A day in the French Basque Country: Bayonne and Saint-Jean-De-Luz.

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With my time in Bilbao coming to a close, I’m going to have to make every effort to see what I can in the amazingly beautiful but rainy north coast. The list of places to see is limitless, as I feel I could live in this region forever and just discover only a small amount of its wonders. That said, it’s time to move on, which means a frenzied six weeks of discovering places in the Basque Country and its surroundings. Cómo ya me quedo poco tiempo en Bilbao, tengo que hacer mucho esfuerzo para hacer lo que pueda en la costa del norte de la mejor península del mundo que es super bonito pero super lluvioso. La lista de sitios para conocer es sin limite. Me siento que uno pueda vivir en la región durante toda la vida y solo podría descubrir un poco de las maravillas del norte. Sin embargo, es tiempo para mirar al futuro, que quiere decir que tengo la locura de tener solo seis semanas más de descubrir sitios en Euskadi y los alrededores. 

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Bayonne (Baiona in Euskera, Bayona in Spanish) has been high on my must-see places since I saw it from the train to Bordeaux in 2013. I’ve been putting it off for whatever reason (usually not wanting to walk around with a giant umbrella), but I finally got my chance last weekend, on May 15 (I always seem to be on the road on this day!). Bayona ha sido muy alto en mi lista de cosas de “Hay que Ver” desde 2013 cuando lo vi desde el tren a Burdeos. Por alguno motivo o otro (usualmente porque daba pereza explorar con un paraguas en la mano) no he tenido la oportunidad, pero el fin de semana pasado aproveché del bueno tiempo, el 15 de mayo. (Suelo estar viajando el día 15 de mayo.) 

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The clouds were grey when I caught a BlaBlaCar from Bilbao to Bayonne, but during the hour-and-a-half trip, the clouds parted. By the time we arrived in Bayonne, it was a sunny day. I said “eskerrik asko” (thanks in Euskera) to the drivers and went off to explore the town. Era un día gris cuando cogí un BlaBlaCar desde Bilbao a Bayona, pero los nubes desaparecieron durante el viaje de una hora y media. Cuando llegamos a Bayona, era un día asoleado. He dicho “eskerrik asko” a la conductora y fui a explorar la ciudad. 

Bayonne is a city of 45,855 residents, and the area has close to 300,000 inhabitants. The city itself is located on two rivers in the province of Lapurdi. Bayona tiene 45.855 habitantes y hay casí 300.000 habitantes en a zona. Bayona está situado en dos ríos en la provincia de Lapurdi. 

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My first stop was the Cathedral, Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, a Gothic building which dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. I was most impressed with the cloisters. I went on to explore the old walls a bit, had a café au lait at a tobacco shop/café on Rue Espagne, admired the Port d’Espagne (sorry for errors in French), and explored the market and the old streets. La primera parada era la Catedral, Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, un edificio gótico que era construido en los siglos 12 y 13. Me impresionaron bastante los claustros. Fui a explorar las murallas antiguas, me tomé un café au lait en un estanco-café combinado en Rue Espagne, admiré la Puerta de España, y exploré el mercado y las calles viejas. 

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My favourite part was the Rivers Nive and Adour. I spent most of the time walking along them and contemplating the water and the architecture of the town. I even had a good lunch on the river banks at Bar Au Clou. The chef’s special was roast chicken, amazing chips/French fries and a salad, and I had a nice glass of Chardonnay, all under 15€, a deal in France! Especially on a Sunday spring afternoon. Mis partes favoritas fueron los Riós Nive y Adour. Pasé la mayoria del tiempo caminando por los ríos y contemplando el agua y la arquitectura de la ciudad. Comí bastante bien el las orillas del Río Nive en Bar Au Clou. El plato del día era pollo asado con patatas y ensalada, y para beber una copa de “Chardonnay”, y costó menos de 15€, una ganga en Francia, especialmente por un domingo de primavera. 

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A lot of the town was closed as it was Sunday. I admired the city hall and the citadel from afar and contemplated the town while crossing the Adour river before catching a train to Saint-Jean-de-Luz. La ciudad estaba cerrada como era domingo. Admiré el ayuntamiento y la ciudadela y contemplé la ciudad cruzando el Río Adour antes de coger un tren a San Juan de Luz. 

