Only in France…

… would you find a middle aged straight man on a public beach… wearing a thong. The person on his left is female (and presumably his wife).

This Frenchman had a cigar which I thought quite fun. He was on a fairly small beach in the coastal town of Collioure. Collioure is absolutely beautiful – the quintessential gem of a southern French coastal town – really something. We enjoyed a couple of hours walking around its old streets. It was busy and had a lot of tourists. We settled at a cafe where we had galettes (savoury pancakes). I’ll post a picture of those later when I get round to doing a food post.

After a morning in Collioure we drove up the coast to just north of Saint Cyprien, to a several miles long sand bar. No amenities but masses of wide open sandy beach. We swam in the Mediterranean. Initially a bit cold but when you get in you realise it’s really not. Was enjoyable and very refreshing.

Coming back to the ‘only in France’ theme – they really do have a totally different attitude to bathing attire. Men don’t wear ‘swimming shorts’ or heaven forbid, ‘Bermuda shorts’. In fact, when we went high up in the mountains to the hot springs spa (is like an outside swimming pool, very sulphurous and warm, with water coming up from inside the mountain) – you are explicitly not allowed (if you are male) to wear anything other than tightly fitted swimming trunks (both the trunk type and briefs type are OK – but you cannot wear shorts). This is the rule for swimming baths all over France.

I own two pairs of said swimming trunks so was able to lend a pair to Sheridan. Our other male friend bought a pair from the spa. Wearing such garb doesn’t leave much to the imagination but it’s terribly European and I can see why they do it (nominally for hygiene reasons).

The hot spring is wonderful. Surrounded by alpine mountains, steam rising from the big open outside pool, it’s a treat. Your skin feels amazing afterwards too. This is the place – do take a look at the site.

Cold Mountain

Picture 7 really freaks me out as that is a person sitting right on the edge of the mountain.

A great getaway of a weekend in North Wales, far from London. Fairly painful journey there – 6.5 hours from London to our hotel deep in the national park.

Hotel was great. Very rustic, old fashioned. Like a stone lodge.

Yesterday’s trek was significantly harder than most of us had thought it would be. An experienced guide led us and we trekked for eight hours. Now I have been going to the gym 1-3 times a week for the last two years but this really took it out of me. Walking I can do – but ‘walking’ was absolutely not what this trek was about. It was full-on hiking and scrambling – over rock, marsh, bog, boulders, etc. Physically really quite demanding.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather as the sun was out for a fair proportion of it. Plus, it wasn’t too cold, though at the top of the peak we climbed the wind was quite harsh (we were above cloud level by this point) and it was quite cold. There is also perma-frost at the top so we were trudging through snow for some of it.

We climbed the less touristy peak of Tryfan (which has the ancient monoliths of Adam & Eve) at the top.

By the time we got back to the hotel last night we were truly exhausted. We piled around a log fire and drank Gluehwein (like mulled wine) which was incredibly heart-warming after being out in the open for so long. After a long bath, we then settled down to a hearty meal.

It was a team-building away weekend with work and was really, really good. Great opportunity to bond with the other eight people who went and it being a paid-for work trip made it a great weekend away.

It is a long time since I was last in Wales. It is the country of my birth – my ancestral homeland. I’d forgotten how devastatingly rugged, harsh and beautiful the landscape is.