Our time at Ville has flown by and it is already time to leave. We set a target time of 10 o'clock, and surprise ourselves by being ready and loaded in good time. We then had a short wait until our hosts arrived, said our farewells and thank-yous, had an intense debate about the best route to our destination, snapped a final group photo... Including dog faces bum...although you can't tell its dog faces bum, it just looks like a fluffy black thing....
...then we were off. The road started level, through fields of maize, sunflowers and wheat, then suddenly we met the mountains and started to climb. The road zigzagged its way up, passing interesting old fortifications, a talc factory, and impressive views.
The road climbed, through the thermal resort of Ax-les-bains, towards Andorra. Passing a tunnel that would have shortened our route (but missed the views) we pushed on - not all the way to Andorra, for within a few hundred metres of the border we turned left and climbed to the Col de Puymorens. Here it was a bit chilly - about 15°C - though sunny. It was freezing!!!
Our descent started, again switchbacking its way through the mountains. (Probably just as well I had the brakes replaced recently!)
We dropped down through ski villages and pretty old hamlets, stopping for food in Latour-de-Carol, then stopping again to eat it some miles on in Llivia. Llivia is interesting because it is Spanish, yet it's completely surrounded by France! Some years ago, when the border was agreed, this anomaly occurred, and there was recently something of a to-do when the French installed traffic lights on the road between Llivia and Spain proper. The road is considered part of Spain, but it crosses the main N20. The Spanish objected on principle to having to obey French laws when they were in Spain. Still, for us it was just interesting that everything changed to Spanish suddenly - including the bus to Barcelona - and just as suddenly back to French.
mmmmm the pizza me and Kim had been longing for for days! =] eeee!
As we descended from Latour-de-Carol towards Prades, we constantly passed and crossed the amazing railway line operated by SNCF between these termini, the "Train Jaune". Given the road, you can see why the locals prefer the train in wintery conditions. Our first encounter was a close one...Woo! Ickle yellow train! How perfecto for moi!
We then stopped for a breather following a heavy shower (good thing I got new tyres too!) to discover the layby overlooked the train climbing to and crossing a viaduct - we could also see our road winding down the valley.
As we descended the valley we reached Villefranche-de-Conflent, an amazing walled town, surrounded by an amazing number of cars. We were lucky to spot a parking space, and pulled in for a look. (On the hill above is Fort Liberia).
First port of call was the WC; waiting for the ladies I climbed to steps to a terrace, where a group of young men were having a barbecue party. Seeing my camera they urged me to take their photo. As I dithered, they offered a San Miquel to take the photo, so my hesitation ceased! Almost immediately a sausage-in-a-baguette appeared too, and we started chatting as they gave me an e-mail address to send the photo to. When the girls came looking for me there were whoops of delight from the young men, who came offering wine, sausage and more beer (when Kim declined they thought she must be watching her figure, and she got a bit of teasing!). They called me fat!!! It transpired that they were from a local village and were celebrating one of their number getting a new job. Although a little intimidating to the girls (as a group of excited young men can be) they were a very pleasant group.
*note embarrassed scared looking face!*
We said our farewells and headed up the street to the church.
Then back down the parallel street. Note the iron shop signs (a feature of the area). The shops were all pretty touristy, but not really tacky.
The roads were none too wide, as we jumped into gateways to avoid a Defender taking people up to Fort Liberia. (This pic's for Laurie!)
Our route then took us around Prades (and via a Super-U for supplies) then over a D road across the Canigou to Amelie-les-Bains. The Canigou is the mountain which symbolises this end of the Pyrenees, even though it's not the highest. The road was narrow and twisty - fun for the driver, perhaps less so for the passengers (especially when Kim started talking about car crashes!). We climbed into the drizzly rain, but were rewarded with views from the top, and you could just make out the sea (far left of this photo). Hint for coming to this part of France; no toilets ever seem to have toilet roll so you should carry some in your handbag if nature calls!
The long ascent was followed by a long descent into Amelie-les-Bains, another hot springs town, which was heaving, then up the Tech valley to Arles-sur-Tech, where we found the campsite at the second attempt, checked in and met up with Mary and Mark (who Rosie immediately rechristened Meg for some reason). A debate with the manager resolved which pitches we would use, and a long cable was found to supply us with power. We then got the tents up (a challenge on stoney ground - especially for us on the bigger pitch which has be reinforced to take caravans) but we managed. The girls sorted out the sleeping accommodation whilst I tried to get pegs into the ground, and the twins started cooking. I say "the twins" because there was much amusement at how much equipment we had in common: matching tents, cold boxes, transformers, pan sets, peelers, the list goes on.
The girls were left temporarily in charge as dining arrangements were finalised... Nice...lovely faces I think lol. Yes, I have no idea what I'm doing!
.. we then felt drops of rain, and erected the gazebo in double quick time over the cookers and tables, and dined thereunder as the light rain turned into a serious thunderstorm. A few adjustments had to be made to minimise water ingress to the diners and the electrics, but we survived. So after a feast of steaks hachés, potato balls, salad, cheese, wine, we drifted off to bed. It was amazing putting-up of the gazebo apart from us getting slightly confused with the side poles and me having my leg upside-down.
ohhh dear my mouths wide open =[ what a gay! my favourite camping food! eeee! =]
And now, at nearly 8:30, it's time to drag the others out for breakfast!