May 18, Bayonne

Breakfast: see above.

So this morning we left Bordeaux for the next stage of our journey. Even driving out of the city brought new sights, reminding me that there’s so much left to be explored, even after all our time there.

We stopped for a break in the little village of Moustey, and, of course, I wanted to stay much longer. The coffee in the bar was reported to be much better than that served at the hotel in Bordeaux. We strolled around the two ancient churches, argued about bell towers, and regretted that both were locked. We seem to be on the Santiago de Compostela route, as one of the churches was connected with a hostel for pilgrims. There was also a delightful parrot in a cage outside the bar. He kept offering me his posterior for a photo rather than his face. I even sang to him, but as I told his owner, he didn’t like my French. oh well. Back on the bus.

Our next stop was an eco-park in the Landes area. It’s a vast open area, and they’ve moved 18th & 19th century period buildings into the area to recreate a typical settlement of the early-ish 19th Century. This was not a village, no shops, but rather rather a farming community, with a landowner and sharecropper tenants. The main attraction were the sheep. Usually allowed to run loose in the common area, where their droppings are much prized to improve the sandy soil, they were instead penned up for shearing. They were just starting to set them free when we were leaving; it would have been fun to get closer to them .

Of course I was entranced with the wonderful period buildings, and got lots of photos. Some of them were wired for sound, and a dialogue between “residents” would begin when you tripped the camera. I preferred watching the mice scurry about in the barn; they definitely added to the feel of authenticity.  We had a guide for the official tour, which occured after a truly fantastic lunch. Probably not good scheduling. Also, the guide was sooooo slow getting to the point that it was usually easier to read the cheat sheets posted in each building. I found I kept leaving the group and drifting around on my own, and others were doing the same. The bee hive was between two sheets of glass, and one could watch them constructing their combs. Two little pipes led to the outdoors, and the guide said they used one pipe just for entrances, the other for exits.

One of the open buildings was a bakery, and delicious smells emerged from it. I presumed the baker used old style methods to bake breads–I saw an open fire, but not sure about ovens. I did buy a few little treats, I can’t remember the name, they were mini-brioches. It was very amusing to see this old-style baker operating a very high-tech electric powered cash register.

Found a guy working with what I was so pleased to recognize were mules, not horses. He groomed their coats over their rumps in a very ornate, nappy looking pattern. Look at the photos. There was an actor telling a story to some visiting school kids. I could only catch the words for “wolf” and “shepherd” and “sheep,” but it seemed delightful, and the kids were enthralled.

That brings me to the kids. Hundreds of them, from pre-school through primary grades, were at the park, buzzing around and having a great time in the gentle sunshine and welcoming outdoors. They all had backpacks, and brought their lunches, and were periodically organized by their teachers. They were all dressed alike–some combination of sneakers, jeans, sweatshirts, leggings, t-shirts–students and teachers. And the girls, even dressed for outdoor play, displayed a definite fashion sense. A line of a do-rag, a scarf, a short skirt over leggings, showed an innate fashion sense that I will never, never, never achieve. And get this: not one kid was fat. Not one. I noticed it casually at first, then began checking the groups. Every child was perfectly proportioned. American health experts would long for such statistics.

Now. Lunch. Dejeuner. We ate outside, with a view of the woods. Apparently, it’s not a real restaurant there, just a snack bar, but they agreed to whip something up, of local ingredients, that we could eat. I cannot begin to explain how utterly satisfying this meal was, to all of us.

We were outside, in perfect weather, with a large canopy keeping off direct sun. We started with a simple soup, some carrots, potatoes, a little pork, probably leeks, in a broth so good that no other ingredients were necessary. We were served family-style, and kept going back for one more spoonful, to taste that broth again and again. I know the photo of the soup doesn’t look fabulous; you’ll have to trust me on the taste. Next up was a delicious prune and pork meat stew. We debated long on tastes, and were told there was a little cinnamon–we had thought nutmeg–and some local wine, and the powerful local Armagnac is used freely, though perhaps not here. It was served with slightly-sauted potatoes, and there were repeated trips to the bowl for one more spoonful, to analyze the taste. wow. They had also given us lots of local red wine to aid the digestion. Dessert was a creme anglaise, simple custard, with a little local roll. I forget what it’s called, but it’s a brioche-type dough. And seriously good.

We finally made it to Bayonne. I don’t seem to be taking photos of my rooms. They’re fairly non-descript, and I tend to start scattering belongings right away, so they never look tidy enough for a photo. I have a tiny toilet in one room, by itself, and a shower stall, sink, and bidet in another room, and they’re separated by a closet. It’s always interesting to see how these very old building have been modified to accommodate modern plumbing and wiring–this one has little water pipes tracking along the bottom of the wall, three of them, in the bathroom.

Dinner was at the hotel, and yummy. We’ll be having quite a few meals here, and it looks promising. First up was a starter plate with delicious, very ripe melon and some of the famous Bayonne ham. Next was a rice paella with lots of seafood and a tasty drumstick. I realize I need to season my version of the dish more–more saffron, more paprika, more herbs. We finished up with a tarte tatin, apple pie. oh my indeed. Even the coffee rated a photo.

Did you find the photo of the beautiful cathedral spires, seen between buildings? That’s the view from my window. Think about it. I fall asleep watching them, and the bells wake me in the morning. The cathedral  begins and ends my day.

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