Thursday, 23 June 2016

Puttin' on the Ritz (or Zarautz to Biarritz)

I don't sleep well.  Not only does moving the bed into the windowed alcove expose me to the noise of the town's youth assembled in the square until almost 1 pm, but the morning light also wakes me up early.  As usual, 
Zu has NO problem sleeping and puts up well with my annoying early rising and noise making. To minimize the nuisance I go for an early morning walk and photo shoot
The beach isn't really inviting to walk on.
The tide is too high and I don't really want wet feet in this kind of weather.

moon and chimneys

It's a double entendre word joke : Put you arse here !

There is not much holding us in this town and the border to France is waiting, so we leave early

The morning haze is not exclusively water vapour; we are entering a more industrialized part of the Basque Country and one can tell there is dirt in the air.

But the route that Google Maps picked for us makes up for that a bit.

All of a sudden we are stopped by the Euskadi Traffic Police.  They have been waiting in ambush for an innocent victim probably for quite a while, so they waste no time to stop these Tourists and to give us the third degree.  Spain has a VERY STRANGE helmet law. Cyclists in Spain MUST wear a helmet UNLESS they are going uphill or unless it is VERY hot.  

Unfortunately, the law stopped us on a downhill stretch, so the first excuse does NOT work.  So I feebly start mumbling "Hace MUCHO calor", to which the copper just grins and spits out the Spanish equivalent of "not even close".  Since he speaks way too fast for me I send him to Zu ("She speaks Spanish").

But that doesn't seem to help much, since the two are happily chatting away but we are NOT moving.  So finally I ask copper # 2 in Spanish "Done se puede comprar" swish-around-the-head gesture, i.e pretending to feel remorseful and asking where one can buy a bicycle helmet.  This seems to get things moving (kowtowing to the law sometimes works; some of them are desperate to have their authority acknowledged) because 2 minutes later we are rolling towards San Sebastian, where we promised to buy bicycle helmets.

The beach of San Sebastian. There definitely is SOMETHING in the air that shouldn't be there. But we have passed LOTS of industry upwind from here, so at least we know where it comes from.
Oh, with respect to the coppers and bicycle helmets: San Sebastian is about 20 km from the French border. Cyclists do NOT have to wear helmets in France.  Not even Basque coppers can be stupid enough to believe we would buy helmets here.  But then you never know how dumb people can be.
A perfect analogy.  Even though the CRAZIER and taller rider in our case is also the chubbier one ;-)  

What does one do in San Sebastian.  Charge batteries is one option. Eat tapas is another.  Good thing I did, because I NEVER could have imagined how Spanish Jamon Serrano (think Prosciutto), Blue Cheese, Anchovies, and Chocolate Sauce would work AMAZINGLY well together (bottom left)

In the old town of San Sebastian is can't help but coin the term "San Sebastian Syndrome.  Every second store in San Sebastian's old quarter is full of fridge magnets, stickers, bracelets, mugs, snow-cones of the most boring designs.

The cathedral is gorgeous but the entrance fee seems exorbitant
 That is why it was such a great surprise to find a proper hat store.  When in Basque country one should at least try a Basque Cap, right.  The lady running this store not only advised me on colour but measured my head circumference (cabeza grande !) and shoved a perfectly fitting cap onto my head, tugged a bit on the edges to get the shape right, and most likely quite enjoyed the astonished look on my face when I realized how good her selection of cap was.  Needless to say, I bought it.
Zu bought one too.  Makes her look like an Israeli guerrilla fighter
We pedal out of town with our full batteries, stomachs, and our new hats. Then we spot some rail tracks.  oh oh.   We're both sick of cycling (the urban area is not THAT nice) and tired, and there is always the Basque Police to consider.  We take a train to the border town, Irun.
By now we got used to Spanish prices.  A glass of wine Euro 1-2, More than you can eat including a bottle of wine) Euro 10, etc. etc.  The number of cigarette, alcohol, and perfume stores in Irun does not bode well for our expenses on the rest of our trip.  There are MANY of them, which means that the French must come over here to buy cheaply. I realize this in the last minute and buy another carton of cigarettes, and pocket an instant savings of 20 Euros against prices on the other side of the border.
The border is very non-impressive. It's formed by this river and we cross it by cycling over the bridge in the distance. There are NOT supposed to be any border controls between France and Spain, but Police is conducting a check of car passengers.  Fortunately they don't bother with cyclists.
We wiggle our way out of the border town and halfway up a long hill take a breather. Exactly the right spot to take a break because I find 50 Euros on the ground. We continue up the hill and find a mall.  In a little mall cafe we hit the booze (o.k, that was just me), and French cake art. YUMMY.