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Exploring the town/explorando el pueblo

Donibane Lohizune, the Basque name for Saint-Jean-de-Luz, has been recommended to me for years now. With such hype, I should’ve known I was bound to be disappointed. They were having an Andalusian festival when I arrived. The streets were packed. The town has a population of 13,728, and all of them and more had to have been in the streets for the celebration. Me han recomendado Donibane Lohizune, el nombre en euskera por San Juan de Luz, durante mucho tiempo ya. Con tanta publicidad, iba a decepcionarme. Estaban celebrando una feria andaluza cuando llegué. Las calles estaban a tope con gente. El pueblo tiene una población de 13.728, y creo que todos sus habitantes  del pueblo y las afueras estaban en la calle para celebrar.

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All the stores were open, so I did get to some window shopping. As it was one of the few sunny Sunday’s we’ve had in 2016, the beach and waterfront were also packed. I have to admit, the beach didn’t impress me much. The provinces of Vizcaya and Gipuzkoa both have much more spectacular beaches. Still, I love the waterfront. Todas las tiendas estaban abiertas, y por eso he mirado cosas sin comprar. Como era uno de los pocos domingos asoleados que hemos tenido en 2016, la playa estaba llena de gente. Tengo que decir que me decepcionó la playa bastante. Las provincias de Vizcaya y Gipuzkoa tiene playas mucho más preciosas. Pero siempre me encanta cualquier costa. 

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I had a bus to catch from Irún, the first city in Spanish-owned Basque Country. One curiosity: both trains I caught in France were late. A lot of complaints come from the French about Renfe, Spain’s train system, but in a country of “mañana” (doesn’t mean tomorrow but whenever we feel like it), Renfe runs pretty efficiently and if it is a half hour late, you get your money back. Mi plan era coger un bus desde Irún, la primera ciudad sur de Río Bidasoa. Una curiosidad: ambos trenes que cogí en Francia llegaron tarde. Los franceses suelen quejarse de Renfe, el tren español, pero en un país de “mañana”, Renfe funciona bastante bien y si llega más de media hora tarde, se puede pedir un reembolso. 

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Church in St Jean de Luz/Iglesia en San Juan de Luz

In Irún, I had about an hour and a half to kill, so I retraced a few steps I made two years ago on my first day on the Camino de Santiago. I saw more than one peregrino arriving for his or her pilgrimage across Spain. Tenía sobre una hora y media para perder en Irún. Fui a caminar de nuevo unos pasos del Camino de Santiago del Norte que hice hace dos años ya. Vi a más de un peregrino llegando para hacer el Camino. 

It was a long but good day, and I arrived home tired. I hope the weather continues to improve so I can squeeze in all these day trips I never got around to taking these past three years! On to the next one! Era un día largo pero bueno, y llegué a casa muy cansado. Espero que el buen tiempo siga para hacer todos eses viajes del día que todavía me quedan hacer. ¡Hasta el próximo viaje!

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Euskera

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Rain, witches and France. Espelette, Zugarramurdi and Saint Jean Pied de Port.

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When I first arrived in Bilbao, capital of the world, I noticed flyers posted around town advertising day trips. I’ve always wanted to sign up for one, but never have for whatever reason. I’m not a tour group person, as I prefer to be able to take my time to explore a place and be on my own timetable. However, there are some places that aren’t accessible by public transport, and sometimes you just need to change things up.  Cuando llegué a Bilbao, la capital del mundo, vi muchos anuncios por la ciudad para excursiones a sitios cercá de Bilbao. Siempre he querido apuntarme a uno, pero nunca lo he hecho. Hasta ahora. No me gustan muchos los grupos de tour porque prefiero poder ir a mi bola y tener mi horario propio. Sin embargo, hay algunos sitios que hace falta transporte privado, y a veces hace falta variar los viajes normales. 

When I saw an excursion including Zugarramurdi, a place in Navarra famous for its burning of witches during the Spanish Inquisition, around the time of the Salem Witch Trials, I took the plunge and signed up. The trip included two French villages in the French part of the Basque Country, Espelette, home of peppers, and Saint Jean Pied de Port, a town that has meaning for me as a peregrino on the Camino de Santiago del Norte (and Camino de la Vida)  as it is where many pilgrims start the Camino Frances. Cuando vi una excursión a Zugarramurdi, un pueblo en Navarra famoso por quemar mujeres sospechas de ser brujas durante la Inquisición antes de lo mismo pasó en Salem, me aproveché y me apunté. La excursión incluyó dos pueblos franceses en el País vasco, Espelettte, sitio conocido por sus pimientos, y San Juan Pie de Puerto, un pueblo especial para mi como peregrino del Camino del Norte (Y el Camino de la vida), donde muchos peregrinos empiezan el Camino Frances. 

