Monday, September 2, 2013

With the Gorge's Smile

I never get tired of staring out a window at new landscapes.  This one was no different, but I was not prepared for the beauty of the region I was entering.   Distracted by the logistics of how to get to the region, I was not prepared for anything other than a good long nap, as I began my third day of travel, with all of 10 hours sleep under my belt.

But as we left the Drome, crossing the Rhone into Ardeche, I sat upright.  OMG...From the graffiti-stained ghettos of Grenoble, I was being transported into God's Country.  We were rounding a bend and the earth dropped away beneath us in a fabulous...gorge?  crater?  valley?  Too pastoral for the drama unfolding before us.  Rivers, waterfalls and cliffs beefed up the beauty, as we serpentined down,  up, around, in and out of rock bridges and medieval towns.  I felt a sudden urge to reach for a travel guide.

And then the destination marquee caught my attention...there were 3, count 'em 3, Aubenas destinations.  Oh brother...which one was mine?!  (Note to self: I must learn to ask about this in future travels!) 

I studied each name as the 3 scrolled around.  Place de la Paix was out--Gilbert had been clear about that.  Gare Routiere--a distinct possibility.  Gilbert has said to get off at the old gare (station).  I turned to the woman behind me and asked if she was from Aubenas--yes!  She consulted with her boyfriend and they decided that yes, I should get off at Gare Routiere.  Good.  Back to the scenery.

A few minutes later she tapped me on the shoulder and said, no, we think it's actually the SNCF Gare...oh boy.  Should I trust these two or lurch up and ask the bus driver?  We pulled in then to Gare Routiere, and I decided this couldn't be it--it was brand spanking new, too far out of town, and no one was around...except that one elderly couple...could that be...I craned my neck as we left and hoped that wasn't the Bouchers.

Next stop: SNCF Aubenas, and off I jumped, looking around quickly while the door opened for luggage.  I heard my name and turned to see Josy, waving wildly and crossing the street without looking--, her characteristic enthusiasm intact at 80 something.  We were soon hugging and talking at once, while Gilbert waved his cane and laughed from the cafe.  We joined him for a quick drink before the last leg of the journey: a slow crawl through Pont de la Beaume, Thueyts (I dare you to pronounce it) and Barnas, where we turned off to the right and navigated another kilometer or two of cliffhanging switchbacks, to the tall green gate that was our entrance into Balou. 

I repented for wondering what in the world could be out here in Barnas-par-Thueyts.  And the French have it all over us when it comes to the gated community thing.  The property was modest but steep, with three structures perched on its incline.  My quarters were in the first, closest one: a renovated garage.  We dropped my luggage off, and continued on down a small switchback to land at their cabin.  Dinner would be served shortly. 

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