Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Adios Espagne; bonjour la France - er, vive la difference? May 12

We left Haro in fine weather for a fairly short run into France, stopping at a corniche campsite near St Jean De Luz, on the 'French' part of the Cote de Basque. Our departure was not perfect - it appears that I clipped a tree with the rear offside edge of the van, sustaining slight but annoying damage. I felt nothing and was entirely unaware, indeed congratulating myself on the exit when Janet appeared from the loos and spotted it with some alarm and so ending my smug content! It serves to remind me that what is happening some 12 metres behind me may be very different from what I expect - that long overhang does swing a very long way!
The new site in some ways is wonderful. We are 50 metres from the cliff edge and fabulous views west. To the east are the hills and mountains that begin the rise to the Pyrenees further east. The pitch is a generous one - in fact I skewed up the position slightly, partly becasue it is not quite square but it is no problem. Overall I am improving in the handling of this monster, honest. And the weather is superb, despite poor forecasts. of course this is coastal and therefore more variable.
But this site serves very well to point up the amazing difference to be found between UK, French and Spanish campsites (and Italian for that matter). And these differences also servie to illustrate some national characteristics. In Spain the sites are generally tightly packed but they are very well equipped and seem universally (well 11 out of 11) to have brilliantly clean and well arranged toilet facilities. They are in large, well ventilated buildings, one for each gender and there are copious spotless WCs and showers and wash basins with mirrors, shaver points etc. Open 'park' areas as in the UK are rare (Haro had one) but otherwise Spanish sites seem fairly similar to the UK. Except the UK sites almost always only have camping and caravan touring pitches - nothing permananet (although non club sites do). Caravan and C and C Club sites are as spotless as in Spain. Buit France is usually very different in details. Often, as here, the toilets and showers are uni-sex and as here are in old converted buildings. They are clean but rather tired. And there are rarely enough loos (for some are still Turques!).Shaver popints are rare too. Given they are effectively 'outdoor' facilities bad weather can be a major issue. Very odd it seems to me, that this shoulod continue to be so since there are legions of French campers using the Spanish sites - don't they ever complain? Prices are higher too in France. depite the bad comparison.
Last night we walked the dog along the clifftop and I also watchedf the sun go down. The cliffs are amazing - these are ancient bedding plates which have been tilted up to about 70 degree from horizontal. They are young plates, like soft slate but much thicker and they weather rapidly. The resuilt is an amazing 'beach of serrated plate edge like a giant cheese grater. The waves, even when small, crash into the plates, which run along the shore line, and in places large sections can be seen to have been snapped off like enormous tiles. But the cliff is even more bizarre since the cliffs are often sheer and continuous plates angled straight down about 30 metres and smooth as a levelled floor but at 70degrees! If you fell you would skid straight to the bottom without bouncing once. Get it right and you could live! You'd be sore of course - it isn't THAT smooth!
Today (14th) was explore day so se went down to the twin harbour towns of Ciboure and its bigger smarter brother, St Jean De Luz. We spent most time In St Jean,very smart in that chic French riviere style. All pavement cafes and posh shops and lunatic prices. But such fun you hardly notice that drain on the wallet. And France is indeed tres cher, oh yes. Comopared to Spain everything is 10-20 per cent dearer here. The food is probably comarable in quality and quantity but the menu prix fixe is around 15 euros (10-12 in oain) and that is for just two courses and bread - wine/beer/water is extra and so is a dessert!
The welcome here is different too, although St Jean is so close to Sopain and so many are basques that the difference is less apparent. Even so the suny, chirpy welcome of the average Spaniard is not so common - the French are more loike the English; a bit reserved, mildly suspicious. But as ever a bit French does warm them up and after six weeks struggling with our poor Soanish it a pleasure to be able to have partial conversations - even if we do still toss in the occasional Gracias and Por favor! (Interesting, too how Gracias sounds even more embarrassing when wrongly used to a French person! The correct usage is "grassy arse" as might be said of a careless cricketer!).
But the biggest difference is in the developments - nothing in St Jean goes above six storeys and even those are mansard roofed to keep the profile down. For the most part three storey is thelimit and it keeps everything very tidy and appealing. The French too continue to de,monstrate their touch for style - these smart towns tend to choose a colour scheme that is almost universally to be seen on the first and second floors in town centres. Here in St Jean it is a dark burgundy red teamed with a soft off-cream for all window frames, ballustrades and wooden fetures. The streets look very fine as a result. I suppose in the UK it would be seens as interference by the panners and others. Janet says we couldn't get away with it because unlike here miost commercialproperty is owned by big business interests. May be so.

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