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After paying for the trip and learning more about the meeting point, I was excited, despite the rain forecast. The bus left from the San Mamés metro stop, and about 2.5 hours later, we were arriving in Espelette (Ezpeleta in Euskera), a French village of 2000 residents famous for its peppers and pepper festival. Después de apuntarme y pagar y enterarme donde quedamos para salir, me emocionó, aunque daba lluvia para sábado. El autobus salió desde la parada del metro de San Mamés, y unos 2 horas y medio después, estabamos llegando en Espelette (Ezpeleta en Euskera), un pueblo frances de unos 2000 habitantes, un pueblo conocido por sus pimientos y su festivo de pimiento. 

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On a rainy morning like this one, there was little going on. I had a café au lait, 2,30€, a full 1,10€ more expensive than on the other side of the Bidasoa River in Navarra, along with a chocolatin/pain au chocolate. El pueblo estaba vacío esta mañana tan lluviosa. Me pasé el tiempo tomando un café au lait por 2,30€…1,10€ más que el otro lado del Bidasoa en Navarra, y una napolitana de chocolate (pain au chocolate o chocolatin en frances). 

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The pouring rain let up some so I could do some exploring, and I found a beautiful bridge near the church. We had an hour and 20 minutes to explore. Durante una tregua de lluvia, exploré el pueblo, y encontré un puente bonito cerca de la iglesia. Tuvimos una hora y 20 minutos para explorar. 

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The next stop was a few minutes away on the bus, back on the Spanish side of the Bidasoa. Zugarramurdi, population 225, is a village tucked away in the Navarra Pyrenees that is famous for the 17th century witch trials. First stop were the caves, featured in the 2014 farce Las brujas de Zugarramurdi (In April, I will begin a feature on director Álex de la Iglesia, which will include a look at this movie). The caves were home to suspected witchcraft in the 17th century. The summer solstice is still celebrated with bonfires here. La próxima parada estaba a unos kilometros en el otro lado de la Bidasoa. Zugarramurdi, población 225, es un pueblo pirineo conocido por quemar personas acusadas de brujería en el Siglo XVII. Primero fuimos a las cuevas, que se puede ver en la película de 2014 de Álex de la Iglesia, Las brujas de Zugarramurdi. (En abril, voy a escribir más sobre Álex de la Iglesia.) Las cuevas era el sitio donde la brujería tenía lugar en el Siglo XVII.

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We walked around the caves, and if it weren’t raining cats and dogs, the views would’ve been spectacular. I was quite thankful to get to the cave where it was dry. The cave is beautiful. Paseamos por las cuevas, y si no estuviera lloviera tan fuerte, las vistas serían espectaculares. Estaba agradecido llegar a la cueva donde no estaba lloviendo. La cueva es bonito. 

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The next stop was the witch museum, and I was so thankful to be inside. The museum tells the history of the witch trials, including a very “experimental film” about the witches. By experimental, I mean lame. The museum was nice and showed a lot about how life was in Zugarramurdi in the early 1600s, when the witch trials took place. Después, fuimos al Museo de las Brujas, y otra vez, estaba agradecido estar dentro de un edificio. El museo cuenta la historia de las brujas, e incluye una “película experimental” sobre las brujas. Experimental quiere decir muy cutre. El museo estaba bonito y cuenta mucho sobre la vida de Zugarramurdi en el Siglo XVII, donde ocurrieron la quemada de las brujas. 

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Entrance to the caves and museum is both around 4.00€, but we had a group discount so I got in for 6€. However, with the ticket to one, you can save 1€ on the entrance to the other. The caves are worth it, but I’m so not a museum guy! La entrada a las cuevas y museo cuesta unos 4,00€, pero con el descuento del grupo entré por sólo 6€ a los dos. Con la entrada a uno, se puede ahorrar 1€ con la entrada a la otra. Las cuevas merecen la pena, pero no me llaman mucha la atención los museos para ser sincero. 

