“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes….”


Road trip southern France and Spain!

Ang and Warwick at the Biarritz beach.Sorry about the delay… I need to get into the mood for bloggging again, and now have a little bit of inspiration after our recent trip to Sweden. I have to start two weeks ago though… where Matt left off in Bordeaux.

Bordeaux was a beautiful little country town in Southern France. After arriving by train, we booked a budget hotel for the night – and when I say budget, I mean it… I guess in hindsight the room wasn’t too bad, it was clean and there where only a couple of cigarette burn marks in the bedding. Bordeaux is apparently one of the major wine producing regions of France, with hundreds of wineries dotting the surrounding countryside. As Bordeaux is also a university town, the main street is youthful – with all the usual French designer label stores on every corner. I couldn’t help window shopping, and had to be brought down to earth when Matt said we couldn’t afford the €600.00 Louie Vuitton hand bag.

Later in the afternoon, we met up with some friends from Australia – Ang and Warwick; they are driving around France, Spain and Portugal for three months, camping wherever they end up at night. After walking around town with Ang and Warwick, we decided on a yummy Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. After dinner and a quick chat, we parted ways – Ang and Warwick to go find a camp ground, and us to our 1 star hotel. Early the next morning, we caught a tram and a bus to the edge of town where we again met up with Ang and Warwick. They entertained us with stories of Gypsies, obnoxious Americans and other camp site companions they had met as we journeyed to the sea-side resort of Biarritz.

We finally found some beaches that rival those of home in Biarritz. It is a very posh, touristy area – where the surf beaches really are surf beaches. We spent the afternoon in the sun, watching the tourists more than the view. Matt ventured off to find some baguettes to make lunch and took and hour an a half to locate four croissants – the poor bugger, he did get to see most of the town though. After lunch and a bit of shopping, we again bid farewell to Ang and Warwick as it was time to find a place to rest our heads, we settled on a hotel with a “sea view room”,… three blocks from the beach and Ang and Warwick went off to find another campsite. It was a cute little hotel and like our hotel in Paris – it felt very homely. Later, Matt and I ventured out for dinner, and I experienced my first Spanish Paella (Biarritz is very close to the Spanish border). Matt watched on as I devoured prawns, shrimp, muscles and chicken pieces all served on a massive plate – I was very disappointed when I couldn’t finish it all, but the waitress told me that I had finished more than most men – so I still had my dignity.

We all met the following morning for coffee and decided that we would just have a lazy day on the beach and in the shops. I visited the Long Champ shop and restrained myself from buying anymore hand bags (although it should be mentioned that Matt has purchased more man-bags on this trip than I own handbags). In the evening we visited Ang and Warwick’s 5 star campsite for afternoon tea of French pastries and other yummy treats. The campsite was nothing short of amazing, with it’s own private beach and pool. Pretty flash! We made plans for the following day to visit Pamplona in Spain, with the hope of witnessing the first day of the famous Running of the Bulls Festival.

As planned we met our friends at 5am at the beach car park, and than drove the 20KM or so to the Spanish border, which we didn’t even realise we had crossed until the signs had changed from French into what we guessed was Spanish. We arrived in Pamplona to a sea of red and white people, and somehow happened to land a car park only a block from the main stadium where the bull run finishes. We found our way to the stadium by saying “Toro” to all the Spanish people walking (stumbling) past. Queuing for the tickets, we ran into some Aussies that had made their way over from London on a package tour. From their account, the opening party the night before had been pretty wild with much drinking, singing, drinking, mob rowdiness and drinking – tourists where already in hospital, before the bulls had even been released. Waiting to purchase entrance tickets, the Spanish locals showed us a new way of queuing – basically a free-for-all shove and hope that you get to the ticket window. We were able to get our tickets to the morning running, but the afternoon bull fight had already been sold out, which wasn’t a bad thing in retrospect.

The stadium atmosphere was awesome, the photos put across some of the atmosphere if you want to check them out. We joined in on a “Spanish Wave”, that rivaled the MCG’s and hummed along to the Spanish songs. These Spaniards sure know how to have a party. The brass band left the arena and then the “runners” started to arrive in the stadium… starting slowly with a few joggers and gradually speeding up to a sprint as the runners closer to the bulls tried to avoid their fierce horns. The arena quickly filled with thousands of runners, funnily enough – I think that I could pick a jersey from just about every AFL team. An ex-pat who had lived in Pamplona told us that an Australian or an American dies every year running with the bulls. I wasn’t surprised to hear this because there sure seemed to be a lot of dumb Aussies running with the bulls.

