Saturday, July 31, 2010

Can't help but love the coast

The past few days we have been lucky enough to have some goregous weather. Because the weather can change drastically in a matter of hours, when it's nice, you have to take advantage of it and that's what I have been doing.

Last Thursday we decided to ditch the beach and get a different ocean experience by going to the island that sits in the shell-shaped inlet of the Concha beach. About 12 acres big, I had been to the island (named Santa Clara) only once before - and arrived with only a swimsuit because someh
ow I managed to swim all the way there! This time we took the boat that departs from the port every 30 minutes. I arrived quite early (thanks fast bike) and had some time to poke around and check out the colorful boats that dot the port while I waited
. Once on the boat it only took about 5 minutes to arrive and then I started the steep hike up the hill towards the only building on the island - a lighthouse. In the
gardens surrounding the uninhabitated lighthouse are lots of picnic tables
and knowing this in advance, we came prepared with tons of food - salads, sandwiches, cookies, etc.
After a quick rest for our full tummies we hiked down again towards the water. The island only has a small beach (that you can actually only see when it is low-tide) but since it is an is
land, there are many secret spots that you can enjoy the salty water. We found a spot with no grass but steep rocks that jut out of the island and plunge into the water and decided that it looked like a good spot to set up shop. My friend, Itziar (pronounced its-ee-are) and I thought that this spot looked like the perfect area for...drumroll please...snorkeling. Itziar really likes snorkeling
and scuba-diving, but I don't have much experience with either.
I did go scuba-diving once in Hawaii bu
t got so seasick that I basically puked on the boat the entire time, which attracted more fish and made my fellow scuba-divers excited about my poor stomach. This time, no scuba was involved - just some goggles with a
tube so that we could swim and gaze down at the sea-life below. With wetsuits and flippers we were off, exploring the water. After a few seconds of being kind of scared of breathing underwater (come on! it just doesn't feel natural!) I got the hang of it and was swimming near schools of fish, touching purple sea urchins (carefully of course, as to not get poked), holding orangey-pink starfish and letting it walk across my hand and admiring the bottom of the sea.
After feeling like a mermaid for long enough, we perched ourselves on t

he vertical jaggy rocks, making sure to avoid the quick-moving crabs and sharp l
impets (the shell-looking things that stick to rocks). From there, we could gaze out at the cloudless sky and soak in the sun, and that's exactly wha
t we did for a few hours. By 7:30pm we headed back to the
dock to catch the last boat at 8:00pm. Because I had swam here before I was quite thankful for this handy boat and couldn't help but think how bad it would have been if we had missed the last trip back. I mean, I like islands but I imagine if you had to stay there you would get quite the island fever. It was only later that I found out that at the end of the 16th century, when the plague hit San Sebastián, the people infected with the plague were sent, more like banished, to the island. And now, people PAY to go! Fathom that.

In other coastal activities, Laura and I decided to
continue our outdoor life with a hike to San Pedro (if you remember...Miles

and I took our bikeride here the other day). I just found out it was 7.6 kilometers (which is like 4.5 miles). YIKES! Anyways, after what seemed like a milli
on steps, although it was probably only 100, we reached the top of the hill and started the hike with some gorgeous views of Donostia. We walked along the mountain up and down, up and down, and up and down for what seemed like eternity and my legs were starting to get tired when finally a small little path appeared and led us down to the water. We agreed it was definitley time to stop for lunch (tuna fish sandwiches) and take a dip in the coo

l water. It wasn't exactly a beach, but instead a collection of huge rocks that we had to jump from one to another to get close to the water.
We took a small nap on the rocks and after about an hour of sleeping finished the hike by going down about 100 stairs. I was
quite happy we hadn't started on that end, because if I had to start a hike with 100 steps I wouldn't be the happiest camper in the bunch. Our tired feet were happy to rest on the busride back to San Sebastian and I was happy to have seen some other views of the Atlantic!


Friday, July 30, 2010

The Daily News does it again!