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The sun made a brief appearance, so I walked around the small village, taking in views, before I had lunch at the hostel restaurant, Graxiana, for 12,50. The lunch wasn’t bad, and the homemade yoghurt was delicious. Salió el sol durante un rato y aproveché para explorar el pueblo, mirando las vistas bonitas, antes de comer en el restaurante del albergue, Graxiana, por 12,50€. La comida estaba buena, y el yogur casero estaba super rico. 

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At 15:30, after exploring the town and getting wet a few times, the bus took off for our final destination, Saint Jean Pied de Port (San Juan Pie de Puerto in Spanish, Donibane Garazi in Euskera, St. John at the foot of the mountain pass in English) is a village of about 2000 habitants, but it feels a bit bigger. It’s located on the River Nive about 5 miles/8 kilometres from the Spanish border (I know for pilgrims it feels much longer!) and is a traditional starting point for the Camino Frances. A las 15.30, salimos por el destino final del día, San Juan Pie de Puerto, Saint Jean Pied de Port en frances, Donibane en Euskera. Es un pueblo de unos 2000 habitantes, pero se siente algo más grande. Está ubicado en el Rio Nive a unos 8 kilometros de la frontera española. (Sé para los peregrinos se siente mucho más largo) y es un punto tradicional del inicio del Camino de Santiago Frances. 

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We arrived about 16:30 and explored the old city walls and the citadel on a hill above the city. I got excited at seeing the albergue for peregrinos on the way. The rain started back up on the way, but it gave us a beautiful rainbow. The Camino provided me with a rainbow to encourage me to retake it this summer in Santander. I mean, it had to be a sign that there was such a beautiful rainbow at the start of the most famous Camino. Llegamos sobre las 16:30 y exploramos las murallas antiguas y la citadel en una colina sobre la ciudad. Me emocioné ver el albergue de peregrinos por el camino. Empezó a llover otra vez, pero nos dio un arco iris bonito. El Camino me regaló un arco iris para animarme a retomarlo este verano desde Santander. Quiero decir que tenía que ser un señal el hecho que había un arco iris tan bonito al inicio del Camino de Santiago más famoso. 

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After that, I went into a Basque gift shop and spoke a little Basque instead of French. I think I know more Basque than French, and I know maybe 30 words in Euskera! The clerk was delighted at my horrible attempt to speak Freuskera (Ni…Bilbon…vive?) . Después, fui a una tienda de regalos vasca y hablé un poco de euskera en lugar de frances. Creo que sé más euskera que frances, y quizás sepa unos 30 palabras de euskera. La dependiente se alegró con mi intento horrible hablar Freuskera (Ni…Bilbon…vive?) 

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I had a crepe before boarding the bus back to Bilbao at 18:15. It was a great day, a great trip and I crossed another place off my Basque Bucket List while seeing two more beautiful Basque villages. Gora Euskal Herria! Me tomé un crepe antes de volver al autobus para volver a Bilbao a las 18.15. Fue un día genial, un viaje genial, y taché otro sitio de mi Basque Bucket List y encima vi dos bonitos pueblos vascos más. Gora Euskal Herria! 

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Vive le France!

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Bordeaux

I have been to France on four occasions, and I have quite a few more trips I would like to take there. The news of the attacks in Paris rattled me, like it rattled everyone I think, and so while it’s raining the entire weekend in Bilbao, I thought it might be a good time to write an entry about Spain’s northern neighbour. He estado en Francia cuatro veces, y tengo muchos viajes pendientes. Las noticias de los intentados en París me entricieron, y como está lloviendo otra vez en Bilbao el fin de semana completo, pensaba que ha llegado la hora para escribir una entrada sobre el vecino al norte de España. 

I don’t feel I know enough of the country to write a true Set Meravelles entry. I’ve just been to two major cities and two smaller cities, and the country has a ton more to see and do. So I’m going to divide this entry up in my trips and then places that I would like to visit and hope to visit soon. Creo que no conozco el país suficiente para escribir una entrada sobre las Set Meravelles de Francia. Solo conozco dos ciudades grandes y dos ciudades más pequeñas, y el país tiene mucho más para ver y hacer. Por eso, voy a escribir de mis viajes allí y después los sitios que me gustaría conocer y espero poder visitar en el futuro próximo.

