back in the USA

(note:  I’m cleaning some draft posts and found this.  I never published it and I’m not sure why…so here it is – a glimpse into my early post-trip adjustment)

Well, I’m back in the states. I don’t know how many of you will read this now but I thought I’d post an update.

The flight from Madrid to Newark was 9 long hours — long daytime flights are the worst! My plane was full of people from Madrid who were traveling with me to Houston, then on to various points south. There was a whole group going to Buenos Aires, which is another 8 hour flight! I slept a little bit and chatted with my seatmate some. He is from Madrid and moving to St Louis for work. Poor guy will be in for quite a shock, although he seemed aware of the challenges a midwestern lifestyle would present. He is already prepared to drive and wanted to know if he could buy a car for $3000! Anyway, after a layover in Newark, I flew 4 more hours to Houston, then another hour to Corpus Christi. Customs and immigration were easy, I had no baggage issues and my flight delays were all very minor, so overall my travel was as good as can be expected for 18 hour trip.

Getting off the plane in Newark wasn’t much of a shock, as all kinds of travelers were moving through there. But when I hit Houston, the difference was immediately obvious. Everyone – everyone – was on their phone, talking loud and long. Europeans certainly use their phones but not like we do here in Texas. Hell, most of the country doesn’t use their phones like we do! Of course there were hats and boots everywhere – and the Cowboys vs Greenbay game was on – and I was happy to see all that. I saw BBQ and Mexican restaurants – I liked that too.  But honestly, I was really surprised how all the Americans appeared to me after just a few months gone.

We are BIG people. I don’t mean just fat, although we are that too. But we are big – we have a big presence and we take up (over?) space. We are loud and we are obvious. I didn’t run into many groups of Americans abroad, so I never really noticed it. But after seeing mostly small, quiet Europeans for 3 months, I totally saw what people mean about Americans. Australians are the same way, by the way – big, loud and obvious. But happy – we are both a happy, optimistic people and I think that is awesome.

Anyway, we are physically bigger people. I’ve complained before about the troubles I had finding clothes to fit my chest and shoulders. And yes we are also fat. I swear to those of you who have never traveled outside the US – people are not fat. I saw one – ONE – truly obese person in Spain and I took her picture.  Cruel? Maybe but she was the only one around.  In Cordoba, I saw a sob-story segment on the local news about a woman who weighed…are you ready…200 kilos. That’s 450 pounds. Her kids were talking about all the stuff she couldn’t do (get in the tiny euro shower) but the woman still walked up the stairs to her flat (huffing the whole way). Her size is virtually unheard of there but she has a metabolic disorder. Interesting how few Europeans have them, by the way…I’m pretty sure our food supply is responsible for this.

And why are we fat? Because we eat too much. The portion size is striking to me. Eduardo, my seat mate from Madrid, ended up going to McDonalds for their most basic burger because everything else looked too big to him.

I went to Walmart the other day because my parents computer has no virus protection and its the only place I know of to buy software in town. As I sat in the car (on my cell phone!!!) I was barraged with BIG – big trucks, big asses and a big store. I swear I spent 2 hours buying 11 items for a grand total of $60.98. I’m reading a book now called The Paradox of Choice and it is about precisely this. We have too many choices and they are limiting us, not freeing us.

And while I’m on my soap box, I would just like to say that while yes, I was able to buy software, wine, hot sauce, organic waffles, white rice, tampons and a broom set all in one store, I feel certain that I would have been able to buy all those things within a 2 block radius in any city in Europe. True they would be at 5-6 different stores but since Walmart is about 2 blocks big, what the hell is the difference?!

OK, obviously I’m still adjusting. Overall, I am happy to be back in the US, so don’t take my bashing as anything other than constructive criticism 😉 I think we could learn a few things from the way Europeans shop, eat and use transportation. And I think they could learn a few things from us about customer service and efficiency.

Sooooo, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m house-and-cat-sitting for my parents in Rockport, Texas. It’s a nice enough town on the coast. The weather is gorgeous right now – high 60’s and sunny during the day. If I fished, it would be an even better place. But I don’t, although maybe I should take it up.

