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All natural landscapes evoke different emotions, and the mountains are my absolute favorite. I envision them as nature's hug, for the sea is equally as beautiful but more fluid and turbulent. Mountains for the most part sit peacefully, blanketing you with their presence from the road, air or foot. In their midst, I feel completely relaxed and simultaneously invigorated. A reminder that anything is possible, but the trek will often be filled with bumps and seemingly insurmountable challenges. What matters most is that we rise above them and somehow prevail for the better. Standing at the top of the mid-Pyrenees in Southern France, you momentarily feel like you're on top of the world. It's a special place known as Pic du Midi, best known for its famous astronomical observatory. I visited this region in late October, and will share a few mobile pics today and tell you a little about it.

1. My home base in October was Bon-Encontre, a small, rural town near Agen. Just magnificent, far removed from chaotic city life and filled with rolling hills, small bakeries, cafes and pasty shops, everything you imagine of a French village. I adore France, but previously had only visited Paris. The Southern region is much better and more acclimated to my personal tastes, although I don't like the consistent warm temperatures. In late autumn, it was still +20C on most days, with almost tropical like winds. Pic du Midi is about a three hour drive away, through farmland and some isolated, rural roads which become scary, black holes at night, with absolutely no street lights and glowing cow eyes as your only source of flickering light in the depth of darkness. :) When you arrive at the mountain, there is a small, cozy village which serves as a ski resort in peak winter season. In October, almost everything remained closed but there are some nice little houses scattered about.
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2. You can hike to the top of Pic Du Midi, but we didn't have time so we took the cable car to the top. It's quite expensive at 36 euros per person, but it's a scenic journey to the top, filled with some big dips and roller-coaster like movements while you're suspended high in the air.

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3. I would say this ride is not for the faint of heart, or those afraid of heights. On the way down, our cable car got stuck momentarily and the crowd in the car was quite amused. No one freaked out or began yelling, and in general I always find the French to be very polite and easy going. Must be all the wine they drink, or perhaps their relaxed lifestyle. I was amazed each day when my friend returned back to the apartment for his lunch break - two hours long! It's a nice schedule to have such a long break in the afternoon to eat, nap, exercise or do chores before returning to work for only a few more hours.

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4. Chasing your shadow on the way up. On this day, the temperature was very warm (+23C) with high winds which caused the car to rock even more than normal. No snow anywhere and very rocky terrain in bright red and brownish tones.

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5. It appeared to me that we were entering some sci-fi zone, as everything had a rather lunar like feel. The top of Pic du Midi is 2,877 meters and the prime astronomical viewing conditions made it the perfect place for astronomers to study the atmosphere and stars. In the late 1800's, scientists began constructing a full-fledged meteorologic station and astronomical observatory at the top of the mountain. Today there are almost a dozen massive telescopes and high-tech lenses used for scientific studies.
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6. You can see some of the telescopes in this aerial photo from the official website. Just massive in size, magnitude and capabilities. The view from Pic du Midi is so exceptional and unique that NASA scientists traveled there to map the surface of the moon in anticipation of the Apollo landing. The 106 centimeter telescope was funded and installed by NASA back in 1963. It is one of many that remain at the top of the peak today.

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7. My favorite is the Stormtrooper dome, which now covers the NASA telescope. The mural was painted by famous French graffiti artists over a three day period in 2013 to celebrate the domes 100th anniversary. The Stormtrooper acts as a sort of guard for the observatory, and it's immediately noticeable when you reach the top of the mountain. Tons of visitors pose in front of it, taking selfies amidst the scenic views. This place is constantly occupied by astronomers, many carrying their own telescopes and equipment to catch a glimpse of the solar system and other galactic wonders.

