A Travellerspoint blog

France

Day 10, San Sebastian

semi-overcast 19 °C

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Everything in Spain happens a little late. The sun comes up late, breakfast is late, lunch doesn't start till 1:30, all the shops are closed from 2-4 and close again at 8:30. So, of course, everything takes a little getting used to. I woke up at 7, but we didn't leave to get some coffee until 9. We bought some plastic spoons. On a side note, here are a few things I recommend to future backpackers; plastic forks and spoons, plastic camping cups and make sure you have a swiss army knife. These are all things we would use daily. At least we remembered the knife.
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We walked through the old town and up Mount Urgull, which was a beautiful walk. The front side of the mountain faces the town and beaches that line the bay and the port. The growth is natural and not manicured, the plants were growing out of the stone walls and the birds were singing (at times loudly.) At the top we reached a structure first started in the 1200's as a church, it was later made into a fort loaded with canons the whole way around to protect the city, now it is a free museum with great views.
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We very much liked this castle because all though it was very old we were one of only a few people there, so we could really connect with the place and nothing was off limits for touching, there were no "do not touch" signs and no fences between us and anything except for a one of a kind canon. The backside of the mountain faces only the ocean, from up top it is very calming. We walked another route down the hill staying on the backside away from the town. We noticed a shooting range where they trained soldiers to shoot in the 1800's and graveyard used between the years 1800-1836. I found it amazing that other people had walked through the same foliage and touched the same old gate as I had for the last two hundred years.
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We walked back to our room to change our clothes and left straight away for lunch. It was 2pm before we finally decided which restaurant to go in but it was worth the wait. The place we chose was very quaint and full of locals and their families. We ordered what everyone seemed to be ordering, the paella. It was amazing, so so so amazing. Each pan was baked with the seafood loaded into it for at least 20 minutes, until it formed a thick chewy crust. It was creamy like risotto on the inside, and get this! Shane didn't complain about the green peppers in it! This is a miraculous achievement, because if ANYTHING has green peppers in it, he will not eat it! I was floored!!
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After lunch we went back to our room and I spent a few hours trying to book rooms for later in our trip, which is extremely frustrating because everything is already full. We left the room again around 6 to visit the church only a block away, the one who's bells we hear chiming once an hour. It was a very beautiful church, still very much in use and at the particular moment we were there the sun was coming through the stained glass windows in a way that took our breath away. We sat and watched for quite a while.
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This keller is good local beer
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We walked a few minutes down the street to get some ice cream (don't want the blood sugars to get too low!) and espresso. On the way back we stopped in a few stores and tried on some clothes. We are getting tired of feeling like frumpy backpackers. I bought a scarf and a navy blue sweater and Shane bought a pair of jeans and some really cool sneakers. We showered and dressed for dinner.
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Dinner was another amazing experience, we didn't do so well for the budget, but we really enjoyed ourselves and the great food. If anyone ever comes to San Sebastian we HIGHLY recommend Bar Astelena, it has the best food, they take a few minutes to prepare everything perfectly and the wine is top notch.

Posted by s-a 22:35 Archived in France Tagged san sebastian Comments (2)

