About Me

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Delray Beach, FL, Westport, MA, United States
Undergraduate degree, Colby College; MA in teaching, Columbia Teacher's College; former high school English teacher in three states; former owner of interior design co. with advanced degree from R.I. School of Design. Barking Cat Books published my first book in 2009 titled, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. My humorous manuscript titled ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS was published in June, 2014. In 2015 A SURVIVAL GUIDE won a gold medal in the self-help category at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association conference. In 2018 Barking Cat Books published my SURVIVING YOUR DREAM VACATION: 75 RULES TO KEEP YOUR COMPANION TALKING TO YOU ON THE ROAD. See website By CLICKING HERE.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Interview with Novelist Wendy Blake Pottinger




Wendy Blake Pottinger  was born and raised in central Ohio before moving to South Florida. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies and she has written for PBG Lifestyle Magazine. Her love of travel throughout the United States was the inspiration for her novel, A GIFT OF GRACE. To  her, life is about family.

Pam: When did you discover you wanted to be a writer?

Wendy:  I have always been a writer. If you don't believe me, just ask to see the many journals tucked into the old trunk in my attic. On second thought, no one should ever read those. I had some issues in the 70's.

Pam:   How did your childhood influence your novel?

Wendy:  Growing up in a small town in central Ohio was wonderful. Life was right out of a Rockwell painting - sledding the hills, skating the ponds in winter; swimming and fishing in the spring and summer; jumping in the leaves, hayrides, and festivals in the fall. Mostly, these moments were made more magical by being surrounded by family.

Pam:  Is the story line in A GIFT OF GRACE a reflection of you or your family?

Wendy:  My novel traces a journey made by three siblings after losing their mother. Many of the stories come from actual occurrences throughout the years.

Pam:  Please explain a little how your story line evolved.

Wendy:  The inspiration for my novel came from one year when my three kids were home from college. I was sad to see how they had grown apart. They all lived within ten miles of each other, but it seemed to me in their independence in life, they had left behind these special relationships. My book is based on a mother who sends her children on a 21-day journey together across the U.S. to spread her ashes.

Pam:  What was the best writing advice you ever had?

Wendy:  In Stephen King's book, ON WRITING, he is explicit in his advice to write what you know. I have to agree. You have to love your characters and your story. If not, why tell it? I have three kids. My daughter did pee in a laundry basket, my son did sprain his glute muscle. Did they enjoy my sharing their stories? Yes, they did. They all had input and opinions through the writing process.

Pam:  So you got additional writing advice within the family!  Do you have specific rituals when you write?

Wendy:  I write daily. Usually mornings, but sometimes I have an idea and I've learned, if you think you'll remember that idea later, you're wrong! So, I may stop during the day and do a quick outline for a particular idea. Since I work on multiple books at the same time (I'm a Gemini), I need to keep the ideas filed with the correct book. I certainly don't want my time traveler to end up in my 1800's veterinarian story. While I might outline an idea, I've never outlined a book. That said, I usually know my beginning, middle, and end. But I love to see where the characters will take me.
           
Pam:  What's currently on your nightstand?

Wendy:  Another piece of advice is: to be a great writer, you need to be a great reader. I have a stack of seven books currently on my bedside table. Some of the authors I'm savoring at the moment are Lee Child, Barbara Kingsolver, David Baldacci, and Debbie Macomber. Also I have local authors' books, including your book, SURVIVING YOUR DREAM VACATION, and JM LeDuc's EVIL AWAKENED.

Pam:  Thank you for taking the time to read the rules and anecdotes in my new travel book! What are you working on at the moment?

Wendy:  My next novel, a love story with a time travel twist, will be out in January. The working title is SHADOW PEOPLE.
               In addition to writing, I love to help new authors. If your readers have any questions or comments or just want to say, "Hi," contact me at: wpottinger3@gmail.com

Pam:  Many thanks for your time, Wendy, and best of luck with the new book!


