France Part III

Annoying thing to learn about WordPress. Clicking pop out option loses everything you’ve already written.

Anyway, the next day I went with my family on a brief visit to Bayonne, just up the coast from Hendaye. Bayonne is famous for its cathedral (there are a few of those around France), fortifications, and the creation of the, you guessed it, bayonet! It is also considered the upper limit of Basque country. The Basque people have an exciting and intriguing history which is smudged by the arrival of the French and Spanish peoples… just couldn’t leave the Pyrenees alone. In Bayonne we walked around, taking in the town, visited the Basque museum (free on Sundays and extremely interesting), a massive cathedral, and tried, unsuccessfully, to find an open chocolate shop (Bayonne is where Jewish chocolatiers first brought chocolate to France).
As we learned throughout the trip, businesses in France operate on a very different schedule than in the USA. Most people probably start work around the same time, such as 0900 or so, but then come 1200, everything except restaurants closes down until about 1400 or even 1500 for lunch. If you don’t get food during this time frame, though, you’ll have a difficult time getting any until at least 1930 because all of the restaurants close down during those 4 or so hours. The impression we got, and that was hinted at by our hosts, is that the French are terribly interested in working most of the time, possibly contributing to those economic difficulties they may be having…
So, that night we went to San Sebastian for another tapas dinner. San Sebastian is an old harbor city in Spain, so we spent a little while walking around first to see the harbor, the beach, the boats, the hotels, and older architecture, a lot of which was really cool. The groom, who had learned of my interest in rowing told me that it is the location of huge, annual Basque rowing race, the San Sebastian Concha Cup (from World Rowing and Wikipedia about it). All of the local towns send a team to row a boat with 13 rowers and a coxswain equivalent to row this boats across the harbor. The winners are basically rock stars for the next year. Looks pretty intense:

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Ha, so in the notes I wrote myself while in France I admitted that being at a wedding while reading Plato’s Symposium (on Love) certainly made me think about partnering, love, life, marriage, etc… Did not have any real clear thoughts on it, though, just that the idea of spending forever with someone is kinda terrifying, especially when spending a week and half with the same people (albeit traveling) was painfully stressful fairly constantly. If you’re interested, in Symposium, Socrates thoughts on Love come from Diodema, and the conclusion is basically that man loves immortality, however they can achieve it. Whether that be through children or art work (Homer’s Odyssey, etc…), but great art is preferred because that can be truly immortal whereas kids die. As a biologist, this conclusion is quite interesting and had connections to our paleolithic caves later in the trip.

The next day we spent the morning enjoying the beach again (football, paddle ball, walking, checking out tidal pools, etc…) and the afternoon on a brief trip eastwards. We visited Espelette, home of the Espelette pepper which is comparable to a spicy paprika. They say that its SU (4000) is about the same as black pepper, but I think it is slightly spicier (not much) and way tastier. The Basque use it in things like piperade, but also make it into jams, jellies, pasta, and much more, but it is really only used as a condiment. After that we tried to ride the Petit Train in Rhune, but the last train left as we arrived. The drive to and from it was through beautiful country, though. Instead, we drove over to Sare to checkout a prehistoric cave, which was hilarious. This cave has been heavily modernized and altered. There is a wooden pathway with stairs an a handrail all over it, plus at each of the stops on the tour there are lights (which illuminate and turn off as you go from place to place), recorded voice, and video (at one stop). The cave itself is huge and extremely impressive, but I would have preferred it as it was… We returned to Hendaye that night to make our dinner, finally! And that was our last night in Hendaye.

The next morning we left for the center of Southern France. Our first stop was la Cirque de Gavarnie, a crazy gorgeous part of the Pyrenees. Well, I don’t know how it compares to the rest of the range, but it was awesome. Gavarnie is a small tourist town which was surprisingly full of school kids and old people, out to hike/walk the trail to the cirque. The walk was a 4-5 km stroll along a crystal blue snow melt creek (? smaller than a river, but bigger than a stream, I would say), through calm meadows and imposing coniferous woods, surrounded by strikingly powerful/majestic/mind-blowingly beautiful mountains:

(Apparently it doesn’t want to let me post a picture of it right now, so I’ll add one in a different post right after this.)

The only word I really have is indescribable. I was picking a place to put a cabin, a barn, and goats, sheep, and chickens. Oh, and did I mention that the weather was perfect, which helped.
Afterwards we drove to Lourdes for a completely different experience. Lourdes is the location of a sacred spring, discovered by a girl in the 1800s who saw the Virgin Mary (who told her where the miraculous spring was). Many miracles have been recorded thanks to this spring. Now, this spring has a HUGE cathedral over it (don’t worry the grotto of the original spring is still somewhat intact and available to the public) and leads to a series of about 20 faucets where hundreds (probably thousands) of people and pilgrims come daily to be cured. It was quite the experience. Actually seeing and being present for such a demonstration of communal belief has its own power. While I myself might not believe in the miracles of the spring, seeing the rock of the cave worn smooth from people touching it tells me that there is something to it that earns a lot of respect, at the very least. Afterwards we drove north, past Toulouse to Montabaun for the night. We had dinner at a hotel restaurant which still served good food, way better than one would expect from a hotel restaurant in the States.

More to come.

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