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.

Pais Vasco I: Bilbao for the afternoon

I originally planned to meet Paige in Paris via Barcelona. But along the way, lots of people told me I should go to San Sebastian. So I did. And I’m glad.

The cheapest way to get there from Barcelona was taking a flight into Bilbao. So I decided to see the Guggenheim for the day then take a one hour bus ride on to San Sebastian. Bilbao is experiencing a cultural transformation. Former industrial areas seem to now be stylish tourist spots and they played opera in the tram! I’m not saying there is a lot to see in the town but I think its worth a stop on a longer trip. It was also the first time on my trip I’d seen green, misty mountains in the distance – for me that’s the landscape that makes my heart feel at home.

The Guggenheim was re-doing the exhibits, so all but the first floor was closed, which was actually fine with me. I got to see a couple of big exhibits and then admire the building (the real draw) up close.

I had extra time so I went to the Basque museum. Bilbao is the capital of the region known as Basque Country, which straddles both sides of the France-Spain border. They have their own language and every sign was in both Spanish and Basque (Etrusxxx…forget name…looks nothing like any other language – see it above the Spanish in the picture) plus often French and English. The Basque people want an autonomous state, and a portion of the population supports ETA, who I believe have now broken their cease-fire. I was looking for more information on the Basque viewpoint and was surprised to find the museum was exclusively about the preserving the lifestyle of the Basque peoples. It was very telling to see how extensively they documented the lifestyle…it was basically a natural/living history museum. The people were either fishermen or shepards, depending on their personal geography. I learned quite a bit about the region so it was worthwhile.

I caught the tram back to the bus station, took my bags out of storage and hopped on the bus for a lively ride to San Sebastian.

BCN (Barcelona)

Barcelona is one of those cities where you are constantly looking up to see what interesting architectural treat is dripping from nearby buildings and constantly looking down to make sure you don’t step in spanish dog doody. Barcelona is somewhere I didn’t really research because I always knew I would come at some point (in fact the BCN in the title is the airport code which I use everytime I search for a flight). So laugh if you knew, but I had no clue about all of the fascinating architecture. The structures (buildings, park walls, street lamps) themselves are the art and frankly it’s much more fun to look at than a wall of paintings!

Anyhoo, I had a rough first day because it rained and I hadn’t been quite ready to leave the comfort of Rob’s home. But once I got into the swing of it again, I really enjoyed Barcelona.

Antoni Gaudi’s influence is everywhere here. I would describe his work, if you aren’t familiar with it, as surreal, funky, trippy, organic, colorful…basically fun! It does have a serious component but I admit I have a hard time taking the more serious structures (ie churches) seriously. The first thing I headed to see was the Sagrada Familia, an insane church that was Gaudi’s final work. It is actually still a work in progress and a site to behold. I didn’t even made it inside because the towers were full when I arrived and that was the part I wanted to see. Knowing I’ll be back, I bailed on seeing only half the inside and just walked around the perimeter taking lots of shots of it. I also wandered to a Parc Guell, which Gaudi created as essentially a subdivision, where it was lots of fun to walk around and take pictures of whatever surprise you stumble upon next. I will upload pictures at some point soon.
The next day I decided I needed to get out of the city so I went to Montserrat. This is an amazing place – a working monestary (first built in 900 AD) and a physically amazing site. I went to hike but many people go on spiritual pilgramages (or to just be a tourist). There are huge rock formations shooting out of the ground. I went to the small natural history museum on site where I learned all about how the land was formed, as well as some history of the place. It has a long history of resistance to religious suppression and was also the center of Catalan resistance during Franco’s rule.