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8.  Visitors can spend several hours up here because Pic du Midi is also home to the highest museum in Europe. I'm not typically drawn to such places, but the museum is really interesting if you're a fan of the cosmos, astronomy or meteorology. However, there is a big problem because almost none of the exhibitions or information appear in English, only French. You can still stand next to massive scopes which are no longer in use and watch short documentary films about the first explorers who braved the rocky terrain to reach the mountain peak back in 1774. If you grow bored reading about the long history of discovery, you can be brave and plunge back down the mountain on your snow skis during the winter season, or simply take the cable car back down as we did. :)


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9. For the rich and adventurous, you can book overnight expeditions to Pic du Midi and have a once in a lifetime experience that includes personal tours of the observatory telescopes, night time viewing with professional astronomers, dinner atop the mountain at an exclusive restaurant and finally resting your head while being engulfed by clouds, stars, and brisk, frosty mountain air. I can hardly imagine anything more romantic. :)) Unfortunately, we had a long drive home and left before sunset.

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10. Special thanks to my handsome and kind host, Peter, who took care of me for a week! Btw, he's Ukrainian and made me awesome borscht. For the first time, I liked this soup! :)

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11. In such places, I'm always reminded of a great quote by a New Zealand mountaineer and explorer named Edmund Hillary - "it's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." Fear, self-doubt, hesitation - these are all natural human emotions experienced by almost everyone. For trekkers like Hillary who have climbed Everest and the other Seven Summits, the quote takes on an entirely different meaning. However, I can relate to it as an ordinary person who has faced some tough personal challenges during life's journey thus far, and somehow came out stronger and wiser in the process. Each time I stand as a tiny speck in the midst of such wondrous and massive landscapes, almost anything seems possible and attainable...a whole world of discovery down below.

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If you're ever in Southern France, take time to visit Pic du Midi. It will likely be a detour on your journey, but worth it. Which landscapes do you like best - sea, mountain, dessert....?


Comments

( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
amtex
Jan. 26th, 2016 02:13 am (UTC)
Mountains and oceans are most beautiful landscapes in my opinion especially when they come together. Pictures are amazing. First one is just awesome.
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2016 02:19 am (UTC)
Thanks! These are just iPhone pics in this post. I was too lazy to carry my big camera on this trip, so picture quality suffers. I wanted to relax and explore the mountain, not worry about camera angles. :) This is really an amazing place. I'm glad my friend took time out of his schedule to drive me there.
genka8
Jan. 26th, 2016 03:25 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing.
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2016 03:37 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
livejournal
Jan. 26th, 2016 05:28 am (UTC)
Beneath the Stars...Pic du Midi Observatory in Southern France
User hi_again referenced to your post from Beneath the Stars...Pic du Midi Observatory in Southern France saying: [...] Originally posted by at Beneath the Stars...Pic du Midi Observatory in Southern France [...]
andrey_kaminsky
Jan. 26th, 2016 05:32 am (UTC)
Я уже задумался о том какой бы я хотел монумент для себ
I can talk about the best landscape of the planet for hours. Everyone can see it, so these words are my generous gift to mankind. All that is needed is a forest and some vodka, just enough to feel some fatigue and drowsiness. Then you fall face in the moss, smell the grass and leaves of last year, you see these blades of grass and bugs, their little fragile lifes ... You can embrace the planet and all the bones of the dead ancestors buried in her, cuddle up to her. Nothing can be compared to this.
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2016 10:14 am (UTC)
I should have just written your comment as the text for the post. :) It would have saved a lot of time and energy since almost no one read this story. Eating dirt - this is one of the simple joys of childhood, which carries over into adulthood for drunkards who like to roam the forest.
(no subject) - andrey_kaminsky - Jan. 26th, 2016 10:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2016 03:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
yarowind
Jan. 26th, 2016 06:02 am (UTC)
Cool!:)
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2016 10:15 am (UTC)
Thanks! Glad you liked it. :)
(no subject) - yarowind - Jan. 26th, 2016 10:15 am (UTC) - Expand
real_marsel
Jan. 26th, 2016 07:19 am (UTC)
Peter is so hot! Let he call me.
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2016 10:17 am (UTC)
Yes, he's a cutie! :) Plus, he's really intelligent and thoughtful. Good traits for a man.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 26th, 2016 12:10 pm (UTC)
Mountains for the most part sit peacefully...
"...blanketing you with their presence from the road, air or foot. In their midst, I feel completely relaxed and simultaneously invigorated."
You weren't so relaxed if you were just another peak sitting among this mountains. Constantly stressed out, awaiting the next uproar from tectonics base. Or worried about being spit on with lava by the big dormant boss, EVERY 100000 YEARS!!! ;)
Nice views. Thanks for your reports!
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2016 03:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Mountains for the most part sit peacefully...
You're welcome! Too bad no one reads such stories anymore. I'm simply sharing my emotional reaction when I'm in the midst of huge mountains. :) I just watched the movie Everest, have you seen it? Amazing power and force these hills and peaks have at times.
Re: Mountains for the most part sit peacefully... - (Anonymous) - Jan. 26th, 2016 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
pin_gwin
Jan. 26th, 2016 03:21 pm (UTC)
Great views! I wish I were a bird for a day to soar over it..
I always wonder how do they provide water for the locations like this one....
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2016 03:23 pm (UTC)
They have everything at the top of this mountain - toilets, a restaurant, sleeping accommodations. Truly an amazing place. :) It would be great to be a bird! Freedom of movement, and a unique visual perception of the world at all times. The only downside is they are very dirty! Thanks for reading the post. :)
(no subject) - pin_gwin - Jan. 26th, 2016 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2016 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pin_gwin - Jan. 26th, 2016 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
nkhaba
Jan. 26th, 2016 04:58 pm (UTC)
Great post and beautiful photos, thanks for sharing, Shannon! Initially I somehow missed the point that this place is not in the Alps but in the Pyrenees and was surprised that there were no snow covered peaks in the pictures :-) Did you experience any shortness of breath while you were there at the observation point? My friends and I once stopped at Chamonix during our trip to France and took a cable car to the Aiguille du Midi summit and I did notice that it was a little difficult to breathe, but it's higher (12602) than Pic du Midi.