Day 8, Bordeaux

sunny 24 °C

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We woke up very early this morning, 4:40am to be exact. With four other roommates we tried our very best to be quiet. We had everything ready to go the night before, we didn’t turn on any lights and made minimal noise. As a result Shane forgot his favourite hat and sunglasses, which really sucks, because now we gotta buy a new one. We checked out of the hostel and grabbed a croissant (free!) which we ate while walking down the street. At 4:50 in the morning we started our 3km walk to the train station. It was an experience in itself to be up before anyone else walking down the streets of Paris. The air was warm, I was only wearing shorts, but still free of the heat from the sun. The only people we came across were the few setting up the Montparnasse market stalls, which would open a few hours later.
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We arrived with a few minutes to spare and bought some espresso from a vending machine(weird). We hopped on our train and settled in for our ride, which ended up being just about 3 hours. An hour in Shane made his way to the dining car and bought us some more espresso and another croissant, which we proceeded to flake all over our seats.
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The train ride to Bordeaux was uneventful. We weren’t totally sure, given that we only had one night here, we really wanted to come, but after we had been in the city for only 30 minutes we knew we had made the right decision. Bordeaux is a small town, only about the size of Abbotsford but it gives such a sense of belonging. The trams run all over town and the parks are magnificent. The people we came across were so helpful and giving and never ONCE did we feel unsafe, which is crazy for my psychotically paranoid husband to say. The whole city is a beautiful mix of old world styles and natural beauty, where the cracking buildings with their peeling paint combine nicely with twisted green vines and colourful patio flower boxes.
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We found our hostel fairly easily and because we were feeling extremely dirty we asked the reception dude for the closest laundromat. He directed us just a block away and recommended a cafe just across the way with wifi which turned out to be very cute (and useful.)
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It took an hour to do our laundry, but that gave us enough time to get on the internet and tie up some loose ends. We felt so much better knowing our clothes didn’t stink like something awful. We stashed our bags at the hotel and asked for the reception dude’s favourite canel store and then for a restaurant recommendation. He gladly (we think) gave us both.
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First we (got a little lost) found the store selling cannels, something Bordeaux is famous for. The little cakes are baked in metal tins in a funny solution that makes the shells crispy and the interiors silky and smooth, I was very impressed with them. Then we walked back to our street and checked out a restaurant that had looked very promising earlier, La Chaperon Rouge. We walked in and were ushered to the back, to a table for two. The owner plunked down a carafe of red house wine on her way by and hurriedly asked something while pointing to a little table set in the middle of the restaurant where people were helping themselves to a first, second or third helping of food. We nodded and looked at each other wondering, slightly perplexed to exactly what was happening. It was as though the restaurant had a plan for us and we were just along for the ride. We took a few sips of wine and then I stood up. I took a plate from the end of the table and started filling my plate with all sorts of homemade french goodies. Pork pate, ham and cheese salad, house-made salami, perfectly cooked potatoes, lightly dressed mushrooms, hard boiled eggs, cooked asparagus, balsamic dressed watercress. The list goes on, I wandered back to Shane, slightly dazed. The whole of the tiny restaurant was packed with locals clearly on break from work. We worked our way through one plate each and then went back for a little more. The wine we drank, then moved on to water. The owner came by eventually, “you want more food?” she asked, “no” we answered “full up to here” motioning to the top of my head. “Coffee? Dessert?” Could we say no? Moments later she brings two perfect espresso and a creme caramel to share. We enjoyed our meal immensely, it was like someone invited us into their house for lunch,an amazing experience. And the whole thing, 20 euros, the bargain of the century.
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After our blissful lunch we checked into our hotel, showered and took a nap. Around 5:30 we left to find some dinner, which we ate in a park. None of the food was that memorable except for dessert which we bought from a boulangerie named Paul’s that seems to be the favourite around here. Tartelette au citron meringue. It was so good! The crust was perfectly delicate and the lemon curd was not very sweet, just how it should be, tart. And the meringue was like eating a cloud with just the perfect crust on top. I’m sure I’ll never be able to replicated such an amazing dessert.
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We walked around for a bit before we bought some cheap (1 euro per bottle) Heineken and drank it on the boardwalk watching the locals run, bike and rollerblade for their evening exercise. A fittingly low-key ending to a fairly relaxing day.

Posted by s-a 01:32 Archived in France Tagged bordeaux Comments (5)

Day 7, Pontorson

sunny 27 °C

View from our room

View from our room


First view of MSM

First view of MSM


Yesterday started with a disappointing breakfast at our B&B. In their defense, it was a national holiday and the boulangerie was closed for the day, so the bread and croissants were a day old. What did Shane and I conclude? Don’t let an English cook do a French cook’s job. Our host, Steve gave us a ride to Mont St-Michel and left us with instructions on where to drop our bags and where to find a bus schedule. He also mentioned that after we finished those things, that we should to go straight to the abbey before the push of crowds arrived. All his advice was sound.
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The 9 euros we each paid was well worth it. I thought we were just going to see an abbey, but we saw so much more. Dining halls, multiple praying rooms, an inner court yard, the knights hall, where they kept prisoners, it was all very awesome. When you see the views on top of Mont St-Michel you can understand why they chose to build an abbey there. With the sun streaming in through the many stained glass windows throughout the buildings you get the feeling that the place was touched by a divine hand.
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After the tour we found a few postcards and got some lunch and a nutella crepe. Yum!
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We waited for the public bus to come and bring us to the train station. We arrived just in time to catch the 1:40 train to Caen. The train ride was really nice, we accidentally sat in 1st class the whole was, though the conductor checking tickets didn’t say anything. When we arrived in Caen we very quickly found the train going to Paris. It was getting loaded with people, we frantically tried to find unreserved seats, competing with others carrying far less luggage than us. Eventually we made our way to the back car and found two seats. Every stop we made on the way to Paris filled up a little more. By the end of the 2 hour ride there were: 4 babies (all who we’re crying, sometimes in chorus), 1 minister, 1 guy who looked exactly like Shane’s brother (except for the dark hair), 1 cat, 1 XL girl who wouldn’t stay in her seat and kept asking people for money, and at least 15 people sitting on the floor in the narrow isles. Then, for a grande finale, a newborn baby decided to belt out a solo for the last 15 minutes of our ride. Longest 15 minutes ever.
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We got into Paris at 6:10pm and found our way to our hostel for the night. It was a nice hostel, all new. By the end of the night we had a full room.
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We left the hostel and got some dinner at a place we really didn’t think was going to be that great, it turned out to be awesome! My body was craving vegetables, I haven’t had near enough so I had the salad terrior. It had everything on it including a fried egg and a few sliced of raw bacon, Shane says he’s been eating for years, I didn’t even know it was food safe. Shane had a steak with bearnaise sauce. For dessert we shared the best creme brulee I’ve ever had.
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It was 10pm by the time we got back to our hostel. We got all our stuff ready to go for the morning and set our alarm for 4:50am. I hadn’t thought about the fact that in hostels no one goes to bed by 11. We went to sleep with the lights on.

