Sunday, November 30, 2008

I've not been to London, but I went to France!

Seeing as that I have been traveling every weekend for the past month, I figured, why stop with this weekend! I have become friends with the girlfriend of my Canadian co-worker, Adam. Her name is Leire (pronounced like bear with an 'L' and the word rey - lear rey) and she is very sweet. She is Basque but was an au pair in England for 6 months and has visited the States before as well, so she speaks great English! She invited along a friend of hers that wants to improve her English, named Maria. So, as you can imagine it was a mix of languages the whole trip!

We started out in the morning, driving slowly up the French Coast. I couldn't even tell when we crossed over from Spain to France because they are both part of the Basque Country, and beside the street signs changing languages, are pretty similar. In our first town that we stopped at - St. Jean de Luz - I think I heard more Basque language than French! Either way, I couldn't understand haha. Thankfully, Maria speaks some French. Quite the international crowd we had.

The town was pretty empty although it was sunny. The wind was rather strong since we were on the coast, but that didn't stop us. I learned how to say it is very windy - hace mucho viento, which I ended up thinking the whole trip! We poked around the city, checking in little shops, walking on the boardwalk and hiking up a small hill for a great view. Here is a shot of St. Jean de Luz from the top of the hill. This city is very popular in the summer and I can understand why - it looks so beautiful! It was originally a martime city founded in the 14th century but became a popular place when Napoleon III started visiting with his wife. From then on, foreigners frequented this little charming city and by the end of WWI was a well-known seaside spot.

After a lot of walking around, we decided we were hungry and decided to leave and head to our next stop - Biarritz - for lunch. This little seaside city also was a maritime town, but became very famous when the Napolean III's wife built this huge Palace right next to the beach. This later became a hotel and is now called Hotel du Palais. It was just one of the really pretty buildings in the city! Even the tourism office was huge and ancient! The coast of Biarritz hosts many surf competitions during the summer but when we saw it, no surfer would have taken a chance! The wind had picked up and the waves were crashing into the jugged rocks. Biarritz has these neat little rock islands that jut out from the boardwalk and you are able to walk out into the water...which is somewhat scary but so cool at the same time! Here is a shot of the lighthouse in the distance through the fence on the boardwalk (I am really getting into all this diverse fences they have over here! They are all so unique and pretty and make for good frames of some of the photos I take). With the wet sea-water in your face and tough gusts of wind, we couldn't help but laugh at each other's crazy hair blowing all over. A nice French man offered to take a picture of us girls (from the left - Leire, Maria and me) on one of the bridges that leads out to one of the rock islands. He was pretty intense - this is only one of the many shots he took of us from all different angles of the bridge ha. Leire was pleasantly surpsied because she said from her experience most French men are NOT that nice ha. The boardwalk was very long and directly behind it are steep hills that house the city, which made for some really oddly built houses, nice hill landscaping and lots of stairs for climbing!
We stopped off at a little café for lunch. The waiter reminded me SO much of Mr. Bean...he even had silly faces like him. We laughed about it most of lunch. I couldn't read basically anything on the menu, so ordered what I knew I could read - steak. Yes, I know, kind of a weird choice for lunch, but a perfectly reasonable one over here. The steak came with can you guess? Not mashed potatoes, but French Fries. Over here, fries come with everything. Oh you would like the filet mignon? Let me bring that to you with some french fries. I even ate my french fries with my fork - as was everyone in the restaurant. Over here (Spain too) fries are considered normal accompaniments to a steak...odd. Despite this, I still made sure to said merci (thank you in French - you see, I speak so many languages!)

After filling up we wandered around town checking out old churches, shops and even a department store. It was decorated all Christmasy so we went in, and when I walked out I had bought a scarf and a hat. No surprise. Something that DID surprise me is that Leire went to the bathroom and had to PAY to use it. She had to put a 20 cent coin in a slot to open the door to the stall - isn't that CRAZY? It's a bad picture, but here you can see the coin machine in front of the toilet door.

After shopping we walked around some more until it started to rain and then decided we should head back to España. I loved both of the little cities we visited and will probably visit again someday, as it is so close! Funny thing is that the whole trip, everytime I looked south on the coast, I was able to see Hondarribia (the town where I work that is opposite France). So close! One of my favorite sights of the day was when we were lost trying to find our way back to the car. With all the roundabouts and windy roads, I can see how this happened so easily, but on one of the roundabouts we passed was this house. It looks as if the house has a walkway with a view of the ocean, windows with shutters and a porch, but REALLY it is all one big mural on the side of a blank building. I thought it was so neat! It looks pretty real in this photo and looks equally real in person.

