Monday, July 30, 2012

Agur Donostia!

Some of you might be wondering, where the heck are Amanda and Joseba?  Didn't they say they were coming home on the 24th of July for a month-long visit?  Well, the 24th has come and gone and they aren't here as you may have noticed.  But, we have a good reason!

After booking our trips there were some changes here and we decided to lengthen our 1 month trip to about 1 month + 2 years.  Yup, you read right!  We started with the immigration process and are almost finished and tomorrow will be leaving our lovely Donostia apartment.  After spending a monthish in Joseba's hometown we will head over to the good ol' US of A to start an exciting adventure!

Saying goodbye to friends, projects and family will be tough but we are looking forward  to microbrews, gorgeous hikes and a new city to explore together.  The shock of a new country will be in full swing when we arrive - just think - football season starts, Halloween, Elections, Thanksgiving, Christmas,'s a lot for someone who has never been to the States!

I'll post a blog once we finish with the entire immigration process about what we had to do and how it went but figure you'd like to know that we have mailed about 500 pieces of paper for the entire process.  We'll make sure to plant a tree upon our arrival! 

We are excited for this next step and I am definitley looking forward to being back on American soil for a bit!


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Let the Games Begin!

As I am sure most of the world did as well, I was overjoyed to watch the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics yesterday!  I love the Olympics just as much as the next person, but since we don't have a TV at home, had to look for someone to watch it with!  My English friend Holly was a perfect candidate because she was just as excited about the Games as me. 

Having done Olympics as my last unit in Summer Camp, I had a lot of fun little things to bring over when I headed over to her place for the start of the events.  I appeared at her door with a torch and then proceeded to shower her with coloring pages and dot-to-dots in case she wanted to do them in between events.  I placed an origami Olympic rings necklace over her head and then one over mine so we'd be twinners, or Olympic Groupies as her husband named us. 

We watched anxiously as the Ceremonies started and were highly impressed.  Shame that Queenie didn't really jump out of the helicopter though haha!  As the athlete parade begin, we started on our Team GB cupcakes that I'd made for the occasion (carrot cake cupcakes that mm mm good!).  We commented like girls do on all of the outfits of the countries, some good some bad.  For all the chatter about the US uniforms, I was quite disappointed.  The boys looked ok in my opinion but the girls' below-the-knee-length skirt really threw me for a loop.  Regardless, we just loved how happy and proud the athletes looked. 

We toasted to the Olympic torch lighting with some champagne and were happy to say, Let The Games Begin!


Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Last year, at the Zinemaldia, the San Sebastian Film Festival that is on par with Cannes and Sundance, a film premiered that peaked my interest.  Named Amerikanuak, you can imagine what it is about - Americans!  Turns out Basque isn't that difficult after all!  Unfortunatley, the times of the showings didn't work with my work schedule and I missed it. 

Luckily, they did a reprive showing a few months later in a theater where the soundtrack was played live and the documentary was shown on a large screen behind the band.  It was a new and impressive way to watch a show.

Spoken mostly in Basque, I of course was reading the subtitles like a champ, but kept having to remind myself that although listening in Basque, I was seeing images from my own country.  With the Spanish Carlist Wars in the 1830s and soon after the Gold Rush of the 1860s, many Basques came to the States looking for a new life.  As we saw in the documentary, it was a tough life and those who have remained in the States - mainly California, Idaho and Nevada  - haven't had it easy either.  Faced with a dying culture as well as a disappearing trade, sheepherding, the documentary takes a look at the remaining Basques in Elko, NV.

If you want to hear a little Basque in action, check out the trailer HERE.  

Based on the 2000 Census, there are 57,793 Americans with Basque descent.  After the big peak of immigration in the 1800s, the wave of new Basques in the States shot down and has stayed low ever since.  The people in that Census are thought to be the descendants of their countrymen who came over more than 200 years earlier. 

Seeing as we will soon be in the USA, I found it interesting to see the two culture mixed.  It presents the part of the Basque culture in the States that seems to be dying out slowly, but the truth is that the Basque culture is still very alive in other areas.  With Basque Organizations, kids on the West Coast can be proud of their Basque heritage by competiting in traditional Jai Alai, dancing traditional dances and learning thier mother tongue.

