Annie Bananie en Europe

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Basque Country part 4: Biarritz

Last but not least, Biarritz! It’s been more than two weeks, but Biarritz will be the concluding post in the Basque Country series.

Training school finished at around noon on a Saturday. While most people either headed back to Bordeaux with the school shuttle buses or left for their flights back to their host universities, a small group of us had some time to spare. Mariel and I would be taking the 18h45 bus in Biarritz to San Sebastián, while Nhi, Naresh, and Ragu had a train to catch in Bayonne at 18h30. That gave us five hours of free time from 13h00, after lunch. Hmm. Mini-Biarritz exploration team, anyone?

Of course, we decided that the little we saw on the bus to the excursion was definitely not enough, and since we had the time, we took a taxi to the Biarritz town centre to walk around a bit until it was time to go. We were joined by Diana, whose flight was at around 17h00 and who would leave Biarritz at 15h00. A cozy group of six, off we went!

The taxi dropped us off at the Biarritz town centre, and before going anywhere, I needed to head to the tourist information centre to make sure that there was actually a bus later that day that would take Mariel and me to San Sebastián. Biarritz has a very cute tourist information centre – it looks like a noble castle! I would have thought this was a tourist attraction itself, hehe 😉

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Basque Country part 3: La Rhune

The third part of the Basque Country series is devoted to La Rhune, a mountain range that is part of the Pyrenees. The IDS-FunMat group went to La Rhune as an excursion, as we did in Lisbon last year. In the Lisbon entry I mentioned that the word “excursion” reminded me of elementary school field trips, and it still does! The whole class hops onto a bus, all curious and excited. Where would it be this year?

But seriously, we didn’t know where we were going until we actually GOT there. Unlike the previous year, the organizers said nothing about the excursion beforehand except “bring good shoes as we will be going to a place with a scenic view”. Uh, okay. No name of the place was mentioned, why so mysterious? Consequently though, I think some people brought hiking shoes, expecting some arduous trek or heavy walking, but boy, they were sadly mistaken.

You see, according to inside information from a friend, we would be “going to some place by bus, then taking a little train to go up, then we take some photos and leave”. Dot dot dot was followed by more silence. WHAT?! Some place WHERE? Going up WHERE? Take some photos of WHAT? Then confusion was followed by relief for those who didn’t bring hiking shoes – which was most of us – as apparently one of the organizers said, “You could even go in high heels.” Ha!

So we boarded the bus without knowing where we were going. I mean, they could have been driving us to an island for Battle Royale and none of us would have been suspicious. Ugh, what a horrid thought, I shouldn’t have even conjured up that imaginary scenario. Anyhow, we did pass by Biarritz on the way. At least I was quite fascinated by the views of the city from the bus, and some of us wondered why it wasn’t the destination of the excursion instead. (I suppose it was too close a city to be considered a place for an “excursion” yet too far to go on foot.) Those of that did wonder eventually did go to Biarritz…in the next entry 😉

So after about 40 minutes of bus ride, we arrived…at the base of La Rhune. Of course I still didn’t know what this place was, nor did I know that we would be ascending 905 metres to the top of the mountain for some spectacular views of the Basque Country. I waited in line with the others, got my ticket for the little train, and on we went.

We mounted the little train that would take us up to the top of La Rhune. According to the web site of Le Petit Train de la Rhune, it travels at a speed of 8 km/h and delivers you to your destination in about 35 minutes, to an altitude of 905 metres. And the train has been operational since 1924, strong and proud! 😉

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Basque Country part 2: San Sebastián

This series on the Basque Country is not in chronological order. I wanted to write the San Sebastián post before La Rhune and Biarritz, while it is still relatively fresh in my mind, since it was such an interesting trip.

So, San Sebastián. It is a city on the Spanish side of the Basque Country known for its lovely beaches. I am truly willing to say that I liked it more than Barcelona, the only other big city in Spain that I have visited so far. Before going to San Sebastián, I got the impression that it was a small, touristy city that would require no more than one day to experience. In fact, I was going to stay only one night and head back to Bordeaux the next day before Mariel suggested staying two nights. I’m glad I took her advice, as San Sebastián had much more to offer than I had anticipated!

From Biarritz, Mariel and I hopped onto the PESA bus that took us directly to San Sebastián. The ride itself wasn’t particularly pleasant – it was the first time after a very long time that I got carsick (or…bus-sick, if there is such a term?) I believe it must have been due to the rough roads from Biarritz to San Sebastián, though I couldn’t be sure because I was half asleep during most of the trip.

We arrived at night, found our hostel, dropped off our belongings, and headed out to dinner right away. The real exploration started the next morning, when we decided to stroll along the riverside and head up Monte Urgull, a hill right in the midst of the city between the two beaches, Zurriola and La Concha.

We climbed up Monte Urgull at a very leisurely pace, occasionally stopping to enjoy the view of San Sebastián. From Monte Urgull, the entire crescent of the Bay of La Concha could be viewed, and all of San Sebastián was laid out right in front of your eyes.

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Basque Country part 1: 2nd IDS-FunMat training school in Anglet

IDS-FunMat (International Doctoral School in Functional Materials) training week is perhaps the only time of the year when I look forward to a Monday. It is an annual training week in my PhD program where all the PhD candidates meet at one place to undergo lectures, workshops, and discussions. Of course that means a lot of interaction and socializing, and what better place to do it than right beside the Atlantic Ocean? The destination this year…Anglet!

When I told friends that I was going to Anglet, no one knew where that was. Then I said Biarritz…still doesn’t sound familiar until I popped out the name Bayonne. Turns out the three places are actually one big community, kinda like Bordeaux and Pessac and Mérignac, I suppose.

Last year, the first training school took place in Portugal. Yes, it was also by the Atlantic, but one can never get too much of the ocean. I met my colleagues – or classmates – for the first time last year and had a blast getting to know everyone, coming from all over the world ranging from the Philippines, Mexico, Nepal, Canada (yes there was another Canadian aside from me!) etc. This year, in addition to my class, there was the new class of 2011 that has joined the program. The nationalities were as diverse as before, if not more diverse – Turkey, Singapore, Ukraine, Italy…you name it! Double the people, double the fun!

The people – I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with everyone in the IDS-FunMat program, and I was so excited to see the people in my class, some of which whom I haven’t seen since Portugal last year! It’s a marvelous thing, bonding with people. Nature nourishes us, but human interaction keeps us alive.

Seems like Mariel from the Philippines (left) and Daniel from Australia (right) are having an intense scientific discussion on the beach! From photovoltaics to biomaterials to solar cells, PhD candidates from all areas of functional materials met during this training week to discuss our progress, problems, and prospects.

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