To Lagrasse: a tale of three cities - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

October 25, 2022

To Lagrasse: a tale of three cities

Well, none of these three qualifies as a city but chalk it up to poetic license.

Lagrasse: October 25, 2022

So it’s just us from here on out.  Barring any really big surprises we don’t anticipate seeing anyone else we know between here and Nice as we set off at the start of the last section of the journey.  It’s odd thinking about the weeks ahead, because on the one hand we’re starting to get short-timers attitudes, thinking about what we have to look forward to when we return to Portland, and even starting to plan on next spring’s tour.  On the other hand, we still have five weeks on the road before the end, which is as long as any of the normal tours we took in our working years.

The weather looks fine if windy today for our somewhat hilly ride to Lagrasse.  Frustratingly we still haven’t heard back after several attempts from our B&B hosts on our request to check in before 5.  We leave our apartment at 11 with the thought that we’ll arrive in Lagrasse around 3 and Rachael can take a walk she’s mapped out while I watch the bikes somewhere for a few hours until our room becomes available.

We peek down the street at the Frasiers’ home as we bike by on the way out of town but don’t see anyone out watering the lawn or raking the leaves.  A few minutes later we’re biking out of town, backtracking the tail end of yesterday’s ride nearly all the way to Saint-Hilaire.  It takes some work talking Rachael down from her urge to revisit the monastery and pet that cat again, but finally we make the turnoff and strike off onto new roads.

Looking back from the short climb to Col d’ Al Bosc. I think I took a photo from about here then, but I’ll include this one to brag on the fact that I recognize the village of Pieusse this time. We’re quickly becoming experts on the region, and with a few more days I’m sure we’d be thoroughly oriented. I think it would take a lot longer before I could pronounce Pieusse correctly though.
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A two summit morning! I think we must be ready for a return to the French Alps.
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There’s Saint-Hilaire Abbey. Somehow I failed to take a photo of the outside yesterday, so I’m glad of the second chance this morning.
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The next ten miles are a pleasant if undramatic ride through the country as we gradually climb to the high point of the day - a saddle at about 1,300’ that disappoints me by not having a summit marker.  I know better though - a three Col day!

As we bike I occupy myself by trying to recall when we’ve seen Lagrasse before, a town I remember cycling past but not really visiting.  I remember it for the craggy ruins of its chateau rising above the perimeter wall that surrounds the town.  I have a mental image of this, but I can’t get back the itinerary that makes sense - where were we biking to and from, and which tour was it?  I finally conclude that this must have been on the ride to Foix that took us up to Monsegur, a ride I was just mentioning to Rich two days back.  But where did we start from on that day?  Nothing really adds up.

New breed! New to us anyway. Someone out there surely recognizes it.
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Keith AdamsRomagnola, maybe?
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Keith AdamsLooks possible. Some member of the podolic group (also known as grey steppe cattle) certainly. Thanks for directing me to these. I’ve probably seen them before, particularly in Italy, but haven’t noticed. It’s like sheep. I should have been paying more attention all these years.
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1 month ago
Keith AdamsTo Scott AndersonI'm certainly no expert- "all hat and no cattle" as the Texans call it- but Google pointed me that direction when I pasted the central cow from your photo into the image search function.

Romagnola bulls seem to have a pretty beefy shoulder hump- not quite Brahman-esque but along those lines- but the cows I saw photos of didn't.
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1 month ago
Approaching the high point of the day. Note the sky, which has clouded over and is starting to have a threatening look. Also imagine the headwind, which has gotten chillier and picked up significantly.
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Near the summit we find a wide spot in the road to stop for a quick lunch.  While we’re sitting there I pull up the weather report to get the latest line - which tells us inaccurately that it’s actually raining at the moment, but should stop soon.  Unsettling, so we decide we’d better be moving.

If the first half of the ride was fine but unmemorable, the back half changes all that as one attraction after another distracts my attention from the darkening skies and brings me to a halt.  Rachael’s long gone coasting down to the valley ahead, so I start collecting a list to test her with when we meet up again.  Did you see the pair of horses and riders?  Did you see the horse standing in the middle of the road?  Did you see the arched stone bridge?  Best of all, did you see the cranes?