Idaho is the state most associated with maintaing a good level of Basque culture.  Not only is there a great Basque Club there which facilitates the dancing, language, sport, community, etc but also many Basques in high places.  According to Wikipedia, the past Idaho Secretary of State, Pete Cenarrusa, and the current one, Ben Ysursa both claim Basque heritage.  With Boise being sister cities with the famous Basque town of Gernika, the Basqueness of the area oozes.  Boise State even offers a Basque Studies program.  I have met students from there who have come here to perfect their Euskera!

Even being in the US, hopefully we will find some things that remind us of the mother land!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Giranice does Jazzaldia

As many of you know, Joseba plays guitar in a band.  The group is called Giranice and they are pretty nice to listen to I might say, but then again, with Joseba being in the band, I guess that makes me a bit biased.

An instrumental group, Joseba plays the guitar along with another guitarist and bassist who are complemented by a violin and a drummer.  From time to time they throw in some xylophone and keyboard to attain their unique sound.  The genre of music they play is called Post-Rock, but before meeting Joseba I had no idea what that really meant and to this day I don't do a good job of explaining all of the intricacies of this realm of music.  The way I try to put it in layman's terms is that it is sort of like soundtrack music.  Imagine the movie 300.  Ready?

Ok, so Giranice's music would start out calm and melodic, something you would like to sway to as the Trojans are relaxing or chatting or something, then the scene cuts to them marching into battle and the music changes along with it - dropping into a powerful rock.  Strumming with all their might on the guitars and the voilinist playing his instrument with the enthusiasm of an electric guitarist, the music becomes energetic with multiple layers of sounds happening all at the same time.  They rock and rock until the battle scene would end and then cut back to a melodic and more tranquil tune which leaves your head spinning and ears ringing from the drastic transition from loud to soft as the Trojans walk away with thier victory.  All of these different scenes in their music translates to many different beats, styles and bouts of creativity that leave you very impressed.  For a listen, check out their page that lets you listen online for free or lets you download their first album HERE.  The second album should be coming out soon (like 2 weeks)!

When I first met Joseba the band was coming along but in the past 2 years they have morphed into a group that turns out great music and hops from concert to concert.  After competiting in an international music competition here in Bilbao, in which they came in 3rd overall, they have started gaining more and more recognition.  From radio interviews to magazine blips, the word Giranice is appearing more and more in the Basque Country.  But what does Giranice mean you may ask?  Well, better explained by Joseba, but it is a play on words.  In Euskera, Gira in the French Basque Country means we are and Nice is the English spelling of the Euskera work for Naiz, which means I am.  So, in a creative and Basque Country pride way, the band translates to mean We Are I Am.

Listening to their music is described by critics as taking a roundtrip journey through the sounds.  Having done this roundtrip time and time again, the group were extremely excited to be invited to perform at Jazzaldia, the massive Jazz Festival in San Sebastian.  They performed on Saturday afternoon on a huge stage overlooking the entire beach.  Possibly one of the best places to play, I was more than happy to attend as a fan.

After Jazzaldia, Giranice will be hanging up their guitars, violins and drumsticks as they take a long break.  With members moving to different countries and big life changes happening all at once, the band is stopping at their peak - with good memories and a heck of a lot of fans!


Friday, July 20, 2012

I give summer camp a gold medal!

As many of you know, this year I was working with 1 year olds.  It was obviously not my dream job if you had talked to me in the past months, but seeing as I had to work in the Summer Camp, I requested that I be given a group of kids that could atleast string a couple of words together.  I was given the primary school kids - aged 7-9 and it was a dream!  I was back to teaching instead of baby-sitting and I loved it! 

A folder I made for a student

The kids were great from the start.  Although they had just finished an entire school year they still loved working and learning more stuff.  As I had been out of teaching for an entire year, I too was excited to be there. 