I’m surfing on my parents dial-up connection, surfing jobs and vehicles and places to live. My tenant will be staying in the house for now – he is happy and cares for the house. Without a job or plan it seemed silly for me to move back in that big house alone.

As for a vehicle – I really didn’t want to get one. I didn’t miss a car and got along just fine without one while traveling. In fact, the one time I rented a car, it was a constant worry with parking and theft. But alas, Texas is not Spain and moving around anywhere but central Austin will be tough without wheels. To get from Rockport to Austin on public transport, my only option is bus. Although it is only 180 miles and 3.5 hours by car, the bus takes 19 hours, going through Corpus & San Antonio, and costs almost $40. So I am renting a car next week. But having to buy their insurance means it is very expensive. So I need something. I want a very very cheap car that doesn’t need much initial work. If you know of anyone selling, please let me know! I don’t care about the specs (and I drive standard) since it will be a temporary vehicle. I’m also considering joining Car Share ( and/or getting a scooter and just renting a car when I need to go to Rockport.

Making my way to Madrid…

…from where I will fly back to Texas on Thursday. I fly into Corpus and will spend the week housesitting for my parents, by the way. I have very mixed feelings, as you an imagine. I am very excited to see everyone in Central Texas but also sad to leave Europe. And as for what´s next, well, I´m as curious as anyone. Regardless, I am so glad I took this trip.

The rest of the cruise in Greece was really awesome, both the archaeological sites and the companionship. It was so nice to have my schedule planned out and to have a little posse to spend my time with. Of course, we toured sites most days, so between running around ruins and socializing, I did precious little relaxation!

I returned to Barcelona for a few days of r&r and museums, then met my friend Peter (the geologist) for an amazing weekend in the country. We drove to Huelva province where they raise the prized black pig (the BEST jamon…which we call prosciutto) and hiked around a rural landscape filled with castles and tiny villages. I am talking “don´t hit the old man herding his sheep across the only road through town” tiny. It was perfect and a great glimpse into another side of Spain. And wow was I ready for some cool mountain air!

I´ve just arrived in Cordoba, where I´ll see the Great Mosque. Tomorrow I return to Madrid and then Thursday I fly home.

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving.

I’m cruising in Greece!

Just a(nother) quick update. I promise promise promise I am going to blog about Paris, Amsterdam & the other sites in the Netherlands that I visited AND Portugal. Internet time has been rare and – since I decided to take things down a notch in Portugal – I’m spending more time reading and journaling, which I wanted and needed to do.

On Saturday I flew from Porto, Portugal to Madrid for a brief stopover enroute to Greece. I had booked a very inexpensive week on a Classical Greece EasyCruise early in my planning, knowing that I may not even make it. But after ditching Turkey, I found reasonable flights between Spain and Athens so I decided to take the cruise. I am very glad. Not only is it a teaser for a longer visit to this region (Greece, Turkey and, of course, Italy are on the list) but the cruise is just what I needed right now. I will be in one place – my own miniscule cabin – for an entire week. I have my tours prebooked and have already met some fun friends on the boat. And I can get a desperately needed pedicure, ha! Life should be easy for this week.

By the way, it finally happened. I was tired and hungry and faced with nothing but sweet pastries and dry ham sandwiches for breakfast. So I did it…I ate a McDonalds Egg McMuffin. And it was damn good. I even got fresh-squeezed OJ (they have to upgrade in Europe).

In Madrid, I immediately ate some tapas. Oh how I missed tapas…I’m not really sure why I ate anything else in the evenings!?. I then went to the Reina Sophia museum to see Picasso’s masterpeice Guernica“. My interest in the Spanish Civil war, as well as World War II, greatly increased during this visit to Europe. American soil feels very removed from most of the affects of World War II….even Hawaii feels like a foreign country when you visit it (admit it…) Over here it is so clearly still a part of the collective conscious in a different way than at home. And as a visitor, it is very powerful to see a picture in a building lobby of the bombed out shell it was in WWII and to see how profoundly these wars influenced the art of the time. Guernica is/was a town in the Basque country of northern Spain where, in 1937, Franco allowed his buddy Hitler to try a new technique on the town: carpet bombing. There is much debate around both the intention of this air raid and the casualty details, but the bottom line is that the town was effectively incinerated and much of the civilian population died horrible deaths. The news shocked the rest of Europe – remember this type of air raid (or perhaps even air raids period) was a relatively new concept at the time. The leftist Republicans of Spain claimed it was done on purpose, which would be a war crime. The Nazi’s claimed it was an accident — the first example of “collateral damage”?

