The seedy London hotel turns out to be only slightly seedy. Although the bathroom seem to be a portaloo that had been shoved in the cupboard. It contained the world smallest shower, during the use of which it was difficult not to bang your elbows on the sink whilst washing your hair. At least I got the traditional Thursday pie and chips at the pub across the road, washed down with London Pride.
The flight to Toulouse is on time and goes smoothly until we find out that a small proportion of our party had missed the flight. Our skis. The very same skis that yesterday I had paid £136 in excess baggage charges for. Not happy.
We are given a Toyota Verso hire car, a car I never knew existed. Yet again it wasn’t what I asked for and was a free upgrade. Lovely. I hope it can do mountains. At least, at long last, we manage to buy a map.
The next problem is that the car takes diesel and it needs filling up, they gave us half a tank. How odd is that? However nowhere in France seems to sell diesel, only something called ‘Gazole’. Is this the same thing? There’s one way to find out.
We check into a nice hotel at St Marie de Campan. Rather nicely smack bang on a typical Tour de France route nestled between the great peaks of the Tourmalet and the Col d'Aspin.
Our room is small but cosy and I instantly the name the two bed cushions after our poor kennelled friends back in England. Mien host is a jovial chap who speaks good English as well as stocking Leffe and Pelforth, as do most places around here. Whether quaffing a 6.5% ale is good practice for lunch, I’m not sure. The French wine is good too; local, cheap and tasty. The meals, which are usually good value three course affairs, are massive.
We spend two days skiing in and around the Tourmalet at the resort of La Mongie in glorious sunshine. After one day skiing on hired skis ours arrive, couriered across from Toulouse airport. Which I suppose is impressive but doesn’t make up for the fact they should have been on the same plane as us.
La Mongie is pleasant but is your typical French ski resort. Purpose built once up on a time but now slightly tatty and rundown. By the way the hire car is still functioning, so presumably Gazole is ok.
On Monday we leave France, leaving Mien host shaking his head, looking at the sky and predicting huge snowfalls, and head for Spain. Apparently they have had some falls even in England but we’ve had nothing here. Yet.
We check into a hotel in the village of Salardú where out new Mein host speaks no English at all and we speak no Spanish. In the restaurants everything is printed in two languages, Spanish and Catalan. Neither is of much use to us ignorant English. A least on the first day we discover a dark beer from Madrid and no less than three variants of San Miguel. Which looks promising.
Breakfast, which we christen ‘The Full Spanish’ includes six different types of cake and cubed dark chocolate. The evening meals are equally massive.
We ski in the Spanish resort of Baqueira, which is nicer, prettier, more modern and considerably more expensive. However after only one more day of sun, the snow arrives and stays. Through the week the snow gets deeper, the visibility gets less, the temperature gets lower (-14C at the top) and the skiing noticeably tougher.
Resulting in a corresponding increase in the quantity of beer, wine and cake needed to recover from a hard day. It’s still snowing when we leave three days later.
The snow makes of getting out of the small hotel car park, which is down a narrow, undulating, single track cobbled road increasingly difficult despite some excellent road clearing by the Spanish. Somehow we manage it. I have to say the Verso didn’t let us down. On one day I’m not sure that L is that impressed, when having survived the snowbound hotel car park, we are then tasked with parking on a cliff edge at the ski lift but as I’ve said, the Verso didn’t let us down.
On Friday we arrive in Toulouse and use the internet to look up advice on where to find the nearest decent beer. The general consensus appears to be Belgium. It can’t be that bad surely? We do find a decent pub, La Tireuse, although most, if not all, of the beer is from Belgium including the wonderful Stout Leroy.
Then the next day we fly home and lo and behold our skis come with us. Then it’s a drive up the motorway to collect a pair of rather rotund looking dogs, who look like they've also been on the Full Spanish. I think all four of us will be starting an immediate diet.
(Friday 15th March)