Saturday, 31 August 2013

St Jean de Luz, France: La Rhune et L'amour est dans le pré

It was time to say goodbye to the beautiful blissful beach town of Anglet and say bonjour to the mountainy busy beach town of St Jean de Luz. This time I opted for the 4 Euro predictable train instead of the excitingly unpredictable adventures of hitchhiking.

St Jean de Luz is a Basque town 15 km north of the Spanish border. It has nice beaches, the European HQ for Quicksilver and a picturesque backdrop that includes the foothills of the Pyrenees.

I was back to Couchsurfing! My host, Pierre, was an intern at Quicksilver. He had two awesome housemates, a Spanish guy and a French girl. The Spanish guy cooked an awesome Spanish (aka Mexican) dinner for Pierre and I on my first night. The French girl had 3 friends over to watch the French version of farmer wants a wife (L'amour est dans le pré. Love is in the farm field). The 7 of us crowded around the TV watch while eating crêpes... Don't stop reading my stay does get more exciting... Although, it's very different to the Aussie version (unfortunately I've seen an episode or 2). The farmers are old, unfortunate looking and certainly don't have much experience. The Frenchies sit around the TV laughing at these poor guys... I may have joined in.

The next day everyone was off to work so I thought that I should also do something  productive with my day. La Rhune, the first mountain from the west to form the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is just shy of 1000m and very touristy with two old trains running up and down all day. I decided to hike. It took around two hours to reach the summit. The last section was a little difficult with over half the people turning around instead of reaching the summit.

La Rhune
St Jean de Luz from halfway up La Rhune

The Mountain Goat

That night I cooked my famous dinner...again (that is number 7 in France). Then a French and a Spanish guy introduced an Aussie to a British TV series, Misfits. It is possibly the best thing to come out of the UK since settlement of Australia. The next couple of days just involved the beach and since Pierre was from Brittany galette was on the menu for his turn to cook.

On my last afternoon/night I caught a bus 5km out of town to Quicksilver European HQ to meet Pierre. Quicksilver built a skate park out the front and installed a bar. They bring a band in every Thursday and give their employees 2 free beers. Today just happened to be Thursday. It was a US band that performed rock/metal covers.

After the band finished we went to a house where there was 10 of us sitting in a little bedroom that had been converted to the lounge room. A lot of wine and snack food was being passed around, among other things. I was the only person in the room that wasn't a Quicksilver intern. Once again everyone assumes an Australian travelling the west coast must be on a surfing tour... I feel like I'm letting people down when I say I don't surf (I promise to change this during my 3 weeks back in Aus in Jan).

My plan was to go to San Sebastian next but I managed to line up a 2 week HelpX on 1 day notice. I was back to hitchhiking 50 km east to possibly the smallest town I have been in my life. Helette, a tiny Basque town in the countryside. This time I didn't bother making a sign as I doubt anyone would know the town so a thumb was going to have to do. My first ride was an old guy that didn't really speak English. He spoke in French and I spoke in English, somehow we understood each other and the conversation worked. The next guy that picked me up was a Professor from Marseille. He was exploring Basque country. We stopped in few other little towns on the way to my drop off point to take a look around. My last ride was a French Canadian with her 3 year old daughter in the back. She lived in the town next to where I was going  and drove me all the way to the front door. She even offered for me to stay at her place.

Lessons Learnt:
There is something not quite right with an Aussie that doesn't surf.
A flexible schedule is important to take advantage of opportunities.
Hitchhiking is the best way to travel France.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Anglet, France: La Plage (The Beach)

The driver that picked me up just outside of Dax was a younger guy that drove like a maniac. I actually couldn't tell if he was drunk. After an interesting ride I was in the beautiful beach town of Anglet. Anglet is residential surf town in Pays Basque (French Basque Country) with kilometres of beaches. It is bordered by the two well known large towns of Biarritz and Bayonne.

It was time to find somewhere to sleep. Thanks to one night in a hostel in Paris and the genius internet setup of France (the world should follow this setup) I have access to WiFi all over France in just about evety street. I Googled directions to the nearest hostel and walked in.

The hostel was full of French surfers with camping outside, only mixed dorms and 2 mixed communal bathrooms with many individual showers inside. It was a basic hostel with the walls lined with surfboards, outdoor ping pong tables and a bar open until 1am. The beaches of Anglet are residential area with limited shops and restaurants. The hostel was a few streets back from the beach and surrounded only by houses on all sides with a 10 minute walk to the nearest shop or restaurant of any type. Very unique location for a hostel.

