Friday, 2 November 2012

196. Spanish slippers of Spanish leather *

* with apologies to Bob Dylan for the song he almost wrote! 
Avenida de la Libertad, San Sebastian
1st November 2012. A few days ago we staged a lightning raid on a shoe shop at San Sebastian. I've been wearing a pair of Lands End slippers for the last few years and I've comprehensively worn them out. Although Lands End offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee on all their products I decided to call the vet in to have them humanely put down. The problem is my feet are generously dimensioned and here in the Pays Basque - as elsewhere in France - shoe sizes generally top out at 44-45 - which isn't much use to your correspondent. Without going into embarrassing detail, I need slightly more than that. Luckily, we'd previously found a shop in San Sebastian that caters for amply configured feet such as mine and so off we scooted. We told the lady what I wanted and she disappeared for a minute or two before returning with a pair of leather slippers (made in Bilbao - not, for once, in China) that fitted like a - I almost wrote like a glove - but they fitted as though made to measure. Perfick!

Last week we discovered that Miremont, the legendary patisserie in Biarritz, had another outlet at the back of its building tucked away in the corner of the Place Bellevue facing the sea. What's more, it had tables outside. The significance of this for us is we've seldom been able to use the Miremont as we invariably have the dog with us and, unusually for France, he's not allowed in the café. Having discovered this new terrace by accident the day before, it seemed a good idea to give it a test drive while the weather was still suitable for sitting outside. All I can say is that cakes in the Miremont are pretty special. Highly recommended.    

Richard Anthony enjoyed some success in the UK in the sixties. Here's one of his I haven't heard in years..

Here's another great French singer from the 60s..

Aah.. nostalgia ain't what it used to be..!

Last weekend we were up in Nantes. More to come on this.

5th November 2012. The last time we drove up to Nantes we had the old car without GPS and finding our way around the busy ring road and maze of avenues wasn't easy. Last weekend, we could relax and just follow the instructions - and this took the stress out of arriving in the dense, fast flowing rush hour traffic. I remembered the Pont de Cheviré from our last visit - there's something about crossing this immense high level bridge over the Loire with no visible means of support that makes me glad to get off it. Looking sideways while at its highest point always induces vertigo in me..

One thing we noticed immediately was the change in temperature. Two days earlier, we'd experienced temperatures of 26° at St Jean de Luz and people were still sunbathing and swimming. At Nantes, the skies were grey and a cold wind cut through us softies from the south west! Brrr-rrr!

Our thoughtful friends had put together a fascinating programme for the whole weekend and so it was that on Friday evening we started out at O Deck, a restaurant boat moored on the Loire - and, coincidentally, just across the river was the floodlit "Belem" - the 3 masted barque that had visited Bayonne in June.

My enduring memory of that evening however will be the chilly blast that greeted us as we emerged from the boat into the wide open spaces of the now disused shipyards - the Chantiers Navales - that sent us hurrying back to the car.

We were to return to the former shipyards during the course of the weekend as the city has brought life back into this heartland area in the most imaginative fashion.

Saturday morning saw us exploring the Marché aux Puces (Flea market) where 1001 artefacts, objets d'art, useless curios, posters, musical instruments and other assorted detritus of the previous century were being picked over by some hardy souls. I was dismayed to find that Beatles LPs now qualify as antiques - I can't tell you how aging that made me feel!

We were invited in the evening to a large function where we danced for the first time in a loong time.. Danced? Well, I did my patented shuffle around the dance floor. We wound it all up sometime after 2am. A great night! I'd spent part of the evening behind the bar serving drinks - never a good move as Sunday saw me paying heavily for it - ouch!

Sunday morning we were back at the former shipyard to experience Les Machines.. These are a collection of wildly phantasmagorical creations that are made up from some extremely clever hydraulics, electronics and articulations. A whole group of us went for a trip on the Elephant.. this video explains it far better than I can:
It wheezed and groaned and trumpeted its way slowly around the old shipyard, giving us time to appreciate all the real quirkiness of its construction - its huge flapping leather ears, the steam and water squirted out of its trunk, the curlicued metal interior of the beast that owed much to Jules Verne (who happened to be born in Nantes).

