Salavas

Salavas

Set off late as a result of too much beer last night.
Kas went to INtermarche on her own, and wished she hadn’t.
Came home and we had breakfast, in varying stages.
Went for a walk around Salavas while the girls chilled – found all the caches here.
Came back and not much enthusiasm, so went out for another hour down to Barjac to fill in another department (Gard).
Still no enthusiasm when got home.
Plan to go out into Vallon Pont d’Arc for the evening – nice indoor restaurant with the burgers / stuff

Painful

Painful

When we set off, we’d been thinking we might toy with the idea of going to do a parkrun at Toulouse, but once we arrived in Luz Saint Sauveur it became apparent we could forget that idea. The apartment block wanted to do a formal check on the morning of our departure prior to returning our deposit, and the reception didn’t open until 8am.

We still had a long way to travel, though, so we aimed to get to the door on the stroke of 8am and get the first slot in the departure game. We got up at 6:30 and got on with loading up the car, finishing the cleaning, and dumping rubbish and laundry in the relevant place.

We’d apparently done enough to get our deposit back and the checkout was fairly efficient, so we were off at about 8:05. So far so good, then.

We took the road down the valley and through Lourdes and Tarbes and then headed east on the motorway towards Toulouse. Before we got there we stopped for some breakfast at the Aire de Comminges. We tried to do a geocache there too, to keep the “colouring in” streak going. We couldn’t find it at first, which was annoying. We retired for some breakfast, and whilst sitting there I delved more deeply into the geocache description and found some spoiler photos. D’oh ! How did we miss that ?

Kas took over the driving here, and managed to negotiate us successfully around Toulouse and on the way toward Narbonne before the day started to go a bit pear-shaped. We found roadworks. And then we found a crash, and a big queue, and then more roadworks. The drive from Toulouse to Narbonne took maybe 90 minutes more than it should. This kind of set us behind schedule for the rest of the day. We stopped for a geocache and changed drivers near Carcassonne, but didn’t stay long.

We’d promised the girls the possibility of having a quick plodge in the Mediterranean, so we fought our way through the minging traffic all the way to Montpellier before jumping off the motorway to head for the beach at Palavas-les-Flots. The plan was to park up, plodge on the beach for half and hour, grab an ice-cream and a geocache, and then more on. Unfortunately, plans rarely happen. We couldn’t find anywhere to park, and after half an hour we had to give up, because we’d got an appointment in the evening that was time dependent. So we didn’t stop. We stopped for a cache on the way out of town but I couldn’t find that either, so we just left. We swapped drivers again while we were musing, so Kas was in the hot seat again.

We needed to stop at the Aire d’Ambrussum to get more fuel and take a comfort break, and there was a geocache in the car park, so we stopped for a bit to sort ourselves our. It had been busy all day and we were starting to get a bit sick of it. While we were there, we grabbed some McDonalds to eat too.

From here to our end point the sat nav thought it was going to take half an hour more than the amount of time we’d actually got. That wasn’t good. So we took a second opinion by checking with Captain Google, who said we were OK, just, but only if we went the way he said. As we were short of time, we also decided not to stop for any more geocaches, and that left us with a bit of a gap in the “colouring-in” chart.

The way he said involved driving to Nîmes and then cross-country up to Alès. We followed google to the letter, all the while watching how the changes of route were making the car’s satnav come more into line. We eventually reached our destination town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc at just the right time (6:30pm). We found a car park and pushed our way through some crowded streets up to a small square with a covered seating area, which was the location for the geocaching event I’d noticed some weeks earlier and promised to try to get to. The event was only open for half an hour, so timing was important. We made it to the event but it was pretty obvious the girls didn’t want to be there, so I did a quick traditional cache around the corner and we said our goodbyes to head to our chosen accomodation.

We’d originally booked in an expensive hotel along the road out towards the Ardeche Gorge, but a few days before leaving home we’d thought that spending five days in a single room (and having to go out to eat all the time) wasn’t our favoured mode of operation. We therefore changed it, and moved to a small apartment complex over in Salavas, just south of the river. It proved to be a small family-run affair that had a totally different approach to the commercial skiing place in Luz. We didn’t need to pay until we left, and they were willing to trust. We didn’t have to clean up the flat before leaving and the swimming pool stayed open until “Meh! When we switch the lights off.” They also had a bar that was open more or less all day, so as we were too tired to do anything strenuous, the girls jumped in the pool while Kas and I sat in the bar with a beer and some crisps. When the girls had done in the pool (i.e. when we told them to come out) they had an ice cream from the fridge in the bar.

The apartment was quite small but the bathroom was nice and whilst there wasn’t much room, it was pretty comfortable. Comfort was good, because we hit the beds like four proverbial sacks of potatoes.


Circular

Circular

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After yesterday’s less than complete walk I suggested today that we have a go at somewhere which, on the face of it, seemed relatively relaxed and not strenuous. I thought we might have a go at the Cirque de Gavarnie, on the basis that it’s the one of the most perfect and spectacular examples of this particular geomorphological feature in [Europe. The fact that it was 20 minutes away had some effect too, obviously.

