Amanda Bennett: A Year in Zaragoza, Spain

An Afternoon Alone en français February 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 6:36 pm

A coastal church in Biarritz

3.5 hours to go until Eliza arrives. I was expecting the Biarritz train station to be suitable for a few hours of waiting – but it is bitterly ocld, and the attached bar is already closed at 8:55 (definitely not in Spain anymore!!). I decided to wander down the street to an open café for some hot coffee, a warm place to sit, and a bathroom (which I thought was lacking in the station until I wandered out to the back and found it hidden away over there). The only bar that seemed to be open within walking distance was where I wrote this post in my little notebook and constant companion. It was filled with old men who definitely didn’t speak English, but “café” is the same in Spanish and French, and it certainly was good.

Part of a row of flags outside a seaside casino in Biarritz…

I had woken up at 5:15 that morning to be sure to get to the Zaragoza bus station on time. The first leg of my trip was to San Sebastián, where I’d have a couple of hours to buy a ticket to Biarritz and grab some lunch. Being tired, of course, I slept most of the bus ride away, and dwindled the other hour or so away admiring the green landscape of the País Vasco, which is a lovely sight compared to Zaragoza’s deserty surroundings. The tree-covered hills of the Basque Country also rather remind me of Western Mass, but slightly less beautiful.
Speaking of Western Mass, I stopped into an awesome store in San Sebastián with lots of imported products to buy something to drink, and while the bottled water was cheap, the real maple syrup certainly wasn’t!

Almost 11 euros (16 or 17 dollars) for this itty bitty bottle – I couldn’t believe it!!
We pulled into San Sebastián around 10:45, and I wet off in search of the PESA ticket booth, easy to find. Since the Biarritz bus didn’t leave until 2:30, I had plenty of time to walk to the old party of the city, especially since I already knew my way around from my prior visit. I even had time to wander through a couple churches – gothic with lovely stained glass, and where I discovered that the Basque word for church was, ironically, “eliza” – and found the hotel where we’d be staying the next night.
At the time of writing this, the bartender began to move chairs around – and I assumed he wanted to close – but I didn’t want to go out into the cold!!
Anyhow, back to San Sebastián, I bought some fresh-baked organic spelt bread at an all-Basque bakery on Calle Mayor I’d discovered with Heather. Delicious! All the bakeries’ windows were filled with giant, appetizing, white-frosted cookies with “San Blas” written in script black chocolate across the tops – so I had to try one!

They turned out to be anise spiced, but not too strong, so I rather enjoyed my monstrous cookie.
The bus ride to Biarritz was gorgeous, tracing the Basque coastline through Irún, Hendaye, and St. Jean de Lux.

There was no border post at all, just a sign announcing that we’d passed Hendaye’s city line and an abrupt change to French. I relished the comfort of travelling with Spanish speakers before venturing into a world in which communication would be extremely limited for me.
The bus stopped in Hendaye, as one passenger had indicated his intention to get off there – but no one responded to his announcement of “Hendaya!” As no one moved, the bus driver came to check our ticekts and force the Hendaya-destined passenger to get off. The guilty one was slouched in the back of the almost-empty bus. As the driver marched back to his seat, he complained to the six-or-so of us who were seated in the first few rows, “Qué cara – esto es lo que tiene, mucha cara!”, (literally, “what face – that’s what he has, a lot of face!”, which means he is slightly rude and takes advantage of things) and we all laughed our agreement. I chuckled too, because I understood – a sensation I was soon to miss painfully.
We arrived in Biarritz after about an hour, and I bid goodbye to the last few souls who I’d be able to communicate with. I managed to figure out that the bus that went to the Biarritz train station was the number 2, and that the last bus there ran at 8:32 – I’d have to catch that one and wait in the station until midnight and a half, when Eliza would arrive, and then figure out how to call a taxi.
At the time of writing it was 9:41, and I was back in the station – the café/bar had closed at an hour unthinkably early for Spain.
Anyhow, by hand gestures and my printed google map, I managed to find our hotel. Luckily, a group of French-speaking Americans were checking in at the same time as me, and were friendly and willing to translate for the hotel owner and me.
I dropped off my small bag in our room – a very cute clean one with a nice window. I then headed out to explore a bit. The beach was absolutely gorgeous!

The distant lighthouse.

It was incredibly windy, almost so strong that I couldn’t walk against it! But seeing as I didn’t have to worry about my hair, I didn’t mind and enjoyed the salty taste of the air.

However, it began to rain, and I took refuge in a juice bar I’d seen during my rambling. I was saved from an awkward hand gesture filled ordering process when I realized that the lady behind the counter was British! I ordered a carrot-raspberry-ginger smoothie, and sat down with Crime and Punishment, our next book for English class, to enjoy some warm and dry reading.
After spending enough time in the café, I went back outside to wander a bit more. I still had half-a-loaf of the bread from lunch, so I decided to buy some authentically French cheese to go with it. Somehow I knew the word for cheese, fromage, so I was able to locate a store with some. I first walked into a meat shop, since in Spain all meat shops always have cheese too. Greeting the butcher with a weak “Bonjour” and a “Je ne parle pas français”, I continued with, “fromage?” He replied, “Non,” so I continued my wandering down some well-lit side streets and found a little shop with delicious looking goat cheese! Between my French “fromage” and the worker’s “poco?”, I managed to buy a small slice for just 63 céntimos! (Which makes me feel better about the 2 euros bag of peanut MandMs I bought in the vending machine to fuel me through the next 2 1/2 hours of waiting!) Returning to the room, I discovered that the bread and cheese were perfect together – French goat cheese is way superior to that in Spain!!

A lovely French meal!

I headed out after a bit, hoping to stave off boredom by reading in a café rather than my room. I managed to order a coffee utilizing the waiter’s limited anglais. Around 8:10 I walked to the bus stop, where some girls tried to ask me directions in French. However, an older woman also waiting knew a bit of Spanish, so we talked about the cold and I asked how much the bus costs (I didn’t know “euro” could be pronounced so differently in French and Spanish!) until the bus came. It deposited me at the small and disappointingly small and frigid station, walked to the bar for my third espresso of the day, and then there I was – listening to my iPod and polishing off a bag of peanut MandMs, occasionally pacing to keep warm.

I felt really intense when the train station clock hit midnight.

I managed to reserve a taxi when one pulled up and I told him, “Mon ami allee, 12:30, ici”. I managed not to die of boredom mixed with insane excitement and a sugar high…and I was glad I hadn’t when Eliza’s train finally arrived and one of the best weekends yet truly began.

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