Basque region.

With the Tour de France behind us, we explored Bordeaux the next day, before collecting a rental car for the following week. Bordeaux was deservedly voted the best city in Europe in 2015. We enjoyed walking through the city and visiting its landmarks.

La cite du Vin

La cite du Vin

Pont Chaban-Delmas.

Pont Chaban-Delmas.

Church

Rue Notre Dame

The Toyota Yaris is a hybrid vehicle and getting used to it was hilarious. After leaving it in the hotel’s parking garage for the night, I couldn’t get it started the next morning. After 10 minutes on my mobile to Toyota, I discovered that the engine does not need to start – it quietly pulls away on battery power, only starting the engine when required. Now that we have learned the ropes, I can recommend this car – it has all the features you find on the luxury BMW’s and Merc’s. The difference? It’s exceptionally economical and easy to drive and park – particularly on these narrow roads.

Following: Saint-Jean-de-Luz street scenes.

Following: Saint-Jean-de-Luz street scenes.

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Due to a painful sternum and coccyx, after my Lance Armstrong impersonation, I asked Annie if she could drive down to Spain and back, while I shifted from cheek to cheek and enjoyed the scenery. The drive down to Saint-Jean-de-Luz took less than two hours, with Annie “Fritterpaldi” hurtling down the freeway at 130km/h cheek by jowl, with all the big trucks. Talk about scenic – it will be difficult to beat Saint-Jean-de-Luz on the Bay of Biscay. Even Louis the 14th had a weekender down here!

Louis, lead lute player for the heavy medieval rock band "King"

Louis, lead lute player for the heavy medieval rock band, King. (Apologies to Brian May of Queen)

Street scene Saint Jean

Street scene Saint Jean

And another one.

And another one.

At Daan and Gretel’s recommendation we drove to the vintage rack railway dating from 1924, to take the 35-minute ride to La Rhune’s summit at 905m. The first summit of the Pyrenees mountain range, it overlooks the Basque coastline from Biarritz to Saint Sebastian and the seven provinces of the Basque country.

Le Petit train.

Le Petit train de la Rhune.

Mountain sheep on the tracks.

Mountain sheep on the tracks.

View from the top.

View from the top.

Crazy mountain bikers.

Crazy mountain bikers.

After two days in this area, we drove into Spain to follow the coastline to San Sebastian and Bilbao in Northern Spain. I relived a similar journey along this coast to Oviedo, with four friends in a camper van back in 1975. Much has changed since that time, notably the new motorways and the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. But first San Sebastian: Marketing itself as the new cultural capital of Europe.

Bridge design: Baroque, LSD? wtf!

Bridge design: Baroque, LSD?

Old city streets.

Old city streets.

The Basque pub where we were feted with tripe and bacalao.

The Basque pub where we were feted with tripe and bacalao.

Every city needs and icon: Sydney has its Opera House, Coffs Harbour has its Big Banana, Bilbao has the Guggenheim Museum.

More sculpture than architecture - this building left me breathless.

More sculpture than architecture – this building left us breathless.

On the river bridge, with a busker playing classical clarinet - can it get any better?

On the river bridge, with a busker playing classical clarinet – can it get any better?

So relieved I didn't have to do the working drawings.

So relieved I didn’t have to do the working drawings.

Jeff Koons' Tulips outside.

Jeff Koons’ Tulips outside.

Richard Serra's enormous corten steel sculptures inside.

Richard Serra’s enormous corten steel sculptures inside.

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The best busking act ever!

Jeff Koons' "Puppy" at the Guggenheim entrance: 12.4 m high with 38,000 plants. Being re-vegetated when we visited.

Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” at the Guggenheim entrance: 12.4 m high planted with 38,000 plants. Being re-vegetated when we visited.

Regular Bilbao, non-Gehry architecture.

Regular Bilbao architecture.

Statue of a comedian named Tonetti.

Statue of a comedian named Tonetti.

After two delightful days in Bilbao, we headed back to France, stopping in Biarritz for a day to enjoy the fine weather, beaches and restaurants.

Surf's up, straight off the Atlantic.

Surf’s up, straight off the Atlantic.

The Biarritz harbour.

The Biarritz harbour.

Annie drove us back to Bordeaux for our last night before flying out to Amsterdam. The little Toyota Yaris hybrid went like a dream and she drove like Emerson Fittipaldi.

Three things about this region of France which I really enjoyed: 1. There are more wine varieties in the supermarkets than food; 2. The women have great dress sense – not a pair of torn jeans in sight; 3. People are courteous and patient, both on the road and when you are trying to explain yourself. A final bonus for those interested: The property prices are extremely affordable – AU$250,000 will buy you a lovely place like Daan and Gretel’s in Cognac.

2 Comments

  1. Graeme Smith

    Surely you must miss working by now – or has this retirement bug really bitten hard..?

    Enjoying your blog. Keep it up..!

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