Sunday, 2 November 2008

Day of the Dead

Woke around eight and went for a short run along the beach in St Jean de Luz and up onto the coastal path. It's the first of November but the sun is still strong and the sky a deep blue. The tide was on its way in so the waves were crashing brilliantly on the tidal defences. The wind was gusting so the spray carried up onto the paths. You get a wonderful view up there, across the bay of St Jean de Luz and on along the coast to Spain, all nestled beneath La Rhune the most perfectly shaped and deceptively high mountain I think I've come across on my travels. The trees are so much greener here at this time of year compared to in the UK. The wildlife is also abundant as a myriad of birds stop off for some R&R before migrating further south. After my run I braved a dip in the sea much to the amusement of the locals, I lasted about two minutes.

Grabbed some freshly baked pastries and breads on my way back home and all settled for a lovely breakfast on the balcony. We have two friends with us at the moment, Clare, a long-term friend of my wife, Maria, and her son Alex. We picked up a Chinese pamplemousse at the market yesterday, hugely thick skinned but delicious and with no tart taste (I always hate the sour taste of normal grapefruit first thing). Given its the end of the school holidays there were hoards of Parisians promenading late morning. The wee cafe beneath us was crammed full of conversation, coffee and Marlboro Lights. Today is the Day of the Dead (All Saints or Tous Saints), chrysanthemums add splashes of colour around town and people remember those who have moved on on a more permanent basis. Went for a walk to work off some of the croissants. Managed to find a table in the sun for lunch at Le Majestic and after a lovely dish of saucisses headed off to Bilbao. The two hour drive took us through the Pyrenees into Spain. The architecture changes dramatcially once you cross the border and the Basque white, red and green postcard buildings give way to a less structured tangle of more modern apartment blocks. Quite a contrast. Once in Bilbao we dropped the girls of at the Guggenheim and the boys headed for the San Mames stadium, home to Athletic Bilbao FC. Alex is a huge football fan and I was keen to experience sport in Spain.

We took the tram and frequented a few simple very masculine bars for a couple of beers and obtained tickets behind goal. Way before kick-off the place was bubbling with enormous flags waving throughout the forty thousand throng, some aligned to the club and just as many adorned with the iconic Basque flag (kind of like the Union Jack but in red, white and green). The match wasn't brilliant from Alex's reaction but the noise was terrific and though overtly passionate very non-threatening. By the time the final whistle had gone (Bilbao lost 1-4 to Villareal) we had even picked up some of the songs. As we were leaving we realised just how cold it had become so sought out the girls as quickly as we could. After spending a couple of joyous hours ambling around the Guggenheim they had headed to a place called Etxanobe in the massive Palacio Euskalduna. Thankfully it was five minutes from the stadium and on the way back to the car. Although we were cold and hungry (it was only at half time that we realised that the many silver wrapped things in the bars were sandwiches which some 39,998 of the crowd had enjoyed) they relished telling us just how fantastic dinner had been, a very grand affair and the girls being the girls had ended up chatting with the chef and owner Fernando Canales who gave them each a parting gift of his latest cook book signed in person. I must remember to enjoy a dinner there the next time I am across. We had to settle for hot chocolate and a day-old croissant (well Alex had a hot chocolate as there was only one left) before making the 90 minute drive home. As we neared St Jean de Luz it began to rain hard. We dashed up to the apartment and straight to bed.