Thursday, 30 September 2010

Visitors 5 Time for a hot bath - updated

After our visit the underground we backtracked and headed off to the ski-resort town of Ax-les-Thermes. S and I were here a few years ago, and I was here earlier this year with the French family.
We pottered about the town before having lunch outside a restaurant in one of the side streets.
The French family had told me that water runs down the road in Ax, but I had not tracked it down.
Here then, in the Road of the Steps, is one such stream. We were disappointed to find that the water was cold.

One of the earliest surviving buildings is also to be found here, having survived the numerous fires which swept through the medieval town.

survived the great fire fire of 1615

Then it was off to show them the hot spring water gushing out of the spigots and the open air basin where people can sit and soak their feet.
Our main purpose here however was to visit the hot spring baths housed in a new building in the centre of town. It took some finding though. It is on the same side of the road as the Casino (roulette, not supermarket). It opened for business last year and the main pool area is modelled to look like a Roman bath house, complete with red floor to ceiling columns.

You give them money and they give you a plastic key card which will give you 2 hours in the baths. For every extra 30 minutes or part thereof that you spend inside the baths, you have to pay another 3 euros. You can find leaflets that will give you 2 euros off the 15 euro entrance charge.
Card into the turnstile and through into the changing area. A lady handed us a blue plastic hangar and explained what to do. You go into a changing cubicle on the dry side, lock your door behind you, change into your costume, then leave you cubicle using the door on the wet side. Clothes into a locker using your plastic card, take the key out of the locker door, then off to the showers before splashing through the foot pool and into the main room of the bath house.
I went cautiously down the steps into the sulphurous water. It was warm, but not overly so. The sides of the pool was divided into alcoves which had different kinds of jets. There were usually neck/ shoulder jets, Jacuzzi style jets, powerful jets which buffeted your sides or buffeted your buttocks.
There was a tropical rain shower at one end, and in the middle of the pool were foot grilles complete with railings for you to walk into. (couldn’t understand the point of the latter).
Not all parts of the baths had active jets at the same time.
A new law of physics was noted, i.e. that the size of the speedos decreases inversely to the folds of the paunch.
Tired of the jets and the bubbles, we went through watery passageway and out into the sunshine. There were more neck jets, bubbly bits , a volcano of water bubbles, a whirlpool whizzy bit etc. There were also loungers where you could soak up the sun’s rays. There was a bit of a breeze, so not an option in my opinion. The outer 2 levels explored, we headed back inside. The ice cold showers were ignored, the hot steam room never found, but the hot water bath was tried out. Here at last was the hot water. Not boiling hot but really nice and relaxing.
The two hours were nearly up, so it was back to the showers, changing cubicles, card into the turnstile and out to freedom. Still now I know the ropes I will definitely be back there soon.
There is only one downside to the experience. You, your costume and your towel come out reeking of sulphur. The next day I could still taste it. and smell it, despite having a proper shower.
I went back in to the Baths with his camera before drying off. Here are two of his shots. One in the main baths and the other of one of the 2 roof terrace baths.

Indeed as you walk along the banks of the river which runs through Ax, there is a strong smell of rotten eggs.
One of the many delelict hotels in the town and which backs onto the river, is currently for sale at 160,000 euros. Not bad for a hotel with over 50 bedrooms, It must need a hell of a lot of work.
Another abandoned hotel has a plaque on the wall for the famous composer born there. One Gaiten Marcailhou d'Aymeric 1807 - 1855. Didn't you always just wonder what happened to him? Well he died in Paris and was one of the teachers of Foix's very own showstopper tunesmith Gabriel Fauré.

I found this quote which unravels some of the mystery. "Marcailhou was the true creator of the modern French waltz. Famous throughout eternity, Marcailhou's waltzes remain a reflection of their time like the white or pale pink camelias which our grandmothers were so fond of during the Second Empire". (Maurice Ravel, 1933)
The town must have been quite something in its heyday. You might even have been able to have a go on their own waltzer?? Any of you who skipped the last bit won't know what the hell I'm talking about. STOP PRESS this hotel was in the papers today1st October due to its parlous state. After being lived in and wrecked a bit, by squatters, the building is in danger of falling down. The owners don't seem keen to spend any money to make it safe, so it looks like the town hall will have to step in and do some emergency work. The town hall is not happy, as there are numerous other buildings in town that are in a dangerous condition and it is not their remit to step in when crap owners don't maintain the properties they own. They hope that someone with a lot of money will appear from nowhere and turn the building into something useful....... If this was Weston-super-mare, there would be an inexplicable fire, thus enabling redevelopment of prime real estate (allegedly).
Here is another run-down hotel. As many of you linguists will know, the French drop, or rather don’t pronounce their “H” s. Here is a perfect illustration of this practice.

The sun was still shining, so it was time to take more photos.
Next to the baths there was a smaller open air basin in which the weary traveller could dip their feet for free. This young lady has not quite got the hang of it, she will have to take her shoes off first.

Across the road, in a small park, a game of petanque was in progress. I like to be where the action is, and there was an article in the Depeche all about them a few days later.

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