At the Mt. Igeldo Amusement Park on a sunny day
Over the 4-week long course, most of the students were signed up for every week, so I decided to do a theme each week so that they could focus on something and instead of it being random worksheets and handouts that had nothing to do with each other, that they felt like it was more a unit in school and they were able to see their progress.  I gave each student a folder and kept their work in it for the week and sent it home with them on Friday as a testament to what they did and also, having personalized the folders depending on the theme, a little memento of that week of Summer Camp. 
My students showing off their medals
Between summer theme (beach crosswords, sea vocab, Shipwreck games and so on) to Dragons (vocab that they'd never heard of - scales, fangs, etc), my favorite unit was this week when we did Olympics.  Being the last week, the kids were tired but the Olympics stuff really got them excited.

Charades with beach vocabulary

Each week we did a bunch of vocab exercises, grammar work, crosswords, wordsearches, games like charades to practice the vocab and reading stories.  Then, this Friday we added onto it by seeing the Olympics in action - we held our own games!  What looked like something out of a family reunion in the States, the kids were elated to do garbage sack races, spoon races with cotton balls, 3-legged races and more.  I had made some medals out of metallic paper and after each even we would have a medal ceremony.  For just being paper, the kids idolized the medals and were extremely excited to have me put one around their neck. 
Mummy Wrapping - the next Olympic Sport!

Field Trip to the Library!
Along with games and grammar, the entire Summer Camp group (my kids and all the younger ones) also took some field trips around the city during the course.  With a ride on a boat out off the coast of Hondarribia and a trip to a pupper museum to nice parks and even an amusement park, I actually had a pretty good time out of the school too.  At the Mt. Igeldo amusement park, which sits atop the biggest mountain in San Sebastian, I actually got to ride the roller coaster with my kids.  I asked the ride operator if I could ride it just in case one of the kids got scared....pshhhh really I just wanted to go on it myself haha!  While little it had been so long since I'd ridden one that I threw my hands up and screamed along with the kids. 
The folder of the boy who cried he loved camp so much!

While only a 20-day course, I feel that my teaching buzz has been re-energized.  I almost lost it there for awhile, because you can only 'teach' so much to a 1-year old, but back into the swing of things with elementary school kids, I had a blast just like the kids.  One kid today, when his mom came to pick him up, told me, 'Ok Ms. Amanda, I have to go home now' and I gave him his folder for the week (a medal podium in which he was the gold medal winner and two of his Summer Camp friends were silver and bronze) and gave him a little side hug and said he did great during the Camp and that I hope he had a great summer.  He ran off and I was a bit surprised at his reaction until a co-worker said she thought she saw he had started to cry.  My heart dropped.  I ran after him, along with all the girls in my class, up to his mother's car and she looked equally alarmed.  She asked me what had happened and I said I had just given him his folder and a hug and he burst out into tears!  What had I done?!  Are my hugs THAT  bad?  In between tears he told her that he had had such a great time that he didn't want the summer camp to end and that he wanted it to be next summer camp already so he could come back and have more fun!  The girls and I huddled up and gave him a group hug and he gave me one more hug and then got into his car.  THAT is why I love teaching.  Thank you Summer Camp for making me remember that and also sending me off to vacation with that as my last impression.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

King of the Castle

After our whirlwind tour of Bordeaux, we decided to stay in le France a little longer and took the car almost across the entire south of France to a little village called Caunes.  With only 1500 residents, this little village is not something you would probably set your sights on when glancing over a map of the country, but we had an amazing destination in mind.

Madeline, a friend I met when I moved here who now lives in London, frequents the little village because her London-born mother actually has given up the hustle and bustle and moved to a gorgeous home on 22 acres of breath-taking land.  Her mother, Rowena, runs it as a B&B and it just so happened she had a room for Joseba and I to meet up with Madeline and her boyfriend John for the weekend!

Finding it was a bit of a challenge as the road has a name but no street numbers.  The houses are named, so you just need to keep an eye out for the house name and that's how we eventually found the house and headed down the gravel driveway where Madeline and Rowena were waiting for us with a picnic ready to go.  We grabbed a neccessary bottle of wine, changed into our swimsuits and headed off to the most beautiful part of her property - a small little stream and a waterfall.  After 4 hours in the car, the potato salad, cous cous, chicken and veggies and the wine were just what we needed as we relaxed in the sun.

