Saturday, 6 March 2010

Pas de la Casa

“We are going to Andorre to do some duty-free shopping, would you like to come too?”

I said yes. “ We will be setting off early....”

Well I can do early, and I imagined us setting off at 6.30am or something similar.

“Meet us outside our house at 8am”

French early is not the same as my early.

The weather was looking a bit uncertain, but we set off in good spirits, armed with shopping bags.

The road south was quite quiet and we made good time until meeting up with a big lorry. We wound ever upwards passing patches of snow and then entering a landscape of snow. In fact one of the road signs said that we were entering an avalanche pass.

We drove past the customs post on the France / Spain border winding on up into the snow covered mountains along a road which, although cleared and well gritted, had a continuous, high bank of snow at each side of the road.

We reached Pas de la Casa which was to be the location of our shopping experience. It is not far across the border. On the road up, we passed big lay-byes for vehicles to pull in and fit their snow chains to their wheels.

Indeed as we progressed, a large overhead electronic sign told us that if we were going onward to X to fit our snow chains now.

I asked M if he had snow chains. No, he hadn’t.

The first stop was a massive petrol station situated above the town. Petrol is cheaper here and on the day diesel was about 18 cents per litre cheaper. Those professional shoppers who come here, aim to arrive with an almost empty tank and fill up.

I don’t know how many pumps there were, perhaps 20 or more. You cannot pay by credit card, it is strictly a cash transaction. There are auto banks dotted around the service station where you can withdraw money.

The petrol attendants take your money and put it into their leather shoulder bags. We were lucky to arrive early. During the day the queue for petrol stretches back past the entrance to the town.

We managed to park in one of the streets and spent about an hour and a half crossing and recrossing the road as we compared prices of items.

C and M were looking for beer, butter, chocolate (no bargains to be had), sugar, spirits, olives etc.

I bought a 70cl bottle of Drambuie (a whisky liquer) which I thought was cheap at 9 .75 euros. Across the road I found the same item on sale for 19.99 euros. So it does pay to shop around.

There are also perfume shops, lots of cigarettes, electrical goods etc but we were on a tight time scale.

The snow started falling, and it was disconcerting to see people in skiing gear and bobbly hats, walking through a shopping centre clutching their skis.

Once the shopping had been completed we headed back towards France. There was bumper to bumper traffic heading towards us.

We stopped at Ax-les-Thermes. C wanted to buy some bread and to show me the location of the famous open air basin which fills with naturally hot spring water. S and I missed this when we came here in 2008, mainly because we didn’t know that it existed.

The loaf turned out to be a huge, circular, heavy loaf, which cost about 3 and a half euros. They cut it into quarters and freeze it. It makes good toast, with one slice being about 8 or 9 inches long, by 4 inches.

There were two alcoves from which the hot, sulphurous water flowed, and steam rose from the grating into which it splashed.

The basin was a large rectangular afflair. The custom is that the weary pilgrim removes shoes and socks, and sits soaking their feet in the warm waters.

Maybe I will do so the next time I’m in town, the basin did not look very clean

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