Probably the most important thing to have happened since the last blog post is that a cow licked our car. This happened at Col D’Aubisque, a peak in the French Pyrenees, where we had driven for a hike. There was a restaurant up there and a herd of cows were hanging out in the parking lot, and this one thought our tyres tasted delicious, apparently.
Actually, it turns out these bell-clad herds – cows, sheep, horses, donkeys – are quite common sights around lonely roadstops and houses in rural areas, especially in the Pyrenees and in Basque country (Northern Spain). We aren’t sure if this is normal, or if it’s because the Transhumance is currently in swing. Anyway, we like to stop and call out to them and ask if they will get in our car and come home with us. No takers thus far, but there was a baby mini horse that we did consider forcibly abducting.
Outside of the cow-licking, Col D’Aubisque is famous for being the top of one of the biggest climbs occurring in the Tour de France. (“DUH!” say the Tour fans amongst our readers). There were many cyclists attempting the climb, and a few who braved the swift descent as well. Fun fact: the towns that the Tour de France pass through or stop at have to PAY the Tour for this honour, and it is quite expensive. A friendly officer at the tourist desk in Eaux-Bonnes, not far from Col D’Aubisque, said that the Tour has been coming through her town on the way to Col D’Aubisque most years since 1926, but not this year, as they are only a small village and cannot afford it. Sad.
Now I will tell a story that I probably wouldn’t tell if I wasn’t feeling so much pressure to continue being funny (ugh, your kind compliments are the worst). It’s wildly inappropriate, but it is comedy gold, as Eve would say. It’s not so much of a cultural experience, as a human experience. You’ll see.
Luke and I are generally really good about filling up our water bottles at the campground before hitting the road for the day. A few days ago in Southern France, we forgot to do this. We pulled into a tiny service station on the side of a country road, and Luke stayed in the car while I ran in to buy some water (hydration is important, y’all). I grabbed a couple bottles and brought them to the middle aged guy behind the counter. No English, and he had a weird French accent. I think he was saying “deux euros,” but I wasn’t sure. I handed over two euros, he popped open the register to throw in my coins, maybe get me change? He turned around, I think to get me a bag. Maybe he didn’t have one, because he turned around and walked back towards the register – and suddenly he’s literally shouting. “Ahhhh!!! Aaaaiiiii!!” I thought he stubbed his toe. I ask if he’s ok, but the shouting just intensifies. I’m standing there, in a weird limbo, not knowing if I’m waiting for a bag, or for change, or if I need to give him more money. Oh no, why, why is he unbuttoning his pants?? He’s still shouting! “Ok? Ok?” I keep asking, I’m not sure if I can leave, is this dude ok? Did I give him enough money? WHY IS HE PUTTING HIS HAND IN HIS PANTS? Why – is he – should I be here? Does he need first aid? IS HE TAKING HIS JUNK OUT?!! Why hasn’t he turned around? He clearly sees me here! HE’S GOT IT ALL OUT!! Dude is actually inspecting his junk to check for damage. I guess the open cash register got ‘im right in the baby makers. I gotta go. I flee to the car amidst fresh shouts and groans. He still hasn’t turned around, and everything is still out for all to see. I shout at Luke to drive, drive, please drive, and he peels out of the parking lot with squeeling tires. It took me a solid 10 minutes to stop wheezing with laughter before I could tell Luke what happened.
In a totally unrelated twist, a few minutes later, we found ourselves miming “flyscreen on a roll” to the boys working at the hardware store down the street. Luke was wiggling his finger and buzzing, and then running his little pretend fly into an invisible screen. We learned some skills from that doctor in Nancy, apparently. (And no, they didn’t have any flyscreen on a roll. Also no, it didn’t have anything to do with junk guy, it was just to keep them skeeters out of our car.)
Pause for a Beluga
Any aircraft nerds out there will be tickled to hear that we spotted a Beluga! It flew over us near Toulouse, France. We didn’t know what it was either, don’t worry. A Beluga is the clever nickname for the Airbus Super Transporter, aka huge funky-looking airplane. It carries cargo such as spacecraft parts and other airplanes. We geeked out with the wikipedia page and realised how rare it is to see one. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_Beluga
Life in the campground
We have stayed in a hotel twice since starting our journey in our car, and a couple of times at friends’ places. Although we do love the headroom that a real-life building offers, we actually adore camping and sleeping in our car. Campgrounds here are well-kept, spacious, cheap, predictable, and the people are very friendly. In fact, I just got interrupted by a middle-aged Dutch yoga teacher who wanted to chat because she saw me doing yoga on my pitch yesterday. Speaking of the people, they are almost exclusively older white European couples in camper vans. We find that their lifestyles match ours quite nicely, which begs the question of our trajectory towards their age – will we get even more comatose, or rebel and get all 20’s crazy in our 70’s? Anyway.
