Sunday, December 7, 2008

Le Village de Noel in Bayonne, France

Sitting here eating a chocolate covered carmel deliciouness from my trip yesterday, I am excited to tell you about Bayonne, France! My friend from Spanish class, Pernille (pronounded like vanilla with a P) and I figured since we have a 3-day weekend, we should atleast make one day-trip. We picked Bayonne because it is famous for it's chocolate and also because they have a large Christmas festival going on this month! It was definitley a trip full of chocolate, Christmas, shopping and mixes of English, Danish (Peni as I call her is from Denmark), Spanish and French.

Bayonne is in the South of France, really actually close to the other French Coastal cities I visited the other week (Biarritz and San Juan de Luz). It is more inland, but has a river that runs through it - Le Nive. It is still considered Basque country (well, French Basque Country, which is completely different if you ask someone in Spain haha). Everything we saw was in both French and Euskera, just like it is here but Spanish and Euskera (Basque language), but since I don't speak French or Euskera, it wasn't too helpful for me ha. Come to think of it, I probably only know ten French words. Bonjour, Merci, Madame, Moisuer (or however you spell it), Aurevoi (don't know how to spell that one either!), and I can count to 3 - but that's pretty much my extent of the French language. If you ask me a ballet term I can fire off a bunch of those, but these words don't help much when you are lost. Excuse me sir, I can do a piroutte, but do you happen to know where this bus is?? Haha. I think all the French I learned is from Beauty and the Beast...sad but true!

We took a train from San Sebastian to Hendaye (a small French town that is opposite Hondarribia). From there we were supposed to take a French train but the line (cue in British English) was too long and the 5 minutes we allowed ourselves to buy tickets and board the train didn't work out and we issed it. No big deal...we are on an adventure. We wandered out of the train station and low and behold, there is a bus to San Juan de Luz. We figured we might as well take it and get closer to our end destination since the next train didn't come for 2 hours. When we arrived in San Juan de Luz we were worried we wouldn't be able to find a bus to Bayonne, but the moment we stepped off the bus another bus pulled up - straight to Bayonne! Such good karma :D We ended up arriving quicker than if we had waited for the next train, and only spent 3€ instead of the 13€ the train cost - pretty successful I would say! Once off the bus, our inefficiency in French was glaringly obvious. We couldn't even figure out what direction was North haha. There was a teenage boy at the bus stop and we asked him - do you speak English, to which he said no, so our next question was do you speak Spanish, also which was a no. We didn't care - we speak sign language! We kept trying to figure out how to get to the river, but genius Amanda doesn't know how to say river in French...I said rio (spanish), ria (because I thought maybe if I changed one letter he would silly), river (english eventhough he already said he didn't know it) and then riviera (ridiculous I know!). We finally figured it out and made it into the city but then couldn't find out how to get to the tourism office. We were looking at a large city map on the street when someone approached us (we must have looked very confused) and he asked us, in English, if we needed some help. Hooray - a French person who is willing to speak English - or so we thought! We smiled very big and had a converstaion that went something like this: 'Oh, you speak English?' 'NO!' 'Oh hablas español?' 'NO!' I FRENCH! FRENCH KISS!' Needless to say, he didn't help much!

We finally figured it out and found the tourist office, grabbed a map and headed off to the Christmas Festival. We were pretty excited to have some Christmas in our lives, because in San Sebastian because of the EU recession, the city has decided to not really put up many Christmas lights or decorations in order to save money...bah humbug! It doesn't even really feel like Christmas here in San Sebastian - it could basically be October. There are a few decorations, but I am used to lights lights lights and I miss them! The city of Bayonne was decked out super Christmasy and has this Christmas festival where they put up little wood cabins and people sell gifts, foods, etc in Le Village de Noel (Christmas Village). They have planted a bunch of Christmas trees along the pathway for the month, and have these branch reindeer all over! All of the wood cabins have fake snow on the roofs and lights to make them look festive and there was even an ice-skating rink! With pony-rides, face-painting and Christmas music, it was very festive! My favorite little food cabin was this one where they sell tasty breads. They have little samples and I experience my first REAL ginger BREAD...not that gingerbread cookie stuff - this was the real thing! It was deliccccious! Funny as well was that some of the breads had things in them - apricots, oranges, etc - and one of them has Amandes - which I loved because it's close to my name - and it means Almonds in French! I don't like Amandes but I like Amandas hahah. After picking out a few good gifts we figured we could walk around the Old Part of town to check some shops.

