Sunday, October 25, 2009

¡Una fin de semana inolvidable! An unforgettable weekend

Hello everyone! Remember I mentioned that my second weekend here was a really busy one but I hadn't shared it yet with you because my friend hadn't given me the photos?? Well, she finally has, and although it's 3 weeks later, I want to tell you about an awesome weekend I had here, back when the sun was still shining!

Madeline, my good friend from England, had her birthday three weeks ago, and we celebrated big time! It had kind of been a rainy and dreary week, but when we woke up Saturday morning, there wasn't a cloud for miles! She called me up and said 'we will be at your house in 15 minutes. I will call when the car is outside and you should come running out!'. While reading it now, it sounds like a bank robbery scheme, but really it was just the ride to the port, where we unloaded a kayak. Her French flatmate, Maxime (pronounced max-seem) happens to own a kayak and suggested we spend the morning in the water. I was pretty pumped because I had never been kayaking, and actually had thought about doing it in the Puget Sound all summer but didn't get to it! We decided we would kayak from the port to the island that is the middle of the Bay of Biscay. You might remember the island from some of my past pictures, but here is another shot of it, from a nearby hill. We kayaked from the verrrrrry left of this picture. If you look closely you might be able to see the small port. Because the island blocks a lot of the waves that come into the Bay, the water is very calm, and during the excursion we stopped for some swimming and of course more guitar playing. Every half hour, a tourist boat departs from the port and takes people to the island, so we not only amused ourselves, but provided exciting entertainment for them! On the island there is an old lighthouse, some trails and a snack bar. We headed to the snack bar and I munched on an apple and took in some much-needed sun. After awhile we decided we should add more fun adventures to our day and headed back to the mainland. After about 30 minutes in the kayak we were back in the car and heading toward what Madeline called a 45-minute hike.

With our bellies full of the famous Spanish ham sandwiches, me in my flipflops and 3 more of our friends headed out on a trail that started as a steep climb and then leveled off and gave you a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean. With the deep blue water to our right and heavy foilage to our left, we were basically walking on the edge of Europe, and it was beautiful. In this picture you can kind of get an idea of how the vivid blue clashed with the electric green. Halfway through the hike we found a secluded little swimming spot - made up for huge rounded rocks setting against the hill. We climbed down and stripped to our swimsuits and jumped into the pure water. Swimming was followed by a intense card-game of Uno (it seems to be a universal game haha) and then we continued the trek. Two and a half hours after we started, we finally reached the end - a huge hill that overlooks San Sebastian. The hill comes down at the end of the Zurriola Beach, in my neighborhood, Gros. From here you could see the church that is down the street from my house! We rested there for awhile to take in the view and then headed back to Madeline's house for a grand birthday dinner!

Madeline had decided she wanted fajitas for dinner. When we tried to explain that to two of her housemates they were very puzzled. The conversation in Spanish went something like this: 'Fajitas??', 'Yes, fajitas, they are delicious' 'What are Fajitas?' 'You knowwww, fajitas. Kind of like burritos' 'Noo, I don't know what a fajita is' 'You know, fajitas, mexicans!!' 'Ohhhh mexican fajitas!!'

I guess fajitas aren't as popular as the game Uno because a lot of people didn't seem to know what they were. Regardless, we stocked up on ingredients and started to prepare the dinner (cena). With about 10 people at dinner, it was quite a mix of languages. We had me and Madeline, a boy from Basque Country, a girl from Poland, a boy from Sweeden, a boy from Italy, a girl from El Salvador, a boy from France and more housemates that I don't know where they are from! It's always a lot of fun to have these dinner parties, and since Madeline and I are good friends, I am over there enough to know all the housemates and get along with all of them! After dinner the dinner party turned into a costume party when Maxime busted out the guitar from our kayak ride and threw on a Mexican blanket and sang a very Mexican song. Everyone was laughing hysterically and were throwing on costumes to join in. During the night I was a leopard girl, a flamenco dancer and a Mexican. Here is a pic of me and the Sweedish guy in costume. It sounds silly but was actually amazing and we stayed up dancing until 4am in the moring!

