We’ve been back in my beloved Basque country for a vacation with our bikes and while we were there we watched a couple of bike races too. On the recommendation of friends who know the area well, we stayed in a delightful Casa Rural – bed & breakfast – just down the coast from San Sebastian. The place was charming with lots of lovely home-from-home touches and a very welcoming hostess.
Our days followed a very similar routine. We were woken by birdsong and the cockerel up the road, ate a hearty breakfast and then headed out on our bikes. There’s very little flat in the Basque country, so whichever direction you decide to ride you’ll soon be reaching for the little ring. I find I give a good work out to 34 x 27 (uphill) and 50 x 13 (downhill) and largely ignore the gears in between.
The week started off positively sultry with us both working up a good sweat even before we reached the first incline. Although we set off together, I’m soon distanced and soldier on behind admiring the lush landscape, flora, fauna and the lovely stone farmhouses. I find it helps take my mind off those sudden steep inclines that pepper the countryside. I just slo-mo up them, dancing on the peddles and fix my gaze on the next challenge.
One of the many delights of riding in the Basque country is the other road users. There are always plenty of cyclists who give me much encouragement as they zoom past me on the uphill sections only for me to return the favour on the descents. Vehicles are happy to patiently wait before overtaking, they don’t rev their engines or honk their horns or accelerate past you on blind bends. But then you’ve got to figure that they’re all cyclists too.
Ride over we discover we’ve built a ravenous hunger which can only be extinguished by lunch. In this area it’s typically three courses, wine, water and coffee for anywhere between 9-13 Euros a head. We’ve made some startling discoveries. Two of the local bars serve what I’ve always regarded as British specialities, but maybe they were Basque inventions: the chip butty and the bacon sarnie! We also tried a couple of Asador’s, essentially BBQ restaurants and possibly another Basque invention?
At lunch one day we were served a pink Txakoli, the local petillant wine and after much searching we managed to find the only vineyard that produces it in Getaria. It was perched high above the town affording great views of the coastline and the grapes are allegedly bathed in sea mists which accounts for its delicious taste. I’ve bought a dozen so it’s going to be my drink of the summer.
Much as I love vacations with my beloved, and our bikes, they do throw up some challenges. Suddenly we’re having to share a bathroom while at home we have his and her’s facilities at opposite ends of the flat. We also have to share a bed and a bedroom for longer than a couple of nights. I generally request twin beds so that I don’t get woken by his incessant tossing, turning and throwing off of the bed sheets. I like to sleep with the window open but am mindful of the mosquitos. It was quite humid at home before we came away and the wee beasties had been treating me as some sort of monster mozzie munchie, despite the liberal application of repellent. On the advice of the pharmacist I’ve been wearing a mosquito repellant bracelet. It’s supposed to work for a month and was fine for four days but now seems to have lost its magic charms.
Of course, holidays with my beloved also give rise to some interesting incidents, usually involving the loss of something, generally keys. This time it was his driving glasses. However, most unusually he remembered where he’d left them some four hours earlier. We returned to the scene and he managed to recover them, slightly the worse for wear, but now repaired by an optician.
We had thought we might spend afternoons quietly on the beach but instead preferred to walk along the sandy shorelines cooling our feet in the water before ambling round old towns we’d yet to explore. Although Spain’s economic decline is severe, it’s less evident in the relative wealthy north, where unemployment is half the national average. However, one senses that it’s only going to get worse following news that the local ProTour team Euskaltel-Euskadi has been unable to secure funding to continue. Local sports teams have heavily relied on local authorities for funding, that’s all coming to an end and with it the hopes and dreams of many a young athlete.
The town where we were staying had one of the leading rowing teams which race against one another from May to September all along the coast in wide flat boats. The races are televised and enjoy much local support and sponsorship, the ladies race too. This is definitely the sport for those that weigh more than 70kg.
We were also transfixed to the big screen one lunch-time – a large flat screen or two is de rigueur in all bars and restaurants – watching a scything competition. Basically, how much grass can you scythe in an hour? I kid you not? The scythers bring their coach, team helpers and scythe sharpener who sharpens the one scythe while the scyther is clearing swathes of dense grass land with the other The scythed grass is weighed and the winner was a chap called Igor, I forgot his last name but suffice to say it used up all the available Ks and Zs from a scrabble board. Amazingly, there were even crowds of supporters.
I later discovered this is also a popular “sport” in the West Country but frankly it was no contest. The Basques dressed in running shorts and sleeveless t-shirts with bare feet looked much more like finely tuned athletes. I have to confess I was somewhat concerned at the amount of bare flesh exposed given the flashing scythes but these boys evidently know what they’re doing and frankly how else are you going to cut the grass on those steep Basque climbs?