Honeymoon – The Basque Country

I was actually really excited to get to San Sebastian because it would be the only part of our trip where we are in a hotel. We were very fortunate to have had somewhere to stay everywhere else but were really looking forward to, well…maid service!

We made a nice, last minute hotel reservation. I think we were lucky considering we would be there for New Years Eve. We arrived after a night in Madrid where we again went to dinner with Pablo and met his parents and brother. I really enjoyed that.

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Turns out our hotel had an ocean view! We took a litte nap after finding somewhere to eat. We met Patricia for dinner and had a really nice time at a fancy basque restaurant. I loved talking with Patricia. As the Resident Director of our flagship program site, she had lots of insight and stories about the company I work for and how it began. She had been with Carmelo from the beginning. Dinner was excellent, as was the company. She showed us around the ‘old quarter’ where she said we should go tomorrow night for New Years eve. It was really nice down there.

The next morning we found our way to the bus station and got on the early bus to Bilbao to see the town and visit Ibon. We made it there by about 10:30 and used the tram to meet him in front of the Guggenheim museum. It was neat to see the museum that I had seen so many pictures of from students.

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Luckily for Kris, the museum was closed. The outside was still pretty spectacular. He walked us all around town, telling us stories of how the industrial town was transformed after Franco. Its a pretty neat story! The town is actually really beautiful. In fact, much of the architecture reminded me more of New York than what I had seen in Madrid. We went for coffee at a place near the museum. At that time, his son Xavier was with us. He was really cute, riding around on his little scooter. Then we went to his house which was downtown across from the campus. Xavier stayed there and we went out to lunch. We had some traditional basque stuff like stomach, octopus, and a few other things that seemed pretty exotic. I liked it all. From there we walked more and then found a neat place for some dessert. We had a custard like pie, it was glorious. And of course, we had coffee.

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After nearly a full day with Ibon, he had to leave for some dinner plans. Our bus was at 7:30 so we did a little shopping, including buying some champagne and some grapes from El Corte Ingles (a really popular department store that has grocery–I want one in Reno). I will skip a small story where I had some stomach issues and leave it with me wanting a really light, not exotic dinner once we got home to San Sebastian (insert crooked face here).

Back home in San Sebastian, it had started to sprinkle. I had my tummy issues and was torn between going out, and getting some rest. After all, it was the first time we didn’t have plans with anybody. Talk about keeping ourselves booked! But, at the same time, it was New Year’s Eve and what a wonderful place to ring in the new year! If you know us at all, you might have guessed it right, we stayed in. We went and got some Kabbob like in Alicante and enjoyed our champagne on our hotel bed. We woke up at midnight from all the screaming and fire crackers going off around town. The partying below us and all through town was still going strong when I woke up around 7am. By 8am, it was pouring rain, forcing everyone to go in doors. We walked over to a little shop and had some coffee and croissant (our favorite, and why I came home 5 pounds heavier). We had another bottle of wine from our trip to Bilbao so we bought a big baguette. We went back to the hotel and drank wine, ate a loaf of bread and watched it rain.



It was awesome. We stayed in doors all day on the first day of 2013. Even though we knew we were missing out on exploring San Sebastian, we really liked our ‘day of rest’. The next morning we went to the university and met Patricia again. She and I talked about work stuff and she showed us around a little bit. The day was still a little soggy, but the sun was coming out making the air warm and humid.

We walked from campus down the beach to go find the wind combs I had seen so many times before in photos of the program site. It was getting cloudy again so it was a humid cold wet air, it was while we were walking along the beach that I realized I was getting sick with a cold. I was pretty sad.

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Really, this was the last part of our vacation. We had a few days till we got home, but it was mostly travel. From here we took a 5 hour train back to Madrid, stayed the night, woke up the next morning, caught a flight to London, stayed overnight there, woke up the next morning and flew to Las Vegas, then to Reno. Being sick at the end of the trip wasn’t the best thing to happen but we made it, regardless.

Our honeymoon was such an incredible trip. I love Spain even more than I thought I would. I love the way they live, just like I really appreciated the way the Costa Rican’s live. I’d like to spend more quality time in other places because I think with each trip I’ll adopt subtle different ways of life and incorporate them into our own household and lifestyle. If I’ve learned one thing, and one thing only, it is that there are lots of different ways to live. The American way is not the only way. Here’s to seeing lots of other ways to live!

