Friday, September 25, 2009

New Photo Slideshow by Amanda

The slideshow to the right - "Paris in High Definition" - contains the best pictures I have taken during the trip.

However, Amanda has also taken pictures and she typically has a different perspective -- a lot of up close and odd/interesting angles -- so I encouraged her to upload her pictures to her own album and I would create a separate slideshow, which I have done. It is appropriately titled "Paris Up Close."

I use a Nikon D80 and Amanda uses a Sony DSC H2.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Returned "Home" from Biarritz

Amanda and I got "home" tonight after our 4 day vacation with my sister and her family in Biarritz and the Basque coastline (Aquataine).

Biarritz is a place we must return. Hmmmm.... a month next summer sounds nice.

This place is totally off the radar for Americans but apparently is well-known to the French, English, Australians (!), and Dutch. It has some of the best beaches and waves I've ever seen and great water sports and the prices are not outlandish unless you go down to San Sebastian across the border into Spain.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ian McKeenan Sighting at San Sebastian Film Festival

It seems like every time we come to Europe, we end up spotting a celebrity serendipitously.

Two years ago, we bumped into Rod Stewart having dinner with a small private group on the outdoor terrace behind the Hotel Palazzo Sasso in Ravello Italy. I was too dumbstruck to even think of taking a picture.

Last year, I was watching the final round of the British Open golf tournament in Murphy's Bar in Fira, Santorini with one other guy at 3p in the afternoon. Only later, after he left, did I discover it was John Stamos. He even introduced himself as John Stamos but that didn't mean anything to me (having never watched Full House), much to the dismay of my female friends back home!

This year is not quite as interesting but we were in San Sebastian yesterday, which is a very upscale beach town just across the border in Spain. In fact, I was told it is the most expensive city in Spain. It certainly has some amazing beaches and buildings.

It also has the San Sebastian Film Festival (the 57th edition this year), which is why my sister booked her villa in Biarritz, France 30 minutes north -- there were no good rooms left in San Sebastian.

While walking around, we noticed a crowd standing behind retaining rails on both sides of the entrance of a large building (later determined to be the Hotel Maria Cristina, apparently as grand a hotel as you will find anywhere) on the river. There were many people with professional video cameras. I also spotted an interview being conducted on the sidewalk overlooking the river across the street. Finally, there was a red carpet lining the sidewalk leading to the building.

Hmmm... being an astute person, I deduced something, or someone, important was happening. And I wanted to know what, or who, this important happening was.

I found a spot across the street from the entrance to the building and waited. A few minutes later a black car arrived and an older gentleman in a brim hat stepped out and waved to the small crowd, was greeted affectionately by several people, and then proceeded to walk over to the enthusiastic throng and sign autographs.

I began asking people near me who this man was and, through their broken English, determined it was Ian McKellen -- Sir Ian McKellen to be precise -- longtime English stage and film actor, most recently known for playing Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Sir Leigh Teabing in The DaVinci Code. Official Ian McKellen Website.

I have since discovered that he was present to receive the Donostia Award for lifetime achievement (click here).

Pretty good timing huh? We just happened on the location where the person receiving the lifetime achievement award at the film festival was due to arrive in minutes.

Entrance to Hotel Maria Cristina with crowd waiting on both sides

Interview with someone important? One guy has a pink Mary Poppins logo on his shirt.

McKellen Arrives

McKellen Signs Autographs

Waves to crowd as he enters hotel

Amanda, Zachary, Linda, Zoe, Joe

The Waves (and Beaches) of Biarritz

I have been to the best beaches Europe has to offer including the French Riviera, Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Cyprus, Crete, Sardinia, the Amalfi Coast (Italy), Ibiza, and Almeria (Spain).

However, Biarritz (and San Sebastian) has to rank pretty close to the top. Actually, we are in Anglet, a little village just north of Biarritz but I think the quality of the beach is consisent up and down this part of the Basque coastline. (We have also been a little ways north to Hossegor where they are hosting a professional surfing contest through Oct 4.) You can see our exact location on this map, which you can use to zoom in on beach. (You can also drag the map south to San Sebastian across the Spanish border.)

View Our House on the Beach in Anglet in a larger map

First, the stretch of sand is excellent. While yellow and heavily textured, it slowly tapers from the dunes to the water for about 100 yards and contains no seaweed or rocks. Other than the large rocks used to create jetties for erosion control, there are no rocks in the water. The beaches are cleaned and landscaped every morning. The map above illustrates the depth and length of the beach. There are plenty of facilities for lodging, food, drink, and activities (surf lessons, volleyball, etc).

Additionally, there are 10 golf courses within 18 miles (including one right on the beach just 100 yards north of our house).

