This day’s plan to see Oloron and find a beret came full circle much later during the trip for Kristin Beach’s wedding.
19 Mar, 2115, Hotel Plaza, Biarritz
Surprise. Today was to be an outing to view the Pyrenees. The plan was to drive to Pau & Oloron Ste Marie, with stops at Grotte Pech Merl (near Cahors) & St Bertrand de Cummings. After the first leg turned out to be pretty slow (though scenic) we skipped Pech Merl. We also skipped a toll road resulting in a longer, slower drive. The N-roads are typically 2-3 lanes, with the center lane available for passing some of the time. The D-roads are 2 lanes & we often spent a long time behind a slow truck. The toll road is similar to Interstate in US. On the way to Pau, we took a side trip to Ste Bertrand de Cummings, a medieval town with quite old cathedral (see guidebook & pix) & nearby Roman ruins. The town is in 2 parts. The historical high part, walled, & a lower part. We parked the only car in a 100-place lot & walked past the cathedral looking for a restaurant ~1pm (we heard the bell on the hour). The town was like a ghost town, no one walking or driving. One bar was open, but prop told us nowhere to eat in high town (we think). After walking a bit more (incl. past a family of 3 eating on their terrace) we went back to car & drove to low town. S spotted a sign for a restaurant open all year. This was a special spot. Apparently locals eat there all the time; no menu; we didn’t know what or how much to expect. Each place had 2 plates, stacked. Waitress brought 3 servings of ~1/2 cup of a rice/salmon cold casserole w/ 1/2 hard-boiled egg, 3 slices of salty corned beef, 3 slices of sausage ~ 3″ across, 1/4″ thick, basket of bread (which saved C), carafe of red wine & water, & shredded carrots with a light dressing. The sausage was not real tasty, (but it had an effect on S), and the corned beef was quite salty; but the rest was very good. I felt sorry for C, eating only the bread, and figured we’d have to find her something else to eat soon. Then the waitress came and took our top plates & left the fork & knife! Then she brought a salad (lettuce), fried potatoes & 3 slices of steak! We were already full!! But of course we did our best. C said the meat was heavenly, and ate her fill. Then she & I had ice cream (had to peel the foil off strawberry/choc/vanilla). The locals were in & out, and at least one couple (tourists) appeared amused at us. The place had a mounted wild cat & boar’s head (very large and fierce-looking).
From there we passed through Pau & onto Oloron (for reasons that are obscure). The town is the source of berets (didn’t see any), chocolate & linen. We were tired & considered finding a hotel, but didn’t really like the town, so carried on to Bayonne. All of this area’s towns are industrial with suburbia all around; pretty depressing. Got to Bayonne just before sunset, but passed a decent-looking hotel that appeared to have parking. When I got to a circle where I could turn around, I got in an inside lane & couldn’t get out; so I went around again, but got in outside lane too early, and had to leave circle in direction of Biarritz. I didn’t feel like turning around again, and S had always wanted to go there, so we just kept going. On driving around a bit, we found this hotel with parking & a snack bar a block away. We can see the ocean from our window.
It seems we spend a lot of time looking for food, either a restaurant, creperie or market. Eating should be more relaxing, but with all the driving, and wondering whether C will eat, it isn’t. We have been ‘on the go’ a lot, but I hope the pace slows a bit.
19 Mar, 2115, Hotel Plaza, Biarritz
Our general plan included day trips from the gite-of-the-week, with typically one night in a hotel per week, near the extremity of a trip too long for one day. This week it was to be the Pyrenees. Since this was the first week, we were still learning to relate the different kinds of roads on our Michelin maps to the real world; we were also trying to calibrate our list of places to see and things to do to. Peche Merl was on Susan’s list, though I don’t remember what it was supposed to be, and we weren’t sure it was open yet. So when the trip started out slower than expected, we cut that branch of the trip out and headed south/west.
Near some city (it might have been Pau), we saw a SupperGuppy aircraft, the type used for transporting rocket boosters of large diameter. We had never seen one before, except pictures, and it was amazing that something so ill-proportioned could fly.
Ste Bertrand de Cummings was a strange experience. The town was so quiet, we practically whispered the whole time we were there. We never got inside the cathedral, though we walked around it. There were lots of small lizards sunning on the southern side of the stone walls, very skittish.
The ‘lunch’ at the local inn was one amazement after another. When we got there, S asked if they served lunch, and we were shown to a table. The general impression was that they were not used to tourists coming in. There was a table with four place settings, partially consumed, but noone sitting; later some men in work-clothes came in and resumed their meal there. A couple (in traveling clothes?) who seemed foreign (British or ?) sat in one corner and seemed to watch us without staring. Susan and I looked at each other and couldn’t figure out why there were two plates at each place. When the first courses were brought, it seemed like a large lunch, and when the waitress left one of the plates and the silverware, we still couldn’t figure out what was going on. All of this took place with no speaking, since there were apparently no choices to be made. During the meal, there was a small dog wandering around the dining room, and when C and I got our ice cream, it ran over and stood on its hind legs next to our table. At one point it put its front paws on our legs. Our first experience of French dogs in restaurants! Pretty funny.
Oloron was a bust, confusing to drive in and hard to park. We walked down one main business street and looked in a few shop windows, but couldn’t see anything that interested us. I still don’t know why we went there.
Ending up in Biarritz was strictly comical. Going around that traffic circle in Bayonne (to which we also had no reason for going), Susan started yelling at me when it was clear I couldn’t get out at the point we had entered. I had already figured that out, but it was like going around in an airplane when the approach isnt set up right; you just go around and try again. Chrissy started getting upset when Susan got loud, but it didn’t take long to decide that going to Biarritz (only a few km) wasn’t likely to be worse than staying in Bayonne. The fact that I remembered Susan talking about Biarritz during our planning sessions at home clinched it.
When we got to Biarritz, we spotted a sign for parking on the hotel’s sign, so that decided that. Had no trouble getting room, though I got lost and couldn’t find it when they went up while I parked the car. The elevator opens onto a mini-lobby on each floor, with about eight doors. I didn’t remember the floor for sure, or the room number, and they didn’t leave the door open. I forget how I got in.
After getting settled, we went to the snack bar (a lot of glass, modern furnishings, booths). There was an American couple there, a fat man with a load voice, whom we ignored. We ordered hamburgers, but unfortunately Chrissy’s came with too many things on it. We had ordered in English, but the young waiter wasn’t very sure of himself and somehow it came out wrong. (1991-06-11)
Next morning we got up went to Cahors then to Toulouse. We passed through and went to high part of St. Bertrand de Cummings. No one was open except 1 bar. Told us no eating places in high town. We went to a year ’round restaurant and ate a bit. Correction, look at our menu!
- SM salt ham
- SM sausage
- SM salmon mixture
- SMC carrots (light dressing)
- C bread
- SM lettuce
- SMC fried potatoes
- CMS steak
- MC ice creme
Then we went to Oloron, a berets place. Of course, we don’t see any! We went on to Bayonne, got there about sunset, and passed a good hotel with parking. Got to a circle, Pop got on an inside lane and couldn’t get out! Went around again and (by accident) headed for Biarritz. We found the Plaza Hotel and a snack bar. Could see Ocean from our window. Biarritz is a seaside resort, so walked around a bit. They had some great rocks and statues! Saw a beautiful butterfly pin – but shop was closed for season. Checked out and headed for a nice place by the ocean. Walked along and came to a playground. I stayed there while M & D went to look at cliffs. Then we walked along the beach (stones) and went to car. Rode home through Bordeaux. Went shopping in Bordeaux. Got home safe.