En route, we stopped in the UAE and stayed in Sharjah; Claire and Sophie stayed one night, whilst Pat attended the Gulf Maritime trade show. We had a bit of a wander around the souks, but Sophie had tea in KFC, as it was the only thing she was likely to eat. We managed to find some more local fare - kebabs.
Sophie was reunited with some toys (as were Claire and Pat who had left their bikes in the UK), although some, like the glockenspiel had to come with us from Australia. We had a fun time at Dad's. Sophie enjoyed watching the ducks at the bottom of Grandpa's garden.
We visited another of the places Patrick's parents had bought to do up, this one in the Lot part of France.
On the fourth night, we finally arrived at the base of the Pyrenees at Bagneres-de-Bigorre. It was so spectacular - the mountains looked so close. It wasn't actually raining when we arrived, but we had a feeling it would be cold, so we decided to book into an on-site van rather than the tent - luxury!. We were really glad we did, since it rained a lot after that and it was so cold. On the plus side, there are about 300km of signed MTB trails starting from Bagneres-de-Bigorre and then several other centres nearby. Pat tested one of the trails in the pouring rain - interesting riding in muddy conditions after eight years in WA!
He also suggested driving up to La Mongie (a ski resort near the Col du Tourmalet) one day. We didn't quite get there - we could hardly see a thing anyway, and then it started snowing. (N.B. Most of the pictures here show good weather - well, it was nice some of the time, and we didn't bother taking photos of the rain.)
Despite the appalling weather (we kept thinking, "if this is what it's like in May ..."), we really liked Bagneres, and put a deposit down on a flat within the week. It's the top floor - 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and comes with a garage, which is great except the neighbours keep blocking the entrance.
Outside our very helpful estate agent's:
We had an easy drive down, stopping off for one more night in the tent on the way down. Then, when we got within 10 km of Siguenza, we ran into a religious fiesta. Anywhere else, they'd suggest an alternative route, but here we were just told we'd have to park in the field along with everyone else and we might be able to get out by lunchtime. It was a huge market and fun fair, and also with queues of people waiting for confession - several queues for confessions by a post in a field. Eventually, we decided that the dirt track we were parked by would have to join back onto the main road further down (people and cars kept coming from that direction). It didn't, but in fact it went all the way to Siguenza, and it was an amazing sight to suddenly come out by the castle.
The conference was in a Parador... (this one was a restored castle dating from about the 11th century, that had been mostly destroyed during the Spanish Civil war. Patrick, of course, was very busy with the conference, and all the sumptuous meals that were put on. Sophie and I just had a quiet week, pottering around the town (with all the driving we'd been doing and that was to come, I couldn't be bothered to get into the car).
We had a couple of problems. In Spain, lunch doesn't get served until 1 o'clock, just in time for Sophie's midday nap, then nowhere serves dinner before 8:30pm, and we were struggling to keep Sophie up till 8pm. Lunch wasn't too bad, because we usually have sandwiches and salads, but dinners were tapas (for me and Sophie that is). Also, the fact that we were all in one room together meant once Sophie was in bed, we were huddled in the window niche, trying to keep quiet and not using too much light. But it was still great to stay in an old castle.
Also, Sophie managed to charm everyone at the Parador. She even managed to get her sofa bed made up for her, with Dolly in it.
After the conference we headed north-east for my(Patrick's) Mum's flat in St Raphael in Provence, France. On the way we spent a night in Cardona, north of Barcelona, this was in another Parador. By this time, we'd had enough of trying to get Sophie off to sleep in the evenings, so we just gave in and took her down to the restaurant, where we had a lovely (but short) meal.
Sorry no photos of the awesome mtbing in Switzerland, just one of Sophie playing with Marianne's Mum's cat!
Marianne and Andy live near Zug, not far south of Zurich. It was a lovely area and we mainly spent the time taking it in turns to go out riding. They also took us up to Marianne's parents' farm. Apart from the cats, there were donkeys, sheep, alpacas, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, a pig and a peacock. Naturally, Sophie loved it there.
From Switzerland, it was on to Chatel in the Port du Soleil ski area in France, just over the Swiss border, to visit some long time friends, Guy and Boutaina, from Southampton University. They have two boys: Hugo 3 and Lucas 1.5, and it was really nice for Sophie to have some other kids to play with.
Patrick and I both managed to get out for a short ride, separately though. Unfortunately the ride I decided to do turned out to include part of a national downhill course, Naturally, I ended up walking most of that part. Patrick, however, enjoyed trying it out later.
Here are a few pictures from around Bagneres de Bigorre. You can look out the window and see straight up the street to the Pic du Midi (although it;s not too clear in the photo).
Some great mountain biking, and also road riding. Pat's been up the Col de Tourmalet (about 1600m climb -58km round trip from Bagneres-de-Bigorre) and we are eagerly awaiting the Tour de France on the 18th July.
To give you a feel of what its like, here are a couple of pics I took on an evening ride, 8:30pm looking south towards the Pic du Midi...
Watch this space...