We spent the majority of the day just taking in the landscape - rolling green hills, trees everywhere you looked and the blue sky dotted with a few puffy clouds.  As you can see in the photos on her B&B site the place is gorgeous and we were happy after a stressful week to just BE.  In the afternoon we managed a small trip into Caunes (about 5 minutes away by car) to buy the all important wine for dinner and that was our day - lounging around, drinking wine, getting a tan and dozing off from time to time.  What a life!  The wine was especially tasty.  Caunes is in a wine region called Minervois, after the Roman Goddess Minerva from when the Romans were there and introduced grapes and olives to the area.

The next morning we took advantage of the peaceful atmosphere to sleep in and then woke up and had our coffee barefoot on the huge wooden porch looking out at the grass.  There is something about eating breakfast outside in the sun that really makes your morning.  Having woken up like that, we got around and headed into the little village to do some exploring while Madeline and her mom went off to the airport to pick John up.  For 2 hours we wandered up and down the narrow streets and in the process barely crossed paths with anyone.  All of the windows were open and seeing as the town was so small we could hear TVs, kitchen conversations and music spilling out of the windows as we meandered.

The whole town is practically all made of sandstone and the things that differentiate the houses are thier shutters.  Colorfully painted, they are the way the owner can express their personality with thier curb appeal.  Pale blue seemed to be the color of choice, but we did pass some purples and pinks and whites.  The name Caunes comes from the word for Cave, of which there are many in the area.  In fact, the red marble that is quarried from the nearby caves is quite a tourist pull for the little village, and it just so happened that the day we were wandering around was a Marble Fair.  As people came out to the streets little by little, stands started appearing with elaborate and beautiful marble sculptures for sale.  As a result of so many Marble Fairs, the city was also dotted with massive pink marble sculptures in tribute.

The sun was beating down on us and when we met Rowena, Madeline and John again, we were happy to enjoy an ice cold beer before heading back to the house.  Following the same routine as the day before, we packed up the picnic bag and headed to the waterfall for lunch in the sun.  The evening was relaxed again except that that evening we were able to watch Rowena and some of her B&B guests do a special pottery firing process!  On the property, Rowena, a potter and pottery teacher,  has her own studio and many guests come to do week-long pottery vacations.

For dinner we had a delicious meal called Raclette.  A Swiss dish from the French word racler, to scrape, the idea is that you have a small grill where you cook veggies and meats and below, in individual little cooker spoon-like dishes you place cheese which melts and then is poured over your cooked goodies from above.  It was heaven in my mouth.  Match it with some wine and the scenery while eating, and it was paradise!

Tired from the time in the sun and the relaxing (it's a tough job to be so tranquil!) we turned in early and were up the next morning ready to send John back to London on time.  After we dropped him off at the 'Kiss And Fly' loading zone, Madeline, Joseba and I headed off to see the famous Carcassone castle a few minutes away.

Carcassone is thought to have had settlements since all the way back in 3500BC but turned into a fortified city when the Romans entered the picture in 100BC.  Later however, Septimania (as it was called then) was ceded to the Visigoths in the 5th century and soon after was founded under that name and became an important trading post.  The Visigoths added to the fortress by adding more walls and towers and the start of the massive basilica within the walls now called Saint Nazaire. 

As a flourishing medieval city, the castle although now designed for tourists is set up to reflect this era.  As you cross the massive drawbridge over the once full moat, you can climb up the stone street and imagine it without the ice cream shops and tourist stores and imagine horses speeding up the way or ladies with magnificent dresses around the town.  Looking out from the outer walls and the towers, the vast landscape is beautiful and the castle positioned perfectly to see 180ยบ of the land.

