Mon 9th Nov – Mon 16th Nov
So, week 11 began with the much anticipated arrival the removal vans along with a couple of Romanian guys (one very friendly and one very quiet) and a Polish guy who was just recovering from a hernia operation (not a good start when you are in the removals game!).
They were nice guys, but not overly effective at packing a van (perhaps due to a lack of Tetras at an early age?). This was apparent; firstly by the look on Nick’s face as he watched them loading the van, secondly by the look on Chez’s face as she watch Nick watch them loading the van and thirdly by Matt shaking his head in disbelief. I myself (had not played enough Tetras at an early age and) therefore declined to comment, instead making myself scarce whilst trying to find other useful jobs to do.
After the first van had been loaded there was lots of umming and ahhing as the guys started shaking there heads at the prospect of getting the remainder of the belongings into the second van. It was at that point Chez asked Matt to step in and pretty soon he had hopped into the back and taken full control of the loading of the second van. Everyone seemed relieved (including the guys) and pretty soon the air of anxiety that had overtaken everyone had morphed into a sense of optimism as the it became clear that nothing would need to be abandoned. In fact, as the two vans drove away (Matt feeling rather pleased with himself), Nick and Chez began to wonder whether they should have earmarked more stuff to take with them.
That evening was a quite one as the final bit of cleaning and dressing the house (with the remaining objects) was completed. On Tuesday morning we waved goodbye to Nick and Chez (as they were saying their last goodbyes to the house) and headed West to the seaside town Arcachon.
As we drove through miles and miles of pine forests on the way to Arcachon Matt and I were getting very excited at the prospect of roaring surf and sandy beaches.
When we finally reached Arachon we had that sinking feeling that you sometimes get with seaside resorts, as you are suddenly confronted a million billboards, a-frames and posters trying to sell you pizzas, hotdogs (or the french equivalent) and trinkets especially designed to lighten the purses of the throngs of tourists who obviously descend during the summer months. This was not our cup of tea, despite the beautiful light and gleaming buildings (which in Eastbourne or Hastings would have been a depressing grey), so we drove through the town and carried on down the road following the coast.
By this time, Matt, who had developed man flu and who’s uncharacteristically grumpy demeanour was suggesting desperate need of food, had wanted to stop. So we pulled over in a restaurant carpark on the side of the road, and I whipped up that classic english feel good favourite… baked beans on toast. Then Matt, still feeling under the weather had a snooze on Heidi’s sofa whilst I headed out to find a loo under the guise of doing a little exploring. The restaurant, as it turned out, was more of a beach-bar with very chilled terrace overlooking a promenade and an expansive strip of beach. It was very picturesque so I headed back to Heidi to collect Matt and we sat enjoyed a drink in the late afternoon sun.
Though it was a lovely spot, we knew we could not stay there, so Matt (who’s spirits had revived) located a few possible spots for us to park further along the coast. After a few misses, we finally hit on an awesome location, a ‘camping car’ parking spot in amongst a pine forest right next to the dunes. It was obviously popular as there were more than a few motorhomes dotted about, so we parked up and hoped out and headed down onto the beach to catch the remanent of light as the sun had just set over the water.
The beach was better than we ever could have expected… miles of sand in either direction as far as the eye could see. We headed up the dune and back to Heidi as the darkness gathered, to enjoy a cosy dinner and eagerly await the morning.
The next morning we went for one of the most magical walks I think I have had. The light was incredible, illuminating the uninhabited sand-scape, the towering dunes and the smooth mirror of sea. We could smell the pine trees that stood in proud silhouettes on top of the dunes as we walked for miles along the shimmering sand.
Every now and then we would encounter a solitary figure or collection of figures patiently manning long arcing fishing rods, lines cast into the sea. A sandbank a few miles out created a lagoon along the beach which according to a portly fisherman and his wife made for great weekend fishing trips. Minutes before we had spotted the him beginning to reel in his line, camera at the ready we waited with bated breath to capture a shot of his fish on the line. We quickly saw that the excitement had been in vain as he heroically held up his line… only to reveal a log… something that both we and his wife found very amusing (I think him less so!).
