I arrived in Biarritz yesterday at 22h 41 to conclude 25 hours of travel from Minneapolis. I spent the next day in the Bayonne area where I met up with a local whom I had met through couch surfing, and we spent the day paddle boarding and surfing. At the end of the day, we went to the boulangerie where we bought a fresh baguette, a delicious chocolate pastry, and five beignets which are balls of deep-fried pastries covered in sugar.
Surfing was surreal. In fact, it was the reason that I came to the Biarritz region in the first place. When I was younger, maybe twelve, I subscribed to Surfing magazine. The nearest waves are so far away from my tiny suburb in Minnesota, but watching enough Rocket Power and that trip to San Diego were enough to get me hooked. We rented two planches en mousse–surfboards for beginners with foam on top, managing to catch a few waves. The water was so crowded with surfers of all ages, everyone eager to catch a wave for just a few seconds.
That afternoon, my new friend, Lucie, gave me a ride to Bidart farther south along the coast, a 3o-minute drive from Spain. Les Pyrénees compose the backdrop of this beautiful city with its winding streets, clay-tiled roofs, and sun-tanned, ocean-sprayed residents. After locating the surf hostel in Bidart, we wandered towards the direction of the ocean, stumbling upon a path on top of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Part of it was wide open, the other part enshrouded in trees forming a tunnel; the scene was calendar worthy.
We took a side path that led us out of the tree tunnel, and we came out upon the most breathtaking view imaginable. 100 feet up, we stood on a small patch up level ground that stretched out like a peninsula, not into water, but a steep drop off in front of us and to our right. We were level with a flock of seagulls nesting in the cliff side. We spent a half-hour, maybe an hour there, talking about words in both French and English that were different for the other to pronounce; “purple squirrel,” and “beach,” not “bitch,” some of the funnier ones to hear her try and say.
I told her how I loved saying French words, no matter what word, they all sound beautiful in my opinion, and she responded by saying that her and her friends make fun of Americans by saying that the English we speak sounds like someone speaking through chewing gum leaving the mouth nearly sealed and allowing only ugly, distorted sounds, to escape.
After she left to go back to Bayonne, I went back to the surf hostel where I was greeted by my new roommates–a honey-mooning couple from France, another couple from Germany, two guys from Germany, and three girls–one from England and two from Australia, all drawn to the Biarritz area for the surf. All of them are extremely friendly and open, and that is the way that I have found France to be if one decides to be the same.
It felt like a relay race as I walked through the gates into the airport in Paris, hopping from one group of friendly Parisians to another. “Pardon madame, mais, est-ce que vous connaissez la station de train TGV? Pardon monsieur, mais comment est-ce qu’on trouve le terminal 2? Excusez-moi, monsieur, mais qu’est-ce qui se passe là?”… I asked so many questions today, and people could not have been friendly. Yesterday, I made the mistake of getting in the wrong train car. I was awoken a couple hours of later by a friendly, but confused woman whose seat I had accidentally taken. After the confusion had been resolved, she refused to take her seat, and chose to take the seat that I was supposed to be in instead. My friend Lucie drove me around Basque country, paid for my chocolate pastry and kept offering me the beignets that she had bought. She also made me breakfast, lunch, and dinner in her apartment. I tried to pay her multiple times for the hospitality, but she kindly refused in such a way that made you feel almost guilty for even asking. She had a smile and appeared happy to have done everything for me.
This whole experience so far has been overwhelmingly eye-opening, from a cultural perspective, but also from being taken aback by the kindness of the people that I have met. Other observations that I have enjoyed:
-Short-shorts are in down here, as well as speedos.
-The dairy products are so much creamier here!–the yogurt=fantastic.
-Low-flow toilets are the norm, as well as smaller eating utensils and less wasteful home appliances (washing machines, refrigerators, dryers (everyone seems to use clothes-lines), etc.).
-The majority of people down here are beautiful.
-The laid-back mien of walks, slow-lunches, and I-don’t-care-whose-watching-because-I-feel-like-kissing-you kisses.