Item: A trip to San Sebastian to visit the city and attend a rugby match
Spanish vocabulary: Three phrases, “Buenos tardes”, “Dos cervezas, por favor”, “Gracias”
Basque vocabulary: Zero
Tickets: Three for for the upper east stand at the Stade Anoeta (capacity 32,000 and home of Spanish soccer club Real Sociedad)
Preparation: Being able to hum La Pena Baiona, anthem of Aviron Bayonnais rugby club
Special equipment: two rugby jerseys, one in the pale blue and white of Bayonne with club crest and the sponsor’s name, Afflelou, across the chest; one Irish international jersey, olive green and white, complete with 02 logo across the front, being worn by Herself. (Our daughter covets a jersey for Stade Francais, the Paris team who are tonight’s opponents, they play in pink).
Timetable: 2035 kick off; Sometime later, get back to campsite in France.
In times past, the prospect of such an outing would have been a cause for much anxiety “How will we cope?” “Where will we get something to eat?” “What happens if we get lost?” “Where are we going to find somewhere to park when more than 30,000 people are travelling to this match?” The list of possible problems was lengthy. Now the mood is much more relaxed, something will turn up.
Travelling to the same piece of coastline in 1988 was a different matter altogether. We had four currencies in the car (Irish Punts, Sterling, French Francs and Pesetas), constantly trying to avoid mixing them up. Driving in Europe meant having a Green Card for insurance, added to which there was an International Bail Bond for travelling in Spain. The Basque country was economically very poor – hay was still being cut with scythes in valleys running inland from the coast; roads were poor; shops had a very limited range of stuff on sale; crossing the border from Spain into France felt like travelling through time.
Twenty years on, open borders, EU co-operation, a single currency, and free markets have transformed the situation to the extent that transferring a rugby match from a stadium that holds 15,000 to one thirty miles away that holds 30,000 is a routine matter. (On 12th September, Biarritz and Bayonne, which are part of one big town, will move their local derby match to San Sebastian to allow for another 30,000 crowd).
The EU may be overburdened with costly bureaucracy and riddled with corrupt practices (though it is hard to believe such things did not happen at national level), but anyone driving the road this evening could not deny that some things have changed for the good.
(If we run into problems, the Irish jersey will find us a helpful reception and locals happy to point us on our way).