In my mind Ive always dismissed the Pyrennese, that mountainous seam that welds Spain onto France, as kind of pissy. Not a proper mountain range like the Alps, the Andes or the You Yangs. But after slowly chugging up, over, and down seven passes around the 2000m mark in 2 days, I have a new found respect for them. Steep, lofty, and extensive, I seldom got out of second gear in the van.
The road hairpins its way past ski resorts, high alpine meadows with herds of goats and cows with their bells dinging, waterfalls and rocky crags and bluffs. The French side is a bit greener, with resort and spa towns nestled in the valleys. We took a couple of hitchers up to a mountain lake, Lac Estaing, and cooked lunch next to a busload of Paisley parish penshioners crooning ‘Flower of Scotland’ and other party pieces.
I guess the other thing to note is that we were following the route of the Tour de France, two weeks before they were due to come through. The first give away is the amount of graffiti on the road tarmac, done in large letters with the hope of being picked up by the TV helicopters. A lot was about the Contador team that I couldnt always translate but I think was suggesting that they were a pack of cheating druggie scum. The other stuff varied from the personal “LOIC 2008″ to the imaginative “CUNT CUNT CUNT CUNT”. The road was also full of riders, generally middle aged guys in full cycling gear, no doubt reviving boyhood fantasies of winning La Tour as they labour up 1 in 8 degree slopes. We saw quite a few that were gasping and looked close to tears or total mental breakdown, still with a fair bit of the hill to go. It brought to mind the film Belleville Rendevous (Les Triplets de Belleville) and the scenes of the gasping riders. If you havent seen this one I thoroughly recommend illegally downloading it.
Eventually, we crossed the border backover into Spain again, where the grass is yellower and fuel is a lot cheaper. Having been through Luxembourg I thought it would be unfair if having come so close we avoided Andorra. It’s feeling might be hurt.