex-classmate of mine from university. He was watching the Tour de France on television and could provide us with some information, as we had forgotten our radio.
After many hours we finally heard some noise in the distance. This turned out to be the advertising caravan which always precedes the cylists. I didn't have time to take photos of this because I was too busy collecting the stuff the girls threw from the most beautifully designed cars and trucks. They built the craziest things on the cars, which was really fun to see. Once the caravan had passed (normally these cars drive close together, but now there was a continuous flow of groups of advertising cars, as they had split up a bit over the distance they had already driven) we continued waiting for the cyclists.
It wasn't long before we saw the group with the leaders. The group had 6 cyclists and among them was the Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen who rides for the Dutch Rabobank team. The leading group of cyclists was followed a couple minutes later by a larger group. After that a third group followed and then, after them, came the the main peloton. It was really cool to see them all so spread out, as we got the chance to take some more photos and videos. Normally, with one large group the show is over after just a minute. I selected the most beautiful photos and put them in the Photo album and added a description to each one. When the last cyclist had passed we walked down the mountain and went to our cars. We only had to wait for the French Gendarmerie to open the roads again, and once they had, we made our way back to Vallandry. At 'home' we checked all the goodies we got from the advertising caravan, and there were some really funny things among them. This was definitely a great day and good start of our holiday!

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007.
Monday was a rest day for us after a busy Saturday and Sunday but on Tuesday we got back in our cars and went for a nice trip through the mountains. We drove over the 'Cormet de Roselend' and in the direction of the famous city Albertville. On Sunday, the Tour de France cyclists also went over this mountain, but in the opposite direction towards Bourg-Saint-Maurice. This mountain is 1968 meters high and has numerous ice cold streams flowing from it. In the Photo album you can see a few examples of these. After driving a little further (I drove most of the time over the small mountain roads) we passed a beautiful mountain lake. Of course we parked the car here to enjoy this beautiful view. You can take a look at the photos yourself...

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007.
Today we visited the village of Bourg-Saint-Maurice and also bought some postcards to send to our family and friends in the Netherlands. The weather was very nice today with a clear blue sky and pleasant temperatures. It became even better when we bought a tasty ice cream to quench our thirst. What more could one want?
In the evening I decided to go out for a walk on my own. I walked a few kilometers downhill and took photos of the beautiful scenery. You can take a look at these photos and the accompanying descriptions in the Photo album. I also put a couple of photos from my bedroom there, so you can see where I spent most of my nights. (the word 'most' is actually a subtle hint to make you read the next section)...

Thursday, July 19th, 2007.
Last night we had been brainstorming what we could do today. One of the ideas we came up with was to visit the Italian city of Turin. We all agreed on this idea, although it meant getting up quite early as it would be a long trip. Nearly all the roads go around the mountains, and driving these small roads with their dozens of tight corners certainly would take some time.
So, we woke up early and started our trip to Italy. On our way we drove over high mountains. Some even had some snow we could play in and throw at each other. That was really cool! We were also able to see large valleys and other great mountains. In the Photo album you can see some of these views. At times, the mountain roads had some really tough slopes, and in some corners, there were no barriers at all. If one fell, one would fall a very, very long way. At night or in bad weather it would be insane to drive here. At one point on our way to Turin, we got stuck behind a bus who didn't want to let us pass, probably because he was too afraid of being passed while driving over these mountian roads, but once we had passed him we were able to keep up a nice pace which further improved once driving on the Italian Autostrada. Once we arrived in Turin is was party again. Everywhere one looked there were scooters driving at dangerously high speeds through the streets. There were a few times when we drove in the special bus lane, but we didn't care much about that -- it was just the easiest and quickest way to actually get somewhere. The madness on the roads is certainly far worse in Turin than it is in a place like Amsterdam.
