Sunny countryside, super cycling, sore crotches!
We have had two great days riding down from the Bordeaux department, across the Gascony forest to Dax on the edge of the French Basque country. The weather has been superb with bright sunshine and a light breeze to keep us cool. The gradients were exceptionally gentle, more or less flat and we were able to average 18-20 kilometres per hour including walking around towns looking for the Office de Tourisme and shops. Our only small complaint were the straight roads. These have led to some soreness in the nether regions as we are never shifting position on the saddle which happens naturally as we go around bends in the road or up and down rises. To counteract the tenderness we have resurrected the ‘enforced’ stops we invented in Finland. This involves stopping every 10 kilometres, getting off the saddle and eating a jelly. The current jellies of choice are ‘frites’ or in British English ‘chips’. I’m not sure the jelly makes much difference directly to our soreness but it does lift our morale!
Visits to Tourist Offices have become obligatory since we left Paris as we are official pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. We have a ‘Credencial’ each that we get stamped every day to show our progress. In France these stamps are called les tampons. It is a little surreal, particularly for Jerry, to be asking female tourist office assistants for a tampon and then to be saying how attractive the design of it is!
We found a beautiful aire de camping in the tall pine forests at Luxey. Complete with flushing toilets and showers, the spot overlooked a small pond with yellow flag irises around its perimeter and a rather aggressive pike (most likely) patrolling the shallows for tasty snacks. There were lizards warming themselves on sun bleached logs, and a pair of nuthatches flitting around around from tree to tree collecting insects for their chicks tucked into a hole in the side of an oak tree just metres from our tent. The pair of them visited our tent whilst we were sitting at the nearby picnic table. One at each open door, they couldn’t quite summon up the courage to fly inside.
Our night’s sleep in this tranquil spot was a little disturbed. Not by the wildlife, but by a machine gun firing helicopter, at least, that is what Jerry tells me it was as I was asleep at the time, and by some French hippies. This group of young adults turned up in a motley array of vans and lorries converted into camping accommodation. They partied into the wee small hours playing music with a very frenetic beat. We were glad when it was 7am and time to get up.
Dax, where we are now, has turned out to be a very interesting place. We are in an earthquake zone, and were given instructions on what to do if one happens whilst we are on the campsite.
It also has thermally heated water pouring out of the ground in the main square at the rate of over 1,000 litres per minute. At 64 degrees Celsius, it is almost too hot to touch.
Apparently, it is a great cure for rheumatics as proved by a Roman centurion’s dog who recovered miraculously after having been left on the banks of the river here by its owner.
This is also bull and cow fighting country and the town has a bull ring not far from the city centre. We will leave here before the May fighting events, which, I think I an grateful about.
However, this afternoon, we were lucky enough to coincide our visit with a concert at the Dominican monastery. It headlined Elizabeth Sombart, a french pianist, who besides playing more recently with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, has set up Fondation Résonnance, an organisation that offers free classical music education in several countries. Chopin was on the menu today and the five musicians played beautifully in the monastery’s chapelle packed with French locals and visitors.