While looking over Pays Cathare, or Cathar Country, I tried to piece together the tumultuous history that it had - changing hands from the Visigoths to the Saracens, then conquered by the Viscount of Nimes and then getting dragged through the Albigensian Crusades to rid the area of the county's namesake Cathars.  After the Viscount Trencavel was overtaken and left to die in his castle's own dungeon the city was soon after taken over by King Louis IX who added even more protection to the already almost impossible to enter castle walls.  After about 400 years of stability, the city's focus went less from being a fortress and more to the woolen industry during which the castle started to go into ruins.  By the mid 1800s, in such bad shape, the French government had the intention to just tear it down but this outraged many people and the decision was overturned and renovations begun taking place in 1853.  The project was a mighty one but was done so well that in 1997 it was named a UNESCO Heritage site and a definite must-see!


Monday, July 16, 2012

The USA is more Basque than you know!

Being America and living in the Basque Country, I really enjoy finding tidbits of information that link the two together.  With an ocean seperating the Old Land and the New World, you would doubt that there are many connections but turns out the Basque immigration to the States has left many imprints of the culture that I am submersed in every day to the good ol' US.  One shining example that I recently learned about is the heritage of the State of Arizona, according to Arizona Highways Magazine!

Although I lived there for 4 years (Go Devils!), I never took time to think about nor investigate the meaning of the state name.  I figured, as many people I assume, that it was either Spanish or Native American.  However, in the end, it is Basque!  Did you know?

When the area split from New Mexico it was then that it was named the Arizona Territory.  Having had a rich history of minerals, namely silver, the name that was chosen needed to reflect the wealth of the area. They chose the name Arizona because it did just that.  But as time went on it seems the original meaning, the word that had been used in the Territory for over a hundred, got lost.  In modern times, some people thought it was a translation of arid zone, which is Spanish would be zona arida not arida zona, so that didn't work.  Others thought it was a word used by the Native Americans of that area, the Pima, but again, no such word existed. 

In the 1700s many Basques came to the New World and some settled in the New Spain region of current day Arizona.  One namely Basque, Bernardo de Urrea lived in the area on a farm he named Arisonac.  In the Basque at the time, it translated to mean:
Aris - oak tree
on - good
a - the
c - (makes the word plural)
So, this Mr. Urrea lived on a farm called The Good Oak Trees.  In modern Basque it would be written as Aritzonak.  Seeing as Basque wasn't a written language until recently, these changes in spelling could have contributed to the confusion about the origin of the name.

When modern people saw this labelled on a map, they didn't assume it was the Basque name of the farm, but instead the Pima's original word and when they named their Territory after it searched for the translation, finally coming up with 'place of little springs'.  This wasn't an actual true translation though because this translation comes from the Pima word ali shonak, seeing as the word Arisona didn't exist.  Notated that the word Arisonac was the original word of the area on a map from the 1730s,  many copies were made and in the end the misconception grew. 

Looking back now, with the original and true translation, as you drive through the Sonora area, you notice the many Oak trees that sprinkle the landscape and understand the Basques aptly naming of the place. 


Saturday, July 14, 2012

San Sebastian with the familia

Last week my Dad and my brother Max dropped by San Sebastian on the way to their super trip to Italy.  I, of course, was super excited to see them after something like 3 years and to be able to show them around my newest hometown.  It's hard to describe how gorgeous San Sebastian is, or get you to taste the mouth-watering pintxos without having you actually bite into one, or have you appreciate the waves crashing against the mountains or seeing France from the street - it's all just something you have to see with your own eyes, so I was excited they would be able to do so.

After a long journey we kept Saturday night simple with some tasty pintxos.  For a 16-year old, Max was quite open to trying food that at 16 I wouldn't have even looked at!  From my favorite Idiazabal Cheese risotto at Borda Berri bar to the delicious Serrano Ham at La Cepa, we made sure to have him try lots of new drinks too - white wine from Rueda, red wine from La Rioja and some Txakoli from Getaria!  His ranking was #1 - txakoli, the Basque wine, # 2 - Rueda white wine and in sad 3rd place the red wine from the Rioja region of Spain, which he said tasted like some cough syrup haha! 

Sunday morning we met them after sleeping in a bit and were off on a busy day - first starting with the walking tour of Donostia.  We wandered around the Old Part, admiring the massive churches, little bars and the little details of the buildings.  We continued our walk through the port and then kicked it into high gear as we hiked up to see Jesus atop Mt. Urgull.  For a gray-haired man, my dad sped up the hill faster than us kids!  Needless to say, when we reached the top, we were in need of a breath of fresh air and the best place for that is at Jesus' feet looking out over the whole city. 

