A Winter Trip to Spain Days 3 and 4: Limping from Blaye to Biarritz

This is a father’s journal of travelling from the Isle of Islay in Scotland to Spain in February 2019 with my partner, Tissy, and our two little boys: Hugh, who will turn 6 during our trip, and James, who will be four just after we get back to Britain.  Idea is to track the experience of a family road trip, what we see along the way and reflect on some other things, including parenting boys, mental health and Brexit, which form the background to our trip. Might be a bit rushed at times trying to write things up in the evening, but will try to refine it as I go along

Day 4: Saturday morning: We’re supposed to be uncovering the hidden secrets of the Basque heartland in Spain by now. Instead we’re stuck in France awaiting resolution of the saga of the limping Volvo. There are worse places to be marooned than Biarritz, where we arrived last night from Blaye. At least we can see the hills on the Spanish side of Euskal Herria, across the Bay of Biscay.

We are trying to do this trip on a budget of €200/day for accommodation, food and entertainment. Having to spend more time in France has put us in the red, but our lovely B&B in Blaye was worth a little splurge.

The website: http://www.closreaud-citadelle.com/accueil/

There is a nice orchard at the back, where James and I went to say hello to this handsome chap while Hugh did some homework with Tissy.

None of the Volvo garages in the Bordeaux region would give us the time of day – one said they could see us on March 15! Our host Helena did her best with pleas to have mercy on two young children; to no avail in the face of hatchet-faced French officialdom. We decided to head for the border.

En route, there is time for a stop in the Landes duck country for a light lunch (impossible hereabouts). And a play in the sunshine. With the car problems we’ve taken our eye off the ball in terms of delivering enough exercise for the boys during the day to make them manageable in the evenings.

Ceps fried in duck fat. Two of my favourite things combined but this dish was not great. The restaurant was upfront about the ceps being frozen and I think that always diminishes them. Better to dry them as the Italians do with their porcini.
Another reminder of France’s high-quality public services: every little village seems to have good quality playgrounds, as well as the sports facilities I highlighted in Blaye.

The time in the car gives James an opportunity for some random reminiscing about our time in Rome, where he was born. I think he is thinking of it because Hugh, who was born in Versailles, is constantly pointing out “his”, ie. French, flags, of which there is no shortage.

“You don’t own Rome,” Hugh reminds his younger brother. “God does.”

At least we’re mobile again and back on track budget-wise. Biarritz has so many hotels there are plenty of rooms free in February and we’ve checked into a self-catering studio in Le Grand Large hotel for €80 last night (via Booking.com) and €60 for the next two nights (directly with the hotel). Other silver linings: Biarritz has an aquarium and there’s a sushi restaurant (the boys’ favourite) nearby. And the weather is sunny enough to leave us boys looking like real Scots on tour.

Hugh, seven sleeps til his 6th birhday
James, nearly 4

As can happen on this kind of loosely-organised holiday, the plan did not work out and stress ensued. By the time we got to the Sushi restaurant, a longer walk than it looked on Google maps, it was 1330, the boys were hungry and fractious. Turns out the Sushi restaurant closed down last year: so much for all the 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor. And someone who shall remain nameless failed to phone ahead to make sure we could get in.

This ‘unfortunate’ turn of events leads to Mum and Dad bickering in the street while boys alternate between crying and thumping each other. I’ve wanted to visit Biarritz for years, even had a few trips planned that had to be cancelled at the last minute. I think there were a lot of episodes filmed here for the BBC series I used to learn French while living in Cannes in 1989. Bref, this wasn’t exactly how I imagined my long-awaited debut sur la cote Atlantique.

Luckily there is a busy creperie next door to where the Sushi restaurant used to be and we manage to convince the chuckle brothers that it is actually a “wraps” restaurant serving something akin to the tortillas filled with peppers etc that they like to eat at home. Hugh is on such a sugar-low meltdown by this point that he says James is “evil”, and “I wish he had never been born.”

Fortunately, James is non-plussed by this sort of comment, especially as it was delivered after the bread had arrived and he had other priorities. And Hugh finally cheers up when he realises he is the first person *ever* to demand tuna mayonnaise in his galette! All of which the restaurant staff deal with patiently and admirably: you can tell we are getting further south by the easily expressed affection for children.

Galette Basquaise – chicken and piperade inside a buckwheat savoury crepe. Excellent without fractious children.

Lunch over, Tissy takes the boys to the Aquarium, which they enjoy. I go and do some shopping and we have some comfort food – pasta pomodoro – back at the flat and crash out early. It’s not been a total disaster of a day but I am not feeling as relaxed as I should be four days in: has the road trip stress remedy stopped working?

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