Monday, November 12, 2018

A Remarkable Bird



     Take a guess:  what bird mates for life, returns to the same nest every year, migrates up to 3500 miles in autumn and again in spring in a state of semi-sleep, and can spend forty hours in the air at 25-30 mph without stopping?
   
Nest on Westport River, Massachusetts

Nest in shallow water on left
     The answer?  An osprey.
     In both Florida and Massachusetts, we live near osprey breeding grounds. We see their nests, the size of queen beds, made from anything the scavengers can lift. They balance on platforms at the top of high poles or on man-made structures like bridges. Some of the platforms have been erected by the Audubon Society.
Osprey nest on Westport River. Note piece of scrap iron hanging from bottom right.
     The Intracoastal Waterway in Florida and branches of the Westport River, Massachusetts (leading into Buzzard’s Bay below Cape Cod), provide supplies of fish, the birds’ only diet.
Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts
     Their curved talons and an under-surface on their toes consisting of short spines allow them to hold squirming fish while flying. Once when my mother was visiting us in Massachusetts, a foot-long, wet fish landed next to her on the deck. "Why were you throwing a fish at me?" she later asked her son-in-law (Charley).   
      “Evelyn,” Charley said, laughing, “I was working on the other side of the house and wouldn’t have had the strength to throw a heavy fish that far. Besides, I would never throw anything at you! An osprey probably let go.”
     Twenty years ago, the osprey became endangered in the U.S. The pesticide DDT caused the birds’ eggshells to become thin. As a result, the young exhibited symptoms of pesticide-poisoning or never hatched. After DDT was banned in the 1970’s in the U.S., the osprey population rebounded. The population worldwide today is estimated at 460,000. 
Adult osprey in flight
      Typically, two to four eggs are laid in April, always in the same breeding ground and in the same nest. Incubation lasts approximately 38 days. Fledglings may leave the nest at 44-59 days, but will still rely on parental care for six weeks. Sexual maturity isn’t reached till age three. A typical lifespan is seven to ten years, with their only known predators the great horned owl, golden eagles, and bald eagles.
Juvenile osprey in flight
     In shallow inland or coastal fishing waters, winter brings ice in northern regions. Fish head away from the surface, making it almost impossible for osprey to spot them from the air, despite their dense and oily plumage for diving feet-first. The larger-bodied mother leaves the nest first in late August through November, to migrate from North America to the shallow waters of Central and South America. Those residing in California and Florida don’t migrate.The Westport Watershed Alliance, Massachusetts, has placed transmitters on a sample population, allowing GPS signals to trace the migration thousands of miles.
     Ospreys can rest half their brains en route, shutting one eye and letting half their brain sleep. They fly in hot air rising (thermals) for hours without flapping their wings. When they start to lose altitude, they drop, glide, and search for another thermal. Their high-pitched chirps mingle with the wind.
     The father leaves the nest second to join his mate, and finally the juveniles. In late March or early April they make the return trip to breed.
A lone juvenile staring down at me in October from his nest on the Westport River, before leaving to migrate 
    
    
    
    
    

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Travel Photos - Children

School boy, Tokyo, 1996    
             

School kids, Ardmore, Ireland, 2017
Campers on Ischia, Italy, 2015
Singing of revolution for us in elementary school's principal's office, Havana, 2018
Cuzco, Peru, 2008


Confirmation Day, Ischia, Italy, 2011


Class studying Monet in Musee D'Orsay, Paris, 2016

Tokyo school children, 1996

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Travelogue, Ischia, Italy, 2018

     We have been traveling to the same island of Ischia, off the Amalfi coast of Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea, for nineteen years. No matter where else our travels take us, we hop a hydrofoil from Naples to relax, climb the hillsides (in a futile attempt to work off the extra pounds), and swim in the Gulf. Our visit usually coincides with our anniversary in June.
A view from our hotel on Ischia toward Naples and Mt. Vesuvius
     Ischia faces Capri but lacks Capri's glitz. It is characterized by fishing villages that have exploded into resort towns. There are no cruise ships or designer boutiques. Towns spill over the lush thermal hillsides into each other and motorbikes veer in every direction on the winding roads lined with fuchsia bougainvillea. Mt. Vesuvius across the Gulf of Naples and Mt. Epomeo above our heads remind residents and visitors that the area is ripe for volcanic activity, as evidenced by an earthquake last year in Casamicciola, one of the towns on our walking route.