Bayonne was founded in 842 when the Vikings wanted a port city to help connect the Atlantic Ocean and te Mediterranean Sea. It is called Bayonne in English, but in Euskera is called Baiona. The word 'ibai' in Euskera means river, so it is fitting that Baiona is a port city on a river! The Old Part faces the river and is very cute! Because it is the Christmas season every store in puts out thier version of a Christmas tree. I love this idea and think it should be implented everywhere lol. There were some cute ones, some ugly ones, some weird ones - all kinds! There was a black tree...who wants a black Christmas tree?! Then there was this one - a stack of boxes made to look like a triangle, which I guess is a tree haha. All of the windows of the shops were decorated and it really helped charge my Christmas spirit!

Even the restaurant that we stopped to eat at was decorated to the max! With sparkly lights in the window, you could think it was snowing! Too bad the food wasn't as nice as the decorations! You always hear about French food being delightful, but this lunch was anything but! The best part of my lunch was the wine - a rosé. My Grammy insisted that I have a glass of French wine, and I think it was great advice because it was the perfect fix after the travels of the morning and walking around Bayonne! Here is a shot of me, looking a little worn out, at the restaurant. In Spain when siesta happens, all the restaurants stay open, so we assumed that the same would go for France, but boy were we wrong. When we decided to eat around 4pm, we kept getting told that the kitchen was shut down and we could only drink coffee in the restaurant! So eventhough the food at this restaurant wasn't the best, we were happy to be inside at a warm place having a wine and food!

I later decided maybe the French don't do food well in Bayonne, but what they DO do well is wine and chocolate! Bayonne is the capital of chocolate-making in all of France. In the 1500s, Jews were forced out of Spain by the Inquisition and fled to Portugal. After being forced out of Portugal as well, they fled to The Basque Country of France and brought with them thier chocolate-making secrets! Supposedly there are only 10 famalies that still live in Bayonne that are true descendants from these first chocolate makers. Spain controlled most of the cocoa trade business in Europe in 1500s and finally in the 1600s it spread to the rest of the continent. On a field trip for my spanish class, I learned that San Sebastian used to be one of the main cocoa ports in all of Europe! Hundreds of years later, San Sebastian doesn't trade cocoa anymore, but Bayonne has remained the capital of chocolate for France. Walking around town we stopped in little chocolate shops on Rue Port-Neuf (which means street of chocolate shops) and tasted many delicious treats! Some were plain, serious chocolate, while others were elaborate decorated desserts and we even found these cute little cappucino candy treats - made of all chocolate and sweets! I tried the famous French pastry called a macaron (not macaroons though) which is a little sandwich of sweet! It is made egg whites, sugar, almonds and icing and it makes a little sandwich of meringue with some icing in the center...mmmm. I tried the frambuesa (raspberry) one and it was to die for! It just melts in your mouth. I just bought one originally for tasting, but couldn't help but buy a few more! The ladies working in the shop were so friendly and smiling- probably because they get to eat those treats all day! They had everything - chocolate trees, sculptures with sweets, colored sugar, a sweet-loving dream! And this was just a regular day - we didn't even visit the musem where you can see the chocolate being made (which I really want to go back and do) and we also weren't there during the chocolate festival, because YES there is a whole festival about chocoloate in this little town!

As the day was winding down we headed back to the bus but walked as we walked out of the town, we noticed that the whole Old Part was actually walled in. It used to be part of the orignal city and the walls are still intact. We saw these houses set a bit behind the protective wall, and if you look at them, you can see they are houses that are actually built into the city walls. You can see the round house looks as if it was a watch tower!

Another exciting weekend in France...but this time I did learn a new word - bonsoir (good night!), so now I am practically an expert!


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