I think most of you know via Facebook, but in case you haven't heard the news, The Daily News published another one of my stories - the one about Berlin. It's of course much shorter than what you got to read on the blog, but if you fancy reading it is the link - Berlin Story

As always, thanks for reading and I will keep you posted if anything else gets published. Who knows...maybe someday I'll just write a book about my adventures!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jazzaldia comes to Donostia

Each year, among the many summer concerts, San Sebastián offers its residents (and the huge amount of tourists that come) a special treat - an entire festival just for jazz music! Since 1966, over 1,500 artists have come from around the world to play to delighted fans right here. Since I was in the States last summer, I didn't get to attend, but you better be sure this year I am taking advantage and soaking it up!

The festival opened on Thursday night with...drumroll please...Patti Smith. If it doesn't ring a bell, think of Because of the Night her most famous song and you will know who I am talking about. With some friends, we headed out to the beach, where the concert was being offered for free! That's one of the things I have grown to love about Jazzaldia - SOOO many of the concerts don't require any money, they just want you to enjoy the music!

Singing to thousands of people that endured the rain, Patti sang her punky/pop/rock soul out on a huge stage right next to the beach. Watching Patti playing on what is called the Escenario Verde (Green Scene or Green Stage), we happily sat on towels and cardboard boxes on the wet sand. At some point it started to rain hard and what more could we do but hold our umbrellas overhead and stay to enjoy the music? It was an amazing scene, to see thousands of people raise their umbrellas, without the thought of leaving the concert. After two hours, Patti as well as the rain were finished, and I headed home, still kind of amazed that this city just gave me a concert that normally people would pay quite a good amount to enter! Thanks Donostia!
My next taste of Jazzaldia was Friday night - and this time it was a double dose. Joseba and I headed towards the beach and were disappointed to find out that the Escenario Verde was empty because the free beach concert had just ended. After only about 5 seconds of frowns, we were happy to stumble upon the Espacio Frigo (Frigo Space - which was sponsered by Frigo - an ice cream brand here), where Lakuntza Brothers were just getting ready to play.

A group of 6 guys (only two of whom were brothers), played their hearts (and trombones, saxaphones, drums, pianos, basses and trumpets) out with traditional 50s and 60s jazz music. Each song was upbeat and toe-tapping and gave each musician the chance to show his skills on his instrument with impressive solos. This group was one of the many local groups that Jazzaldia features to encourage local musicians as well. These 6 guys met at the Centro Superior de Música del Pais Vasco and formed a group that set out to revive the music of Horace Silver, Art Blakely and Herbie Hancock. While some of you jazz afficionados might recognize these names, they don't ring a bell at all for me, however I thoroughly enjoyed the concert.

Forty-five minutes into the concert, we had to leave our white plastic chairs and head to the Victoria Eugenia Theater for yet another concert (this one we actually paid for). Since I have moved here, I have always wanted to enter this gorgeous theater, mainly because I figure if it is so beautiful outside that it will probably be equally stunning inside. I was right.
A cultural hotspot in San Sebastián life since 1912, this theater was part of a project team that formed in 1902. The project goal, in this early 20th century splendor of San Sebastián, was to build a luxury hotel and a theater to match it. At this time Donostia was famous for being a picturesque spa town and a vacation favorite of Spanish royalty. Today, the building is known as one of the most important theaters in Spain, not only being host to Jazzaldia concerts but also the famous San Sebastián Film Festival (think Cannes, Sundance, etc) and a wealth of other shows.

When we entered the sandstone building, we were greeted with a lush red carpet leading us up to our box seat that offered not only a great view of the stage but a panoramic view of the theater. On the ceiling hung the largest crystal chandilier I had ever seen in my life, surrounded by detailed frescos. Not soon after we arrived in the 900-seat theater, Portico Quartet casually walked onto stage and started one of the most impressive concerts I have ever seen.

