The solo adventure in France, part 2..hurdles become milestones

“The Obstacle Is the Way”. Ryan Holiday

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 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 Albi “skyline” from the perspective of the “new bridge” and the St Cecile catherdral towering over the town and Tarn River. A beautiful gem in the Tarn department of the Occitaine region.
The cathedral of Saint Cecile in Albi was nothing short of amazing .the ceiling frescos in blue were painted in the early 1500’s and have never been restored..they are just as brilliant blue as I have ever seen! The rude screenshot separates the clergy from the common people is carved out of limestone and is a work of art in its own right…and then, there is the organ!

This organ was built in the 1730’s and has been restored several times. This cathedral is huge..and this organ had the pipes to fill it up! I was so so blessed to hear it on the 15th..Assumption of Mary holiday. (See link below) what is shown here is 1/10th of the pipes! The painting below the organ is of the last judgement and below that are artist depictions of the 7 deadly sins. The middle section is a change that happened in the 18th century when they added a choir to the west side of the cathedral. To add this, they took out part of the fresco paintings. But it was either this, or take out the rude I think they made the right choice!

The organ concert at Saint Cecile cathedral in Albi, France

The rude screen is a work or craftsmanship the likes of which I have never seen! Amazing! It’s like looking at a wall of lace! So intricate, so delicate, so perfect. A real labor of love.

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!

The garden of the Berbie palace must be viewed from atop the garden walls, no access to the ground level. It is just spectacular..not a stone out of place, or boxwood hedge overgrown, or faded flower anywhere! You would have probably been worried that I would use this as inspiration for our garden one day..well, you’re probably right Rod!
From the Berbie Palace garden wall, the Tarn river flows peacefully under a medieval bridge (the short one) that is still in use today!!) and the “new bridge” build in 1944. Both bridges are red brick, keeping in style with the architecture of the town..brilliant planning!
The medieval bridge has cars on it, with quite a firm foundation! I actually drove across this bridge before I knew what I was driving in! The Tarn river is shallow, and placid which makes for nice reflections!
The “new bridge”, built in 1944 during WWII is also beautiful . It has an art nouveau feel. Not the right time period, but that’s the feeling it gave me..and you know my love for all things Art Nouveau!
The cloister of Saint Salvie was also an interesting find behind some city walls in Albi. Much of this was destroyed during the French Revolution so the gallery is all that remains..and it’s not so bad either!

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 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 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 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!

I took off hiking with the first goal to reach this lake. As you can see, it was slightly overcast which was great for me!

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!

With sprinkles of rain and legs starting starting to feel it, I decided to turn around at this waterfall, somewhere around 1950 meters altitude.
The path up was climbing..not so bad..the hard part for me was coming down ..reminded me of when we “ran” the marathon on the Great Wall if China..we climbed and descended that }=#^% wall! We did it back in 2013, you and me baby!

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!

Just a portion of the waterfall at Pont d’Espagne in the Pyrenees National Park..too big to capture in even a widescreen lens! So much water, so clean, so cold, so life-sustaining, rushing to the Atlantic Ocean to be recycled someday again as rain…it’s an amazing system God created isn’t it?

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!

An example of one meal..leek and potatoes soup, followed by a goat cheese salad, then cod on a bed of risotto, and an apple crumble with a dip of Carmel ice-cream. I mean really!? This level of food in a Demi-pension? I looked up the restaurant in the Michelin red guide and sure enough it has 2 forks..very good recommendation!

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 rented the bike, remembering the times when we lived in the Burgundy region and we would load our bikes up on the rack behind our little VW Polo to find the VTT’s organized on the weekends. I don’t have a bike of my own now Rod, no place to store it, and all of our 8 bikes are still in storage! One day, I’ll get them out too.. but not today. I rode the green way from end to end..about 36km round trip. Remembering the greenways and parks and paths we traveled together on our bikes and running…too numerous to mention..suffice to say, world-wide. Such fond memories.

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!

Sewing supplies anyone?
What about some cured ham, farm fresh eggs, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, local cheeses, soaps, oils, honey, know the deal Rod!

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!

The mountains form a type of circle (hence the name “circle de Gavarnie”. The waterfall in the distance is my hiking goal for the day.
Getting closer to the is just stunning! The hike was relatively easy, even though it was up hill most of the way, I had a good path most of the time. lots of people on the path too so if something did happen, hopefully someone would call emergency help!
A man was nice enough ton take my photo as I got closer..the footing here was dicey to say the least!
And yes! I finally arrived upright, no falls for me and I’m now at the base of the highest waterfall in Europe! 422 meters verticale drop.
Hard to describe the beauty and feeling I get next to a nice waterfall..soothing to the soul (even if my feet were searching to keep a good balance!)
A little panorama from the highest waterfall in Europe.
The view on the way back was also splendid..and once I got off of the loose, slippery rocks of the waterfall, it was relatively smooth sailing back to the car!
And at the bottom of the 10 k hike, I rewarded myself with a type of’s not really a crepe, it has another name that starts with a g..anyway, it tasted great!

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 need to look for a place to eat..home base had everything we needed…Thank you again Axelle!

Cream vegetable soup, goat cheese salad, bar fish and a specialty ice-cream. The bar fish reminded me of our time at the Intercontenental Grand hôtel in Paris and the times we stayed there in Demi pension. The way the waiter deboned the fish and presented it at the table was really impressive to both of us..That is another place that I will probably leave just for us..not sure I could go there alone… not yet, maybe never. And today, that’s ok today.

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!

My version of a dash cam with my phone..and driving a stick shift and trying to hold the phone in place was probably not my smartest move of the day!
On the route to pic du midi
Along the route there were these animals…it’s called a Nourafon in French, My friend And alpaca rancher tells me it’s a Lama (Thanks Jack!). Just after I took this photo another car stopped beside me, and out bolted an Australian border collie and it started to herd these animals! The lady finally got control of her dog and everything calmed back down!
I took the télécabine and came up to the top..beautiful weather, stunning peaks! Part of me feels like I cheated to get here! I saw the hikers below..the path looks to be in good shape..I’m sure I could do it! Next time?
One of the attractions is the overhang observation station..yes, I had to do it!
At the pic du midi..the glass bottom was really dirty so no sensation of height. I remember the glass bottom cliff side path we went on in China..we did it. Now I did it..not the same, but another hurdle passed in this journey of life.
This is an observatory and there is a possibility to come up in the evening, see the sunset, spend the night in the scientists quarters and then see the sunrise. Reservations are currently being accepted for Sep 2021…May have to do that Rod!
From the Pic du midi, altitude 2877m. Reminds me of the time we went to The base camp of Mt Everest ..there we were at 5,150 metres(16,900 ft) the roof of the world. In Tibet, back in 2015, we shared dreams of our future , dreams that were never realized together. We reached out and God was there, letting us know things. You wrote them down..I haven’t had the courage to read that yet..but after this trip, I think I can.

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,