Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'm going to have a white Christmas!

Well, the weather in Europe has been especially brutal this winter and apparently Edinburgh has snow right now. Thats good in the sense that I will have a white Christmas but scary in case my flight doesn't make it. I am crossing my fingers and asking Santa to let me have a good 2 and a 1/2 week trip!

This week was very easy - seeing as we only worked Monday and Tuesday. Monday was especially fun because it was a San Sebastian festival day - Santo Tomas. This is an old Basque festival where hundreds of booths set up all over town and sell chistorra - a type of sausage - wrapped in a homemade panacake sort of bread called Talo and of course the Basque cider and wine. At one of the booths you could watch them make the talo in thier sausage covered booth. Quite amusing and delicious! I read in the newspaper that last year, the hundreds of booths collectively sold over 80km of chistorra - which I guess equates to about 50 miles of sausage! They also sell gifts and other holiday foods. It was originally a harvest festival when people from all over the area would meet in San Sebastian to sell what they had reaped over the summer. It is now just an all-day party where you can enter a raffle to win a 700lb pig haha. Seeing as it was a work day I went to the party in the morning with Madeline and her cousin and then worked after. Although many people dress up in the old farmer clothes, I didn't because the costumes are actually quite expensive, but our friend Heather dressed up and we took a picture with her - this way you can kind of see how half of the town looked on Monday!

In school we didn't do anything of merit this week - only Christmas arts and crafts. I haven't been feeling too well lately, with a bad cold, and so it was nice to be able to give them something to do and not have to talk the entire class. With some classes we colored these wooden ornaments for the tree and with others we made pop-up Christmas cards. These are my 12 year-old girls that I absolutley adore. It's fun to look at thier Christmas cards and compare them with the cards of the 8 year-olds. Quite an artistic difference 4 years makes! Yesterday, one of the girls in this class asked me what I had asked the 3 Kings for for the holidays (They don't have Santa - they either have the Basque Santa, Olenztero, or the 3 Kings that bring gifts). I said I hadn't asked for anything and was just hoping for a safe and fun trip. She said 'Amanda, maybe you should ask the 3 Kings for a boyfriend'. I started laughing so hard hahaah. So I guess Santa, if you're reading, my kids want me to ask for a nice Basque boyfriend hahah.

With my Christmas CD always on in the background, it was quite a nice few days of work and was a constant reminder that WOW Christmas is in a few days! I take an overnight bus tonight to start my journey, so I must run now to go start packing! Only about 9 hours until my super Euro-trip begins! I won't be taking my computer with me, so there will be no blogs until about mid-January when I return and can write them all. Sorry for that, but I promise when I finally DO write them, they will be about amazing places and I will have great stories and photos to share!

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and that you start 2010 out with a bang! I miss you all and will be thinking about you during the holidays.

Feliz Navidad, Zorionak and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How is it the last weekend before Christmas already?

Well, with all my Christmas shopping done, that wasn't the theme of my weekend! How is it honestly only a few days until Christmas? San Sebastian now has a few Christmas lights up, but it seems like the holiday came VERY quickly!

Friday morning I woke up with a bad sore throat, so my weekend hasn't been so exciting. I worked on Friday afternoon but managed to get away with not talking very much. Friday night I mustered enough energy to go to a goodbye party for Madeline (tear, she is leaving) at her house. It was quite a fun party because we played this game with gifts. Each person brought two gifts - one really cool and one really crappy. They were all wrapped and then with the dice you would either get a present, pass it right or left, trade with someone, etc until the end of the game when the timer sounded and you could open the gift you had and it was yours. It was pretty funny - some gifts of Santa lingerie, a foot pumice stone, an ugly vase and some tissues topped the bad gifts whereas the sushi set (the gift that I brought), bottle of nice wine and a cute coffee maker were the best ones! I ended up with a travel toothbrush and some crappy potpurri. It was fun but by midnight my body wanted to get some sleep so I called it an early night.

After a much-needed 10 hour sleep, I felt better and spent Saturday with Theresa, it is her last weekend as well. We finished up her Christmas shopping, had a Spanish homemade lunch and finalized our trip for after Christmas. We tried our luck again at the Christmas concerts and showed up 30 minutes early and luckily got our 3€ tickets again! This week was a gospel group from Kentucky. I had VERY high hopes, thinking it was going to be gospel music like Sister Act or something, but was sorely disappointed. It was so boring and wasn't a good representation of what American gospel music was at all! The Basques loved it - clapping with so much enthusiasum and two encores. Theresa and I just sat there, wishing the African gospel group from last Saturday would return hhaha. After the failure of a concert we came home, made a pizza and cured ourselves by watching Sister Act! The best part of the night was taking the picture outside of the event...pretty sad show huh? The Kursaal (that's what the event center is called) is lit up to say Zorionak (Happy Holidays in Basque) and the I and O are in red to emphasize the new year of 2010!

Sunday is here and the last weekend before Christmas is almost over. I have spent most of my day cleaning. I will leave for Christmas on Wednesday and want to have all of clothes clean and my room spick-and-span before then, so I am spending the chilly day inside. I am sure I will meet with friends a little later for dinner or something, but in the meantime, I will tidy up, correct exams and get everything in order for my holiday travels.

On the 23rd at night I head to Edinburgh, Scotland where I will spend Christmas with my workmate Sean and some friends and his family. On the 28th I will hop a plane to Amsterdam where I will spend New Year's Eve with my Holland friend from last year, Lotte. After a crazy New Year's party I will take a train on the 1st to Bamberg, Germany to meet up with Theresa. I'll only be in Germany for about 12 hours because on the morning of the 2nd we will jump on a train to Prague! We will spend 4 days there and then on the 6th take another train and will head to the 'Paris of the East' Budapest, Hungary! Another 3 days there and then finally my travel time will be up and I will head back to Spain on the 10th. I am super excited to see so many new places in the coming weeks. If you have been to any of these places and think there is something special I just HAVE TO see, email me - - and let me know about it!