I spent the rest of the weekend being a lazy and catching up on some much needed sleep! November has come to a close and in this month I successfully visited Istanbul, Munich and Frankfurt (kind of cheating since it was just the airport, but I am going to count it anyways), the French Coast and Madrid - not bad for a month! Can't wait for another month of travelling!

I hope you had a great weekend and enjoy the first week of December!

Bises (kisses in French...very similar to Besos wouldn't you say?)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I am thankful for...

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Since no one celebrates Thanksgiving here (obviously), I wanted to share what I am thankful for via my blog!

- My amazing family that has been fully supportive and excited about my decision to leave the country for a job on a completely different continent. I miss them so much but know that they are happy for me, and for that I am VERY thankful.

- My fabulous friends that have been so good at keeping in touch :D I didn't want to lose any friends living over here and am happy that the really important friends I have are still my closest.

- My fabulous job here in Spain. This was such a blessing and even when the kids are crazy, I am very thankful that I have the opportunity to teach and experience life in a different country, and heck, I even get to practice my Spanish!

- My helpful and caring bosses (Helena and Erika) who are always there to give me advice, provide me warm winter blankets if I need them or share fun travel spots in the Basque Country. They have been like my family here and are just great.

- All of international friends I have made over here in San Sebastian. We are all experiencing a new country together and learning together as we go.

- Our troops overseas also deserve many thanks. Eventhough they are not spending this holiday with thier families, I hope they know that we are all thankful for thier hard work for our country.

I had a turkey sandwich yesterday and will probably eat some Macaroni and Cheese tonight (VERY American if I do say so myself!) to celebrate today. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving - I am thankful that you are reading today :D

Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Weekend in Madrid

Well, like I said, I made it back and have been trying to catch up on sleep after a fun two days in Madrid. My friend, Christine, and I caught the 7am bus to Madrid and arrived around 1:30pm. When we arrived we took the Metro (Madrid's subway system) and found this silly sign. It basically says that the Metro system that everyone wants is in Madrid (with the Statue of Liberty implying that the NYC subway is bad), and boy is it right. After my NYC subway experience, the Madrid Metro is squeaky clean - no rats, bums or leaky train cars. I was impressed! After 30 minutes of being lost on the Gran Vía, we managed to find the hostel that I booked. It was a nice little apartment type floor with about 10 bedrooms. Our was quaint and had its own bathroom and such, so we were happy - especially because it was only 20€ for the night! It was situated right on the corner of the a random street and the Gran Vía (Grand Street), which is the most popular street in Madrid, loaded with shopping, restaurants, bars, and touristy shops. But enough of want to hear about the city, not the hostel haha!

We wandered into Puerta de Sol (Door to the Sun) in the middle of the city, which is basically the Times Square of Madrid. We also ran into a million street performers (which they call Buskers in British English...a word I learned from my English classes - funny). Here is a shot of some of them on the street. Sol (as it is called by the locals) was packed but somehow we managed to stumble into a FREE ENGLISH tour...amazing I know. What good luck! (Que suerte). Our tour guide was great and from San Diego, so she spoke perfect English - yay us. It was a 3 hour tour and was pretty in depth and she showed us all around the historical and important parts of Madrid on this great walking tour. There are SO many little annecdotes that she shared with me, but it would be the longest blog in the world, so I will share only my favorites and the ones I think you will like the best!

