Back again

It has taken me a few days to get readjusted, but here I am, comfortable again with the flat earth around me and the number of people walking it. It feels good to be back, but those mountains? Wow. And the UCB kept me safe, even when a leisurely stroll up a mountain turned into a mud-bathed scramble down when a sudden downpour hit.

Also, the food was pretty much what I had hoped for. Gloriously crusty baguettes, stinky cheese and tomatoes that put a smile on my face. There were meals out, and meals at our tent, and copious amounts of lukewarm coffee. In short, a perfect break. Want a bit more detail? Here you go, a list of most memorable food moments, in no particular order.

Most memorable lunch
After we spent a hot hour and a half climbing Montsegur mountain to see a crumbling fortress, and about the same time coming down again (what can I say? uphill tires me, downhill scares me), we were ready for a large icy drink and crepes. So we sat on a terrace and waited for someone to take our order. And waited some more. And some more.

When the man went to enquire about sustenance, we were directed up a flight of steep stairs, into the stuffy darkness. And we found this:

There were three large dining room tables, a lumpy comfy chair and impressive amounts of ugly art work. Also, there was a communal bowl of cold rice with vinegar and hard-boiled eggs, undercooked omelet with dried mushrooms, greasy fried potatoes. Ooh, and a jug of passable red wine. After we had a bite, took some pictures and eavesdropped on the English tourists who had also been lured upstairs, we were charged 11 Euro per person for the pleasure. That guileless old woman directing us upstairs? Possibly not so guileless.

Most charming shop
Our first official stop on our trip down (after a short night at a camp ground somewhere north of Paris while in transit), we managed to select a camping almost exclusively filled with people from the NL. Run by Dutchies. Aah, the joys of coming from the most travel-crazy country in Europe. But they did have two pet pigs, a private well and this “shop”, selling home-grown vegetables and unpasteurized apple juice:

You could wander in any time of day or night, make your selection, note it in the shop’s account book and wander out again. No need to find cash, just grab your vitamins and go. Needless to say, we stayed an extra night.

Best meal out

Honestly, we didn’t spend that much time in restaurants. We were too busy tiring ourselves with gulping fresh mountain air to plan elaborate meals out. But when another rainy night threatened near the col du Tourmalet, we decided we could use a treat and found a place to eat in the nearest village. The local hotel-restaurant in St Marie de Campan served us a crudite platter with tangy beetroot cubes, grated carrots and salad leaves with a delicious vinaigrette and sweet melon. Then they brought us grilled chops of locally reared lambs with fresh herb butter and crispy thin fries. To finish, there was a mellow local cheese for me and peach soup with apricot ice cream for the man. Gorgeously simple fare to put a smile in our bellies.

Most extreme cooking
I might have let out a scornful little snort when my man pulled a party tent (one of those things that is basically just a roof, to prevent parties from being a wash-out when showers hit) from the trunk. We weren’t going to use something that uncool, obviously. But then rain threatened and we had fresh chorizo to cook. My ego stepped aside and my man built a party tent.

So there we were, smug under our canopy, cooking sausage and discussing how smart the man was for bringing the hideous structure. Unfortunately, that’s when the Pyrenees roared and a huge thunder storm erupted. Complete with unexpected strong gusts of wind and litres of rain. Per minute. The tent stopped helping shortly thereafter. But if you think I would let something as inconsequential as a bit of water come between me and real Spanish chorizo, you have clearly never met me. So I cooked. And then we ate- in the car, wearing rain coats.

Most smile-inducing food discovery

This truck, at 1490 m altitude. There was a beret- wearing Frenchman inside, selling raw milk cheeses from farms in the immediate vicinity. ‘Nuf said.


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