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DAY 18: from OLORON-Ste-MARIE to URDOS, 60 km

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Last night, I fell asleep again at 8:30 PM. Magda called, but I didn't hear it. Floky held my phone to my ear and she wished me a good night. Then I slept until 1:30 AM, but couldn't fall back asleep. I ended up writing the blog for the 17th day in the middle of the night, and it went very smoothly. After that, I slept again until 6:45 AM, perfect for a quick wake-up shower like every morning.

Our host family, Gudrun (the Swede), and André (the Frenchman) had already prepared breakfast for us last night, as they usually only wake up at 9 AM or sometimes at 9:30 AM. There is French bread, coffee, homemade marmalade: one made from calamondin (a type of small citrus fruit) and one from strawberries, also butter, and fruit juice. The automatic coffee machine starts promptly at 8 AM, and 10 minutes later, we have delicious coffee. We enjoy the tasty bread - I like mine toasted. I always buy "petits pains au chocolat," and Floky easily eats two of them.

Saying goodbye to Gudrun and André and leaving Oloron-Sainte-Marie in the direction of the Somport

The bikes are all set in the living room by the outside door. On top of my bike bags, I tie the underwear and the socks we've washed, so that they can they dry quickly. Just as we are about to leave, Gudrun and André come down the stairs, and I ask if I can take a photo: no problem, and that's how you see these lovely and very hospitable people. We highly recommend their B&B.

First, we ride to the bakery nearby (recommended by André) for our lunch and possibly the next breakfast. We buy two pizzas for Floky, some "petits pains au chocolat," and a French bread. We cycle through Oloron-Ste-Marie, located at the confluence of two mountain rivers, and soon reach the N 134, gradually taking us up to around 800 meters in the Pyrenees.

The overwhelming nature in the Pyrenees

It's relatively busy on the road , but there is no other way to the Somport Pass at 1640 meters. The sun is shining brightly, and we make good progress through beautiful nature. After about an hour, we take our first break and there we meet a Dutch couple, Kevin and Kjerra; he rides a 1600 CC motorbike, and she rides a 600CC one. Floris is crazy about motorcycles. They attentively listen to Rientje's story and take a photo of my METALeuven T-shirt with the website on it. Now I realize that I am a walking or cycling advertisement for the Fund... and for METALeuven...

Meeting Kevin and Kjerra, opi with his T-shirt advertising the fRinus-Piniund, amazing landscapes

Near Sarrance, I have the feeling that my guardian angel, Rientje, is advising me to visit a small monastery. Floky cycles much faster than me, and our agreement is that he stops at a picnic spot after half an hour or three-quarters of an hour. I ride into the square in front of the abbey, which has a beautiful fountain, brown from the iron-rich water, and nearby there is a lavoir or public washing place. I stop in front of the church's entrance, and at that moment, a clergyman in a white robe appears, walking towards me with a smile. Coincidence or Rientje's providence, I do not know. Automatically, I say, "Hello, Mon Père, you are a monk of this abbey..."

The monastery of Sarrance

'I am Jean-Daniel and I am not a monk but a Norbertine canon' he says: one of a small community of 6. We also call the Norbertines Premonstratensian Fathers,” “Canons Regular of Prémontré,” and “White Fathers.”In Belgium we still have communities of Norbertines in the abbeys of Park in Leuven, in Grimbergen and many other places. They were founded by Saint Norbert around 1120. They do not follow the rule of St. Benedict, but that of St. Augustine, an older rule. They are called canons and their churches, with a college of canons are called collegiate churches and not abbey churches. Norbertus lived approximately in the period of St. Bernard who organized the Cistercians and St. Bruno who founded the Carthusians (an enclosed order whose monks or nuns each live in a separate house. I'll stop writing about all those orders because Magda will say that I am boring and that on the 54th anniversary of our civil wedding.

The fountain on the square near the monastery, meeting Jean-Daniel, the interior of the church

The canon invites me to see the beautiful church and the small cloister. The bell tower has an octagonal, but special shape. Probably baroque. The 8 sides are curved inwards. On top is an octagonal lantern: the octagon refers to the resurrection and to eternal life. Inside, the church is decorated with several baroque altars and a pulpit. Remarkable is the tree of Jessé on the vault of the choir: Mary among the kings of the Old Testament. Under the Virgin Mary lies Jessé and the family tree grows from his belly. The small cloister is nicely painted white and quite cosy. it is fully restored. I can't stay long because Flo is cycling ahead of me.

He waits for me in Cette-Eygun at a picnic area along the N 134 and laconically informs me that he has already eaten all of the two pizzas we bought this morning: I was hungry, he explains.

Sarrance: tree of Jesse ; Cette -Eygun: Floris waiting for his grandad and a Mémoire monument

There is also a Mémoire monument on this site, one of a series that refers to a less positive chapter in French history. During World War I, poor Spaniards came to work in this valley in arms factories to make shells for the French. They were exploited by the French government and mistreated by the local French population. Now the French are trying to give history its rights with these Mémoire commemorative plaques.

This reminds me of Bert who was one of my guardian angels on my 1st cycling pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela over the Via Francés last year. Bert was the 41-year-old son of Ignace (a former colleague and friend of ours) and Annie, who suddenly died a year and a half ago. He had devoted his entire academic career as a professor to the genocide in Rwanda years ago. People were also abused and so many were killed there. Bert would certainly appreciate these Mémoire commemorative plaques in the Aspe valley. This year, Bert flew as a guardian angel for his wife Margaux and son Zeno to the USA, where they went to visit her sister.

Fort of Portalet; Urdos: church

A last effort takes us, under the very warm sun, to the village of Urdos, formerly an important stop on the Via Tolosana or the Chemin d'Arles that took pilgrims from Arles and Toulouse across the Pyrenees to Puenta la Reina where all pilgrim roads converge. Just before the village of 66 inhabitants, on the left along the Gave d'Aspe, is the old fortress of Portalet, built in 1842 by Louis-Philippe on top of an impressively high rock to guard the border of France in the Pyrenees. The fort had to protect the road to the Col du Somport against Spanish raids. The fortress owes its name and fame to the French political figures who were interned there under the Vichy regime that cooperated with the Nazis during World War II. This was the case for opponents of the Vichy regime and of the Nazis such as Blum, Daladier, Reynaud, Mandel, Gamelin, etc. After the defeat of the Nazis and of the Pétain regime, its leader Pétain was himself imprisoned here.


The village has not much to offer other than the beautiful nature around it. It has some picturesque streets, a church, a fountain and unfortunately a lot of heavy traffic going to and from the Somport tunnel that connects Oloron-Ste-Marie, Huesca and Zaragossa. They want to build a new major road, but everywhere placards point to fierce resistance from the population. There is only one hotel with a restaurant and we will eat out there for the 2nd time during our trip. There is a small épicerie open every day from 5 pm to 7 pm and I get some water and soft drinks. Our hotel Les Voyageurs is immaculate but relatively expensive as there is only one hotel in the area. When I ask if I can have a room with two beds instead of a double bed because my grandson is rather tall, the owner says: "Yes, no problem, but that will cost you 17 euros extra ...". I'm not arguing because a good night's sleep, each in our own bed, is worth gold. We have slept together most days in one bed and usually there was some pulling back and forth on the sheet. So not this night. We have a rest, take a shower and then go together for what will hopefully be a nice, tasty, meal.

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