The next day was spent recovering and on the beach. I think I spent a total of like 7 hours just lying on the sand. Worked up my tan a little bit and gained back my energy from a 9am kayak ride, 3 hour hike and crazy dance party! Sorry it was such late news! This weekend was the polar opposite. I have been having a relaxing weekend, watching movies, catching up on phone calls and doing laundry. I guess you have to have a boring weekend from time to time!


Monday, October 19, 2009

mi casa es tu casa!

I was looking through my blogs and started to realize that I tell you about all these great places I go to about things I do, but I noticed I haven't even showed you where I live! About a year ago I posted a blog about my first apartment, but after last Christmas I moved to a new neighborhood and apartment, and haven't ever shown any pictures of that! So here goes...

I now live in Gros. Yes, you pronounce it like 'gross' but I promise it's not yucky! It was named after a particulary successful propieter (Tomas Gros) who lived in the area before it was booming. Originally the old part was all that the city consisted of, and eventually the population spread across the river to the now named Gros!

Here is a quick little map of San Sebastian. The green star is where I used to live in the Old Part the red star is where I live now, in the neighborhood of Gros. I originally moved here because a bunch of my friends last year lived near. Also, I wanted to live with Spanish-speaking people. Now I live with a German and 3 native speakers, so that was successful!

Here is my street view from my front door. We live next to the cathedral, and every day you can hear the bells chiming from my window. Also, every Sunday to signal the start of mass, they play a little bell-melody. That's great to hear when you are awake and cheerful, but not so pleasant when you are tired and still trying to sleep!

In the area, everything is within walking distance, and normally things aren't farther than about 3 blocks. It takes you about 5 minutes to walk anywhere in the burrough. The funny thing is that I became so used to the old part and the center of town, and now I never actually leave Gros unless I need something I can't find here. It becomes its own little community - here I have my school, my grocery stores, my favorites restaurants and bars, post offices, banks and stores. In the picture you probably see a bunch of partions that are painted blue and white...normally we have a glorious plaza here with playgrounds, benches and a little park, but since I have been back it has been under construction. Hopefully they finish that soon - because a jackhammer in the morning is much more annoying that ringing bells!

Anyways, I thought I would share a few pics of my apartment with you just so maybe when you read my blog or get a postcard from me, you can know where I wrote them from! The first are of the mail hallway of my house. You enter the front door and can either go in a bedroom or go right and go down a long hall. Off the hall is 2 bathrooms, 3 bedrooms and then at the end of the hall is my room! The door at the end with the door open is my place. As you can see our hall is littered with a drying rack, since we dont have a dryer, people's bikes, and a table for the mail. Sometimes it is like an obstacle course when you come home at night and can't see!

Two doors before my bedroom is our kitchen...which is nothing really special, but I will show you a pic anyways. For some reason we have photos of Betty Boop all over the apartment. They all look like they were part of a calendar, so I guess one day someone got bored and put up her monthly pics as the house decorations. Not really my style, but I have gotten pretty used to it! We don't have a microwave, but our kitchen does include a lovely washing machine.
My room is kind of a hodge-podge of other people's things. I have two sitting chairs that my boss is letting me use for the year, my blankets and comforters are from my Polish friends who lived in my apartment over the summer, and the regular furniture came with the room. Aside from that, I try to put my little spin on things to make it feel more like home. The first picture on the left is what my room looks like when you walk in the door. To the right is a huge wardrobe where I keep a wealth of clothes. Looking at it everyday, I often wonder how I am going to get even HALF of the clothes I have here home. Oh well...I'll worry about it later! In the photo on the right you can see that at the end of my bed is a huge desk. Well, it's not really a desk, more just like a peice of wood ontop of two stands! My little bulletin boards are filled with family/friend pics, cards people send me, fun things from my trips and of course my American flag! My room is pretty big...definitley big enough for one girl! It's nice to have friends over and watch movies and have slumber parties! From my window, I don't have the most amazing view. In Spain they build the apartments with a big opening in the middle between the buildings on one side of the street and the backs of the buildings from the other street. Every dries thier clothes off the balconies and has little porches, all with a view of nothing! It is nice to open the windows and let fresh air in all the time and to check the weather from the 5th floor window, but everytime I look at the view, it reminds me of what a Spanish apartment I live in!