I rode a funicular up above the monestary. It is a system where the cars run on a track and use gravity to help them get up and down efficiently. The car going down pulls the car going up, while the car going up slows the car going down. I planned to do a 4-5 mile hike up to a supposedly amazing lookout point. On the way up I met a guy named Dirk from Germany who was also traveling alone and doing that hike. So we hooked up and hit the trail. Thankfully younger Germans generally speak excellent English so conversation was easy. In fact, I learned it is required for 6 years in school – Dirk is an English teacher, ha! About 3/4 of the way to the top the rain moved in and we heard some thunder. Being on top of a huge rock ridgeline in a thunder storm did not sound fun, so we booked it down the mountain in record time. I was sore for 2 days from bounding down huge “stairs” cut into the trail! We were drenched and cold when we hit the bottom (I love it – fun in the woods!) so we toured the beautiful inside of the cathedral. I enjoyed the space tremendously. Not being Catholic makes me feel a bit like a cheater when I’m in a functioning church and I certainly don’t understand the rituals, however most of the tourists had left so I was able to relax. There is a famous statue of the Virgin Mary there (La Moreneta or Black Virgin) that was supposedly carved by St Luke. You can walk through and touch the orb she holds, attesting your faith or asking for blessing.
We had a coffee and rode the train back to the city. After making plans to meet for a concert the next nights we went our separate ways. It was raining again and I was tired, so I had a quick dinner with a lovely Brazilian woman I met in the hostel and went to bed! She was a huge fan of modern art and convinced me to see the Joan Miro museum the next day. I don’t really like modern art simply because I don’t understand it! But I figured this would be the place to give it one last try. And let me just say that I did try. I really, really did. I rented the audio tour and contemplated and studied and relaxed/meditated but it just would not come. So I admit defeat. I do not get modern art. And the entire time I wondered if I it’s how my brain works and if it’s related to why I don’t get JAVA!
I had gotten one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tickets so I just rode around for a couple of hours, checking out the city. Afterwards I ate the best fresh pasta in La Boqueria Market, then did a bit of shopping and site-seeing on The Ramblas. Lots of street artists, lots of tourists and apparently lots of pick-pockets. You hear lots of stories about Barcelona’s petty crime and I met a guy straight off in the hostel who had his bag snatched while at lunch the first hour he was here (the guy grabbed it and ran as he was exiting the restaurant, but the owners caught him). So I was extremely paranoid at first…didn’t carry a purse or anything. But after seeing tourists with cameras dangling out and backpacks with the zipper open, I realized there were far more obvious targets. I still maintained my vigilance, didn’t carry much cash or my passport and wore my purse tight and in front at all times. Thankfully I didn’t have any troubles.
That evening, I met Dirk for a concert in the amazing Palau de las Musica Catalana (Catalan Concert Hall). I wanted to see something there just to see the inside but ended up lucking out and catching a beautiful show by a famous Spanish classical guitarist MANUEL GONZÁLEZ. He played peices representing a number of the regions in Spain (and after visiting many, I realize how different the regions are from each other). Afterwards we went to a pub for a few beers. I haven’t found myself doing the nightclub thing much here. In small towns it’s fun and manageable, but the big cities are not my thing. Plus you walk around all day and honestly it’s a challenge to have more than a drink or two most nights.
I did some other minor sites and a lot of window shopping in Barcelona. I definitely have a to-see list for when I return. The next day I caught a bus to the train station and flew off to Bilbao.

on the move

Just a quick post to report that I am doing great … having lots of fun. Since I last posted, I´ve been to Barcelona (with a day trip to fabulous Montserrat) and am now in San Sebastian-Donastia on the French border. I take a train to Paris in a few hours where I meet up with my sister (woot!). I will take some time to post in the next few days.

