We left London on 5th November with only a couple of suitcases with destination Biarritz. Our cat, Heathcliff, left behind in a cattery in West London until travelling arrangements for him could be made. We stayed at the same hotel (Best Western Kemaris) where we stayed at a little over a year before, when we came to prospect and fell in love with the area. It was raining and cold when we arrived in Biarritz, but that didn’t stop us from going out. We remembered a few places and made our way to Bar Jean, a magnificent Basque restaurant by the central market, where we ordered an excellent Rioja, sardines and grilled prawns.
We didn’t want to spend a lot of money, but it was after all the first night of our new life – we had to celebrate somehow. After dinner, we lost our way through the streets in the old town in search for an elusive bar where we had drinks the year before, none of us able to quite remember much about it, other than it was at the corner of two streets and not far from the sea front. We magically stumbled upon it and gleefully cheered inside to find out that it was open (now we know that it is called Bar Basque and we know exactly where it is, having visited it every evening of our stay in Biarritz).
We settled on more Rioja and sat down outside in the heated covered area. The place was busy for a cold Sunday night and a border collie provided the evening’s entertainment by pestering people to throw him a chewed-up blue ball. He deposited it a few times at my feet and I knew I got suckered. I threw it a few times and he religiously returned it between my feet like an offering. Alistair tried to help me by taking the ball from his mouth but the dog was stronger and my husband fell over taking the two glasses of Rioja with him. The barman (a former rugby player with arms as thick as thighs and hands of a giant) immediately came and graciously replaced our glasses, while someone at a neighbouring table invited us to join them. We now sat with a Dutch-Canadian couple, a French chef and a French teacher from Paris, who was visiting an ill friend in town and had also been invited to join the table. Soon after, another Frenchman and his Jack Russell joined us, giving everyone at the table a kiss on each cheek. Before I knew, the Jack Russell was in my lap and, obviously aided by the wine, I was talking French like a pro. It felt good. It felt right. It felt home already.
We didn’t make it home until after midnight and the next day I felt like death (my own fault really, for putting a limit on the Rioja intake). Alistair suggested a walk by the beach to which I reluctantly agreed. Just like the first time the year before, I was struck by the rugged beauty of the coast in Biarritz.
The tide was in recess and people walked their dogs on the solid sand left behind by the wild waters. To our amazement we saw a girl with a cat on a lead.
‘Seriously?’ said Alistair.
‘Seriously,’ said the girl. ‘We’ve been bringing him on a lead to the beach since he was a kitten.’
‘Wish I could take my cat on a lead,’ I said. But then a sadness hit me at the thought of Heathcliff back in London in the cattery, with no plan of coming back yet (the animal transport company I had agreed on a deal with had made a mistake in their planning and were not able to bring him over on the agreed date).
The views were indeed incredible, but we hadn’t had breakfast yet. Alistair suggested going to the market for a coffee, just as my stomach was beginning to revolt. Normally, a visit to the Halles would have made me very happy, but the sight and the smell of food disgusted me. And so, during our very first full day in France, I found myself throwing up with my head in the (very clean) toilet of the central market in Biarritz, Alistair standing outside with my bag and coat, whistling the theme tune from Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid to disguise the noises I made.
The next day we took a long walk up to the lighthouse and all the way down to the beach in Anglet. It was sunny and gorgeous and we sat for a picnic, feeding a gang of sparrows and taking in the stunning views. I knew I loved Biarritz – what was there not to love about it? But would I love being in the country as much? What if this has been the biggest mistake we ever made?