27 December 2009

Alans Column in the Leinster Leader

Schnitzel’s European Adventures.
Like crossing the road.

You are more likely to boil an egg in luke warm water than you are to find parking in Bordeaux. Seemingly everyone has parked their cars and gone to bed, hence the city being nicknamed ‘Sleeping Beauty’. The second part of the nickname because the city is tremendously beautiful. It is not a cryptic pseudonym. This is a city you should definitely visit if you like buildings that weren’t built yesterday. Wonderful arches, bridges, monuments, buildings and even roads decorate the city. It makes you feel that nobody works there, the locals just bask in the beauty of their surroundings and gawk insatiably at the complexities of the stonework.
If Bordeaux is called ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ then Biarritz should be called ‘The Windy Beauty’. If you are using this column as a travel guide then my tip for Biarritz is wear heavy shoes. If you are a particularly light person, perhaps a heavy hat would also be advisable, or maybe a strong partner you can cling onto. It is not to say that the town is not sleeping, this is no different in our experience of French towns so far. It was baron. Not a human in sight, I’m sure in summer it’s hopping, but November is not its prime. Maybe it should be called ‘Sleeping Windy Beauty’. Its massive waves attack the gorgeous coast line in a spectacle that is better viewed from behind the stone wall 20 metres above. It is borne on a cliff edge and driving along above the beaches with the splash of the crash of the wave reaching up that high it gives you what I would consider the Biarritz feeling.
We entered Spain as if we had crossed the road. There was no sign, no elaborate ‘Welcome to Spain’ no ‘Viva’ or ‘Vamos’, nothing. I only realised we were in Spain when I saw a shop called Pepe’s. Then I noticed that I no longer had any idea what signs said, and the Renaults and Peugeots turned into Seats. Spain immediately seemed, for lack of a better word, poorer. Construction seemed endless and somewhat futile, like you could guess many of these structures may never be finished. Streets seemed less clean and organised.
We got to San Sebastian expecting surfer parties and a crazy night. No matter what anyone tells you, November and December is not surf season on the west coast of France and Spain. We were told it was and we learned the hard way, it was like a French town, everyone was indoors, perhaps afraid of the wind, I don’t know.
If you did not know, you could guess that it was just south of Biarritz because it shares the same ferocious savage waves that seem to have some sort of a feud with the beach and want to damage it furiously and repetitively.
Next stop is Bilbao which is slighty inland so will be hopefully less windy but what it lacks in blow it will make up in beauty.
(Email: alanbennett8@hotmail.com for comments or suggestions.)

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