A 4-piece modern jazz band, they offered an instrumental concert that would blow your mind. One musician played the saxaphone and the alto sax, another the drums and electronic sounds machine, a double bass player and last but most impressive a guy who played an instrument I had never seen before - the hang drum. Made up of 3 drums that look more like flying saucers with dents in them, this 'drum' really makes sounds that are more similar to a piano/xylophone mix. A much different sound than the group we had just seen outdoors, this group played not only their instruments but also with electronic sounds that gave the music a different dimension and a new idea to jazz. Each song was followed by thunderous applause and after an encore two hours after starting, we headed back to the car, somewhat speechless of what we just saw.

The rest of Jazzaldia was sadly rainy and I didn't make it to any more concerts, but jazz was in the air and kind of inspired me to maybe start listening to some more jazz music. Give it a try!


Friday, July 23, 2010

Basque Country by bike

A few weeks back, Joseba surprised me with...a bike! I have wanted a bike for a pretty long time and had mentioned it and then ta-daaaa there it was! It's retro and looks like it is straight out of 1970 and probably is, considering he spent an entire Saturday fixing it up so it is usable, and I love it. With the weather finally sunny here, I make it a point to ride my bike everywhere!
Last weekend, my friend Miles who had just bought a bike the day before, decided to take a bike adventure and take advantage of the gorgeous sunny day. After smothering on the sunscreen (I don't want to get tanner and Miles is quite pale) we brought our new loves onto the train and waited for a short 10 minutes until we arrived in Errenteria, a town nearby San Sebastián. The plan was to ride in the bicycle lane from there back to Donostia - a short 6 miles.
Hot off the train we jumped on the bikes and coasted through the Old Town of Errenteria - a town I pass every day I go to work, but have never gotten off the bus and bothered to see. With our bikes we swiftly passed through the town. My bike came with a rusty bell that has four Irish hearts on it, and it came in quite handy on the narrow cobblestone streets where people were casually passing with ice creams in hand - enjoying the sunny day in a different way. Since it's rusty, it kinda gets stuck and makes an odd sound, but I can't complain - it's an unconditional love I have for this bike.
We managed to find the bike lanes but couldn't figure out which direction we should go, so got took a few wrong turns before we got on the right track to our first stop - Lezo, another small town on the way. An old and small village right next to the Port of Pasaia, the main port in the area, this town built itself up as a port town and still serves as a maritime town. The main port, dating back to the 16th century, was accessible from many points of the city and roads of the Old Part still lead towards the water. Miles and I, sandwiches packed in our bags, sat down in Goiko Plaza to order some pop and take a break. Situated right next to the main church in town and at the end of Calle Nagusia (Main Street in Basque), all of the bar's tables were full and it seemed that maybe the majority of the small town were at this bar. After I downed my orange soda and Miles his Coke, we decided we couldn't waste the sun and bounced down another cobblestone street out of Lezo. While I love my bike, I will note that the seat is not so comfortable - and even less comfortable on cobblestone streets! I guess I will have to get used to it, seeing as Donostia is filled with these kinds of streets too.

Back in the bike lane we sped through Pasaia towards the port. The town of Pasaia is made up of 3 main neighborhoods - one that has a view of the port from a long stretch of land, and then a neighbhorhood on each side of the mouth of the river - San Pedro and San Juan. While both are nice, San Juan trumps San Pedro in beauty. Set across the river and easiestly accessible by a small ferry boat that takes you across the river, it's a scene out of a travel book. These two neighborhoods have been at odds since 1805 when the government stated they should join together to increase the land area of San Juan. They continued managing their own governments with thier own mayors and activities. Only in 1898 did they decide to govern together - but to me, San Juan is still better - *wth a small strip of flat land between the mountains and the water, steep houses, one on top of the other, line the narrow but long neighborhood.

