07/12/2011 - 07/15/2011
July 12th – Moving on to the Pyrenees.
We packed up after a great six nights in the Dordogne. The hosts at the B&B were so kind and gave us a nice stainless steel coffee container with their logo full of coffee for the road.
Our drive took us through more foie gras country. We were off the main autoroutes this time and poked through many small villages. We had a great picnic mid-way near a field of sunflowers. So many sunflower fields!
Pretty nice place for a picnic:
How could these little angels be causing any trouble at all?
Seriously - the Pyrenees portion of our trip has been the most challenging so far. DD#2 has been rather explosive at times.
We arrived in Argeles Gazost around 4:30 and had time to unwind in our hotel room. We had a balcony and bunk-beds. Two positives. Our balcony is the one nearest the hotel sign:
We’re without a refrigerator and pool this time though. We walked a short distance to the town center and had a casual dinner. We still find ourselves opening most restaurants when they start serving around 7:30.
We had a drink while we waited for dinner service. On the way to the café, we noticed a fresh milk vending machine. No way! The milk was from a local farm and came in a plastic bag for 1 Euro. We brought it into the restaurant and the kids drank vending machine milk with dinner.
I finally tried cassoulet for dinner. It’s a regional dish which is basically fancy pork ‘n beans. Some foodies are surely wincing at that description! I liked it though. I don’t believe I’ve had beans since leaving the US.
Around 10pm we all heard the loudest thunderclap ever! The kids cried and I was pretty scared as well. The thunderstorm went on for quite some time. Quite a show.
Wednesday July 13th – A rainy drive up Tour de France mountains
We had a slow morning after a restless night. We meandered up to a café for pastries and coffee. Prices are pretty reasonable in this town that caters to cyclists and hikers. On several occasions, I have felt like the token American family on display. Some older French folks openly stare at us. They aren’t exactly scowling or smiling so I’m unsure what they’re thinking about our American family.
It rained cats and dogs all day long. We were all a little moody but finally got in the car to explore a couple of the common Tour de France peaks – Col d’Aubisque and Col du Soulor. This turned out to be a lot of fun! The roads were ridiculously narrow and shared with free-roaming livestock. I got such a kick out of seeing cows, sheep, pigs, and goats up close and personal! The kids were thoroughly amused.
The tunnels dug into the mountains were amazing! DH and I tried to imagine how the cyclists would be blazing down this same road in just two days. The road was just plain scary in some spots. No guard-rails and very steep cliffs.
The top of the d’Aubisque was all ready for the tour with giant bicycles! It was literally raining sideways at the top. We were soaked getting our few quick pics.
When we returned, I snuck out for a short while to shop around town. I found a cute skirt to add to my small wardrobe. I’m getting tired of wearing the same things!
After the much-needed break from the munchkins, I took them out for a soak in the hot tub. DD#1 loved practicing her underwater hand stands.
I returned to the hotel, dried off, and had dinner at a pizza place. The day was rather uneventful and we spent time in our hotel room watching it rain. The kids needed some downtime and we were plain tired. DD#2 had the tantrum of all tantrums this evening. That is all I will say because I refuse to relive and remember the details. Thank goodness for having a bottle of wine in the room.
Thursday July 14th – Bastille Day!
Finally – we all slept well after a tough start to our evening. We slept late (a pattern, I know) and made our way to a boulangerie for more pastries and coffee. DH was leaving us for the day – with the car – to see a mountain stage on the tour! We opted to stay in town and visit an animal park. We stopped by the Carrefour for snacks and DH dropped us at the Animal Park.
Although visiting zoos wasn't high on my list, this one fit the bill for our day. It wasn’t crowded, the kids were entertained, we were outside walking (rain stopped today!), and the animals seemed more accessible in France. They actually fed and pet marmots! The bears were impressive.
We walked back to the town center and had yummy cakes for lunch. We had snacked on healthier things earlier – really! I grabbed some fruit at the store to balance the cake. The kids played at the town park for a long time and then we soaked in the hot tub at our hotel.
Meanwhile, DH was still up a mountain – Luz-Ardiden to be exact. He parked pretty far away and hiked a couple of hours where he was 3km from the finish line! He took many many pictures - here are just a few:
Here are the two riders in the lead:
Take a look at all these switchbacks going up the mountain! People camp out for a couple of days to get the best spot.
On our way to dinner, we saw a TON of tour vehicles and police coming through town. The gas station just out our window was taken over by official tour vehicles.
Perhaps the biggest news of the day was DD#1's loose tooth! She is over 6 1/2 and still hasn't lost a tooth. A bottom front tooth is finally loose.
The kids and I had a casual dinner in town. Behavior seemed to be returning back to normal and we all had a nice day.
July 15th - Another Tour de France stage!
We packed up our things, loaded up the car, and headed up the hill into Argeles-Gazost for one last breakfast. It was a sunny day at last!
The Tour de France had taken over the town! Carrefour Supermarkets is a large sponsor and had a coloring station for the kids. They sat and colored for quite a while not knowing that they would earn a huge pile of loot for their efforts! They got a stash of colored pencils, hats, air cooler devices, pencil box, etc... They could barely carry the haul!
The kids also played on inflatable toys. DD#1 is actually inside of that giant bowling ball!
After we wandered the Tour de France "village", we set off for a level #4 climb early in the stage. We took some narrow backroads and walked up part of a hill. It wasn't long before the tour caravan came through. This is a huge parade with cars (floats) made by sponsors. They threw out free loot to those spectators whooping it up. Being loud Americans, it was no problem attracting plenty of attention and getting a ridiculous pile of free stuff! The highlights were two jerseys, 6-8 hats (haven't counted), food, magnets, etc... I'll try to take a picture of our haul later.
We really did have a great view of the riders.
After the Tour madness, we drove 2-3 hours to Bordeaux. We reserved a chain-type hotel on the outskirts of town for our short night. It was interesting using their automated check-in system. We got a key-code, room number, and paid for the room with a computer outside the hotel. We burned off some energy in a forest park complete with exercise equipment and found a nice cafe for crepes and omelettes.
Tomorrow we are headed to Normandy for a week-long stay in a gite! We are so so excited for two bedrooms and a kitchen. I can't wait to stock up in a supermarket. Naturally it's almost 1am. We're keeping strange hours mostly because it's light until after 10pm. Also we're on vacation!
Random thoughts - my children will not use these standing-only self-flushing toilets. I don't blame them.
Also, I love how the grocery stores carry small boxes of crackers and nuts, etc... The US sells giant sizes of everything. It's nice buying a small package of crackers that we can eat without carting around forever.