Edited at 2016-01-26 04:58 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2016 05:38 pm (UTC)
I didn't notice any shortness of breath, but we did not exert much physical effort. :) We simply rode the cable car to the top, and then walked around. Perhaps the experience would have been different if we actually hiked to the top, but there was not enough time because this was only a day trip and we had a long drive each way. I liked this place, and the entire region. So peaceful and relaxing there in the French countryside. I wish I was there now. :)
(no subject) - nkhaba - Jan. 26th, 2016 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2016 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nkhaba - Jan. 26th, 2016 06:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2016 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nkhaba - Jan. 26th, 2016 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2016 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
elena_88888
Jan. 27th, 2016 02:53 pm (UTC)
I like mountains... Now I would never climb but when I was young I tried to bypass big rock above sea with a lot of rocks beneath and above sea level... What a stupid girl I was then! :))) Without any safeguard or climbing accessories... Just hands and feet...

Why did you add so few photos of mountains?
peacetraveler22
Jan. 27th, 2016 03:42 pm (UTC)
I always post photos of mountains when I visit such areas. :) Where I live, they are only a short drive away, but not right near my home so I can't constantly take photos of them. In a few weeks, I'll got to Montana. Lots of mountains there. :)
anna_sollanna
Jan. 27th, 2016 04:21 pm (UTC)
> Which landscapes do you like best - sea, mountain, dessert....?
Sea and mountains! Something like this one: http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/images/P-473-488-90/82/8265/TRMZ300Z/posters/carl-frederic-aagaard-amalfi-cappuccini.jpg
I even used to have a reproduction of it hanging on my wall.
The sceneries you post are very beautiful, I've almost dreamed to visit mountains and to visit an observatory (not to say about a mountain observatory)...
peacetraveler22
Jan. 27th, 2016 04:24 pm (UTC)
Your picture is like something out of a fairy tale. Pure magic. :))
Ivan Ivanych
Jan. 27th, 2016 07:14 pm (UTC)
In the town of Arkhyz in the Caucasus there is something similar Observatory to observe stars of high mountains. It is very beautiful!
peacetraveler22
Jan. 27th, 2016 07:15 pm (UTC)
I will finally experience the Caucasus in autumn. I'm planning a trip to Georgia now. :)
(no subject) - Ivan Ivanych - Jan. 27th, 2016 07:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 27th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Ivan Ivanych - Jan. 28th, 2016 04:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 28th, 2016 03:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
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