Overall its a nice apartment. It's pretty sizeable and the people are nice, so I am a happy camper. Off to go have dinner with a friend, but will update soon! I know it wasn't the most exciting blog, but I wanted to give you a little perspective of where I live, so maybe you can imagine me sitting here at my laptop writing to you! And now, you also know what a building from the Spanish 1800s looks like!

Have a great day and a even better weekend!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Night á la mode

It's freezing here! Well, maybe not literally, but it is pretty darn close! Today there was a high of 42º. I went to my Spanish class this morning, bundled up in my winter coat, boots and a scarf, and it's only October. Our teacher told us that this weekend it is supposed to get down to 32º! You would never guess I live in Spain hahaa!

After class I headed off to my Friday classes and couldn't help but remember last week when I was wearing shorts to class and this week is obviously completely the opposite. Funny thing about last week - I was wearing shorts and one of my students pointed to my leg and said in Spanish 'is that your body?'. I was a bit confused and said 'yeahhhh', to which she pinched my leg and said that she thought that my legs were so tan that I was wearing tights haha. I wouldn't be caught dead in shorts this week. Although it's cold, its very crisp and clear fall weather, which makes me happy. After experiencing the 4 months of rain from last winter here, you won't here one complaint from me about a cold but non-rainy day!

Although its almost freezing by time I got off work, I braved the cold and headed over to Esther's house for some tasty Korean BBQ dinner. It was delicious and after I was craving something sweet. My favorite ice cream in the world is here, in the old part of the city, and I haven't had it since June of last year. Crazy as it was, I suggested we bundle up and go grab a cone. Esther thought it was a good idea - a little ice cream never hurt anyone. With our layers of sweaters and coats we weren't that chilly but probably looked like crazy people, walking around town in winter jackets licking ice cream cones!

Wherever you are reading from, I hope two things: 1) it's not as cold as it is here and 2) that you are having a great Friday!

Besos Fríos (cold kisses)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Weekend Getaway of Choice: Valencia

Hi everyone! I know I haven't been writing much, but I promise to get back in the habit soon. Although I have been here for about a month, I feel as if I am just now getting settled. The first week I was off to Oktoberfest, then the second weekend I was celebrating my friend's birthday all weekend with kayaking and hiking (a blog to come on all that fun when I get the photos from her) and then this last weekend I went to Valencia, Spain! It's nice to stay busy, but with my Spanish classes every morning at 9:15-11:15 in the morning, I have been just coming home and sleeping!

So this last weekend was a 3-day weekend, which automatically for me means, I need to go somewhere far enough away that I couldn't manage to do it on a regular weekend. Esther, my friend from California that lives here, and I decided that a 9-hour bus ride to Valencia was a pretty long distance and booked the tickets and the hostel two days before we left, very Spanish non-planning style.

Leaving Saturday morning, we managed to sleep most of the way and arrived at 6:00pm and somehow managed to find out way to our hostel, which was in an area nicknamed 'Little New York' because of the diverse residents. As we put our stuff down on the bed, the man who ran the hostel informed us that the day before had been Day of Valencia and that there was going to be a play performed in the plaza and we could watch it all from our window! How lucky! We still had some time to kill before the performance started, so with our hours of sleep we energetically headed out to explore the center of town!

