Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Finding pho in Pau

The seemingly endless winter edged into summertime last week here in southwest France, so Ken and I decided to take a quick trip to Pau in search of some sunshine. We booked a cheap (55 euro) room at Hotel le Postillon, based on reasonably good reviews, WiFi, free parking and proximity to the sites of the city. 

Pau, described in more than one guidebook as an elegant city, is the capital of Béarn in the Pyrénées- Atlantiques department. We drove south, through the lovely Landes forest and were met by sudden views of the snow capped Pyrenees, which reminded me of my first trip to Tahoe. I fantasized at the time that the Sierra were my own personal Pyrénées since I couldn't have even dreamed of someday seeing the real peaks of Europe.

Once settled, we set off in search of déjeuner. The square along the rue du Château offered plenty of options at reasonable prices. At L'etena Ristorante, I was able to mooch a slice of Ken's Roma pizza in exchange for some of my salade niçoise.

Fortified with food, beer and kir, we decided to start our sightseeing with Pau's most famous site, the Château de Pau. Despite it being the first Saturday of summer, there was only a few visitors and we were directed toward the tour which was just about to start. On this day, the tour was only offered in French, although we were given an English cheat sheet. Usually, Ken and I enjoy tours in French as it's a good chance to practice our oral comprehension skills, but this particular tour was jammed pack with history and lasted so long, that our minds wandered and the slow pace through the castle rooms was more tedious than fascinating. We agreed with a Texas couple on the tour that we would have preferred to wander around at our own pace. 

Château de Pau is a perfect example of decorations and furnishings of the mid-1800s. Dozens of tapestries depict everything from mythology to the simple pleasures of the aristocracy. A welcome respite from the usual biblical scenes, I spotted humor and whimsy in their threads.

Since rain was forecast for the the next day, and it was becoming clear that Ken was coming down with a cold (which turned out to be a doozey!), we completed our sightseeing that evening with a walk through the mansion-lined pedestrian streets, through the jardins of Parc Beaumont, and along the boulevard des Pyrénées where small signs identify the various peaks of the mountain peaks to the south.

Ken's cold made him less than eager for a traditional Gascon meal, so, thinking some pho might do him so good, we chose Ai-Vy, located across the street from l'eglise St. Martin. How fortuitous! We don't have many (or any) restaurants vietnamiens in our neck of the woods, so this was really a treat. While studying the menu, the couple at the next table introduced themselves: She, a chemistry professor from Colorado (the self-described only female chemistry prof of Thai descent in the U.S.) was in Pau on business. He, her affable copain was along for the ride. On their advice, I ordered crispy crepes stuffed with shrimp and served with mint, lettuce and fish sauce. Ken had a noodle dish, similar to my beloved #53 at Reno's Golden Flower. Yum! And the less-than-40-euro check made Ken smile through his sniffles.

Since we were in no hurry, we bypassed the tolls of France's autoroute and took the back roads home, stopping to look at the flags along the river in Aire-sur-l'Adour. 

And now, a few days later, Ken's cold is waning, the sun is making its appearance, and I am browsing guidebooks and plotting our next petite escapade.

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