Wednesday, 2 September 2009

8. Chocolate & Car Number Plates

A day or two later we had to go to the tax office in Bordeaux to straighten out some administrative wrangle. We finished the business there early and so we had time to find a little restaurant in a side street for lunch where we sat outside in the September sun and had some salad and a steak. All for about £6 each.

After that, we went for a look at Arcachon, which is a swish seaside resort near Bordeaux I’d not been to before. It had that unmistakeably expensive look of a well groomed and manicured town. Someone had told us that house prices there are even higher than those in Biarritz and, looking at some of them, I could well believe it. Unfortunately, just as we found our way to the front, it started to rain so we never did get to get out of the car for a walk along the beach as we’d wanted to.
One for the ladies - chocolate heaven! 
After Arcachon, we drove back to Bayonne and parked in the centre to try one of the famed ‘chocolatiers’. Chocolate first came into France in the 17th century via Bayonne and there are still a number of specialist chocolatiers grouped together in the narrow streets of the old town that date back to those times who still make their own chocolate from scratch (cocoa butter) and sell boxes of handmade chocolates (at wince-making prices). We had a hot chocolate at one of these establishments where it is still made from real solid chocolate (as opposed to cocoa powder) and was incredibly rich. They shave a block of chocolate and add hot milk to melt the shavings. As Madame is a chocaholic she enjoyed it very much! A real treat. The displays of superb hand-made chocolates would make many women weak at the knees. (Ideal for that first date then..) (oo-er missus!)

Then the weather changed…. It rained heavily during one night and it felt like the first day of autumn here in the morning. After sorting out some insurance quotes for the car, we went to our bank in St Jean de Luz to check our account, after which we came back to the gite for lunch the scenic way over the hills. The sun was out and the lush green countryside sparkled as it had been washed by the rain in the night, those big Basque farmhouses shone dazzlingly white in the sunshine and the jagged outlines of the blue mountains of the Pyrenees stood out sharply in the distance. What a landscape..!

This is a song that's dear to the hearts of all Basques - it's called Hegoak - it's almost their national anthem:
When we got back, I remember having a rich fish soup with some crusty fresh bread with a restorative glass of Bordeaux (about £1.50 a bottle in a local supermarket).

With all the bathroom and kitchen work coming up, we’ve been hitting the kitchen and bathroom showrooms pretty hard because I remember that afternoon we went to a huge DIY supermarket to look at tiles for the hall, kitchen and bathroom. After a while, I began to lose the will to live as it seemed that thousands of tiles were dancing before my very eyes. (although I might have overdone the lunchtime Bordeaux!) We also looked at shower enclosures. After a while, we both felt like we were ‘all shopped out’ and we’d definitely had enough for the day so we headed for home.. It’s definitely hard work being a pensioner.

At about this time I was taking the dog for a walk up the lane when I saw the strangest thing – the longest worm I’ve ever seen was in the middle of the lane. It must have been at least 18” long and it was almost as thick as my little finger. It definitely was an earth worm – and not a snake of any kind. The dog and I were fascinated..

More steps forward.. We registered the car with the French authorities and they allocated us a new plate with a local number – 64 - that will go on the car. To us, this was quite a symbolic moment – we’ve often talked about the day when we’d do this but it had always seemed so far away. We then drove to a garage and they made and fitted the new number plates while we waited. I must admit it felt strange to see the fitter take off my old plates, bend them in two and throw them into the bin.. A small part of me (the vestigial Daily Mail part) felt like saying, “Oi mush! They’re real British number plates they are, mate.. Get your hands off of them!” – but, of course, I didn’t..

After that, we’d just about had enough excitement for one day so we came home. When we got here, outside our door was some cheese that Madame D had made for us – she’s very kind. A few minutes later I was outside washing the car when she came along and we had one of those conversations where neither party is entirely sure what the other is saying.. (happens all the time to me when I’m speaking French!) But I gathered finally that she said I could use her hose to rinse the suds off my car.

Now why wasn’t this covered when I did French at school..?

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