Being only five minutes away from the center of Spain's third largest city, we were happy to be close enough but far enough away to all the hustle and bustle. Wandering past the bull ring, we made our way to the main cathedral in town, which was what I wanted to see most in the city. Built in 1292 on the site of an old mosque and even older site of the Roman Temple of Diana (hey mom! its like you were there!!!), this cathedral has a heavily gothic design but a stunning baroque entrance. We stepped into the church and immediatley headed for the Torre del Micalet (Tower of Micalet) - the 207-step belltower that leads you to the best view of the city! It is said that the French poet, Victor Hugo, counted 300 other belltowers from this vantage point. Seeing as it was sunset, I didn't manage to count that many, and instead basked in the glow of the sun falling behind the towers I did count. On our way down, the bells rang 8 times and being in the 14th century tower while the bells were clanging through the narrow tower was a surreal feeling that kind of transported me to that time, realizing that hundreds of years ago, someone else could have experienced the same exact thing I was now. We moseyed around the main area of the church for a bit, gaping at the exquisitely blue ceiling and the hand of Saint Vincent, but most exciting was when we excited the church and found left-over confetti from the multiple weddings that had happened that day and I threw it in the air and had my own little celebration!

After walking through about 5 wedding photo sessions, we made our way back to the center and stopped at an outdoor terrace to try the 'agua de Valencia' - the famous drink from this area. Made with basically champagne and orange juice, it just kind of a resembled a large mimosa to me, but I guess since it's a different country they can call it something different! Turns out that the drink actually has Basque roots, although it is on the complete opposite side of the country! A long time ago, Basque men would always order the 'Agua de Bilbao' (water of Bilbao) which meant they wanted champagne. The bartender got annoyed and said they should try something else and the Basque men said that if he made something exciting, they would try it, and then he invented the Agua de Valencia - by adding orange juice - very creative ha.

After our drink we headed back to our hostel to watch the play from our window. We were looking forward to it and were kind of disappointed to find out that the whole thing was in Valencian, the local dialect, so we couldn't understand it! We watched it however, and before it started, about 50 girls in traditional Spanish dress were announced. We couldn't figure out exactly WHY they were so special, but we decided that it must have been something like the main people of Valencian society or even better, the competitors of the Ms. Valencia 2009 competition haha. From Arabs trading in the street and belly dancing to kings dining in castles, we got to see part of the history of the city we were visiting and even got to cap the play off with a fireworks show. Good thing we weren't so tired we wanted to sleep!

Once the crowd broke up, we were able to finally get some quiet and fell fast asleep until the next morning when the bright sun burst through our huge window and woke us up! Seeing as it was raining in San Sebastian, we were happy to be awoken in such a manner and happily got up early to take on the city. We started the day off with the required Starbucks and then headed off to an outdoor flea market, right next to the city's regular food market downtown. From gorgeous wooden fans with intricate designs on them and hand-made jewelry to old Spanish coins and stamps, we were just part of the massive crowd that flowed between booths. My favorite part of the entire market was when I was buying a ring (no suprise) and was asking the lady about the price and then was talking to my friend and the seller remarked on how good my English was. I kind of chuckled and said, 'Well, thank you, I would hope it is good because I am Americana!' to which she replied 'I don't beleive it! Your Spanish didn't sound like a forgeiner at all!'. I didn't know if she was serious or just trying to be a nice to a customer to get a better sale, but it gave me a laugh. At the main road we crossed and entered the historic Lonja de Seda (Silk Exchange) that was built in the 1480s and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I've seen my fair share of Gothic buildings, but this was my first time seeing gargoyles, so I was pretty estatic!

After getting lost we fell upon a small plaza with a building that had snippets of famous Spanish works of art painted next to the real windows of the building. If you look closely at this picture, you will see that the 'windows' to the far right aren't really windows at all, but merely paintings made to look like them! I immediatley recognized one of the works as a Diego Velasquez painting (it's the one on the top right) I had seen in Madrid and was happy to be able to have some Spanish art knowlege seem useful although my friend Esther had no idea what I was referring to!

