From surfing in the Basque Country to soaking up some French culture (and wine) in nearby Toulouse and Bordeaux, it’s safe to say that I won’t be doing much studying this term…
These past couple of weeks have been hectic to say the least, hence the radio silence here on musebyplume. I’ve just moved to Pau, a beautiful city in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of south-western France. It has some stunning views of the nearby Pyrenees mountain range, and whether I’m catching my morning bus to uni or enjoying a glass of Jurançon (a delicious sweet white wine of the region which is becoming a favourite of mine) at the Boulevard des Pyrénées, I love catching glimpses of their shadowy peaks. It’s also just a few hours drive from the Spanish border. With this great location comes endless opportunities for weekends away, and for a restless Erasmus student with not much weighing on my grades this year, I’m planning on taking full advantage of that!
I spent my first week here getting unashamedly lost (both in the streets and on the road) and I’ve learnt that my sense of direction is even worse than I thought… But I’ve still managed to do a bit of exploring nonetheless. On my second day here it was unbearably hot in the city and I was starting to get itchy feet, so I jumped in my car and headed towards the mountains. I drove through green farmland punctuated by a string of small quaint towns, up and up towards verdant valleys of countryside. After getting a bit lost, I decided to pull over when I saw a sign for a Crêperie, which was unfortunately closed for the day… But what I lost in Nutella crêpes I gained in stunning scenery.
I found myself at the gateway of the Pyrenees, with a kind of tranquillity in the air which I had craved so much since moving to a noisy city. I stepped out into the late evening sun and breathed in the warm breeze, taking in the sounds of cooing wood pigeons, crickets and the soft chime of cow bells. The gravel crunched beneath my feet as I wandered down the track, before stopping to watch as a rich golden light bathed the quiet valley below. The stresses of French bureaucracy melted away, and I returned to Pau feeling refreshed and ready to face the week ahead…
I also managed to squeeze in an afternoon of surfing in Biarritz before my course started, which reminded me why I chose to come to the south west to study. When I visited the seaside town for the first time last summer, I had only spent a few hours there but I remember looking at that long stretch of glittering coastline and thinking how great it would be to spend my year abroad here. It seems that if you can see it in your mind, you will have it in your hands.
By the time we left the beach it was getting onto the evening, and as we began to drive away the colour of the sky drew us back again. Everyone had abandoned their cars on the side of the road to watch the last of the surfers paddle out into the rose-coloured water. At one moment in time, all attention was focused on one point, our gaze fixed on the exploding horizon. We joined the growing crowd on the sea wall, who watched this wonder in quiet appreciation, and I had to pinch myself at the thought of spending the next year in such a beautiful part of the world.
I’ve since made a weekend trip up to Hossegor, a European surfing mecca set along the 106km-long stretch of wild sandy coastline called la Côte des Landes. Although the waves were far too big and powerful for me to surf for most of the weekend, it was the perfect place to step back and relax after a stressful first week at French university.