Thursday, October 17, 2013

October 16 - Day Trip to Saint Jean de Luz, France

Day 6 - October 16, 2013

Got an early start.  Left the apartment by 8:05 AM to catch the local bus 24 to get to the Pesa Bus Station.  Pesa Bus to Saint Jean de Luz was scheduled to leave at 9 AM.  The local bus comes at 8:30 and the ride to Pesa Bus Station is about 20 minutes depending on traffic.  As we approached the bus stop, we saw Bus 24 pulling away.  It was the previous one because they come every 30 minutes.  Well the bus came at 8:35 AM and we were cutting it close.  Traffic wasn't too heavy but we were hoping to make all the lights.  Terry told me to watch the clock on my phone because psychologically it would make the time go slower and we'd get there in time.  It worked because we arrived at Pesa about 8 minutes before the scheduled time of 9 AM. 

At 9:50 we arrived at the train station in Saint Jean de Luz, which was the stop we needed to get off at.  Asked the bus driver where to catch the bus on return and he pointed across the street.  More on this later. Got off and went inside the train station to see if there was a tourist office to get a map and information on the area.  There wasn't one and Terry was trying to communicate with the attendant at the window, but she was somewhat rude and only spoke French so he didn't understand what she was saying.  I went up to her and asked where the tourist office was and the bathroom and she explained bluntly in French and I thanked her.   The tourist office was located a couple of blocks from the train station and the signs made it easy to find.  As we walked toward it, we came to the Les Halles market.  They had a few stalls of fish that were still open along with some vegetable stands.  What was very surprising was that they had fresh scallops there for only 3 Euros a pound!  Unheard of.  We contemplated about purchasing some but we were going to be in town until 7:15 PM and they wouldn't keep. 

Went into the tourist office and had a friendly young women who spoke English very well answer our questions.  We were hoping to get on the Le Train de Rhune ( a cog train to take you up the mountain for incredible views), but because the regular season is over, the operating times were totally screwy.  They only run from 9:30 - 11:30 AM and then again from 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM.  There's only one bus that runs to there from town and that leaves at 11:00.  Wouldn't make it in time and don't understand why the bus only runs at that time.  I guess it's because it goes to other stops as well.  She explained to us that it would be better to rent a car to explore the area.  This way you could get to the cog train on your own to make it, but by this time it was already too late to do that.  So we thought we might come back another day, but in the meantime, go back to the train station to check out the rental car prices.  We found Avis at the train station and managed to get a favorable quote from Stephanie, the woman who worked there.  The only problem is their closing hours.  They shut down at 5:15 PM, so you would have to bring the car back the next day or come the day before, stay overnight, and get it at 8 AM when they open.  So Terry and I decided we'd have to figure out which way we'd do this.   They wanted 150 Euros for one day, but Terry was able to talk her down to 94 Euros because he's an Avis Wizard member.  Though he didn't have his card with him, Stephanie said she'd still honor the discount.  After Avis, we went to the only only rental car place, ADA, and this girl only spoke French.  I managed to understand the information and they were a little less expensive on the car, but less mileage allowed.  We felt that we'd be more comfortable using Avis if we decided to do this.

At that point we started making our way into the town of Saint Jean de Luz to explore.  We headed first toward the water and beach area as this is a known fishing village in the French Basque Country.
When we arrived at the promenade walk, it was stunning!!  Here are some photos of the initial scenery surrounding the area.

Looking south along the beach of St. Jean de Luz

Basque homes along the shore

Fort Socoa guards the entrance to the Bay of St. Jean de Luz

Looking at the southwestern edge of the bay next to the fort

From here we moved eastward along the promenade and headed toward the lighthouse ( doesn't look like one though).  More beautiful architecture bordering the bay and our destination in the distance.

The Grand Hotel, St. Jean de Luz

Another hotel with unique architecture

Our destination, The "lighthouse" at the eastern end of the bay

We made it to the "lighthouse" which is about a 10 minute walk from the center boardwalk.  From here, you can get some incredible views of the beautiful Saint Jean de Luz.