From this lost location we took a street that ended at an old watch tower and climbed to the top to catch a view of the area in hopes of figuring out where we were! It was a successful 50 stairs and when we came down we headed towards the 'river'. I put that in quotations because the 'river' is not really a river at all, but that is what it is referred to as. Valencia used to have a river running throug it, but after a vicious flood, the residents diverted the river through a different part of town, dried up the Turia River bed and filled it instead with parks, gardens and museums. We strolled through the 'river', dodging rollerbladers, listening to the bubblibg fountains in the gorgeous Turia gardens, and admiring the multiple sculpture peices scattered between the bridges. With all of the flowers, art pieces, musicians and fountains, my actual favorite part of the river bed was the playground. We accidentally walked into a gated play area with hundreds of kids playing on a very odd peice of play equipment. From far away we couldn't tell what it was, but as we walked around it, we realized it was a huge playground in the form of Jesus. Hahaha! You could slide down Jesus' hair or climb up the steps in his sandals. I couldn't help but love it and smile and think that only a super Catholic country would erect a Jesus playground! After 45 minutes of walking, we ended at the City of Sciences and Arts where Valencia houses its famous aquarium (the largest in Europe), a laserium (I dont even know what that means), a science museum and a IMAX/planetarium. The architecture of these buildings is very fluid and constrasts drastically with the old-feel of the city.

After about 5 miles of walking we were pooped and slowly dragged ourselves back to the hostel, where we immediatley passed out for an hour. We woke up on a mission and found a local restaurant for dinner and some local bars for the night. We did manage to sneak into an Irish pub where I sneaked a peak at some American Football, but spent most of the night in Spanish bars. Oddly enough, we were sipping our drinks when we were approached by a man who asked if we had been drinking earlier. Kind of put off, we replied 'no' and he said, 'yes you were, you ordered water and sprite at my bar earlier today!'. What are the odds we would see our waiter from 5 hours earlier at the same bar in downtown?? Although its the 3rd largest Spanish city, it seemed pretty small to us.

Monday brought more sun which was perfect for our plans at the beach. It was about 90º and we spent the afternoon napping on the beach, gazing at the Mediterranean Sea, strolling the boardwalk and eating paella. This rice dish is very famous and originated in Valencia, so there was no way we could come and not eat any! The Muslims were the first to make the paella, as they used rice to make casseroles when they occupied the area in the 14th century. Although they were driven out, the custom of eating rice stayed and over time developed into the national dish of Spain! With rice, meat or seafood, and spices, the inexpensive dish is served in a huge round steel pan (thing bigger and shallower than a Wok). We ordered the Paella Valenciana, which came with chunks of chicken and rabbit. Yes, I said it! I ate RABBIT! Tasty as it was, I don't know if I would ever crave a little bunny again.

Full and warm we headed back to the downtown area to kill the last hours of the day before we caught our night bus home. We sipped wine in the area we decided was our favorite location in the city - the Plaza of the Virgin. From here, you could see the cathedral we visited, the belltower we climbed, a huge fountain and listen to local musicians playing in the open air. With a Valencian wine in hand, it was a great way to end the 3-day weekend.

As I am writing this, it is now about 48º and I am wearing sweats and it's only October. Reminiscing about our cloudless weekend made me feel warm inside and I hope it put a smile on your face!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Prost to Oktoberfest!

Seeing as that I have been to Munich about 5 times already, I am sure you are wondering how I could enjoy myself so much again?! I went back to Munich last weekend to celebrate and drink to Oktoberfest, and I think it was the BEST time I've had in Germany.
Although it was my first weekend back in Europe, I had no desire to spend it in Spain because Oktoberfest is only a 16-day celebration and my friend, Dave, who lives in Germany would be gone the next weekend! So I immediatley booked a flight when I arrived and 6 days after being on the continent I was on another plane headed straight for Munich. I arrived at 10am, and met with Dave and his friends, dressed appropriatley in lederhosen and we headed to the festival.

