Monday, April 16, 2012

The Outstanding Out-of-Towners (Part 5)

After the monumental day of meeting the family and learning the concept of a Basque ''lunch'' (noon-7pm) we decided to get back to the sightseeing track for Friday and headed across the border.  The Spanish/French border is only about 25 minutes from our place, and we decided that the adorable little beach towns on the French side deserved a visit.  With St. Jean de Luz as our destination, we hoped the clouds and rain would hold off long enough for us to see the city and that it did.

We parked, although a bit of confusion accompanied this process, but finally got situated and headed to the town market.  Although in France, we were still in Basque Country, so the town market's sign was in Euskera.  The market however was all too French - counters selling cheese of every kind imaginable, adorable breads with thier smell wofting through the air, delicious meats and sausages every other counter, vividly colorful fresh veggies and even a nice salesman who happened to speak some English.  Because of his jolly  manner we decided his stand was where we would buy the foie gras we have been looking for.  A few steps out of the market and we crossed another one, yet this one was outdoor.  With more cheese and veggies for our eyes to feast on, this time we got what my cousin calls 'nibbles' - little snack foods of olives!  A colorful array of choices made the decision difficult but with a few free tastes Cathy and Joseba decided on a mixed selection and some crushed black olives for later!  Yummy!

As we wandered through the little streets, we couldn't help but admire the gorgeous houses that lined the road.  All of them were built in the Basque style called 'iparralde' which means North in Euskera.  The houses in the French side of Basque Country often decorated thier white homes with red or green wooden frames and shutters which adds a gorgeous pop of color and character to them.  If I were to have a home here, I would love it to be decorated like that - hopefully someday!  Since it differs so much from the more grand and stone-worked style of Donostia, we were all in happy admiration as we maintained our Basque stroll speed throughout the town.

And who can pass up shops with shoes galore, gorgeous flower shops and the most dangerous of all - chocolate stores!  Being chocolate lovers all of us, we just had to stop in one that looked too tasty to pass up.  It was there that we had a lot of samples of a chocolate spread and gazed as the chocolate fountain and tasty little chocolate bits all over the store.  Turns out my name is pretty close to the word for almond in French - Amande!  It was almost enough for me to justify a purchase, but alas reason took over and with one more free sample I was good and we set off.

We reached the beach and when the sun decided to grace us with its presence, we were in heaven.  The buildings had so much personality - each one special in its own way.  From one with colored balls around its tower to the houses that had walkways directly to the boardwalk, each one was fun to look at.  I especially like the ones whose patios turn into front doors with the little bridge over the street below so they have direct beach access.  Genius!  I tried to imagine having one of those houses in the summer and how amazing it would be!  Not only were the beach bridges convenient, but they houses were so pretty and very Basque.  One even had stone sculptures of the ubiquitious Basque amona eta aitona (Grandma and Grandpa).  These faces are carved in so many things - wooden dressers, souvineers, and here even a house!  What's funny is that it's true, they really look Basque.  Nothing can make your home more authentic than a couple grandparents on the front!  Ha!

Weaving through the little streets we got to the little port, that on a cloudy Spring day wasn't too active but made for good pics.  Directly next to the port is a lovely large square with trees that soon will be blooming like crazy and a little covered area in the center of the plaza that was covered with flowers.  From all sides you can plop down and enjoy a meal at any one of the adorable café terraces.  In fact, when Cathy and Paul came to visit Joseba and me last time they had breakfast in one of these little cute places!  With a threat of rain overhead though, we decided an indoor lunch would probably serve us better and headed off to find something for our bellies.  Although not French in the slighest, we couldn't pass up the packed restaurant that was all Spanish-style!  After sitting down here we were, 3 Americans and a Basque in the French part of Basque Country eating a Spanish paella and listening to weird rock music!  But, with good food, good company and good wine, there were no complaints!

With our time ticking on the parked car, we soon after returned and headed back to the Spanish side to the coastal town of Hondarribia where I used to work.  The change between France and Spain is so slight that you only cross a bridge over a small river and voila you're in a different country.  What to us is more like crossing states is here changing countries!  In Hondarribia we were lucky to have my old workmate, Sean, come up and unlock the academy where I used to work to show Cathy and Grammy a bit of what I have been doing these last 4 years.  With bright green and orange as the color theme and 3 classrooms and a little 'cinema', I don't think it is exactly what they were expecting, but seeing as we don't really have language academies at home, I don't know what there would be to expect.  Seeing as it made up such a big part of my life until this year, it was nice to share it with them.

We set off to the Old Part to explore this gorgeous medieval and walled-in city but were caught up in the rain.  That didn't seem to be a problem though as we popped up our umbrellas.  Sean, just like his father did to me when I visited them in Scotland, took Grammy by the arm and began an afternoon-long personal tour!  Him holding the umbrella over them both, it was adorable to see her be given this special tour around the city - she was just too cute!  Eventually the rain got the best of us and we popped into a café for a beer/wine/cider.  Grammy and Cathy had taken very easily to the Basque drinks - txakoli (a young and refreshing white wine) and sidra (the somewhat sour cider that Basques have been making for years).  Over our drinks we chatted away and later jumped outside to see that Easter procession take place - which was part of the reason we came on this exact day.  Normally the Roman soilders parade through the street and soon after come big displays of Mary and Jesus carried by the churchpeople on thier shoulders.  Since it was so rainy though, the famous couple didn't 'rise' to the occasion, but the pink-tighted men paraded around for a bit for the umbrella-clad crowd.

When Sean's girlfriend Elena showed up we headed down to the newer part of town where a few 'iparralde' style houses line San Pedro Street in one of the most iconic parts of the town.  On a sunny day you can find Basque men seated on the benches all in almost identical clothes and thier boina hats.  And although it was rainy cats and dogs (that is according to me, Grammy said it was just sprinkling!) there were still Basque men out strolling and drinking wine.

Our destination was one of the best pintxo bars in the town - Gran Sol.  This place has won numerous pintxo contests with thier creations, one of which Joseba, Sean and Cathy tried - the Jaizkibel.  If it rings a bell it's because it is the name of the mountain that is near the city, one that Joseba and I went hiking on a couple weeks back.  Anyways, the pintxo was a huge mushroom topped with Spanish ham and a garlic mayo sauce that was to-die-for.  Accompanied with a glass of wine, you couldn't wish for anything more!

After darkness fell we had one more drink but after such a long and eventful day had to part ways.  With so many pintxos and drinks we weren't even hungry enough to have dinner and dropped Cathy and Grammy off at home.  However, they told me that they got home and had another glass of wine and some of the 'nibbles' we'd gotten at the market!  Good for them - living the vacation life to the max!


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