Saint Jean de Luz, just your typical happy family beach town

The landscape doesn't really change. Makes sense, because we're still in the Basque Country, which doesn't stop when you cross the border.
Soon the road turns inland for a while to avoid the rough coast.

Traffic is crazy here.  LOTS of cars plugging the winding country roads, and Zu has no choice but to follow me when I angrily pass the stupid car drivers on the right.  A wind gust carries away her cap, but quick thinking tells her that if she goes back to pick up the cap, she will have lost me.  And I'm the one that knows where Biarritz is, which hotel we are staying in, etc. etc.

Biarritz !!!
And Zu's quick thinking regarding her cap was dead on, because a few minutes after I took the above picture, I look behind me and there is no Zu.  Oh Oh. I back-track my path. No Zu.  OH OH.  I back-track my back-tracking and keep going straight where originally I made a right turn that Zu might have missed. Is there a Lost&Found for travel companions?  This is when I realize the benefit of agreeing on a meeting point just in case we get separated (main post office, police headquarters, fanciest hotel in town. Or maybe just writing the name of the night's hotel on a piece of paper?

These rocks are a Biarritz treasure.  They are injected with concrete and propped up with concrete. Without them Biarritz would not be Biarritz !

Anyhuu, 10 minutes later our positional coordinates overlap again, we make it to the hotel, check in (I remember telling the receptionist that "Welcome" would be a better way to greet a guest than "Your credit card, please") and go for a walk.

Another walk, and we are heading to a Creperie.that I googled and found close to our hotel.

Is it my ageing brain? Or is it true?  That's the problem with finishing posts 4 months after the event. The writing becomes stale because one doesn't remember the details. Must STOP doing that!  But HOW?  Only sleep 4 hours a night like The Donald and end up demented as well?  No, thank you!  Hang on. Retrace?  What brought this on?  Oh, right!  I seem to remember that one reason we headed for a Creperie was that Zu never had a Crepe before.

Galette avec Noix de St. Jaques

Zu's Crepe Suzette (or Zusette?)
In the evening, I check the internet news and they report that it rains SO HARD in London that some trains are cancelled or delayed so much that voters can't make it to the polling stations for the Brexit Vote.   

And here is an example why why writing blog posts right away prevents boredom.  This following paragraph was written the day it happened: On the other hand,I was also in a more free-spirited state of mind than right now in the demi-demented dreary dark down-pour-deluged Vancouver.

The Bordeaux Claret I am drinking while sitting in Biarritz and the smell  of the recently purchased Le Male by JPG on me are supposed to take my mind of all those middle-aged female elephant thunder thighs in short pink or salmon-coloured shorts that are walking the streets of Biarritz these days (Shockingly enough, I also spotted them inside Spanish churches, taking pictures of the various sun-light stained-glass windows with a camera and FLASH.  DUMB MORONS, just think of the huge quantities of nutritional matter, breathing air, and living space is wasted on such people. These quantities could probably support at least 10 INTELLIGENT 3rd world teens for each of these resource wasters.

O.K. maybe a touch insensitive in retrospect, fat and ignant people have feelings too, but a core of truth is in there somewhere ....

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Lekeitio to Zarautz (or uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill)

My stomach upset of last night has much diminished and when I wake up at 5:45 am I am greeted by an orange horizon.  Saint Malo, Da Nang, and this place have made me realize what people have lost who can no longer see the sun rise in the morning. Watching it rise over an ocean is particularly amazing.  There is a reason why the old ladies dig themselves into the beach of Da Nang every day an hour before sunrise..

