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Jul 17 09

How to survive the 24 hours of Le Mans

by Ted

My friend Silvana visit me recently and we decided to make a last minute trip to Le Mans for the the race. You could say it was a crash course in surviving the weekend as we did just about everything wrong. So here’s some advice on how to make the most of this event.

We had planned on going to Le Mans, visiting the city, race museum, seeing the race in a restaurant/bar, and then taking the TGV back to Paris in the evening. Unfortunately we missed our train back to Paris and spent the night at the race track. It wasn’t the most comfortable night, but I would do it again… with proper planning.

Le Mans is a fairly short trip, around 1 hour via TGV, from Paris. We took a slower train down to Le Mans and decided to jump off and visit Chartres along the way. This was a good idea, as we really didn’t need to arrive too early for the race. You’ll have plenty of time to walk around and see the track during the race time.

24 hours of Le Mans race
The trip is not too expensive, especially if you plan in advance. The train tickets will cost around 70 euros for round trip tickets. The race is around 70 euros. You can pay extra for the museum, food, souvenirs, etc. You’ll also want to purchase a day pass for the tram from Le Mans to the race track, which is around 5 euros.

Things to bring

We didn’t plan on actually attending the race, so we were badly prepared. These are the things that would have made the trip much, much, much better.

  • A folding chair! Bring something comfortable and light-weight. The track does not provide seating unless you pay extra for the grand stands. You’ll find yourself standing and sitting on concrete for the majority of the time. I was sore for a week after this event.
  • Food and water. The track lets you bring in your own goodies, in fact you’ll be swimming through a sea of empty beer bottles by the end of the race. So plan on packing water bottles and food in your backpack. The track food is actually not too bad or expensive, especially if you are used to the poison darts (hot dogs) at American race tracks.
  • Jacket and/or blanket. You’ll want something light weight for extra warmth around 3 a.m. and it doesn’t hurt to make it waterproof as the race is known to attract rain clouds.
  • Tent. There are tents everywhere. Bring one if you plan on staying several days. Personally I would recommend staying up all night for the race. It’s actually more interesting at night than during the day. I was pretty bored when the sun came back up after watching the lights at night.

Things you won’t need

  • Camera. Le Mans is not a phtogenic event. You won’t get great action photos due to the fences and the distance between the race track and stands. So don’t stress about bringing a camera unless you are serious about it. You’ll need a telephoto.
  • Hat. You’ll find affordable souvenir hats everywhere you turn. So plan on spending 10-20 euros on a hat that supports your favorite team. I purchased a vintage style Le Mans hat for about 10 euros that is quite comfortable and well made. The souvenir stands are much more affordable than what you’ll find at American race tracks.
  • Beer. Ok, bring some if you like. It seems like everyone that gets on the shuttle sounds like they have a liquor store in their backpacks. So you can probably beg, borrow, and steal some libation from a fellow race fan. Speaking of which, the stands are filled with amazingly friendly and welcoming people.

Where to sit

Le Mans shuttle around the track
We met some veteran race fans while waiting for the shuttle. We were told to hang out just past the starting line. This was good advice as the cars have to quickly down shift and enter a tight set of turns. I would also recommend visiting the inside section of the track. Oh I wish we had done that during the night. You can find grass to lie on instead of concrete and actual seats. Heck, I saw a cafe table or two I would have gladly slept on.

Where to eat

Le Mans is not the most exciting city in the world. I was surprised how dead it was in the evening. Take the tram to the Republique stop to find more than two restaurants. You’ll also notice the grocery and convenience stores close early.

There are some small towns that sit near the various race entrances. These look more race-centric and you’ll probably find a more festive environment.

Should you go?

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a great race. If you enjoy auto racing the answer is obvious. It’s a relaxing event with high spirits and festive attitude. The cars are very fast and you’ll only see a few seconds of them at a time. It is hard to tell who is in the lead and the multitude of big screens typically show the pitstops and rarely the race leaders. So you’ll find yourself watching the cars go by and not really worrying about who is winning until the last few hours.

Should non-race fans go? I would say yes if you enjoy festivals. This is more than a race, you’ll also find concerts, festival grounds, and lots of drunk friendly people to party with.

I wouldn’t recommend it for the following people:

  • People that hate noise. The Audi‘s were surprisingly quiet but the Corvettes barrel through with a blast.
  • People that are fastidious. You’re gonna get dirty sitting on the ground, leaning against the railings, or any number of other situations.
  • Environmentalists. I am or have been a member of Greenpeace, WWF, PETA, and other environmental groups, so I can appreciate the concerns over the toxic gasses emitted during these 24 hours. Don’t come to Le Mans if that is going to stop you from enjoying the race.
Jul 17 09

Watch for the hidden rent increases

by Ted

When you rent an apartment in Paris there will probably be a small clause that defines a yearly rent increase. It’s your responsibility to keep track of this and increase your rent payments on the anniversary of your apartment rental.

Most people, like myself, discover this the hard way when they move and find a bill for the backdated rent increase.

This is actually a pretty reasonable function. It removes the arbitrary rental increases and uses a schedule developed by the French government. My apartment that cost 1,250 euros/month had a rent increase last year of 55 euros/month. I’m not sure how that relates to other cities, but I thought it was reasonable and similar to what you’d pay in California.

Feb 4 09

Paris Metro and Bus Maps Are Now Awesome Online

by Ted

Stop the Presses! Paris Metro/Bus routes are now interactive!
Metro: Chatalet
I’m not one to go gaga for flash and animated JavaScript driven web sites. The SNCF/TGV sites have been driving me crazy for an hour or so. But then my friend pointed me to the new interactive Paris Metro and Paris Bus maps and let me say they are AWESOME!!!!!

Locals and tourists are going to find these very helpful. I just found out that I could take a bus from my apartment to the Eiffel Tower. These maps give you traffic warnings, time estimates, connections, and much more.

It’s only in French, but easy enough to use for non-french speakers. You can also see what the metro stations look like with my interactive metro photograph map.

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Feb 1 09

Quick Paris Tip: visiting Versailles

by Ted

Versailles has been restored recently and is a fabulous place to visit. However, there are a few things to know in advance.

  1. There are few restrooms, so try to plan in advance, if you know what I mean.
  2. Buy a ticket to Versailles in advance. You can easily more than an hour to purchase a ticket.
  3. Buy your return RER ticket as soon as you arrive in Versailles. The machines will not be busy. You’ll have to wait in line as all of the other people purchase tickets to go home at the end of the day.
  4. Don’t leave early and miss the water fountain display.

Water fountain at Versailles

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