When the weather is good, camping is a piece of cake. When the weather is bad, camping is still fun, but things get…interesting. When we were camped near Lasierra, Spain, a few nights ago, the wind came up. No big deal. We can handle a breeze through our hair, and we just put on our windbreakers. But then, the wind got stronger. It knocked over our chairs if we stood up. It blew away our cut vegetables. We did regret parking in an open pitch, overlooking the valley. We got worried it would blow over our cooking pot (currently aflame), so we built a little shelter for it out of our drawers. And then, the worst happened. The wind knocked the car door closed, which knocked the table over, which knocked the wine over. Devastated, but there was still half a bottle left. We were going to be ok. We put the wine on the ground near where we were sitting, to keep it safe. Then, Luke stood up. The wind blew his chair over. The chair hit the wine, as well as our glasses. The wine was empty. With time, we will heal. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers.
Oodles of people told us to go to San Sebastian, Spain. It’s a lovely town in Basque country, northern Spain, on the Atlantic coast. I would say it was very nice, but, being food oriented people, I’ll have to elevate that to heavenly. We arrived to San Sebastian in time for a late lunch, and we were so hungry (if you know me, you know that this is not a good situation for Luke and for humanity in general). We popped into a restaurant and the waitress kindly told us the menu of the day in English – a few choices for each of the three courses. We asked for red wine, and, without asking, she brought an entire bottle. When we drank that, she brought another. We ate our delicious courses, and braced for the bill to come. 12 euros per course, per person, and who knows how much the wine was. Nope. It was 24 euros total. We now know that menu of the day meals come with 3 courses and free wine. Bless Spain.
Also, tapas. They are called Pintxos in Basque Country. (Fun fact: Basque people speak Euskara, which is not related to any Latin, Romantic, or Germanic languages, and is thought to be one of the original European languages.) Every bar (and there are millions) lay out plates and plates of finger food, which you can just grab, for tiny amounts of money. The bartender simply watches and tallies your bill at the end, depending on how much you ate. Neverending gourmet food that you can scarf at your leisure? If heaven turns out to be catered to each individual’s fantasies, this would be mine. (There would also be baby mini goats and they would be wearing party hats.)
Adventures in bureaucracy
Lastly, Russia is majorly on our list. We have been in Madrid for three days and have spent two solid days – literally – on getting a Russian visa at the Russian visa centre. I will not tell this story until we have our visas safely in our hands in two week’s time. Suffice to say, we wouldn’t have been able to even submit our application if it were not for some well-timed crying (real, not staged), and an angel of an English-speaking Spanish girl who was also attempting to get a Russian visa. Also, the fellows at the copy & print shop round the corner are our buddies. We went there four times. We also spent at least 4 hours sitting in an underground carpark, frantically doing paperwork. Russia.
We were planning to be back in France (en route to Italy), in about 6 days, but instead we are going to stay in Spain until early June to wait for the visa to be completed. This allows us to slow down a little. This is nice; we were a little sick of driving every day. So I guess 1 point to Russian bureaucracy in that regard.
Blog-reading tip of the day: Don’t read the email!
Luke and I are both subscribed to our own blog, for, you know, research purposes. So, we get the emails with our blog posts too. Sometimes we read them from our email, and we’ve found it’s not nearly as pleasant of a reading experience as clicking the title of the post (it’s a link!) and reading it on our actual blog. Our actual blog has little boxes on the side that list where we’ve been since the last post (we even update that between posts), it has Luke’s instagram feed (click on the photos to see captions), and a few other items. Our list of whereabouts is especially helpful, as I’ve found I definitely do not write these blog posts in chronological order. If you’re already reading this on the actual blog website, gold star! Please ignore me and carry on.
We love you all!
France: Cahors and Pyrenees
Into Spain: San Sebastian, Nacedero del Urrederra, Segovia, and a wee bit o’ Madrid