Sunday, April 22, 2007


Back from Freiburg (amazing visit, will tell you all about it later I promise) and Strasbourg (the cathedral there almost turned me religious. Almost.) and really not excited for classes to start again on Tuesday. But now is the time to finally write about the Basque country visit, all the way back in March, which came right in the middle of my tidal wave of work and was fun, if freezing. There's already a photoset on Flickr, so go visit that if you haven't already (unfortunately, there aren't that many pictures of San Sebastian, the last day, because I was too cold to get my camera out) and now I'll tell you all about it!

After leaving my apartment before 7 am (oh, the horror) on Saturday morning, St Patrick's Day, I met my Tufts friends Josh and Kelly/Jean at Montparnasse, one of Paris' big huge train stations, to catch our train to Bayonne (ooh, watch Lisa link!). Even though it's all the way down in the south, thanks to the TGV (Trains à Grande Vitesse, or "trains with big speed") we were there in less than 5 hours. We wandered around the quaint old part of the town for a while, and bought some brébis cheese (a regional specialty) and a baguette for lunch. We also bought a "gâteau Basque," flavored with almonds and with some sort of delicious cream inside, which made me happy for quite some time. Then we took pictures of the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, walked along some old fortified walls that Vauban, a famous medieval fortifications guy, had designed, saw lots of signs in French, Basque, and Gascon (which made my language dork side really happy), and visited the Musée Basque, which had exhibits of traditional Basque tools used for farming and making cheese and things like that. Everything was labeled and explained in French and Basque, so I tried to figure out the Basque, but it was utterly impossible. Basque is unrelated to any other surviving language, and it just plain looks weird, with a heavy reliance on K's, Q's, and Z's. (Skip this parenthetical note if you're not a language dork, because it will bore you: Basque, as I discovered later, has nouns that decline, similar to Latin, according to their position in the sentence (subject, object, etc). But unlike Latin, these endings also supply the articles and prepositions, so there are no little words in Basque like "a," "in," or "on" - all that information is supplied with the ending you attach to the word. So that makes it complicated to begin with, and there are no cognates to any languages I know, so I was completely lost.) There was also a film, made in the 1940's I believe, all about the "hardy Basque people" and the "noble shepherds" which was highly amusing, in that overenthusiastic 40's way.

We had reservations at a hotel in Biarritz, on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, so we headed to the train station again. Shortly thereafter, we arrived in more touristy and sophisticated Biarritz and found our hotel, which is definitely one of the hidden cheap treasures of Biarritz. It cost less than some youth hostels per person for a three-person room with two sinks, a decent shower, and room to turn around. It was also about 100 meters from the beach. We wandered around trying to decide on somewhere to have dinner, and I got the "Basque plate," which had pork, salad, a fried egg, and toast. It was good, but not mind-blowing.

Kelly and I went to the Rocher de la Vièrge at about 11 pm and watched the waves, which were savage and anguished and beautiful. We could feel the boom every time a wave broke against the rock. I tried to take pictures, but I couldn't capture the lighting and the feel of sitting there and feeling the wildness of the ocean, so I gave up. It was beautiful, though freezing, so we stayed as long as we could stand it and then went back to the hotel.

The next morning, we slept in, then bought breakfast at a bakery and ate it overlooking the beach. One of the more prepared members of our group (i.e., not me) had brought a guidebook with an ocean-side walking tour, so we did that and saw some gorgeous rock formations and more waves. I could sit and watch the sea there for hours, because it's always different and always fascinating. Then Kelly and I decided to at least dip our toes in (Josh was getting sick so he declined) so we took off our shoes and braved the 33º Fahrenheit water. The sand wasn't really sand - it was a bunch of really tiny, smooth stones that felt good at first, but got irritating after a while. Poor Kelly turned her back on the ocean to have a picture taken, then couldn't outrun the big wave that of course came up right at that moment and got drenched from the waist down. Luckily our hotel wasn't far, so she could change.

Thanks to the above-mentioned guidebook, we also took a tour of the châteaux at Biarritz. We've all picked out our future summer houses, so in about 20 years you can all come visit me on the coast of France and it'll be lovely:
There are turrets. What's not to like?

Then we had a bit of an adventure getting back to the train station for our train to San Sebastián, since the buses weren't running on schedule due to a parade. Eventually we decided to walk the 3 kilometers or so to the train station, with our luggage, which isn't the most fun I've had in my life, but it was fine.

Reason #4829 to love the European Union: no indication that we'd crossed the border from France to Spain, no passports needed, no customs to go through, nothing. We found our youth hostel, owned by a woman named Olga (but she speaks fluent Spanish, so we were confused...) and got recommendations for tapas bars for dinner. They were delicious, even if we didn't know exactly what we were eating, and cheap, as was everything in Spain. My 2 semesters of Spanish seemed very very far away, especially as speaking all French, all the time, has driven most of it out of my head, so we communicated with hand gestures, my Neanderthal-level Spanish, and English. It reminded me of how much I love being fluent enough in French to be able to handle pretty much every situation that comes up without resorting to charades.

The next day it rained. Hard. All day. And my umbrella decided to blow inside out so many times as to become completely non-functional. I was not the happiest person in the world. We took the funiculaire to the top of a mountain, where the view was lovely but too windy to enjoy. Then, thankfully, we discovered that the hotel on top of the mountain had a bar that served hot chocolate. We got 2 pots of the delicious hot sweet life-saving beverage and savored the warmth for as long as we could. Then we descended and walked around San Sebastián, found a cathedral and some cute shops, then found another tapas bar for lunch. We tried still more little mouthfuls of heaven and had Sangria and wrote postcards, which was fun. The Sangria hit Kelly and I at the same time, so we were mildly hysterical and giggly for a while. Wheee!

On our way to the train station it started to hail, which was just so ridiculous coming on top of the terrible weather we'd had all weekend that something snapped and we laughed hysterically all the way to the station. But the train was warm, and we were soon back in Paris in our own beds, sleeping blissfully away. The End.


  1. Oh my God, Lisa, I spent the summer of 1969 in Biarritz, and ate lots of Gateau Basque (I have a recipe!) and bain d'apricot (sp?) at the very same beach you walked on! We also went to San Sebastian. Cool! Sara

  2. Ah, yes - Biarritz...
    Our family and a friend from CA spent a week there in a little pension in the summer of 1965, complete with our friend's surfboard. (I never did learn why he brought it all the way to Paris. His dad was a diplomat at the US embassy.) It was the summer before my sophomore year (HS, that is), and a most wonderful time. I ate my first 2-hour, 5-course lunches at that pension. And made a fool of myself with the surfboard. And ogled the surfer girls, who were all hanging out with a rowdy bunch of Australians on an Endless Summer, Surf-Around-The-World adventure. I found a glass fishing-net float on the long beach north of town. Still have it, along with the wonderful memories.
    Many thanks for taking me back.