Flea market on Sundays, Casamicciola, Ischia
Town of Forio, Ischia
     Our hotel was a former lookout tower sitting on a promontory facing the mainland. In its "-1" rooms in the "basement" are the thermal waters of the spa and all other spa amenities. Rooms are spread throughout the tower, as well as across the hillside. The climb is not easy over the cobblestones and up the stone steps to our room in the forest, but going down takes no time when we're hungry! Dining is al fresco in a separate pavilion overhanging the pool and sea.
Dining pavilion at our hotel and tower above pool.

     After nineteen years, we know the staff and their families well. Each year the same faces return. We experiment with our limited Italian, though they all speak English.  
    At our anniversary dinner under the stars this year Charley raised his glass to mine. "Happy  number 53, honey," he said.
Anniversary cake
     "Oh, I think you've got the date wrong," I replied. "It's not till tomorrow. I thought you knew the day we got married," I teased..
     "Today's not the 26th?" he said, checking his calendar watch. "My watch must be wrong."
     "That's ok. We'll celebrate tomorrow night when it IS the 26th."
         
     "Well, not to ruin the surprise, but like I've done every year, I ordered a cake from the maitre d' for our anniversary. I guess I'll have to change it right away." With that, he jumped up to speak to Salvatore and reschedule the cake for the following night's dinner.
     "No problema," Salvatore said (a familiar response in Italy). "We'll have it ready tomorrow evening, Mr. Carey."
     After dinner we began receiving text messages of congratulations from family, there being a six-hour time lag back in the States. I texted them all back, saying, "Thanks for remembering us, but our anniversary is actually tomorrow."
     "That's strange," I said to Charley. "Why are they congratulating us today?"
     "Well, what does your phone say?" I reopened my phone and read "June 26" on its face - our anniversary! I'd completely lost track of the days. I guess that's what a vacation was for?
     "I'm so sorry, honey! Your watch was right. Happy Anniversary!"
     "Well, you won't be getting your surprise cake till tomorrow night. I feel like the grandfather in the movie 'Moonstruck,' after he sees his engaged granddaughter (Cher) with another man. I'm so confused," Charley said, burying his head in his hands, laughing.
     "You know, we're having a guest for dinner in two nights. Maybe they could hold the cake till then."
     "No way I'm going to ask Salvatore to change it again," Charley said.
     The next night we enjoyed vanilla cream cake decorated in fresh berries while the other guests and staff sang to us. "Thanks, everyone, but it was actually yesterday," Charley explained to the dining room. He didn't tell them why we were sharing our cake with them a day late.


*********************************************************************************

 
     Pasquale owns the leather shop in the town of Lacco Ameno, along one of our walking routes. We had purchased several wallets and travel bags from him and returned for Charley's new wallet two days before our departure this year. Pasquale was seated at a desk/cashier table, reading a document.
     "It's my taxes," he said in English. "I pay too much! I have two rental properties and a house. I pay 1400 Euros. Then I pay 400 Euros for garbage collection and 20% of my income to the federal government."
     "Raise your rents," Charley the banker said.
     "I can't. The tenants have low-paying jobs and no-one wants to buy the properties. I made a big mistake. Someone offered to buy my house ten years ago but my wife didn't want to leave. So we added 950 square feet and now we can't sell it. It's too big. The taxes keep going up."
     Charley took out his white handkerchief and rubbed his eyes. "I'm crying for you," he joked, thinking of the taxes we pay in the U.S. Pasquale began laughing.
     On our last day on the island we walked past the leather shop. Pasquale was sitting outside. Charley took out his handkerchief and waved it at the shop owner. Pasquale removed his from a pants pocket and waved it back, laughing with his American friend.

