Farewell To France

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Sunday 9 December 2018

Farewell To France

Having said farewell to the gite we had enjoyed for much of November and with an intention to reach Spain before it got very much colder, we began heading east through France in intermittent jumps, stopping here and there as we went. We had originally planned to head directly south from the Gers Department and cross the Pyrenees to reach Spain, but with heavy snow surrounding the higher portions of the road passes we decided not to chance it, opting instead use the motorways towards Perpignan and cross on the eastern edge of the mountains.

Our first stop, however, wasn’t very far from the gite at all since it was our much-visited base in Condom, where we spent some time with our Swiss friends who run the Biocoop organic supermarket there. They are such wonderful people, so kind and generous to both people and the many animals they have rescued over the years (in addition to running a shop!) that we just can’t pass by without saying hello. Plus, we had a few practical tasks to get sorted, not least organising a blood test for all of the dogs.

I may write a little more in future about some of the things we have become aware of touring with 5 dogs, but one those things is the various infectious diseases that are prevalent in different parts of Europe. In this case, our concern was a disease called leishmaniasis which is a particular problem in parts of southern Europe and is transmitted by biting sandflys, which are like tiny mosquitoes. The reason we were concerned was that some of the dogs had been showing symptoms of the cutaneous form of the disease for a few months now, ever since we had broken down in Italy.

As it turned out, the place we broke down had a lot of sandflys about at dawn and dusk and we had found several bites on each of the dogs, so we knew it was a risk that one of those bites might have carried the disease. However, that said, they could equally well have picked up the disease earlier in the year in Spain as well. Either way, we had been concerned about the symptoms for a while and we wanted to put our minds at rest and/or start treatment if necessary. We’d initially had a single blood test done in October with a small sample from each dog all mixed together, just to find out if ‘anyone’ had it because the vet was sceptical about the symptoms, which could have been all manner of other things. Unfortunately, that mixed sample came back positive for leishmaniasis, albeit at a low level, so we had to get them all done individually.

Having all five dogs in and out of the vets in one long appointment slot was trying, to say the least. Esther, as usual, was amazing, speaking French and handling the gang inside the vets while I tried to keep the van out of the way and was on hand for dog switches. Later that day we got to give them a final big run on Condom park. The park there is one of our favourite things about Condom. It’s big, green, safe and full of dogs and their friendly owners. Our gang, as you might expect, have become quite well known during our various visits in the last two years and every time we go there now we seem to bump into a human/dog combo we all know by name. It’s lovely. Sporting their matching purple bandages, they all got a bit of extra attention on that final day.

We also, somehow, managed to squeeze in a leishmaniasis test for Esther as well. She’d had an enormous, very sore and long-lasting sandfly bite herself some time ago and had been concerned ever since. However, because of not understanding how the medical system really worked in France for non-urgent matters and also not knowing how expensive it might be, we hadn’t gotten around to doing anything about it. Then, the day before we were due to leave Condom, we finally bit the bullet, walked into a doctors surgery and found that getting an appointment for a blood test, at a dedicated test centre nearby, was as simple as the doctor signing a piece of paper. And the test itself cost all of 17 euros! Which included being able to log in and download the results 3 days later. That was actually 3 euros cheaper than testing one of the dogs, although to be fair Esther struggled less. End result, Esther doesn’t have leishmaniasis and we can relax about it.

But there was still one final thing to do in Condom, albeit unexpected. Again, I haven’t mentioned it on the blog, but in mid-October Esther sprained her ankle very badly during a trail run with me and 3 dogs. It had swelled up massively and she’d been unable to do much on it since. We met someone who recommend an osteopath in Condom, but despite calling and leaving a message with him asking him to call back, we hadn’t heard anything. After sorting the blood test, we decided to have one last attempt and showed up at his practice to see if he could squeeze Esther in, discovering (a) he was a really nice guy, (b) he’d been trying to call and (c) Esther doesn’t know her own phone number very well.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to see us that day. But then, after making a last-minute decision to walk up into Condom and see the Christmas lights around the cathedral before we left the next morning, we bumped into the osteopath who was roller-blading through town. Taking pity on us, he invited Esther to sit, take off her shoe and he gave her a free, 20-minute osteopath appointment seated beneath the stars and twinkling lights right outside of the ornate cathedral. It was magical and another example of life taking care of us.

Phew, so we did finally leave Condom and made it a whole extra hour down the road to Isle Jourdain, another place we had visited more than once this year. We ended up spending another three nights there, walking the dogs around the lakes they had loved so much, taking some to market for a sniff around and enjoying a magnificent, rolling cycle ride through the surrounding countryside. Our trip east through France was turning into a farewell tour of places we’d visited in the past two years.

After Isle Jourdain, we hopped on the motorway to Le Boulou, a few kilometres from Spain, where we ended up spending another fantastic week in the area thanks to some late season sun. We cycled, we walked along the river to some beautiful lakes and we spent three nights in the nearby village of St Andre after an evening visit with the gang’s brother Ted, who lives in the south of France with some excellent humans of his own. We did the same thing at almost the exact same date last year, so perhaps it will be an annual thing.

But it was the weather that really made it special. The fact we were able to cycle up to a 1000 metre-plus col in December, the Font Frede, in addition to other rides near the coast, such as up to other Tour de Madeloc, was a real surprise. Granted, it got cold at night, but by the time the morning chill had burned off it usually turned out very nice indeed. In previous years, we are aware, we’ve been guilty of clinging on to France and the mountains due to fears we won’t enjoy Spain as much, or that we wouldn’t feel as safe leaving the van, or something. But this year, we were simply going with the flow. We were comfortable and so as long as the sun shone, we decided to enjoy this lovely south-east corner of France.

And then the sun stopped shining quite so much and we finally felt it was time to go. We stocked up on a few things we know we can’t buy in Spain, did our laundry (how exciting), posted our Christmas cards in good time….and headed south. The next update will be from Spain.

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