September 11, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: St. Savin to Bagneres de Bigorre

After breakfast with Olive, baby Sean, and two Irish cyclists (Paddy wasn't around, he's about off to lead a group on a 6-day crossing of the high Pyrenees cols,) my ride today brought me from St. Savin to Bagneres-de-Bigorre. Anybody out there noticed the string of towns beginning with B? Bayonne, Biarritz, Berenx, Barcus, Bielle (then St. Savin.) Now Bagnere-de-Bigorre, more to come.

It was a lovely ride, up, down and around the hills, past rushing water. Some of the rivers sported fly fishermen. I've learned that there are loads of trout in the rivers, that the salmon are only here during spawning season, and that they must be released if caught. Also, today was the start of wild boar hunting season. The noises reminded me a bit of deer season at home, but also of Pagnol's books set in Provence.

Arrived in Bagneres de Bigorre at lunchtime, and since the only thing to do in France at lunchtime is to eat lunch, that's what I did. How inventive. And I think I may have gained another cultural insight. Several people, maybe even many people, here have told me that they find the U.S. less stressed, less competitive, less uptight than France. And they are comparing France, Toulouse specifically, or the Cevennes, or the Pyrenees, not Paris, to NYC. What's that about? I've never understood it. But here's my possible insight.

Seeing a crowded cafeteria-style bistro for lunch, I chose it, locked my bike and went in to get a tray. Next to me in line were two cyclists, somewhere around my age, man and woman. Not a bonjour. They were a part of a group of six at the table near me outside, who also didn't utter the routine bonjour. You can bet that if a solo cyclist sat down near a group of cyclists at home in the Berkshires conversation would be opened. I think the difference may rest with where the conversation needs to start. In the US, at least in New England, it would start with someone in the larger group. Here, if it is going to happen, I think it needs to begin with the solo cyclist.Or maybe they just didn't want to interrupt their day.

This may be what is understood as less stressed, or more relaxed, and maybe it is, in a way different than I usually understand it. But maybe it has to do with social distance and interaction.

I say that partly because after lunch, I realized that I was near the 2-Michelin-star Grottes de Medous and decided to give it a look. Arriving at 2:00, just as it reopened after lunch, I was told that there was a minimum of 6 people needed for a tour. So I waited, along with another woman, then another joined, then some more. We had a group. I opened the conversation with one of the first few there, discovered that she was from Normandy, and when we got in line asked her to go first, since my French is inadequate to understand all that the guide would have to say in the way of directions. After that we chatted on and off throughout the afternoon. Cultural difference, I think. Or maybe those cyclists hardly ever get to ride and see each other, and didn't feel like breaking up their day.

By the way, that was the first big cave I've ever been in, full of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, huge chambers, an underground river, wierd was wild, and in many ways creepier, if that is the word, than the Catacombs in Paris.It included a short boat ride, that felt tippy, but was no doubt very safe.

It is now a very controlled and protected environment, some of which is closed to the public. Pictures were forbidden, but I'm sure there are some online.

And after all, including a shower, a walk and dinner, Bagneres-de-Bigorre seems a very pleasant town to spend the evening in.



  1. Very interesting observations of social interaction France v US (or at least Berkshires, since midwest is quite different from Berkshires). Will be fun to discuss at our next dinner. I'm LOVING your blog. XLaury

  2. Laury, thanks! Even better than talking about it at our next dinner would be having you here with me at dinner! SM


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