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Trip Report Trip report, mostly food, Basque country; Dordogne; Paris 10/06

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With my memory growing weaker by the day, I will begin my report on almost three weeks spent in Bayonne; San Sebastian; the Dordogne; and Paris. I had been to most of these areas before and did not do all that much conventional sightseeing; my primary interest was food so the report will be heavily skewed towards that subject.

With one friend, I flew Delta/AF from JFK to Biarritz with a change of planes in Paris. From the airport we took a taxi to our hotel, the Best Western Le-Grand in Bayonne. Taxi fare was under 20E if I remember correctly. We had a most interesting conversation with the taxi driver, who identified himself as Basque first, French second. He explained that he spoke Basque at home with his family and that the language was once again being taught in French schools in the region.

We chose this hotel with trepidation, for the reports on TripAdvisor were quite negative. It is an old-fashioned hotel, in an attractive older building in the center of this beguiling small city. For 82 Euro I chose a mid-range room and was not unhappy..the room was very large and light with a spacious bathroom, tall windows overlooking the street, and good large bed; my friend chose the least expensive category, for about 10-15 euro less, and her room was dark, cramped and not a pretty place to relax.

After dropping off our suitcases, we walked around the immediate area, stopping at Darantz, one of the venerable chocolate shops in the city (Cazenave, on the same street, Rue Port Neuf, was closed for holiday). We sampled many of their dark treats including chocolate studded with piment d'Espelette, the local AOC red peppers, and others with cinnamon, with clove, and with other flavors and spices, and had a lengthy converation with the female staff who told us that this was one of the few family owned chocolate makers in the city and the future was uncertain since the "younger people" did not want to pursue the trade. We did not actually see the manufacture, as this is not done on the premises. The link between the Basques and chocolate dates from the 16th Century and chocolate in Bayonne was originally manufactured by the city's Jews tossed out of Spain during the Inquisition; for anyone interested in this saga I can check my notes and recommend some reading material.

Soon it was time to make our way to Auberge de Cheval Blanc, a Michelin one-star across the river in Petit Bayonne. En route, we had time to walk along the banks of the two rivers that course through town, and admire the traditional white-painted Basque houses with their green and rouge Basque trim and doorway lintels, many with half timbered facades. Bayonne seemed to be a delightful and friendly place and one I would return to. By this time we were quite exhausted from our transAtlantic flight and I have little recollection of our dinner except for the amazing chocolate desserts. For the plat, I had a lamb dish and my friend had a local fish; with entree, plat, dessert, and a bottle of 2000 Bordeaux Chateau Cadillac, the meal was not much over 100 Euro for both of us.

Here I will make note of the fact that this report, with a few exceptions, will not have my usual (and perhaps excruciating to some readers) detail regarding meals and food in general. The reason for this is that I was dining not with my usual partner but with friends, and since the conversation was often as absorbing as what was on my plate, and often there were 6 of us at meals (in the Dordogone and for a few nights in Paris). I did not write down the details as painstakingly as I have done in the past. Now, three weeks and some later, some of the details are no longer retrievable from my memory bank.

WHEW! Getting tired now, as we were on that first night. We made it back to the hotel in a thunderstorm and slept well in anticipation of our entry into Spain the following day.

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