September 11, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: To Bagneres de Bigorre

After breakfast at Velo Peloton, with Olive, baby Sean,  and two Irish cyclists (Paddy is not in the picture, he's about to lead a group in a 6-day crossing of the high Pyrenees passes,) 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 Bagneres-de-Bigorre, and more to come.

Today was a lovely ride, up, down and around the hills, past rushing water. If you look closely at some of the photos, you can see the road twisting away in the background. 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 gun retorts 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. I may have gained another cultural insight. Several people (all French), 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. I've never understood it. But here's my possible insight. Mostly I think it is because when I am in France, I'm on vacation. While they are in the US, ditto. But there could be something else going on also.

Seeing a crowded cafeteria-style bistro for lunch, with bicycles parked outside, 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 didn't offer up 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 my rural part of 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.

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 everything 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.

By the way, it 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 is now a very controlled and protected environment, some of which is closed to the public. But it was hard to imagine what it must gave been like to be amongst the first explorers. Pictures were forbidden, o I have none to share.

I headed for my lodging, at the bed and breakfast The Cat Who Snores. My room was fabulous, large, comfortable, with a great tub and shower.

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


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