Published: February 16th 2012February 16th 2012
Note to self: Look at train ticket after purchase to determine if indeed it is
a train ticket. Sheesh!
Left the Toulouse hostel (the one way in the bum-stink, to use my previous words) right when the sun, a bright, blood red-orange, peeked over the rooftops. Ah, that makes it all worth it. :)
Took a train to Bordeaux where I got to witness myself, circa ten years ago. A mother set her young daughter on the train, waving at her through the window until the cars started to move and even then chasing them a little way down the platform. The girl blushed in classic embarrassment as the train pulled out and us fellow travelers smiled knowingly and perhaps just a bit patronizingly since we've all been in her position. Then she proceeded to explore the "care package" her mother had left her, complete with noisy plastic bags, crunchy food, candy, and soda pop. OMG! After gorging herself, which included sharing half her Coca Cola with the floor, she then proceeded to spread out over two seats and four tables and nap. Oh the foibles of the young ;). But again, we've all been there.
Once in Bordeaux, and after zeroing in on the one place to purchase a larger-than-life sized coffee, I sat down to wait comfortably for an hour until my next train. But as I gazed up at the welcoming green departure board, basking in the warmth of the my cup that over floweth, I noticed a little icon next to my train number where no icon should be. Hmm, looks like a bus.
Any bets? Well no surprise (to you all at least) it was indeed a bus. So then, my relaxed mood totally out the window, I frantically raced down the three halls it took to get to Information, which was crowded since it was the only place with heat sans
having to purchase an item. Squeezing myself between five VERY tall men, I approached the nice smiling lady at the welcome desk, who's good mood soured just a little when she spotted the enormous coffee in my hand. (aka, "American") She then proceeded to speak in English (even after I posed a question in nearly perfect French) but failed half way through and ended up explaining the directions in French. So "Ha!" to her!
But then Kharma arrived: I had to run back down the three halls and under the tracks to the otherside of the station where there is no indication of a bus stop. Ahhh! And it always feels like the buses are kept on the "meaner" side of any station, where paint chipped buildings and empty streets make you feel like you've stumbled into an area known for "bizarre disappearances"...
Have no fear, I got on my bus fine and safe, no worries. And after three hours without a pit stop (Kharma again) I was dropped off in Biarritz, a surfing resort city in the French Basque Region on the Atlantic coast.
In Biarritz, it's my first time staying in a Hostelling International hostel (they're never creative with their names) and I have to say it is perhaps the most awkward one thus far. Sheets consist of a sleeping bag-like sac that twists around your body if you move in your sleep (which I do, a lot), resting on top of a plastic covered mattress so that I alone create a symphony of noises that no doubt irk my fellow roommates to no end. It's located about two miles from the beach, a fact which I knew prior to purchase but did not really accept until I stood at the bottom of the hill looking up... But I suppose all the walking will help balance out the plethera of carbs and sugar they serve up for breakfast (coffee is sipped from a bowl. Large portions, but really!?)
Biarritz itself is known for its great surfing and there are a few out here who brave the cold temperatures and rain. Apparently in the summer months it is flooded with French vacationers, but now I have it mostly to myself. The beaches are wide and groomed daily, their emptiness making the scene more attractive, especially combined with the overcast sky that sets dark colors off as if they glow. I followed a path that ran along the beach and clung to the hillside overlooking the ocean, dipping down into an old fishing harbor that has fallen largely to disrepair. Here I walked along the harbor wall, white crested waves crashing only a few feet below me. Nearly slipped in once, thanks to my ever-deteriorating boots, but I made the circuit safely and continued on my way to the La Rocher de la Vierge, where the white-stoned statue of Virgin and Child looks out to open water. Glancing back offers a view of the main beach and the lighthouse at the point, and as luck would have it, all was glowing in sunlight that at that moment broke through the clouds.
Near Biarritz, just a little north is the town of Bayonne. This feels more "Basque-ish" since it retains most of its old city along with a large cathedral (St. Marie) and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through its streets. The building are colorful, but their paint is fading; some collective understanding must realize that this is all part of its charm and so they are left to fall gracefully into ruin.
South of Biarritz is St. Jean de Luz where the king and queen got hitched (not recently obviously). Even deader than Biarritz I began to think I had waisted an afternoon when I noticed the church was open (they hold prayers off for lunch hour here, my kind of people) and stepped inside. It's built like a ship, upside down and you're beneath the hull. Three tiers of dark balconies rise up, the wood the dark brown that looks almost like dried blood, and honestly I thought I could hear waves crashing outside the no-ornamentation windows. Though not immense like so many stone cathedrals, this place feels just as captivating because of the natural
sense of it all: aged wood, candle light, and the smell of sea salt and varnish. Or maybe it's just that I've been reading about pirates lately, I don't know.
Thus completes my Basque experience. Tomorrow I head for Lyon, which is on the opposite side of the country. I've changed my game plan a bit to hopefully pull myself out of this funk and back into enjoying the fact that I'm traveling in France! I mean come on, I am pretty dang lucky!