Had my second USAC excursion today!! We went to two towns; the first a Basque town named St Jean Pied de Port and afterwards Biarritz (same town I went to alone during the nasty windstorm)
The USAC students gathered at the University at 8:30 am to get on our charter buses for the trip.
About 45 minutes into the ride we stopped for a great view and got free Chocolatines for breakfast! Nothing starts my day off better than a perfectly flaky and buttery croissant filled with chocolate. Plus I got to eat it while enjoying this view!
I can’t remember the name of the little village –or the history, but there was some story, told to me in French, about a Princess who lived here and was accused of murdering her kids and thrown into the river…from this point possibly….and somehow she lived…wish I remembered more than the vague details, but that is about all I know of this place. We only stopped for 20 minutes or so.
After breakfast I was a bit more alert and paid attention to the Basque history lesson on the bus. We were told we would be given a quiz in St Jean Pied de Port to fill out from memory and were allowed to get help from the locals. There were several “Basque” prizes we could win. My greedy ears perked up and I learned quite a lot about the Basque country in France for that quiz:
- Basque country has 7 provinces – 4 large ones in Spain and 3 small provinces in France
- Only 30% of French school kids in the provinces learn the Basque language in school, but 99% of the Spanish kids do. (The language is nothing like French, not sure how close it is to Spanish)
- The Basque houses typical of France are white with red, blue or green shutters and roofs. The region we visited had red, but as you travel closer to the Ocean, green and blue become more prominent.
- The red was originally painted with ox blood
- A typical Basque house would have 3 stories. The bottom floor is for the animals, who help heat the house. Middle level is for the family and the top is where the hay and straw would be kept as insulation.
- I think I mentioned St Jacques Chemin in an earlier blog. It is a religious pilgrimage that passes through St Jean Pied de Port. There were many clam shells on doors signifying free shelter for pilgrims
- St Jean Pied de Port actually got its name because it is the crossroads of two important trails. In addition to St Jacques, there is also a trail that goes from Hendaye (coastal town just outside of Spain), over the Pyrenees and to the Mediterranean! If you walk it 8 hours a day, the journey lasts about 2.5 months! How epic would that hike be! My USAC director Robinna hiked it for 5 days, from Hendaye to St Jean Pied de Port
St Jean Pied de Port had a fortress, which we entered and climbed to the top of (picture of Vanessa above is taken at there) and the view was beautiful! This was the first village I have been to that is truly in the heart of the Basque country.
After the fortress, there was an hour or so of free time, during which I asked some tourists and locals for help with my quiz answers and researched Basque food and the provinces in a souvenir shop for more info. I added more than was required on the paper, mainly because the answers were easy to find and there wasn’t much to see in the town. After our free time USAC went to a ciderie for lunch!
Above: Zaid getting seconds on the cider!
Our Basque meal the following courses:
1) Jambon de Bayonne – kind of like a thick prosciutto, served on top of a dish that you don’t find in the US. Best comparison is chili.
2) Confit du Canard avec pommes des terres – A fried duck dish my host mom has made a couple of times with fried potatoes on the side. It is too greasy for me, but everyone else loved it!
3) Salad – Lettuce leaves with vinaigrette. Simple.
4) Fromage and Gateau Basque – The cheese was okay. The cake was delicious!! It has an almond paste inside =)
Oddly I didn’t like the cider. It wasn’t sweet like others I’ve had and I prefer Apple Frost to the Basque cider.
Did I mention there was one waitress for our group of 80 people? Bussing and serving a multi-course meal was definitely a chore for her and lunch lasted a good 2 hours. I was very impatient by the end and ready to get to Biarritz.
It was beautiful the last time I went, but absolutely incredible today!
I once again didn’t have time to get to that Museum of Chocolate, but I did go inside the Musee de la Mer (Sea Museum/aquarium). The seals were hilarious! This one had a rude awakening when his friend nudged him in the belly. His bark and panicked reaction reminded me of when you wake Roux up from a nap.
Afterwards Elly and I walked around the beaches for an hour and a half, saw the rock of the virgin and went inside a Catholic church where Saint Eugene’s crypt is. All in all my day was perfect, but I’m about to go to bed and can’t wait to catch up on my zzzzzzzs!
Oh, and forgot to add I got first place on the quiz and thus first dibs on the prize. Score! I now have a sweet Basque souvenir to bring home, but I’m not going to say what it is on my blog because I think it will be someone’s gift. I’ll put it in my FB album though.