After a failed attempt to see some San Fermin festival stuff in a town a bit out of San Sebastian, we hopped in the car and headed along the coast to Getaria, a famous little fishing village in Basque Country.  Known as the birthplace of Elkano, the man who took over for Magellan when he died and successfully circumnavigated the Earth, Getaria is a place oozing with charm.  From the few cobblestone streets that make up the whole town, it seems there are almost as many fish restaurants as people!  With an outdoor grill, the cooks lay the fish in a iron basket and cook it right there.  We decided that seeing as that was the specialty of the town that we would eat that for our lunch and boy we weren't disappointed.  Between the squid, giant prawns, sea bass and cod, we were all happy with our meals and had happy bellies as we left the little restaurant with sea views nesteled on a secret little street. 

Soon after we met Joseba's mother in his hometown of Orio for a coffee in the main plaza.  Being a small place, we showed them the must sees - the church, the Old Part and of course the Town Hall where we got married, it's a must ;)

Having eaten like Kings before, when it came dinner time we were quite stuffed and only managed a few pintxos before calling it a night.  The next morning I had managed to get off work and met the boys for an adventure to Hondarribia, the last town on the Spanish side of the Basque Country.  From the bus we could even see France and Max got pretty impressed.  The Old Part of Hondarribia was as charming as always and made for good people watching while we passed brightly colored homes and stone-laid plazas. 

With another entire country being so close, the boys couldn't pass up the idea of having lunch in France.  When you say it like that, it sounds pretty crazy, but the truth is it was only about 25 minutes from my house!  We made it to the ferry just as it was boarding and ready to leave and in a few minutes were stepping off the boat onto French land, although still the Basque Country.  Being Monday mid-day, it was quite calm in Hendaye, France and the beach seemed to stretch for ages. 

Since none of us spoke French we muddled through the menu and eventually ordered and enjoyed our meal and after a few mercis were back strolling the promenade.  Going from Spain to France is just as easy as crossing state lines, but the funny thing was the difference that we immediatley noticed upon arrival.  Just a mere stones throw away, the Spanish side was loud and lively with people bustling around the streets and drinking in the outdoor terraces.  France on the other hand had the people but not the noise, it was almost silent!  It's strange how two different peoples can live so near to each other but be so drastically different.  Max was pleased to cross another country off his Euro-list but did say that the whole culture shock was quite a bit overwhelming! 

Since I wasn't feeling too hot, when we headed back to San Sebastian I went home for a rest and let the boys have some man time and around 9pm that evening we met up again, this time with Joseba for the oh-so-famous Cider House meal.  Consisting of a cod omelet, a cod fish with peppers, a massive and quite bloody steak followed by the Idiazabal sheep cheese and quince jelly it is amazingly delicious.  Being boys that like steak, Dad and Max were happy campers and Max even took a liking to the Basque cider, which Dad became an expert at pouring like a local (from up high). 

With a whirlwind Basque experience, they had to leave the next day to carry on with their travels in Venice, Florence and Rome so we bid them Agur but know we will be seeing them soon!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Grass is Always Greener

Some of you might remember from a couple of years ago when I wrote a blog about Joseba and my trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm, that during our trip we were on an almost fruitless hunt for flower seeds from Scandanavia for his Uncle.  Joseba's Uncle Ricardo has an amazing flower garden that just sprouts with color each year and as a little token of his trips, Joseba likes to bring him a special flower seed from each place he goes.  While Joseba has never been to the USA, when  my Grammy heard about this souvenir project she sent some little seed packets (tall poppies, I think) over for him as a gift.

By time they arrived last year it was too late for them to bloom, but this year they are making quite an impact on his garden.  He excitedly told us that one of them, a tall shoot of color, was really coming along well and that we should pass his farm and take some shots to send to her as a thanks.