*********************************************************************************

   
Just enough room to park!
      Italians park anywhere they like, whenever they like. If there is enough space to fit only the hood of the car, they will edge it in. The remainder might hang out, filling a pedestrian walkway or blocking a street.
     Or they might park at an angle to fit the front left bumper in, blocking cars nearby from getting out. They abandon cars to run into pesharias (fish markets) and pet stores (see above photo).
     A garbage truck in Lacco Ameno stopped horizontally across the road. It blocked both directions of traffic, while recycling bottles crashed into the void of the truck. Garbage bins were next, stinking the street.
     When one lane of blocked traffic began honking, the garbageman yelled, "Quoi??" (What??) "Do you want my job?"



   
   

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Our Guide through the Basque Country, 2018

     In "The Keys Behind Treasured Stops" (NY Times Travel Section, August 19, 2018, p.4), Elaine Glusac writes, "... a great trip should involve a journey, embody a culture, and script a story to tell later." Here is one story of our guide through the Basque Country of France and Spain.


     On a previous trip to France, we'd hired Christian Mayer to take us from Paris through Monet's Giverny and the villages of Honfleur and Bayeux (where the 230-foot-long tapestry resides depicting Norman events leading to William, Duke of Normandy's, conquest of England in 1066). Christian drove us to Deauville, with its grand casino, racetrack, and wide beach, as well as to Ste. Mere-Eglise, where paratrooper John Steele from the 82nd Airborne remained suspended when his parachute got caught in the church steeple on D-Day, 1944. Unlike the depiction in "The Longest Day," the American was taken prisoner and escaped to become a town hero. From Ste. Mere-Eglise where we stayed,  we toured the beaches, cemeteries, and museums of World War II on the Normandy coast.
Bayeux, France


Honfleur, France


Monet's Giverny Lily Pond and House (in background)

Crater Bombardment on Omaha Beach, France
Recreation of parachutist John Steele hanging from church steeple in Ste. Mere-Eglise, Fr., on D-Day


     Our guide, Christian, was an American from New Mexico who'd married a French woman and relocated outside Paris. In June, 2018, we returned to France and hired Christian to guide us from Biarritz, on the Atlantic, through the Basque country of France and Spain in the Pyrenees, close to Christian's home where he and his wife were raising their family.
Christian Mayer with Charley at Chartres Cathedral, France, 2011
     Christian's father's family was French; his mother's family was Austrian. We learned his family story during our rides through the mountains between France and Spain - one of the many personal souvenirs we've collected during our travels.
     Since the name "Mayer" sounded Jewish to the Germans during the Occupation of France, his paternal grandparents were forced to sell their mountain camp for children and relocate in Nice, where they opened a restaurant. They moved on to settle in Cap d'Antibes, where they operated a hotel. Christian's grandmother ran messages to the resistance in a pump tube on her bike. His grandfather was arrested, charged with an "act of resistance," while his granduncle was executed by the S.S. Christian's grandmother washed the linens of a Frenchman sympathetic to the Germans and got her husband released.
     "My grandmother didn't want her two sons drafted into the War," Christian told us. "My uncle Jean and my dad 'Dadou' were members of the French National ski team, so the family was able to make its way to Paris. I remember my dad telling me they heard Allied bombers overhead for an hour before they actually bombed. He described the German revolving machine guns that enforced curfews in the City.
     "A German with the code name 'Ernie Blake' had been a double agent and was rewarded by the U.S. with cheap forest land in New Mexico.There he built a ski lodge and the St. Bernard Hotel in what became Taos Ski Valley. He advertised for a ski instructor/hotel operator. 'Dadou' was the only one who answered the ad. Eventually dad was able to bring his brother Jean, also a ski instructor in France, and the rest of the family to Taos. The two brothers pooled their money and their parents added their savings to become owners of the St. Bernard Hotel. It's still there.
     "My mother was from Vienna and answered an ad for an 'au pere' in Taos, where her brother was the ski lift engineer. That's where my parents met. Eventually dad and uncle Jean split and dad bought out Jean's portion of the St. Bernard. Uncle Jean opened the Eidelweis Hotel there. The two hotels stood side-by-side.
     "My cousins and I grew up on skis and snowboards, despite the fact that snowboards were forbidden on the slopes of Taos at the time. We used to sneak down to the weekly concerts in the hotels and hung out with the musicians. I guess that's how I got started playing the sax. I formed my own band and started touring Europe."
     "How did you become enamored with the sea if you grew up in New Mexico?" I asked Christian.
     "Well, my dad was a U.S. citizen and after my parents divorced, he moved to Hawaii. I loved to surf out there."
     "Did your mother become a citizen?"
     "Well, mom was a proud Austrian. She refused to apply till after the divorce, when she had to go to work."