What is odd is that I have never really heard much about this region, certainly not for its beaches. The French Riviera is world famous, and justifiably so, but it is a much different coastline and beach. While St Tropez has a nice stretch of beach with similarly textured sand, it lacks waves, is more difficult to reach, and is ridiculously more expensive. While I might have to give it additional thought, I think I prefer the Basque coastline to the French Riviera, all things considered.

Biarritz is known as the surf capital of Europe and from what I can tell, it lives up to its reputation. One of the biggest complaints I have about beaches in general, having grown up 1 mile from the Atlantic Ocean in Florida, is the lack of waves. I realize for some people, that is a good thing, but I like to body surf, skim board, and boogie board and you can pretty much forget about that in Europe.

Yesterday, while Zach and Zoe took surfing lessons, I attempted to body surf the waves. Granted, it has been a while since I have attempted to body surf waves this large (5-8 foot faces) but I thought I was up for it. I grew up around the ocean and I'm a decent swimmer and know how to float and tread water to recover my wind and strength.


I was able to wade out about 100 yards, despite being buffeted by wave after wave, till I finally thought I was past the breakers.

And then even bigger waves started breaking. Due to the low tide, the waves were not breaking gradually; they were building and crashing quickly where the water became shallower. I tried to swim under the waves to get past them but the force of the crashing waves extended all the way to the bottom and tossed me around like I was in a washing machine. As soon as I could get my bearings and reach the surface to catch a breath, I would get pummelled by another wave. I was already tired just from swimming out and now I was getting exhausted fighting the waves and I could barely touch the bottom. It actually got a little scary for a moment. Fortunately, I was able to let the next wash carry me in enough to reach waist deep water and walk in to shore exhausted, having not body-surfed a single wave. (See my sister's videos of me at the end of this post.)

Zachary's surfing instructor looked over at me and shook his head as if to say "That was a dangerous thing to try, buddy." I certainly underestimated the power of the waves. Perhaps if I had a boogie board it would have been easier but I'm not sure I could have even gotten out there with a boogie board.

These are some pictures of how nice the beach is and how beautiful the waves are but don't really give you a sense of the size:

Zachary taking surfing lessons

This is a video of a set of waves taken from the tip of the jetty that juts about 100 yards out. Along with the sound, it gives you a good sense of the size and power.

It turns out my sister had two videos of my losing battle with the waves. This first video shows me trying to fight my way out although it is only the beginning part -- it doesn't show the latter parts where I really get pummelled in deeper water. But you still get a good sense of how big and strong the waves are even in the shallower water.

This second video captures me returning defeated and bedraggled and explaining what happened. You can see how exhausted I am. In fact, I was too tired to even realize she was filming me at first.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Off to Biarritz for Vacation from Paris!

Ok, I lied.

We're not really spending 11 weeks in Paris. But "73 days in Paris and 4 days in Biarritz" is a rather awkward title for a blog and is an even worse domain name.

I had never heard of Biarritz before coming to Paris.

I have since learned it is the surfing capital of Europe. I bet you didn't even know Europe had a surfing capital.

Biarritz is located all the way down in the southwest corner of France.

View Larger Map

There are also 10 golf courses within an 18 mile radius although I doubt I will pay to rent clubs as well as pay the green fees.

My sister has rented a villa on the beach. They arrived by car yesterday after leaving Paris before the Technoparade began (fortunately!). We will be returning Thursday night.

Should be fun.

You can read more about "breathtaking" Biarritz here.

Amanda Made It Back Safe but Tired

I went to bed at 5a this morning after the FSU-BYU game. Amanda's plane was due in at 6:10a.

I awoke at 8:40a and realized she wasn't here yet.

I checked the Air France flight status on-line but it had no information.

For a moment, I thought I heard pounding on the big green doors on the street which give entrance to our courtyard and thought maybe she forgot the code and had been pounding for an hour for someone to let her in!

I went upstairs to change so I could check but when I came down, there she was at the door to our apartment, tired but fine. It had just taken longer than normal to get through customs and baggage claim. Odd how I just happened to wake up minutes before she arrived. Almost as if married couples have a 6th sense about the other.

We both went back to bed. I got up at 1p and she's still in bed after 2p!

And we have a 7a flight to Biarritz in the morning.

Our body clocks are going to be so screwed up this week.

Go Noles. FSU 54, BYU 28

Found the FSU at BYU game broadcast on an internet site (legal?) at 1a this morning.

The picture was a little small in the browser but it was the real broadcast from Versus satellite and the transmission was fine.

FSU finally, after a dreadful performance against Jacksonville State last week, got it going against the #7 Cougars who had upset Oklahoma to start the season.

Went to bed at 5a.