Everyone always asks ' Why is Oktoberfest in September?' and I was pretty curious too! Turns out that the first 'Oktoberfest' was a wedding party for King Ludwig I and his wife. For thier special day they set up a horse race and a big party and by 1819, the city of Munich decided that the festival would happen every year without fail. What started out as a day festival became what is now a two-week festival and because Germany has nicer weather at the end of September than the middle of winter, the original wedding day is now the end of the festival instead of the beginning. So, I happily celebrated Oktoberfest at the end of September!

When we got the area where the festival is set up, it seemed more like a county fair where you can happen to drink beer. There were carnival rides, people selling cotton day and costumed people walking around everywhere! Although I didn't get a traditional costume (60€ come on!!) I loved seeing all the people dressed up in thier lederhosen (for the boys) and dirnls (for the girls). We started our beerfest at a small beer garden (biergarten in German). Although it was a small outdoor seating area, the beers were still huge - 1 liter each! They are traditionally called Maß (pronounced mass) which means 1-liter jug. That's 33oz of beer! The stein that the beer is served in is made of a thick, heavy glass and weighs a ton! I was surrounded by all guys, so I wanted to make sure I could hold my own and managed to hold the stein in my right hand just like everyone else! This resulted in a nice bruise above my first right knuckle haha. I called it my beer bruise, but it showed I was a trooper! After a liter of beer and some traditional German chicken - called hendl - we started doing some German cheers. I speak pretty much zero German, but you couldn't help but catch on to everyone yelling PROST, the German word for cheers. Sometimes people would just start shouting it and see how many people would catch on and yell along. After another stein of beer I was shouting as loud as possible haha! Because the festival is so packed, you sit at long picnic tables next to people you don't know and behind even more! At this biergarten we sat behind some native Munich people and next to a family from Bavaria. Although I don't speak German you can pretty much get along with anyone - it kind of becomes a big happy drunk family, with everyone singing German songs (which I just mumble along to) and prosting every 10 minutes! If a cheer comes along and you don't have any beer in your stein, no worries, someone will gladly pour some of thiers into yours so you can prost with the entire group!

Tired from my flight (I had woken up at 4am to make it!) we headed back home, but not after a little carnival ride. You wouldn't think that riding a fast and spinning ride after drinking beer all day is a good idea, but it was actually hilariously funny. Dave and I opted for some swinging, twirling contraption and I think I screamed the whole time. The train ride back was 3-hours and we just fell asleep. Groggily we got off the train, slept some more at home, and the next morning were up at 7am to get back into Munich when the festival opened at 9am.

If you don't get Oktoberfest early in the morning, it is basically impossible to get into the tents, where the best Oktoberfest action is! Thankfully, getting up early afforded us our choice of any tent, and we chose the Paulaner tent. Do you guys have Paulaner beer in the USA? I know we sell it in Spain, but if you have it there, you should try a bottle - pretend you were Oktoberfest with me! Quite different than the outdoor beirgarten, the Paulaner tent is a massive tent adorned with rustic German decorations (this tent happened to have elk heads and shields). In the center of the tent is a huge, tall stage where the traditional German folk music is played and surrouding it are hundreds and hundreds of tables. At our table were a bunch of Italians. I guess the first weekend of Oktoberfest is dubbed 'Italian Week' because so many of them come over for the Fest. After a stein of beer, thier Italian and my Spanish worked nicely and we could carry on a conversation. In between English with Dave and his friends, and sloppy Italian/Spanish combo, I also sang more silly songs and drinking chants in German! Such an international girl I was! I have heard that some tents provide guests with a song book so you know what you are saying, but this one didn't, but it didn't seem to matter. I did learn that before every break the band takes, they play a cheer that you say 'Ein prosit der Gemutlichkeit' which is like saying a cheers to contentment, congeniality and relaxation. I became pretty good at that one. Like the biergarten from the day before, it was like an international beer party - us Americans, the Italians, the Germans behind us, the Chinese girls walking through the aisles, etc. The best part is that everyone got along great, although none of us spoke the same languages. Maybe Barack should meet with world leaders next year at Oktoberfest! hahah! I'll prost to that!