I'm also realizing that the continuously decreasing KM numbers on the posts along the road indicate that it is less than 100 km to the French border.  In a way I am glad about the hills, because they force us to keep our daily travel distance short, which means that tonight we will get to stay in yet another Basque seaside town, Zarautz.  I love this lifestyle.  Working all day to get to a place I know barely anything about, except what Google Maps and some hotel-booking website tell me about it.  I'm in my element again.  Being back in Vancouver will be like being a fish out of water again. 

Today is not Friday but it might be Fry-Day. The high this afternoon will be 31 degrees Celsius and the colour of Zu's face already shows some of the same colour tones as that of a freshly boiled lobster.  Don't mess with the Spanish sun ;-)

I think we could have handled a few more days here.  Both the comfortable apartment living and the relaxed town is growing on me.
Alas, we have set our sights on far-away destinations, so it's time to roll again.
But that's the only way of seeing something new....
... and as long as the 'new' is as pretty as around here, no complaints !

The little villages around here have a sewage-treatment plant.  The capital of BC, Victoria,still pumps its sewage into the OCEAN !!!  OH CANADA, SHAME ON YOU ! (Although it puts another spin on the 'Supernatural BC' commercials LOL)

And NO, I won't whine about steep hills.
I prefer wining to whining, and in addition ....

... how could any sane person complain about having to cycle along this road ???

Then it's time to take a battery and stomach filling break. Ideally suited for this is the town of Deba with it's beachfront cafes.  Deba is also the location of the STEEPEST incline of the whole trip so far, as shown by Google Maps.

To prepare ourselves for the HILL, we fill our stomachs (yes, those are anchovies ;-) and our batteries.

Then we use Google Maps to find the route to the extremely steep hill  (Google maps gives you an indication of how steep hills are)
Now what is this?

Good idea ;-)  Hong Kong might have its Escalator, but Deba actually has an Elevator !  

It's not big enough for 2 bikes and I end up going up first.  On top I wait.

hang on. That's NOT Zu!

wait wait wait

That's Zu !

The elevator sure helps, but against all hope, we're far from done with the hill.  And it's STEEP !

But every hill has a peak ;-)

no comment

A less than optimal route chosen by Google Maps

Die Leiden des jungen K. LOL  
SO hard to imagine that most people keep spending their travel funds on the newest iPhone or other crap, not realizing that they're chaining themselves to the life that they're trying to escape !

I remember telling Zu to always include a white cloud in a picture because it would make the sky look bluer.

No idea what this town's name is (no point looking it up).  When we enter the town my cell phone goes bonkers with a myriad of noises. Seems I haven't had reception in quite a while and the world and its demands are catching up with me.  Including my mother.  I last talked to her from the ferry to Santander. When the connection collapsed, she apparently had assumed that the ferry must have sunk. 



We check into the hotel and the strangest thing happens at the reception.  We are in Spain. The French border is exactly 40.4 km away.  Guests from France are also checking in but the receptionist does NOT speak French.  The French guests do NOT speak any Spanish.  So the receptionist asks this German resident of Canada to translate the parking instructions of the city of Zarautz so that the French tourists will not have their car towed.  WTF???

After eating our way through a few plates of tapas 
we walk though town, trying to discover its centre.   I end up buying an expensive T-shirt in a surfer-shop along the endless beach promenade.  

And after a previous attempt on the ferry, I make use of Zu's excellent skills as a smell consultant by trying a few smells in a perfumery.  After sniffing way too many little paper strips, Zu and I agree that Gaultier's classic Le Male is the nicest smell that also best goes with my nutty personality.

And NO, this is NOT a picture I took. If I was in the business of taking pictures like that, I'd be too busy to write this blog ;-)
AND: My new smell bottle has Boo-T !!!
After returning to our hotel with hurting feet, we conclude that this square IS the centre of town.

people sit in cafes and restaurants until VERY late (or, early). This is the country that invented Siesta, so that should be no surprise !  Unfortunately we didn't have Siesta, so we're dead tired
youth hanging out at the beach