It’s towards the end of the Palsson family’s 125 day trek across Europe. They’ve seen dreamy courtyards, beautiful museums and wineries, and even enchanted castles. But, as life sometime goes, they’ve found themselves with a few twists and turns as they make their way to Barcelona this week.
I think Stefan and I both knew there were things that wouldn’t go as planned on this trip, but we definitely aren’t mentally prepared for our car to break down. In the Pyrenees. Away from most of civilization. But we try to embrace this new adventure. Because what else is there to do?
When we leave Toulouse, we make the decision to drive a bit longer distance to go through the Pyrenees and not the route along the water that we plan to take later in the trip. The drive is gorgeous, and we stop at a cave along the way. Unfortunately, most tours are conducted in French (but call ahead and find out if they offer an English tours!), and they are guided by handheld lanterns. This is not the best scenario for our kids, so we just walk around outside and peer into the dark entrance.
As our car climbs the mountain road, we near Spain. We plan to reach Barcelona by dinnertime and spend the whole week there. But about 30 minutes to the Spanish border, the car downshifts to first gear and won’t change. Something’s wrong. Stefan pulls over, and thankfully there’s a little town there. I’m not sure how many buildings make a place a town. This place has about 5. Every building in this picture. That’s it.
While Stefan searches for someone to help with the car (no one available on a Saturday!), the kids and I post up at a picnic table for some fun. I love that they aren’t flustered by this setback at all. Perhaps due to the nature of this entire vacation, they don’t see it as a setback. It’s just another piece of this amazing family adventure.
Before the trip, Stefan secured roadside assistance insurance for us, and now we are so thankful for that decision. We wait a few hours for a tow truck to reach us and tow our van back down the mountain (the way we came!) to the nearest repair shop. As there is only one available seat in the truck, the kids and I must ride in our van. I have to note this is one of the scariest experiences of my life. The kids thought it was fun, of course. The shop is closed and won’t reopen until Monday. Yuck!
The garage owner drives us 20 minutes or so to the nearest town, Ax-les-Thermes. All hopes of reaching Spain this weekend are dashed, and we accept this as our home for the next couple days. Stefan and I are pretty disappointed, but the kids’ cheerfulness and calm demeanor make this day much easier than it could have been.
The car is not fixed on Monday. They just assess that it needs to be moved to another, farther location for another assessment. Then that takes a couple days. Then they need to order a part. To summarize, we are in Ax for 4 nights before we decide to do whatever it takes to leave. 4 nights in Ax is more than enough.
We have a great time in our unplanned destination of Ax. It’s a tiny town, and we see all of it. In these 4 days, we do a lot of things we wouldn’t do otherwise. We watch a mountain biking race that ends going down steep stairs.
We take the gondola up the mountain to what is probably a great ski resort in Winter.
We eat amazing charcuterie and cheese.
We soak our feet in the many hot springs around town.
We swim in a beautiful community pool. We don’t have towels at the pool because we checked out of the hotel in hopes of leaving that day (ha!), and our own beach towels are in the car. I feel extremely resourceful when I use a travel pack of tissues in my purse to dry off the kids. They are not amused. Adjacent to the pool is miniature golf! Oly loves golf, so this is right up his alley, but we have to control the intensity of his backswing! I’m sure we wouldn’t do these simple family bonding activiites if we weren’t stuck here.
Also, we get to see the Tour de France! It runs right through town! Yes, there are impressive cyclists zipping through town, but the most exciting part is the parade a couple hours before the cyclists. Cars and trucks decorated for the event ride through town and toss goodies, including candy. Receiving free stuff may be the kids’ highlight of the trip so far.
Lillian and I spend an afternoon at one of the baths in town. The town has many places to soak your feet in natural hot springs, but this is a completely different experience. We are allotted 2 hours for a steep price (it’s free for residents of Ax). Inside there are many pools/baths. Lillian’s favorite is a circular pool in which the water rapidly spins clockwise. It’s a lot of fun! And relaxing. It’s really nice to have special time with Lillian too.
Sometimes the unexpected is just what you need. I’m a planner and don’t necessarily go with the flow very easily. But I find these times in my life refine that skill, and I’m incredibly thankful for them. It’s good to be forced to slow down, to accept what comes your way, and to focus on each other more than ever. #TravelwithHomer