At any rate, Picasso was working on a commission for the Paris Worlds Fair (?) and quickly switched gears to paint Guernica. The museum has various studies he did for the mural (it’s huge) plus a series of photos taken as the work progressed. These are fascinating because they show how the mural contents changed as time went along. There are also works by Dali and many others, of course, include Joan Miro. I really enjoyed the museum and want to amend my previous statement that I don’t like or get modern art. It is abstract art that I don’t get.

Sunday morning, I got up insanely early to fly from Madrid to Athens. It took 4 metro trips, a plane ride and a taxi to reach my ship! It is a small ship – about 250 passengers – and the demographic is totally mixed (although mostly American and British). This type of “interest cruise” is a new concept for them – usually they do party cruises around the Greek Islands. They seem to be are testing ways to extend the season. It is chilly at night (about 50 F) but in the high 60’s or low 70’s during the day. Today it was sunny, cloudy, windy and rainy at various times. We are cruising to various ports overnight, where we pile on the dreaded tour bus and get to visitin’ historical sites. At night we have drinks and dinner and they are threatening us with disco contests and the likes.

There is even a guest lecturer from Cambridge – a lovely postdoc in Archaeology named Michael. He seems very knowledgeable and a good speaker (ie not overly academic), so we hope to re-learn our history in easy-to-digest bites. I feel like I will learn quite a bit. I am ashamed to admit I remember next to nothing from my schooling on ancient greece…in fact today we learned that “Greece” didn’t even exist until recent history. But more on that later.

I am at an internet cafe in town right now…it is prohibitively expensive and unreliable on the ship, so I will likely be out of touch for most of the week. I fly to Barcelona on Sunday night. Cheers!

The vices of Amsterdam

About the coffee shops…well, they can certainly be a fun part of the experience. You cannot buy alcohol in the same place that you buy marijuana or hash. And, in general, you cannot smoke marijuana in a bar (but you can sure smoke cigarettes, ugh). The idea, I assume, is to protect all the holiday smokers from a nasty combination (and the other patrons from the stupid behavior of f*ed up weekend warriors). Folks – you just don’t want to go smoke an entire joint after drinking beer all night – you won’t have a good experience. But most of the shops we saw in the red light district generally had stupidly stoned tourists slumped in chairs. I won’t judge but its seems to me that experiencing your holiday half-asleep inside a bar is not the way to go. Yet we western tourists do it all the time (an not just in Amsterdam – on many of our holiday trips). On a related note, the Netherlands outlawed the sale of “magic mushrooms” while I was there (Oct 31 was the last day to buy in Smart Shops) – sadly one too many tourist jumped naked into a canal.

Anyway, the neighborhood coffee shops were very low-key, with people stopping in for a bit and socializing, then moving on. I was told – although I have no facts – that only 4% of Dutch-born residents actually use marijuana. It is true that people in coffee shops seemed to be tourists and expat-types, although I suspect a lot of residents just take it home. I found the whole thing to be very civilized and clearly the way to go. In the Netherlands, perfectly respectable and responsible adults can purchase small amounts of a soft drug for personal use. It’s monitored, it’s regulated, it’s taxed. I won’t dwell on this but our government is wasting our money by including soft drugs in the (losing) war on drugs.

Happy Halloween!…update 10-31

I am doing well. I am in Lagos, at the beach, in southern Portugal. I loved the Netherlands but the grey and cold finally got to me. So last week, I hopped the first flight I could to the sun, ending up in Portugal. I procrastinated too long and missed my chance to join the backpacker tour I really wanted to do in Turkey. I thought about it for a few days and ultimately decided that I wonºt be going to Turkey this trip (but soon!) I was just not up for doing it by myself, both handling the touts and also planning everything myself.