Lovely Valencia

I arrived at the home of my friends Rob & Augus tired, dirty and sick with the crud. They put me up, cleaned me up, fed me and let me snort unlimited amounts of internet for a few days.
OK, I am exaggerating my condition a bit, but I did arrive on the overnight train with a nasty cold, a pile of laundry and a to-do list a mile long 😉
Rob used to live in Austin, so they have things like SALSA (salsa mexicana), CNN International, English guide books and English keyboards. Ah, the small comforts. (side note: my mom asked me last night if I am homesick or missed anything. Honestly, the answer is no. Of course I miss my wonderful friends & family and sometimes wish you were here with me to share this. And I miss American breakfast and Mexican food. But no, I’m not homesick at all…yet. So there you have it.)
Valencia (3rd largest city in Spain) reminds me a bit of Austin. It doesn’t have a lot of high tech but there is a huge greenbelt running through the city where everyone jogs, rides their bikes, walks their dogs and generally hangs out. On Sunday night, we enjoyed a paseo on it and saw people grilling out, playing soccer, just like Zilker. Rock climbers have put up holds all over one of the bridges and were hanging every which way when we walked by. Yesterday I walked home from some shopping and saw people doing martial arts and practicing rollerblade moves. And everyone with a dog seems to take them there to play. I saw more big dogs in one night on the greenbelt than I have in all of Spain combined! The entertainment complex is at one end – a performance space, an aquarium and aviarium (?birds), a science museum with IMAX, etc. Its all very modern and clean looking. One of the buildings reminds me of the “helmut” from Daffy Duck cartoons…I wonder if it is supposed to look like a conquistador helmut on purpose?

I can definitely tell the difference between here and Andalucia/southern Spain. Besides the obvious climate differences (more humid & temperate in Valencia), the people sadly don’t take a siesta, although they do take a long lunch. And instead of a true paseo, they walk the greenbelt or beach paths. Things are bit more expensive, with restaurants & stores being a bit more sleek & branded. Bascially, it’s a big, modern city and it’s people look the part.

On Friday, while they worked, I slept and surfed the web planning my future travels. We went out for tapas that night and I finally tried bull’s tail. Frankly, it reminded me of pot roast and wasn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. Saturday, we went to a huge market and then later that afternoon, Rob & I walked to the beach. Valencia is right on the water and was the host of the America’s Cup last year. After that, we had pizza from a place called American Pizza (ha!) and I ate an entire pie. The pizza in Spain is just as I like it, with thin crust, little sauce & lots o cheese – but I’d been staying away from it because it seemed too American. Saturday night, I was treated to the Daily Show on CNN International. Yes, they show it on CNN once a week and John Stewart does commentary afterwards. It was the episode with Bill Clinton, should you have caught it too. I am not sad in the least that I am missing our pre-election hype.
On Sunday, we hopped in the car and drove to a little town just outside the city (along with half of Valencia) for the Paella Experience. Every Sunday, Valencians come to this small town that is filled with paella restaurants. We gorged ourselves on a traditional style Paella (even eating right out of the pan) and wine. It was a beautiful day and an enjoyable experience. By the way, the town is by a huge fresh-water lake where people recreate. This lake also feeds rice fields so in my pictures you will see harvested rice.

On Monday, I got my shopping fix by hitting Aqua, a fancy open air mall. The weather is getting chilly at night and I hoped to find some jeans and a 2nd long sleeve shirt. I found the shirt, but the skinny jeans that are in fashion here just don’t want to be painted onto my legs, damnit. So I bought some leggings. Yes. 80’s here I come…again 😉 Anyway, it was here at this fancy mall that I first experienced fancy cash registers which show you dual pricing – your own currency & the euro. You pick which one to pay in. Can I share just how traumatic it is to see a 42 euro purchase show up as $60?!

The Alhambra

Ah, the Alhambra. To quote Wikipedia, “The Alhambra (Arabic: الحمراء = Al-Ħamrā’; literally “the red”) is a palace and fortress complex of the Moorish monarchs of Granada, in southern Spain (known as Al-Andalus when the fortress was constructed), occupying a hilly terrace on the south-eastern border of the city of Granada. It was the residence of the Muslim kings of Granada and their court, but is currently a museum exhibiting exquisite Islamic architecture. “

The Alhambra and it’s gardens (Generalife) are “the thing” to see in Granada. It is one of those places where you fill up your memory stick or kill your battery (or in the days of film, blow through all your spare rolls) before you even get to the good stuff. And of course your photos don’t do the place justice. It was recently in the running to be one of the new “7 wonders of the world” (didn’t win). You are wise to book your tickets at least a week ahead of time, as the hundreds of people who were up at 6am to wait in line for a meager allottment of released tickets found out.

