Monday, June 20, 2011

A Tourist's View: Part II The Basque Coast

In this part, I no longer get to play tour guide. Together we discovered Guipuzkoa and southern France visiting places new to all of us.

Our plan included meeting friends at noon. On the way we stopped in Gernika. The last time the Casa de Juntas building was closed. This trip we had just enough time to see it. The building is quite beautiful and I especially enjoyed the stained glass ceiling. Of course it was nice to get some close up pictures of the original and the offspring famous Árboles de Gernika, the very important oak trees I talked about in my previous post.

From there we headed to Lekeitio where we found our friends from Vitoria, José, Rosa, and their girls. They had met Kevin and Lynne on a previous trip to the states when we were all in California together. It was nice to have them as our tour guides along the coast.

After walking around Leketio for a bit we began our drive along the coast. The scenery was amazing and the roads were quite curvy. Morgan learned the hard way that she needed to look out the window, not down at her DS. We went through several small towns along the coast and eventually stopped at Zarautz. It was nice to get out of the car, stretch our legs and find a meal. As it turns out, we happened upon a triathlon. It was a really nice course as the swim started in a neighboring town and finished on the beach of Zarautz. Our lunch spot was right along the rows of bikes. I'm not sure where the bike and run went exactly but with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, it had to be a beautiful course.

We have noticed that they take their races seriously here. They have relatively short time maximums on their courses so that if the racer doesn't finish each event within a certain amount of time, the racer is disqualified and not allowed to finish. I suspect that makes it easier for the race officials and volunteers. Of course that would also be very disappointing for someone who has trained for a race and then doesn't get to finish it.

Following lunch The kids let out some steam on the beach and in a park.

Our travels continued on to San Sebastian. Parking and traffic were tight as always so we headed up Monte Igueldo to take in the spectacular views of San Sebastian below and a bit of amusement. From the top of the tower which was built in 1778 as a lighthouse, we had a great view of the city, the ocean and the amusement park. The girls took a ride on the roller coaster, known as the Montaña Suiza (not rusa). In the center of the tram is a man whose job is to handbrake the coaster throughout the ride. Can you imagine spending your entire day on a roller coaster, repeating the same ride? Another unique feature is the view of the Cantabrian Sea from the coaster set in the mountains. So, I guess if you have to ride a coaster all day long it helps to have amazing views.

Not far from San Sebastian we found our casa rural, Artola, in the mountains. It was in a great location overlooking the coast. We were welcomed by a herd of grazing sheep. The downstairs part is a sidrería, cider house, but it wasn't serving on Saturday as it's a small family run place and it's past season. After settling into our rooms, we headed down the mountain for dinner. We ate at Petritegi Sagardotegia cider house. The food was delicious and plentiful but the girls favorite part was catching the cider in the glass. There is an art to it and according to those who frequent these places, the cider tastes different if it is poured from far away and hits the bottom of the glass with a splash.

After breakfast we headed to France. We visited a really cute town in the Basque region called San Juan de La Luz. The walk around town was beautiful yet much more touristy than any of the other places we have been. Many little souvenir shops and specialty shops selling "traditional" goods such as woven shoes and items made from striped fabrics that are typical of the Basque region. We also happened upon some sort of horse event as there was a parade of people on horseback dressed in traditional costume and marching their horses. We saw no graffiti on the walls of this French Basque community unlike what we have seen in much of the Spanish Basque region.

We then moved on to Hendaya where we stopped for lunch and to take in the views. It was there that we parted ways with our friends from Vitoria.

We decided to head home stopping for a quick photo shoot in Mutriku. One of the more interesting features we saw was a "natural" pool. They had built a wall in the ocean in a protected but relatively deep area. The tide naturally fills and cleans the pool daily. It was protected so safe for people of all ages to swim and big enough for lap swimming.

All in all it was a busy but very nice weekend of seeing new sights and sharing time with good friends.

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