We started in the Puerta del Sol, which used to be on the outskirts of Madrid when it was a small little city. Now it is the heart of the city, with this huge statue of Phillip III in the middle. Here is a shot of me anf Phil. Originally, there was actually a gate built around the city to wall it in and protect it from outsiders, but once the city started growing they tore it down. The gate into Madrid was called the Puerta del Sol (Door to the Sun) because the sun rose in the east, and when they tore the wall down they wanted to keep true to the Puerta del Sol idea, and as a result made it the center of the city and built 10 roads from the center so when you look at it from an aerial view, it looks like a sunshine with 10 rays of sun! Here is a shot of one of the rays/streets off Sol. Not only is Puerta del Sol the center of Madrid, but it is actually the EXACT center of all of Spain. Here is a pic of me in the exact center of Spain - pretty cool huh? After Puerta del Sol, we ventured off to see more historical parts of town and get a quick history lesson in hundreds of years of Spanish history! We stopped off on a street called Calle de Salud (Health Street) because during the plague, the people who lived on this street actually walled themselves in and didn't have any contact with people outside thier block and miraculously didn't get the plague. We also stopped by La Iglesia de San Ginés, which is a church were a crocodile is buried under one of the statues inside the church. Turns out that a long time ago, some monks were travelling through the wild and saw a baby and it was about to be eaten by this croc, but they couldn't get to the baby quick enough so they prayed for something to save the baby...amazingly a nearby tree fell on the crocodile, killing it and leaving an imprint of the Virgin Mary - a miracle hhahahaha. After passing more gigantic churches and ancient buildings we stopped by the Palacio Real (The Real Palace) which is the main palace of Madrid and was erected to honor all the past Kings of Spain. Originally they wanted to put a statue of each King on the roof, but turns out they didn't calculate how heavy all of those would be, and as a result statues are sprinkled around the garden and all of Spain because they couldn't accomodate them on the Palace. Sad if you were one of those Kings right?! If you look closely you can see some of the Kings on the roof of the Palace. The other statues are just bouquets of flowers to show where the others should have been! Here is me with one of the unfortunate Kings that was placed in the garden. Right next to the national palace is the national cathedral. This is also a funny one! The Cathedral was meant to be completed quickly, but took so long that the architecture of the building is a big hodge-podge. The entrance is Neo-Classical, the back side is Neo-Gothic, the middle section is Neo-Romantic and the inside is decorated with some crazy 1970s crazy funk. Still a gorgeous building though. Another crazy story about this Cathedral is that it has this very important stone statue of Mary. The original statue was wood and was given to Spain by St. James. When Spain was conquered by non-Catholics, the Catholics were scared that thier precious statue would be destroyed so they hide it in the city walls. The secret of where the statue was hidden was passed down from mother to daughter and when Spain finally decided it was safe to bring it out again, there was a little problem. The mother who knew the secret had just told her daughter where the statue was located and then she died...doesn't sound like too big of a problem until you find out the daugther was only 6! The city went on a huge parade around the city with this little 6 year old girl until she found the spot where she remembered her mother telling her the statue was hidden. When she came to the place she started crying and screaming and the wall crumbled and there was the statue - another miracle (you will start to see these Catholics are all about miracles haha). Next on the tour was the place that used to be the best place to commit suicide...this huge bridge. Supposedly there is a story about a rich girl who was in love with a poor boy and her family wouldn't let her marry him so in a desperate attempt to solve her problems she flung herself off the bridge. In that time though, the girls wore hoops skirts so the air got caught under it and she floated slower to the ground and survived with two broken legs - a miracle! Her family realized how serious she was about this love and let her marry him and they went on to live happily ever after with ten kids. I attempted to re-enact her jump hahaha. Next stop on the tour was one of th emost famous Tapas bars in Spain - Cerveceria 100 Montaditos - which basically means bar with 100 sandwiches. We stopped off here for a little taste of Spanish food. Tapas (which in Basque Country they call Pintxos) are basically little appetizers that cost about 1€ each and you eat them with a beer or drink. They are hugely popular over here and we heard a possible story about they started being called Tapas. Supposedly, one day the King was dining at a restaurant in the desert (Madrid is in the dry part of the country) and the waiter (camerero) saw a big gust of dust coming. Not wanting the dust to get into the King's wine, he put a small sandwich together, rushed over and put it over the King's glass. The King, confused, ask what is this, to which the waiter fumbled and said uhhh its a top your glass, basically. After this, Tapas became a huge success and it actually became a law that if you served a customer a beer or wine you HAD to serve them something to eat as well. As a result, these Tapas bars are all over Spain. The Tapas bar we went to required that you buy a Tapa with your drink, eventhough it is not the law any more. Another interesting story about Tapas is how most of them are made with jamón (ham or part of the pig). During the purification of Spain, you basically needed to prove how Catholic you were. Since the country was trying to purify itself of Jews and Muslims (who both can't eat ham), bars started putting ham in EVERYTHING. From sandwiches of ham to dishes that never had ham in them before, Spain is a huge ham-loving country to this day. Even now, many bars hang pig legs from the celing - something that used to signify that all the people inside must be Catholic, but now is just for show. Now that it was getting dark, we headed to the most famous plaza in Madrid - Plaza Mayor. Eventhough they had stuff set up to start the Christmas festival, it was still stunning. Sadly, they didn't turn the Christmas lights on this week (broken heart) but the mural paintings on the outside walls of the Plaza were pretty cool! This Plaza has had its bloody days with hangings and bull fights, but also is the main spot of gatherings. There are always people gathered here, sipping café at the outdoor tables, watching street performers and such. A funny story about this Plaza is that originally there was a statue of a King on a horse and the horses mouth was open. Supposedly, sparrows flew into the horse's mouth and then once they got inside couldn't get out again, and during a fight in the Plaza, the statue fell over and broke and sparrow skeletons flew all over. That statue is now deemed the Sparrow Cemetary, eventhough when the statue was reconstructed the mouth was welded shut! We finished the tour talking about the path Spain took to becoming a democracy! With Franco´s rule finally over, Juan Carlos became King of Spain, and while he promised to uphold the military rule of Franco, he gave up his powers and held free elections for a President. While Juan Carlos is still the King of Spain (which I learned is actually called The Republic of Spain), the current President is Jose Zapatero. After the tour, Christine and I ventured around the city to see it by night. Here is a shot of the beginning of the Gran Vía (that important street I mentioned earlier). Looks pretty exquisite at night right? And here is a shot of the Palacio de Comunicaciones - Palace of Communications, which is basically thier City Hall.

