We hadn’t had any guests for over a week, so life had been a bit different around the chalet, it is slowly being cleaned from top to bottom, more thoroughly that ever before and we take the opportunity to head out together when the chance arises.
Clare needed to visit her accountant before the end of the season so we all went to Bagnere de Luchon, a couple of valleys away for the ride and to see a different town. I had visited a couple of years ago in mid summer so thought it would interesting to see the difference, plus there is a large ski station higher up in the mountains although it was already closed when we arrived through lack of snow.
A classy joint, I would imagine Victorian, though have no idea how french describe that period, without royalty to denote the years. A spa town with tall buildings, wide tree lined streets, smart public buildings and today, a feeling of decaying grandeur. Clare headed straight for her meeting whilst Mark, Tom and I checked out the town. In France plenty of shops remain closed on Mondays, so, being Monday we were out of luck to start with. Additionally it was approaching lunchtime so those that were open closed their doors as we headed down the main street so everyone could go for a leisurely lunch at the same time. Not that it mattered terribly, as no one had need for shopping. We passed the bath houses noting a slight smell of sulfurous air venting the buildings, realising too, for the first time, that spring had arrived, the flower beds full of daffodils, tulips and primroses. It’s easy to miss the changing seasons up in the mountains as winter was still in full swing up there.
The town wasn’t particularly large so we quickly made our tour, through the old area, out along a small river, through a park complete with crazy golf and tennis courts, someone n the past had been an international tennis player and the club house proudly displayed the cups and trophies. An obscure street of closed shops, restaurants and hotels, just too far from the popular tourist area to continue trading through the current lean years.
We lunched in proper French style, perusing the menus of several restaurants before choosing the one with the most attractive “Formule” often three courses with a choice or two of each, offering a set price for three, two or one courses. Pizza was attractive mainly because it was something that wasn’t served at the chalet, everything else resembled somewhat our own menu, nice, but a change is always good. A leisurely two course meal, washed down with plenty of house red and a good, tiny, coffee to finish things off. Clare caught up with us as we finished our meal and we headed off in the direction of Spain to stock up on cheap booze and cigarettes.
The frontier was literally in the next valley and we were there in half an hour or so. A strange town, there previously as a distant outpost from central Spain, now part of the european union with minimal ‘foreign’ offerings for the local populations. Some of the touristy shops were a little more gaudy and of southern european in taste compared to those on the French side, shops packed with cheap tobacco products, supermarkets offering nothing but alcohol, olives and cold meats, shops for handbags and jewelry, shops offering everything to cultivate marijuana successfully in your garden, house or loft, a little research afterwards explained everything and shops of nothing but tat. It is now legal to grow dope for home consumption in Spain and it was obvious that they were expecting their neighbours to try the same.
Shopping complete, mainly replacements for the bar and a few packs of ciggies, bits and pieces for the following few days and we headed back to France. Crossing the border we passed the first signs of any frontier at all. We didn’t pass through, a new road takes a different route but the old guard and customs house was still standing, dirty windows and all covered in dust, perhaps saved for the next stage of Europe’s ever changing history or just coz it hasn’t been found a new use as yet.
The journey back took a couple of hours and we had been gone for the best part of a day. Once back in the chalet if felt, for me at least, as if I had been on holiday for quite some time and it was good to be back.
It snowed a couple of times more before the end of the season, nothing spectacular, just enough to refresh the slopes and give several more mornings of decent skiing. After the whole season it seemed strange to be on the mountain for the last time, the scenery as breath taking as it was the first day I ever saw it, blanketed again in its fresh new covering. I expect it will be melted again by now. Goodbye and thank you once again for a wonderful winter.