I heard my laundry go off, so I will go grab it. I hope you are having a happy holiday weekend and I will make sure to write once more before I leave for my Euro-Holiday trip!


Monday, December 14, 2009

NIEVE!!!! SNOW!!!!

Today it has been bitterly cold, and guess what was happening when I walked out of work tonight?! Snow was falling! It started off with little flakes but by time my bus was almost back to Donostia, it was falling in big flakes and so, although it was freezing (literally!) I thought I would go for a walk and enjoy the snow that I so rarely see. I think it looks more like pretty rain in this photo though...hahaha.

Not only was I suprised with the snow, but I saw that San Sebastian has decided not to by so Scroogy and actually put up a Christmas tree with lights and decorated the main carousel on the big street and strung some lights in the trees. Walking around seemed like a good idea until I realized I was wearing suede boots, which are obviously not waterproof! After strolling and trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue for awhile I decided it was too cold to stay out much longer and the fact that my fingers were so cold I had trouble taking a photo was the final sign. Sorry I don't have so many pics of the snow falling, but hopefully the snow will continue through the night and tomorrow I will wake up to a white wonderland!

Cold Besos!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unplanned Fun

Well, this weekend I really had no plans set in place. I wanted to finish my Christmas shopping but that was really the only thing I needed to accomplish. The past few weekends, I have been planning things and going places but without any planning, this weekend turned out to be really fun. Unexpected fun is the BEST!

Saturday morning was tough to wake-up so I slept pretty late. When I finally got up, I kicked my butt into gear really quickly because most of the shops close at 1pm for the afternoon siesta, and a lot of them don't reopen on Saturday for the evening. So, if I wanted to finish my Christmas shopping, I needed to get going full speed! I did take time however to stop and smell the roses, figuratively! There was one street that happened to have trees that were filled with pink roses. It's December! I have no idea how they are blooming, but as I was bundled up in my jacket and scarf it was a fun feeling to see roses. I had already made a list of what I was going to buy everyone, it was just a matter of finding the stuff. I didn't end up finishing all before 1pm, but when the shops closed I met up with Theresa and we decided siesta should be spent eating a tasty lunch. We walked into my favorite bar/café and there happened to be a promotion for Martini. The promotion girls asked us if we wanted a free Martini. Anything for free we can't turn down, so there we were, drinking a Martini on a Saturday afternoon. Very Spain haha.

After 'siesta' we resumed my Christmas shopping mission. One hour into our second shopping excursion we realized there was a Christmas concert that night and passed by the convention center. If there is a concert, and it's not sold out 30 minutes before the show starts, they sell the remaining tickets for 3€. Since the tickets were originally something like 25€ or 30€ its quite a good deal. We thought that there was no chance there would be open seats but luckily got some! I looked at the sign for the show - which said Gospel - so when we walked in, I guess I was expecting a group from The Bronx that was going to sing some traditional church Christmas music. Boy was I wrong! The first song, the singers all walked out in traditional African dress and sang something that sounded like I was watching the Discovery Channel. I thought, ok maybe they are just starting the concert out with this and they will sing some Christmas stuff soon. Ohhhh nope. The first few songs I think I was just in shock with the drums and the bird sound effects and the brightly colored outfits but as the concert when on I actually found myself really enjoying it. Clapping along I heard songs that celebrated God but obviously didn't sound like Jingle Bells or Rudolph. By the end of the concert, everyone was on thier feet cheering.

When we walked out of the auditorium we kind of giggled to ourselves - here we had been shopping and stumbled into a 3€ awesome concert. Hooray spontaneity. After we had about two hours before the shops closed and I successfully bought the final gifts for the season. After a tasty spicy spaghetti we headed out to some parties with some friends and didn't end up making it home until 5am. I guess that is a regular weekend night in San Sebastian!

Seeing as that we went to bed so late, we slept in Sunday morning and wasted half of the morning in bed. My roommate passed by my room and said that her boss wasn't working at the Spa that day and that if Theresa and I wanted to pass by we could get in for free! Again, spontaneity rules! We didn't do much Sunday but did manage to spend two hours in the hot seawater spa.

Shopping, a concert, free Martini and a spa day - I think these add up to a pretty fabulous weekend that had no plans Friday afternoon! I hope you all had a great weekend as well and enjoyed any spontaneity that happened to you!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Engaging Italy

Saturday night's dinner was quite delicious and was followed by some more outdoor bars in the area they call Murazzi. Because Turin is situated on the River Po, they have a lot of bridges and a lot of walkways along the river. Murazzi is the area close to the center and it has a bunch of temporary tents that actually are bars! It was crazy but really fun. Not only was it nice to be out in a different place, but the view on the river was gorgeous too. Torino is said to be the city in Italy with the most Christmas lights, and I can imagine it is right. Not only do they string lights along the streets, but they light up bridges, churches and buildings too. Seeing as that Donosti isnt decorating for Christmas, I was tickled pink (or should I say red and green) that I was in Christmas light heaven! One thing that I thought was pretty neat were the variety of lights - lights in the shape of people, huge lights made from colored bottles, neon blue lights from the highest church - all make for a diverse and pretty Torino holiday.

Sunday was touristy day. It's funny because the whole time I was there, I didn't actually feel like a tourist because I was always with local people, going to local restaurants and bars and staying in a home. So my tourist Sunday wasn't the normal touristy places that I guess one would expect you would clamour over when you arrive in Turin. First we headed to Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte - which translates to Church of Santa Maria of the Mountain. Situated on a big hill overlooking the Po and all of the center of Turin, we were pretty lucky that we had a partially clear day and could see the Alps sitting as the background of the city. Torino is part of the 'state' named Piedmont, which in Italian translates to 'foot of the mountains' and it couldn't be more true. Because it is in NW Italy, it's not all beaches and tan Italian men walking around in speedos drinking limincello like a lot of people think about Italy - and instead was quite crisp. It was quite peaceful up there and we sat around just gazing out at the city. The city was a canvas of white buildings with red roofs peppered with churches.

After taking some time to soak up the view we got back in the car and I got a whirlwind tour of the windy and hilly streets of the outskirts of Torino by my crazy Italian driver! I thought NYC taxi drivers were crazy, but the way Italians drive puts them in a whole new category! Left turns on 6 lane streets, cutting people off everywhere, squeezing down streets that don't seem fit for any size car and passing cars on roads that shouldn't fit two cars! It was quite an experience to get to our next tourist stop - a riverfront walk along the Po. Passing gorgeous fountains, statues, a huge castle and musicians, you would think I would have taken more photos, but the thing that impressed me the most was Edoardo's university building. I mean, ASU had some nice buildings when I was in college, but his architecture building is in an old Palace that reminds me of Versaille. I can imagine he must be SO inspired every day he goes to class. It is actually called the Castello del Valentino and is the home of one of the best architecture schools in Italy. Built in the 1600s, it makes me want to be an architecture student in Torino haha.

We continued our stroll along the waterfront and eventually ended back at the car and sped off to another hilltop sight - the memorials to all the wars Italy has fought. In my mind, Italy isn't the strongest in military skills yet they have a nice memorial park that was fun to walk around, that is, until it became dusk and unbearably cold! We headed back to the city and for the first time had something not typically Italian for dinner - sushi! In a small, modern restaurant called Japs (I tried to explain to Edo that we would never name a Japanese restaurant this in the States) for some tasty sushi. It's been quite some time since I've eaten sushi and then sushi chefs put together a special variety plate for us. It's amazing how helpful people are in a different country when you have someone who speaks the mother tongue! Accompanied with some wine - we couldn't give up that Italian must - we ate our body weight in sushi and since we felt like we were pregnant with sushi babies, called it an early night and went home and watched an American movie - Scoop by Woody Allen, which I had never seen before.

My last full day in Italy started off pretty late - for some reason it seems like the cold made me want to sleep in every day! By time I woke up it was lunch time and Edo's mom was making us lunch. A tasty tortellini and oil and vinegar salad was on the menu and I was happy to have a homecooked Italian meal again. Edo, his mom and I ate together, which was pretty amusing seeing as I don't speak Italian and she doesn't speak much English. Poor Edo was constantly translating but we survived. The next thing on our agenda was to meet his friend Federica for a coffee in the Piazza. On the way we passed this gorgeous building that is actually only the cinema museum. Torino was the original capital of the country of Italy when Italy became a country. Being as it was the most important city, the Jewish population wanted to build a fantastic synagogue there and this building was the original place. They hired a famous architect who projected the building to cost 292,000 lira but after he started his ideas kept getting grander and grander along with the cost. By 1876 the Jewish community pulled out of the project and by this time the Italian capital was moved to Florence. Torino residents didn't want to see the building go unfinished and the city took over to finish the work and the result is a goregous building that is the symbol of Turin.

Turin is also famous for being the capital of cars in Italy (kind of like our Detroit...or what Detroit used to be). I didn't know it before I got here, but there is a brand of cars named FIAT here in Europe. It is quite a successful car company here and thier HQ is in Turin and the 'T' in thier name actually stands for Torino! Another claim to fame for Torino is Lavazza, the most popular coffee in Italy is also based in Torino. So I guess you could say Torino is a little mix of Detroit, Seattle and then all of the art that USA has!

After enjoying a tasty coffee in Piazza Vittorio, I realized my wallet was missing! NO GOOD! Edo and I went home and I searched for it but had no luck, so I called and cancelled my credit card and figured it wasn't the end of the world and that I had only really lost about 20€. Edo suggested we go file a police report since his house was near the station and I agreed. The polizia was quite run down, not something most tourists get the pleasure of seeing haha. The clerk that helped us of course only talked to Edo because of my Italian skills. It was quite funny though, because he tried SO hard to say words in English. At one point, he sat there pushing his hands against his foreheard for about 20 seconds and finally asked me 'How long...' and then finished the sentence in Italian. I wasn't so upset about the wallet so it was quite an amusing trip. If he had a question for me he would ask Edo and at one point, he stopped the questions to ask Edo if he really understood all the English I spoke! He was so impressed hahah. He was also very proud of himself when I told him I was from Washington and he knew how to spell that word. Another thing that shocked him was the contents of my wallet: an American credit card, a Spanish bank card, a Spanish bus pass and an American driver's liscense. When he asked for a contact number, Edoardo gave him his Italian cell. He was so confused how an American, living in Spain, could know a boy from Turin! You could tell we were the most exciting part of his day. Unbeknowest to me, Edoardo asked him if he could pick up my wallet if they found it because I was leaving the next day. The polizia said we would have to be married or engaged, so right there in the police station, Edo turned to me to inform me that we had just become engaged. I started laughing outloud so hard and then Edo got on his knee, proposed in the dingy police station and we dissolved into giggles!! So, officially in Torino, Italy, I am engaged and I have a police report to prove it haha - how romantic!

We left the police and headed to meet some old friends we knew in Spain. Edo, feeling bad for me, suggested we stop and grab the best ice cream in Turin - a mix of the chocolate Torino is famous for. Although I'm not normally a chocolate person it was quite delicious and the ala-mode on my day. We strolled through the city and on the way to meet our friends passed Japs by chance, the place where we had had dinner the night before. Upon seeing us, the hostess jumped up and ran to the counter where she pulled out my wallet. The entire restaurant staff was so happy to see us and they cheered when she gave me my wallet. Edo and I couldn't stop laughing, seeing the comic scene we just went through at the police. Alls well that ends well I guess.

With my wallet finally back in my purse we strolled through the main Piazza, where the lamps where filled with colored light bulbs and the entire square was full of life and of course shopping. We finished our ice creams and found a cute outside bar where we met our friends and started speaking in Spanish. One of the girls speaks an Italian dialect and doesn't speak too much regular Italian and since we all were in Spain together, we just speak Spanish, so it was kind of fun. Next we headed to a concert on the outskirts of Torino, a band called Franz Ferdinand, a rock band from Glasgow that is quite popular here in Europe. The best was that it was all in English and I knew a lot of the words. It was a perfect way to end my stay in Turin and was a blast. After the concert we stayed out at a bar until 2am talking and eating cheeseburgers (NOT a Turin speciality hahah) with everyone. By then though, we decided I should go to bed since I needed to be on the road at 8am.

I hadn't woken up at 8am the entire time I was in Torino, so it was quite difficult to get up and I ended up doing my blackeye make-up in the car but made it to the Milan airport on time and back to San Sebastian safely. As soon as I got back to Spain I was happy that I understood what everyone was speaking but of course missed Torino. Because I was with friends I didn't feel like a typical tourist and it was more like a fun hangout weekend that just happened to be in a different country. Italy is kind of like DisneyLand for me, I love it to pieces and I can't help but smile when I think about it. Hopefully I can go back soon!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Black Eye-Talia

My black-eye and I have made it back from Turin, Italy safely and it's looking a little less purple - now its a nice shade of pink and yellow. Like Spring! With a touch of make-up though it didn't look SO bad and didn't seem to play a starring role in the trip.

I arrived Friday afternoon in Milano and grabbed a bus Torino. After some rushed conversations in English and Spanish, I found the correct stop and Edoardo was there to pick me up, all bundled up because it was pretty cold in Torino this weekend. I'm sure you remember - it was where the 2006 Winter Olympics, so you can imagine that in December the temperatures are a bit chilly. Chilly but gorgeous - as the bus came closer and closer to Torino, it just felt like you were at the foot of the Alps and they were blanketed with snow and the sky was clear and the air crisp.

First order of business was Italy's claim to fame - pizza. After putting down my bag and touring the house we headed to Edo's favorite pizza place where I tried a pizza with cheese (I cannot remember all the amazing Italian cheeses on it, of course) and a pizza that had a type of Italian ham and get this...potatoes! Who would have thought?! It was suprisingly delicious though. Accompanied by some special Torino wine, it was a perfect first meal and much needed after the 10-hour journey. Next we took a small tour of the area, but seeing as he lives in the center of town, it was a nice walk - gorgeous bulidings, Christmas lights, fountains, sculptures - all everyday Italian things. Towards the end of our walk we met with Edoardo's best friend - Federica. The three of us headed out for a small party in the main plaza - Piazza Vittorio. Although it was freezing out, the Piazza was packed with people, all with coats and hats on drinking outside! After awhile you get used to the cold, and I loved the fact that these Turin residents weren't ashamed or even concerned with the fact that it was cold outside and instead were just enjoying themselves with friends and of course thier lively Italian accents. Luckily Edo speaks English and Federica speaks great English as well - so I didn't have to show off my limited Italian vocabulary, which consists of the following words: pizza, lasagna, pepperoni, salami, formaggio, know the important words.

As it had been a long day we called it an early night and then spent half the next day enjoying sleeping in. Once awake, Edo cooked me an Italian lunch - meat with some tomatoes and mozzarela. He called it the Meditteranean diet haha. I will be a fan of any diet that includes cheese! After lunch of course I had the customary Italian espresso - and SO Italian, Edoardo's family has an espresso machine in the kitchen. Living up to the stereotype perfectly!

With sunny skies we were lucky enough to be able to walk to the biggest street market in Italy and pass through the tight walkways in between stalls with 5 different kinds of tomatoes, various fruits, fresh vegetables and of course noisy and excited Italians bargaining and shouting prices. All was alive, especially the colors, which brought a vibrance to the cold afternoon. With our full tummys we had no desire to buy any food and instead Edo and I wandered through the cobblestone streets with a delicious final destination - a small little bar that serves his favorite drink in Torino - bicerin. This drink originated in Torino in the early 1800s in the café we went to and was made famous when Alexander Dumas talked about it in 1852. It is special because it is made of espresso, hot chocolate and whole milk, but instead of mixing them together, the drink is layered! While we were waiting to enter the small little café that was packed because it only has 8 small tables, we were standing outside speaking in English (because we met last year in Spain, we switch back and forth between English and Spanish, but mostly we speak in English). There was a little girl, probably 8 or 9 years old, just STARING at us while we were speaking. Finally she got the courage to ask Edo in Italian if he spoke Italian and he said yes of course and then she asked him if I could speak Italian and he said no. Her eyes got soooo big and she said ooooh no, she can't speak Italian?! How is that possible?! I was like this foreign alien, in a world where children only think Italian is spoken and sad for me, I can't speak it! It was quite amusing and until we got our table she was quite enthralled in watching and listening to little old me speaking English.

After the drink warmed us up, we continued our walking tour. Edoardo is an architecture major, and I can imagine Torino is a heaven for him! As we winded between buildings, monuments and churches, he knew so much information that only an interested local would know. For instance, I saw a building that I thought was beautiful and I was only seeing the back. He took me to the front of the building and explained that the front of the building was built in the 16th century and was half the size. Later in the 18th century Torino decided to build over what was the yard and expand the building. The part that I originally saw wasn't even part of the original building, and as we walked past the side of the building you could see where the detailing changed from 16th century to 18th century. Here is photo of the newer part of the building - eventhough architecture Edo insists I should like the older side more!

Things like this are priceless, because it is obviously something I would never notice on my own nor think to look up in the history book. I was lucky to have a built-in tour guide! Another neat tidbit that he shared with me was about the Church of San Lorenzo. The dome of this beautiful church (aren't they all beautiful in Italy?) is actually a secret occult symbol. If you look closely, you can see the half circle windows outside of the octagon form the eyes, and then the pentagon window is a nose and below a mouth. The tricky this is that the triangles above both eyes are shaped like devil horns! Edo told me that Torino is known as a 'secret city' in Europe - with hidden things like these devil horns, encoded things around the city and most famous, the supposed door to Hell! Not what I was expecting when I arrived!

Since we had slept so late it was already dark so we headed back to the house to change and get ready for dinner. On the way we passed a huge indoor Nativity scene. With a car motor, this HUGE Navity scene depicts the entire city of Bethlehem and even moves. From the regular people washing clothes to animals walking and the daylight coming and going, it was the most impressive Nativity scene I have ever seen. There was no way to take a photo of the entire thing but here is a photo of the manger. You can see the detail that goes into this spectacle. We took time to look at eat person, paid attention to all the movements and for awhile, just listened to the Christmas music. Edo said his parents had always brought him to this when he was a child, and I was so happy to see something that a normal tourist wouldn't see and experience part of a real Torino holiday.

His friend, Federica was so sweet and for my arrival had planned a little dinner to welcome me with some of Edo's friends! We headed over to her house and Edo and his friends cooked a tasty pasta with ham and of course cheese! After the dinner and traditional Torino chocolate - gianduiotto. This chocolate is a Torino speciality and is so famous because it was one of the first chocolates to incorporate hazelnut. Although I'm not a huge chocolate eater, I was suprised at how tasty and soft it was and made sure to eat more than one!

With art, markets, chocolate, mozzarela and my special tour guide, I was quite pleased with my first day in Torino. I will write more about the rest of the weekend, but wanted to let you all know I made it back safe and sound and that I enjoyed a great weekend and hope you did as well.

Bacio (Italian for kiss - pronounced 'bacho')

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An Italian Weekend

Happy first week of December everyone! It's the first weekend of the month and we have a 4-day weekend hoooray! It is 1am here right now and I need to wake up at 6am to catch my bus to the airport, because I am going to spend the weekend in Italy! As you know, I've already visited Rome and Florence, so this time I am going to Milan and Turin (where they had the Winter Olympics some years back) to visit some friends! It shall be very fun, except for all the pictures that will show off my black eye - which is now kind of turning yellowish purple. Lovely.

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend and I will write about my trip when I get back - with photos of course!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The weekend of cider but not so many sights

Well, another weekend already went by - and lately it seems like I have been going on fun hikes and seeing new towns, so I was kind of expecting something similar this weekend. It didn't turn out exactly like that but it was fun regardless. Friday was super boring, as I was still so tired from Thanksgiving that I fell asleep as soon as I got home and didn't wake up for about 10 hours!

Saturday, Theresa and I tried our luck on another adventure - this time picking an interior city named Andoain. Online it said it was a quaint town with a huge cathedral and a lot of historic monuments. For the 30 minute bus ride, we were anticipating a cute little village. That is not what we found. When we got off the bus, it appeared to be more of a ghost town, so we stopped in for a sandwich in hopes that after lunch more people would come out. No luck. We walked around the town and since the church was locked, the most exciting part of the city was the moving walkways that were all over. It was like you were in an airport, except these were the town sidewalks. It was absurd! Theresa took a photo of me on the moving sidewalk, obviously laughing because I think it's so ridiculous. Also, I kind of wonder how they deal with them getting see these are the interesting things we saw in Andoain. On top of moving sidewalks, we were impressed with a deserted house, a furniture market and a crazy lady who was carrying a baby doll acting like it was a real baby. While I doubt it, but if anyone one ever wants to go to Andoain, I'm going to suggest you don't!
Saturday night was much better - a huge party at the sidreria. Remember me talking about sidrerias? The place where they have cider in huge barrels and you catch it in your glass? This time, I went with some new friends and some old friends to my favorite sidreria! The girls in this picture are basically my best friends - Theresa (from Germany), me, Madeline (from London) and Heather (from New York). With about 10 more people, we were a fun crowd. The only bad part about the night was that because people spill thier cider all over the floor, it is VERY slippery and clumsy Amanda slipped and now I have a black-eye. Because of this, I spent all Sunday in bed, icing the eye, putting on cream and in general just being bitter I have a black-eye. Don't worry - nothing bad, just some bruising. I can see fine and don't need to go to a doctor, just a make-up artist! I'm still in good spirits :)

I don't think I have EVER had a black-eye, so I am learning how to put TONS of make-up on every morning to try and cover it up and am getting used to the looks many people give me like I have an abusive boyfriend. The best comments come from my students - who are quite blunt. Today one student who came in late and missed the story of my fall made sure to tell me that I was wearing too much make-up and it looked bad. So sweet. Another comment came from my 12 year old boys - we are watching The Last King of Scotland and there is a black man in it - Jon thought it was so funny that we were watching this while I have this black-eye and made sure to tell me that me and the main character had the same eye. Clever kids.

Other than that, my week is pretty uneventful. I bought a poinsetta, started listening to Christmas music and plugged in my little computer Christmas tree to help ring in the season. I read today in the newspaper that for another year, San Sebastian won't be decorating the streets for Christmas. SHAME! I will just have to be jolly on my own.

I hope your first week of December is fabulous and you are really getting into the holiday spirit because I sure am - black-eye and all!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Feliz Acción de Gracias (Thanksgiving)

Feliz Thanksgiving everyone! My Thanksgiving was action-packed, although it included noooo turkey. Shame.
I started my Thanksgiving out on Wednesday night, when my friend Madeline and I stayed up until 1am baking apple pies. With two pies worth of apples, I became an expert apple slicer! Madeline took over the crust-making and together we made a good team. We didn't have a pie pan, so instead baked the pies in this clay pot that is almost the size of a 9'' pie worked fine! I had never made a pie before, so it seemed odd to be making my first one in Spain, where basically no one even eats pie! I didn't miss the most important part though...the carving of the letter on the top of the pie. Normally you would put an A on the pie for apple, but since I am in Spain, I carved an M for manzana!

One pie went to my classroom and the other to the Thanksgiving dinner celebration I had with friends. The first pie was part of a presentation that I put on about Thanksgiving in America. In our Spanish class, on of our tasks is to present something special about your culture to the class. I decided on Thanksgiving and really tried to bring it to life! The presentation lasted about an hour...all in Spanish! I started out with the history of leaving English because of the religious persecution and then how the first celebration was more of a harvest festival and a thank you to God and the Indians that helped the pilgrims (peregrinos) survive the first though winter. Next, I presented what we normally have for Thanksgiving dinner...of course emphasizing the turkey! I had printed out some photos of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. The pictures were helpful when trying to describe what a marshallow (malvavisco) or cranberries (arádano) were. Try it...try explaining what a marshallow or a cranberry is in a different language - it's a challenge! This is where I busted out the pie and gave a plate of pie to everyone to enjoy some American goodness. It was a hit! I even had made a handout with the recipe on it in Spanish and gave it to a bunch of people who were interested in how to make thier own apple pies. Next on my Thanksgiving agenda was the other events that take place - Macy's Day Parade (desfile), Football games and Black Friday (Viernes Negro). People seemed to be amazed at the Macy's Parade and the fact that I had been to it before and brought photos, and I took some time to explain the meaning of Black Friday. Last but not least was arts & crafts turkeys. I had taken the time to make the turkeys...little feet and all, and brought feathers for people to write what they were thankful for on them. I told them that normally at Thanksgiving we each say something we are thankful for - and in Spanish it translates to 'Estoy agradecida por...'. My example was 'Estoy agradecida por la oportunidad a vivir en España'. Did you understand it?! I'm thankful for the opportunity to live in Spain! At the end of class, I asked if I could take a picture with everyone - saying that since my family will all be together for Turkey Day and I won't be there, I woudl like to show them what I did on my Thanksgiving. One classmate was so sad that I wasn't with my family that she started crying and said that she was happy she could spend such a special holiday with me. So sweet. In the end it was a GREAT presentation and I was really happy to teach people something special about America although it wasn't the same as having dinner with my family.

After class I rushed off to work. We aren't doing any Thanksgiving activities this week here because we are in the midst of watching movies. I am watching all British movies with my older kids - Billy Elliot, Love Actually and The Last King of Scotland. With the little kids, since they have seen all of the children's movies we have at the school, I bought Robin Hood, which I haven't seen in atleast 10 years. Watching it now I realize everyone has a British accent! While I love the movie, I am watching it with 6 different groups, so so far this week I have seen the first 25 minutes of Robin Hood 6 times. Woo hoo! Hahaha! Most of the kids haven't seen the Disney Classics so they are enchanted with the old movie as much as I am.

To top of my Thanksgiving, of course there was food. Heather, my American friend, hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at her house. She lives with about 7 other people - all from different nationalities. There were only 3 Americans and we did our best to show them a fabulous first Thanksgiving with sweet potatoes, stuffing, apple pie (thank you very much), mac and cheese, potatoes and gravy and more!

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Last days of good weather...

Well, the weather forecast is in, and they basically say that winter will start tommorrow (sunday), so I made sure to take advantage of Friday and Saturday's sunny weather! Friday for class, we went to an art exposition. I wasn't such a fan because it was art from the creator of the movie Alien - HR Giger. Although it was not my type of art, it was quite moving (although it didn't move me to any happy thoughts) and the tour was in Spanish. The funny thing is that the tour guide was the same girl that led the group tour Theresa and I went on last weekend at the Basque painting museum. She recognized us and said she was suprised that we were in a language class because we seemed to have understood most of what she had said the weekend before.

After class we headed to FNAC - a store kind of like Best Buy - where I needed to look for some kid movies. Next week I am watching movies with my students and all of my young kids have seen the majority of movies we have at school. I wanted to show them something I didn't think they had memorized and would like - and in the end I picked Robin Hood. It's been AGES since I have seen it, so I am excited to show it and think the boys and girls will like it bunches! While at FNAC, we found a little room that had Ice Age 3 showing and 3 little kid chairs. We plopped down and watched about 30 minutes of the kids movie, seeing as we really had nothing more important to do. Only when the employee came in to show a customer something and we dissolved in laughter did we decide that 3 girls in thier 20's probably shouldn't be loitering in the kids theater!
After work and some dinner, I was a tired girl on Friday night and didn't get into anything exciting. Theresa and I got up Saturday morning and headed to a neighboring village called Zumaia (pronounced zoom-maya). We started there only because the town we actually wanted to go to didn't have a train stop and we figured it was the closest place and a 45 minute walk along the coast wouldn't kill us. Walking on a sidewalk along the highway right on the edge of the coast, it turned out to be a beautiful walk. We are used to seeing our beaches, which are gorgeous, but it is always nice to have a change of scenery! The water was so clear that on one beach the rocks underwater were perfectly visible. Also along the walk, we saw lots of goregoues flowers in bloom - bright yellow daisies, soft pink roses, shrubs with vibrant light blue pops of color and more - and here it is the end of November! The rain is coming, and although I don't want it to make an appearance, I guess I don't have much room to complain.

After two mandarins, an apple and a lot of talking and walking, we ended up in Getaria - our medival town destination! This picturesque fishing town is home to some pretty famous people, although the village only boasts 2500 people! Juan Sebastian Elcano, the first person to circumnavigate the Earth comes from here, along with Cristobal Balenciaga, probably the most famous Spanish clothing designer. Balenciaga actually opened up his first shop in San Sebastian and had the Spanish royalty wearing his designs!

The town is still very small and the stone roads wind around the massive church that started being built in the 15th century. At one point, instead of making a road that goes around the church, the villagers actually just built a tunnel that goes under the church! On on side of the tunnel is a restaurant where the chef cooks up the catches of the day on a massive outdoor stove and on the other side is the main road into the city, filled with pintxo bars, shops and of course tourists! After wandering around for a little bit we stopped into a small bar and ordered a delicious pintxo with chorizo, ham and fried potatoes. Tasttttty. I also made sure to order the famous Basque wine - txakoli (pronounced chack-oly). This white wine is specific to the Basque Country and Getaria is the biggest producer of it in our county - making 900,000 liters of it per year! The dry sparkling wine is deep within the Basque history, as it has been mentioned in Basque records since the 8th century. You can't come to Getaria and not try the famous wine - so of course I sipped the delicious drink with my pintxo.

Seeing as the town was so small, we decided to catch a quick bus to Zarautz, a surfer town 5 minutes away by bus. When we arrived the sun was trying peek out of the clouds onto the longest beach in Basque Country. Once a whale hunting village, the town now is most famous for surfing - as the world champion right now is from here. Along the beach, I couldn't help but thinking that it looks a lot like my beach in Gros. It is long and has a walkway stretching the entire beach with people strolling all day. The thing that seemed the most different is that the buildings that face the sea look like they were built in 1970, whereas in Gros, you can tell the buidings have been standing since the 1800s and they look classier. After gazing at the sea we headed into the center. In between stopping at shops we stumbled onto a beautiful church, lively plazas, winding stone roads and piles and piles of swirling leaves. Although it is the end of November and the leaves have fallen, it is still about 75º so it seemed like a silly contradiction to wear a light sweater as the leaves fly around your head. We got lost over and over until the 6pm sunset when we decided we were hungry and craving a sandwich from our favorite restaurant in San Sebastian and jumped on the bus and headed home. Twenty minutes later we were back in Donosti - and it kind of seems weird that for over a year I have lived here and I knew nothing about the two towns I had visited today. I think that is why I like living over here so much - there is always something new, somewhere to see.

After our long day you would think we would have been tired but we fired up and went out dancing with friends until 5am! Today it is sunny again, although the weatherman insisted yesterday that it would be pouring all day, so we took advantage and ate lunch on the beach and lounged around all day. At one point, we had a drink in a bar where I had only been 12 hours earlier dancing! Haha! Going to sign off now for a little siesta!

Enjoy your Sunday and the last week of November! Hopefully some of my summer in fall weather will blow your way!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

A New Amanda!

Well, I finally had my quarter century life crisis. I though that turning 25 felt too easy and this weekend I felt the repucussions!

Saturday morning I woke up and made a hair appointment. When I arrived the hair lady (who I have been going to since I moved here) said 'Ok, the regular with your hair?' and I said I wanted a change and that today I wanted bangs! She was like WOW and said that I was going to look younger and I told her that's nice since I just turned 25 - cuarto siglo! She laughed and said I was having a quarter century life crisis and that's exactly why I want to change my hair! I laughed and agreed. When she cut the first part of the bangs I gasped and she said don't worry, don't worry, just keep reading your book. At the end she asked me if I loved it...and since it is so drastically different I couldn't really say anything, so I said thank you it is exactly what I asked for but it will take me some time to get used to it! I am pretty used to it now, but it is kind of shocking to see yourself in a photo or walk past a mirror and wonder who you are!

After a quick lunch I met up with some friends for a stroll along the beach. Turned out to be a 16km hike! For us Americans who don't use the kilometers, that's 9.9 miles! Yea! I went in cute tennis shoes, jeans and a sweater haaha. I wasn't so prepared, but it wasn't so bad. I was invited by my friend Theresa from Germany who I know from my Spanish Language classes. She invited another German girl, who then invited a Peruvian, Sweede and a Argentinian. Spanish was everyone's common language, so for the 5 hour excursion I got a lot of practice! We started in San Sebastian and after quite some walking ended in Orio. It's pronounced like Oreo haha. Although it was a very long walk, it was gorgeous with beautiful views of the countryside. With houses stranded in the middle of nowhere, cows roaming freely and the fall colors clashing with the blue of the sea, it was a pleasure to be able to have such a day in the middle of November! By time we got to Orio, it was 630pm and it was pretty dark. At one point, we got off the trail and onto the street to walk, only to find that we had to walk in a tunnel and then on a part of the highway that had no sidewalk. Pretty dangerous, but it was fun - we waited until no cars were coming and then SPRINTED to the sidewalk. After almost 10 miles it felt like heaven to sit on the train back. It was rather depressing to realize that you can get to Orio by train in 25 minutes and we just spent 5 hours walking there haha. It was a great way to spend the day in the sunshine and doing something different.

Tired as possible, I managed to go out to a bar that night to see a band play. It is a guy who is blind who is a really good singer and guitar player. It wasn't a huge concert, just a small show in a little bar by my house, but I was really impressed with the band and actually liked some of thier songs! Around 1am I had to call it a night and caught some sleep to prepare for my also busy Sunday.

I woke up, drank my required coffee and headed off to meet Theresa again for another excursion. This time we went to a sculpture park of a famous Basque sculptor named Eduardo Chillida. In Donosti, there are sculptures from this man, and we had recently found out that there was a huge park with more than 20 of his sculptures only 15 minutes by bus. He makes these HUGE sculptures out of steel, granite, stones and alabaster. With the fall leaves leaping off thier trees, the sculptures were accentuated even more with the beauty of the park. Some of them have curves that you would never imagine for such a material, and some are carved and appear to be more than one peice but actually are one piece of stone and others emphasize a smooth part of the material juxtaposed next to the original texture. It was a relaxing afternoon and it was great to be outside for both days of the weekend. I am sure soon enough it will be pouring, so you have to take advantage of days like this when you can!

After that artsy excursion, we lunched on some delicious sandwiches and actually went to an art museum where they were having a free guided tour - in Spanish. Theresa and I were pretty impressed that we understood almost all of the tour! My Spanish is getting better hoooray! The art was of another Basque artist - this one with paintings though. His name is Gustavo de Maetzu and his brightly colored people in front of dull colored landscapes were goregous. We finished off our action-packed weekend with a lovely wine and now I am so tired I can't write anymore!

I hope you all had a great weekend. I have put up some pictures in the 'favorite pictures' on the right, since I have been slacking on that for awhile. Enjoy your week and I hope your Fall is starting off fabulous.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cuarto Siglo - Quarter Century

Well, the dreaded 25th birthday finally came and went! I am officially a quarter century old now. How can it be!?
For my last day as a 24 year-old, I worked (of course) and then met my friend Heather at our regular bar by our house for a drink. Because we get coffee there almost every day, we know the bartenders like friends, and so we stayed there until it was midnight. They put some candles into a pastry they had and sang me happy birthday in English when the clock struck 12. The bartenders are Argentinian and Brazilian, so I was suprised they knew the whole song! I kept saying I feel so old, I feel so old (me siento tan vieja) but everyone there was older than me, so that was nice haha! This picture is of me, Heather and our favorite bartender - Ignacio - but he goes by Nacho haha.

It was an early night but still held a lot of action. My camera that I only bought in April all of a sudden had a Lens Error!! We all know my life is basically impossible without a camera, so the next morning, after talking to Cannon over the phone and them telling me I have to send it to the USA to fix it, I went and brought a new camera. Happy Birthday to me! I figure I will send me bad camera to be fixed and when I get back I can do something with an extra one, but since it was going to almost 2 months to fix and ship back and forth from here, it would just be better to get a new one. I made sure to buy it in the morning, so I could charge the battery all day, and have it ready for my big celebration on Friday night!

On Friday, I went to class and then after work met up with 12 friends to go to a sidreria. You might remember from an earlier blog, when my friend Dave came, we went to a sidreria - or a cider house. This is the place where they have cider in barrels and you help yourself to however much you want, and it comes straight out of the barrel and you catch it in your cup and drink it with your delicious steak dinner. About 10 of the 12 friends that came had never been to a sidreria before, so it was a blast to be with people who were experiencing it for the first time! It's always a blast!

It was quite a mix of people - me, Madeline (London), my friend Theresa from Spanish class (Germany), Madeline's roommates that I am friends with Mattias (Sweeden), Maxime (France) and Xavier (Guatemala) and my friend Arjen (Holland) and his friends. It was quite an international English-speaking party and everyone was really fun! Madeline, was so sweet and called ahead and ordered me a cake and they brought it out and every sang Happy Birthday and then we all said Cheers in our own respective languages! Cheers, Prost (German), Skol (Sweedish), Salud (Spanish), Proost (Dutch) and Sante (French). The best part about the cake was that the waitress, really worried, came to Madeline and said 'I'm so sorry, but we don't have numbers to make 25 on the cake. We only have numbers for 24 or 26...which do you want?!'. I overheard this and quickly made sure I got the 24. Don't want to make myself seem older than my already quarter century!

After the sidreria closed we took taxis to the old part and partied until 7am in the morning and then had a small party at my house and finally went to sleep at about 8am! See, 25 year olds can still have fun!! After falling asleep at 8am, I was pretty much dead for the entire day, but was happy to spend my first real day as a 25 year old in my bed watching movies with my friends! We made tacos and unsuccessfully tried to make rice pudding, which we eventually went to the bar and bought some ha. Today, however, was quite a different story. We had winds up to 50mph and my friend Heather and I decided it would be a great day to go for a walk to see the waves.

We decided to walk to the big mountain in the old part so we could see the huge waves crashing into the side of the island. They had shut down the street that we normally walk and drive on because the waves are SO big that they pull cars off the road. From the mountain, it was a great view, however quite wet. The waves kept crashing and crashing, and we would get the leftover water debri, so now that I am home, my whole face tastes like salt water haha. The wind was SO strong that you could lean forward with all of your body weight and the wind would hold you up!

We hiked around a bit - in our winter jackets and boots of course - and everything was going great with a little mist from the waves and then BOOM thunder and a hail storm! After being pelted with little hail balls, we decided that our little windy excursion was over and headed to dry off and have some dinner!

I came home at about 9:30pm and was SO tired from all the walking against the wind that I was so sleepy that I actually took a two hour nap! I guess that's what 25 year olds do haha. Now it is 1:20am and I just got out of the shower and finishing up the blog and will go back to sleep. I just wanted to tell you about my birthday and my first days as a 25 year old! Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes :)


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy Halloween...a few days late!

Well, I know Halloween was last week, but I just finally getting around to writing about it! In Spain, they don't celebrate Halloween barely at all. There are enough foreigners that dress up that you can kind of tell it is Halloween, but really it is just an excuse to dress up and party. As for the school side of the holiday, the kids really look forward to Halloween because they know they
All last week was Halloweeny in my classroom. Most of the kids did get candy and they get to do arts and crafts!
word searches (sopa de letras) with Halloween vocab. Of course I put my American vocabulary, by mistake - we say candy and British people say sweets - so my kids were thrown a little bit by some of the words, but they enjoyed it anyways. With the young kings, we made pumpkin masks. I made one too to replace the fact that I haven't carved a pumpkin in over 3 years! So sad! With the older kids we made little lanterns and they drew Halloween designs on some orange tissue paper and then we put it around a jar. Pretty simple but it was a big hit! We also brushed up on our Halloween knowledge with the history of Halloween! Did you know that Halloween originally started out as a Celtic holiday called Samhaim, which meant end of summer. The Celtic people thought that the last day of summer was October 31st and that on this day the spirits could cross over into the real world - which is where all of the spooky stuff comes from!

The BEST part for the kids is when they got thier candy! I bought some chocolate that was wrapped in vampire teeth foil. The kids loved it and immediatley stuck it in thier mouths and ran around the class pretending to be vampires, a new vocabulary word for them! Between pumpkin mask making and candle lighting, Sean, my workmate, kept scaring my class by bursting into the classroom when the lights were off and making my kids scream like a horror film. It was quite amusing!

After all my educational Halloween time, I was ready to throw on my costume and celebrate! As of Friday, I still had no idea what I wanted to be! I kind of looked through the stuff I had and miraculously found a bag of fabric that the girl who stayed in my room over the summer had left. In in was an elastic peice of red and white fabric and an idea came to my head - PIRATE! I figured that I could sew a skirt with the material and then find a patch and a sword and I would be set! Here is the amazing part - I actually SEWED the skirt by hand and it looked great! It fit perfectly (I even made darts in the waste so that it fit there) and I cut the bottom a little to make it look more piratey. Every person I saw, I made sure to point out the hem and tell them a few times that I made it myself haha. So proud! I went to a costume party, where there were clowns, mariachi dancers, pumpkins, zombies and more! After the party, we headed into the Old Part of town - and sad but true, we were the only ones dressed up! Ohhhh well, it was fun anyways!

I hope you had a sweet Halloween and your November started off well! I spent all November 1st laying on the beach. Somehow it happened to be 80º on Sunday and I recovered from my Halloween evening by watching the waves and having a picnic on the sand. A perfect Sunday!