After a bit of searching we found a small street near the Piazza Vittorio Veneto where we could park our cars (we came in 2 cars). From there we went on foot. On the front of the building at the Piazza Vittorio Veneto we saw a seriously huge poster of the new Italian baby: the new Fiat 500! On top of that, we saw the first privately owned Fiat 500 at this square driving in the 'wild'. We took a couple of nice photos of the car and the poster. This car was still unavailable in the Netherlands, but it had just been released in Italy (Turin being Fiat's headquarters), so this was quite a unique moment. We carried on walking and passed the Mole Antonelliana and the Palazzo Madama. In the Photo album you can see these buildings along with other ones and a nice description of them. In the luxurious shopping malls of Turin we saw several items and accessoires of the Fiat 500 in the shop windows. There were more of these huge posters elsewhere in Turin as well. It was so much fun to see this hype!
In the square in front of the Palazzo Madama we played a bit in the cool water from the fontains. Later we decided to visit the Duomo di Torino, a church built in the fifteenth century which houses the famous shroud of Turin. When we arrived at the church its doors were still closed, so we thought it would be a nice idea to buy some original and typical Italian ice cream. What's tastier than Italian ice cream? We found a shop where a craftsman knew how to make ice cream. The cookie horn got filled with large balls of ice cream, and there is no doubt as to why this ice cream maker had many prices and goblets standing in his etalage. His ice cream was extremely tasty! While the ice cream was on its way to our stomaches, the doors of the church opened and we could enter.
During this visit (you can read more in the Photo album), we had seen the most important buildings in Turin. Under the burning sun we walked back to our cars. We had a really good time, although we got a bit disappointed because of one thing: we had only seen one single Fiat 500, and only a flash of it at that. Then my dad came up with the idea of going to the old Fiat factory in Lingotto. It was some time before we found it, but when we got to the old factory our mouths were opened by astonishment: there stood 6 cute new cars, all in a neat line. We parked our cars and went to 500s to take a look at them. So we actually did have the world premier of seeing it, and in Italy! A guy from surveillance gave us some promotional material, which was really nice! But then the really big event of the day happened... We were allowed to sit in one of the 500s! With that experience we could make quite a few people pretty jealous, haha.
The something different happened that has nothing to do with the photos, but which was quite a funny incident. It was already starting to get late, so to get back to Vallandry in time, we decided to leave Turin. Only a pretty thoughtless action threw that plan out of the window. We had locked the car keys inside the car. We found a mechanic at the Fiat garage, but even he wasn't able to open our well protected Alfa. There were two options left: smashing one of the windows or driving back with the other car to get the spare car key in our appartment in Vallandry. We decided on the last option, and so the five of us quickly went back to France. Because we had left the detailled maps in the Alfa, it took us much more time than expected to get out of Turin. After a while we found the ringway around Turin, the Tangenziale. Then we took the highway so we could make it as quick as possible, because in the meanwhile, my parents had to enjoy themselves in the city of Turin. The route we took in the morning was 175 kilometers, of which the most part was driving through the mountains. Because the weather was getting worse (rain with thunder and lightning) and because it was starting to get dark, we decided to go through the Fréjus Tunnel instead of risking our lives in the Alps. Driving through this tunnel would cost us some money, as it's a toll tunnel. This trip was also 260 kilometers instead of 175, but it was a lot safer than a risky trip in the dark and with bad weather through the mountains.
Once we arrived in Vallandry we got the spare keys, quickly ate an apple and left the ladies in the appartment. My uncle and I returned to Turin. We had bought a return ticket for the Fréjus Tunnel because we knew that we had to travel through the tunnel twice more that night. After about three hours (it had already been 6 to 7 hours since we had left Turin the first time) we got back to Turin. We had a slight problem though as it's a tough job finding two people in a world city like this, without detailled maps. I knew roughly where we had to go, but after turning many corners I also lost my direction. The street we were looking for (Via Nizza) was nowhere to be found. The signs with Lingotto printed on them seemed to guide us through the whole city. It was crazyness! We decided to ask some random people if they knew the road we were looking for, but no one appeared to have ever heard of Lingotto. It had already been night for sometime and we had already seen a lot of prostitutes along the roads. Perhaps it was that that gave me a bright idea: at the bus stops there are often maps of the city, and that would provide an easy solution to our problem. But this was still easier said than done. With all those evil one-way roads it was still a hassle to find our place of destination. After driving for about an hour through Turin we finally found the right place. The door of the Alfa clicked open like it had never done before. We drank some water and returned to Vallandry. Now it was rather easy to find our way out of Turin with detailled maps (and some experience!) and to find the way back home. We drove back through the Fréjus Tunnel again and arrived at our appartment at around 7 to 8 o'clock in the morning. We were really tired so we went straight to bed and got some sleep after this very special adventure in Turin. We all gathered a lot of new experiences and one particular person has really learned his lesson, haha. It's sometimes hard to live with that Italian enthusiastic crazyness in the family...
