A few weekends back (I've been slacking on the blog upkeep, I know, sorry), we headed out on a mini-family vacation to the French Basque Country. Joseba and I loaded up the car with delicious Spanish omelletes full of onions, peppers and ham and met up with his mother, brother, sis-in-law and our niece for the short roadtrip across the border.
Although we live literally only about 25 minutes from the Spain/France border, we rarely jump countries, which is a shame because the French side is gorgeous! When you drive from Spain to France it's sort of the same feeling as driving across State lines - you don't even notice. A bridge or a toll booth is how the border is here, but while the actual crossing seems like you hadn't changed countries at all, you note a difference immediately. The houses all seem to turn white with red trim and red shutters. The flowers seem to be more abundant in each roundabout. The signs for upcoming cultural events at each exit are more detailed. The small towns look more like provinical villages that you would see on a postcard or in a movie. All in all, the French part of the Basque Country is adorable with a capital A. I love it.
The plan was to head to Larrun (La Rhune in French) for something I had seen advertised on the city bus for weeks - le petit tren de larrun. A small wooden train that treks up one of the most important mountains in the Basque Country - Mt. Larrun - this train called its first 'all aboard' in 1924 and has been hauling people up and down the almost 3,000ft mountain. With the original engineering, passengers of all ages ride up in the wooden cars pulled by a locomotive up a zipper-like track. It's a shaky ride and slow (only about 6mph) up, but leaves time for taking in the views. With wood from the region (roof from Pyreneean Firs, pine wood for the floor from Les Landes and chesnut panelling from another nearby French region), we sat down on the benches facing each other, excited to start the ride. My niece, Irati, loved it and was all smiles as we passed gorgeous flowers (don't these look like blue bells except that they are purple?!), and the local stout ponies called pottoak - a Basque word for their breed.
In the French Basque dialect, Larrun translates to 'good land' - and with the rolling hills that you gaze down at, I think it was aptly named. From the top you have a 360º view of the landscape - from San Sebastian out to the Bay of Biscay to the Pyrenees behind you and the Les Landes region of France up north. The view is incredible, but being Basque Country is always threatened by the weather. What was sunny weather soon left us on top of a cloud-shrouded mountain. Before the clouds reached full misting power, we managed to check out some other areas of the peak.
Famous for its many dolmens and stone cirlces and neolithic monuments, we found that many people had taken rocks and spelt out messages - be it a love message, thier name or the unending support for the high-speed train that they are installing. My sister-in-law and I wandered up ahead and by time the boys and mom got there, it looked as if I had worked really hard to make this rock formation for Joseba! Hahaha, sure didn't! It was just there, but we got a good laugh :)
With a drastic weather change our plans were a bit shot, but we managed to keep on having a good time. Iker, Ixaskun, Irati and Maixus had driven up in thieir camping van, so we were able to squeeze all of us and a table into the center part of the van to feast on our picnic - our omelletes, a tasty salad complete with bonito tuna fish and all, potatoe salad and what is called legia, which is Bleach in Spanish. No no, we didn't drink bleach, but it is a name of a drink that is lemon soda mixed with beer, which gives you a refreshing drink perfect with any picnic!
With the clouds still hanging we decided that shopping was the solution and until it stopped raining thats what we did. By time we reached Hendaye, France on the way back it had cleared up a bit so we stopped off to walk along the beach. With more than 2 miles of sandy coast, the most southwesternly city of France gets lots of tourists! Just across the border, which is just an inlet of the Pacific is the town of Hondarribia where I used to work! We walked from one end to the other, even Irati took some steps! While not the sunniest day in Basque Country history, we managed to make a fun family day out of it and headed home beat!