Iºve learned a lot about my travel style and actually I really enjoy tours IF they are not hop-on-off-the-big-bus style. Iºve been blessed in the past to do really awesome tours with naturalist-type guides and you can learn so much more than from a book.

Anyway, I was really tired for a while with planning the day by day. You can spend A LOT of time figuring out where to go next…and for any of you that traveled a while ago, the hostel situation has totally changed. Places are booked up days, if not weeks, in advance and often walk-in spots are few. I am not one to wander around with my pack for hours, looking for a bed…I want to enjoy the place. So I sat down and planned (basics) the rest of my trip.

Iºll be in Portugal until 10 November, when I fly to Athens for my week on the budget cruise around historical Greece. Then I return to Spain (Barcelona again and Cordoba) for about a week and head home! I think Iºll be ready by then. I do wish I had more time on the road, but at the same time I am ready to see my friends and family. I definitely miss all you people. I miss our conversations and the comforts that come with knowing someone for while.

Eat some candy for me!

ps a moment of silence for my beloved Ricardo, who moved on 2 years ago today 🙁

Loving Amsterdam

(note that I wrote this while in The Netherlands but I never published it…not sure why. I’m trying to upload photos but am having technical difficulties)

I love the Netherlands. I love the place and I love the people. They are stylish but practical; helpful, friendly and open; bright with a sharp wit – I like the whole package and most of the things they do just make sense to me. It’s true that Amsterdam was cold and often gray, but I felt so happy and at home. Paige says maybe I was just rebounding from Paris, but I don’t think so. I was supposed to be there 3 days but I stayed almost 2 weeks.

We had a great little hotel on the edge of the Jordaan, overlooking a canal. We pretty much spent our days strolling along the canals and soaking in the everyday scenes. Our first night there, we met a woman from England who was traveling by herself. The three of us hit the red light district right off to get it out of the way. There really are red lights everywhere, by the way. If you’ve been, maybe you were as surprised as I was by the literal name. It was a Sunday so it was fine and fun…picking out dildos for each other, staring at women in the windows, gawking at the coffeeshops and what not ;-)~ After that, we had no use for that part of town. It is really a small section of the city and quite easy to avoid if you don’t stay there.

I’m going to post a separate post on the vices of Amsterdam cuz I know you are all interested in that, heh heh.

We visited the Anne Frank house and the Van Gogh museum. We shopped in some street markets and ate in cafes, where I had constant cute-attacks watching the Dutch on their bikes. I cannot even explain how adorable they are. I realize that sounds somewhat patronizing and it’s not really the word I want to use, but its what comes to mind. They ride their bikes EVERYWHERE, with anything and everything strapped to their backs. There are hundreds of bikes – way more bikes than cars – and a thick stream of bikes rush hour! Parents ride babies on the front and older kids on the back. And the best thing is that, when they go on dates, Dutch boys pedal the girls riding side-saddle on the back. And when it rains, she holds the umbrella over them! I’m sorry but it’s just too damn cute.

One night, our friend Amy’s friend Shimon met us for beers at a Belguim brewhouse (mmmmm finally hearty brews). He just finished up his PhD at UT Austin and moved to Amsterdam to be a professor at U of A this fall.

After Paige and Rachel both left Amsterdam, I decided to stay on for a few more days. I basically continued to wander and soak it all in. I saw a couple movies, read a lot, people-watched a lot. On Friday night, I met Shimon and some colleagues for dinner, drinks and some late-night kick-ass jazz. Of course, they all had bikes so he rode me on the back of his. I must say that 2 Americans weaving through the streets of Amsterdam was probably quite a sight! But we didn’t crash. We improved throughout the night and I had a blast!

The next night, everywhere in town was booked up. Its already a popular and expensive place to stay on weekends, but the ING marathon was Sunday and there was a huge electronic music festival all weekend. (note: I should mention that there is A LOT of good music coming through the city. In fact, the South Austin Jug Band and Dale Watson both played there the week before I arrived. And Nick Lowe was playing the day after I left. ) Anyway, there were no reasonable rooms or hostels beds, so I headed about 45 minutes out of town to a beach town called Noordwjick for some more beach fun.