After this amazing ride, we walked through town - which I have to say was far more extensive than I'd remembered from a previous visit - to the castle of the Dukes of Brittany (NB. not Britney!) where we had a splendid private lunch of galettes eased down with some local cider in an awe-inspiring massively beamed chamber with 9ft thick walls. I could get used to that! However, back to Nantes - I was surprised to find that the inhabitants of metropolitan Nantes number some 800,000..! This makes it the 6th largest city in  France. Time magazine has described it as "the most liveable city in Europe". Personally, I think that's stretching the point a little but nonetheless it is a very pleasant city indeed. Here's another writer who's equally complimentary about Nantes. We walked through the Passage Pommeraye - an elegant 19th century arcade - that, unfortunately, was full of Saturday afternoon shoppers so it became a flying visit. (sigh of relief heard from my back pocket!)
Here's a panoramic image of the former shipyards in Nantes (if you click on the image to enlarge it, you'll spot the "Belem" moored on the left):
We walked by La Cigale in the centre - a grand old brasserie that was established in 1895 and which has been on my "must visit" list for some time - but that will have to wait for another day. I'm not a paid-up member of the Jane Birkin fan club by any means but she does do a good job here of describing La Cigale - her favourite restaurant. 

We climbed aboard a sightseeing boat for a trip up the river Erdre - a tributary of the Loire with which I must admit I was completely unfamiliar.
The river turned out to be quite broad and I counted three rowing clubs as we headed upstream escorted by twenty or so cormorants who seemed curiously attracted by our boat. The banks were dotted with châteaux of varying shapes and sizes - any of which I would have been happy to hang my hat in.  
Château de la Gascherie
It was a most enjoyable trip that lasted near enough 2 hours. We all decided to walk to the Tour de Bretagne - an office tower in the centre of Nantes almost 500ft high - for a farewell drink at the top while watching the sunset.
And finally..

We set off for home on Monday mid-morning and, to save cooking when we arrived home, we thought we'd stop off somewhere for lunch. We settled on Fontenay-le-Comte as it wouldn't involve too much of a diversion. 

There we found a Logis hotel with three "spoilt for choice" menus - we opted for the 23.90€ menu. Luckily we arrived there just after 12 and as we sat down, the restaurant quickly filled up with a more or less constant stream of new arrivals behind us. All this on a Monday lunchtime too! 

For starters, Madame had Crème de Céleri aux Noix de Saint Jacques et sa pointe de muscade (a sturdy cream of celery soup garnished with scallops while I went for the Vendée côté Mer (huîtres, crevettes et mini brochette de St-Jacques) (oyster, prawns and a mini-brochette of scallops). As we'd been eating fish all weekend we both had the Pavé de cœur de rumsteak poélé, réduction de Marie du Fou et galette comtoise. This turned out to be a tender rump steak served with a reduced wine sauce. We both gave it top marks. A glass of a velvety Côte de Blaye each rounded everything off. The only downside was the décor - a bit too cold and modern for us (lime green, belovèd of French interior decorators, was everywhere) Still, you can't eat the wallpaper! Definitely worth a detour for if you ever find yourself in the Vendée.

In looking for video clips about the Passage Pommeraye, I came across this one of Prague and Bohemia - which is where we're off to next spring. Looking forward to that!


Lesley said...

Food happens all over the place, but that elephant must be a one off!
Was the Pooch with you and did he have a great time away as well?

Pipérade said...

The pooch was with us for the weekend but he had to miss out on the Elephant experience. Think he'd have been terrified.. but apart from that he enjoyed himself!

POW16783 said...

Wow,that elephant is amazing, thank you. I am not surprised you need new slippers after all that walking around being a tourist!

Pipérade said...

I made a video of the elephant from inside - I must get round to uploading it.
It was like nothing else I've ever been in.. Here are some facts and figures:
12 m high, 8 m wide and 21 m long
48,4 tons of steel
Wood: American Tulip
Metal structure lubricated with 2,000 litres of hydraulic oil
450 HP motor
An indoor lounge with French doors and balconies
A terrace accessible via stairways
3 different routes: approximately 30 minutes
Speed 1 to 3 km/h
Set in motion using 60 cylinders, of which 44 are hydraulic, 6 are pneumatic and 10 are gas.
Well worth a trip to see it one day!

POW16783 said...

I think I'd have to take travel sickness pills, or else add elephant sickness to my list.

Pipérade said...

To be honest, I was glad to get off the thing as it was quite noisy (ear plugs were freely available) and there was a strong whiff of exhaust fumes from the genny. Fold in my fragile head and it wasn't a good mixture!☺

POW16783 said...

I think I'd be happy to see it rather than travel in it. I shared it on Facebook and my friend Simone got very excited. I think Nantes is near enough for her to visit....

Pipérade said...

Think once will be enough for me.. It is an extremely clever construction though - even its eyes blink!