When a friend of a friend asks you to help her move, usually the answer is not an immediate, resounding ‘YES’. However, in this case, when she explained to me that this move involved a road trip across France and into Spain over the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. And then yelled, ‘ROAD TRIP!’ to no one in particular.
We left Paris around 5pm on Friday afternoon and promptly got stuck in city traffic. We spent the time mocking (and cursing) French drivers, skirting around obstructions with liberal use of the bus lane and catching up on all the latest stories, gossip and future plans. Eventually arriving in Fontainebleau, we loaded her stuff into the Twingo and took off. San Sebastian, Spain was our eventual destination, but we set our sights on Limoges for our first night, which would get us about halfway there. A middle-sized town in the center of the Limousin province, Limoges’ main claim to fame is as the birthplace for fine French crockery. Neither of us was in the market for a new china pattern, so we did not spend much time touring; however it was easy and convenient for a quick stopover. After coffee and croissant in the morning, we continued southwest. Six hours and several rainstorms later, we arrived in San Sebastian.
As the weather was not great on Saturday, we mainly explored the old city, or parte vieja, a quarter known for having more bars than any other neighborhood in the known world. Lining each of these bars were plates of pinxtos (tapas), a few of which were a perfect afternoon snack after our long drive. Before indulging, we got stumbled upon the pre-carnival fiesta caldereros, which (apparently) celebrates the arrival of the Hungarian gypsies in years past who announced their arrival by banging on pots and pans. On this afternoon, we heard the noise before seeing the flood of children, dressed as gypsies walking through the streets of the city, each banging on a small pan with a steel mallet making as much noise as possible. It clarified our growing confusion at the large numbers of ‘gypsy children’ we had seen roaming the streets previously and was only the introduction, as that night hundreds of adults took to the streets in similar costumes, making the same racket (although interspersed with loud singing) and scary larger-than-life puppets.
We spent the evening doing the obligatory and completely delicious pinxtos bar crawl (a post in itself), following the gypsy revelry and enjoying the local color. We met fellow Americans. We engaged in conversation with a few locals. Some of which were utterly hilarious. Wrapping up our evening, we walked through a small square occupied by massive groups of teenagers, seemingly drinking their weight in vodka and Fanta. Ugh.
Sunday arrived bright, warm and beautiful. After a lazy morning we walked along the coast and I finally got my photos of surfers in Spain, in February. We walked along the harbor and settled in for a final meal of extremely fresh seafood on the pier looking back towards the city.
Returning to Paris was a breeze, as EasyJet flies back and forth to Biarritz several times each day, which was an easy 30 minutes by car from San Sebastian. I made the impulsive decision to return for another weekend at the end of February. The road trip was great fun, but I feel that I only just scratched the surface of San Sebastian and so much remains to be seen, explored and eaten. Having a friend there makes it easier, but her stay is, thus far, only short-term, so I need to take advantage of it while the opportunity lasts.
I have to say that I was a bit nervous – a road trip with a friend of a friend has some potential for disaster. However, I now feel that I can count her as a kindred spirit. We had a great time. Laughing together, singing along to bad 80s music on French radio (Phil Collins) and talking (as one is apt to do, late at night after much Red Bull) about what compelled us to leave home, come to France, and where we are going from here. Adventures like this are so much more fun when there are good people with whom to share them.