Saturday 12 August 2023 – The Adventure Begins!
There are several adventurous aspects to our peregrination, not the least of which is that I don’t have a laptop with me for editing the photos, as I thought the potential for losing it as we traverse Spain was unacceptably high. So, I have an Android tablet for the writing and Snapseed for editing the photos. Let’s see how the images come out.
Getting The Right Tea was another.
The mileage we have to achieve is, of course, the main one. You’ll have to wait to see how we cope with that.
Anyway, our departure from the UK started smoothly enough, with a comfortable, if traffic-beset taxi ride from leafy Surrey to, erm, Essexy Essex (to avoid a stressful morning journey to catch the flight, we’re staying overight at the Stansted airport Radisson Blu). It seemed that The Only Way To Essex was anticlockwise round the M25, and since we were doing that on a Friday afternoon there was quite a bit of congestion. But our driver, who was of southern Asian extraction and who identified himself to us under the unintuitive name of Timmy, was very engaging and we had discussions about faiths (starting from us talking about the Camino as being originally a pilgrimage route) and various aspects of his health, where I feel we were able to make some practical suggestions. The 90-minute journey actually took three hours, but we weren’t in a rush so that didn’t matter.
The hotel has a very splendid atrium with the bar in the middle being called the “Wine Tower” for, it would seem, a good reason.
Sadly, its attendant cabaret – someone being hoisted acrobatically up to retrieve wine bottles – is no longer in action. Jane and I have seen a similar tower elsewhere, but we can’t remember exactly where. We do agree, though, that it was likely somewhere more exotic than Essex. The hotel itself is a slightly odd mixture of modern and faded – the room, for example, featured both USB and and LAN sockets, and I haven’t used an RJ45 ethernet cable in a hotel for decades. But it was comfortable and provided the necessary food and drink, with a decent breakfast.
If one lives west of London, as we do, there has to be a compelling reason to fly from Stansted. Ours was a desire to spend a couple of pre-Camino relaxing days in Biarritz, which is a name redolent of French decadence (the finest kind) and a location reasonably close to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, which will be the starting point of our peregrination. And if the question is “how does one fly from London to Biarritz?”, the answer is “by Ryanair from Stansted”. It’s a liberal interpretation of London’s location, but, on the basis that it was the only option, we decided to go for it. If Stansted is good enough for Harry Kane, it’s good enough for us.
Having never experienced the airport, our transit through Stansted was sufficient to confirm our opinion of what it would be like, which is thoroughly functional – effecive but with few concessions to ambience. It’s perfectly clean and safe but everywhere you look in the departures area there are queues; I think Stansted is the place where queues go to die. The middle third of the terminal, the Ryanair bit, was a striking exemplar of the genus. One had a choice of two queues, both of which were huge. We chose the one for the self-scan bag drop, which wound round several kilometres within the building, but, to be fair, it moved swiftly and it took barely 20 minutes for us to check our bags in.
Security threatened to be a big queue, but we’d paid for Fast Track, so it wasn’t actually too bad. Finally, with a single bound, we were free and headed off through the duty free area, which, according to my Garmin device, stretched over a quarter of a mile, until we could finally sit down with a Glass Of Something. Sadly, this respite was cut short by the Ryanair app on Jane’s phone telling us that we really needed to head to gate 47 in order to board the flight. Once comfortably established there, we were told that, actually, sorry, haha, they meant Gate 45, so we all moved there in order to stand in another queue before they let us into the jetway, where there was another queue
before we filed along the jetway to another queue on the tarmac
whilst we waited for them to let us on to the aircraft. All in all it was a bit trying, but we departed only about 30 minutes late, and timing wasn’t critical, so we just let it happen. When we arrived, it was a delight to discover that our bags had made exactly the same journey as we had. But possibly with rather less queuing.
Our hotel, Le Petit Hôtel, distinguished itself by being rejected as a reasonable destination by the first taxi driver in the line outside the airport, Perhaps he was just objecting to the fact that we were strangers, I don’t know. The last laugh is on him, because he’s clearly the foreigner. Fortunately, the second in line felt able to take our business and dropped us off as near to the hotel as he could.
Which is not outside it, but quite close.
The hotel is exactly as described on the tin, i.e. small. Actually, it’s more of a bed-and-breakfast. However, it looks comfortable enough and it is very well situated for the centre of this particular ville; our room looks out over the old casino building.
So, having arrived in Biarritz, what to do? Go for a walk. Obviously.
With apologies to Irving Berlin (if you don’t know the original song, then skip lightly over the italics section):
Have you seen the great to-do
Up near Londres Avenue?
On that foreign thoroughfare
Just arrived by RyanAir
“Hi, there, we’re pilgrim heroes,
Just need to get some Euros.
Then seek gins with lime
For a wonderful time.”
If you’re blue, and you don’t know where to go to
Why don’t you laugh at these two Brits
Come with me and read about their long journey
Walking to Spain; these two nitwits
Start in Biarritz.
I find it amusing that the film in which this song was featured was called “Idiot’s Delight”. It starred Clark Gable, so of course I identify strongly with it.
We went out to explore Biarritz, and a delightful place it is, too. It has faded from the glory of its pomp as a place where posh people go, but it’s easy to see why it retains some of its magic. Somehow it manages to get away with the tacky beach vibe (multi-coloured tat in the beachside shops)
alongside dignified – expensive – cocktail bars on the prom
and a wide selection of eateries all over the place, One of them was just about to open and was clearly The Place To Be.
(This reminded me of the queue outside Cafe Opera in Stockholm, in the bad old days of the 1980s when it was the most popular queue in the city.)
We sampled a creperie and a cocktail bar whilst taking a look at the bits of the town near us.
It’s clearly an interesting place and we’re looking forward to exploring it in more detail over the next couple of days before we go down to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to start our walking.
But now it’s late at night and I’ve been struggling with the hotel’s WiFi to write this, so I’m headed for bed after a long, but absorbing day. Please come back soon and I hope I will have more for you about this interesting old town.