After a quick lunch we headed for Mimazan our next sea-side destination. After winding our way through the rather desolate town, we ended up in our first officiale camping aire (basically a car park for motorhomes with water-filling and waste-emptying facilities).
It felt slightly weird parking just on tarmac and directly next to other motorhomes, but it was only 9.5 euros and so we were happy to give it a try. As it turned out this was to be the first in a long line of aires that we would make use of on our travels. Matt hoped out for a bit of exploration as I got us settled in, but was soon back, feverishly gesticulating for me to come and take a look. I followed him up a steep hill and into another carpark at the back of which were some wooden steps down onto the beach. The whole thing was spectacular and looked like something you would see in an american movie, miles and miles of sand interspersed with boardwalk style wooden staircases crowning the crest of the dunes. But instead of being flat and still (like the previous beach), the sea was a roaring mass of waves which we could hear booming as we were coming up the hill.
We hung out on the beach for a little while until the sun went down and then explored a couple of echoey roads further down before returning to Heidi. The area around the aire was filled with cafes, bars and seaside apartments all shut up for winter, so it felt like a bit of a ghost town but you could imagine that it would be rammed when during the summer.
The next day we wound our way down the coast towards Biarritz. Having now had some practice, we drove around the bottom of Biarritz, through Bidart and parked Heidi in the municipal aire in Milady on the outskirts of the town. As soon as we had safely settled Heidi in amongst the other motorhomes (who were also making this tiny aire their temporary home), we headed once more for the beach. We arriving just in time to witness the sun setting dramatically over the sea with the mountains in the background, a beautiful sight to see, which the camera was unable to really do justice to. With the sky still glowing above the horizon we sat on the terrace of the little beach bar and enjoyed a beer (Matt) and glass of coke (me).
The next day we took a half an hour walk into Biarritz. It’s weird, when you say ‘Biarritz’ to people, everybody generally ooohs and ahhhs leading you to imagine that Biarritz to be a very glamorous city filled with elegant bars and restaurants. Our impression however was of a city that had once been the shinning star of the coastline, but was now getting a little tired and worn around the edges. Never the less we enjoyed having a look around and doing a bit of people watching.
As we hadn’t eaten out very much so far on this leg of the trip, we decided to stop for a spot of lunch. This did not go very well, as we made the cardinal mistake of waiting until we were much too hungry to really think straight when choosing a restaurant and had therefore gone for the first one that we thought might be able to serve something uncontaminated by gluten, not even stopping to question wether or not the food would be nice (a mistake I will not repeat again!). We tried not to feel to disappointed as we stared down at our food, Matt at his mezze of deep fried somethings and me at my omelet. What can go wrong with an omelet? I hear you say… after all even I (with a cooking style some have compared to that of Letitia Cropley ‘The Dibley Poisoner’) can whip up a good one. But then I don’t generally use horror-movie style mushrooms that look like they are about to en-slime you. In the end we chalked it up to being a bit of a learning curve and vowed to be more choosy next time.
We stayed one more night at the aire in Biarritz and then got up bright and early ready to make our way to San Sebastian. We were just attempting to dump our waste and get filled up with water when we were greeted by a loud g-day and turned to see a friendly Aussie making his way towards us. As it turned out Brian (who is actually originally a brit and now an officially half and half) and his wife Wendy (the true Aussie… sorry Brian) were also taking a year out to travel, though it had been a bit of a stop/start adventure as they had had to fly home a couple of times to look after family and so were just getting started. We were just getting excited at the thought of properly getting to know some fellow motor-homers when a french guy in pulled up in his motorhome and started to make a show of being impatient for us to finish, so we exchanged contact details with Brian and Wendy to see if we could meet up with them again in San Sebastian.