After we decided it was too cold to be walking around, we headed to a Flamenco Show (which I made a reservation for in Spanish over the phone, thank you very much!). The show was incredible. I mean, I have tap danced before, which I always thought was rather difficult, but this was a whole different league. This was no Shirley Temple tap dancing. The dancers (two boys and two girls) were in elaborate costumes and were INTENSE. The speed that they clicked thier heels around was mind boggling! There were two live singers and two live guitarists on the stage as well. For an hour, I just watched, speechless about how good they were. Everyone I have spoken with about Flamenco say that it is difficult to find an authentic show, but I spoke with the guy who ran our hostel (in Spanish...again thank you very much) and found this authentic place - Los Carboneras. It was a small little restaurant with only about 10 tables, and you are only able to come in if you have a reservation, so I was happy we managed to make one and see this! It was a relaxing end to the night, and after the show we retired to our little hostel! The next day we slept in and then headed out to the Botanical Gardens. In the Spring (Primavera) and Summer (Verano) these gardens are said to be the best in Spain. Since it is Autumn (Otoño - remember this from a previous post??) there weren't really any flowers in bloom, but it was still pretty to see all the leaves on the ground in the sunshine. For 2€ you can come here and stay all day! We didn't bring books to relax around but managed to see the whole gardens and even checked out the 'desert' and 'rainforest' exhibit. It's been awhile since I had since a cactus haha. My favorite shot from here was this one of the reflection of the trees in this old building's windows. For some reason it is one my favorites from the trip!

Next on the agenda was the Reina Sofía (Queen Sofia) Musem. It is a modern art musem that is very famous in Spain. Spain has what they call the Museum Triangle because they have the Reina Sofía, El Prado Museum (which has classical art like Renoir), and Museo Thyssen (which has medival to present art). We chose the Reina Sofía for no particular reason, but were happy to find out that all the musems were FREE on Sunday - woo hoo! While you can't take pictures in the musems, I will let you know that the Guernica (by Picasso) which hangs in the Reina Sofía was astounding. It was huge and fantastic and I just started at it for a long time. Here is what it looks like, but sadly I didn't take this picture myself.

Last but not least was the most famous statue in all of Madrid - El Oso y el Madroño - The Bear and the Madroño Tree. If you visit Madrid, or anywhere in Spain in fact, you will see this statues likeness everywhere! It is located in Puerta del Sol and signifies the coming together but seperation of Church and State. This statue was designed after a disagreement between the both involving hunting rights. The bear sybolizes the church and the tree is the government, and the statue represents the union between the church and state after an agreement of rights for each was made. This is the story we were told by our tour guide, but after further research it seems like there is no one concrete story - so that's the best I have for you! After some touristy shopping and checking out some other rays of the Puerta del Sol, we headed to the bus and home.

I love love loved Madrid. It was so alive and was very international - I heard so many different languages. AND it was not rainy one bit! It was windy but sunny the whole time. I had a great time and will probably visit again another weekend, to check out some of the stuff we didn't have time to see. Thank you for reading this blog...I realize its encylopedia-long, but remember I only included my favorite stories - there are so many more haha! I hope you enjoyed it! Oh yea, I forgot to tell - I had Starbucks twice on my trip hooray hahah!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Back in San Sebastian

Well, after a super fun weekend, I am back in San Sebastian. I enjoyed a lovely weekend full of sunshine only to come back to the rainy coast. Oh well :D I will write more about my trip later, as I have many exciting stories to share. I hope you had a great weekend and are starting the week off nicely!


