Friday, July 20, 2018

Gone Visiting

For a "short" trip, this one packed so much joy, including what I did not think I would be able to do; see friends! It looked complicated, and it's not exactly simple, but how fantastic it has been to spend time with friends that are only dearer now that it has been so many years. 

It started with a short train ride, with my own seat; a set of four, actually, all to myself. The second train was an altogether different kettle of fish. It was all full of these things...other passengers. Not a free spot for eons. I did snatch a jump seat in the back, with my bags tucked around me, around other people's bags. I still had elbow room to knit; the essentials, right? At the first stop after I climbed aboard, an announcement let us know that the engineer needed to make a computer adjustment and this adjustment could only be done on an empty train, so everybody off! for "five little minutes" while he makes the adjustment/reset, whatever. All twelve hundred of us trudge off the train, into the hot sun on the platform, and although we were reassured that there was no reason to bring anything with us, most of us brought our luggage, because we were not born this morning. The five minutes stretches into ten, and the sun is sort of warm at 4pm. There is nowhere to go, because at any minute we will be told to get back on the train, so I just have to sigh and put up with the six hundred smokers around me, up close and personal-like, puffing as though their next cig was not going to be until 4:30 or some crazy time. Great journey, zero glam, but I got where I was headed. 

My friend was there at the station to meet me; fantastic! I had packed super-light, for me, and had only one backpack and a purse, containing vitals such as toothbrush, phone and knitting. We headed off on foot; across the bridge of many flags in Bayonne, to the bus stop we needed to get to the hospital. D's husband had had surgery the week before and was recovering there. After three or four buses...I lost track, because we were catching up non-stop the whole time, I just followed D wherever she headed next, we arrived at the hospital to see my friend, J. We had a nice visit, he looked happy to see us, so I was glad we could make it. D and I left in another bus, headed to Biarritz. In this town on the Basque coast; the view hits you with a force that takes away your breath; waves, crashing on rocks, beauty, savage and glorious, buildings hiding and revealing the beach off and on; then, a clear space with a view to make you never want to leave. We trekked up to their apartment, dropped off our bags and headed out to enjoy a night in Biarritz. We spent one lovely evening strolling the streets, glorying in the view as the sun set over waves, rocks and cliffs, and sampling delicious food in different tapas bars; squid, foie gras, tortilla (Spanish potato omelette), and rosé.

The next morning we did it all again in the opposite direction, deciding to splurge on a taxi to make sure we got to the train station on time. Unfortunately for the taxi profession and fortunately for the reputation of Uber, the taxi never showed up. I missed my train, but had an extra half-hour to hang out and have a bite to eat with D. In keeping with their reputation for excellent food and terrible service (which is not always true here), the place we chose to eat did not serve lunch before noon. Pressed; "Might you have a couple of packages of chips? Croissants left over from breakfast? Granola bars?" the waiter offered, halfheartedly, to bring us a plate of Bayonne ham; "yes, please!" 

The next best thing after Bayonne ham is Prosciutto, but equality with jambon de Bayonne? Not so sure. This was perfect; thinly sliced, almost shaved, and it had just been cut, perfectly salted, with just the right amount of fat striped through it in the right places, nothing hard that could not be eaten easily... magnificent. The grump even threw in a few French cornichons (a version of pickle not found in America). The coffee...was gross enough that we dashed next door, at D's insistence, for a real cup before crossing the street back to the station. 

The next train was a TGV, or a high-speed train. All seats have reservations on this type of train. D and I grabbed a set of four again and settled back for the half hour or so to Dax, where my family awaited to take me to see friends from Toulouse. It is hard to say good-bye, but what a fun visit!

Dax...and no family. When I call, they are still eating lunch downtown somewhere. You might know what time you walk into a restaurant, but you don't always know what time you will walk out in France. That gives me a minute to have a soda and a little bar of dark chocolate all to myself. Then I repent and buy a big bar to share with everyone, and I have one little square with my "Coca-Zero", still American at heart. 

Finally; after a ride that seems to last forever in the summer traffic, we are at our destination of Capbreton, on the coast of les Landes. My wonderful friend, N, and her amazing husband, JM are waiting for us, as they have been for over an hour. N and I have been friends since my very first months in Toulouse. We were both 21, the age of our daughters now. Like with D, I don't feel like this relationship has changed in the least. We always have new things to talk about, and on different sides of the world, we have made similar discoveries about life, about one's outlook, and happiness as something you produce yourself. We had a peaceful afternoon sitting under the parasol and taking walks along the beach, while the kids and Thierry swim and mess around in the waves. I really don't want to say good-bye again a second time in the same day, but again, it was so very good to reconnect that I try to have no regrets.

We head home again, stopping for dinner in a small village in a place that promises a menu ranging from pizzas, charcuterie, salads, and our favorite, normally; moules/frites (mussels and fries). The proprietor is super friendly but a little grubby, the restroom/broom closet is "sketchy" in Gael's words, "impossible" in my estimate. The mussels smell funny, so I eat fries (about 2 kilos) and some lettuce, leaving the mussels to Thierry. Valentine amuses herself analyzing the typical teenage behavior of a table of high-schoolers across the way, giving us updates as the meal progresses. By the time we leave, the rate of traffic has dropped and the road is easy.

We've been back home since Wednesday night, hanging out with a fun cousin who is here as well for a few days. She speaks excellent English and brings a whole, fresh perspective on life. Thank you, la cousine! Her sister came to visit last week with her husband and adorable daughter, Anna. It is a delight to see these girls as grown ups. I first knew them when they were toddlers. They sang a song for us at our wedding, and the middle sister (there are three) was married last time we were here. The setting and ceremony were both beautiful, photos here: French wedding

Photos of now? Sure! 

A stop on the way home from our first beach trip; more successful than the one described above!

Basque tapas; peppers, bread with tomato and anchovies, mozarella and olive for my vegetarian: 

The charcuterie plate:

Dinner in the back yard:

The vegetable patch:

Along my morning walk:


Thank you for stopping by. I am always happy to hear from you! Please leave a comment and let me know how you feel about a post or add advice, anecdotes, etc. of your own.