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12 December

 Back in France we are in a 'not so flash' Aire de Service between San Sebastian and Biarrritz. San Sebastian was a bit of a disappointment. Granted we did not stop and do a walk about as itís towns/cities like this when the only disadvantage to the van - its size - makes itself felt. Parking was impossible and, as all we could see was one nice stretch of beach in the midst of an industrial port city, we did a couple of 'drive-throughs'. We did have time to notice that the entrance to the 'Civil Guard' headquarters was protected by a couple of heavily armed men and had two redundant and rusting armoured Landrovers jammed across the street entrance. - This is Basque territory!

Temperatures in downtown San Sebastian were between 25 and 27C today. We just checked and it IS  12 December! The warm wind howled and buffeted the van most of last night. We suspect that what we are experiencing is what the French call 'le Mistral'. From what we can recall from our days as geography teachers... the Mistral blows off the mountains and for some reason... which we have forgotten!!! it brings unusually warm weather to one side of the alps and very cold weather to the other?? Or something like that?? Whatever the cause, the change was sufficient to coax swimmers into the surf at San Sebastian beach!

Returning to France was a bit of a disappointment after Spain. Many parts of France have become what we have been calling 'anywhere-land'. They have no particular character and could be familiar parts of any Australian, American or European city. Car dealerships, light industry, petrol stations and supermarkets are the same in anybody's 'language!' While parts of Spain can be similarly described, there is still some of the 'old Spain' left to enjoy.

We met an English couple (actually English-Welsh) last night who are part of the return match for the Spanish Armada which launches itself upon Spain for most of the year. They are starting a three month holiday campervanning it around Spain. Given the weather it is little wonder that the Brits are finally escaping their living rooms and moving about. As they pointed out, the UK is also somewhat of a 'rip-off'. These two had visited  family in Australia, Tweed Heads actually, and were amazed at how cheap things were in Oz - half UK prices according to them. We can hardly wait for our first trip to a UK supermarket and petrol station.

13 December

Another pleasant night in a motorway services last night. One doesn't even hear the trucks anymore. And only paid 13 French francs for the tolls! (about AUS $3)

Temperatures plummeted to 24C today from 27C yesterday! We walked the streets of Biarritz in cotton shirts. The beach and town are very laid back this time of the year. We 'classical French speakers' are right at home in a small city like this when the tourists are gone and the beach is ours. We were so impressed with Biarritz that we checked out the Real Estate prices. Amazing. A 20 sq mts, three bedroom unit close to the front will cost you AUS$95,000...!!! Sounds great.. (Work out how big 20 sq mtrs is!).

We have a bit of time to kill as we don't have to pick Lizzie up in Paris until the 22nd, so we decided to poke around some of the countryside around Bordeaux. Everything is closed! Whole towns are locked up: supermarkets, petrol stations, schools, the lot! The countryside however is still very attractive. Small farms and larger 'hobby farms' share the coastal plain with pine forest and marsh land.

We are not sure whether there has been a large storm or whether the sand drifts that have taken over the beach front towns are a normal seasonal happening? Some beachfront villages are almost buried in golden sand many feet deep. One village we visited was all but deserted with sand drifts up to a meter deep in the streets. Much like a western ghost town. Our map shows this area as the Cote d'Argent (Gold Coast). The local signs refer to it as the Cote Sauvage. The area seems to be well and truly on the agenda of the hardened international surfer. 'The boys' were out in the Atlantic swells today and while the air temperature was in the low twenties, the water temperatures are another question. This is the North Atlantic, and it is the week before Christmas.

A really interesting day.

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