The crowed oooooed and ahhhhed as the bulls finally stampeded past…which was all lots of fun and every now and then a poor sucker (probably and Aussie) got picked up by the horns or trampled under foot of the bull,… the crowed seemed to really like that. The matadors did their best to heard the bulls into the gates on the other side of the arena, it was interesting watching how these professionals worked. Then the not so fun part began, a single bull was let into the arena for the thousands of runners to taunt,… watching exhausted animals being beaten, poked, kicked, slapped and tormented by thousands of half drunk barbarians wasn’t really our cup of tea – so we took a “stage right” and exited the stadium and left these animals to their sport of tormenting animals… I’m sure it is already under scrutiny, but surely the EU Animal Rights department should ban it! I won’t go on about it, we kind of knew what we where getting ourselves into – but being there, and seeing the cruelty to these animals really made us sick. On our way back to Biarritz, we stopped off for a coffee in the Spanish mountains, all a little emotional and mostly with our minds made up that this wasn’t a sport that we enjoyed.

A road trip to Barcelona was planned for the following day, through the very picturesque Pyrenees mountains. Matt probably said it best when he said, jaw a gasp “we don’t have those in Australia!”. We stopped for lunch in a gorgeous little town and enjoyed some more baguettes,… in a parking lot 🙂 We skimmed past Andorra and then hit some very impressive tunnels to finally reach Barcelona.

Our first impression of Barcelona was a very hot and dusty traffic jam, driving around for what seemed like hours, we eventually found our way into the town, located parking and got to our pre-booked youth hostel. Negotiating with the youth hostel reception was a bit of a nightmare, it appeared that more than we realised was “lost in translation” – the man serving us appeared to speak fairly fluent English, however he didn’t quite understand us (as we where changing our original booking). Throughout the argument, Ali – who had just flown in, joined us and got caught up in the discussion. We finally got our rooms and Matt and I ended up sharing a room with a really nice Australian guy called Shane, who had only bought a one way ticket and was hoping to get some work on boats off the coast of Spain or France. He was a bit of a free spirit, who only traveled with a guitar and a surf board. He was enjoying the Barcelona night life, getting up at midnight and returning at about 5am.

We went out for dinner, and after my previous promising experience of Paella, I decided to try it again. Matt ordered a pizza, beer and a coke; I ended up with the biggest beer that we had ever seen as Matt could barely drink the head. They had seen us coming however, charging us €6.00 for the coke and €9.00 for the beer. Needless to say I was pretty annoyed at the bill, but I was more annoyed when I spent the whole night throwing up the Paella in the youth hostel bathroom. BAD PAELLA! After a night in the youth hostel, with drunks coming in and out of our room (one even decided that our bin was the toilet) – we where reminded why we don’t like youth hostels!

The next day, a little groggy – we took in more sites of Barcelona. Starting with a local market to get a bit more of a feel for the place – the colours and smells have a certain vibe and we enjoyed watching the interactions between locals and shop keepers. We followed this up with a visit to the Picasso museum, which was a lot of fun and had a good collection of his early work – and his not so great ceramics (probably worth millions all the same). We enjoyed the buskers in the street on unusual instruments, and witnessed an interaction where a half naked man forced a busker out of the street because, he was trying to sleep. The museum was followed up with a nice lunch in a cafe (nice change from baguettes!) and then we spent the afternoon at the Sagrada Família. Gaude is credited with most of this bizarrely designed cathedrals architecture – it is hugely symbolic and meant to be an offering to atone for Barcelona’s sins. We where happy to hear that it is being funded purely by private donors and that the Vatican purse is not contributing a dime. We forwent the walk up the stairs into the towers as the queue was pretty long.

We rushed back to the hostel and snuck back in to get our luggage, to avoid having to pay the storage fee. We negotiated the public transport system and found our way to the airport. Going through security we experienced more Spanish queuing, then at Luton London airport I enjoyed the one hour, almost stationary non-EU queue, while Matt strolled through the EU queue. We finally arrived home at 2AM to find that our landlord had been over to make some repairs and on his exit had deadlocked the door,… that we did not have a key to. We tried the local hotel, but all the hotels in the county were booked out due to their proximity to the English Grande Prix. So we spent the evening sleeping in our car not getting much sleep as it isn’t too comfy and was parked between three pubs. Needless to say we slept all of Sunday away.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes….”

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