Bordeaux, Lausanne (Monday 17 June)

We’ve decided to return to Lausanne to get in a good visit with Tim and Tanya near the end of this trip.

We farewell Mayté at the house in Bordeaux.  Yves very kindly drives us to the station for our 11.18 am departure.  Our trains take us to Lausanne via Paris, on two crowded TGV trips of 3.5 hours each.  Everything goes smoothly, apart from the usual stress of taking the Metro from Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon: it’s hot and crowded, with countless passageways, twists, turns and stairs.  We get there without problems except for a bit of a sweat.

Tim and Tanya meet us at Lausanne Gare at 7.37 pm.  As ever, it’s great to see them.  Lausanne is having its first run of hot weather for the summer (over 30 C for today and the next couple of days).  After a pasta dinner, we play the train game – triumphantly won by Hilary.

Bordeaux (Sunday 16 June)

Godzilla the Cold is finally letting go her grip(pe).

It’s a warm day, around 30 C; this is one of the very few warm days in the spring and summer so far.  There has been much public discussion of the reasons for the cold European spring.  Basically, nobody knows.  Also, of course, the cold anomaly is regional rather than global.

Because the day is warm, the main activity is a trip to the long, sandy beach on the Atlantic coast at Biscarosse-Plage, south of le Bassin where we had been with Yves and Mayté in 2008.  Mayté loves the beach; Yves is maybe less of a beach person but plays his part as driver and leader of the on-road part of the expedition.  We set off around midday, reaching the coast a bit after 1 pm.   The place is pretty crowded, not surprisingly.  We have some lunch at a local café, then walk through to beach and along it to the north for half a kilometre or so, to find a spot that’s not too crowded – Mayté chooses this.  After sunning ourselves on the beach for a while, we venture into the water: the surf is up and there are warnings about rips, so we take plenty of care.  The water is cold – colder than in San Sebastian – so we don’t stay in for long. We spend another couple of hours on the beach before leaving near 6 pm, along with most of the crowd.

Yves then takes us to the Dune de Pyla, the large sand-dune visible from the north shore of le Bassin – and indeed, the largest sand-dune in Europe.  We drive to the car park (about 10 minutes from our spot at the beach) and climb about 50 metres to the top of the dune.  It is impressively big, stretching north-south for about 3 km and east-west for over half a kilometre.  The view is fantastic: to the west, north and south is the coast and the channels connecting le Bassin to the sea, and to the east is the coastal pine forest.  There are many other people on the ridgeline of the dune; evidently it is a tradition to watch the sunset from here.  Also, today is Fathers’ Day in France and there are several large “papa” letterings (with hearts) on the dune slopes facing our viewing spot.

We finish a great outing with beers all round at a beach resort on the northern end of the dune.  Yves enjoys pointing out the casual-dress uniform of the local crowd, who are mostly rich in an understated but unmistakeable way.

On top of the Dune de Pyla, looking south

On top of the Dune de Pyla, looking south

Looking west to the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the Dune de Pyla

Looking west to the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the Dune de Pyla

Yves and Mayté

Yves and Mayté

Hendaye, Bordeaux (Saturday 15 June)

At around 8.30 am we check out of the hotel in Irun and walk across bridge to the train station in Hendaye, on the French side of the border.  There are no checks or passport controls, just a couple of locals taking their dogs on a stroll between Spain and France.  We take a crowded TGV to Bordeaux.

Yves meets us at the station and takes us back to his house.  It’s great to see him; we were last here 5 years ago, and not much has changed.  We have a delicious lunch of barbecued sardines and home-grown lettuce salad.  One change is the cellar, of which Yves is very proud; it’s a cylindrical space under the house, with prefabricated concrete lining and a spiral staircase, very nicely done, and very well stocked.

We get a load of washing going and have a quiet afternoon before Mayté returns around 5 pm from her teaching. Yves and Mayté have a delicious dinner prepared; apart from us the other guest is Barry, who returns today from Spain (and tomorrow goes to Finland).  It’s great to see these leading members of the old Turbulence Gang, and everyone is in fine form.  Yves produces the bottle of 2005 St Emilion red that we gave him and Mayté five years ago; it was too young to drink then, but now is agreed by all to be fantastic.

San Sebastian, Irun (Friday 14 June)

We check out of hotel with a full day to spend in San Sebastian before a short evening train ride to Irun.  Godzilla the Cold is still around.  Hilary is wonderfully caring and sympathetic, as she has been throughout by unwelcome connection with Godzilla.  Amazingly, Hilary has been impervious to Godzilla!

