Saturday was the start of another busy week…..Catherine and Bill, dear friends who have travelled through life with us, were arriving tonight….straight from a three-week vacation in Italy.
We started our morning in Saint Marcel….home to a hardware store (for a new watering can), a grocery store (to stock up on supplies) and a laundromat (two sets of sheets and a week’s worth of clothes). When we returned to the cottage, we noticed the bronze bas-relief plaque, that had graced the cottage for so many years, was ajar. This lovely decoration was too large and too heavy to be jostled by the wind…..we suspected our thief may have tried to cart it off. While Caryl called to Gendarmarie to report suspicious activity, we put everything into the garage for safe-keeping.
The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning and packing for a three-day trip to Basque country. As our departure time neared, Felix hid from view. He needn’t have worried….for this short trip, he’d be staying home and (hopefully) guarding the cottage.
Our friends’ 6:30 flight arrived at 7:30. The wait just increased our anticipation of the fun days to come. When we finally saw them walking toward us, we were ecstatic…..we’ve shared so much with these wonderful friends over the years…..good times and bad….and now we were about to share another adventure.
We loaded their luggage in the car and headed toward Basque country, stopping for the night in Tarbes. It was getting late, but the pleasant young hotel clerk told us of a nearby restaurant that would still be serving meals. With bright lights shining like beacons in the night, we easily found Le Rustique. It’s patio was crowded with happy, noisy diners….with even more people waiting in a queue for outdoor seating but we were promptly led to a table in the deep recesses of the building.
We had barely perused the menu when our waiter arrived to take our orders. We asked for a little more time and he left in a rush….returning in just a few short minutes. Fortunately, we were ready to order. Craig and I ordered the prix fixe menu…..quickly telling this animated man what we wanted for each course. He wrote hurriedly as he glanced at our friends and, in rapid fire French, asked what they wanted. They had decided to order à la carte but the waiter was oblivious. He had decided they wanted the “menus” and quickly repeated the courses Craig and I had just ordered. “No, no….we want omelettes” our friends said…..trying to catch him in between his lightening-quick words. Our waiter jotted something in his pad and hurriedly left.
We looked at each other….unsure of what any of us would be dining on tonight, we laughed out loud….this encounter would’ve made a great comedy sketch! When our frenetic waiter returned with a pitcher of wine, we toasted to the first of what would, no doubt, be many fun dinners.
We toasted, we drank and we drank some more….while we patiently waited for our dinners. After what seemed hours, our normally frenzied waiter sidled quietly over to our table and slid the small piece of paper containing our order into his hand. We did the only thing we could….we laughed.
Sunday brought us into French Basque country…..beautiful countryside filled with animals grazing in lush green pastures and pristine white buildings with burgundy timbered facades. Our first stop was St Jean Pied de Port, one of the starting points for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. As Catherine and I slowly walked through the Church of Notre Dame du Bout du Pont, we discovered that we shared a desire to walk the Camino de Santiago…..we had read stories of this fabled pilgrimage and we each, for reasons of our own, wanted to make this sacred hike. We reflected on this desire over lunch and agreed that we would do it next Fall…..cementing our commitment with t-shirts purchased in a provisions shop on the narrow, main street of the old town.
It was late afternoon when we finally arrived at our hotel in St Jean de Luz. We had booked oceanview rooms and we weren’t disappointed. We joined Catherine and Bill on their balcony and, over a glass of wine, decided that after weeks of touring, we all needed a rest…..Biarritz and Bayonne could wait for another trip, tomorrow would be a beach day!
We strolled through town in a quest for dinner….finally selecting Chez Maya Petit Grill Basque….and an excellent choice, it was.
Dinner started oddly, with an amuse-bouche of small, fried shrimp…..looking more like something you’d put at the end of a fishing line than in your mouth…..but we shelled them and took one small, delicious bite after another. A large platter of assorted crudités, sausages and croquettes arrived….an entrée for four! For our main courses, we chose Basque specialties….Paella and Piquillo peppers stuffed with codfish. Having been disappointed in other paellas, we took our first bites with some trepidation….but this one was excellent….not overcooked, savory but not spicy. The stuffed peppers had mixed reviews…..we all agreed that the savory pepper sauce was delicious (we would have liked to scoop it up with our bread slices….oh, wait a minute….we did) but the cod was a little too fishy, at least for me.
During dinner, the manual air-conditioning system was started up…..an adorable young girl (perhaps our server’s granddaughter) pulled on a rope that was attached to a series of overhead, fabric-bound blades. Tugging on the rope brought the clattering “fans” to life….to the delight of everyone in the dining room.
Dessert was sublime…..Gâteau Basque with a traditional fillling of dried cherries…..absolutely delicious.
Morning came early, too early for us when we heard a knock on the door and found our friends patiently waiting for us to join them for breakfast. We stopped for petit déjeuner at a small café along the beach and watched as a large vehicle “groomed” the sand. Catherine wondered aloud what the machine was called. “Sandboni,” answered my smart-aleck husband, without missing a beat. After breakfast, we went shopping for swimsuits…..finding them at end-of-summer prices! We picked up umbrellas and beach towels and headed to that gloriously soft sand and bright blue water for a day of sun and fun.
Tuesday brought the long drive back to the cottage. Felix was happy we were home….and even happier when we filled up his food bowl. With Felix munching away, it was time for us to think about our dinner. Catherine and Bill had brought a jar of Italian truffles with them and we had pasta and Emmental cheese in the refrigerator….voila! While Catherine prepared a green salad, I made a tarte tatin. Then we collaborated on a dish combining pasta, truffles and cheese. The resulting meal was superb!
On Wednesday, we worked all morning getting the boat ship-shape to take out for an overnight cruise. It was mid-afternoon when we finally shoved off. Our first stop was Ventenac and it’s stately winery. After a few tastings and a few purchases, there would be no other destinations tonight….we dined simply at a local restaurant and bunked down for the night in “Joie de France”.
The sound of tractors woke us up…..it’s harvest season and the vineyards are buzzing with activity. For breakfast, we bought the last croissants in town and then continued on our journey….stopping for the night in Homps. We walked through town, checking out the menus of three restaurants right on the canal, making a reservation at En Bonne Compagnie.
We weren’t disappointed in our choice…..the food was excellent from start to finish. My pumpkin soup was to die for, Craig had the biggest (and, according to him, best) leg of lamb ever and our odd choice for dessert, sticky toffee pudding with rum-raisin ice cream, was fabulous. Some of the best food we’ve had in France…..at an English-run restaurant with an English chef!
Friday brought strong winds and the possibility of rain so we headed straight back to the cottage. Felix was happy to see us again….he was especially happy to see his friend Bill, who he must remember from our days back home.
“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.” ~ Thomas Jefferson