We drove up to Biarritz in France yesterday. Because it's in France, we had asked Emy (the owner of the apartment we're renting) what we needed in order to cross the border. Passports, for sure, we said, but what else? Money? Travel documents?
Emy and her friend Beatrix laughed. No, no, you just drive over.
And so it was that we found ourselves in France after about an hour. The easiest part really was crossing the border. We found it much harder to get out of San Sebastian -- we'd made a few wrong turns in the city and couldn't find the right expressway... and then realized that, because most signs are written in Basque, even our knowledge of where we were headed was tested because the cities are spelled and pronounced very differently in the Basque Country -- it's not French, it's not Spanish, and it really doesn't resemble either. For example, Bayonne in France, a main city on my map of France (which was all I had besides Raf's iPhone and Google Maps) is spelled Baiona on all the signs leading out of San Sebastian. I couldn't figure it out until I tried to say it out loud and then it clicked that we were headed in the right direction.
But Frantzia? It's not even on the map! I said, swearing as we left another gare du peage (toll booth). Say it out loud, though, and it makes sense: France. Duh.
One note about the toll booths that I love: you don't always have to drive up and talk to a toll booth worker. You can also just throw the right amount of change into a basket and then go on. I love that. Raf is not a big fan of the use of coins for 1- and 2-Euro currency -- he thinks it gets lost in your pocket. See this? he asked me yesterday, holding a big pile of coins in his hand. This is like 12 bucks! I would have thought it was like 76 cents! And so we used many of these pesky coins at the gares du peage.
Okay, I'm digressing. Finally, after several wrong turns and a genuine love of roundabouts (the civilized European answer to "flipping-a-U-ie"), we arrived in Biarritz and parked on an outlying street for free rather than fight for a parking garage space. We wandered around the town, which reminded us very much of Manhattan Beach: beautiful little boutiques and shoppers sharing sidewalk space with surfers in half-pulled-down wetsuits walking barefoot with their sandy boards. Lots of adorable sidewalk cafes and pizzerias - really, very much like Manhattan Beach or any other upscale beach town in Southern California, just French-ified. It felt very familiar, very easy to understand and jump right into. At one point during our lunch, at a cute little cafe overlooking the beach, I commented to Raf that even the servers and their attire could be mistaken for any beach city in California: tanned girls in pretty ponytails with shoulder tattoos wearing flip-flops, guys in long cargo shorts with day-old scruff. If we hadn't been eating a pizza with peppers, olives and a half-boiled egg on top, I could have believed that we had never left home.
Afterward, we walked onto the beach. The sand reminded us of Maui's shell-caked sand, full of interesting colors and textures. The color of the water is incredibly soft, the blues and greens of Monet's Giverny paintings set by the seashore. There are giant rock formations that border the bay-like beach and several surfers catching waist-high fun waves like you'd see at El Porto in Manhattan Beach (another similarity). In fact, it seemed like a perfect place to learn to surf, and we saw a few surf schools out there, paddling around. We'd heard that the Roxy Jam was there as well as a rock festival featuring Iggy and the Stooges, but we must have arrived in-between events because we didn't see anything Roxy-related.
The Grand Plage is beautiful to look at, with colorful striped umbrella/canopies and gorgeous little families collecting shells and enjoying the seaside weather, despite the gray skies. As usual, we sampled les glaces (ice cream), this time from Monsieur Lopez's stand -- I've found that my French truly shines at ice cream stands, where I can order anything with aplomb. But beyond that, the water was significantly chillier than in San Sebastian and none of us really felt like we needed to hang out there for very long. We decided to make our way back to Spain before the afternoon was over and, after getting a little lost on the way back to the expressway, we arrived an hour later to sparkling skies in sunny San Sebastian. Hola!