|In full tourist mode|
Next up was a drive down the coast to St Jean de Luz, the first place in France that Wellington stayed in 1814 after expelling the French from Spain/Portugal. But first to an extraordinary natural phenomenon that is the Dunes de Pyla. I had been to see them 10+ years ago but thought Ali would be interested too. They are simply huge sand dunes that have been piled up on the sea shore over the last million or so years by the endless swell from the Atlantic Ocean and currently stand some 100+ metres high and 8 kms long.
|We walked to the bottom on the other side... which was far easier than walking back up again!|
I had convinced Ali of the need to not stay in Biarritz and push on another 17 kms to St Jean but we did visit Biarritz to see why the jet set like it. Pretty posh it is but the day we chose to be there was grim and windy. The hotels, casinos and beach front were all there though as were a good bunch of people just looking (like us).
|Note the fine summer weather!|
Our next stop was intended to be San Sebastian (or Donostia as the Spanish Basques and road signs confusingly call it) but first we had to contend with the peages. Tech isn't a strong point but really getting through a peage is like taking an intelligence test. Symbols all over the place and with nobody around if you mess up, simply getting through one of these things is more stress than you need on a holiday. But first we decided to head into the Pyrenees and see what the fuss about them is all about. They are BIG.
If you are a student of Wellington's campaigns in the Peninsular War you will know it took him 4 years to wend his way from the lines of Torres Vedras outside Lisbon to the French border and beyond. You probably think that it meant simply tramping up roads and thrashing the French periodically. It wasn't (other than the 'thrashing the French' bit). The terrain is mountainy and virtually impassable these days in a car, on roads and without nasties shooting at you. One late-ish affray in early 1814 took place atop La Rhune just outside (actually 9,000 feet above) St Jean de Luz. The French were on high ground and Wellington's sharp shooters and irregulars pushed them off. How on earth did they manage that? These days you take a cog railway train that huffs and puffs and heads up to the top. Good view though.
|St Jean to the left and Biarritz off to the right|
Very nice place too is San Sebastian these days. Surfing beach nearby if you want it, thousands of bars, cafes and restaurants in the old town when you've finished. And with this being Spain (even Basque country), suckling pig or goat is always on the menu -- this time goat.
And did I talk about the tapas? My experience with tapas formerly was a few plates of small food scrapings you poked around at and said 'very nice' and then went off to dinner. This was nothing like. Simply amazing. Endless platters of small things that you simply wandered around to and grazed at. The barman would tick off one of this, two of that, and so on, and at the end you give him 10 euros and get change. AND if things couldn't get any better than this, in the morning you went back for your breakfast tapas. The little bacon and eggs things were fantastic as was the coffee, as was.... well San Sebastian.
|Egg and bacon things on the right... yummy!|