Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bayonne and Biarritz

An old friend had recently graduated from MBA school and was hastily planning a last-minute trip to Europe, backpack-style just like we did when we graduated from plain ol' college so many years ago.  Would I be in Paris and also would I like to meet him somewhere for a weekend getaway?  Yes and yes!

We took the weekend getaway first, taking a quick flight down to Biarritz.  We rented a car, which was immediately a giant point of stress for me as I hadn't driven in over 6 months.  (We struggled with the insurance question at the counter, opting only for the "basic"insurance.  [Oh, how many times have I been in this situation, only now it was in Europe = worse.]  I kept trying to put our limited coverage out of my mind, but there it was creeping around every traffic circle.  (What do they have against stoplights, by the way?)  During the first few hours of driving, I was the vision of a nervous wreck--knuckles white with grip, veins in neck bulging, everything tight and tense.  But thankfully I had a good navigation buddy who didn't mind over-stating things to me in a tone suitable to talking someone off a ledge, and there weren't any wrecks.

Despite our initial inclinations to drop the car off early (I wanted it GONE), we were grateful to have it for the weekend because the weather was cool/cloudy/rainy.  So instead of chillin' on the beach in Biarritz, we drove down the coast to Spain.

We hit the city of Bayonne just after arriving.  Bayonne is famous for its ham, as well as for its history of bullfighting.  It's less touristy than Biarritz, though it is equidistant from the little airport both cities share. 

The Nive River in the middle of the city.

There was a brocante on, so we stopped and had a gander.

This is the Cathedrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne, which has a lovely cloister built around a courtyard full of headless statues and large stone tiles that are actually gravestones.  It's always a strange feeling to look down and realize you're standing on someone's remains.  Whoops.

We checked out a few stores in Bayonne (and bought a paper cone full of freshly shaved meat... noms), walked by the rugby field, and then headed to Biarritz, our HQ for the weekend.

This is the fancy little town of Biarritz.

Biarritz is a classy little surf town (with not one but TWO casinos) on the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic.  The brave souls on the beach are few, as the weather was generally uncooperative and cool.  

Roses were in full bloom on our visit.  They were everywhere!

This creepy cemetery was on our walk from the hotel to the beach.

I spotted this kitteh family on one of our walks.  Two kittens and an especially intense momma (second from left).  I wanted to take them all and have a little kitty troupe, but they're pretty lucky living in Biarritz, even if they're only squatting in someone's garden.

I liked Biarritz alright, but I no doubt would have been smitten if the weather was good and we could have strolled around in swimsuits and sandals.  It's part of the Basque region, which runs from France to Spain and is the land of pelote (in the US, the most well-known version of which is Jai Alai), fresh seafood, part of the Pyrenees, esplette peppers, kalimotxo (a drink of half red wine/half cola), pintxos (the Basque version of tapas), a predominant use of the letter X, wild ponies (pottok), sheeps' milk cheese (like Idiazabal), and the cutest damn typeface in the world.

More Basque region to follow.