Monday, August 27, 2018

Travelogue, Spanish Basque Country, 2018

     After leaving France for the coast of Spain on the Basque Corniche, we checked into the Maria Cristina Hotel in San Sebastian. Built in 1912, the facade resembled a Belle Epoque palace. We were led to a sumptuous room, recently renovated in grays from slate to fog. In fact, the entire hotel had been renovated in 50 shades, from "greige" (beige with a touch of gray) to thundercloud. A plaque on the door next to us proclaimed it had been Bette Davis' suite while she was in residence. She had actually stayed there just three days before her death. Her photos remained on the walls of the bar and grill room off the lobby.
Hotel Maria Cristina, San Sesbastian, Spain
     San Sebastian is known for three things: its spectacular beaches, its Parto Vieja ("Old Part" of the city), and its food. The international jazz festival in July and international film festival in September call San Sebastian home. We walked around Monte Urgull, the hill that rises abruptly at the edge of the Old City along the peninsula's shore and used toothpicks to spear pinxtos ("haute cuisine in miniature") with olives, green or red peppers, anchovies, pork meatballs, or fried potatoes, displayed on a bar. The bartender tallied them up, along with the Rioja district wines we'd sampled, when we were ready to leave.
     The following day we shopped inside the old walled city and walked the broad promenade above Playa de la Concha, the beach closest to the city with waves less formidable than the eastern Playa de Zurriola, which attracted international surfers. On the far western end of the Gulf of Vizcaya was Playa de Ondarreta, with few amenities. For dinner (10:00 p.m. in the Parto Vieja) we wound down narrow alleys to sit against a newer version of the old city walls in a restaurant where fishermen unloaded their catch in the front and the cooks hustled the catch inside. We ordered some greens and a lobster salad to share. When the "salad" arrived, a mountain of seafood sat on a platter before us: two cooked, split lobsters; steamed mussels and clams; potatoes; tomatoes; whole onions; kernels of corn. At home in Massachusetts we called this meal a "clam boil" or a "lobster bake," depending on whether it's boiled in a steamer pot or cooked over seaweed in a pit. Somehow we managed to devour our "salad."


Views of city of  San Sebastian from amusement park atop Mt. Ulia with Pyrenees in background. Surfers' beach is around promontory to left.