The jungles of Paris

The original title of this post was “F*ck Paris”. But time, as always, has mellowed a painful situation and caused the good times to outshine the bad ones.

However, with all due respect to those of you who love Paris, I thought it was a sour, over-hyped, over-priced city filled with unhappy, indifferent inhabitants who seem to do nothing more than sit in cafes smoking and drinking coffee all day, then sit sit in bars smoking and drinking wine all night. And they never smile.

I am sure Paris is great if you love museums. And probably if you are in love, although Duluth is also great if you are in love.

Anyway, my sister (Paige, for those who don’t know her) and I met up on Sunday – we had rented an apartment for the week. She was tired from the flight so our first night was very low-key. We had some dinner and supremely expensive beers, and even got a chuckle out of a live band singing Depeche Mode, etc later that night.

The next day we walked all around trying to get a lay of the land – this is before we realized how big Paris really is. We hit the Eiffel Tower to get it over with. The line was short and the view was great…until the skies opened and we were completely soaked.

I should mention that it was COLD there, esp compared to Spain. I showed up in nylon travel pants, a fleece and chaco sandals. After 2 days, I broke down and bought boots, jeans, a sweater and a jacket. It was also grey, which I find (unfortunately) diminishes my enjoyment of a places, especially a city.

Paige and I both agreed we were more interested in enjoying the day to day life in Paris than we were in seeing most museums. So we tried valiently to connect with anyone who lived there. But the only people who would talk to us turned out to NOT be from Paris. I didn’t find Parisians rude, as I’d been warned, but rather completely indifferent and uninterested in helping you, much less getting to know you. I knew they prefer you try French, so I had a 2 page cheat sheet of phrases I commonly used in Spain. I really tried. And actually a good number of them responded to me in Spanish rather than English, presumeably because I was using an accent acquired in Spain.

Well, the only Parisians who had the slightest interest in chatting turned out to be men who wanted to take us home. After 3 frustrating days, we admitted that we really weren’t having a very satisfying visit. We blamed ourselves for not planning more. We accused each other of having a bad attitude. We were dazed and confused in the City of Lights. And then we met the Austrian Professor.

He was wandering down by the Louve, late one night, and upon seeing us consulting a map book, implored us to please help him find his hotel. He swore it was within 2 blocks and showed us the key with the name and address on it. I initially dismissed him, as he was pretty drunk, and told him to ask one of the many hotel concierges in the area. He snorted and explained that he had been to several hotels in the area but they had each given him different information and incorrect directions. So we helped him. And his hotel was 2 blocks away.

We were headed his way, so we walked him to the hotel. As he thanked us profusely (and snuck in a little kiss on Paige, ha ha), he told us he was a professor of Business Something Another (and of course he had worked in Texas for a few years, as half of Europe seems to have done) and that that he fancied himself to be a pretty smart and savvy guy. Yes, he said “I’ve navigated the jungles of Vietnam but I can’t find my way home on the streets of Paris…”

Something clicked. Paige and I just looked at each other and busted out laughing. At that moment, we knew he had been sent our way with this message: it’s not you – it’s Paris! So we decided to stop trying so damn hard and take Paris with a huge grain of salt! And our trip immediately improved. Thank you professor!

It was still difficult at times but we just tried to roll with it and laugh when we could. We started a list of people who were nice to us (no shit…it totalled about 10 and none were from Paris) and Paige began asking random people she saw smiling where they were from (only occasionally from Paris). The next day we went up to Sacre Coeur (one of our favorite spots) and sat in a piano bar where we met 2 sisters from the US. One was married to a diplomat working in Paris. They confirmed our findings and emotionally freed us to proceed into part 2 of our week in a guilt-free fashion.

Part 2 of the week was dominated by rugby. Brits and rugby.