I was assigned a time to visit the Palace rather late in the day, so I toured the gardens first. They are both beautiful and functional. Food is/was grown there and they provided shade, tranquilty and privacy. I believe I read that in Islam, a beautiful garden is a reward. It is the same for water (and in many Arab cultures water is revered for the life it supports) so throughout the gardens, there are pools and fountains everywhere. Combined with the huge variety of colorful plant life, they create cool oases, calm and private resting places, and playful, fun and interesting spaces. I may have said this before but many of the plants in the region are similar to those from central Texas. I believe it is a bit more temporate but still very dry with similar soils. I saw many tourists taking photos of exotic (to them) plants that I have in my own backyard. Please check my pile of photos at under the Alhambra set. As I said, they don’t really do the place justice. There were interesting courtyards, rooms and passage-ways around every corner.
The Palace itself is devoid of interior decor, but it was easy to imagine the furniture, wall-hangings and so on that filled the place. The detail is incredible and everywhere aestetics & functionality are combined. In Islam art, images of things are frowned up, so the designs are an ornamental style reflecting nature (plants mostly) and abstract design. These abstract designs are based on math — there is no beginning and no end, which invokes the Universe. Note of interest: M. C. Escher’s visit in 1922 inspired his following work on regular divisions of the plane after studying the Moorish use of symmetry in the Alhambra tiles.

The glazed tiles on the walls still retained their color but most of the paint had long since faded. There were gorgeous wooden doors and ceilings. And most amazingly, wall after wall decorated with a relief-like pattern of abstract design that was mind-blowing.

Inside the palace, water was also used for aestetics as well as to moderate the environment. I found the design and function of this particular courtyard fascinating. In the summer, the air was drawn across the water where it cooled. The fine wooden lattice (filigree) on the windows above allowed the air to circulate, cooling the inside (it also afforded the women the discretion required of them – ugh – but still allowed them to observe the goings on). In the winter, the sun warms the walls and the water, making the courtyard itself a warm retreat, and again the lattice circulates the air, this time warming the inside.

There are a couple of other parts to the complex, like a castle built by Charles V because he had to have something cool up there too, but I was too tired to see them. You have to walk A LOT and you take in so much intriguing beauty that it is just exhauting. I spent close to 5 hours wandering. There were hundreds of old folks on bus tours there – I’m talking old-old with bad feet and everything. And honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seem so many exhausted old people who looked so happy. No grumpy old men waiting on benches while their wives looked around and no purse-lipped old ladies unhappy about this or that. Nope, everyone was beaming and obviously satisfied. But tired. Including me.

¡Me encanta Granada!

Granada is really special. If you’ve been there, you know. I was sick the entire time I was there with a nasty cold. And while I was sad to be sick in such a beautiful city, I was glad to be sick there because I wouldn’t have enjoyed anywhere else in the condition I was in!

The city is at the base of the Sierra Nevadas, a physically beautiful spot. Architecturally, it has a very strong Moorish influence. The location has been inhabited since humans first lived in cities and eventually became an extremely important center for trade. Granada is commonly referred to as the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain but was always a multi-cultural city. For generations, the Moors, Jews & Christians co-existed in the city (some times more peacefully than others). But in 1492, same year as Columbus set sail for the new world, the last Moorish leader surrendered control of Granada to Isabel & Ferdinand. The Jews were immediately expelled from the city and the Muslims were forceably converted to Christianity. Of course, I am no historian and I cannot do the history justice. The point is that the Moorish influence is everywhere. Their structures were both beautiful and functional. At a time when most of Europe was mired in the dark ages, soaking in their own sewage, Granada had sewers and canals to control the water.
There is an obvious arab influence to the food, which was just dandy for me. Except for some tapas, I had ethnic food at every meal. I enjoyed huge, cheap (2.50euro) falafel wraps most days, Indian curries, even sushi (I hoped the wasabi would clear out my head…nope).