We have morning coffee in a café in the Old Town and reflect on the strangeness of the Basque language, one of the world’s most remarkable “language isolates”.  The reflection is aided by our very own Rosetta Stone: a text on the wall about chocolate, written in Spanish, Basque and English.  The Spanish is (sort of) recognisable to us as non-Spanish spekers, certainly with the help of the English translation, but the Basque is utterly strange: words and syntax bear no recognisable relationship to either of the other two.  Basque is not part of the Indo-European language family.  On one hypothesis, Basque is a remnant of an ancient European language spoken before the various Indo-European languages became dominant; a sort of Wollemi Pine of European languages.

The Rosetta Stone: a text about chocolate in Spanish, Basque and English

The Rosetta Stone: a text about chocolate in Spanish, Basque and English

We spend the next couple of hours in the aquarium. The self-guided tour (marked by arrows) first passes a history of shipping and fishing in the Bay of Biscay, including many model ships and dioramas of wharf scenes – nice, but not what we paid 13 Euros each for.  Eventually we come to the main aquariums, which are large enough to hold schools of fish, turtles and sharks.  I don’t know how the keepers prevent them from eating each other.  We feel after a couple of hours that it’s been an interesting and worthwhile experience.

Lunch is in another tapas bar (of course), and again is delicious.

I decide that we need to swim at least once on this trip, and that this afternoon will be the time.  The day is fine and warm, and Godzilla the Cold is abating a bit – besides, I’m sick of having Godzilla limit what we can do so much.  Let’s just do it!  We walk to the northeast city beach and find well-equipped changing rooms with lockers, showers and so on.  We change into swimmers, though our travel towels are ridiculously small.  The beach is crowded, with many swimmers, surfers and surf-skiers in he water.  We eventually go in to the sea; it’s cold and the waves are big, but it’s great to swim at least once on this trip!  I stay in only for a short time, Hilary for a few minutes longer.

Swimming beach in San Serbastian

Swimming beach in San Serbastian

After the swim we return to the hotel, collect bags, and walk to the station for a short train journey to Irun.  This is the Spanish member of twin railway towns, Irun and Hendaye, on either side of the Spain-France border on the coast of the Bay of Biscay.  In Irun we walk 2 km to the Hotel Aitana, right on the border; it’s a truckstop hotel – it would fit into Narrandera very well apart from the language – and it’s fine for one short night.  We have truckstop food for dinner – chicken, chips and salad with grated carrot – that could be found in any Australian country roadhouse.

San Sebastian (Thursday 13 June)

We arrive on time in San Sebastian at 10.38 am after breakfast on our sleeper train.  It’s a rainy morning.  We walk to the Hotel Arrizul and wait in a local café for check-in, having fresh orange juice and coffee and watching the local life (a couple with a gorgeous three-month-old baby, and an old father with a middle-aged daughter who say practically nothing to each other).

After checking in to the hotel we explore the city in the afternoon, as the rain has stopped by now.  San Sebastian is well known as a town where the beaches are right in the city, and indeed we see surfers in wet suits with their boards on the streets, mingling with the townsfolk.  It’s clearly the way things are done here.

We walk across the bridge to the old town, and climb a hill between the two city beaches.  On top there is an old castle and fortification, along with an enormous statue of Jesus Christ with open arms (and a ladder up his back).  The views are great, though the day is still grey following the morning rain.  We walk to the seaward side of this bluff where the swell is breaking on sloping rocks.

We have delicious tapas in the old town for dinner – San Sebastian is known for its gastronomy, centred on tapas with a seafood theme. The thing to do is to go from bar to bar, having a drink and a few tapas at each.  We try this, but quickly find out that it’s hard to control how much you eat; after two bars we have eaten more than enough.

The fort, from the seaward side

The fort, from the seaward side

Stairway to heaven

Stairway to heaven

 

 

Lisbon (Wednesday 12 June)

The Godzilla Report:  Godzilla the Cold is still an unwelcome companion, little different from the last few days.  However, we’re going to do things anyway.

After sorting out hotels for the next few days; we go to Sintra again for the afternoon to see Quinta da Regaleira – an amazing place recommended to Hilary by friends of Chloe, our AirBnB host.  It’s a vast garden attached to an ornate neo-Gothic mansion, but much more than that: the garden is filled with grottoes, waterfalls, wells, secret tunnels and hidden passageways.  It’s a fantasy land brought to reality in vast scale.

