About two months ago, I receive a message from one of my friend from the Antarctica trip. He was organising a surprise birthday party for his now wife for her 30th anniversary in the Pyrenees. This sounded like the perfect opportunity to catch up and get some fresh air and hiking. I made sure to count my days left in my Schengen zone visa so I wouldn’t run out before the birthday. Being Canadian, I’m allowed 90 days in 180. While I’m often tempted to complain this is not long enough for my liking, I’m acutely aware now that at least I am legally allowed in the country for 90 days at a time, which is actually pretty good. In order to get enough days, I took a week off from volunteering in Calais and went back to the UK. But of course I miscalculated my days and it turns out I had to leave France one day earlier than I would have liked, but nevertheless, I had just enough days to be there for the weekend.
I left Calais and stopped in Paris for a couple nights. At first, I thought I would go see if Paris had changed since the last time I was there years ago, but that was silly thinking of me. I was so exhausted I ended up sleeping, only getting out the hotel to get some food at the nearby supermarket before coming crashing down in my very comfy bed. I guess I’ll now have to go back to Paris to have a proper look at the city of love!
Quick catch up with a childhood friend
When I decided to go visit Audrey and Pascal in the Pyrenees, I realised I could hit two birds with one stone and also catch up with a childhood friend of mine who just happened to have moved to Bordeaux.
I always love it when you meet up with friends you rarely see, yet every time it feels like to time has passed at all. That’s how it is with Vero, and I love it! We had a lovely time, dinner, drink and walk by the river at night. Bordeaux seems to be a nice city and I’ll definitely have to add it to the ever-growing list of places to return to.
Surprise birthday party
I have to admit, by the time I arrived in Aucun, the small Pyrenees village we were spending the weekend in, I thought that for sure my friend would know by then that about 60 people were gathering to celebrate her birthday. Surely someone would have dropped a hint or something. But when she came back from a hike to have dinner with what she thought was going to be only her father, the look on her face said it all. She had no clue! She looked in shock for the whole evening, which included many challenges: eating insects, a geography challenge of some countries they had not visited in their three-year round the world trip, and a dance challenge. To say that she succeeded at all the challenges would be lying but she really gave it her all!
Met lovely, inspiring people
I met some of Audrey and Pascal’s families and they are so nice. I mean genuinely nice and interested in others. Something I definitely needed in order to land back smoothly into the normal world after Calais. I was not the only one having made changes in my travel plans to make sure I was there, there was a sweet woman from Colombia and another one from Singapore. It surely reflects on how much we love Audrey and Pascal, that we would all be ready to move our plans around to make sure to be there to celebrate with them. They are some of the nicest and most amazing humans I know.
Hiking in the Pyrenees, simply beautiful
We couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was sunny and warm. Warm enough to be wearing only a t-shirt instead of 2 jumpers, a jacket and a scarf! I had never been to the Pyrenees and I must say, it is stunning.
The rugged mountains in the background, the colourful autumn leaves and the great company made for our first short hike a great moment. Plus I really needed to walk off some of the many, many calories ingested during the weekend! At one point it felt like all we did was eat. We had breakfast, lounged in our amazing lodge, joined everyone for lunch, went for a very short walk and it was already time to come back for dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating, but this was a lot of food!!
Finally back into the nature
I was not the only one needed to walk off some of the food, so much so, a group of 15 of us went for a walk. The sun was shining and the turquoise water sparkling. It was splendid. We made our way to a little cabin used in the past by shepherds. They would find shelter under massive rocks, and at one point they probably thought, why not build actual walls and call this a home.
After our lunch break, we kept going up the mountain and when entering a little valley we encountered a group of pretty cute chamois. I really don’t understand how agile they can be to climb up the mountain, but that’s definitely a skill I need to work on. There’s no way I could ever be as graceful as they were but I’m sure I could be slightly less inelegant!
After a few days, it was already time to head back to the UK and leave the Schengen area. This whole weekend, with all its gorgeous scenery, welcoming people, and the summery weather was definitely what I needed, even if I didn’t know it at the time!
Merci Vero and Paul, Audrey and Pascal and all your friends and relatives, I had an amazing time!
Have you ever to organise a big surprise birthday celebration and managed to keep it a secret until the very moment the person walks in the room? If so kudos to you!
What are your favourite spots for a rejuvenating outdoorsy few days?