We left our bikes on the San Pedro side of the river and paid our 70 cents and headed straight for the main square. From the river it's easy to see the main square and the houses that line it. A huge open space in an otherwise crowded area, the homes that face the water all scream BASQUE! With the typical architecture of old town apartments here and the ubiquitious flower boxes, it is one of the most beautiful Basque country scenes I've come across. Not only is it a stunning town, but one with a lot of heart. We are currently in rowing season and each town has its own rowing team who they are oh so very proud of, and to go along with the team, a specific color flag. San Juan's color is pink and there is no way you couldn't know. From flags hanging from balconies to old men wearing hot pink shirts, everyone in San Juan wants to show you some San Juan pride!

Because the town isn't so wide, there is really only one street and it runs right along the water. While we were meandering on the street, I found it particularly fun to look in each bar that sat on the water and peer out their windows to the river below. Some of the best restaurants in town are in these little places - so as you eat a delectable fish, you can possibly seem some jumping right outside the window!

Towards the end of the town we found ourselves an invitation we just couldn't pass up. Still full from the sandwiches, we saw a table on it's own private patio facing the water, with two chairs. I asked the bartender if we could sit at it, thinking he would surely say no. He said, you can't eat there, so I followed up that response by asking if we could drink there, to which he smiled and said of course! Where CAN'T you drink in Spain?! So, we ordered a refreshing beer with lemon mix and stretched our legs out and took in the view - the green of the steep mountain contrasting with the jags of gray rocks and the almost turquoise blue of the water splashing against it. Or if you're not a guppie fan, you can always look out at the water and imagine back to the days that the powerful Basque men built fleets of sturdy fishing boats or ships for the Spanish Armada in this very port.

Next stop on our walking (no longer biking) route was a small beach. I didn't even know this beach existed until we came upon it, and from the pathway above we knew we just had to go down and test out the clear water. Although rocky, the water felt amazing. It did get a bit awkward when an old man snorkeling swam past us and completely looked at my boobs underwater and kept swimming by, like maybe we hadn't noticed. Miles and I dissolved into giggles and then made our way back to the beach to dry off. Past the beach the path got a bit more off-road and took us to the edge of Basque Country - where it meets the ocean. With a small lighthouse on the watchout, the sea was vast and the breeze brushed us in the face as we took in the view.

At this point the beer with lemon (cerveza con limón) was coming back to haunt me (Why didn't I just go to the bathroom in the water next to the creepy snorkeler?!) and we headed back to the main part of town for a bathroom stop and get our bikes and head home. The hill that was so fun to coast down when we entered Pasaia turned out to be a devil to bike up and when we finally were cruising down towards the Zurriola beach in San Sebastián my legs were happy. We arrived back home at 7pm and enjoying a nice nap on the beach in a still perfectly sunny day.

Normally, I spend my Sundays relaxing or meeting with friends at the beach or something normal like that, but this bike ride made me think I should always make Sunday a funday! As you might have noticed, I haven't done much travelling outside of the country this summer, but am finding great ways to entertain myself here in Basque Country and I hope that although I don't have any exotic stories coming through the blog, you still enjoy hearing about my summer days!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Running of the Bulls

As Ernest Hemingway says in 'The Sun Also Rises', ''Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.'' Although bullfighters, do live an exciting life, I won't say mine is half bad - especially since I got to go to Pamplona last week and see something I have always wanted to see - the Running of the Bulls. For hundreds of years people have been gathering in Pamplona to celebrate this fiesta, and now more than 1 million enthusiasts come from not only Spain, but all over the world.

In the 1400s, Pamplona began having summer commercial markets. Sellers brought their goods from far and wide, so it's not surprising that cattle farmers pulled their cattle along to the market too. From here, bullfighting became part of these summer markets.

The religious side of the festival - honoring Saint Fermin - was celebrated since he became Pamplona's first bishop in the 3rd century. In 303 he was beheaded on a preaching trip, and soon after became the patron saint for Navarra - the Spanish region that Pamplona is in. Some people confuse his death with a much more exciting and Running of the Bulls style death - where Saturnin, his mentor, was killed by being dragged through Pamplona's streets by bulls.

