Feeling the contrasts.

For exiting Andorra to France there aren’t many choices: Pas de la Casa; so, this time, I took the pleasure of enjoying the lack of freedom (and please don’t come and tell me that freedom is not a burden). Well, actually there is a possible choice: you can drive through the tunnel or take the mountain pass; but being a biker who likes heights, curves and open spaces, I didn’t hesitate.
Right in Pas de La Casa, the town, I spend a good while watching the bustle of tourists and especially bikers who go there for shopping, fueling and eating. The sun shone in a cloudless sky, getting the brightest colours and reflections from the objects, and I entertained myself by just glancing at the bikes, the liveliness, the people, groups, clothing, variety… Mostly there were French, but also Catalans and from other parts of Spain. I seized the opportunity for eating my last tapas of this trip at a well known Basque franchise where I was treated quite nicely, and time went so fast that it was well over noon when I took my Rosaura again and moved on.
Crossing the border is painless: there is a speed limit and a few empty booths; I guess the lanes are remotely surveyed.
Once in France, the first thing that draws the attention of the watchful driver is the change in scenery: in this part of the Pyrenees the French side is considerably uglier, bare, without trees, and you need to descend a few kilometres towards the valley for getting to the forest again. But I didn’t mind, because thist day (and the following ones) I foud out that French secondary roads are a heaven for bikers: well paved, full of those fun bends neither too fast nor too slow, well banked, safe and in countless numbers. Definitely a country to wear the rear tire the right way: in a curve (pun intended).

Aix-les-Thermes. El prepirineo francés.
Aix-les-Thermes. French Pyrenees’ foothills.

Of course, the moment I could I left the only and busy road from Andorra: in Ax-les-Thermes, where I took a by-road going east to Quillan, hence another North to Couiza and then again I gave my back to the west.
I must say here that the second thing that I found shocking -despite knowing it- in my neighbour country was the prices: petrol hit a double somersault from the € 1.25 in Andorra, jumping over the € 1.40 in Spain, to land on the € 1.60 a litre; and in a shoddy village bar I was charged € 2.80 for a plastic glass of Coke poured from a 2 litres bottle. What a rip off! But, well, this helped me to become aware of what I’d find during the next days, and from there on I managed to more or less forget about comparing prices.
What up in the mountains was a warm morning became a hot and wet afternoon in the valley (France is generally much more humid than Spain) that forced me to take off the three-quarter and ride on a shirt. The clock was strucking five and I had not yet found a hotel that suited me when, examining a small informative sign full of notices (typical in France), one of them caught my attention: hot springs 2 km. This could be good a good end of the day, so I detoured along a narrow road and soon got to the charming little village of Rennes-les-Bains, whose houses and streets reminded me of a romantic Colomer watercolour.
Surrounded by a grove, the place was like those described in costumbrist novels from the past century: narrow streets flanked by tall old houses, with worn woodwork and blurry window panes; a Venice-like river whose banks are the buildings, its windows overlooking it, and crossed by several little bridges; a small square, very quiet, with two restaurants and a bakery where they also serve morning coffee for breakfast; and a hidden corner where a hotspring pours its waters to the river and to a little public hottub, frequented by old couples during the day and by young couples, I guess, during the night.

Rennes-les-Bains
Rennes-les-Bains

I asked for accommodation at an ancient riverside hotel of a classical name, Hotel France, perfectly matching the picture; it was run by a smiling and slim lady, as old as the building. The reception was a cabinet furnished with square glass panes up to the ceiling, like those we see in some movies; the large, heavy, old-style room keys hanged on a board. There was a glass door with curtains leading to an outdated dining room, silent and gloomy at that time. The floor and stairs were wooden, and creaked at every step. My bedroom was charmingly simple: a small toilet, a huge iron bed, a wardrobe and a night table. The window overlooked the river and the roofs of the houses opposite, and also the bridges and a small, forgotten park. I fell in love with the decline of that place.

Desde la ventana de mi habitación.
From my room’s window.
Un hotel de los de antes.
Old style door key and handle.

I was surprised -by contrast with the Spanish undeniably police State- that the landlady didn’t ask me absolutely nothing for registration: neither the money, nor an ID, nor even my name to be taken down in a guest book. Nothing. Here’s the key and pay me tomorrow when you leave. And so it was also in all the following hotels I stayed at in France, and later on in other civilized countries in Europe, with some exceptions. I find it ridiculous – I can’t help it – that the so-called republicans in Spain go around making noise for kicking out our king because they’d rather have a president -what a trifle- while at the same time they show a doglike submissiveness about matters much more relevant from a democratic and practical point of view, like this police control I’m talking about, for instance.
But let’s finish my story of that day.
I took a bath, of course, as I had meant; but in the swimming pool, not in the small hottub I’ve mentioned, as this one I only discovered later. And as I was drying in the weak sun of twilight, I fell asleep for a while, listening to the indistinct voices of the other bathers, the sweet and lulling French accent; after which I felt like a brand new man, and a hungry one too. I took a salad or something like that at a pizzeria in the square, and I went to bed that night with my head full of fantasies.

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