We have less than two hours to explore, but could easily have spent a day here.   It would be a paradise for kids!  The kid in Hilary loves it and wants to go through every secret tunnel, and the kid in me is happy to be towed along.  We give a little time to exploring the mansion – neo-Gothic, with an alchemy laboratory and countless statues and friezes of mythical beasts and gargoyles, including a statue of a kangaroo on one turret along with a serpent and a dragon!

The whole thing looks mediaeval, but it was actually built between 1898 and 1912 by one Carvalho Monteiro – clearly a man with imagination and passion, as well as vast quantities of money made in the Americas.  After several changes of ownership since then, the garden and mansion are now owned by the Municipality of Sintra and is open to the public, as it should be.

Quinta da Regaleira:  the neo-Gothic mansion

Quinta da Regaleira: the neo-Gothic mansion

Quinta da Regaleira:  a fantasy castle

Quinta da Regaleira: a fantasy castle

Quinta da Regaleira:  a fantasy tower, with Hilary as an enchanted princess

Quinta da Regaleira: a fantasy tower, with Hilary as an enchanted princess

Quinta da Regaleira:  Hilary among the gargoyles

Quinta da Regaleira: Hilary among the gargoyles

Quinta da Regaleira:  behind an enchanted waterfall

Quinta da Regaleira: behind an enchanted waterfall

Quinta da Regaleira: the roofline of the neo-Gothic mansion, including an alchemy laboratory built in the early 20th century

Quinta da Regaleira: the roofline of the neo-Gothic mansion, including an alchemy laboratory built in the early 20th century

We return to Lisbon around 6.30 pm, and pack for departure from the AirBnB.  We have a sleeper train to San Sebastian, leaving from Lisboa Santa Apolonio station at 9.18 pm.  We take the metro to the station and have some dinner in a very noisy bar – tonight is the culminating party for the Festival of Saint Anthony of the fish, and already, even before 8 pm, the town is going wild.

We finally get on the train and rumble into the night.  A trip on a sleeper train is definitely part of the experience!

Lisbon (Tuesday 11 June)

Godzilla the Cold is still hanging around, but despite Godzilla, today I’m determined to go to Sintra and Cabo da Roca.

After making train reservations for the next stage of the trip, we set off on the 40-minute train ride from Lisbon to Sintra.  I’m keen to show Hilary the Moorish palace that I’d seen back in 2000, but I’m not sure what to ask directions for – “moorish castle” or “national palace” are the options on our guide map.  I opt for “Moorish castle”.  It’s not the one I wanted. We’re directed to a bus that takes us up a steep hill to the castle overlooking Sintra.  We walk around the parts that are accessible without buying a ticket; these are ancient Moorish battlements and a more recent Christian church, all embedded in thick forest.   There is a lot of restoration going on, including some archaeological digs.  Although not our intended destination, it’s a good thing to see.

The Moorish Castle

The Moorish Castle

The Moorish Castle

The Moorish Castle

We have a light lunch at a café near the station, and then set off for Cabo da Roca by bus.  Cabo da Roca is the most westerly point of mainland Europe (and Eurasia), and is an important marker for our three-month journey: getting there means that we’ve accomplished the crossing of Mediterranean Europe from its most easterly to its most westerly points, entirely by surface transport.

We reach Cabo da Roca at about 2.45 pm.  It is a small-scale tourist magnet, with a visitor centre where you can buy, for 11 Euros, a personalised certificate saying you’ve been there.  Many Japanese and other tourists are queuing for this, but I decline the offer.

Away from all that, the beauty and reality of the place become apparent.  The cape is on steep 50-metre cliffs falling away to the Atlantic Ocean.  Long, deep swells are breaking on the rocky shore below us, and on several vicious outcrops of black rock in the sea.  It’s easy to imagine how ships through millennia must have taken care to give this place a wide berth, and what must have become of those who became caught on this lee shore to the Atlantic westerlies.  Indeed, the wind is from the west today.  An active lighthouse still stands on the top of the cliff, even in a time of GPS navigation.  Mist is blowing in off the Atlantic, shrouding the whole scene enough to stop us seeing further than a kilometre or two along the coast in either direction.  The land is stark and treeless, with grasses and succulents dominating the vegetation.

We take a lot of photos, and have another tourist take one of the two of us.  Feeling great about this culmination of the trip, we take the bus for Cascais after an hour at Cabo da Roca.

We continue by bus to Cascais, a waterside tourist town on the northern edge of Lisbon Harbour, where we have a welcome icecream from a beachside stall – the day is warm – before heading back to Lisbon by train to be home by about 6.30 pm.

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

At Cabo da Roca

At Cabo da Roca

The Cabo da Roca lighthouse

The Cabo da Roca lighthouse