All of this talk of being killed by bulls is of course exactly what we didn't want to see when we set off at 5am on Friday morning. With this early alarm clock call we were able to get to Pamplona at 6am and start looking for a spot to watch the Bull Running. The combination of the summer commerical markets, bullfighting and celebration of Saint Fermin were finally combined on 1591 to be celebrated starting July 7th - as it is now.

The festival offically starts with the chupinazo at noon on July 6th with the sound of a firecracker from city hall overlooking a huge sea of white-dressed people. With their red scarves in hand, as soon as the firecracker goes off the scarves are tied around everyone's necks and are only supposed to remain there to honor San Fermin until the end of his festival. Buying a scarf was first on our priority list after we arrived.

Next was seeing the encierro - the actually running. Each day of the festival 6 bulls run down a 1/2 mile stretch of road through the Old Part of Pamplona. At 8am on the dot a firecracker goes off, signalling the first bull has left the cage. When the last bull has left the cage another firecracker goes off and then the running begins. Old men, young guys and even some girls all clad in worn-in tennis shoes run for their lives as the bulls race down the narrow corridor that is blocked off by wooden barriers. Normally the run only lasts for about 2 minutes, except in the case when a bull turns around and starts running back the wrong way as it did when we were watching it. We were standing right on a corner and after everyone had rounded the corner, all of a sudden they came screaming back, jumping through the wooden barrier to the safe area. In the end no one got hurt, but as the 2 ton bulls whizzed past, I was just happy that I didn't run. I mean, maybe someday, but I will probably need to work out a strategy or something first - although I am sure the only and best game plan is don't fall and don't die. It seemed to be other people's idea, becuase as the bulls neared people were jumping through the wooden barrier to safety like they were jumping from the Titanic! From our spot it just seemed like a quick blur of action - a mix of white, red and some brown bulls mixed in. I managed to snap some photos, but you can't see much. I guess in my mind I would capture shots like you would see on a newspaper cover, but that was not the case - so I hope you're not too disappointed with the photos!

After racing through the streets, the Running finishes in the Bullring - Plaza de Toros. When all 6 bulls are in the bull ring yet another firecracker signals it, and last but not least the 4th firecracker signals all the bulls are in their pens, where they will remain until 6:30pm when the bull fights start and eventually each will die. With the morning event over, we headed to get some much-craved breakfast and basically directly after our morning café con leche, headed to the car to get the beers, because not only is San Fermin bullfights, but an all-day party in the streets.

Cervezas in hand at 9:30am we headed back to the city center to check out the many events going on throughout the day to celebrate the fiesta. We started by walking through the park, where many people sleep after the bars close and it was littered with extra beer cans, garbage, etc. With so many visitors in a short time span of two weeks, I would hate to be the person who has to clean up after all the drunks! In the park we stumbled upon some rural sport contests. It immediatley made me think of Lake Sacajawea at the 4th of July and the wood-cutting races because what where they doing when we arrived? Chopping and slicing wood! Home sweet home!

Because it was so hot and the sun was beating down on us we decided to move on and watch the parade of the Gigantes y Cabezudos (Giants and Big Heads). Eight huge figures - four couples - were paraded around the city, as they have been doing for 150 years when they were originally painted. Made to represent the 4 different Kings and Queens of different places (Europe, Asia, America and Africa), these racially diverse 12 foot giants wander the streets of Pamplona accompanied by smaller giants who run after the children and salute the crowds.
The parade stalled for some time in the main plaza where La Perla Hotel from 'The Sun Also Rises' sits. The rest of the plaza was full of partiers streaming in from the many streets that led out of the square. Each street out of the center was packed with hundreds of people, and it was quite impressive to see so many people - all different nationalities, all with different languages and skin colors - wearing white clothes and red scarves and happily drinking side by side. We managed to finaggle our way through the crowd and into a bar for a sandwich.