My hostel (Funky Backpackers, baby!) was in an excellent location (by Plaza Nuevo) and I lucked out having a room with only 3 single beds (in a hostel, the fewer people in your room, the less chance there is that someone will saw logs all night. In this case, ironically, it was me who snored…). It was easy to meet people and I went on a walking tour of the city my first morning. A group of us planned to hit the beach one day (1.5 hours by bus, over the mountains) but the bad storms they had wrecked the beaches for a bit.

So I did a lot of wandering in El Albayzín and a lot of eating and window shopping. For 2 days, I was pretty sick and it’s all I could really manage. There are fun shops at every turn, selling colorful goods from Morocco, Turkey, India, Nepal. I found the prices quite good, although I resisted buying things because i plan to head to Turkey myself. Plus my bag is way too small to lug a bunch of souveneirs. The streets are very steep – sometimes they turn from roads into steps – and narrow. There are a lot of buskers (street performers) and college students (Univ of Granada is very popular for Study Abroad) and some Roma and a smattering of colorful hippies who often live in the caves above the city and of course lots of tourists. It makes for some excellent people watching!

I also enjoyed an Arab bath – it was the cleanest I’d felt in about 2 weeks. There were 3 pools (one hot, one cold and one tepid). You showered before getting in, then just soaked yourself silly, bouncing between the pools and sipping sweet mint tea.

On Wednesday, I had my ticket to the Alhambra. It gets it’s own post. Thursday, an awesomely positive Scottish woman named Gillian and I went to Sacromonte, the Roma (gypsy) neighborhood, to an open-air museum high on the hill, where we learned how people did (and still do) live in caves. We really enjoyed the museum because it also addressed the natural history of the area. She had come from England where she taught English in the summers to visitors from across Europe. She is contemplating getting a job teaching English in Spain for the winter. I really do envy people from the EU – they can move to a different country the way we move to a different state. Obviously there are language barriers, but employment is possible without all the crazy visa hassles.

There is more I could write about Granada, but I’ll summarise by saying that I am pretty sure I’ll be back (hopefully with a lover since it is a very romantic city! 😉

An update on updates & photo URL

Since Friday, I’ve been enjoying a few days of comfort, rest and unlimited internet with Rob & Agus in Valencia. I just added a few pictures to my blog and also uploaded a couple hundred to Flickr…they are divided roughly by place. I hope to eventually add meaningful captions. They are public (so you can view them without signing up – you just can’t comment).

Here is the link to my pictures, so take a look when you have a spare few hours, ha ha:

Tomorrow I leave for Barcelona, so I plan to post updates on Granada and Valencia later this evening.

¡Me gusta Tarifa!

Friday night, I rolled into Tarifa about 7pm. Tarifa is a mellow hippie beach town at the very tip of Spain, where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet: It is just across the Straights of Gibraltar from Africa and the influence can be felt. You can see Morocco on a clear day, but it was hazy both days I was there and I barely made out the continent. Tarifa is blissfully high-rise free, which cannot be said of Malaga, etc (avoid avoid avoid). It is **very** windy and lots of wind and kite surfers go there. There are wind turbines everywhere. I had to pay for a double room because everything was very booked up (the next night I was able to move to a single in the same hotel). That night, around the corner from my hotel, there was a free festival put on by a local ecological and sustainable living coalition. They had free food (like couscous and other veggie options, which I jumped on after all that jamon!), local musicians and cheap sangria. It was quite nice.

Saturday, I went to the beach and also drove to some nearby towns. There are some very well preserved Roman ruins right on the beach (Bologna) where a town grew around the important fish salting industry. I could totally imagine living there. I stopped for the sunset at a shack on the beach where the ancient, mostly toothless owner (Jose Antonio – El Capitan – picture coming) befriended me. He sold me the hugest plate of tuna, which I really enjoyed (I forgot to ask for a half portion and the full portions are ridiculously sized). Later I gave him a ride to the town (5 miles away) and he tried valiantly to convince me to have a drink with him…but, uh, I insisted no. He was harmless but a bit persistant!

