Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Paris and Northern Spain: Day 8

by Kathy 30. October 2010 20:18

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Tolosa—Basque Town Extraordinaire


One of the things that I love most about traveling as a family is spending so much quality time with our kids. It is fascinating to see how their minds process, and question, information. Being in countries with different languages often makes the children wonder about certain words in their own language (English). This morning, Sebastian was pondering the meaning and reason behind the word “pants.” Specifically, why did the word have an “s” on the end when there was only one piece of clothing?

Genevieve suggested that the “s” was because there were two leg holes. Sebastian thought for a moment, and then replied, “Well, we don’t say ‘shirts,’ and there are two arm holes.” Hmmmm . . . you're right.

In addition to the great conversation, our breakfast had some good food—fresh orange juice, coffee with hot milk, bread, pastries, cereal and fruit.

Before leaving Santillana del Mar, I had to get a photo of the rooster whose continuous “cock-a-doodle doos” had woken us (and then kept us awake) in the wee hours of the morning. There he was, strutting around with a bunch of chickens next door:

It was raining again today. We carefully maneuvered our car through the narrow cobblestone streets on our way out of the village.

Our plan today was to drive on small mountain roads to reach the Basque town of Tolosa, about 2 1/2 hours southeast. First, however, we had to return to Bilbao to retrieve an iTouch charger that we had left at our apartment.

The clouds were resting on the top of this mountain:

We had wanted to take a different route back to Bilbao, instead of retracing the route we had taken to get here. However, the road signs were not consistent with the numbers/names marked in our Michelin road atlas.  After some confusing moments at a key intersection, we found ourselves retracing our incoming route.  With no quick place to turn around on the rainy two lane road, we just flowed with it.  At least we were going in the right direction!

We encountered a bit of traffic on the highway entering Bilbao:

After recovering our charger, we were back on the highway. This sign was very interesting to us:

As soon as we could, we left the highway behind and started a winding route along a 2-lane road:

The small town of Azkoitia (a Basque name) seemed like the perfect spot to have lunch.

We quickly found a parking spot and set off with our umbrellas.

I loved the turret on this building:

At a small plaza, there was a bar and a dessert shop, but no obvious restaurant. I entered the pastry shop and asked (in Spanish) if there was a restaurant nearby. Two women sitting at the counter bent their heads together and conferred in rapid Spanish; then, one of them gave me a warm smile and careful directions—go down the street, and turn right at the second bridge.

Waiting there for us was a restaurant called Itturi Jaketxea.

The menu was in the Basque language (Euskara) and Spanish. Many of the names were unfamiliar to us; we ordered a variety of food, hoping for some good surprises. We were pleased! The food was quite tasty and included paella, cream of vegetable soup, fried fish with potatoes, potatoes and sauce, rice pudding, apple tart, and coffee with milk. Here is Sebastian with his soup:

A river ran through town, next to the restaurant:

We paused to watch some boys fishing from the bridge.

They caught a fish! And they were happy to show it off to us:

On the way back to our car, we stopped at the church of Santa María la Real, whose tower we had seen when entering Azkoitia.

The nearby town of Azpeitia was larger and more industrial than Azkoitia. As we entered the town, we could see the majestic dome of the Sanctuary of Loyola rising about the trees.

The Sanctuary marks the birthplace of San Ignatius Lopéz de Loyola, a soldier who had visions that compelled him to found the Brotherhood of Jesus, or Jesuit order, of the Catholic church. His modest birth home has been replaced by a large ornate complex that draws many pilgrims and other visitors from all over the world each year.

Other views of the Sanctuary:

Our 2-lane road had one curve after another through lush greenery.

Next to the road was an old stone house:

While some more modern homes were down in the valley:

The town of Errezil:

The surrounding hills were very beautiful:

And we loved the old arched bridges that crossed over the road:

The town of Bidegoian:

Some homes:

This old building looked abandoned:

Finally, we reached the Oria River, which runs through the city of Tolosa.

In Tolosa, we were staying at the modern Hotel Oria.

Traveling as a family of four, it is sometimes difficult to find rooms that will accommodate all of us. Hotel Oria offered us two modest rooms with a connecting door, something that we haven’t found too often in our travels outside the U.S.

The view from our room:

We chose to visit Tolosa because we wanted to experience a town that maintained a commitment to its Basque heritage. We had read that the town was “real” Basque territory, with the Basque language being spoken by a majority of the residents.

We were not disappointed. Tolosa was wonderful—a thriving community with friendly people and lots of families with young children.

The hotel front desk clerk spoke Basque and Spanish (no English), and she was very patient with our Spanish. She provided a map of the city and pointed out some places of interest.

With map in hand, we set out for a walk to the historical district and were immediately captivated by Tolosa’s beautiful and colorful architecture.

Many of the buildings appeared to have been recently renovated. The homes on the upper floors of this old building had modern windows and fresh paint, while the lower level was still waiting for some TLC from a new owner.

The castle gate from the city's ancient history still stood.

The arches of the Tinglado marketplace stretched beside the Navarre Bridge:

More important than the buildings around us, however, was the vibrant energy of the town. There were many people out strolling, returning from work, reconnecting with family, gathering with friends, and just going about their daily lives.

