Monday, July 04, 2016

a day in and out of Biarritz

Now that I think back to it, I'd say it was a quirky kind of day. Normally while away, I follow a rather standard pattern: get up, eat breakfast, explore, rest a little, perhaps do a little photo work, eat dinner, post.

But consider this summary: get up, eat breakfast, go back to room and spend more than two hours trying to fix a mistake I made in making reservations for a future trip to Scotland (there is no public transportation to get me out of a place I was to visit on the day I needed to leave), then go out in the heat of the day to buy lots of chocolates for gifts, and, too, wine that was fermented in vats by the sea or under the sea -- I couldn't fully understand the explanation -- also for gifts, go back and leave gifts at hotel, take two buses for a total of more than an hour to get to the next town down the coast -- a place only seventeen kilometers (ten miles) from where I am, buy myself a dress there for only 45 Euros ($50), but still, it felt extravagant, take train back to Biarritz to save time, but train's late, so miss connecting direct bus to downtown Biarritz, therefore taking a circuitous one that loses whatever time I saved, get a tapas snack because breakfast was a long time ago, go out immediately after for a dinner where there is only one item on the menu, return to hotel, sit down to post, fall asleep instead.

I mean, quirky, no?

I offer a few photos as proof of the above.

Breakfast -- a lovely little affair on the patio.

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Walk to chocolate shops, taking in the street scenes -- always so fascinating when you're away from your home environs. I can just hear the conversation:  

You need to hold my hand and stay off the street!
Non! Je refuse!

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A glance at the ocean. And at humanity enjoying the rough and tumble of the waves.

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Chocolates are a big item in Biarritz. There's even a museum dedicated to their production. I buy some from two great stores. I know, I know -- all chocolates look alike the world over. Ah, but the taste... (I had to sample to make informed choices, no?)

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A place I pass that was not quite a success story apparently. Closed and shuttered.

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Popular in the southwest of France: hats. Here's a store with some choices. And a mirror.

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In the afternoon I decide to go to St Jean de Luz. Once a whaling town, now still an important fishing port...

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... and it's somewhat of a commercial hub in the French Basque. (By the way, San Sebastian in Spain is only twenty miles from here.)

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It's smaller and more modest than Biarritz, but the architecture is more eye catching, I think. There are sea walls that protect the town from the rough stormy ocean and as a result, the beach here is tamer -- more suitable for families with young children or those who truly enjoy a calm swim in the sea.

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The Basque houses that really define the town:

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The main pedestrian shopping street, offering a range of stores...

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What I love is looking at the Basque colors in fabrics, in dishes, in espadrille shoes.

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The shoes come in kid sizes too and I hesitate as to whether to pick up a pair for Snowdrop. Will they stay on? In the end, the shop keeper tells me that in her opinion, they're not great for wee ones. I loved her honesty!

Instead, I find this shop with gorgeous hand sewn dresses from Madagascar. Very inexpensive. I spend forever selecting one for Snowdrop.

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And that's not the only little shop that tempts with children's clothes...

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Finally, I pause at a shop with all linen dresses for the older set (meaning me). From Italy. Again, shockingly cheap. I cannot pass by polka dots. Cannot. I break down.

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This is when I decide it's time to leave this place of beautiful little shops.

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I hadn't taken the train here because the tourist office agent in Biarritz had said the bus is much cheaper. But the length of the bus trip was off putting and so I decide to bite the bullet and take the train back. Expecting a huge mark up, I am surprised that the price of the Biarritz ticket is only 3 Euros. (The bus was 2 Euros.)

Back in Biarritz now. A glance at the beach. It's muggy right now. Lots of people taking in the coolness of the ocean.

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For me -- tapas, a glass of wine and post cards for the youngest members of my family.

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Mirror in the stairwell of my hotel.

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I throw down my bags and prepare to set out to dinner.  I glance out the window. Whoa! Those are not mountains. Those are storm clouds on the horizon.

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It's windy and the rains come down. I tally forth. Past a suddenly nearly empty beach. (Oh, there's always the person who thinks it's cool to sit in a storm by the sea, or the crazy photographer who leans into the wind to grab a shot.)

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Dinner is in a place that's beloved by Philippe and his wife. And yes, they do own the St Julien, as he explained to me: as of last year, we own the inside... the hotel. Not the walls of the building! 

The restaurant is called the Fumoir Marin and I, too, love it! It has only one item on the menu (though you could order a separate component of the entirety, but no one I saw did that): a plate of fish, most of them smoked, some just seared, one raw and marinated in vodka. They're served with a sour cream and a bowl full of scrambled eggs and another bowl of boiled young potatoes. I added a salad. Absolutely delicious.

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The owner's wife is actually from Aberdeen and she tells me that her husband's family has had several generations of top of the line chefs. The dessert I choose is one that came from a Michelin multi-starred place her father-in-law cooked in. It's very traditional -- a perfect balance to the more contemporary style of food here.

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The proprietors treated me to a glass of Rhum Arrange Epice -- I'd never had something like that before. It's from Basque: a rum infused with spices. (I was shown the bottle and I took note of its website here.  Quite the nice thing to sip on a special occasion!)  A generous ending to a very wonderful stay in this Basque town.

And there you have it -- quirky, beautiful day, not really very Fourth of July like, but grand and with a celebratory feel to it nonetheless, no? 

Tomorrow morning I'm to catch connecting flights to Warsaw, but last I heard there's an air traffic controllers' strike in Paris, so not much (if anything) is connecting. Let the adventures continue!


  1. Love the hat picture - I spy Nina!

  2. Such picture-postcard little towns! I would have to settle in and stay for a week at least.
    Your photography is excellent. The shot of the beach taken with vivid flowers in the foreground, oh yes!

    I admire your take-it-as-it-comes philosophy about travel -- making the most of your time there without worrying in advance.

  3. Our quilters tour stayed in St-Jean-de-Luz in an older and smaller hotel on the beach than you are showing. Such a beautiful view from my window. I loved it there. We toured around, even into Spain to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. We had a Basque guide (and surfer dude) for most of our tours in the area. We chose SJdL because they were having a quilt show. They were so dazzled that les Americaines would come to their show. My first husband and I had camped in a campground a bit south of there in 1959. Memories... All the little boys this year are wearing those fedora-style straw hats where we've been going in Provence.


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