When we got there, not only were the seedlings Grammy sent over in bloom but so many other beautiful colors covered the garden.  He first showed us what she had sent - and was impressed that it came in so many colors; pink, white and this deep deep burgandy that he had never seen!  They were gorgeous!  Nestled close to the American seeds were a vast array of other flowers.  It's a shame I don't remember all the names from growing up and helping Grammy weed her garden, but I'm sure all you Green Thumbs out there can recognize a lot of these.

The flowers spread across the garden and even a rose bush climbed up the wall and blooms in the window, which happened to be a bathroom one.  I guess if you do a #2 in there, you really CAN say it smells like roses haha.

After admiring his garden we headed over to the other Uncle's house to get a load of his and his wife's blossoms.  Also beautiful, I was most shocked at the fact that she had both yellow and pink cala lillies.  I had only ever seen them in white and was mystified at the fact that they came in color too!  Shows how much of a gardener I am!

Upon seeing my delight, she offered to cut me a quick bouquet, but since we were on our way to a restaurant for lunch, I said it'd be better to save the gorgeous flowers for another day.  However, when we were heading to the car, Joseba's Uncle Ricardo insisted that I have a red rose to match  my dress.  What started as a red rose soon turned into a red rose and a red mum (well, atleast I think that's what it was) and then a couple lavender stems and a white gladilous.  Well, his aunt wouldn't let me get away with such an arrangement without putting some of her best cuts in it and rushed back to her garden and returned with the yellow and pink cala lillies that I liked so much and a red gladilous!

In the end, I carried the gorgeous bouquet around town and at each bar dropped it into a cup of water and when we finally sat down to lunch, the waitress was sweet enough to give us a large water pitcher so that they could drink up and decorate the table simultaneously!

Enjoy the pics of the flowers in their gardens below - and if you know the name, let me know!  I'm dying to find out!


Monday, July 2, 2012

Living the Wine Lover's Dream - in Bordeaux

Growing up, the only things I really associated with the word Bordeaux were the word France and the word wine.  Sadly, after having lived in Europe for almost 4 years I 1) had not been to this famed wine region nor 2) could associate many more words with it.  In my head, Bordeaux was a massive vineyard where people just ate cheese and drank wine all day.

 When a past couchsurfer, Geraldine, who lives in the gorgeous city invited Joseba and I up for National Music Day, we couldn't pass up her offer - I mean, wine, cheese AND live music!?  How could you say no?

We headed off and arrived at her family's home in a suburb of Bordeaux and were happily welcomed not just by her mother, but also by her grandparents who were visiting for a week!  The grandma and mom had prepared and already eaten lunch and had left the kitchen table set for us!  As it turns out, French people eat other things besides cheese and drink wine!  They had made a scrumptous cous cous with a apricot sauce with chicken that was delectible!  To top it off, Geraldine offered us some caneles, a Bordeaux pastry speciality that we had tried when she and her friend visited us in San Sebasitan.

We set our bags down and were off to get a whirlwind tour of the city which we soon learned deserved its name Little Paris.  With no map, no guidebook and no pre-planning, we were elated to tag along as Geraldine wound us down little narrow streets (we seemed to always walk in the middle of the road until a car came and we would casually get on the sidewalk).

We whizzed past the Saint Andre Cathedral set in a massive plaza with its sandstone looming over us.  In the process of getting cleaned, the gargoyley dirty half didn't even look like it could be part of the same heavenly building as the wiped clean white sandstone.  With a wall that is over a thousand years old, this place has become a national monument in France and created a great first impression on my blank state of a mind of the city.

As we crept more and more into the city center we stopped off at little shops that you just don't see here in San Sebastian - a vintage shop where Joseba bought a little plaid hat to protect his shiny head from the surprise guest, the sun; a shop with random art and knick knacks and a whole basement full of deck furniture welded and sculpted out of steel; a bookshop that could rival Powell's Books in Portland, OR for stock numbers!