Friday, November 21, 2008

Voy a visitar Madrid! I am going to visit Madrid!

After a tiring week from my amazing weekend in Istanbul, I have been bit by the travel bug again and this weekend will head to Madrid! It is my friend Christine's last weekend in Spain and I figured since she hasn't been to Madrid (neither have I) that we should do something special and experience España. I am excited to go to Madrid, as it is the capital of the country and sounds like a pretty gorgeous, bustling city. I am a little nervous about the accent though - it is supposedly very lispy. Funny because I think that the lisp up here in the north is bad, but I guess it's worse in Madrid. I am sure I will manage!

Maybe if I am lucky the city will be decorated for Christmas! I have started listening to Christmas music now :D Normally I wait until after Thanksgiving, but nooooo Thanksgiving here, so I started this week hahaha. I think I will also download some Spanish Christmas music. I also have 'decorated' for Christmas! I didn't bring any decorations from home except this little color-changing Christmas tree you plug into your computer. I adore it! Also, in Munich I bought a little Christmas ornament for myself...its a little man holding a stein of beer, of course! Yay Feliz Navidad!

We are leaving Saturday morning by bus and will arrive in time for lunch! I have booked a nice-looking hostel in the middle of the city, so we are all set! No set plans...we will just see what we want to do when we get there! I am hoping to see a Flamenco show though...cross your fingers! We catch the midnight bus on Sunday night and will be back in San Sebastian around 6am...just in time for a nap before classes!

More pictures to come next week of the trip! Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Turkish Delite! Sunday

Well, the time had finally come for me to say goodbye to Istanbul. I had only been there two days I couldn't beleive it was already time to leave. I took a crazy airport ride to the airport and arrived about 3 hours early, which I thought would be plenty of time!

At the International Terminal at the Istanbul airport, you have to go through security just to get IN to the airport. Like if you were coming to see me off, if you wanted to even see me check-in, you have to go through security too. It took forever, but seems like a smart idea when I think about it. Once inside I waited in the check-in line for Turkish airlines for a good hour and a half. I always get super nervous that I am going to miss my flight, so I was pretty jittery. Finally I check-in and then have to go through passport control, which I thought would take another eon but went suprisingly fast. I was happy that everyone at these stops (check-in desk and passport control) spoke English...makes my life easier. Once through passport control I actually had about an hour to spare. BEST part of the day...I saw a STARBUCKS. I hadn't eaten yet that day and of course rushed over to Starbucks! I ordered a Carmel Macchiato and it was divine. Just think, here I used to get Starbucks atleast 3 times a week and I haven't had one since September 9th! While waiting in line to order (in English woo hoo) I checked out all thier Christmas decorations and listened to Christmas music and got suprisingly homesick. I don't know how many people actually celebrate Christmas in Turkey, since a majority of them are Muslim, but I was so excited to hear Christmas tunes. I kind of got choked up seeing all this Christmas stuff and knowing I won't be home with my family, but I sucked it need to have a cryfest in an airport ha.

With my delicious drink I wandered around the airport to check out the duty-free shopping. I had no interest in buying alcohol or expensive perfume, but of course wanted to buy some souviners. Turkey has this thing they call the Evil Eye, and it is immensley popular. They believe that some people, intentionally and unintentionally, can cause you unlucky events if they look at you. As a result, Turkey has these talismans they call nazar which look like the Evil Eye and are meant to ward away harm. They were so popular and could be found in houses, in stores, on bracelets, in cars, etc. Alp said everytime he goes to visit his mother she makes sure to put an Evil Eye in his coat pocket to make sure he is safe. I guess it is kind of like a guardian angel in our culture. I of course bought some trinkets of the Evil Eye to protect myself :D Odd but true, I found NO postcards...shocking.

Once it was time to board I realized I have to go through ANOTHER security just to get to my gate. Everyone lined up at gate 18 and then proceeded through a second security check...I don't get it. Maybe they want to make sure you didn't buy a bomb in a duty-free shop, I have no idea. Got on the HUGE Turkish Airlines flight finally and was pleasantly suprised with the accomdations. They had TV where you could pick to watch a movie, documentaries, or sitcoms. I watched something about this Ice Hotel they build out of snow every winter in Sweeden, random I know, but it looked amazing.