Thursday, we decided a day trip out of the city was in order, so we visited Versaille. It was a real highlight for both of us. We especially loved the little village Marie Antoinette created deep inside the property, but the whole place was beautiful and thankfully quite serene. On the way back to the train station, we walked past 4 gentleman laughing and speaking English. Paige asked them where they were from (South AFrica) and they invited us to join them for a drink. We ended up spending a couple of hours talking and laughing and enjoying ourselves with them (in a Mexican restaurant which served us Doritos with our “queso”, might I add). They were in town for the quarter-final matches the next day. South Africa won. So did England.

I will insert an aside here that the first night we met some guys who claimed to be cops at a bar. The night after Versaille, we sought out a bar that Paige’s friend really liked and met half the Parisian police force partying it up. We had a good time with them – they made the “nice list” and even witnessed some table dancing (yes…it was disturbing). They were cutting lose because the entire force was on duty the next night for the France-England match.

That weekend, Paris had been invaded by Brits. Jovial, friendly, open, generous Brits. I know they have a reputation for being stuffy, but I find them to be fun as hell (especially when you add a few drinks). The next night, we walked all around our neighborhood taking pictures of the costumes and chatting with folks on the streets. I actually have a photo of some French people draped in flags and silly face paint, by the way!

As you may know, England beat France. The streets were flooded with celebrating British, all speaking English and all smiling. We bopped from bar to bar on the row of Irish/Aussie bars we found, meeting people and just having fun. Headed towards our apartment, we stopped to take a photo of a group of older gents dressed to the nines in, ummm, their rugby-attending outfits. We befriended them (and the 2 cute sons of one) and spent the rest of the night with them. It was a fantastic night — we rolled in around 6am with huge smiles on our faces. The next day we took a train to Amsterdam and we are grateful to England for sending us out of France in style.

World War III?

I have been keeping up on the situation in Turkey, so I’ve been reading news the past few days. This quote from President Bush on Iran caught my eye:

“So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously. And we’ll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat.”

I cannot help but notice when I hear Bush saying things like that how cavalierly he throws around the term “world war”.  Do most of us really understand the concept of WORLD or WAR? The fighting in Iraq hardly affects most of us. Our wallets, yes. Our hearts, yes. But our every day lives?  Unless we’ve lost a loved one or know someone deployed…probably not. Most of us alive today have no concept of how a war in our backyard feels. 

I think all Americans should visit Europe, if at all possible. I was not expecting this from my visit, but I’ve learned more about the wars fought here by visiting than I ever did in a classroom. You can still feel and see the impact of the wars fought here everywhere, specifically for me the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Museums are full of art created about it, monuments were erected, pictures were taken to memorialize how places looked before and after being bombed or raided, tourists routinely tear up in bars telling you about their visit to Normandy. Itºs powerful and it’s sobering.

I know we’ve had wars on our soil, but our country was so young and little of the physical impact seems to remain. There are a few monuments (Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor – although that is hardly the backyard at 10 hours away in a modern jet) but Europe is just full of them. My fellow travelers tell me its the same in Cambodia, the former Yugoslav republics, etc. 

If there were to be this World War III Bush keeps talking about, do you wonder how would it be? Perhaps we should ask the 100K+ Iraqis who have lost their lives (or their livelihoods) as a result of this “war” how it feels. Would it play out on American soil? Would you and I be drafted to operate high-tech machinery? Would we have to ration our food and our gas? Would we plant victory gardens and turn in our cars and our irons for the metal? Or would it be over in an instant as we pursued “victory” by launching our own nukes?

Update 10/22

I’m behind on my blog (and my emails…so sorry!) so I thought I’d post a real-time update. It is Tuesday 10/22. I’m currently in a small beach town outside Amsterdam (Noordijk), basically chilling out. Since leaving Spain, I spent a week an intense week in Paris and a chill week in Amsterdam. I really love the Netherlands so far and decided I needed to get out into the countryside, so here I am.

I have a ticket to fly to Antalya, Turkey tomorrow (10/23) but I am planning to post-pone. I am not overly concerned about the protests/PKK issue, although I am certainly following the news closely. Mostly I’m not ready ready to tackle a new country or culture just yet. The Netherlands is comfortable (although chilly) and small. The Dutch are wonderful – bright and friendly (enough), with sharp wit. They are stylish with a healthy dose of practical. They ride their bikes everywhere. I just really like them.