I spent most my days and nights with people from the hostel. During my first morning in the hostel I met a French tap dancer that was going to check out a nature park. We went swimming, visited the skate park, went to a farm show where the sheep escaped onto the road and explored the not so exciting nature park. She was from Paris so a terrible swimmer and scared of the waves :P

The rest of my days involved hiring a free bike from town and exploring Anglet and Biarritz, going ice skating, chilling at the hostel, playing ping pong, getting told no when asking for a haircut, getting a haircut the next day by someone that couldn't speak English and doing an adventure obstacle course in the trees with a German guy... I also went for very enjoyable runs along the footpaths parallel to the beach. The beaches were nice and covered with people although many people weren't covered but this surely had nothing to do with making running enjoyable.

The adventure course was actually really fun and my partner very amusing to watch. I felt sorry for the poor guy and had to hold back laughter on a few occasions. He was a law PHD student but required my verbal or physical assistance a few times. After we took almost 2 hours to complete the first section I decided to complete the last section "Indiana" as fast as I could. When I finished he was less than half way. I was entertained watching him complete the second half. He finished so a celebration lunch was in order. It turns out he as also 27 years old, but married with two kids. He told me his wife had just told him that she was in love with another man. This was his get away to clear is mind less after the incident. I didn't really know what to say and felt bad for being amused at his struggle through the obstacle course...

My nights were spent drinking at the hostel bar with many different people each night, going out in Biarritz with people from  the hostel, going to local bars in Anglet, having someone from CS to pick me up and show me the night life of Biarritz, a full moon beach party... and eating Gateau Basque Cake a la creme.

the light poles on the beach have power points

After 6 awesome nights in the hostel it was time to leave. I had a couch lined up in St Jean de Luz.

Lessons Learnt:
France has nice beaches (not quite Aus)
Anglet is an awesome town
Gateau Basque cake is amazing
I can give marriage advice... but I call it life advice.

Basque Country:
For the people that don't know Basque Country. It is a region in the South West of France and North West of Spain. Basque people will generally speak Basque as a first language and Spanish or French as their second depending on which side of the border they're from. This is not a Latin language so completely different to both Spanish and French. Basque people are extremely proud to be Basque. You will see Basque flags everywhere in Basque towns.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Dax, France: La Feria!

It was time to say good bye to the amazing gang at Au Cler. Next stop Dax to reunite with an old friend, Christelle, and enjoy the Feria. When I left Australia only two things were certain, I was going to land in Paris on 25 June and I was going to the five day party and celebration of la Feria de Dax starting on 14 August. Today was 15 August but close enough.

Hitchhiking Round 2! This time I knew it was going to be tricky. The route of minor roads linking small towns.

The distance is just over 150km. The alternative method of catching the train involves travelling over 350km, taking 6 hours and costing 80 Euro. My goal is simple! Beat the train and save the cash!

I made my sign and was on my way. 1st ride: mother driving a nice car on holidays from Paris with her 2 very young daughters in the back. 2nd ride: an old businessman with a much younger girl with him. 3rd ride: a 35-40 year old lady that liked cool music. 4th ride: a 50 year old man that loved music festivals and running marathons. 5th ride: a 70 year old couple going to the Feria. After 5 rides and 3 hours I had saved 80 Euros and 3 hours... mission complete!

After arriving I met up with Christelle, a French friend I met at a Brisbane CS meeting in June last year (her backpack made an appearance in my first blog post). After introductions the 5 of us (her brother and two of her other friends) stocked up on food and alcohol to begin the 4 nights of partying.

The Team
The Feria of Dax is a massive celebration. The action commences on Wednesday and concludes on Sunday, around the same time each year. All the shops are closed with most boarded up. Only the bars remain open with many additional makeshift bars and urinals lining the streets. The normal population of Dax is 20 Thousand, during the Feria it increases 40 fold to a massive 800 Thousand. All the city streets are closed to cars. The city literally shuts down for 5 days.

Each day our unit awakes late, except for me, to begin again. We start with food, then alcohol followed by drinking games then THE FERIA!

The Feria itself was quite crazy with many drunk people. Music pumps out of many speakers only stopping when one of the many marching bands make their way down the road. The packed streets regularly cleared to the sides to allow a passage for ambulances. Ambulances and marching bands are the only things with the ability to clear these streets and it's amazing to watch.

On the Saturday I finally saw the Feria during daylight. We met up with Coralie's family for a traditional lunch. Her father wouldn't let me pay for anything. After the lunch I tried to visit the ATM to also shout rounds but her father pulled me out of the line, always saying "You are welcome in France". This was crazy, the father of a friend of a friend that I had only just met showing so much generosity... the extreme kindness of strangers is something I experienced very regularly in France.

The Feria was over. After I toured around the streets of an empty unrecognisable town Christelle drove me to a beach next to the famous Hossegor. My first time seeing waves on a beach in France.

It was now time to say good bye to Christelle and an amazing party. Hitchhiking to a town I only decided on visiting two hours before commencing my journey.