Also in the tent were the waiters and waitresses, who somehow can carry 15 or more steins of beer! Remember, I can barely hold my own stein up, so I was thouroughly impressed at ladies who were carrying 15 of them! The beer served at Oktoberfest is a bit different than regular beer. It is brewed in March and can only contain barley, hops, malt and yeast (strict German standards) and can be up to as much as 8% alcohol. Besides beer maids, other ladies walk aroud selling gingerbread hearts with German phrases on them and souviners. While I didn't eat any gingerbread cookies, I did manage to eat quite a few huge pretzels and even some German sausages with sauwerkraut (ewww) after we left the Paulaner tent to go to the Haufbrau tent. Seeing as that we starting drinking beer before most people eat lunch, we called it a day pretty early. Of course fit in another ride - this one where you shoot up into the sky and then do a flip and drop down. On the road we saw the Lowenbrau beer being brought to the festival in the traditional way - in barrels pulled by decorated horses! It was quite a sight!

Home early again and rested up for the next day, I headed to the airport for my 10am flight. Just that time the day before I was already drinking! Back in Spain, I was a tired teacher, but managed through the day and couldn't ever seem to get German drinking cheers out of my head! I honestly think Oktoberfest was one of the most fun times I have had the entire time I have been in Europe. It was amazing, and I hope if you drink a beer soon, you think of me and say Prost!!!


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Summer Catch-Up (September)

Well, the month of September was pretty short for summer activities, but I managed to squeeze a few in. The same day that Brett left from Seattle, I picked my friend, Emily, up from the Portland airport! Emily and I have been friends since freshman year of college and she was sweet enough to come see the Northwest!

We spent the first day on my action-packed tour of Kelso and Longview. After that lengthy tour we headed over the Rainier Bridge and up towards Astoria. Coming from Arizona, Emily hasn't seen a lot of bridges, rivers, boats, tunnels, trees, etc. so everytime we went over a bridge or drove through a forest she would exclaim 'Oh it's so beautiful' or 'Wowwwww look at that river!' and all these other fun comments on things that I wouldn't ever thing to appreciate. Don't get me wrong, I love the trees and all of the water, but I guess I am so used to it, none of them suprise me anymore. There is nothing like a new tourist to make you appreciate where you are from.

In Astoria we took in the view from the Astoria Column, which was perfect due again to nice weather. After a delicious lunch in an arsty café, we headed over an even bigger bridge - the Astoria Bridge - which delighted Emily even more! 4 miles of bridge! On the other side we headed out towards Long Beach so Emily could see the Pacific Ocean. After two seconds of having her feet in the water, she decided it was much too cold and ran out! Tired and now chilly, we headed back to Kelso. Stopping at Safeway to show Emily my lovely past place of employment we bought a nice bottle of Washington wine so she could enjoy even more of what the NW has to offer! She liked it and was also very impressed that Grammy had well-water running in her house. She actually even took a picture with her and her first drink of well-water ha!

