Return to Nowhere

Béhasque, Sauveterre de Béarn, Jaureguia… These prehistorical nuances and mountain echoes  in these place names sound quite familiar to me: I am in the French side of the Basque country, a region that I find to be both similar and disimilar to the Spanish counterpart. On one hand, villages and architecture are quite alike on both sides, as are the gastronomy and some habits, the atmosphere, the more people walking the streets or drinking wine and eating tapas. Also the font type in signs and notices is the same. But on the other hand, the Homo Basqus seems more tamed here, less wild; and I haven’t yet heard any Euskera spoken. Apparently these Basques don’t mix up (as the Spanish do) the concepts of folklore and nationality; they seem happy to speak French. Or… perhaps France considers their language sacred and is not ready to tolerate any region pushing French to the background. Whichever the case, bi-lingual road signs seem to be the major concession to Euskera here.
My sleep in Navarrenx was unbeatable. Thanks God I was finally given a night off insomnia. Now I’m passing the Pyrenees via one of the less trodden and most winding by-roads I’ve found. On the French side, the region seems to be a lot less industrial and the environment is better taken care of – to no one’s surprise, of course, knowing how admirably France respects its countryside compared to us. They rather rely on agriculrure and farming than on factories and mining; but if there is some industry on their side, it’s well out of sight, or better integrated with the environment. Continue reading “Return to Nowhere”

The heart of Gascony

France is getting better and leaving me openmouthed. If I liked it before, now I’m fascinated. Who would tell? All my life disliking it and it turns out to be – arguably – Europe’s most beautiful country. To think that, after Norway, I thought I had seen everything!

Puente sobre el sinuoso Vézière
Bridge over Vézière river
Detalle del puente: la pasarela es de madera
Close up of the bridge’s walkway made of wood

This morning I’ve set off earlier than usual because of the guesthouse’s crazy breakfast time (ten in the morning!). Since, heading south-southwest, I approach the vast fields of Aquitaine, I thought I’d come into an uglier region than that behind me, but fortunately I’m still crossing a lot of lovely places. For instance the hills of Dordogne, where every landscape is prettier than the previous one and every valley’s charm is surpassed by the next. Continue reading “The heart of Gascony”

Where do I belong?

October twelfth, anniversary of the discovery of America, day of Hispanic World for us Spaniards, much to the displeasure of our American cousins, who are always ashamed of their great-grandparents.
Breakfast at L’Hirondelle du Lac is a bit thrifty, yet of great quality: homemade sponge cake, blackberries from the backyard, honey from local hives, homemade bread and, of course, a superb croissant (as always in France). The only thing I don’t like is the ‘served until’ time: only to 9:30, a drama for my insomnia. But that’s how it works here; and still I managed to negotiate with my host an extra half hour, so I shouldn’t complain.

Vista desde el comedor del hotel
View from the hotel’s eating room

Once I’m done, I check the weather forecast to plan my day: it’ll be rainy in the afternoon – they say – for the roads I have to ride, which makes up my mind for staying a second day in this lovely hotel. I’ll need to ask for a small heater tonight, though, because the room felt a bit cool this morning.
After the past two months on northern and central Europe, which were typically cold autumnal, here it still feels like summer: it’s 27 ºC today and I’m on shorts and a T-shirt. Despite the forecast, the threatening clouds all over the horizon and the distant thunder, it’s sunny above my head and I have the feeling we’re not going to get a drop of water here, after all. But I’m glad not hitting road anyway, because I was needing a longer stop, and I can’t think of a better place than this. I’ll use the rest of my day for updating these notes and rambling around the countryside.
I never get tired of saying my preference for hilly regions over flatter ones because I find that people in the highlands, and in less inhabited areas like this one, are usually nicer and friendlier than the others. However, stupidity is universal and has no borders; therefore you will find everywhere one or two or twenty bastards who just love making noise. I’m saying this now because I’m hearing, since quite a while, a few dirt bikes – like a swarm of blowflies – that must be doing off-road somewhere behind one of these hills around me, disrupting the otherwise idyllic peace of this place. Why the industry requirements, I wonder, are so strict for acoustic levels in vehicles if afterwards nobody takes care of enforcing the law or keeping on a leash these ball-touchers, so they don’t ride around bikes whose sole reason for existing is to produce noise? Dammit! Continue reading “Where do I belong?”

A piece of paradise

Wooden floored and paper-thin walled, every step in the noisy and expensive hotel at Le Veurdre could be heard as well as my neighbours partying last night. I admit, though, to my insomnia as the main problem. Fortunately, at least, the morning has begun fantastic, splendid, barely a few clouds on the horizon.


My indefatigable Rosaura of the winged feet carries me today along a road stretch that, between Montluçon and Aubusson, reminds me of my native Extremadura: a narrow and winding way, paved on that kind of hard-bearing asphalt that, despite being much beaten down, endures the pass of decades like a champion. For a better likeness with my homeland, this region is covered by a vegetation very much alike our pastures over there, except that these trees are not my dear quercus ilex, the holm oaks.

Una calle de Aubusson
A street in Aubusson

Aubusson, in the centric Aquitaine region, is a small town renowned (since the late middle ages) for its tapestry and carpets, though such industry declined much about one century ago, when the wallpaper started getting popular. Continue reading “A piece of paradise”

Chiaroscuros of France

Today, October tenth, two of my siblings will be celebrating their birthdays two thousand kilometres southwest of here. To that course, the weather forecast this part of France is not too good; it’s raining now, in fact; therefore I’m altering my planned itinerary in order to dodge another soak like yesterday’s. The sleep, however, has been fantastic; one of those rare ones that grant me a real rest; warm the room, quiet the hotel.
For a change, I’m taking a speedway stretch (the first one in fifteen thousand kilometres of journey) for leaving Dijon behind as soon as possible. When I’m near the city, four customs policemen on bikes swarm on me signalling me to pull over. Then, not bothering to salute, they blurt out their authority and stare at me as if to check my response. Do they have a reputation for being tough guys and I should freak out? I don’t know. I just say, ‘very good; what do you want?’ ‘To search your luggage’, replies one; ‘do you mind to open your cases?’ As I’m doing it, I ask him ‘do I have a choice, anyway?’, but he doesn’t answer. While they’re checking, I’m asked the typical questions: where do you come from, where are you going, what do you carry. They only check my bags, but not the few places where you can hide compromising stuff in a motorcycle. What the hell are they after? Whatever. As nothing is found, they mount their bikes and ride away… obviously taking a French leave. As nice as my country’s Guardia Civil; c’est à dire, churls.

Parque natural blabla
Around Saulieu

Continue reading “Chiaroscuros of France”