A rowing team was conducting exercises out on the Oria River:

Two women were sticking up posters, with messages in the Basque language:

One of our guidebooks mentioned that Tolosa had “one of the most famous chocolate and sweet shops in Spain.” We couldn’t pass that up! We found the shop, Gorrotxategi, in one of the small plazas, and stood in line with all of the other chocolate lovers. The purchase experience involved line cutting by savvy locals, and curt staff who were not patient with our Spanish. We left 20 minutes later, a bit shell-shocked but with chocolates in hand, and found an outdoor table at which to savor our treats.

Tucked in a nearby plaza was the Santa Maria church.

Next to the church was a small playground:

More buildings:

We passed a local shoe store, Shanti Kirolak, and were drawn inside by a huge display of children’s shoes, including Crocs. On this trip, we had noticed that the children’s toes were stretching the limits of their Crocs. We communicated in Spanish with the shop owner, asking and answering questions about our respective lives, and sharing some good laughs. The store owner was very helpful and friendly, going in the back room several times to bring out additional colors and sizes that might work. We ended up with muted orange Crocs for Sebastian, and a snazzy purple pair for Genevieve.

Sebastian and Genevieve, outside the shoe store:

On the way back to the hotel, we looked for a playground or park for Genevieve and Sebastian. Euskal Herria Plaza had a vast open area in the center, but no greenery or play structures.

Near the hotel, however, was a large playground. Genevieve and Sebastian immediately ran to the swings and were soon flying high:

Five minutes later, the rain arrived and chased away all of the local kids and their parents. But we remained. Ben and I whipped out an umbrella and sat on a nearby bench, content in our pocket of dryness.

Genevieve and Sebastian didn’t mind getting wet.

For dinner tonight, we ate at the café on the bottom floor of our hotel. The place was packed when we arrived, and we found a covered table outside. Our server greeted us with a big smile and bent over backwards to ensure that we had a great meal. She was very attentive, spoke to us in clear Spanish that we could understand, brought us menus that had some of the food items listed in English, and even ushered us inside to a newly emptied table when she saw that the children were getting cold outdoors. We ordered a simple meal that was very good—calamari, pizza, salad, and fish soup, followed by ice cream and a chocolate-dipped cookie for dessert.

Here is Sebastian, working on his travel journal as we finished up our meal:

We had really enjoyed our travels through Basque country today. Tolosa was an amazing town, full of zest, and we were so glad that we were able to experience a part of it.



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Comments (4) -

10/31/2010 5:21:20 AM #

Lucy Foster

Hi Kathy
I'm totally enjoying your fabulous tales and pictures of your Paris and Spain trip. Its so interesting, and your children are just delightful! I love the way that you always manage to find a play park everywhere you go.
Your Paris section brought back a lot of memories for me. I first went to Paris on my honeymoon in 1983 and then after my divorce, returned with my children in 2002! Emily and Sam were then aged 13 and 11 and we stayed in a very hot hotel on the noisy Bouldevard de Magenta near the Gard du Nord. We had the brilliant idea of walking up the stairs on the Eiffel Tower to the first level - there were a lot of steps! A favourite place both children enjoyed was the Pompidou Centre. We also visited Sacre Couer and Montmartre, Notre Dame and the left bank, Les Halles... and we did the same boat trip that you guys did!
It looks like it must have been quite a culture difference between Paris and Basque Spain. Looking at the map I see that you doubled back on yourselves from Bilbao to Santillana and then back again through Bilbao to Tolosa, but it certainly seems to have been worth it. Checking the map also made me realise that Santander is in this area - I live in Plymouth and we have a ferry that goes to Santander, and your experiences have made me think about visiting this area.
Thank you so much once again for sharing your travelogue, I enjoy it immensely.
Best wishes

Lucy Foster United Kingdom | Reply

10/31/2010 9:43:51 AM #


Lucy, thank you so much for your comments!

It sounds like your time in Paris with Emily and Sam was really enjoyable. I bet that they will always remember their climb up the Eiffel Tower steps!  Yes, there was a distinct difference between Paris and the Basque towns--each was wonderful, but quite different.  Paris was amazing.  But when we crossed the border into Spain, it felt like we could finally exhale.  

We did make a special trip out of our way to visit Santillana del Mar, which required us to backtrack in order to continue through the Basque country.  I'm glad that we did that little detour, as the cave paintings were incredible.  Santillana del Mar was nice to see, although it wasn't quite what I expected.  We had originally contemplated spending some time in Santander and going to the beach; but with the cold rain that we had every day, we were glad that we had created a different itinerary.  The country in northern Spain is certainly beautiful, even with the clouds and rain!

I am glad that you are continuing to enjoy our travel stories!
Warm regards to you and your family,

Kathy United States | Reply

10/31/2010 10:17:11 AM #


I love this place, I think I need to go there

tedd United States | Reply

10/31/2010 11:06:28 AM #


Tedd, you should definitely go!  It is worth the effort. And the Basque food is very good! Smile

Kathy United States | Reply

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