The lighthouse on the cliff of Sante Barbe

The dam of Sante Barbe

The hilltop of Ciboure

Zoomed view of the Fort of Socoa

Wave boarder on the bay of St. Jean de Luz

Terry's gecko friend

Saint Jean de Luz is the main town at the center of the bay.  It is bordered by smaller villages within it's municipality.  They are Ciboure and Socoa to the southwest and Sante Barbe to the northwest.  These make up the border of the Bay of St. Jean de Luz.

After visiting the lighthouse at Sante Barbe, we headed back to the boardwalk to Cafe de Paris where we were going to  have lunch.  It was about 1:00 PM and the restaurant was going to close at 2:30 for the day.  The reason is because it's low season and this is mostly a tourist town.
Our lunch was great.  Terry had grilled squid and I had Axoa de Veau, a veal dish with vegetables was so good.  We had a beautiful view of the bay while we ate outside. The service was excellent and done by Phillipe the owner.

Cafe de Paris and at the right, Phillipe the owner

View from the restaurant

Our plan after lunch was to lay on the beach for a couple of hours since it was to be a warm sunny day.  Prior to lunch, it was very warm and nice, but after the clouds started pouring in.  We  had brought our backpacks with our suits, blanket, and towels, but unfortunately we didn't get to use them.  It was still beautiful though and we started making our way into the town.

As we walked along the water toward some of the sites, helicopters hovered overhead.  For what reason, we don't know.  The charming streets abound in this town, with colorful flowers and architecture.

We came to a small candy store with a pirate greeting outside and pirate motif and barrels of candy inside.

Johnny Depp look a like ?

Barrels of candy galore

From here, we come upon King Louis XIV house and the Church of Saint John the Baptist.
Louis XIV and Maria Teresa of Spain (daughter of the King of Spain) were married in this church.

Maison de King Louis XIV

Side entrance of church of St. John the Baptist

The elaborate alter

The massive organ

When we were through visiting the church, we walked across the bridge over to Ciboure.  I was looking for a Carrefour supermarket but quickly found out that "Carrefour" on the map meant a part of the town of Ciboure.  I had spotted an street sign for the supermarket when we were coming on the bus and thought that this was where it was.  Nope!!  I was going to look for some cosmetic that my daughter wanted me to get.   Anyway, we strolled along the dock of the bay  (sound like a familiar song?) on the Ciboure side.   Got some shots of some cool houses,  unique looking church exterior, and across the dock to St. Jean de Luz.


The fishing boat dock

The floral walkway around the dock

The bell tower of a church in Ciboure

The courtyard of the church

A unique house in the village of Ciboure facing the dock

Looking across to Saint Jean de Luz with St. John the Baptist Church in the background

We still had a few hours before our bus would leave to take us back to San Sebastian.  So we walked some more through the streets of St. Jean de Luz, bought some candy, and just took in the sights.  It's an absolutely beautiful, bright, and relaxing little town and the streets seem to go on forever.  It was definitely well worth the visit.

Remember I said I would come back to the return bus stop at the beginning of this post?  We made our way back in front of the train station to the stop where the bus driver told us to pick it up on the return.  It was now starting to rain a little bit, so we sat under a hotel awning behind the stop just waiting.  As usual, I get paranoid if directions/instructions aren't clear.  So, I headed in to the hotel on the corner to ask about the stop and the man at the desk said we were at the right place.  For some reason, I still wasn't convinced so I went into the Best Western  where we were sitting by and confirmed with them.  Yep, this was the spot.  Phew, now I felt more confident.  We had about 45 minutes until the bus came.  At the 10 minute mark, I asked Terry if we should move to the actual stop and he told me it was fine if I wanted to.  So with umbrellas in hand, we walked over and waited in the drizzling rain so I'd be sure.   The bus pulled up, got on, and we were on our way back.  What a wonderful day we had, beautiful views, great food, all in all good weather, and nice people (except for the woman at the train station).

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