July 21: Aquensis Spa, La Mongie in Clouds, and the Children Acquire Berets

I had decided to do laundry on this day. However, we woke up to find it was cold and cloudy. Since it had been so sunny all the while we’d been in France, I hadn’t had to deal with the issue of line drying clothes in the rain. I decided to just wait and hope for better weather. Our host later told me that she had a dryer in the house I could use if I needed it – but at the time I was pretty stymied by the whole laundry situation. I will never again take for granted my giant washing machine and giant dryer, and the way they plunge along ruthlessly through the laundry without regard for the weather at all.

Our trip plan said “Sight Seeing” on this day, but we’ve discovered that Dan, in the presence of epic mountains, isn’t really happy unless he’s either climbing or just climbed a mountain. Since I had a sight-seeing objective that coincided with a giant mountain, we decided to split up. Bagneres-di-Bigorre and other places around the Pyrenees have pushing up thermal springs and baths for thousands of years, to the appreciation of everyone on back to the Romans. So, not being the sort to shun any kind of Roman experience, I decided to take the kids to a spa for the day. We chose “Aquensis” which I will talk about in another post. Suffice to say after a bit of eye-popping with some co-ed showers and changing situations, we spent an incredible two hours.

As we were changing, Dan called to say he had reached the summit of Tourmalet and there was no way he was coming all the way back down because he was freezing! I let him know we were on our way, and we rushed out to the car, mounted up, and headed up the mountain. As much terror as I experienced on Sunday driving up that mountain, I definitely experienced at least ten times more this time. First of all, the Tour de France had just come through the day before and was about to come through again the following day. This means there were people parked everywhere, shoved into every nook and cranny on and off the road. Secondly, there was a fine mist in the air that turned into fog as we ascended, and finally turned into an actual cloud toward the top. I looked at Dan’s pictures later from the very summit, and he was *above* the cloud, in the sunshine, up at the top. I was driving up through the cloud, along with fifty thousand cyclists and a lot of other people.

On a bright sunny day with maximum visibility, I have a hard time passing cyclists on these mountain roads. They’re climbing, so they’re going very slowly, some VERY slowly, but there is hardly any shoulder, and anyway they shouldn’t have to get off the road. However, in order to pass them, you really have to get pretty far into the other lane, and with the twists and turns and especially in the deep fog, it’s pretty hard. I did pass some, but some I admit I crawled along behind for a while, until I could be positive I was okay to pass. I got a parade of cars behind me, but I’ve stopped caring about that. Dan has more of a sense of obligation to the guy behind him than I do. I only have an obligation to myself not to kill anyone, and enraging people doesn’t cause them to die.

Finally, finally, we made it to the top. What a different scene La Mongie was from on Sunday when it was so hot and bright! The city was literally in a cloud, and people were marching around in parkas and long pants, peering through the fog, walking at a leisurely pace down the center of the road. I passed Dan in the fog without knowing it, finally gave up on a parking place and pulled over in front of some campers (becoming a habit for me in La Mongie apparently). We finally met up with Dan, who had some wild story to tell about meeting Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin from VS. channel’s Tour de France coverage. Dan was BLUE. But happy.

We came down off the mountain, and headed home, first stopping in Campan. Campan is a town famous for its lifesize puppets that decorate the balconies, porches, and various other locations around town. They were in the process of having some kind of a festival, so we stopped to try and find something to eat.

Of course, all the restaurants were closed. However, I did investigate a local market where I found the children BERETS. Now they are real Gascons. We ended up eating dinner at home after poking into the market for a few provisions. Violin practice, bed, and more Victor Hugo for me.


  1. Wow! I'm loving these new posts. Great detail.

  2. Fabulous new entries. Do you object to my learning from you? Your words just flow. Mind those gorgeous children! :-) Merci... A G'ma