Posted by s-a 02:08 Archived in France Tagged pontorson Comments (4)

Oh Paris,

sunny 20 °C

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You smell strongly of cigarettes, urine and a smack of garbage
You sounds like the squeal of brakes on the train and the hum of motorbikes buzzing by
You taste like ham baguettes and coca cola
You look like a model casting for the runway, I can't understand how everyone is skinny, it must be the cigarettes
You feel like a soft summer's sun on my skin

And I'll miss you...sort of.

Posted by s-a 01:48 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (4)

Day 6, in transit

sunny 21 °C

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Oh crazy, crazy France. Your rail systems make me crazy. We made a lot of plans based on the train schedules we found online. We bought EUrail passes so that we could have maximum flexibility. One thing we didn't know about the passes is that there is only a select number of seats available on each train for EUrail pass holders. So here is the situation: Tomorrow is Easter Monday. We are in a tiny little town in France. We need to get back to Paris. Us and the rest of France apparently. With limited reservations available for eurail passholders we can't get a reso. So we are going to show up at the station and try to cram our way onto a train that goes to Caen or Rennes. If we get that far, then we get to jam (and I mean squeeze) our way onto a train for Paris, HOPEFULLY showing up before midnight or risk rendering our very expensive hostel booking utterly useless (not to mention earning ourselves a romantic, all-night excursion on the streets of the lovely city). And then, because once again there are no resos left for EUrail pass holders on any reasonably timed trains, we leave for Bordeaux at 6:10am. What will we do in Bordeaux with our huge backpacks at 10am when our hotel check-in starts at 3? Try not to throw them in the river.
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Our train reservations for today left a little later than we would have liked, (read: train reservations suck). We didn't get to leave the station until 11:45, which meant our whole morning was basically wasted. Though we did manage to book a few train reservations for the coming weeks. Our first train ride was an experience for sure. Initially, we were very confused by everything going on around us. By the end of our 4 hour train ride I felt like death, but at least we knew what we were doing. Train rides make me more sick than car rides. Joy.
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We ate Mars bars for lunch and got into Pontorson at 4:30. Our host, Steve, picked us up and brought us to our B&B. We dropped our bags and asked for a resaurant recommendation. Steve told us about a lovely restaurant, a creperie with their own apple cider. We walked the gorgeous one mile to the top of the hill, a walk that really was in the French countryside. It was amazing with cuckoo birds cooing and crickets chirping, the sun shining and a cool breeze from the ocean blowing softly. At the top was Le Bistrot du Telegraphe a little family run place that serves THE BEST crepes I've ever had. Normandy crepes, the one and only. Mine had scallops, (perfectly cooked) creamy leeks and creme fraiche, and Shane's had mushrooms, ham, a salad and creme fraiche. It blew us away. We washed it down with the restaurant's own local hard apple cider (a whole bottle for only 6 euros!) And for dessert we had a crepe with sauteed apples, chantilly cream and homemade vanilla ice cream. So simple, but with such good quality ingredients! We walked back down to the B&B through the cutest little town. Tomorrow we check out Mont St-Michel, and hopefully get back to Paris in one piece. Wish us luck!
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Our B&B

Posted by s-a 12:22 Archived in France Tagged pontorson Comments (5)

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