The next day we ventured down to Tillamook! Most of you know I hold Tillamook Cheese in the highest regards. I have taken it in lunch boxes from WA back to New York multiple times, and am pretty sad it can't make the 15-hour trip to Spain. Regardless, I love love love Tillamook Cheese, but have never actually been to the factory. It floors me that I have been to Istanbul and Brussels, but not Tillamook! So, Emily and I decided to go down and check it out. As expected, it was glorious. It was like Amanda Heaven, with unlimited cheese testing! At one point, the cheese-lady was putting out some new cubes of cheese and said what kind of cheese they were. Emily and I thought she said pickle-cheese, which did not really appeal to me, but I thought I should try it anyways. Emily asked the lady for the 'pickle-cheese' and I said 'yes, please one for me too, eventhough I don't like pickles!' and the lady just looked at us like we were crazies. Tentativley, I ate the cube and it was actually delicious. I was suprised and thought maybe I could like pickles! We walked around the store and couldn't find this mysterious pickle-cheese anywhere...turns out it was pepper-cheese. Geniuses hahaha. The factory part of the tour was also pretty interesting along with learning about the history of Tillamook Cheese company. I think my favorite thing in the factory was the old advertisement for getting Tillamook cheese on your ration points! I can't imagine having to ration cheese! Emily on the other hand can't imagine rationing ice cream, so after a scrumptous cheeseburger, we gobbled up a Tillamook ice cream - huckleberry for me and marionberry for her. Tasty, tasty!

Full of dairy we stopped at a wine and cheese tasting but left the cheese on the counter! After a few tastes we headed to Aunt Arlene and Uncle Jimmy's house, right in the center of Tillamook. I hadn't seen either of them in so long and had never been to thier house! Built in the 1900s, it is an adorable and kind of living-antique place. We caught up on family and the upcoming wedding of my cousin Stacy and of course took some pictures! Turns out I guess Uncle Jimmy really doesn't like having his picture taken, but he was a good sport. After our picture session, we had to start the 2-hour drive home so we could go to see Austin! Of course Emily had to meet the main man in my life! The drive home consisted of a few more 'That's beautiful' and 'Wow look at those boats!' comments and by night-time we were back home and playing with the baby! He is just too adorable for words.

For her last day, I figured I should let Emily experience the real joy of NW wine. She is quite a wino, so I wanted her to try our selection. We headed back down to Portland and started at Multnomah Falls. This is the only thing that didn't amazingly impress her. She lived in Rio de Janiero before and had seen some gorgeous waterfalls, so she didn't go on and on about them. The tunnel we went through to get there was pretty fun for her though! After the Falls, we drove down to Hood River and went to a tasting room called Naked Winery. It was quite the funny place, but for $5 we got about 12 different wines, so we were happy girls. At about taste 6 or 7, they gave us temporary tatoos for us to put on, which we thought was the greatest thing ever. They said 'We Got Naked', which we thought at that point was hilarious. haha. After the wine wore off and we had dinner and did some shopping we headed back to Portland to check out the down-town area. Tired from our day escapade we didn't last long and checked into our hotel airport. In pouring rain (the first any of my friends that have visited had seen) I drove her to the aiport at 5am. I was super happy she had come to visit and she was really pleased that she finally got to see where I am from!

With only a few more days left in my entire summer, I spent the rest of the few days with family. Sami and I went bowling one day, and she showed me that she had vastly improved her skills. Alex and I went shopping up in Seattle for some new school clothes and showed her a little bit of Seattle, although it was rainy. Mom and I gobbled up some tasty sourdough sandwiches in Chehalis at her favorite deli and watched DesginStar religiously. I loved seeing Austin's little smiles and coos, and can't believe when I come back next time, he will be walking and talking. Grammy and I worked on some difficult puzzles over our ritual morning coffee. Uncle Bruce cooked up some yummy dinners back at his place and Jeanette picked out some tasty wines. Auntie Shirl treated Grammy and I to a huge and excelente Mexican meal. Auntie Marilyn brought over hundreds of old slides and we had a walk down memory lane. These last few days were sort of bittersweet - spending as much time with the people you love and enjoying it, but not wanting it to end and knowing that the end is coming so quick.

And it did, September 19th raced in and all of a sudden it was time for me to go. Leaving, there were some tears, but I kept reminding myself that my American phone number on my computer and this blog really help me keep in touch and stay close. I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it! It was weird not writing all summer, and I hope the past few blogs suffice for 4 months of no blogs! Now I will get back in the habit of updating you regularly. Already I cannot wait to tell you about Oktoberfest, but now I must head to work, so that will come soon.