Our First Visitors

Visit to the Pyrenees - With Wayne and Elaine

Our first visitor from home was my brother Wayne and his wife Elaine. The flew into Toulouse and hired a car and drove out to meet us at the cottage. It was great to see them both and we duly set off for lunch not long after they had arrived, having caught a very early flight out of the UK.

We decided to eat locally at the Le Vieux Logis in Aignan. This is a very local spot where many of the small-business owners in the town have their lunch. Lunch is a very serious matter. Promptly at 12 noon the siren alerts farmers that it is lunch time. Machines are stopped, computers put to sleep, shutters pulled down and doors are locked. ‘Ferme’. Everyone heads to their favorite local brasserie, restaurant, café or even home for a two, to two-and-a-half-hour lunch break. The ‘menu de jour’ typically consists of 3 courses and a carafe of wine, but you can have just a ‘plat de jour’ or a ‘entrée and plat’ or ‘plat and dessert’ all for a few euros. Anything from 9 to 14 euros is usual. On this day there was a set menu of soup, charcuterie plate, Entrocote with fries and crème brulee, plus wine for a total of 13 Euros each. No rushing, just everyone enjoying their food, having serious conversations, telling jokes and generally having a very sociable time. We had arrived a little later than 12 noon, so most were halfway through their meal, and at around 2pm everyone started to move and head back to their offices, stores, machines and computers, fully fueled and ready to start work again until 5.30-6pm. We took our time and eventually went back home to rest, take a walk and plan the next day’s trip to somewhere in the Pyrenees.

Wayne had been looking at the possibility of purchasing a house in the Pyrenees and so we headed out the next morning to see if we could find the one he had flagged on a real estate website. He decided to drive, and we all piled into his car and after he had plugged in a destination in the SatNav we headed out on our mystery tour.  We traveled through pretty villages, up hills and down valleys and on a couple of occasions, me and Elaine asked if we were going the right way, not trusting the English male voice of the navigation system. His commands, I thought, were slightly too abrupt and I swear he had a slight German accent and so we called him Klaus. His directions were very precise and his tone very commanding, to the point where we thought he might call in the firing squad if we deviated at all! So with three guys in the front, Wayne, Marcel and Klaus, and the ladies in the back who didn’t trust any of the guy’s directions in the front, our journey continued in quiet anticipation of arriving somewhere in the Pyrenees.

All was calm, Klaus was silent, no turnings coming up, a nice straight road ahead, no traffic, and we were all staring out the windows admiring the beautiful countryside, when up a head we saw a guy, clad in blue, waving his arms and signaling us to stop. Oh no, it couldn’t be… Klaus, you didn’t see this coming? A gendarme! As we came closer to him, we saw his assistant jump out from behind a billboard with a speed camera!  We all went a little quiet, Wayne rolled down the window, pleaded ignorance regarding the French language, but produced his license as directed. The gendarme went off to his motorcycle, and radioed in. It seemed to take forever, and we hoped the system was down, or that there was a computer glitch, the wind was getting up and papers started flying and we prayed that our sheet would get blown away, or that his bike would blow over on top of him, but no, everything was in order, Wayne had been speeding, he would be getting an email in the next few days and he could pay online. What was infuriating was that we hadn’t seen a car for quite some time, but now that we had stopped, there was a constant stream of traffic, all speeding past, surely faster than we had been travelling, but of course our gendarme was busy – with us.

Not to be discouraged, we set off again, not happy that Klaus had not foreseen this, and headed south. Soon we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees ahead, and Wayne advised us that we would be heading above snow line. Luckily, we did have raincoats, but certainly no shoes suitable for snow, but maybe we wouldn’t get out of the car? We arrived at the foothills, rolling green fields dotted with little swiss chalets fit for a chocolate box. We wound through valleys and ski towns, which at this time of year were closed up and a little quiet but we could imagine the bustling streets, noisy bars and après ski activities taking place during skiing season. We found the house he was curious about, but it was surrounded by a high wall, although it looked in good condition. However, Elaine was not convinced and as we traveled further and higher the weather became bleaker and mistier, so not a good day to convince anyone 1that this was a great place to invest in property.

We wound higher and higher through the mountains. It began to snow and eventually we were enveloped in the clouds and visibility became severely reduced. We didn’t make it to the ski resort; time was ticking, we needed sustenance and if we had continued and found the resort to be closed, we would not be able to find a café or restaurant still open for lunch.  So, we headed down and found the only restaurant/bar open for some miles and enjoyed a simple lunch with a bottle of wine. We then decided to go up again to visit some lakes. The road was open, which was promising, but only up to the first lake. It was beautiful. The lake was turquoise blue, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and while we were there, the sun shone out from a blue sky, in between fluffy white clouds. Then it started to snow, still with the sun shining and the blue sky framing the snowy peaks – it was surreal.

Time to head back, so down the mountain we trundled, through the snow showers, down to the tree line and into the green rolling fields, through the quaint, quiet towns at a slow winding pace; so we were surprised when yet another blue clad gendarme pointed his finger at our windscreen and directed us to the side of the road. Now, my brother is quite a character, and can be a little rough looking at times, but I never thought he ever looked suspicious or threatening, and we certainly had not been speeding, driving at a paltry 30km per hour through this small town. Once again, he produced his drivers license and off they went. After some screen time, smiles and laughter, the gendarme sauntered back to the car and gave back the license – ‘bon journee!’ We can only assume that as we were close to the Spanish border, they may have been checking the hire cars through the area for either drugs, produce or stolen cars. Whatever their reasons, we did not linger to find out. We headed home for a relaxing evening of pate, cheese and wine.

Later the next day Wayne and Elaine were returning to the UK, so we ventured out with them halfway to the airport and spent a nice afternoon in Auch We had a lovely meal at Café La Darolles and then took a walk around the cathedral and up the steps so Elaine could have a photo shoot with the D’Artagnan statue. Her hero! We visited the cathedral there with its very distinctive oak choir stalls with more than 1500 carvings. At the time we were there, there was a violinist and a choir person practicing their craft and the acoustics were wonderful to experience; the celestial voices and music were magnificent.

Soon it was time for them to leave and we said our goodbyes. Although Wayne didn’t find a house to purchase on this trip, maybe another time, when better weather shows off the mountains in all their glory. Alternatively, if he continues is track record of speeding, and maintains the ‘rough and ready’ look he may find free accommodation for a while, behind bars! Until next time…..

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