After our vacation I send a couple of my Fiat 500 related photos to car magazines and websites. To my big surprise a couple of them printed my letter and photos in their magazines. You can take a look at the article in the Autovisie magazine and the Autokampioen magazine for example, and you can see a photo of mine on the homepage of a famous car website for Italian cars, Italiaspeed.com. This website used more of my photos on other pages too (see here, here, here, here and here). Isn't that great?!

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007.
Because the weather had not been very good over the previous few days we had not done very much. But today the weather was really good, so it was time for something fun again! We came up with the idea of 'climbing' Mont Blanc. We left early to go to the famous wintersport city of Chamonix (situated at 1039 meters above the sea level). We bought tickets for those of us who wanted to go up the mountain, including myself. The top is located at 3842 meters above the sea level. It was below 0 degrees up there, so despite the high temperatures in the valley below (approximately 25 degrees), we put on our trousers, pullovers and a jacket. Of course I took my digital camera with me, so I would be able to serve you with a nice selection of photos in the Photo album. We first went by cable car to a station approximately halfway, located at 2317 meters. At this station we took another cable car that would take us to the central platform located at 3777 meters. These cable cars travelled at high speed so they created a lot of pressure in the ears. This pressure build up could be broken by yawning or swallowing. It was also important to take deep breaths, otherwise there is a risk of fainting at such high altitudes. The view from this upper level was already breathtaking, but we decided to take an elevator that would take us another 65 meters higher. That cost a few euros, but once here you just have to grab that chance. This is the highest point in Europe that is asseccible to the public. Once we arrived on top of the mountain, we had a perfect all round view. We could see for huge distances. We were also far above the clouds, that luckily weren't floating around the top of this mountain. Of course, this isn't the real summit of Mont Blanc, as that one is a kilometer higher (4809 meters) and unreachable for us. The summit on which we stood now is called Aiguille du Midi, which is among other summits, a part of the Mont Blanc mountain formation.
In the meanwhile we saw a huge glacier and various mountain climbers. After some time enjoying the marvelous sights and the beautiful weather, we decended the 65 meters and got back to the central area. At the central area there is a restaurant with a couple of tiny shops. You can get to these shops by using the numerous stairs, but using stairs at an altitude of 3777 meters is pretty exhausting. At first you don't notice it, but when you take about 10 steps on the stairs, your heartbeat raises and you're breathing faster. The thin air then becomes very noticable, and climbing stairs literally becomes a breathtaking experience. At this central area there are several information boards in a gallery where they show how the whole project evolved over the years. It was very impressive to see how the first alpinists got here and installed cable car wires and how they made buildings and other facilities. It must have been an insanely tough job! At this same central area you can also visit an ice cave. In this cave there was a huge brick of ice that was completely transparant, which is quite a rare thing. Previous visitors had put their hands on the ice, so at some places the ice was melted, but you could easily see the shape of the hand, as many visitors had put their hands on same spot on the ice. We also tried to fit our hands into the ice wall too. Besides the nice selection of photos in the Photo album I took some panorama photos too, and I won't keep them from you, so feel free to take a look at this Panorama photo and this Panorama photo. I hope you like them all...
It was time to descend the mountain again, after which we returned to Vallandry. The next days we took it really easy so we could return to the Netherlands feeling fit. During these last days in the French Alps I spent my time reading Harry Potter while enjoying the warm sun and getting a bit of a tan.
Our trip back to the Netherlands went really well and once at home I still had a couple weeks of holiday left before starting my new studies at the University of Twente. Even though this was the first holiday without a caravan or tent, it was a cool holiday that I'll never forget. Enjoy the photos and I hope to see you next year again!