day 9 :

monday, 19 september

During our visit to the laverie (laundromat) in Oloron-Sainte-Marie this morning, we were befriended by a very nice, elderly French woman. We managed to say oh-so-difficult sentences like "we have another wash" and "those clothes are not ours," and were happy to see our French skills improving just a tad. Dawn had a persistent cough during our trip, which this woman noticed while we were all sitting around waiting for the wash, so she told Dawn she'd be back in a few minutes. When she came back she was carrying a silk scarf, which she gave to Dawn, saying she should wear it so as to not to get any sicker, and to be sure to bring it back with her to the États Unis. Now, how nice is that?

Since we wanted to take a break from dining out for a night, we decided to have a simple picnic of local foods for dinner. Back at the gîte, we asked our hosts where we could find a fromagerie nearby. Monsieur Desbonnet said, "Ah, you want to buy cheese?" He then proceeded to draw a map to Madame Penen's house, which was about a half kilometer away, and instructed us: knock on the door and ask the person who answers if we could see Madame Penen, and then tell her we want to buy some cheese. "Her cheese is the best. It will be a little difficult, but it's okay!" he told us in English, probably in response to seeing our faces, which must have looked a little apprehensive at these instructions. But, we had our marching orders, so off we went to Madame Penen's house, which was on a large farm property. We knocked on the aforementioned door, and a group of voices said, "Entrez!" We walked in, and a table full of people stared at us. Somehow we managed to tell these nice people that we had been sent by Monsieur Desbonnet, and was Madame Penen around, because we wanted to buy some cheese? (Of course, it was probably more like: "Umm… Monsieur Desbonnet, he recommended Madame Penen. Do you have cheese?") A petite woman stepped forward and said yes, yes, and to follow her. We walked outside, down a path, and into a building that contained the cheese processing equipment, and a temperature-controlled storage room that had row upon row of wonderful-looking cheeses. After a bit of a struggle in trying to communicate what we were looking for, we all managed to settle on an amazing Brebis cheese. A decent sized hunk cost us less than two euros, and it was incredibly fresh and slightly tangy. When we got back to the car, Dawn said with an enthusiastic smile, "Ok, now where can we find the sausage maker?"

Note: For those in the area seeking Madame Penen's artisan cheese, here is how you find her. From Lay-Lamidou, exit town in the south-east direction (toward Préchacq-Navarrenx). You will pass the sign that says that you are leaving Lay-Lamidou and shortly thereafter reach a stop sign. Turn left at the stop sign. Madame Penen's house is not the house on the corner, but the second house in, on the right-hand side.

After an interesting tour of the Château de Laàs in a nearby town, we picked up the rest of our food provisions, and as the sun was setting we enjoyed our simple meal - baguette, cheese, fruit, confiture, a mini-pizza from a boulangerie in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, a bottle of Bordeaux red wine, and gateaux basque for dessert. What a way to end a day!

Things we'd like to do next time we're in Béarn and the Pays-Basque area:
  • Visit Lourdes.
  • Make a side trip north and tour the Bas-Armagnac region to try some of the product at the source.
  • Get lost in the huge (2 football fields) hedge maze at Chateau d'Audux.
  • Attend a local festival.
  • Spend a day walking around some of the little towns to get a better feel for them.
  • Take a boat tour on one of the subterranean rivers.

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