The start of a beautiful five mile descent to the Sou River.
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In Arquettes-en-Val. A windmill? If so, I’ve never seen one quite like this. While I’m looking Rachael disappears around the next bend.
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We’re briefly off pavement, which worries Rachael at first but doesn’t last long. Just enough for texture.
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Descending toward the Sou.
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Another Where’s Rachael shot. Hopefully this is all you need, because without my zoom camera it’s the best I can do.
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Passing through Servies-en-Val.
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Horse in the road! When I first approached he was just standing in the middle of the road. I think Rachael caught him on the video.
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Cranes! I heard them before seeing them. I was thrilled by this, as it’s the first time I remember seeing Eurasian Cranes in France. They’re on their fall migration, en route to Africa or southern Spain.
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A beautiful old bridge across the Sou, worth more than the sideward glance I gave it as I raced to catch up with Rachael.
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It seems like I should be able to identify this interesting formation above the Sou, but I can’t.
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Three shades of green: vines , olives, pines.
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Video sound track: Landscape For Future Earth, by Keith Jarrett

I finally catch up with Rachael at the outskirts of Lagrasse, stopped at an overlook staring at its massive partially ruined abbey.  It’s an inspiring view but one that surprises me because it doesn’t really square with my memory of our first bike-by visit.  I chalk it up to the direction we’re arriving from and congratulate ourselves for seeing the town from maybe the best angle.

A few minutes later we briefly stop and look inside the courtyard of the massive abbey, decide that it’s too late in the day to stop in long enough to justify the cost of admission, and move on to crossing the wonderful old bridge at the entrance to town - a sight that doesn’t square with my vague memory either.  Puzzling.

The ride has gone more slowly than we expected, and it’s turning four when we pull up to our B&B.  Rachael optimistically calls the posted number and we’re pleased when a few seconds later the door opens.

A first view of Lagrasse.
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Vines trellised along the wall of the abbey.
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Always better with a bike.
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The old bridge.
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This bridge is made for walkin’, so that’s just what we’ll do.
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Lagarde: May 30, 2014

My first order of business after checking into our room is to pull up our list of journals and figure out when we were here before.  It takes some sleuthing but finally the faded memory reappears, from our memorable ride from Mirepoix to Foix on our first tour of the Pyrenees eight years ago.  I was right that it was that ride through Monsegur, but wrong about the memory.  It wasn’t Lagrasse at all!  It was Lagarde.  No wonder nothing seemed as I remembered.  It’s not the same town.  We’re seeing Lagrasse for the first time.

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Lagrasse: November 28, 2018

The real shock though comes when I come across this entry from our retirement ride from Dubrovnik to Barcelona just four years ago.  We have been to Lagrasse before.  Most shockingly of all, we even stayed overnight here!  Which reinforces the fact that if you’re anything at all like me (i.e., old and with a poor memory) you’d better be keeping a journal if you hope to relive many of your past experiences.

Even more surprisingly, this was one of those exclamation point days that we’ve relived and discussed countless times and even changed our travel behavior as a result of our experience here.  Note the date we were here, late in November.  The town was nearly dead then, and there were zero (count them, zero) restaurants or stores open for the evening.  The place was pretty much shut down for the winter.  Rachael came out of this experience vowing we’ll never go hungry again and always carry# a robust stock of emergency eats.  Also she came out of it with a vow to never come back to this out of the way village that felt then like it was in the middle of nowhere.

So we remember the town well.  We just forgot what the town was.

We even approached the town from the same direction then. Here’s that same bridge across the Sou, which I paid more attention to last time: “ Built in the XII century, the bridge was designed for pedestrian traffic and is thus very narrow. They didn’t have bicycles in mind though, as they hadn’t been invented yet.”
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The second big priority today is to see if we’ll be able to find a meal this time.  It looks quite discouraging at first, with the two most promising ones displaying notices that they’re closed for the next two weeks.  It’s with real relief when I walk around town though to find one on a side alley that looks like it might open this evening because of the chalkboard signs pointing out its direction strategically placed here and there.

And it is open, as we joyously find when we return at 7 sharp.  We’re the first customers of the night, though the place quickly fills up.  It’s an attractive place, a fine meal, a place we’d return to.  We won’t starve!

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Some pics from my brief walkabout, uncaptioned for the time being because it’s time to leave for Narbonne.

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A sign pointing to our restaurant.
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Watch cat.
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Ride stats today: 33 miles, 2,300’; for the tour: 1,204 miles, 77,700’

Today's ride: 33 miles (53 km)
Total: 1,204 miles (1,938 km)

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Lyle McLeodIt's great that you found a place to eat on your second time through! Looks like a very nice place too.
You two travel to so many places that it's bound to happen that you forget a few. This one though seemed to have been burned into Rachael's memory as she sent us a link to your November 28 2018 'near starvation' experience when we almost had one of our own in November 2019 in Venosa. https://www.cycleblaze.com/journals/lecce/day-47-candela-to-venosa/
It's still always good to keep an emergency supply of calories on hand.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Lyle McLeodYou’re right - both of us remember that day very clearly, and many details still come back to us when we relive it. It was pretty startling though that we’d totally forgotten the name of the place over so few years. Depressing, really.

I’d forgotten about that day in Venosa, but it’s certainly one of the same kind. Surprising for a fairly prominent place like Venosa, but then we had problems finding a meal there ourselves last fall.
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1 month ago