I got to the Basque country in the night between Wednesday and Thursday 22nd May. Luckily the owner of the Youth Int’l hostel in Biarritz was really nice and helped me with the keys to get inside the place the middle of the night. After a good night rest, I woke up and got organised to make my way further north to Capbreton in order to catch-up with my mates over there: Sophie and Celine (that I haven’t seen in over 10 years). As I was looking for a place to stay, Sophie told me about her friend’s brand new hostel in Capbreton, the Wood N Sea lodge. She also put me in touch with the owner, her mate Antoine, and things got sorted quickly. By late morning I knew where I’d stay for the following nights, I just needed to get there.
From Biarritz to Capbreton, there is about one hour drive depending on traffic. I couldn’t be bothered organising a car pool so following the advice of my mate in Brooklyn (who had the best time in France doing it), I decided to hitchhike over there. I got a couple of rides and got to Capbreton by mid-afternoon. There I met Antoine, Sophie’s mate, a really nice guy that I got to know better over the next few days. The hostels is so cool, two years in the making, an old traditionnal house totally renovated by Antoine himself, and it opened only a month ago. The interior is full of nice wood with great finishes, the facilities are really made to feel like home and it had his impact on me: I was initially planning to stay until Sunday but extended it for another full week, even considering at times to spend the summer season working in the area. We had a little crew of three in the hostel: Sylvain, a surfer who was returning for few years of travelling and wanted to settle in the area and Pauline, who gave me a lift to Capbreton and was there to find a job for the summer season.
Over the next few days, I did manage to catch-up with Sophie a couple of times. It was so nice to catch-up with a mate you haven’t seen in a decade! She introduced me to her new life, as she grew up in Paris as well but moved there few years ago. I also caught-up with a very good friend of mine, Celine, who also come from Paris originally and was living in Hossegor (just next door to Capbreton) for few years. During the first week the weather was mostly overcast and rainy, with the sun barely showing up and the temperatures average. Despite this, I totally understood why my mates decided to come and live here, this is such a nice part of France. Lay back, a bit more rainy than south east but with a totally different vibe to it, way less crowded, more nature oriented and life is organised around surfing. It is pretty much the Byron Bay of France. As I was wondering how long I would extend my stay, Sylvain and Pauline were asking me why I would not stay here for a couple of months. It was tempting, so much that I stayed a week and half all up, but then realised that I would be staying in France, away from my family and didn’t really see the point of staying; I’d rather keep on travelling throughout Europe during summer and come back. So after an amazing week and half of surfing, catching-up with friends (even some that came very far away like JB from Hendaye and Barbie and Baboo – that I met in Tahiti back in October – coming from the French Alpes!! or my little cousin Corentin who drove all the way from Royan for a couple of days), making new mates and discovering this wonderful region, I then packed my bags and left to Bordeaux early Monday 2nd June.
My plan was now to slowly go back to Paris and do a couple of stop over: first Bordeaux, a city that I have heard so much of but never got the chance to discover, and Poitiers, where I got family. I got to Bordeaux on Monday late morning, I then caught-up with a mate I met just before leaving Sydney last year: Pierre. He has been living here recently and so kindly offered me to crash at his place. We had lunch together then I had the whole afternoon free to discover this beautiful city. The weather was hot and sunny which made my experience very pleasant. I really enjoyed walking around the local streets, getting lost in St Catherine street, having a stroll along ‘la Garonne’ (the river that cross the city), watching kids and grown-ups playing at ‘le miroir d’eau’ and relaxing in the grass, soaking up the summer sun while everyone was cycling, jogging or skateboarding along the quay. The day was short but I had such a good memory of it, I will be back in this city one day. In the evening I caught-up with Pierre again. After working hard then working out, he pick me up, showed me his place and then we went out for dinner in a local Irish pub. It was a nice evening, we chatted a lot then got home. The next day my plan was to hitchhike all the way to Poitiers.
So on Tuesday 3rd June, I said bye to Pierre, who dropped me next to his place in the northern part of Bordeaux. From there, I improvised. The previous day I noticed the highway was close so the plan was to stop on a road leading there and hoping to get a lift. I quickly realised the way to the highway wasn’t hitchhike friendly so I started to walk towards ‘le pont d’Aquitaine’, a huge bridge overlooking the city. I was the only pedestrian (not push bikes either) walking on the bridge next to the highway. It took me a little while to cross and then to Lormont on the other side. Not too long after finding a good spot, I got a short lift and got drop in a resting area. There was a lot of trucks there but most of them ignored me and the other cars didn’t bother either, after an hour and half, things were not looking good; until a truck driver saw me struggling and nicely offered me a lift. He didn’t speak any French nor English, he was from Eastern Europe as I heard few ‘dobro’ when he was talking on the phone. I made it to Poitiers where I asked him to drop me nearby an exit. Once again, I was at a resting area, located some 800m from the highway exit. So I decided to do something I shouldn’t even think of: walk on the side of the highway towards the exit. Traffic was low so not much risk, but the grass on the other side of the road was way to high so I ended up walking on the highway itself, on the emergency lane! I know, this is very stupid of me. Not much could happen other than getting killed by cars or stopped by cops… Within only 200m, what did I see coming in my direction: a military convoy with a police escort! When the coppers stopped and asked me what the hell I was doing, I reply to him in English and said a friend was just about to drop by and give me a lift. The cop wasn’t feeling good about it but he trusted me and after few hesitation, he made his way back to the convoy. There I decided to change plan and no longer walk along the road, climbed a fence and joined a bridge where I walked towards Poitiers. I then called Christinne, my wife’s cousin, who picked me up.
It was good to see them, I don’t see them often since they don’t live in Paris. My cousin showed me his new house (and what a house!) and at night we had a nice family dinner with both cousins, their respective kids and my uncle and aunty. It was really enjoyable to have everyone around and I did appreciate this priceless moment. The next day, I chilled in the house in the morning and spent the afternoon at the ‘Futuroscope’ (as Wikipedia defines it): is a French theme park based upon multimedia, cinematographic futuroscope and audio-visual techniques. The last time I went there was over 15 years ago so attractions did change and it was fun to discover it all over again. Tom, one of my cousin’s son, came with me, and Christinne, his mum, stayed a little bit at the beginning. We had such a great time there because it was mid-week so there was almost no one, except few kid groups, the weather was perfect also. We did everything we wanted and some of them we did twice: Lapin cretin, la Vienne dynamique, Arthur, Danse avec les robots, Virus attack, le petit Prince, Gyrotour… the whole lot! Tom and I had a fantastic time and only came back home at 7.30pm. One last dinner with the family and off to bed. I said bye to Clara (Tom’s sister), and Tom, my cousin – who was taking the train to Paris the next morning. Christinne kindly gave me a lift to the entrance of the highway where I was planning to hitchhike to Paris. I said bye to her and with confidence started to smile with card up reading ‘Paris’. Lucky my confidence was up because I waited three hours before getting a lift… A nice truck driver from Martinique (French Caribbean) with whom I have learnt a lot about the truck driver job.
I got to Paris late afternoon, got there on the same day the English Queen came to Paris (and French president Francois Hollande was meeting Obama and Putin in Paris that same day). Ended up at the Eiffel tower under a gorgeous sun. Then I walked to my other uncle and aunty place nearby for a huge family reunion. This is my last days in Paris and France, the sun is back and I have heaps of family and friends to catch-up with still. Soaking up every single moments because this will go super fast before I hit the road again.