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Bordeaux

My first visit was to Paris in 2003. I don’t remember too much of this visit. I remember enjoying the Eiffel Tower at sunset, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge, the Picasso Museum and the Montparnasse Tower. It was after a few days in London and Amsterdam, and I was feeling pretty tired from all the traveling. I was thinking I would like to go back one day, and I’m sure I will make it back eventually. Mi primer viaje a Francia era a París en 2003. No recuerdo mucho de esta visita. Recuerdo disfrutar del Torre Eiffel al atardecer, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomph, el Moulin Rouge, el Museo de Picasso y el Torre Montparnasse. El viaje era después de unos días en Londres y Amsterdam, y estaba cansado después de tanto viajar. Estaba pensando que me gustaría volver un día, y seguro que un día volveré.

My second time in France was a day trip from my first trip to the Basque Country in 2010. On a day trip from San Sebastián, I went to Hendaye. I walked to the beach from the train station, which was pretty far for me at the time, and back. I remember buying a bottle of water at a supermarket and the clerk asking “espagnole” or French. I said Spanish. Border towns are fun. Mi segunda vez a Franca era un viaje del día durante mi primer viaje al País vasco en 2010. Me fui un día desde San Sebastián-Donostia a Hendaya. Caminé a la playa desde la estación de tren, que estaba lejos para mi durante esta epóca, y volví. Recuerdo comprar una botella de agua en un supermercado y el dependiente me preguntando “espagnole” o frances. Dije español. Los pueblos de frontera son divertidos. 

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Welcome to France!

My third time was in 2012, and another day trip from San Sebastián-Donostia. On a rainy French morning (but sunny in the Spanish Basque Country) , I took the Euskotren from Donostia to Hendaye on the French border, then caught a train to Biarritz. The Biarritz train station is quite a ways away from the city, and I had to walk in the rain a bit to the city. It was an adventure. When I saw the city, I enjoyed it, despite it being super expensive. I can see why it’s so popular among the rich summer residents now. Mi tercera vez era en 2012, y era otro viaje de un día desde Donostia. En una mañana francesa lloviosa (aunque hiciera sol en el País vasco español), cogí el Euskotren desde Donostia hasta Hendaya en la frontera francesa, y después cogí un tren a Biarritz. La estación de tren de Biarritz está bastante lejos de la ciudad, y tenía que caminar un rato en la lluvia hasta llegar a la ciudad. Era una aventura. Cuandi vi Biarritz, la disfruté de ella, aunque era muy cara. Puedo entender porque es tan popular con los residentes pijos del verano. 

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Biarritz

My fourth trip was in 2013 to my favourite French city so far, Bordeaux. It was my first and only real CouchSurfing experience, and my host was super nice and showed me the town. I loved the river, and I loved exploring the area around the cathedral and taking in France. It was a nice break after a rainy Bilbao November. Everywhere I went, I heard Spanish, seeing how Bordeaux is closest important city to Spain and it was a bank holiday weekend. Mi cuatro viaje a Francia era en 2013 a mi ciudad francesa preferida hasta entonces, Burdeos. Era mi primera y sola experiencia de Couchsurfing, y mi anifitrón era muy majo y me enseñó la ciudad. Me encantó el río, y me encantó explorar la zona alredador el catedral y conocer Francia mejor. Era un buen descanso después de un noviembre lleno de la lluvia bilbaína. En todos los sitios escuché español, como Burdeos es la ciudad más cerca a la frontera española y era un puente. 

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Bordeaux

My French Bucket list is quite long. It includes Mont Saint Michel, Toulouse, the Alps, the castles, Nice, Lyon, the Chateaux of the Loire Valle, Lourdes and Marseille. I’m sure that if you tell me about a place, you can easily sell me on it. La lista de sitios pendientes que me gustaría ver en Francia es bastante larga. Incluye Mont Saint Michel, Toulouse, las Alpas, los castillos, Niza, Lyon, los Chateux de la Valle Loire, Lourdes y Marsella. Seguro que si me cuentas de un sitio, voy a querer viajar allí. 

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Bayonne, as seen from the train

What have your experiences in France been? ¿Qué tal tus experencias en Francia?

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Selfie in Bordeaux

 

Camino del Santiago Etapa 1: Irun-Pasaia

One day on the Camino, and I already can feel a change taking place over me.

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Sunday morning, I woke up at 7 to shower and make sure I was out the door by 8 to catch my 8:40 bus to Irun. Bilbao was completely empty, a ghost town. I sort of liked it. I started reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which so far is shaping up to be a good book and listened to Mariah’s Me…I A Am Mariah…The Elusive Chaunteuse. The bus arrived to Irun about 15 minutes late. I looked at the map in the train-bus station and figured out a way to get to the Puente de Santiago, where I wanted to start my journey.

