Sunday, July 12, 2015

Trip Story: The Road to St. Jean de Luz

Our plan for our third full day in France was to get up, eat breakfast, check out of our hotel, take a cab to the train station , pick up our rental car, and then wave good-bye to Bordeaux and drive to St.-Emilion for lunch. We also thought we might buy some of the wine for which St.-Emilion is famous and drink it that evening in our hotel room in St. Jean de Luz, where I'd splurged and paid an extra 10 euro/day for a private ocean view balcony.

Things did not go precisely as planned.

We over slept terribly, waking up well after breakfast was done- and in fact after our check out time. We hurried to get ready and pack up while our wonderful and forgiving hosts called a taxi for us. We got to the train station and had to wait quite a while for our turn at the rental counter. We finally got the keys to our car and lugged our bags up a flight of stairs to the rental car level in the parking garage, got in our car, backed out... and the warning light indicating a flat tire came on. So we went back into the rental car office, got keys to a new car, and then finally we were on our way. By this time it was after noon, but we figured we could get to St.-Emilion before 1 p.m., and keep to our original plan.

And then we missed the turn off the ring road. This was primarily my fault- I had not yet gotten my bearings as the navigator- but also a little bit Mr. Snarky's fault, because he forgets that I do not have his eerily good, almost photographic memory for maps. We had not eaten, and were annoyed from how long it took to get a car, and so we of course started sniping at each other. Mr. Snarky took the next exit. I thought he was planning to turn around and get back on course for St.-Emilion, but he was in fact planning to find some place to eat. He found a pub like place in a little suburb of Bordeaux that did not look appealing to me at all. More sniping ensued.

Finally, we acknowledged the scale of our mistake, and decided to give up on St.-Emilion. We would head south instead, and find some place reasonable to get off the motorway and see scenery on the drive to St. Jean de Luz. First, though, we needed food. We pulled into a gas station at what was essentially a rest area on the motorway and decided to resign ourselves to a so-so sandwich just so that I'd stop being so grumpy. (My tendency towards hangriness is well-known, and Mr. Snarky has been with me long enough to know that nothing was going to fix this situation except food.)

A way marker in Moustey
Our sandwiches were far from so-so. They were delicious, and I'm fairly certain that was not just the hunger talking. The bread was essentially perfect, the ham was full of flavor, and the cheese was amazing. We were a little in awe of the sandwiches, to be honest. Neither of our native countries offer gas station food that good. (Although the Kiwi classic of a pie and a slice is pretty awesome, the pies on offer at most gas stations are... disappointing.)

Once we were fed, we plotted a new course. We decided to get off the motorway near Belin-Béliet, and drive through a little bit of the Parc Naturel Régional des Landes de Gascogne. The scenery was pretty enough, but not overwhelmingly beautiful. I suspect that truly enjoying this park would require getting out of the car and hiking a bit, which we didn't really feel we had the time (or the gear) to do. Also, it was sprinkling off and on, and the forecast we'd seen implied it might do more than that, so we weren't inclined to stray to far from our car. We did stop for a snack in a little town called Moustey, which was interesting primarily because we saw two other couples there, both apparently following the Way of St. James, an ancient pilgrimage route that is still in use and fairly popular. The sea shell is a sign of the route, and one of the other couples had sea shells tied on the front of their bicycles.

After Moustey, we drove back to the motorway and stayed on it until we were in Le Pays Basque. We stopped to see the sights in Bidart, which has a beautiful coastal view, and many of the white buildings with red beams that we soon came to recognize as characteristic of the region.

The view south from our clifftop vantage point in Bidart.
We enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs a bit, but wanted to get to our hotel before it got dark and/or it started to really rain, so we drove on... and realized we actually had no idea how to get to our hotel. Luckily for us, St. Jean de Luz helpfully provides road signs to all of the hotels in the old part of town. This is essential, because even with directions, I think we would have gotten lost in the maze of narrow, one-way streets.

We safely arrived at our hotel and found that it really was right on the coastal walk and we really did have a private ocean view balcony... and that it was far too cold and windy to sit on that balcony. So we had some wine in our room looking out past our balcony to the water, and started making plans for our stay.

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