On Monday my achey post-hike legs ouched their way down the stairs of the Pension and we set off on the bikes again. The legs much prefer cycling to walking! We cycled 20km to the nearest FEVE (narrow gauge railway) station at Posada and settled in for a day on the train. The plan was to arrive in Bilbao and then arrange a bus to Biarritz. The friendly train conductor got talking to us (in Spanish) – I could catch only occasional words; Julie a few more. We told him we were going to take a bus from Bilbao to Biarritz. He mentioned something that sounded like “bus-auto” and I nodded. We were 15 minutes from Bilbao central when he came up to us “this stop Basurto; you get off here. Quick!” Julie thought she could catch something about a bus station and a black something and a traffic light; as he gestured at the window. We just hoped that there wasn’t a huge miscommunication…. We got off at Basurto – the station was deserted – and pushed our bikes out into the sunlight. No signs pointing to a bus station. We crossed the road and down the hill I noticed a bus – and another – and another. Hoards of buses parked side by side. That must be the bus station! There were no seats on any buses leaving for Biarritz that day so we booked for the next day and checked into a wee pension up the road. After showering, washing our hair and putting on the cleanest clothes we could find (everything needs a wash) we wandered into the street. We stopped at a little bar to use the wifi (and bought a glass of wine each).
Then we cruised past the different eateries deciding where to eat for our last night in Spain. Julie chose a cute bar serving Pintxas (like tapas but more filling) – the bar’s counter was covered with plates full of various snack-sized food portions (slices of bread with various toppings; including spanish omelette balanced on top). We sat at the bar, ordered more wine, and chose a selection of interesting looking Pintxas.
The next day we took the bus to Biarritz; I felt so lethargic by the time we arrived. I suggested to Julie that a gelato would make me feel better, and fortunately she felt like one too. We found the beachfront and bought our expensive touristy icecreams. We were happily sitting on the café’s chairs outside the café when a polite waitress advised us that people who only buy icecreams are not entitled to sit on the chairs. We mooched off down the promenade and sat in the sun on a concrete bench. The beach is beautiful – pale golden sand; a lighthouse at one end; rocks with waves crashing at another, and blue-green waves pummelling the sand. For a Tuesday afternoon there seemed to be quite a few people lying on the sand, in various stages of undress; fully soaking up the sun. I haven’t seen anyone that bronzed in New Zealand for a long time.
We cycled to Alex’s house just up the road to meet her after work. Alex is a member of Warmshowers and she stayed with me over a year ago in Rotorua while on her epic cycle trip; so it was magic to be able to meet her again in France. She took us out to dinner and we met her boyfriend and his friend. We had such a fun evening. The friend was self-conscious that his english was ‘no good’ but he was perfectly understandable. I was recommended to try the local specialty, duck, and it was divine. We watched the pink sun set over the ocean horizon - magic.
Afterwards we cycled through town, laughing the whole time, to Alex’s favourite Glacier (icecream shop), but it was closed. Alex suggested we stay a second night in Biarritz “so you can try the icecream”. Good idea.
The next day Alex went to work and Julie and I checked Julie’s bike in for a service then wandered around neighbouring Bayonne. I was in endorphin-withdrawal again, so I was happy to spend the day eating gelatos (managed to fit two in) and bread and sweet pastries, and doing little else. We even got on a free car-park bus that did a loop of town; just to have somewhere to sit and gaze at the sights without walking…. We found a Scentery (or something like that) shop that sold locally-made perfumes and ‘room scents’. The wonderfully enthusiastic shop assistant let us try every flavour of ‘room scent’ – they were really nice but I’m not sure who would realistically want their room to smell like licorice. Or caramel.
That evening we took Alex for a picnic on the beach; she is such an entertaining and fresh person; we had a really nice time.
The next day, Thursday, it was Julie’s birthday and Alex got up early and brought fresh croissants and bread for our breakfast.
Once more on our bikes, we cycled inland to St Jean Pied de Port once again – we were there 3 weeks previously to start the Camino de Santiago and I thought it was really cool that we were passing through again on our way east this time; to the Pyrenees.We took a tiny road running parallel to the main highway - it was fantastic.