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Irun is one of the most complicated and difficult cities to get around in. I’ve been there a few times before to change trains in Hendaye. It is the last town before crossing over into France, and it definitely has a border-town vibe. It has a bad reputation for being industrial, but I saw a lot of interesting places there today and would say it is a place of interest to return to to get to know better. After a second breakfast of tortilla de patata (my first was at home) and relaxing café con leche and stocking up on some frutos secos for the journey, I took off to get lost. All the times getting lost in Irun Sunday provided several extra kilometres, I’m sure. I was ready to give up, but I sojourned on, fighting that voice telling me it would be okay to give up. I eventually found the Camino and walked it in reverse to start at the Puente de Santiago at the border on the Bidasoa River.

I went into the first bar on the SPANISH side, and the woman at the bar spoke to me in French. I said “bonjour” and switched to Spanish, and she berated me for not speaking French when we are in the part of the Basque Country pertaining to Spain. Seriously. When I am in France, I use what little French I know and NEVER speak English unless I hear a “oui” to “Parlez-vous anglais ou espagnole?” So I was a bit disconcerted. I showed her the credentials and asked for a stamp, which she gave to me. I was off on my way an hour and a half after I had intended to leave.

On the way to Hondarribia, I lost track of the arrows. Now, Hondarribia is one of my favourite villages ever, but today I wasn’t looking for a return visit. After walking probably a kilometre out of my way, I finally found the damn arrows again thanks to the signs pointing to a place on the Camino: Guadalupe.

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Hiking to Guadalupe came via a Basque back road, where people said “Aupa/Kaixo” and all you heard were Euskera. Eventually we got to a trail which took us to the Santuario de Guadalupe  with fantastic views of Hondarribia. I swear you could see all the way to Biarritz in France. The lady at the souvenir stand struck up a conversation with me and stamped my credenciales. She was very impressed with my Basque (I know maybe 20 words, nothing to hold a conversation. Bilbao is the capital of the world, not the Basque Country (just the largest town as a population 350.000 does not make it a city), so I think they speak only Spanish in Bilbao out of spite toward Vitoria-Gasteiz. I digress.) and gave me some water for the journey. I helped her close up shop, and after a quick prayer at Guadalupe, I continued on my way. She would be the first to offer me a “buen camino”.

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It was 10 kilometres to Lezo, and I was already feeling them. The path went through beautiful mountains, and looking back you could see a long way through the French coast. I was quite happy to say goodbye to views of Hondarribia as it meant I was finally on the Camino. It took a little over two hours. I saw some fountains with the word “ona” (good) in Basque written on them, and a lot of yellow arrows that reassured me. I took the easier of the two trails, as I didn’t feel I was an alpinista. Then, I had the choice to go through Lezo or straight to Pasaia. I was craving a café con leche, so I went through Lezo. It was a small one-horse town that was shut down except for a small food shop where I got my Aquarius fix, and I went ahead and walked the last kilometre to Pasaia.

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Pasaia is another one of my favourite villages. It has a water taxi that you have to take to cross from one part to another for the small fee of 70 cents. I went to the tourist office to get a stamp, but she told me to go up to the albergue (hostel) to get a more official stamp. It was next to another hermita, and I saw that I have 825 km to go to Santiago. Joy!

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The couple that ran the albergue were also super nice and we talked a bit about Bilbao, but I wanted to get on my way. Pasaia was my last stop today before returning to Bilbao so I could crash. I was feeling a bit like I wasn’t a real peregrino (pilgrim) as I was only starting out with one day, but this is going to be a journey, literally and figuratively. The woman at Guadalupe reminded me “poco a poco, no hay prisa, Santiago estará cuando llegues.” (Step by step, there’s no rush, Santiago will be there when you arrive.) I felt such inner peace while on the Camino, once I finally found my way in Hondarribia, as I was really close to calling it a day there. I was so glad I went on.

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I cannot wait for day 2. I’ve already done the bit from Pasaia to Donostia (six km or so, about an hour), so I am thinking Day 2 will begin from Donostia, even if I feel like I’m cheating a bit.

Until the next etapa…

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Bordeaux. Parlez-vous espagnole?