Our journey from Biarritz to San Sebastian was dominated by what we had heard about the terrible killings in Paris. Both shocked and appalled, we felt absolutely gutted for all the families who had lost loved ones through the senseless acts of violence. Thoughts of what they must be going through and the implications of such acts were whirling around our heads as we crossed the boarder from France into Spain. That evening I phoned CH to make sure that she was OK and to see if she had heard from Bruno and Lucile (who live in Paris). Whilst also incredibly shocked she was fine and so were the rest of the family (much to our relief). It did not however take away from the fact that hundreds of people had not been so lucky and would be at that moment being cried for and missed by the those who loved them. Something that made us feel a sense of utter sadness.
It was about about 11.30 on Saturday morning when we landed in San Sebastian. With the sun casting it’s rays at warm 22 degrees we left Heidi parked up in the 3 euro a night municipal aire and walked into the centre of the town.
If there was ever a place to raise your spirits it was there. The whole city buzzes with a sense of fun and vibrancy that no news could dampen. Much like Brighton, the heart of the city revolves around the seafront which curves around the bay in a great arch. Walking into town meant pretty much walking down the road, turning right at the sea front and following the arch of the bay around into the central square where crowds of people gathered to meet and eat, admire the street artists and musicians, and look out across the promenade at the sea.
As we approached we saw a guy busily creating a drawing in the sand in support of Paris, receiving great acknowledgement from the crowd gathering along the railings of the promenade. With it being a Saturday the streets were filled with people especially in the Parte Vieja where the bars for which it is famous were rammed with people jostling for a place from which to sample the many Pinxtos that lined the bar tops.
For those of you not in the know a Pinxtos are a tapas style delicacy for which the Basque region of Northern Spain is famous. Despite not having a clue how to get ourselves heard or understood in the bustling bar we had sidled into, we did manage to successful order a plate of Pinxtos for Matt to sample along with a couple of drinks. I looked on longingly (as there was definitely no chance of them being free from gluten contamination) and then grabbed a bite to eat once we returned to Heidi. On the way back we popped into a little supermarket and grabbed a couple of burgers for dinner… which were quite nice, but definitely not as good as the Pinxtos!
The next day we woke up bright and early and were happy to find Wendy and Brian had arrived and were parked up opposite us. We popped over for a cuppa and a chat before heading with them into town. It was great to finally meet some fellow motor-homers and we found we had quite a lot in common. Before embarking on their one year adventure they had owned two successful businesses, Brian having had the second biggest motorhome rental company in the whole of Oz and Wendy having set up a building firm that specialised in timbre buildings and platforms built on piles (enabling people to create their dream hillside homes).
After a gentle walk along the promenade we found ourselves in the old town once more where Matt and I went in search of ‘Gandarias’ a bar that had a good reputation for Gluten Free Pinxtos. After having arrived at the packed bar we managed to elbow our way to the restaurant area and I put on my best Spanish to ask a frantic but friendly waitress for a table for two. Unfortunately the tables were reserved from here till Christmas but once I told her (again in my best Spanish) that I was a coeliac she directed me to another frantic but friendly barman who (once we had wedged ourselves in a great little spot between a column and the bar) proceeded to sort me out with delicious gluten free pinxtos straight from the kitchen. Amongst tiny dishes of scallops, clams, risotto my favourite had to be the gridlled calamari in black squid ink sauce.. that and a couple of glasses of vino blanco and I was in my element!!
When we had returned from our wanderings back through the town we were greeted by Brian and Wendy who invited us over to their motorhome for a drink or two…(or three or four…).
We had a really great evening with them… They totally got our sense of humour (always a plus!), were great story tellers (as most people we click with tend to be) and could drink us under the table (what else would you expect from Aussies!). Needless to say we spent the whole of Monday recovering from the later and only ventured out to pick up a few provisions and do some washing!