The Startripper bus service goes from the station at Pessac Centre to Dax, Bayonne, Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz and then San-Sebastian, this latter being one of the principal cities of the Basque region of Spain. So we went on the 9am bus on Thursday morning, arriving at San-Sebastian at about 1pm.
We were staying in a highly rated AirBnB right in the middle of town, run by a very welcoming host called Josse (it is right, he puts in two ss). After showing us the ropes he pointed us to a sidraría just next door to his block of flats where they had a particularly keenly priced menu del día. I told him I had noticed it when we were coming in. He told us it would not yet be closed so we scuttled down to eat.
Boy, my Spanish is rusty. iRUSTY! I have forgotten most of my verbs and all my conjugation. I couldn't use the first person plural at all. I was pretty good at using the third person singular to address people politely but basically it was a linguistic catastrophe. However we managed to order our meals and almost always knew what we would get and ate without too many surprises or shocks.
The sidrería is a kind of Basque thing where you get a big room with long tables and benches and massive barrels of cider on one wall. The deal is that you take your tumbler, get the cider running out of the tap into a bucket, then catch the flow with the edge of your glass to fill it about an inch full. Any more gives you a tummy-ache, explained our waiter. I think the deal is to aerate the cider. It's not strong, just a little stronger than French cider at about 4 or 6 percent. I had eaten at one before in Pau with the Pessac Jazz Band some years ago.
The food was home-cooked regional Spanish food and really very good indeed. The first day I had a chorizo omelette for starters while Pat had a tomato salad with anchovies. For the main course all they had left was rabbit stew or squid, so we ate delicious bunnies in a tomato and pepper sauce. For dessert I had an ice-cream (bought in) while Pat had a really good rice pudding. The Colombian waiter brought us "el vino de la casa" - we had tried to speak to him in French, you see. It was red and rough. And it was all 11.50€ a head.
After lunch we hit the town and the rain hit us. It torrented down! We explored a couple of fun shops, then went to the local museum which attempts to tell the story of the Basques with various artefacts, documents, photos and films. It was great, but didn't attempt to answer the most obvious and fascinating question: where did the Basques come from? The impression was given that they kind of sprung up from nowhere just before the Neolithic, but I suspect the real answer is that nobody knows. Josse said that generally people suggest central Europe.
After the museum we had a nice cup of mint tea in the museum café from a man to whom we spoke French. The café was good fun because all the menus were in Basque. About 25% of the Basques speak Basque and fewer read and write it. The language is nothing like Spanish. For example cider in Spanish is sidra and in Basque it is txotx. So when I picked up the menu I was totally lost.
We slept well after our sodden adventures and the following day was bright and occasionally sunny. We walked along the promenade and watched people running back and fore. We found a nice bag for Catrin greatly reduced in a shop we like called Desigual. Everything seemed generally cheaper than in France.
For lunch we returned to our sidraría - we felt we were on to a good thing. This time I translated all the menu before going in, so we knew exactly what was on offer. Pat decided to skip her starter but followed the recommendation of our new waiter, from Honduras, by having the fish of the day - anchoas fritas - es muy bueno (fried anchovies, served with a nice salad and some chips. I started with a soup of white beans, carrots, chorizo and meatballs and then had my fried anchovies. Then I tried the rice pudding - very good indeed! - and Pat had ice-cream. The waiter was very friendly and very keen to explain everything to us very quickly and quietly. I managed to grasp the essentials, however, and asked him if everything was home-made. Yes, but not the ice-cream.
After that we got our bags, bid farewell to our host, vowed to meet up next time he's in Bordeaux and left to wander slowly through the town to the bus station. We stopped in at the Cathedral. It was surprisingly light and airy and there were no relics and few statues or candles.
Some photos will follow. Our escapade was just two days, one night, but it got us out of Bordeaux and gave us a break and a change of scenery. As for the bus, it was a splendid way to travel. We saw the towns and villages of the foothills of the pyrenees and we were very comfortable the whole way.