Layover time in Frankfurt, Germany and I was a bit confused because it was SUCH a big airport. I stopped a worker and asked if he spoke English, figuring he would. All of the Germans I have met so far have spoken perfect English. He said he spoke some English so I asked him what passport control I needed to go through to continue to another country in the EU. He found out I was going to Bilbao and immediatley got excited and said, oh do you speak Spanish! I said yes and we continued our conversation in Spanish, pretty silly, but I was thankful I spoke it! I spent a few hours poking around the airport, doing my Spanish homework and reading an English magazine that I found (woo hoo). Atleast the whole airport was decorated Christmasy yay :D Here I am with one of the decorated trees in the airport...obviously bored!

All of the flights were on time and I got home around 1:00am on Monday morning, verrrrry tired. I had a GREAT time in Turkey and hopefully can go back again!!!


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Turkish Delite! Super Saturday!

Well, it is time for me to share my fabulous Saturday in Istanbul with you! It was SOOO busy, I feel like I could write chapters and chapters about it, but a little blog will have to do!

After the live music the night before I slept in, as I was pretty dead from my lack of sleep on Thursday night. We got around and headed to Dolmabahçe Palace first. This is a very historic and famous palace in Turkey. It was built between the 1840s and 1850s by the Sultan at the time and is MASSIVE. Here is a picture of me and my friend Alp in front of one of the side gates...yea, not even the main entrance, crazy right? It is a European-style palace and has fourteen tons of gold throughout the house...cha ching. This Palace was built to replace the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (which is also super famous) because it wasn't as luxurious as the Dolmabahçe Palace. Well let me tell you, this place was crazy amazing. There are 285 rooms, 44 Halls, 68 toilets, 6 Hamams (Turkish Baths) and the most amazing furniture and antique things in the place. Here is a shot of just an entrance hall waiting room, a nice place to sit around wouldn't you say?

I have never seen so much wealth in one place before. It felt like watching a TV show about the rich and famous and here it was right in front of my face. The library has books in it from the 16th century, there was an exhibition of goregous old Turkish porcelian and gold teasets, there are birdcages with gold, huge chandilers in every room and that's just the beginning. Even the door knobs have gold leaf on them! I think the whole time I walked around, I was just in shock. Here is a shot of one of the stained-glass windows with the view of Asia in the background - something pretty nice to wake up to every day right?! Every new room was so impressive and massive, it makes you feel like the smallest thing in the house. After these rooms our English-speaking tour guide (who sounded more like a computer program and he might as well have spoke Chinese) told us that we were going to see the most impressive room in the whole house and all I could think was 'how could anything be more impressive than what I have just seen?' and boy was he right. I walked in and my mouth dropped. The hall we strolled into is called Muayede Hall and definitley was the most stunning room in the whole house (if it's even possible to have a most stunning room.)I wish that my pictures did it justice but it was just magnificent. Just to put it in perspective, here are a few fast facts about Hall: it is 6500 square feet, is 118 feet high, has a 400 square foot Turkish rug and a ridiculous amount of gold. Here is a shot of the ceiling. There was even a chandelier they say weighs 4.5 tons and has 664 light bulbs. It was great to look at, but I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if it fell...ha! I wonder if I am the only person who thinks that...

After the Palace portion of the tour we headed to the Harem where the women lived (when there was a Sultan) and where the bedrooms were located after there were no longer Sultans. This building was scaled down quite a lot but was still very important because it has the most important room to Turks. Thier first president and founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, lived here in the summers and actually died in one of the rooms. This is a photo of his bed where he died, very sad. He died at 9:05 and all the clocks in the room remain set at this time. Alp said he was a great leader and this is a very sad room for all Turks, as he is the namesake of thier entire country. Every year on the day that he died at 9:05, all Turkish people stop doing whatever they are doing and cheer for Atatürk. Alp told me that taxi drivers even stop driving, get out of thier cars in the middle of the road and cheer. Amazing national pride in Turkey.

After our tours, we headed to the Grand Bazaar, another famous Turkish spot. It somewhat reminded me of NYC Chinatown, but more interesting. There is also an inside area named Spice Market, where you, obviously, buy spices and other trinkets and such. There were so many people bustling around and bargaining prices! I tried what Alp says is the famous candy that Turkey has...the Turkish Delite (the blog namesake) which is a chewy candy that has powdered sugar on it and sometimes nuts. I was a bit nervous but after tasting it, decided I liked it haha. I didn't eat too many because we had just eaten a delicious authentic Turkish lunch and I was verrrry full. At lunch I had tried a whole bunch of different Turkish meats with breads, yogurt and veggies, all of which were delicious. After poking around the booths we headed home to rest up for a busy night.