Over the past five years, I have done a lot of travelling throughout the Iberian Peninsula and a little throughout Europe. Granted, my “little” is some people’s “a lot”, but whatever. The world is a big place and we’re only here for a short amount of time. The point of the lead is…sometimes I like to see things outside The World’s Best Peninsula. And last December, I took advantage of “el Puente de Diciembre/de la Constitución”, a nice 4 or 5 day weekend that Spain has due to two holidays (the signing of the current constitution on the 6th and a Catholic holiday the 8th. Spain will glady remember their ties to the Catholic Church when it gives them a day off work.) and my proximity to France to go to a city known for its wine, the closest major French city to the Spanish border…Bordeaux.

I caught the train in Hendaye, on the border with Spain, and it was a nice three hour train ride through the French Basque Country to the capital of the Aquataine. Although Bordeaux isn’t part of the French Basque Country, you can find Basque restaurants and even a Basque gift shop in the streets of Bordeaux. After deboarding the train, I immediately went to the tourist office, where I tried one of my four sentences I know in French, Parlez-vous espagnole? (For the record, the others are “Parlez-vous anglais?”, “Je non suis pas francias” and, of course, as Moulin Rouge is my all time favourite film…voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?. Again, on the record, I did not have opportunity to use that last one.) They preferred to practice their Spanish than their English, which was just fine with me.

Bordeaux came across to me as a cross between Valencia, Milano and New Orleans. I felt as if I were walking on the set of Les Miserables, minus the horrible singing of Russell Crowe. The Place de la Bourse was massive and elegant. I just wanted to break into “Look Down” and start a French revolution when I saw it.

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The sheer width of the Garrone River reminded me of New Orleans for some reason, and my evening walks along the river this weekend were a highlight. As Christmas was approaching, there was a nice Christmas market, and on Saturday afternoon, the Rue Sainte-Catherine (the longest pedestrian street in France) was full of busy shoppers checking out the shops. I was excited at seeing many of the same shops we have in Spain (Zara, H&M, FNAC). It’s always more fun to go to these stores in another place than it is the town you live in.

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Bordeaux is also home to the largest plaza (square) in Europe, the Esplande des Quinconces. As for the French food, the croissants are divine, the café au laits are good but too expensive (considering a café con leche across the Pyreness will only cost 1,30€ most places…) I sampled Bordeaux at an Italian restaurant, and it is a great wine. But it’s not as great as Spain’s La Rioja or the Basque Country’s Txakoli. I am quite bias toward Spain about everything though, so don’t pay any attention to me here.

Other points of interest included the Cathedral, which was undergoing renovations, and the Grand Théatre. One thing that stood out to me was a church that had been reconverted into a cinema. It played independent and foreign films in the original language. This was a gift to me, as I don’t like dubbing but love indie and foreign cinema. I regret not taking in a film here. However, I was too tired to stay awake. This meant I didn’t get to sample the gay nightlife, but I’m sure it would be very French, whatever that means.

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I stayed with an acquaintance from CouchSurfing, which made the experience a bit more unique for me. I usually like the idea of Couchsurfing, but in the end I prefer to pay a bit of money to be able to come and go as I went. However, by Couchsurfing, I got the opportunity to see a bit more of the French culture and life. I was able to attend a lunch with the host and sample some amazing home cooked French cusine and more Bourdeaux, although the French were quite fond of the La Rioja I had brought from Spain. The French, at least in Bordeaux, are friendlier than advertised. What little French I did know was appreciated, and the fact I did know other languages but “just haven’t had the opportunity to learn French” (a lie!) went far. Like I said, the fact I offered up Spanish OR English went a long way, and the proximity to Spain meant a lot of opportunity to use my Spanish. I would love to tell the French teacher from my high school that I spoke Spanish in France!

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All in all, I preferred Bordeaux to it’s rival capital city, Paris. It really is the Pearl of the Aquataine (although I know I will love Bayonne when I get to go). Paris has a lot of things to see, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Bordeaux left me with a much better taste, and I’m not referring to the wine.

DISCLAIMER. I AM NOT ADVOCATING THE USE OF SPANISH OR ENGLISH IN FRANCE. Never assume anyone speaks your language. Bordeaux’s proximity to Spain meant many Spanish tourists so more people knew Spanish. Always try to learn a little bit of the local language, even if it’s just “I don’t speak the language”. I

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