22 August 2020
So Rod, this is a continuation from my last note. After I left the Dordogne region, I headed to Albi, in the “occitane region”. The reason I chose this was that the hotel Axelle recommended to me in Argelès-Gazost in the Pyrenees region was not available until the 16th of August. I looked in the Michelin Green guide book for something along the way and saw that the town of Albi was a 3 star attraction ,so I arranged to spend the weekend there. (Still trying to pack it all in!) Not really sure of what I would find since I had never heard I’d this place…well, what a nice surprise and I know you would have loved it Rod.
Albi is another medieval town, about an hour away northeast of Toulouse with much of its architecture still intact. The big difference from the other medieval towns I’ve visited so far is the building materials..in Albi, it’s red brick, not so much golden stones like the Dordogne region. The dominant building in the skyline (if you can call it that!) of Albi is the red brick cathedral.
The organ concert at Saint Cecile cathedral in Albi, France
Right beside the cathedral is the Berbie palace. I didn’t go in the palace..because I wanted to spend time in the early morning in the garden (surprise, surprise!) and what a treat that was! The architectural aspects of this town are really impressive..medieval bricks, bridges, walls, everything just seems to click in this town!
After just 2 nights in Albi, I drove to Argelès-Gazost, which is in the “Haute Pyrenees “ department of the Occitaine region. This is part of the Basque region of France that borders with The Spainish Basque Country. I remember thinking how difficult these mountains would be to climb when We watched the Tour de France together back in 1998. I fondly remember you getting an advertising poster of the tour from the mayor’s office when went to see a time trial in our little town of Montceau Les Mines. That poster along with several others are still in storage..one day..it will come back out..but not today. And the strange thing is Rod, this year, 22 years later, I’m in France, hiking the Pyrenees up close and personal, and the tour is coming through Clermont in September (delayed due to Covid19!) ..maybe I can find a poster woth Clermont-Ferrand on it to match up with the one that has Montceau-Les-Mines in it from 1998!
Anyway..back to Angles-Gazost.. this is a spa town..a hiking town, a biking town..in the Pyrenees valley just beside the Pyrenees National Park. The landscape here is naturally stunning! It’s cooler here, which you would like Rod. And I’m staying in a hotel with a “Demi-pension” and a great restaurant so I’m eating very well and Not having to eat out alone too much..you know we never really ate out in restaurants alone..we were always together. A nice restaurant meal was always a type of date event for us..just not the same sitting alone at a table Rod…no one to talk to, passing the time by looking at my phone or reading something about the next day’s agenda in between courses. Not my favorite part of widowhood.
I looked at the Michelin 3 star attractions here and found Pont d’Espagne, in the Pyrenees National Park and my hiking app that said there was also several hikes there, so I drove up the windy, switchback roads, inching up the mountains until I arrived at the parking lot of the Park. Glad I have a new car Rod..I may have taken a few miles off the life of the clutch!
Once at the lake, there were signs to things at greater heights, and I saw the glacier in the far distance, I saw some people going on that way, so I took off too! You know me!
Just something about water that is soothing to the soul. Could be all the negative ions being generated, could be subconsciously connecting with time in my mother’s womb, could be the ebb and flow of the tide as God designed it..I don’t know..and I’m content that it remains a mystery today! On this day, After a long descent, I was rewarded with a magnificent waterfall at the Pont d’Espagne”. I could have seen this at the very beginning, but decided to keep a reward for my efforts!
After a good days exercise, I came back to the hotel, got a shower and went downstairs to eat. The name of the restaurant is “des Petits poids sont rouge” à play on words so that it sounds like des petits poissons rouge” no matter the name, the food is excellent!
After that full day of hiking, the next day, I went on a bike ride..first time on a bike since you and I rode in Shenyang. I remember when you went to get your treatment in Beijing and I was home alone during the week. I would tell our driver to wait and I went to get my fold up bike and he took me to the park to ride. I rode alone then Rod, but I knew you would be coming back..not the same…this time, I rode alone, talking to you all along the way, knowing I would be driving back to the hotel alone. I had to do it though Rod, I had to do another first, to prove to myself I could. It sounds so trivial.. it for me it was another hurdle I cleared on this grief journey.
I also went to the market there in Argelès-Gazost. I know you would have went, so of course, I had to go! As usual, everything was there..if they didn’t have it, you didnt need it type of market!
I was also able to go to the Spa on a couple of days..that was also bittersweet. First time at a Spa since we went to Grove Park Inn just coming back from China. You were so sick Rod, I’ll never forget when you turned and screamed out in pain. The Hospice doc later said you probably broke a bone and didn’t know it. The cancer was in your bones…and they were so fragile, but you were so strong, denying pain medication until the very end. I am still in awe of you and miss you so much..I’m so many ways. People have told me I am strong… ha! I’m a weakling compared to you.
The spa was very nice..another first. I didn’t reserve any treatments, just time in the pools. There were restrictions for the number of people at a time allowed in, which was a blessing. Lots of people had the plans to go to the spa after the morning hikes! I saw the couples, floating around in the pools and had fond memories of us floating around together at Grove Park. I’ll probably keep that memory just for us Rod, don’t think I’ll ever go back there. Here are Argelès-Gazost, it was nice, different, and I was able to do it. The feeling was very different, so I believe I have crossed the “Spa” hurdle too.
After the spa day, I went back out to hike to another waterfall around the Cirque du Garvanie. This is another 3 star Michelin attraction..and so far, that guidance had not failed me, so off I drove. It was early, bicyclist were on the route D920, a famous route used by the Tour de France. Once I arrived there, it was evident that this place merited the 3 stars, and the weather was just perfect to enjoy it!
My last night of eating at the hotel restaurant was also a great meal. I can see why this place has 2 Michelin forks.very good food and reasonably priced. You would have liked it Rod..no need to look for a place to eat..home base had everything we needed…Thank you again Axelle!
On the last day of my adventure, before coming back to Clermont, I planned one more thing…yes, still trying to cram in one more thing! Going to the Pic du Midi. No plan to climb this one physically as I wasn’t sure ar all what type of hike it would be. Plus, I didn’t want to be sweaty driving back to Clermont. Due to COVID-19 the tickets had to be purchased online for a time slot to avoid having too many people online and on top at the same time. On the way, on the D918 I think, came up the col du tourmelet..a famous mountain pass on the Tour de France. There were many bicyclist and my hat is off to them! Wow! New level of respect for anyone tackling these climbs!
Well Rod, that’s about it for this solo vacation adventure here in France. Many new firsts…many more than I anticipated. Many similar experiences to ones we had together, each provoking sweet memories and a few tears, each representing a new hurdle to clear and overcome, all summed together proving to me once again that as I lean into life, God is there, showing me the way to live life on life’s terms, experiencing new emotions, physical challenges and visual blessings forming new memories. Life goes on, one moment at a time. Eventually, as Ryan Holiday said in his book with the same title , “the obstacle becomes the way” . This trip is yet another example of this simple truth. What once were hurdles have become milestones.
Thank you Father God for the time on this earth with my Rodney . Thank you for uniting our souls. Thank you Holy Spirit for comforting me and helping me to focus on gratitude rather than loss…one moment at a time. father God, I ask that you bless Rodney in his mission today, I don’t know how all this works, but I don’t have to! I thank You Father God for accompanying my soul to pass these hurdles in this chapter of my life. Thank you for safety of travels and sending me Your messengers. Thank you Jesus for living in my heart and mind and giving me intuitive thought for the next right thing to do. I ask Father that you send the Holy Spirit to me and witness unto me Your truth so that I may be of maximum service to You father, and to my Fellows. In Jesus name I pray,