    Basque poet Kirmen Uribe summed up the appeal of his native coastline between San Sebastian and Bilbao: "I'm going to stay here - between the green waves and the blue mountains." We drove west along the coast through Zarautz, a former whale-hunting town with extensive photo museum and huge surfing waves rivaled only in Mundaka, which boasted long rollers and left-curling pipeline. "Hip" sculptures lined the beach promenade in Zarautz. We followed the twisting sea road west through Zumaia, a fortified medieval town with fossils embedded in rock cliffs where artist Ignacio Zuloaga thought the light magical. Next were Ondarrao and Lekeito, the Basque Country's leading fishing ports with major tuna fleets. Finally we headed inland toward Gernika and  Bilbao.
     Picasso made the Basque village Gernika (Basque spelling) famous with his mural representing Spain in the 1937 International Exposition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life (Paris). In April, 1937, German Luftwaffe planes terror-bombed the Basque town of Gernika at the invitation of General Francisco Franco. Why Gernika? Since medieval times, regional leaders of the Basques had gathered there beneath an ancient oak tree to govern themselves. The fierce independence of the Basques, alone in opposing Franco's bid to overthrow the elected government, offended him. His German allies killed between 200 and 2,000 citizens in the village on a market day but missed the oak.The black and white photos in newspapers reporting the bombing infuriated Picasso, so he painted the mural in stippled grays, evoking those first reports and the dark cloud of war. His mysterious images brought the cause of Spanish suffering before the world. Picasso vowed his mural would never be exhibited in Spain as long as Franco lived. It was returned to Spain from exhibition in N.Y.C.'s Museum of Modern Art following repatriation in 1981.
    

     As recently as the 1980's Bilbao was a steel and ship-building city in decline. Bilbainos thought the government crazy to court a major museum and name an architect to create another landmark (Frank Gehry). But civic audacity paid off. The Guggenheim Bilbao, an "armored beast" in metal, opened in 1997 and jump-started a transformation of the riverfront. A city of 355,000 has now become a laboratory for contemporary architecture. Cesar Pilli created a master plan of walkways, contemporary sculpture, and innovative architecture for the city. 
     The Casco Viejo or "Old Town" is a compact triangle nestled on a bend in the river. Basque identity is the subject of the Museo Vasco, while the Archeological Museum traces the human presence in the region from the arrival of Neanderthal man to the emergence of a coherent Basque region in the Middle Ages. The Museo de Bellas Artes is a gem of a conventional art museum outside Casco Viejo on the Guggenheim side of the River Bilbao..










Entrance to Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
Jeff Koons'  3-story flower "Puppy" outside 


View of Guggenheim Museum from street



  







Three-story fabric "creature" hanging in atrium








    
     A three-story sculpture of flowers titled "Puppy" by Jeff Koons stands on the esplanade outside the Guggenheim. Three mimes' arms extend from tented blankets to perform to music along the walkway. A two-story iron taranchala titled "Maman" by Louise Bourgeois stands behind the building. 
     Walking through the building necessitates an audio tour, as the museum experience is cutting edge. One is walking through a grand sculpture, certainly with more star quality than many of the exhibits, in my opinion. The artwork is sometimes ten feet to three stories high, floating suspended or sunk in concrete, mind-boggling in conception, weight, and installation. The Chagall exhibit is the only one hanging on the walls. Signage is in Basque, Spanish, and English.
     An exhibit titled "Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World" caused me to flee. I followed Charley into the first room, dominated by two gigantic boxes on platforms. The structures were surrounded by lucite walls that rose above our heads. The contents of the two boxes looked like children's dioramas. Statues of Buddhas sat along a green hillside. Below the hillsides were openings resembling grottos. Lifelike tortoises and a yellow snake with brown markings sat motionless on the hillside beside a pool in the first eight-by-ten-foot box. I turned to the attendant standing along the wall. "Those aren't real, are they?" I said.
     "Oh yes," she answered.
     Just then the tortoise moved one leg. Then the other. Which caused the snake to raise its head and move forward an inch. I moved quickly to the next box, approximately twelve-foot square.
     When I got there, SIX snakes emerged from the opening under the diorama. The yellows, corals, greens, and browns muddled together in a tangle, as the snakes crawled over each other. I ran. 



























