Friday, August 03, 2001


After a few days which were both too short and rushed to fully catch up with our friends Richo (John Richardson) & Paulette Montaigne in Tarbes in the south of France near the Pyrenees Mountains, we have headed over the border on four wheels this time to Spain. Paulette & Richo gave magnificent support to both Bob and I during our rather unequal races on Sunday, mine a very challenging mountain run, and his the same run followed by a 68km cycle over a category one climb of 700m in glorious national park, followed by yet another 10km run.
Paulette and Richo (well maybe not Richo ~ he is a Woden runner in substance and style, and that may never leave him) were the most gracious and generous hosts imaginable . . . we had the most wonderful time whilst there sharing their company and hospitality.
Leaving Tarbes after sharing a lunch of baguette, salad and cheese we piled our gear into the wonder car; a Renault Laguna Nevada (station wagon), where we succeeded in fitting both bikes in the screened boot with their front and rear wheels removed. The rest of the luggage fitted neatly and relatively unobtrusively in the rear seat. We were off!
After a short stop in the nearby picturesque town of Pau (pronounced Po), we headed up hill and down gorges (apologies to Dale) along secondary roads, passing through village after village each only a few kilometres apart. The mountain passes grew increasingly narrow as they wound through the border country and thick woods along the 'Route du Fromage’, which stretched from Italy through France and Spain. Pale, placid cows were everywhere, with many farms offering their own produce as well as basic camping facilities. We were suddenly in the land of ETA ~ signs had been bi-lingual in French and Spanish, however the Basque language and script began to dominate, and it's flowery Gaelic script was often hard to follow or read.
Around 7 p.m. we stopped at a dot on the map, Batzan on the river, which is misleadingly large. This provided us with the opportunity to go to an ATM for instant Spanish currency (too easy, even before Euros), and hunt for a pensione or similar. Despite many blocks of apartments, bars and shops; accommodation was not to be seen. The first bar with a hotel attached was approached, and I began to see if;
a) if my memory of being able to communicate competently, if not correctly in Spanish in the past was merely an elaborate dream; and
b) if Basque was to dominate to make my attempts futile anyway.
Thankfully, neither was true. Although rusty and searching for words I knew well to start, my accent and ability to convey the meaning was quite sufficient. Thus I found that although the hotel was more expensive than we had hoped to pay, with a full bathroom (all were superior), it was the least expensive in town.
Ensconced in a degree of luxury, we changed and headed out to check out the bars and restaurants. A few options presented themselves, and I enjoyed ordering and buying Bob a couple of local draught beers and a tortilla (slice of potato omelette with bread), although the nature of it at room temperature wasn't to his cultural liking. On his recommendation, we headed back to the restaurant attached to the Hotel and Bar ~ where the menu was not so easy for me to make out. Here the 'Real Castillano' (Kings' Spanish) was certainly not being used. We took a punt on the menu, it was cheap enough, and he ended up with a full bottle of superior chilled light red wine ~ half bottles on others tables only came in the house variety; excellent bread, and - wait for it - soft eggs, bacon, chips and tomato sauce! He couldn't believe it! My plate of salad, grilled chicken, half a boiled egg and anchovies (& the ubiquitous chips), was very good, and luckily I didn't need to eat (too) much of!
Bob is so very helpful. A shared flan (creme caramel) and cafe for me finished off the meal at around $34. The wine accounted for about half of that.
Yesterday we drove with Richo out to a forest on the outskirts of town for a much-needed run through some bush instead of fighting traffic. It was very beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Tomorrow, Bob has surveyed from the hotel window the mountains and plans to take us up there. With the Basque flags lining the streets and homes, this is a fascinating area. Breakfast, in the French style, shall be served at the highly respectable hour of 8:30-10:30a.m., with a noon, or thereabouts checkout. Bob has been asleep as I tap this, so I should finish before he awakes and disturb him.
More later,



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