Although I have already seen a bullfight, I had never seen the inside of the bullring in Pamplona, so we headed that way to check it out. The majority of the seats in the shade were already full so we toughed out the sun for a bit to check out the 'previews' of the evening's bull fight. Bull fighters practice during the day with little cows - that somewhat seem big until the end when a regular bull for that night's fight comes out to bring the baby bull in. They practice their skills and their Olé voices and in the process give the onlookers a good taste of the corrida (bull fight).

Between naps in the park (right along with the passed out people), drinking, wandering through the crowded streets and eating, we managed to pass the entire day in the sun on a beautiful San Fermin day. By 6 o'clock we were ready to head home and get some much needed rest. As today is the 14th of July, it is the last day of the festival. The entire San Fermines will end tonight at midnight with a candelit crowd standing where they stood for the chupinazo to open the festivities but instead of cheering, tonight they will sing Pobre de mi - Poor Me - a sad song to mark the closing of the world-loved party...until next year!

The next time I go to San Fermin, because of course there WILL be a next time, I think I will actually run. That probably gives Grammy a heart attack, but don't worry, I run fast! Until then, I will remain content with my first Running of the Bulls experience and even more impressed that I made it home with a white dress that wasn't stained by sangria!


Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup Champions!

Well, I know soccer isn't such a big sport in the States but gosh, over here it's life. Although I am living in Basque Country, people were pretty excited for last night's game - Spain versus Holland in the World Cup Final in South Africa. In case you didn't see the game, or the news, or read a newspaper today, Spain won!!!

My friend Laura and I met up with some Basque friends and went to a bar to watch the all-important game. The bar we went to is owned by our friend's uncle, so when we arrived we just pulled some chairs from outside into the bar and had front row seats to the TV. We had the best seats in the house because we got the breeze from outside and we got to see all the people passing and check out their faces when they looked in the bar and saw how packed it was - standing room only!

To me, soccer is not so exciting, but when a whole country is cheering, it was, I have to admit, kind of entertaining. After the 90 minutes of play and no goals, overtime started and even the first half of overtime was goaless, but all of a sudden in the last few minutes, Spain scored a goal and everyone went CRAZY!!!!

After, songs were sang, horns were honked and the bars were full! It would have been even better if I had been in Madrid or Barcelona or the South of Spain where people are REALLY Spanish, but overall it was a great time. Maybe in 4 years, if Spain goes to the final again, I'll make the trip and rock some red and yellow for the game. Until then, I am easing myself into the sport haha.

Viva España!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A two hour drive to a completely different country

With the warm season in full swing, you would think I would have a summer full of vacation plans, but I don't. I figured I live in San Sebastian all winter, through rain, snow and very cold temperatures, so why shouldn't I stay in my beach town for the summer and soak up the rays and tan myself on our gorgeous beaches?!

While I do dedicate myself to the beach quite religiously, I managed to take a small weekend getaway a bit inland to the wine region of Spain to a small town called Arnedo. My friend Theresa, along with two Finnish girlfriends of mine and our two Basque guy friends all piled into a car and headed out of the Basque Country (GASP). The drive was only two hours, but the climate and landscape changed dramatically in those 120 minutes. We left a breezy and lush coast and through the car windows the view quickly changed to arid and various shades of tan.

Our Basque guy friend, Lander, has a house in Arnedo because his family is originally from this small town of about 14,000 people, so we stayed there. If I had known what Arnedo originally meant, I would have expected the dry and brown landscape. Although the city has been inhabited since Neolithic times, the Latin name (Arenetum) appeared later and actually translates to 'place of sand'. Who would have thought?!

The three-story house felt like a rustic getaway, with a large dining room on the first floor with a huge fireplace for barbecues, a second floor with large tiled kitchen and a living room with comfy leather couches, and then 3 bedrooms on the top floor, each with two small beds and cupboards full of well-worn sheets and blankets. After driving through the narrow streets, we finally made it to the house and made ourselves at home while we cooked the pizzas we had brought from Donostia.