Monday, August 20, 2018

Travelogue, French Basque Country, 2018

     We arrived in Biarritz, France, in June, 2018, for a trip through the Basque Country of France and Spain. Our travels would take us from Biarritz on the Atlantic through the Pyrenees to the city of San Sebastian, Spain, on the coast and down to Bilbao.
     The Basque region of France and Spain ("Pays Basque Francais" in French and "Pais Vasco" in Spanish) is a culture apart. Unrelated to any other tongue, Euskera (the Basque language) is spoken in the region bordering France and Spain and much of Navarra (the area of Spain which includes Pamplona). To an untrained ear, it sounds most like the Hungarian language. The town of "San Sebastian" in standard Castilian Spanish becomes "Donostia" in Basque, for example; "Vitoria" becomes "Gasteiz" in Basque. Road signs are in both standard Spanish and Basque.
     The origin of the Basques is a mystery, but mainstream archaeology classifies them as offspring of migrants who first populated the area 35,000 years ago. Fiercely independent, they cut deals with the Romans to respect Basque law and tradition. A long succession of monarchs followed who abided by these promises. In 1876 the Spanish crown abrogated these fueros (promises), setting off the first stirrings of Basque separatism.
     Although the Basque Country is largely self-governing under modern Spanish and European Union law, a popular political movement for full separation from Spain (and to a lesser extent France) remains. Unfortunately, Basque separatism today is best known for the terrorist acts by the group ETA, whose last major attack was the Madrid airport bombing in 2006. While we traveled through the region in June, 2018, we saw no political agitation of any kind.
     Our guide through the region was Christian Mayer, an American who married a French woman and relocated, following his heart. We first met him in Paris, when he drove us through the Normandy beaches and down across the Loire Valley. Subsequently he and his wife moved to the Dordogne region, just north of Basque Country, to raise their daughters.
     Christian picked us up at our hotel in Biarritz and we drove north along the French coast through Bayonne before heading southeast toward the town of Sare inland. In Sare a gear-wheeled train climbs thirty-five minutes up the western-most peak of the Pyrennes, affording a spectacular 360-degree view of the seven Basque provinces across the mountains and along the Atlantic. The Grotto of Sare is nearby, a large cave inhabited in prehistoric times (with hieroglyphics) and discovered at the end of the 19th Century under the exploration of Edouard-Alfred Martel.
Hieroglyphics in prehistoric cave, Sare, Fr.
   





     We stopped next in Ainhoa, a typical French Basque town in the foothills with shutters painted the red and green of the Basque flag. Names on the headstones in the cemetery were spelled in Basque. The Place du Fronton was central, featuring a large red wall against which two players hit a ball in the sport of Pelote (similar to Jai Alai). Each town we visited revolved around the fronton. Red chili peppers hung to dry on the outside of the houses.
Ainhoa, France    
Above-the-ground cemetery with inscriptions in Basque, Ainhoa, Fr.

     St. Jean Pied de Port ("St. John at the Foot of the Pass") was a lovely stop for lunch along the River Nive. The town stands at the base of the Roncevaux Pass through the Pyrennes and is the pilgrims' starting point on the French side before the arduous mountain crossing during their Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
     The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is a network of pilgrims' paths to the shrine of apostle Saint James, said to be buried in the Cathedral in Compostela in the northwestern-most area of Spain. The pilgrims carry a document purchased for a few euros through their church or the National St. James Organization which gives them access to inexpensive, sometimes free, accommodations marked by a seashell. The document serves as proof that the journey was accomplished according to an official route of towns along the trail. In 2017 there were 300,000 pilgrims who made the trek, following the sign of the seashell. The City Gate in St. Jean Pied de Port was added by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.
 
Street scene, St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.
Note the seashell symbol above the door.














Outdoor restaurant above waterfall, St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.







Street scene, St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.




 






Pilgrims' portal now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.
     Our last stop on the French side was St. Jean de Luz, a larger bustling town with pedestrian main street, whose shopkeepers announced their professions outside in sculpture, similar to towns in Austria. The Cathedral there had typical Basque rows of balconies along two walls, Romeo and Juliet style, with gilt ornamentation, making the inside much less austere than the outside.
St. John de Luz, Fr.
Shoe store,  St. John de Luz, Fr.       
Main square, St. John de Luz, Fr.
 
Altar inside Cathedral in St. John de Luz


      From there we took the Basque Corniche along the coast toward San Sebastian, Spain.

                                                     Spanish Basque travelogue to follow.....................