India….you’re next!

Honeymoon – Alicante

I was very excited to visit Alicante because I would be seeing Sylvain from the USAC program who had offered to host us when he was visiting Reno in October. Obviously I took him up on the offer. I was also excited to meet Luis. We had spoken on the phone and emailed quite frequently so it is always wonderful to put a face with a name. So to catch up, after Segovia, we went to Madrid for another night, we saw Pablo for dinner as usual and we got up for an early train the next morning. It was Dec 27 I think. Yes, a Friday. I really enjoyed the train rides. It was a nice time to read and relax. So much better than driving, and less anxiety (at least for me) than flying. Because we did first class each time, we always had a yummy meal.

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Luis and Sylvain were also receiving their January session group of students that day so we decided to meet them at the same time as the rest of the students. It was nice arriving to alicante, we didn’t need our coats. It was chilly in the shade, but not in the sun. We could smell the ocean air but hadn’t been able to find the ocean yet, and having not ever been there, I had no idea which direction the water was.

In comparison with Madrid, Valladolid and Segovia, Alicante was on the mediterranean side and was full of Muslim influence. It was really neat to see the old mosques and the boxy stone buildings. It looked like what I would have expected to see in Istanbul, not Spain. I loved it! When we met up with Sylvain and the group, we said hi and got the students to their housing and he took us to his apartment. It was about mid-day and so his fiance was also home. Her name was Isabel and she was really nice! Incidentally she was home for siesta. Their house was really neat, it was right in the middle of town and above a bar. They said that has has its pluses and minuses…as you could imagine.

We went out for some basque style tapas called Pinxos (pinchos). This was sort of a chain type restaurant, but really neat. They would walk around with trays of food and you would grab them and all you had to do was save your toothpicks and that is how you are charged. The meaty ones were on one type of toothpick and smaller ones were on a different size and shape. Something tells me the cheap american minded person would take advantage of such an ‘honor’ system. But they were delicious! From there, Isabel went back to work, and Sylvain showed us through town, gave us some directional landmarks so we could make it back home, and pointed us to the beach. It was a nice walk.


By this time it was dusk and we were a little tired. So we hung out a bit and made our way back to the apartment. We took a nap and had made plans to go out after our nap for some dinner. We woke up groggy but Sylvain and Isabel had put together a beautiful arangement of jamon, pate, olives and pickes with bread and crackers and opened a bottle of wine. What a lovely thing to wake up to! We were brainstorming where to go for dinner and eventually realized that we didn’t have the energy to go out. So we went down to the Gyro place across the street and got some delicious gyro wrap things. Probably the best I’ve ever had 🙂 Apparently that is really common fast food there. I wish we had more of that here! They just have this huge rotating thing of ground meat that has been seasoned and when you order, they shave of some of the meat for the wrap. We also had some when we were in San Sebastian, too!

The next morning, we went with Sylvain to meet the group and go visit the campus. It was funny seeing a girl I had had a meeting with in my office just a few months before. The students seemed excited, but were disappointed to learn that they would have class on their first day. Oh students.

We saw the campus which was just lovely, very similar to UNR in that it is not a city campus spread out over city blocks. It was  nice campus of buildings with green belts and walk ways. Luis gave us a nice tour and bought us a coffee. From there, he gave us some advice on what to do before we met back up with the group at 4 for a city tour. He suggested the market, which was like a permanent farmers market with all foods, fruits, veggies, seafood, meat and flowers. It was pretty awesome. I can see how students would love to have access to that place for cooking. He also suggested that we visit the Santa Barbara Castle and la explanada. So we did.



This is la explanada, which is a nice walk way that is right across from the marina. The tile work is just lovely! This is definitely not the sort of design work you’d find in Madrid. We found a restaurant and had some Paella which was delicious! However, we later learned that all the paella on la explanada is not authentic and just for tourists. Oh well, how would we have known?

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When our bellies were nice and full, we found our way to the base of the santa barbara castle. I didn’t learn too much about it, I was too busy snapping photos of the city and the ocean. Here is their website, but you’ll have to get it translated by your web browser http://www.castillodesantabarbara.com

The castle seems to be carved out of the mountain, it is hard to tell where the mountain ends and the castle begins.


