The water scalded my hands as I dropped the last of the soup bowls into the sink and began rinsing them. My husband was hauling an industrial quantity of aperitif glasses out of the dishwasher and our friends were rushing empty salad dishes through from the dining room of the aubgerge. One of them stopped and touched my arm.
“Can you ask that German if his bed is alright?” I gazed at him blankly. His cheeks were blazing red, although I wasn’t sure whether this was due to the Belgian beer that we’d been downing all evening or sunburn from the morning’s hike. “You know, the very tall one that arrived earlier.” I followed his glance through the half open kitchen door and spied the biker digging into his salad. He must have been at least 6.5 feet tall and had probably outgrown the pine beds that the inn had to offer a long time ago.
I strolled into the dining room. It was packed and the old wooden tables were now heaving under the weight of plates of local lamb and gnocchi, the aroma from the blue cheese sauce mingling with bees wax polish. The auberge was renowned for its friendliness and cuisine, and hikers had been trickling in all evening. The last minute arrival however of a group of bikers was providing more ambience than the vaulted room could take.
The German, in perfect English, assured me over a bout of raucous singing that the bed was fine and I collected a couple of empty bread baskets on the way back. My face was glowing and my legs were leaden, unaccustomed to the strain of walking up mountains. I felt light-headed – just tiredness I assured myself. The early mornings, late nights and active days were starting to take their toll.
As I entered the steamy kitchen, I noticed that my glass had been refilled in my absence and I heard laughter from outside. The others were having a couple of minutes break in-between courses. I stepped out into the cold air and slumped into a wonky plastic chair. It was our second year back in the Queyras where we spent the days hiking and picnicking with the kids, and the evenings giving our friends a helping hand in the auberge if they needed it.
I loved every minute and as I looked down to the bottom of the valley where I could just make out the tiny pinpricks of an occasional car’s headlights, I knew that it would be another holiday to remember.