Anyway, I am learning about my travel style and I need a rest. I expect I’ll head to Turkey on the 28th or 30th.

I apologize to those I have not kept in good touch with (which would be pretty much everyone). I would love to get personal updates from you all by email. I’ve found I spend much of my internet time researching and taking care of banking, etc. Blogging has been interesting for me and I hope for those who read it. I figure when I get too wordy, most of you just skim (buds, do you miss Audrey emails?? ;-). Seriously, figuring out how many and which details to include is a challenge. I should probably have more than one blog, as it is documentation for myself and a way to share my trip, but I can barely keep up with this one.

OK, send me updates! Peace, Audrey

ps Happy Birthdays to the late October birthdays (that I know of): Meg, Vojo, MOM & John. And **Josh**…little J, how could I forget???

Pais Vasco II: beach fun

Every time I’ve gone to the beach recently, I’ve had a blast. An easy but awesomely good time. San Sebastian was no exception. It also marks my introduction to Rugby and La Copa del Mundo 2007!

I stay at a tiny hostel which was basically a relocated Irish dude named David’s home. It is legit and set up well, it’s just his house and he runs it. He moved to SS five years ago.

There were 4 twin beds in the room (yay – not a bunk bed in sight!) I hung with my 3 roommates and random others the next 2 days. In the bed on the left….sweet Katie who is from the US, a recent grad living and working in London, trying to figure out her next move as she has a soon-to-expire student visa. To the right…2 guys from Denmark – old friends on vacation – Anders & Chris who were there to party. Both spoke perfect English plus Chris speaks Porteguese. I love how so many Europeans are multi-lingual.

I arrived about 7pm and plans were being laid to watch the New Zealand-France rugby quarter-final match at an Irish pub down the road. Even David’s 80 year old aunt was excited! Of course I joined right in and went on to learn quite a bit about rugby. Later that night we partied on the beach a bit – they have an elevated boardwalk that runs the length of the beach. Underneath the boardwalk they have clubs that open all night and the partiers spill out on the beach. I’m not into the clubs so I just enjoyed hanging on the beach. I think there were some late-night swimmers but I found the water too chilly for anything but my feet!

SS is a pretty 2 kilometer shell-shaped beach with 2 small “mountains” on each side of the harbor exit. The next morning, Katie and I went for a hike up the one on the right. We had a really rough start after running into a gravely injured kitten. It was traumatic and all I’ll say is that a nice British gentleman carried that kitten on the hill with his bare hands, following a local I’d flagged down and explained we needed a vet who would work on a Sunday.

After that incident had passed, we walked to the top to have a photo op and seek out some reputedly awesome homemade sangria. We found it and had a great afternoon talking and drinking sangria in the sun. We both got a little sunburned! Photos to come. By the way, they were playing Tom Waits 😉

That night, we headed to watch the Argentina-Scotland(?) match. I was the only person pulling for Argentina – I always route for the team from the Americas. We watched it standing in small bar with locals munching tapas. It was seriously perfect.

The tapas in SS are pretty cool. They are called pinchos(sp?) and look like fancy crostini or sushi. The displays are so pretty and fun to look at for a food lover like me 😉 Bars compete for your attention by making awesome dispalys.

Huh, I just noticed that I abbreviated San Seb as SS. And SS are the first letters in Sparkle Search. I’ve been thinking it’s pretty safe to say I have my sparkle back – therefore I shortened the name of my blog to Operation SS. I’m sure the SS will eventually mean something else too, but that is to figure out later! I digress…

I ate A LOT of tapas in SS. Another great thing about them is they are cheap! That night we had probably 5 small beers or glasses of wine each, plus tapas until we were full for 15€ a person. Hello Paris??? Your basic glass of wine in Spain was so cheap and I totally didn’t appreciate it at the time. I mean, I didn’t really realize how affordable it is to eat and drink well there.

There’s not much more to write on SS, although I feel like I had a grand adventure…apparently doing nothing! Seriously, with nothing really to do or see, just eating and drinking and being at the beach always makes the mind relax in a certain way…few choices, less stress. It was a great respite before moving on to Paris, which is what I did the next day.