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It was so cool! We hung out up there for quite a while. We decided to walk down instead of taking the elevator down. At the base of one side of the castle is a very old part of alicante called Santa Cruz. The town is now practically a museum. The streets are marble tiles and there are stairs and tons of darling little flower boxes. These people who live there know that tourists will be walking through looking at their homes all day long.

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Pretty darn cool! When we got to the bottom of this little town, it turned out we were really close to home. So we went and took a nap before meeting back with the group at 4. Wow did I get used to the siesta!

Luis took us all through town, it took about 2 hours. At the end of the tour (which included going back through Santa Cruz so it was great to hear his stories with it) he said to Kris and I and the visiting professor, Rick, “How about a beer? I think we deserve one” so we went to this really cool busy spot and each had a few beers, and then went to this awesome tapas place where I had the most amazing thing. It was a slice of bread, with machego cheese, membrillo, and chocolate and I think something else. The combination seemed strange but it was delicious!

Luis took us to a museum to show us one of the neatest festivals I have ever seen. The neighborhoods come together and build these gigantic structures to burn in a bon fire for the summer solstice. Sylvain had told us about it, but we didn’t really realize until we were looking at photos and exhibits in real life.

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These structures would be taller than buildings. They would take years to build them and over the years would become politically driven and to include a particular message. It has become a competition and whoever wins the best looking structure (I don’t remember exactly what they are called) will have part of it maintained in this museum. It was really neat. Kris and I would really like to go back to Alicante at the end of June one year to see this in real life.

All in all, we really loved Alicante. It was a really special place, especially to be shown around and learn from locals.

Honeymoon – Segovia

We made a half day pit stop on the train from Valladolid to Madrid in Segovia at Diego’s suggestion. He had lived there for a while for his military training, or maybe it was officer’s school or something. Anyway, he loved the town and really wanted us to see it so he helped us exchange our tickets. I am glad we took his advice, it was a lovely town, and he was (as expected) a great tour guide. He was able to ride the train for next to nothing with his military ID. The town is extremely old with lots of neat buildings. The town is known for its aqua-duct, apparently the largest one? or maybe the first one? Here is a photo



The ancient part of the town was really neat too. Cobblestone streets, old buildings, churches, castles…. its like walking backwards in time. The funny part about our little mini trip here was that we had our luggage and Diego was sure the train station would have a place to hold it, but they didn’t. So that was a little bit of an adventure. We ended up dragging the bags up a long hill to a bar where he knew the owner. The bar was attached to a hotel and they held the bags for us, reluctantly. We went and had a few drinks (beer for the boys and wine for me) and enjoyed some tapas. We liked Segovia because all of the bars would give you two snacks for free with each drink you purchase. Pretty neat! This was how we ate lunch, but by the end, I was a bit buzzed and ready for a nap. I think I slept on the train.

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After some snacks, Diego wanted to take us to one of the large churches, wow, it was huge! I was walking inside, staring up at how huge and beautiful the architecture was and tripped and fell over some kneeling place. It really hurt! When I came back home to Reno, the bruise was still there. I didn’t cry, I was tough.



Next we went up a pretty steep hill to a castle. Diego says it is the castle that the disney land (cinderella) castle is based on. It was gigantic and we were able to tour the whole thing. It was amazing to walk through something that seemed like it only existed in history books or documentaries on TV.



This was just part of it, it was nearly impossible to get the whole thing, but there we are at the bottom! Recognize those pointy and rounded things from disney?

At the very top of the castle there is a nice large area. There was a really steep round stair way to get up there, I have no idea how men in armor made it up there in a hurry. Though, the castle seemed pretty safe. There was a really deep trench around it, maybe there was a moat previously?  And it was literally at the top of a hill so I think they were pretty safe. Here we are at the top!



Right behind us is that castle where I fell and hurt my leg! Up at the top were large cannons. Again, it is still amazing to see how people lived so long ago. Likely it isn’t as surreal for europeans because they are surrounded by these relics, but in the youthful USA, we just don’t see such old stuff. Back when people were living in this building, the word American didn’t even exist.

Here we are inside the castle with a few friends:

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Overall, I really liked Segovia! I think it would be really fun to see the place at night during the summer. How fun to stay at a little hostel up one of those narrow streets and go to all those little bars for tapas and tinto! We will have to go back.