Christmas 2013 was spent in an unlikely location. Not a winter wonderland like northern Europe, not a mysterious realm like eastern Europe, and not a warm paradise like Spain or Italy. On Christmas, I went to Tarbes. To say goodbye.
I bet most people don’t know where Tarbes is. Heck, I wouldn’t even know where Tarbes was unless I had a friend studying there. So, Tarbes is a small town located in southwestern France, almost at the border between France and Spain, right by the Pyrenees mountain ranges. It isn’t really known for tourism, unless you’re interested in skiing in the nearby Pyrenees. Yet, the reason why I went to Tarbes for Christmas wasn’t to undertake some extravagant travel for the holiday season. Just the opposite, in fact. I would spend the few days after Christmas in this tranquil little town, relaxing and catching up with my “chef” with whom I traveled in Switzerland and Belgium in 2012. It had been almost another 8 months since I last saw chef briefly in an unexpected encounter in Brussels, and how glad I was to see my dear friend again in his city 😉
(I really regret not taking more photos of Tarbes. It’s a typical French town, but I especially loved its river, its lake, and the mountains that sometimes seemed RIGHT in front of you. Too bad I forgot to bring my camera during our long stroll on day 1 and missed out on the photo opportunities 😦 😦 😦 )
I stayed at chef’s apartment during my visit and upon entering the small flat, realized that chef and his friends were preparing for a Chinese hot pot dinner which happened to be on the night of my arrival (Christmas night). Now, I’ve eaten plenty of Christmas meals at various gatherings before this, and I’m sure my weight is increasing exponentially this holiday season…but hey! It’s worth it, right? And hot pot on a cold, rainy night? Couldn’t be more perfect. Apparently it rains more in Tarbes than it does in Bordeaux, says chef. Gah, we already have enough rain in Bordeaux. How do you put up with MORE?
Home-made meals taste the best, especially when offered by friends with great hospitality. The reason why chef is chef in the first place is his reputation in the kitchen. It might not be the most fancy or exquisite meal ever, but chef always put his heart into taking care of his friends and making sure our stomachs are well satisfied ^_^ The above bowl of soup noodles is actually not made by chef but his roommate (good cooks have other good cooks as friends?) with lamb, meatballs, vegetables, tofu skin, and 100% home-made noodles. Yum yum!
On the second day of my visit, a trip to Lourdes, one of the most famous sites of Catholic pilgrimage worldwide, was planned. Originally I would be leaving the next day, so Lourdes had to happen on day 2, so whether it rained or shined, we would go. Well, it rained, and it rained hard. I guess chef wasn’t kidding about the rain in the region, blah! Still, Lourdes was only 15 minutes away by Tarbes by train, and I had to see it for myself. Here is the Rosary Basilica, behind the cross, situation within the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The “Grotto”, where supposedly Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette in several visions, is behind the basilica, but no pictures were taken because the rain was too strong… 😦 With the rain, the city was covered in gray, yet the huge gilded crown and cross on the Rosary Basilica overlooked Lourdes with brilliance. What contrast!
Day 3 was supposed to be the day I left for Bordeaux, but chef sort of “convinced” me to stay one more day. It turned out to be a brilliant (literally) decision as the city of Tarbes was suddenly blessed with summer-like weather of 18 degrees Celsius and a full day of sunshine. Wow. If only we went to Lourdes on day 3 instead of day 2…oh well, we got to enjoy Tarbes in the sun! This meant shopping with the boys (chef and his friends)! On y va!
The day was so brilliant and warm that I really should have left my coat at home. Even long sleeves felt overdressed – at least I was somewhat sensible and didn’t bring my scarf.
In the end, our long stroll around Tarbes was rewarded with a wonderful sunset in the distance. Tangerine skies with smoky clouds, looming above an inevitable dusk that signifies the approach of night – nature, how I love you.
I enjoyed very much my chef’s company during the three days that I was in Tarbes, even when we weren’t really doing much other than talking and sharing about life, about faith, about the future, about music, about travel, about…whatever came to our minds. Previous goodbyes left us knowing that we’d see each other again soon (within the year), but this goodbye is indefinite. Who knows if I’ll see chef again. Maybe one day we’ll reunite in Canada, in China, or in France again…or maybe never again, until in heaven. Who knows. Yet, I departed with a joyful heart, not because I’m used to saying goodbyes or because I don’t feel the sadness of parting anymore. The time we’ve spent together throughout the past three years (even though it wasn’t all that much) had created so many sweet memories for me to cherish, each significant and dear to my heart. I will leave knowing that it is the best gift that he has given me, and even from afar, my deepest blessings are with chef and his with me. My friend, I will miss you.