The time has come to leave my friends behind and, along with them, France. I left without hurry this morning. It was raining when I got up but by 10:30 it had stopped and that was the cue I was waiting for. Ramona came out with me walking Burro, her Scottish Terrier, and a few hundred yards away from the house I left them and started the daily ride.
Progress was slow, I was riding into the wind and getting use to hills again. It took me a whole hour to cover no more than eight miles.
Things are rather different on the south side of Bierritz. Not only all the flat lands are gone but the architecture has a distinct alpine feel. I had been told there were similarities between the Basque regions and Germany but I, kind of, only get it now. Apparently the Basque language has similarities too German too.
I cannot say that France was incredibly scenic, in fact these few miles at the bottom might just be the better I’ve seen all along the west coast. In saying that I had a great time With Lorenzo and Ramona, I met Charly in Brittany and I had epic rain, glorious sun and some stages that really upped my street credibility.
All in all it was good, but now I was looking forward to Spain.
And when I got there, well, let’s say there was no marching band. One of the good things of the Shengen Agreement is that you can go through the borders of 26 of the EU member states without doing the Passport stop. The bad thing is that all the romantic paraphernalia built around moving from country to country has gone. The border post between France and Spain is now not on the main road between France and Spain, the motorway you can see in the background of the picture is the main artery now.
If there were no slow pedalling meanderers like me nobody would really pay any attention to these posts that I’m sure over the decades have witnessed much drama and intrigue.
But on we go. Things start changing really rapidly once you get into Spain. Some things are better, some things are worst. On the better list there is the fact that my Italian comes much more handy in the guessathlon that speaking a language you do not know is. If Italian and French are second cousins, then Italian and Spanish are brothers and that is good.
This language similarity opened the door to the second good thing of Spain, mobile telephony. The purchase and installation of a pay as you go sim card is milions of times easier than it was in France and, coming to think about it, in the UK too. I got into a Movistar shop in Irun and, in less than ten minutes, I was exiting with a new telephone number and 800Mb of internet for the princely sum of €15.
On the negative side Spain is a little less pretty than France, it looks like to me, much like in Italy, the presence of mountains reduces the scope for farming and the forces the population into heavy industries that lack the sense of bucolical peace that farmed land has.
It took me another hour and a bit but I eventually got into San Sebastian where I had afternoon coffee in an outdoor cafe where I had the chance of swapping the SIMs an get the internet back on to search for accommodation. It did not take long and I parked myself in an hostel just outside the old town. I got changed and decided to go exploring.
San Sebastian’s old town reminds me a lot of Italy. I am not sure if the large number of people around today was normal or was an effect of the fact the French next door were having a national holiday. The bars and shops were well occupied but what interested me more was the architecture of the town, with the cosy feel of the little alleys and the grandness of the squares encircled by porticos hosting bars and shops.
The people do not really match the expectation fed by the media of unemployment and want. To the contrary it appears to me that this must be a rather wealthy area. I did a bit of food shopping and bought myself a hat. It turns out it’s nearly winter and where I am going in the next two weeks temperature will probably be in single figures.
I also got into a few book shops to see if I could find a Spanish phrase book. I realise that my Ital-spanish would probably be more than enough to get me to the bottom of Spain and across the straight, but I thought that, as I am spending a few weeks here, it might be an opportunity to do better than that.
Tomorrow I have 50 miles in the plan, which will take me along the cost and then inland onto the mountains. I have a funny feeling that I will prove to be an over ambitious plan but, as always, I can chop and change it along the way. the good news is however that the weather should be good so, even if mountain tired, i suspect my mood will be ok.