With our tummies full we headed to the neighboring town of Arnedillo, which is famous for 'Las Pozas', which are outdoor hot springs that are so big they are like the size of swimming pools. In the dark, with the warm air, we stepped into what seemed like an impossibly hot 'poza' and started the process of going from hot pool to the super cold Río Cidacos. After a few trips back and forth, we headed back home. Along the road home stood huge hills with lights shining on the numerous caves situated high in the mountains. Before Roman rule, these caves were carved and used as homes and places of worship and somehow still remain intact from the 5th century. Called the Cuevas de los Cien Pilares (Caves of 100 Pillars), they were light up and in the night sky, creating a stark contrast from the pure black sky and the yellowish brown of the hollowed caves.

Back at home we relaxed, happy to walk on the cool tiles in the hot air. After watching JAWS the movie in Spanish (it's just called Tiburón in Spanish - which means shark) we headed to bed. The next morning I woke up and looked out our small window that overlooked the city, which was dotted with red tiled roofs as far as you could see, with a church steeple cutting through the skyline from time to time. After a simple breakfast we set out to see the city.

The narrow and steep roads wound around the center and were full of houses that looked as if they were crumbling right in front of our eyes. While it was odd to see miss-matched stone houses, it was quite charming and definitely a change from rich and extravagant San Sebastian. When I thought of moving to Spain, these rustic colors, the stone streets and hate to say it, but Spanish-style architecture were what I expected to see. It surprised me so much that after only driving a bit it seemed like by leaving the Basque Country part of Spain we had arrived in a different world.
The walking tour, in the dead heat, ended with a short hike to the castle that looks over the entire village. In the 8th century, when the Arabs ruled the Iberian Peninsula, Arnedo was the capital of the 26 Arab provinces of Spain. During this rule, the castle was constructed atop the clay hill and the majority of it still stands today. Inside, it was decorated with Muslim symbols but most was destroyed by the conquering Christians. Although it is not open to the public we climbed up the hill to get a King's view of the stretching landscape.

A breeze finally picked up and we headed back to the house to open the windows and let some fresh air in before our heavy lunch - Spanish barbecue. With the fireplace in the downstairs kitchen, we cooked up a delicious array of meat - lamb chops, pancetta and morcilla (remember me writing about that blood with rice sausage??) While the boys were busy with the grill us girls made a tasty salad, some fried potatoes and got the table set. With more meat than you can imagine, we stuffed ourselves and then took the required Spanish siesta.

It had rained a bit when we woke up and what better way to enjoy the fresh and cooler air than by returning to Las Pozas to jump from hot and cold water in the daylight? This time around we didn't go exactly to the same spot, but instead Lander guided us down a trail to some more secret pools where we were actually alone! If I lived in Arnedo I'd go to the Pozas every weekend for sure!

The night ended with a few beers in the city center at a terrace on the street next to an outdoor terrace (where a lady actually sang a Tina Turner song quite well). The next day, before returning back to San Sebastian we met with Lander's family for a nice lunch. As you know Grandmas do, his abuela (grandma in Spanish) made enough food for an army! A salad starter, a huge plate of pasta with her homemade sauce, three plates of meat, dessert and fruit! I was stuffed. During dinner, the grandpa (abuelo) told stories of his time in the Spanish civil war and his aunt and uncle talked with us about travelling around Europe. It was great to have a true Spanish meal with such a sweet family before leaving, and of course they insisted that sometime during the summer we come back with Lander again to visit and that they would have us for lunch another day.

In a mere two hours yet again, we were back to the coast and back to reality. I don't think I ever appreciated a breeze more!


Friday, July 2, 2010

Coastal Walk in Hondarribia

Last week my friend, Theresa, came to visit. As you may remember from earlier blogs, she lived here for three months and was just back to visit and see the gorgeous Basque Country again for 8 days. Since she wasn't a regular tourist, having already seen the main points in Donosti, we decided to do some other activites and first decided to take a walk/hike along the coast. We have already done some coastal walks when she was living here, but this one never occured to us to do, so with a shining blue sky we set off to Hondarribia to Monte Jaizkibel (Jaizkibel Mountain).

