Our first thought was to book a fancy all-inclusive holiday in Greece, but then we remembered that Greece is a bit on the closed side at Easter. Then we remembered that Charlie had such a great time learning to surf in Lanzarote that we should try surfing somewhere nice. We’d heard good things about Biarritz: the surfing is legendary, and if David Millar chose to live there, the cycling must have been pretty good too. So, we booked a holiday through Surfholidays.com in an apartment with a sea view. Three surfing lessons were booked for me and Charlie, and we were all set to go.
Trouble was, the weather decided not to play ball. We noticed the weather forecast was set to rainy and a bit chilly, and packed a jumper or two. On Saturday we arrived to general coolness and cloudiness. No matter, we thought, it’ll clear up, and we can always play on the beach even if it’s dull. Easter Sunday was pretty grim: howling winds, horizontal rain…the works. We and a couple of hundred other glum French families trudged over to Biarritz’s main museum, a lovely bit of art-deco architecture about ten windy, rainy minutes away. The museum had an aquarium in it, which whiled away an hour or two…
Monday was sunny! Hurrah! To the beach, to meet with La Vague Basque surf school! Oh they were so nice. All Patrick Swayze hair and tans and six-packs. Only their English was about as good as my French. And Charlie and I were the only English people on the course. And Charlie was the smallest in her class. Still, they cooed appropriately at her grave little face, and got her riding the waves on her own. In fact, she nearly managed to stand up on the board. I, on the other hand, managed the downward-facing-dog-into-classic-surf-stance on dry land, but out in the waves, I had trouble climbing onto the board. David the teacher tried his best to be encouraging and lovely, and I wouldn’t say I hated every minute. Just every other minute.
- Tuesday: more rain. Well, it was nice in the morning, but by the time Charlie and Martin returned from a beach-related frolic at lunchtime, the weather had turned nasty again. We were supposed to have another lesson at 1.30, but Charlie said she didn’t fancy surfing in the rain, and I was dreading having to splash around in near-freezing water, wetsuit or no wetsuit, so we went and had a slap-up lunch at a dockside cafe instead.
We spent the rest of the day reading, glaring at the rain, doing light shopping, and glaring at the rain again. Still, I finished my set book for this unit of my history course. Martin contemplated hiring a bike, but admitted that his man flu and the lack of a decent bike route into the mountains was putting him right off the idea. In fact, we didn’t see a single serious cyclist in Biarritz. Or a non-serious cyclist, for that matter. Not even an elderly bloke transporting onions…
- Wednesday: Overnight we decided that if the weather was still awful, we’d go to the office de tourisme, and ask them what people do in Biarritz if they can’t get to the beach because of the horizontal rain. The young woman gave me a look and a timetable for buses to St Jean de Luz. The bus to St Jean de Luz had just left, and there was an hour to wait (in the cold) for the next one, so we went to Bayonne instead.
- And that turned out to be the best day of the holiday. Bayonne is a proper working town at the confluence of two rivers. It had the most beautiful buildings, a pretty little cathedral, and an excellent museum of Basque history and culture. There was also a significant collection of Jewish memorabilia, including a giant matzo. There was also a giant espadrille, but I was too busy marvelling at it to take a photograph.
- Thursday was St Jean de Luz day. The weather looked quite hopeful in the morning, but we were wise to the vagaries of French weather by this time, and took the bus anyway. Well, we would have taken the bus, only the bus-stop we were going to use was out of order owing to water works that were related to the water works that had shut off the water to our apartment for the day (oh yes, forgot to mention that – as did the hotel management until the day before, in a small notice in French pasted to the hall door). After half an hour of freezing quietly opposite the local Hilton, we admitted defeat on the bus front, and called a taxi.
We probably would have liked St Jean de Luz even more if it hadn’t started pouring with rain as soon as we got there. The tourist information people were certainly a lot nicer, and I bought a lovely umbrella that was immediately hijacked by Charlie. Our attempt to see the Louis XIV house was thwarted, so we had a coffee, mooched around the town for an hour or two, then went back to the bus station to get a bus to Sare to look at some incredible caves (caves are a thing – as is buying the most taste-free fridge magnet souvenir we can find). I should have been warned by the slightly foxed expression on the bus driver’s face when we asked him if he was going to Les Grottes. He put in a call to check that they hadn’t been flooded by the rain (they hadn’t), and only then would he take our two euros. The journey to Sare was beautiful. Martin took notes on the route into the mountains, and we saw a pottock, a Basque wild pony, sauntering across the road. The grottes were way outside the village, so we checked the return time of the bus with the driver and agreed we’d be back at the bus stop at 16:20.
The grottes were fascinating, and I will expound at length on French ideas of instructional design in my work blog. There was a lot of son et lumiere, there were models of cavepersons wearing bad Beatles wigs, and there was plinky-plonky “primitive” music to get you into the mood. Well, it got me into a mood, anyway.
We had a few minutes before the bus, so we mooched around the gift shop, and bought a coffee. Then at 16:15 we saw a coach-like vehicle struggling up the hill and driving off. Was that the bus? Nah. Too early. Half an hour later, we checked at the shop and yes, that was the bus. The last bus. So…another taxi. The fare to Biarritz was only 10 euro more expensive than the fare to St Jean de Luz, so we decided to ride home in style. The driver was very friendly, and my schoolgirl French got another workout as we discussed the French presidential election, and local bike races. Still. we got a nice sunset.
We decided to take it easy on Friday. Well, actually, one of the taxi drivers told us about a town-wide end of season clearance sale in Biarritz. It’s a big affair, with the centre of town closed to traffic, and stalls outside all the shops. You could get all sorts of bargains, said the driver. Martin and Charlie elected to stay at home while I ventured into town (yes it was cold, and yes it was raining) with Mum and her newly-activated credit card. Now, I have a bit of a problem with French fashion in that I only ever find things that are solidly tasteful to the point of tedium; or they’re frilled and frou-froued and priced to kill. Biarritz was no exception. In fairness, I picked up a couple of nice, solid tasteful basics in Galerie Lafayette, but the only interesting shop was run by a local Basque designer specialising in bright surfy things. Mum found a nice jacket and I got a blue and black top in a very early 80s shape.
The local rugby team, Biarritze Olympique, seemed to be having some kind of pep rally that involved this chap riding around on the back of a pickup, shouting at people in bars. This seemed to go on well into the night, when I was woken at 2am by some rather fine drunken singing of Allez-Biarritz in three part harmony.
Our last museum was the Planet Museum of Chocolate. It was a museum about chocolate. We were treated to a DVD (in English) that explained the cocoa and chocolate production cycle with some charming unironically Simpsons-esque cartoons of dancing cocoa beans. Our tickets were edible, and we got a cup of hot chocolate at the end of the visit.
And it rained. The clouds you can see behind Martin are the ones that brought the rainstorm we just walked through. What you can’t see are the clouds bearing the rainstorm that happened about ten minutes later.
On Saturday, we came home. There was a slight delay at the airport, and the flight was packed out with a group of Spanish teenagers – probably destined for Greenwich where they will mooch around outside the language schools and clutter up the DLR at rush hour. At least the weather will be better.
We were slightly delirious with joy to get home to our great big house with THINGS TO DO in it. But the holiday wasn’t entirely bad. We’re not used to doing nothing, which is both a blessing and a curse, because even when we’re “relaxing”, we’re busy studying, or sewing, or riding, or drawing or practising piano, or whatever. Being forced to sit down and contemplate the rain was strangely peaceful. And somehow, not being able to surf or muck around on the beach didn’t matter, because we were all together, and we just ended up enjoying each other’s company.
Still, me and surfing? Nah.