I met many of Alp's Turkish friends, who I thought spoke no English at first. However, when we went out and they had a couple drinks...they amazingly spoke some English. Here is a shot of me, Alp and one of his friends Ibrahim, who was a blast and giggled everytime he said anything English. I guess they were nervous to talk to me at first, thinking I would laugh at thier bad grammar, but I told Alp to remind them that I speak with students everyday who don't speak great English, so it definitley wouldn't bother me one bit! So, they ended up speaking English with me, and funny thing is, we ended up at a karaoke bar, where I sang in Turkish hahahaha. How impossible! Can you read any of those words?? Like I said before, I speak no Turkish except now for hello, but I did my best to read the screen and sang which they seemed to appreciate haha. It was actually really fun and provided lots of laughter :D After a few hours of singing we grabbed some Turkish late night food...of which I knew none. I let other people order for me (something I RARELY do) and ended up with a tasty tomato and something soup, and some crazy Turkish pizza...delicious.

At about 5am we called it a night. I had an amazing time and wished the night didn't have to end becaue I knew I would have to go home the next day....sadddddd. I know I know, it's not so sad to have to go back to Spain, but I was having a blast and was only able to stay for 2 days! Hopefully I can go back and visit another time. There is way too much history to learn about, people to meet, places to eat and things to see to accomplish it all in two days, so I would love to return! More to come on my journey home in a different blog to sleep now! Hope you enjoyed :D


Monday, November 17, 2008

Turkish Delite! Friday Fun!

Well, I made it back to Basque Country in one peice but not after a super fun weekend in Istanbul! I wish I could have stayed for longer, but alas the weekend will have to do. I would definitley love to go back - it was a gorgeous country! I have so much to tell you about my short trip so I will probably break up the blogs. Today you will learn about my Friday ha.

I had stayed out til about 1am the night before and had to wake up at 4am to catch a bus to the airport. Needless to say I was a bit tired. I learned a rather important at the airport that I probably should have looked up before I left - check in (facturar). Also at the airport, I realized that no one takes thier shoes off over here to go through security. I took mine off like you always do in the States and a couple people looked at me pretty funny...oooooh well. After a short 2 hour flight I landed in Munich. It was pretty busy but I still mananged to grab some post cards and check out some gift shops! All of the shops that I strolled into were like Christmaslands...nutcrackers, ornaments, etc. They also had thier fair share of steins ha! I asked the lady working at one of the stores if she would take a picture of me with a stein...I know I know, I am silly.

I finally boarded the flight to Istanbul. I was suprised that both flights had been on time - not something you see much in the States no? I actually was asked by someone in line if I was Turkish...uuuuh I guess not only can I be mistaken for a Spanish person which happens all the time here, but I look at a tad Turkish as well. Funny.

Upon arrival, I was stood in the passport control line for about 15 miutes only to get to the front and be told I needed a visa. Of course, I have a heart attack and think 'oh no, was I supposed to do something before I arrived??' I went over to the visa desk and asked for a weekend visa - a nice 15 euros and then I was all set - whew! My friend, Alp was there to pick me up! He is originally from Turkey but lived in the States for the past 10 years. We became friends at ASU and then he also lived in New York while I did and now he is back in Turkey working for an international company.

That night we went out to dinner at this fantastic restaurant named Sunset. Check it out here. We ordered some sushi for a starter (mmmm spicy tuna roll!) which I was pretty happy about. I don't know if I really trust the Spanish people here to make good sushi hahaha. But this restaurant had a special Japanese sushi chef and it was amazing. For dinner I had the special - a spicy lambchop with a mushroom risotto and for dessert an apple tart with ice cream (I guess I was missing the States ha) From the balcony you can see the Bosphorous Bridge. It is the bridge that connects Europe and Asia. Istanbul is a city that is on both continents. We spent our time on the Europe side but I was sure excited to see Asia!

Alp explained to me that Istanbul is a lot like New York and over my few days there I began to feel the same way. It is kind of gritty but at the same time SO gorgeous. There are about 13 million people who live in the city (much more than Manhattan but still the same effect) and it is listed as the third largest city in the world! There are a million little neighborhoods just like NYC. I feel like you could live in Istanbul your whole life and still not be able to see everything or learn about all the historic sites! Besides the fact that everything was in a foreign language, I felt pretty comfortable. One thing that was DRASTICALLY different was the driving. In Istanbul, Alp told me that they have the craziest drivers. I thought, come on, I have lived in New York, I am not going to think anything is more crazy than that...but ooooh I was wrong. On the ride home from the airport, I saw people backing up on the freeway if they missed thier exit (like backing up into crazy forward moving traffic) and even saw someone turn his car AROUND on the freeway and drive the wrong way to get back to the exit...the norm in Istanbul I suppose. One time we took a cab and we picked it up after some fork in the road that we needed to go the other way on, so the cab driver just backed up into speeding traffic and went the other way. No honking, nothing...completely regular - ha!