Known as the last point of the Pyrenees or the first from the coast (I guess it depends on how you look at it), Jaizkibel boasts many biking and trekking paths at the tip of Spain. Our path wasn't so clear because we had forgotten the map from the tourist office, but decided to continue anyways. When the bus dropped us off at the port I asked the bus driver which was the best direction to start the hike. I mentioned we wanted to see both the lighthouse and the Guadalupe church a few kilometers into the mountain. He took a look at me and my Keds shoes and kind of chuckled, but I assured him I had hiked farther and in worse shoes before and only then did he tell me to head straight and up a steep hill.

Without signs guiding us, we were a bit skeptical if we were on the right path, but in the end the lighthouse came into view and we sure weren't impressed. I was expecting an old, creeky lighthouse that had a rich history but this looked like it was built 3 years ago. So, instead of gazing at the lighthouse we decided to get some drinks for the walk and entered the small bar that was atop the hill. Instead of the lighthouse being old, we found the lady working at the bar more than made up for the lighthouse's youth with her own age. We asked for two orange Kas (kind of like orange soda but with juice) to-go. Now, normally when I ask for something to go, I would think she would give us two cans. Oh no. She gave us two glass bottles of Kas and put them in a plastic bag with ice. At the time we thought it was sweet, but later when we sat down to rest halfway into the hike, we realized you couldn't open them without a bottle opener, which of course we didn't bring. After struggling for a long time, we finally opened them with keys. Next time I'll just bring my own refreshments.

Regardless, we found the path that stretched along the coast and towards the church and we were on our way. It felt as if we were walking along cliffs that drop straight down to the sea. The teal water and bright white surf clashed perfectly with the vivid blue sky and the ashy gray rocks and their spring green trees. Although the sun was hot and shining fiercely the coast provided us with a nice breeze.

After about an hour and half of walking, we started to get worried we might not know where to turn off and head inland to the church. And, since we had no map, we were even more stressed but continued walking along and eventually found a marker indicating a turn. Looking at the guidebook now, I see that we could have taken a much shorter and direct route, but in the end we found the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Sanctuary of our Lady of Guadalupe). It is said that in the early 16th century, two shepherds were in the spot of the church and an apparation appeared of the Virgin holding her Son. Immediately they built this shrine to the Virgen. Sadly, soon after it was finished the church was demolished and has been rebuilt many times. The church that we saw is of the last construction which happened in 1868. However, the original wooden altar remains, and although the gold is flaking off, is quite impressive.

The Virgen of Guadalupe not only has her own church in Hondarribia, but in 1954 was also named the Patron Saint of the city. Stories say that during wars and sweeping sickness, the Virgen always appeared and helped the city, and now I guess she is the official helper.

The church is very important to the people of Hondarribia and my bosses told me that during wedding season, you can be sure that there are atleast 3 weddings each Saturday! More that just a wedding church adorned with boats and sea tools donated by local fisherman who pass this church before heading out to sea, this church also makes up part of the Camino de Santiago - a pilgrimage that takes the spiritual trekker through France and Spain to Santiago del Compostela on the western coast of Spain. This church is part of the coastal path and is so marked with the Concha de Santiago. Concha in Spanish means shell (maybe you remember me telling you about the Concha Playa in San Sebastian - which means Shell Beach). The Conch Shell marks each church along the long walk. So, while Theresa and I and our Keds tennis shoes didn't do any pilgrimage walking, we posed with the shell anyways.

Super tired from the uphill walk we were happy to finally walk downhill and took the main road, as we were a bit tired of trails. Lucky for us, they were paving and the tar wasn't completely dry yet so the cars couldn't drive on it, and it was like we had a lane specifically for us! The bad part was that at the end of the hill, we noticed that the tar had stuck to the bottom of our shoes - I guess a reminder of our adventure. Also, our footprints are stuck in some of parts of pavement. It looks like we will always be part of Hondarribia and that Hondarribia will always be part of us!