Walking towards the river we paused in the middle of the Bourse Plaza.  Designed by the same architect who imagined part of the Chateau in Versailles, it was built in the mid 1700s.  Bordeaux until that point had been a wall port city, and as the exterior wall went away, the people of the city wanted to present something grand to shipmen arriving for trading (wine, sugar and sadly slaves).  This palace, with its massive and grandiouse stature and symetry to match was the ticket.  Said to be a perfect example of Bordeaux architecture of the 18th century, it is not only beautiful while looking straight at it, but supposedly its charm is magnified when you see it through the Miroir des Quais.  This massive (possibly the biggest in the world) reflecting pool that sits across the street from the buildling, when still, creates a perfect mirror image.  Since wind was whirling the water didn't sit still long enough for us to catch a glimpse of it, but we managed to use the pool to cool off our feet and dance among the sprinklers as many residents of Bordeaux do in the summer.

With stages being set up and sound checks going on, we carried on to make sure we saw as much of the city before live concerts took up the streets and nighttime fell.  We next headed past the Grand Theater, towards the Esplanade des Quinconces, the biggest square in town (over 30 acres, so practically the biggest in Europe) laid out in 1820 with a fountain and statue that was dedicated to the Girondists who fell victim to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.  Sadly, during WWII the statue was melted down by the Germans for its 52 tons of bronze and just in the past 2 decades has been rebuilt again.

After such quick walking and active sightseeing, Geraldine awarded us with a little break in her favorite Square - St. Micheal's Plaza.  Actually it is properly named something else, but since the church in its center is named after St. Micheal, she said everyone just calls it that.  Look at us - calling things by thier local names!  We sat down for a light drink - tea for Geraldine and Joseba and a juice for me to go with our Morrocan pastry, in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of the city.

We headed back towards the river to check out a sporty area and grooved to some James Brown music before eventually meandering back to our starting point - the Cathedral.  With a stage set and ready to go we rocked out to a band called, I swear I am not lying - Fuck N' Stein.  Quite soul/funky, our sidewalk seats were good for our smooth  moves and great people watching.

After a lot of 'ohhh baby' and 'ohhh yea' sorts of songs we headed to meet up with the other girl who visited us in San Sebastian, Geraldine's friend, Fanny!  Walking towards the restaurant we didn't pass anything substantially important, but I just couldn't get over how much I loved the little plazas and streets.  They seemed so quaint, with each restaurant having a little bit of outside terrace seating, each decorated to the nines, perfectly designed little signs hanging over small clothing shops and people enjoying and strolling the day away.

Wine More Time was the name of the bar and is exactly what I imagined Bordeaux to be.  After a few hours of seeing gorgeous uniform sandstone buildings, elegant balconies, flowers blooming everywhere you looked and curious little shops left and right, this wine bar served the French essentials - wine and cheese (and some meat with our mixed cheese and meat plate).  If you wanted a beer, you couldn't order if from your table,  you literally had to GET UP and go to the bar.  That made me chuckle.  Wine all the way!  Joseba and I, feeling quite obliged, each ordered a different Bordeaux wine.  Between the four of us we order 2 mixed cheese and meat plates that had cheeses I had 1) never tried before and 2) sorry never found out their names but that were superb.  Looking at the trays, I was sure we wouldn't fill up and treat that as a meal, but sure enough after two wines and two plates, we had full enough bellies to start the rocking at the street party bursting with music. 

As we stepped out onto the street, it was as if we were in the middle of so many concerts simultaneously.  In front of so many bars there were live bands just jamming with crowds gathered around dancing or clapping to the beat.  For everyone 20 steps you took, you had a new beat!  It was great!  In one block you could sample some samba, then some jazz then some indie music...and then move onto the next block for more.  We boogied our way through the city, rocking our socks off til about 1am when we caught one of the last buses back to Geraldine's house.  The atmosphere in the town at night was so alive and contagious it was sad to leave it but as soon as our heads hit the pillow we were out!

The next morning we had some French bread (but just regular bread I supposed - a baguette) with some local jams and jellies and then were off to our next adventure - Carcassone!  In the end, it is really amazing to me to think that, a couple of months ago this Geraldine girl contacted us via internet to ask to stay at our place and learn about our lives and there was such a connection between us all that here we had just visited her, met her family and seen her city!  What a rewarding adventure.