I decided to skip Gibralter since it sounded like lots of hassle for little payoff. Plus I hear they wont even stamp your passport, ha! I also skipped Morocco this time because I want to go to the interior, not just Tangiers (like Tijuana), and I really dont want to deal with it alone.

So Sunday, I slept late then returned to Sevilla with the car, stopping at yet another of the White Towns called Vejer de la Fontera. I also intended to stop in Jerez de la Fontera, where they make Sherry and were having a festival, but I hit a wall. I had seen too towns and just wanted to get back to Sevilla. Through some miracle of the Universe, I successfully found the rental car place again and took a cab to the same hostal I had stayed at earlier in the week. I told the driver my destination with a convincing enough accent that he began spewing Spanish at me. Yay but also a bit embarrassing when I had no clue what he said!

That night, I shared a paseo and tasty Italian meal with my new friend Pedro, the geologist. His English is very good so he was able to answer my laundry list of questions on the geography and culture of Andalusia. After our evening, I am about convinced I should do a tour in Turkey (versus tackle it solo). When I travel, I tend to have so many questions and it is almost impossible to get in-depth answers from someone who doesn’t speak good English. I think Turkey has enough history and unique geography and culture that I will get more out of it with some kind of expert guide.

As for me and Peter, except for technical discussions, we actually spoke in Spanish the whole night (albeit entirely in the present tense)! He is very patient and also able to understand the random english words I dropped, so the conversation flowed smoothly. Honestly, this was a relief after days of “stop and think” chatting. At the end of the night, he pronounced that I do indeed speak Spanish (¡Gracias Pedro!) and prescribed a two-tiered program of studying my verb conjugations (hmmmm, still need that workbook…) and reading novellas for vocabulary. I think these are very good suggestions and I will get right on them!

This morning (Monday), I took an rowdy 3 hour bus ride to Granada (lots of old deaf Spanish women…seriously, it sounded like a freaking nightclub on the bus). I found my hostal (Funky Backpackers), had a shower and a drink and am about to explore the paseo scene here. I love the paseo (evening stroll) and think we should import it, along with siesta. But more on that later.

La Ruta de Los Pueblos Blancos

My second night in Los Corrales was spent at the cafe counter where one of the women I met worked. I had ice cream and tea, eventually transitioning into a few cervezas, including one called Desperado (ha) that had a tequila flavor. I had to try it (not bad) as it was the first time Ive had the option to drink a beer that isnt Cruzcampo (very light). People from the town came and went all night. Sweet Angeles introduced me to each one and we chatted. It was very mellow and again, good practice. I got a good nights sleep and headed out in the late morning. I want to add that my room was only 25 euro a night. Lodging in Spain can be quite cheap for a simple room. I prefer hostals in cities for the companionship but in smaller towns, I soaked in a bit of privacy by choosing a single room.

Overnight there had been a tremendous storm. There seems to be mostly limestone there so the roads had been severely flooded. All day I ran across big machines moving earth off the roads. Honestly, a lot of Andalusia reminds me of the Hill Country of Texas, with scrubby tress and the very dry soils and limestone outcroppings. Plus olive trees everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.

So that day (Friday), enroute to the coast, I drove through a couple of towns on La Ruta de Pueblos Blancos (the route of the white towns). These are whitewashed villages and towns that probably represent a lot of peoples image of Spain. I had lunch in Rhonda, which is a rather large town high, high up on a hill where there is an insane bridge spanning a gorge. Lots of tourists but very worth it. Driving in these towns was pretty intense since the streets are ancient and narrow cobblestone lanes with traffic flowing both ways. And often they require stopping on steep hills so I am very glad I learned to drive standard in the mountains!

In Europe, they primarily of traffic circles to change roads (versus a left turn or merge or cloverleaf here). They take some serious getting used to — and it the busier places, some serious balls. People change lanes randomly and you have to whip your head around while looking for the sign of your hopeful direction. With the driving, I do wish I had a companion to play navigator. It would have been much easier, although I managed just fine in the end.

ps Here is a picture of my car: