Sunday, May 31, 2009

Beach Time!

Well, after months and months of bad weather, we are being blessed with some sun in San Sebastian. I think it is only supposed to last until Wednesday or Thursday, but that's fine because I am off to Paris then. In the meantime, I am taking full advantage of the good weather! Friday morning, I woke up, headed to the beach for an hour and then went to work. Saturday morning, I went over to Esther's and we headed to the beach and spent practically the whole day there! We had breaks for ice cream and water of course ha!

While on the beach, I decided it is THE best place for people watching in San Sebastian. I love just watching people and the beach is great for it - all day! My favorite sight of the day was a 20-year old girl who was walking along the water, topless with her ipod on and she was basically dance-walking. It was just hilarious because if you didn't see her ipod, she just looked crazy.

During one of our breaks from the sun, Esther took me to this amazing mansion on top of a hill that overlooks the beach - turns out it used to be the Queen's summer residence. She doesn't use it anymore, but lots of people head up to the grounds to relax on the grass and check out the great view. I wish that the Queen would just give it to me - I would put it to good use haha! After our exploring we headed back to the beach and tanned some more! I am pretty brown now hoooray! We also managed to fit in a little shopping, some dinner and a wine night with all of us girls.

Today (Sunday) is just as nice, but I don't want to over-do it in the sun, so I won't spend my whole day on the sand. Instead, I will do things around the house and then pop my head out from time to time to enjoy the dress-wearing weather. Funny story with dresses: I haven't worn many dresses so far in San Sebastian because it has been so cold, so last week I finally wore one to class and most of my kids were so shocked and kept asking if I had been to a party or if I was going on a date. No no kids, I just wore a dress today. Obviously they were impressed. Now that it is warm enough, I am going to break out more and more dresses, just to impress the students haha. Something else my kids found suprising was that one day last week I bought a bouquet of flowers at a shop in Hondarribia and was going to take them home that night. I like to have flowers in my bedroom just to brighten it up, but the kids were so confused with this concept. They all asked me who bought them for me and I said I bought them myself, to which they replied: 'ohhhh, are you getting married?'. This puzzled me even more - do people buy themselves flowers when they are getting hitched here? haha. These are just some of the hilarious questions I get asked on a weekly basis :)

Off to do some laundry - good chore to remind me that my life doesn't consist of just the beach! Hope you are having a fantastic weekend as well!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

A French-filled day!

For about the third time this week, I woke up before 9am, which is a new record for me in my Spanish life! My friend, Esther, and I wanted to wake up early to head to France to buy some tickets to go to PARIS next weekend! Esther is from California and is working over here for two years, so we have become great friends! We made it to France by 11am, bought the tickets and had some time to kill before I had to head to work, so decided to explore.
The train station is in Hendaye - the French town directly across the river from Hondarribia, where I work. I have posted some photos of France from Hondarribia but had never really spent any time in the actual town I was taking pictures of! Well Esther and I wandered around until I remembered that you could take a boat shuttle from Hendaye to Hondarribia and so we set off to look for that! On the way, we stumbled into St. Vincent's church, a few clothes shops and a lot of French people! We stopped along the way to ask an old man if he knew the direction the boats. It's always a little struggle when you are in France because you don't know if they speak better Spanish or English, or either ha! This man spoke Spanish and gave us directions but it was obvious we still had no clue, soooo he told us he would walk us in the correct directon. In the end, he ended up walking us to a free bus, telling the bus driver where we wanted to go and sending us on our way. So nice!

We made it to the port and caught the boat for a mere 1.60€ and were floating across the Bidasoa River and in a few minutes were in Spain! Still is a little surreal to me that it's that easy to go between the two countries. In Hondarribia, we walked around, acting like tourists eventhough I spend half my life in the town ha. We stopped off and had an iced coffee and people-watched. My favorite people to watch are the old Basque men. They all dress like this - thier slacks, a cardigan and thier special Basque hats. Because they no longer work, they hang out all day in the streets or in bars. They sell the Basque hats in the tourist shops, and I am always tempted to buy one hahaha, but I guess it just wouldn't look the same on little old me.

After our coffee I had to head off to work - a lot of classes today, but crazy that it's winding down so quickly. Only a few more weeks and school is over! Next weekend is the Paris trip and I am SO excited to fit in one more voyage before I cross the pond to come home. You can expect great photos and stories when I get back, but until then, I think I will just work on soaking up the rays (with sun tan lotion - don't worry Grammy!) at the beach over the weekend, as the weather is supposed to be sunny! Let's hope it's true! I hope you all have fun weekends in the works as well!


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sun...against all odds!

Last Friday I checked the weather forecast - not really sure why I even bother any more - and of course it predicted rain, rain and a little extra splash of rain for the weekend. This is regular around here, so Friday night was spent with Natalia and a pizza indoors, and I figured the rest of the weekend would be spent inside as well. So, imagine my suprise when I woke up Saturday morning and it was sunny! Rays and rays of sunshine.

I took care of some errands around the city and loved walking around in the sunshine seeing that Spring has sprung in Donostia. I was expecting the weather to turn sour halfway through the day, because lately it has been teasing in the morning and then by afternoon it is pouring. By 2pm it was still sunny so I put on my swimsuit and headed to the beach! I was prepared to only be there for an hour but the weather held up, so I spent 3 hours at the beach, tanning it up! I have a nice amount of color now hoooray! I figure that when I come home everyone will expect me to be tan because I have lived in Spain for so long, so I am trying to work on my bronzeness ha. While at the beach, I managed to listen to some new music, read some of the TIME magazine I had and see some cool kites that a fellow beach-goer brought. The bright red contrasted perfectly with the bright blue sky and definitley entertained me for a good half-hour.

After the beach I met up with a friend for some shopping and then for a bite to eat and a nice walk on the boardwalk with ice creams in hand. I would consider it a great success of a day! The sunshine and outdoor frolicking that goes along with it didn't last of course. Today it has been rainy all day. Just recently, pounding thunder has started, accompanied by stark bright lightning that makes me feel like I am a celebrity who keeps getting her photo taken out my window! But, looking on the bright (haha) side of things, the rain allowed me to make a fettucine alfredo sauce for dinner, clean my entire room and catch up with everyone.

Only 4 more weeks left for school and 26 days until I am back in the good ol' U.S of A! I hope you are all having a great long weekend. And, in advance, Happy Memorial Day! I was reading this weekend and found out that Memorial Day actually used to be called Decoration Day and was first celebrated around the day of reunification after the Civil War to honor the fallen soldiers. Eventually, it came to encompass those who gave all in every American war and only in 1967 was it adopted as a National holiday! So, thank you to all who have served - here and in heaven. Although I really enjoy living in Spain, I am VERY proud to be an American!


Friday, May 22, 2009


Yesterday (Thursday), the people of the Basque Country decided to organize a strike (huelga). I have asked a lot of people what the strike is striking against, and no one can really tell me. I have heard they are striking for better wages, but Basque Country is the richest 'state' in Spain. I have heard they are striking against the crisis, but you would think they wouldn't want to take a day off when they could be making money if they are really having a crisis. Regardless, I really have no clue as to why they striked (is that grammatically correct? striked? stroke? bleh, these are the questions I ask myself now haha).

Esther (my friend from California) and I thought since we both didn't work until the evening that we would get together and have a nice lunch. Bad idea during a strike! Everything was closed - I know I know, I should have expected it, but everyone was saying it wasn't going to be such a big deal. After giving up on a restaurant, we walked around the whole town looking for a baker's shop that actually had bread available. We went to about 7 stores, all out of bread. The last shop, I was the person standing behind a couple who got the LAST loaf of bread. Luck. Eventually, we just gave up and I went to wait for my bus to work. It never came and I rode along with Erika. Of my 4 classes that day, only about half of the students showed up because barely any of them went to school because the teachers even striked! Crazy day!

Glad to be back to normal on Friday and headed into the weekend. I hope you all had a great week! 27 days til I come home!!!


Sunday, May 17, 2009

The BIG decision!

Well, I know most of you know already, but in case you hadn't heard the word - I get back on June 18th! Hooray! I am so excited to finally come home - it will have been a whole year since I have seen my family! AND, I am pumped to finally meet my NEW nephew, Austin. Yayay!

I figured I would tell you this now since it is almost officially one month until I get home, which is ironic because it is almost about one month til San Sebastian has consistently good weather. Oh well! It's not too big of a problem because my other big news is that I decided I am going to come back next Fall to teach another school year! I loved the job this year and figure that the economy in the States is a bit rough right now, so if there was any time to live abroad and travel around Europe, this is it! I'm already getting giddy about all the new places I can go next year. In the meantime, I am going to be the BEST Northwest tourist that my state has ever seen. I want to finally visit the Tillamook Factory, see some great plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (and of course visit Cathy and Paul!), go to Mariners games, do some berry picking (I guess I will need to make a few dollars over the summer haha), venture into the Ape Caves, check out some totem poles, maybe some kayaking or even whale watching. Who knows? The possibilities are endless and I am just so happy to be coming home and wanted to share it will you all!


Friday, May 15, 2009

The Joys of Spring

Well, another rainy day here in San Sebastian on Friday - well atleast that's how it started out! We held parent open house at the school and spent most of the afternoon there, but towards the end, the weather cleared up and by time we left at 7 it was sunny! Such bipolar weather. The only nice thing about rain then sun and rain then sun (well besides rainbows, which I don't see here oddly enough) are gorgeous views of the sun trying to break through the clouds.

I heard from a Spanish friend that they have a saying here that goes: 'Hasta el 40 de mayo, no te quites el sayo' - which roughly translates to 'Until the 40th of May, don't put away your long sleeves'. Yes I know, there is no 40th of May haha - but they figured that this crazy weather goes until atleast the 9th of June ha. So true, because this rainy Wintery Spring weather seems to be going on forever!

Saturday was Peni's last day in San Sebastian. Sad! She is moving back to Denmark but has promised to come back for a mini-vacation before I leave Spain. Other than that, nothing too eventful happening on this Saturday afternoon. The sky started out sunny but has gradually been covered with looming clouds that will probably drop thier rain tonight. I think as soon as I leave the house the rain will start - that seems to be my luck lately haha. It's like the Rain Gods of Donosti pay special attention to when I am leaving school or getting off the bus and then say 'buckets, right now, Amanda is outside - buckets of rain!' hahaha.

Nothing special planned for the weekend, maybe watching some movies and catching up on some reading. I hope you are all having a great weekend and having some nice weather wherever you are reading this from!


Monday, May 11, 2009

Mariposa Monday!

Happy Monday everyone! I can't beleive it is already the middle of May! Where is this month going??

I always like Mondays at school because I really enjoy all my classes on this day. Today was particularly fabulous because with all of my kid classes we have been painting butterflies (mariposa pronounced mary-pose-uh) and today I finally hung them up on the ceiling! Normally my arts and crafts activities (I do an arts and crafts activity every week with my kid classes - so you can imagine how many I have done this year!) involve cutting, coloring and gluing stuff together, but boy were the kids excited last week and today when I told them we were actually going to be painting! It's funny because the word for 'coloring' and 'painting' is the same in Spanish so when I told them we were painting they didn't think anything of it until they saw the actual paint and then they were estatic! I always let them take thier projects home when we are finished but made sure that I held onto all of the butterflies - which made a bunch of them angry, but hopefully they will be impressed with the flying butterfly ceiling this week! I know it's not the biggest event in history, but it was the highlight of my day :) I put up a few shots in this blog so you can see the adorable little kids and thier sheer happiness that I let them do such a messy project!

Other than that, the day was normal. Rain. On the bus ride home though, hail the size of golf balls started pummeling down! People stopped walking on the sides of the streets and cars stopped under the underpasses but the bus powered on! It was so loud and last for about 10 minutes - thunder and lightning accompanying, which I loved! When I got home, the sidewalks were quite slick but I did notice this leaf that had been pounded with rain into the sidewalk and I thought it was rather pretty. Stop and smell the roses...or stop and see the pelted leaves!

All in all, a rather regular day but just wanted to share it with you all :)


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Another Rainy Weekend...but this one was fun!

Well, no suprise here, but I checked the weather forecast on Friday and of course, it was rain rain rain for San Sebastian both Saturday and Sunday. So, I decided some plans needed to be made to either do something constructive inside or leave the city - and that's exactly what we did!

Saturday morning, Peni and I went to La Perla Thalassotherapy Centre - this amazing spa in San Sebastian that my roommate happens to work at! She told us to bring a 20€ and that we would 'pay' and she would give us two 10€ bills back - I always think free is the best price! Before we got in, we didn't really know what we were in for, but now I can understand why it is so popular in Donosti! Originally, Queen María Cristina decided that San Sebastian would be the spot for her summer royal residence. She loved bathing in the sea on the Concha beach and as a result, in 1912, La Perla was built and utilized the sea water in all of the spa. It has obviously been updated in the many years, but when it was built it was said to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe and to this day is still one of the only spas situated right on the beach! With our sexy swim caps (mandatory at any pool in Spain) we checked out all of the pools - one with exercise equipment; one with freezing cold water from the sea; a jacuzzi; a pool that had different 'stations' where you would get hydro-massages on your feet/calves/back and shoulders; and another pool that had stone beds that you could lay on and feel jacuzzi bubbles all around you! They were all pretty amazing and then on top of that, there were steam rooms, saunas, water beds (which I guess Spanish people missed in the 90s, because they all acted like they had never sat on a water bed in thier lives) and these radiation beds that help your muscles. While it all sounds amazing, the best part is that it is RIGHT on the beach, so while you are in these pools you have a panoramic view of La Concha beach! Also, the water used in all the pools was salt water, pretty good for the skin I guess! It was fantastic and relaxing! My roommate, Reyes, was so awesome to get us in, and in her honor we baked her a cake (yay Betty Crocker) and wrote Gracias on it. It turned out a little lopsided, but we wanted to show her how happy we were with the spa! Hopefully I can go back again before I leave...

After such a relaxing time at the spa we couldn't bother doing much else and just made dinner and watched some shows on my computer. We did manage to perform some nice karaoke
in my kitchen but that and playing football with my pizza box were about the highlights of the evening. The next day Madeline (the one from London) and I decided we wanted to get out of town for the day. We decided on Vittoria-Gasteiz (Vittoria being the Spanish name, Gasteiz being the Basque name), which is the capital of Basque Country. While we had no idea what there was there, we figured the capital would be exciting and we should see it, since we are such happy Basque Country residents. Turns out, it was the lamest capital EVER. There was practically nothing. I am used to a big cathedral or a gorgeous plaza or something in every Spanish town I have been to, but this place was pretty boring. We made it fun, skipping around (here is a nice picture of us, holding hands skipping through the plaza hahaha), taking silly photos, pintxo bar hopping and all. It was sunny, so we were happy we were atleast out of the rain, but were not so impressed with the city. We had asked a bunch of friends if they wanted to come with us or if they could tell us things to do in Vittoria and everyone turned us down and didn't have any good advice of things to do or see, and we didn't understand it on the way there. Now we do! While it could have been a big flop of a day-trip, we had a blast! The funniest thing I think we saw was this activity fair with blow-up slides, bouncy castles and things like that and this ONE game where you would climb up a ladder, walk into this man's mouth, take a slide and then come out his butt! We were in such shock that 1) the kids loved it so much and 2) the parents didn't think it was odd at all! We were laughing so hard, and of course took some photos. Sadly, we were too big to do the digestive slide, but it was unforgettable!

Another fun weekend to add to the list, as my time here gets shorter and shorter! More fun to come next weekend!

Besos and Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mommys I know - especially mine, grammy and the newest mom Sami!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Life at 160kpm (100mph)

Last Friday was Europe's Labor Day so we all got the day off. Trying not to waste the long weekend, my friend Madeline and I decided we should take a quick weekend trip. Madeline is a scientist here from London and we get along great (probably because we both speak English so amazingly haha). Along with two of her roommates, we decided to go to Madrid and then Toledo. Maxime (pronounced max-seem) her roommate who has a car offered to drive! Great!

Once I got in the car, I realized we were going to be arriving to Madrid very quickly because he drove his little French car like it was a race car - and I think the majority of the time we were going 160kpm. Madeline and I, in the back seat were so scared that we spent most of the ride napping so we wouldn't have to see how fast we were going! When we arrived, I was a little worried we were going to do all the things I have done already in Madrid, but the day turned out great and I got to see new things in the city. We parked the car near the Parque del Buen Retiro (Retiro Park) and went in. It is a huge park near the center of the city that used to be the private gardens for Spanish royalty but now us commoners get to see it! We walked around the park, that boasts 15,000 trees, and managed to see a puppet show in Spanish, which was quite entertaining. I think Madeline and I were the only adults watching, but it was along our level of Spanish haha. We strolled around the park until we came upon the lake and decided it would be a good idea if we rented one of the many rowboats and paddled around the lake for an hour or so. I have never rowed a boat, let alone with someone else doing one side of the boat, so with a lot of giggles and splashing, we managed to row around the lake, take in some sun and relax after the stressful drive.

Once our time was up and we struggled to row back to the dock quickly we headed towards the city center. On the way we stopped at a pharmacy because Maxime needed to get something for his finger. Quick background - a huge ladder dropped on Maxime's hand two months ago, his hand was a mess, he almost lost his finger and has had 3 surgeries and his finger was an odd shade of red/purple. Madeline insisted he get some antibiotics, but obviously you cannot get those from a pharmacy without a prescription, so we then headed to the nearest hospital. We got to the emergency room and there were nurses standing outside asking us if we had fevers - which I later figured out was to decide if we had the SWINE FLU!! Maxime had to wait a long time, so Madeline and I set out to explore more of the city. I was getting nervous in the hospital anyways - mixing with possible swine flu cases! We grabbed some breakfast and then made our way to the city center, where I know my way around. I showed her all the main sites I have told you about before - Puerta del Sol, Gran Vía, Plaza Mayor, etc. We hadn't got much sleep the night before since we started our trip at 6am, so we found a table in the sun in Plaza Mayor and ordered some sangrias while we waited for the boys. I think my face got a little burnt, but we were happy to be in the sun (San Sebastian was rainy), listening to flamenco music and just doing nothing. From there we headed to the Palacio Real and then to the gardens behind it that I have never seen. Like a corn maze but shorter, there was a bush maze and we walked through the little shrubs, happy that we could see the rest of the maze and could step over the bushes if need be. After we beat the maze we wandered to the Plaza de España which seemed to only house random hippies or young teenagers kissing on the grass. Needless to say we didn't stay long and instead jumped on the metro and went to the train station. It may seem silly to visit the train station of a city, but like Grand Central, the Madrid train station is a destination in the city because it happens to have a huge tropical greenhouse with over 500 turtles! We stayed under the bamboo-roofed part of the station until it closed and then headed back to the center to grab some dinner. After a two drinks we decided we were too tired to see the nightlife of Madrid and headed back to Ernesto's (Madeline's other roommate that came along) cousin's house, where we were staying the night.

The next morning, Ernesto's cousin and her husband were so sweet, brought us churros for breakfast and made some coffee before we headed off to our next destination: Toledo! After the 30 minute drive, we stepped out in what was once the possible choice for the capital of Spain and all the home to the famous El Greco! Toledo is famous because at one point, Jewish, Muslim and Christians lived in harmony, all within this walled city that hasn't changed much since the 16th century. The Jews were banished from Spain in 1492 and the Muslims in 1502, but thier mark still stays on the city. While we were only in Toledo for a few hours (we needed to speed back to San Sebastian for a friend's birthday party) we had a great time in the medevial-like city. We wandered through the curving streets and were constantly getting lost. I guess we weren't getting lost persay because we didn't really have a destination in the city, just wanted to see what we saw. We stumbled on a synagogue - Santa María de Blanca. Built in 1180, it is the oldest synagogue in all of Europe and is still in gorgeous shape. While it is owned by the Catholic Church, it is a museum showcasing Jewish art, but there are talks that it will soon be changed back into a place of prayer for the Jewish community in Toledo. The horseshoe arches and plain columns show no trace that it is Jewish and I was suprised to find that there is only one Star of David in the whole place!

Wandering further into town, we came upon a park that overlooked the Tugus River, that surrounds Toledo on 3 sides. While standing here, Ernesto (whose family is from a neighboring village of Toledo) told us of a family story. He said that his family had taken a vacation to Turkey and met a Muslim man who said his family was from Toledo. Ernesto's dad started to speak Spanish with the man, and suprisingly he spoke back in perfect lispy Spanish! Ernesto's dad asked the man how he spoke such perfect Spanish and lived in Turkey! The man said that his family was kicked out centuries earlier due to the Reconquista but that they kept thier Spanish roots alive by learning Spanish. He said he even had a key to the apartment where his family had lived in Toledo before they were forced to leave. Obviously it was a large key and is probably not operational anymore, but I thought it was a great story - that the family has passed down this key, a little peice of family history that they could save!

Seeing as it was about 85º, we didn't want to spend the whole day in the sun and went to grab a bite to eat before heading back. On the way we passed the 2nd largest cathedral in Spain. The biggest, I found out, is in Sevilla. We didn't enter the cathedral, but admired the outside carvings - all depicting scenes from Christ's life. A day in the life, if you will :) We passed loads of souviner shops and many metal stores selling swords - something Toledo is very famous for. Known as the best swords in the world, Toledo swords were used by Hannibal for his Roman Army, El Cid and because of thier fame even fell into the hands of Japanese Samurai! Using steel mostly from the Basque Country, Toledo became experts at crafting these unbeatable swords! Most shops still sell these swords and some go even as far to sell jewelry or trinkets with the famous Toledo jewellery technique - Damasquinado. This involves black steel inlaid with gold, silver and copper threads to create beautiful, hand-made works of art!

We later munched on tapas (we normally call them pintxos in Basque Country) on a busy street and then headed back to the car to race back home. On the way there, the boys managed to get so lost that we went around the same round-a-bout six times, we passed an ambulance that had its lights on because we were going so fast, and we Madeline and I played little kid car games in the back - anything to distract from the speed! By time we were home, I was completely used to going 100mph, like it was a regular speed! Don't know if that's good. Regardless, we got back in one piece and in 36 hours managed to drive to Madrid, see the city, sleep 9 hours, race to Toledo, see that city and then get back to San Sebastian. A rather productive day and a half!