It was a nice short ride and we arrived in St Jean Pied de Port early afternoon. I left Julie relaxing in the campground while I cycled around town to organise her special birthday dinner. I decided we’d have a picnic – we both love picnics – so I needed to find a scenic spot. I hiked up to the top of the Citadelle and found a spot. When I got back into town there was a young german busking; singing and playing his guitar. I asked him if he would be happy to come up to the top of the hill that evening to sing Happy Birthday to Julie and he agreed! I gave him some red carnations to bring with him. Then I went to the supermarket and found all sorts of treats for our picnic. I even splashed out and brought cute purple-flowered paper plates (quite decadent as they come in a pack of 30); with matching purple serviettes. I found some Method-Traditionalle sparkling wine; and feta and olives and cherry tomatoes. And for dessert strawberries. The ‘cake’ was a couple of sweet pastries from the Patisserie – with candles popped on top.
Julie was surprised when I took her from the campground and we veered away from the mainstreet up a narrow staircase. The back route to the Citadelle is direct but steep. The picnic at the top went really really well; though it was mildly concerning to see dark clouds and lightening over the hills in the distance. The busker turned up as promised and the look on Julie's face when he arrived and said “are you Julie?” was priceless.
It started to rain just as he finished so we packed up and went back into town. We hadn’t had the ‘cake’ yet so we sat under the shelter of a cathedral entrance and I lit the candles. The street was deserted because of the rain. We both sang happy birthday to her, which is fortunate as I can’t sing in tune, not even Happy Birthday.
The next day, Friday, we woke to clear blue skies. It was Day One of our Pyrenees adventure – we are following the Lonely Planet’s Raid Pyrenee route (in reverse), which is rated “very demanding”. There are 1-2 major passes each day, with lots of little ones in between. Julie and I were laughing that just when we should be minimising our luggage weight we are instead carrying leftovers from a birthday picnic, 28 disposable plates, 28 matching serviettes, half a litre of milk (!), a packet of prunes (they were cheap), 6 cans of tuna (forgot we already had some), 500g coucous, 400g mayonnaise, LOADS of chocolate, 3 boiled eggs, 4 large mandarins….
It took us 3 ½ hours of solid climbing to reach the highest pass; it was noticeably colder at the top so we had a quick lunch and didn’t hang around. A french man we got talking to at the top enquired about the flowers Julie was carrying on the back of her bike – when she explained in french it had been her birthday the previous day he immediately gave her a kiss on each cheek!
The downhill was steep and felt faster than the 50kph that my speedometer was reading – probably because the road was so narrow and a bit bumpy.
We were cycling slowly up the next hill when suddenly I felt someones hand on my back pushing me up the hill – I got such a fright I screamed. It was a french cyclist and his friend, on road bikes without luggage. They rode with us for a while and we found out they are on Warmshowers too. We may call in to see them if we pass through their town.
We camped at Camping Municipal in Arrette – I think we may have been the only campers! – and the reception was closed when we arrived with a sign “we will catch up with you in the evening”. A guy drove past our tent in a small car (it was a very small campsite so seemed odd that he felt he had to drive to catch up with us) but he didn’t ask for any money; just seemed to be checking we were doing OK and warned us there was going to be hail over night. Great. Then he drove off and we didn’t see him again. Fortunately there wasn’t hail during the night and in the morning we popped our 7 euro campsite fee in the letterbox. We had a leisurely 23km cycle to our next campsite; set up the tent, ate lunch and set off for a day-trip to Lescun, a mountain-side village famous for its views. It was a 5km slog up a twisting road to the village. It was a very sleepy place; there seemed to be no-one around; just some donkeys in the main square having their nails cut. We saw a sign for a Bar so went there for a chocolate icecream. There are so many flies all of a sudden! Must be the unseasonably warm weather. It wasn’t very relaxing sitting in the sun with the flies so we cycled around the village, soaked up the views of the limestone cliffs all around, and then found another bar. This time we had a glass of wine each, then eventually headed back down the hill and back to the campsite for an afternoon of reading in the shade of the trees.
Today, Sunday, we cycled over Col de Marie Blanque. We were overtaken by a huge tour group of cyclists from around the world - apparently there were 15 kiwis in the group too. They were all on road bikes without luggage. It was light rain the whole time so we didn't get any views. We are now in Laruns; tomorrow we will climb over Col d'Aubisque - the weather promises to be better!