Down the mountain

We slept well at camping ilisa and woke up refreshed and ready for a long ride. We took forever to get ready however, and started having niggly arguments straight away, not a good sign! I’m not sure what it is, but some days even though we are doing exactly the same thing as the day before,  we can’t agree on anything!  Perhaps we will solve the mystery by the end of the ride.
Ready to ride

Ready to ride

Anyway we set of into a set of uphill switchbacks which warmed us up but did nohing to cool the tempers and we bickered (with occassional truces) most of the way to Mont-Louis. Mont-Louis is a beautiful old fortified town positioned near the highest point of the pass we were travelling between the mountains. It has an intact town wall, although the moat has been turned into a bus-park for the tourists who come to visit.

Across the drawbridge

Across the drawbridge

Inside the walls we were disappointed.  We had been looking forward to a proper breakfast but when we got out of the bakery with our goodies it turned out we had bought the worst croque monsieur ever sold, and some pastries which, while not quite in the same league,  didn’t make us feel like we were in France, land of the patisserie. The roads were shocking, and the public toilet was a disgrace.  Absolute disgrace I tell you. There wasn’t even a sink. There was a fountain outside dribbling water into a manky pool. This was also the public drinking fountain (where we are obliged to get our water). It took about 5 minutes to fill two bottles, which was ample time to observe the crumbling beauty of the place. Sorry for the moan, I think this impression was a combination of being grumpy and having very high standards after our experience of Spain and Portugal where they really know how to do a drinking fountain. Forget lions’ heads on the pipes, what you really want is from your public fountain is: clearly visible, clean water, good flow rate and lack of algal and bacterial mats in the basin. Spain and Portugal, well done. France, could do better!

Coming out of Mont Louis we started down the French side of the Pyrenees. We had read that the mountains drop off sharply on the French side, but we were still surprised to see a sign promising us 12 km downhill at a 10% gradient. This is very steep for those who don’t know! So we put on the jackets, checked the brakes and started rolling!
The road here was great, wide and smooth with exhilarating sharp switchbacks. The mountain dropped away below us on the right, just past the road barrier. The views down the valley were beautiful and formed a potentially terminal distraction from the corners and the traffic! It was loads of fun and cheered us both up a treat. We decided perhaps France is acceptable after all.
Anna preparing to film the fun

Anna preparing to film the fun

The fun!

The fun!

After a few kilometres we got to the next village, where the wide smooth three lane road we were on turned into a rutted narrow road with tourist buses getting stuck on the corners and motorcyclists trying to weave through to save that precious 5 seconds of their lives. Mental, but this was true of all the villages on this descent. Don’t know why, seems an awful error.
We stopped for lunch at a layby which provided further opportunity for bickering as I complained that the spot I’d suggested 2 km back was way better. Not that helpful you may think, but I thought it needed saying at the time! Cheese and chorizo sandwiches improved the mood again though and we set out to enjoy the rest of the descent in happy camaraderie.
More people having fun!

More people having fun!

We went through a town called Prades, which must have been forgettable because I’ve completely forgotten it. The road was busy again and we were being caught up by the rain which we’d been running from all day.
We needed to stop for a wee and we saw a tourist info centre but when we got there, obviously it was shut. We were forced to micturate in a field like animals. We noticed the adjoining property had added 2 feet of white plastic to the top of their wall, and wondered if this was to block the view of desperate tourists relieving themselves. We slogged another few kilometres on the main road before turning off onto a minor road that would take us all the way to Perpignan.  Phew!
Anna had been leading the way for most of the day, taking all the wind and giving me an easy ride. Seeing the road was now flat and we had a  tailwind, I gallantly offered to go in front for a while. It was great! The road was straight and smooth and we opened it up a little, cruising at 30 kph through countryside and small towns. Anna was enjoying herself getting a chance to freewheel, and she said it felt like we were a team. I think this means she thinks i am usually a lazy swine!? Which is true of course.
Running from the rain

Running from the rain

In this happy harmonious state we pulled into a supermarket and anna went to get some bits for dinner while I sat around reading.There was a battered old camper van countaining a couple of guys and emanating a lot of smoke and techno in the carpark, brother tourers! We waved to each other and I was amused to see that when their mate got back to the van, which was facing the exit of the car park, they turned around to drive the wrong way out of the entrance. I don’t know if it was deliberate but I like to think so. Yeah, stick it to The Man!

After stopping again for a bite to eat we carried on our rapid progress and made it into Perpignan about 4 pm. We rolled into the tiniest campsite in the world, which looked like it was a suburban house plot with the house replaced with some tents. We set up and then went to the station to try to sort out tickets to Milan. It turned out we could only get tickets to Vetimiglia which is just over the border, from there we will have to deal with the Italians to go into Milan. Then it was back to camp for dinner, which Anna heroically cooked using a pannier for a table. There were no tables or benches at the tiny weird campsite. We have to get the train at 7.40 tomorrow,  so we need to pack away everything we can in order for an efficient exit in the morning. I think it will take 45 minutes to get out of here and Anna thinks 30. I think she’s forgotten who she’s dealing with, the King of faff!
 – Dave

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