We got up and had a leisurely breakfast while Kas was out running. Eventually we left the house still fairly early, around 10am.

The cirque is up at the top end of one of the valleys that runs into Luz Saint Sauveur, and the road up there proved to be pretty well surfaced and fairly wide. It was also covered in cyclists, but that was true of everywhere we went in the Pyrenees so we were kind of used to it.

The village of Gavarnie is a small settlement that is big on the whole “outdoor activity” theme and is also fairly well catered for as far as car parking is concerned. In fact the car parks are massive, and I can only surmise that this is because the walk to the cirque is one of the famous “must do” things in the area, much like walking up Helvellyn would be in the English Lake District. They may be massive, but mid-morning on a sunny day in summer, they are still full. Getting full, anyway. On the way up the valley I’d got myself into the middle of what turned out to be a group of four cars that were with each other (I didn’t realise it at the time). Anyway, everyone was going to the same place and I ended up parking second spot in a run of five cars. The occupants in the four-car big group seemed oblivious to the fact that we weren’t in their group, to the extent that one of their teenage members started peering into the back of my car and seemed just about to pick out one of the sets of walking boots. Seriously dude ? I think we made the point eventually without too much argy-bargy.

When I started up my GPS (of course, because there were geocaches on the way) it said that the head of the walk, or the foot of the cirque, was about 3.6km away. The first of those km was though the village, so we strolled through in the rather warm conditions and Ami and I filled the bags up with cold drinks and biscuits while the other two found a toilet.

The walk to the cirque appeared to be fairly flat on the map, especially compared to the previous day, and for the first two thirds it certainly was. All the way while you’re walking out you can see the very impressive and substantial back wall of the cirque getting gradually larger. It looks big from the village. It gets amazing as you approach.

As you can see from the photo, the walk up was along a fairly wide and well travelled path, leading eventually into a bunch of trees which completely hid the start of some relatively steep uphill. Eventually you break out onto a flatish area at the foot of the cirque where there’s a big open paved area and a cafe, which we weren’t expecting. We stopped here and the girls waited for me for a bit while ran up the side of a cliff to find a geocache, like you do.

When I came back we had a brief discussion about what we wanted to do, and the girls opted to go plodge in the stream in the bottom of the valley while I opted for one more earthcache, that involved walking right up to the foot of the waterfall on the edge of the cirque.

The walk up was supposedly a mile or so, but what I’d neglected to account for was the underfoot conditions. It started off as reasonable mountain path, but closer to the backwall of the cirque it was basically loose and rather unstable rock. It was like walking up a sand dune only with bigger lumps. Every step involved pushing some rocks down behind me. It took me a while to reach the point required for the earthcache, a part of which involved waiting for the GPS to figure out where it was. Close proximity to a 600m high sheer rockface isn’t conducive to getting a good GPS signal. If the way up there was rough, the way back down was positively tricky. Having your feet slip away behind you whilst climbing isn’t so bad. Having your feet slide away in front of you is quite disturbing.

Once back on terra firma I met up with the ladies back at the cafe and we retired for some ice cream, water and coffee. It was reasonably priced given the location, and we sat for a while resting our achy legs.

The walk back was done with reasonable speed but also a fair amount of moaning due to aching feet.

The car was where I’d left it (which is good), and we were soon back down to the apartment and preparing for our evening. One of the pieces of preparation was washing a few clothes, which worked all fine apart from some oik deciding to take our stuff out of the machine and just dump it on the floor.

While we were getting ready there were large amounts of cyclists turning up in the apartment block. There was an event in the village on the Friday evening and it seemed most of them were stopping overnight at our place. The event meant that many of the roads were closed off to cars from about 6pm so that the cyclists could get to it.

We didn’t actually spend any time watching them, as a result of the fact that we had a reservation at the “Chez Christine” restaurant – the place we’d failed to get into on Saturday night and where I’d suffered the grumps on Wednesday too. Kas has made a reservation for Friday night and we duly arrived for our date.

Aside from the fact that they were very busy and the waitress was really overworked, it was probably the best restaurant we used in Luz. It’s Italian in style and we split a selection of pizzas and pastas between us. I think I had a risotto with chicken and mushrroms. It was well nice. For pudding the girls gorged on their usual things while I ordered a plate of cheeses. Mmmm ! Cheese. And port.

We’d done much of the packing before going out, so when we got back the girls had a bit more packing to do while Kas and I did some cleaning. The apartment was one of those places where you pay a deposit against damages and they check prior to departure whether you’re good to go. They did offer us the opportunity to pay €85 to have them clean the flat on our behalf, but that seemed a little excessive. All we really had to do was to sweep the floors and brush the khazi. It was obvious that they sent cleaners in anyway before anyone else arrived, so I guess they were really looking to make sure you hadn’t done a dirty protest or smashed all the furniture. We hadn’t.