17.04.2015 - 24.04.2015 25 °C
We've been weaving back and forth between France and Spain along the Pyrenees. To cross the mountains we either drove over or under. One tunnel was over 5 km long and the snowy mountain passes were topped with ski hills (our first snow in a year!). The scenery was spectacular and we were glad that pretty much stumbled into this part of France.
Simon, as is his thrifty nature, found a camping discount card online that gave 50% off hundreds of European camp sites in the shoulder seasons. We stayed for 15€ to 25€ a night plus perks next to some amazing attractions. The campground in Barcelona provided a free bus into the city center, a shop to buy fresh baguette and a petting zoo. The campground in Ax Les Thermes was a short, pleasant walk along the river to yet another quaint town. It was set up for tourists with a gondola that went from the town up to an area of three ski hills. It is famous for its hotsprings but we couldn't go into the posh thermal baths because they didn't allow men to wear loose shorts, only tight speedos. I think its a weird french hygiene thing because we saw the notices posted at other swimming pools. In the village we had a rare meal out and resisted the temptation to have raclette, because not only was it expensive but so unhealthy, the cheese wedge they melted onto potatoes was the size of James' head! But we all had delicious three course meals and once again the wine was cheaper than water (1.50€ per glass). Campgrounds here are a legitimate tourist draw, many have waterparks and other fun activities. They are well-supported by the community, one had a bar that catered to campers (see below). We quite enjoyed camping except that doing schoolwork and eating were a bit tricky as most of the campgrounds expected you to bring your own picnic table. We got tired of sitting on the ground so for the last week we rented another bargain gite near the town of Oloron-Ste-Marie. We were deep in the country-side tucked up next to the mountains but still got fresh baguette delivered to us every morning
As we drove through both countries the evidence of warfare between the two was quite obvious - castles and lookout towers perched on each peak. We hiked up to one in France that was famous because it held up to a nine month siege (Montsegur, if you are curious). The hiking was really good in this region, lots of trails and we were able to drive right up to the alpine. On our hikes we saw an isard, european vultures, a super worm, and many hawks circling in their mating dance. Mqost of the other native wildlife we saw in zoos. We stopped at the Parc D'Ours thinking it was a bear sanctuary (this is one of only two places to find brown bears in europe) but it was a small zoo with four grizzly bears in a large enclosure and a collection of the native ungulates In enclosures you could stroll through. Nice, but we are nearing our threshold for visits to zoos.
That said, our final day in France was spent at Zoo La Fleche. Remember how we let James and Neve watch lots of french TV in order to practice their french? Well, their favourite show was a reality show filmed at Zoo La Fleche detailing the lives of the zoos animals and their keepers. We offered them EuroDisney but they both wanted to go and see the stars of the TV show. It was a great experience! Sealion, parrot and raptor shows combined with some unusual and exotic animals. Neve was thriled to get autgraphs from her favourite keepers. The next day we said a fond farewell to France and boarded the Eurostar in Paris, excited to be on our way to England.