After dinner we headed down to a popular part of town to go out. It is a huge street with tons of bars, restaurants, live music venues and shopping. They had EVERYTHING. Starbucks, Burger King, McDonald's...the works. It was like America ha. Alp told me that McDonald's is all the rage in Istanbul - that they even DELIVER - how crazy is that? We found a live music venue and sang along to some English songs and then they played some Turkish songs, so I got to experience that for the first time. I speak NO Turkish. The man I sat next to on the plane from Munich to Istanbul attemped to teach me how to say hello - merhaba. It may look easy to say but I still managed to be bad at it. So armed with my one Turkish word, I rocked out to a bunch of Turkish songs and had a really fun time.

We stayed out til about 2:30am and then decided to call it a night, considering I had only about 3 hours of sleep and travelled all day. Saturday was going to be full of touristy stuff so we wanted to make sure to be ready in the morning :D A very first fun few hours in Istanbul, would't you say?

Off to work now, will write more about Saturday (a very busy day) and the trip home! Glad to be back :D

Öpücük (kisses in Turkish!)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Turkey Sandwich!

Hi everyone! Can't write much because I am getting ready for bed because I wake up in 3 hours to go to Istanbul! I have a friend there, who is Turkish, and I am going to spend the weekend! I am pretty excited...random little trip! Even my European friends think this is a rather exotic trip - impressive since it's really the first place I am visiting since I have been here ha!

I will of COURSE, take lots of pictures and will share them when I get back. I hope you all have a great weekend (fin de semana) :D


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another gorgeous day!

Hi everyone, hope all is well. I don't have much to report today, as I have been mainly doing homework all day, which isn't so bad since I don't HAVE to do it. I woke up this morning and had some peanut butter toast (thanks Ariana!) and then decided I should take my Spanish novel (that I STILL have not started yet) and go out into the streets and maybe read in a Plaza or something. Well, what I didn't know was that the day was filled with festivities. I walked past one Plaza and heard loud music coming from inside, so of course I venture in. In the middle of the Plaza is a huge stage with dancers in Basque costume (costumbre) and a band. They were doing traditional Basque dances which was pretty exciting to see. I took a lot of videos as well as pictures and eventually sat down and had a cup of coffee and enjoyed the entertainment. The dancers were old to young. They each had a partner that they matched in clothes and danced with. The cutest were the little girls who couldn't have been more than 8 years old but still managed to know all of the dances and smiled :D. Makes me miss dance classes and fun costumes.

After the dancing was over I started making my way to the Boulevard, which is the main drag here. On my way I stopped by a culture exhibit. A few months ago we had the Film Festival which was a pretty big deal. Now they are showing a Horror Film Festival. While I am not very interested in seeing any of those films, they do have a little musem set up with past paraphanelia (I don't know how to spell that word) from older horror movies that have been at the festival. This one is one of the costumes used in a film in 2000. Creepy eh? They had like a huge cat monster, some nice three-eyed monster heads and this mermaid skeleton which reminded me A LOT of Jake the Alligator Man from Long Beach ha.
After being grossed out, I finally made it to the Boulevard and there happened to be some huge race. They were bumping music and had blocked the whole road off for this huge race. It was just the end but people were still finishing to rounds of applause. I decided that since the coffee place I wanted to go to was at the end of the race and it was so busy, that I would keep walking around. I took a couple shots of the Fall weather. One is of this tree that they have here, which I have never seen before. It's like a lace kind of leave and they change color just like regular leaves. They are really pretty now that they are multi-colored. I just walked around some more, like I do every weekend and am becoming better at wandering with no direction or end point. Hooray for progress ha. Just took a few shots that I thought I would share with you. It's so funny to see palm trees here standing right next to trees that are changing color, but I love it!

I eventually got hungry and came home and cooked a tuna casserole (thanks Mom and Grammy) with REAL ingredients. I made it with cheddar cheese which I found yestserday at Eroski and cream of mushroom soup from my was scrumptous.

Since I didn't end up doing ANY homework and reading while I was out today I have been doing it this evening. In fact, I should probably get back to my vocabulary, but wanted to share a few pictures from my weekend with you. I also added a few to my Favorite Shots on the right :D Enjoy the day!