Got there went for coffee walked around by the river a little came back showered went out to eat basically a lot of wine. Discovered I like white wine better. Went from classily drinking wine at a restaurant to sitting in a parking lot at a punk concert. Stayed up drinking and dancing all night and wen we left the bar in the morning the sun was rising. Next day slept till 12 then toured a nearby pueblo, walked around the city a bit , are lunch, coffee at a nice place.
I was still riding on a happiness high when I left Bordeaux. I caught a ride with Blablacar and was forced to quickly switch my brain back to Spanish because the driver and her friends were from San Sebastián. I was really surprised that the border between France and Spain was almost unnoticeable! There was a small sign, but even the borders between states are more decorated than the border for the whole country! It was kind of nice, actually, because you can tell that the level of trust between countries in the Schengen area is high.
San Sebastián is without doubt a beautiful city. The city itself has 3 beautiful beaches with clear water and is popular with surfers. It is also known for its food, mostly it’s pinxtos, and has something like more Michelin stars per square foot than any other city in the world. I spent basically two full days there and stayed with another host through couchsurfing.
The city is basically in a U shape with two small mountains on either side and 2/3 of the beaches in the middle. So the first morning I climbed around one of the mountains, which used to be a fort area to defend the city if I remember correctly. The views were pretty stunning. Okay, absolutely stunning. The best thing for me about San Sebastián were definitely the views of the city and the sea. After, I wandered around the old town area, the center of the city, and then at night went to get pinxtos with my host. She also took me to meet her mom (who is pretty old considering my host was in her late 30s). Nevertheless, her mom is full of energy and we went to see her singing in the street with her Basque singing group because it was some festival to some saint.
The next day, I went on a walk with my hosts mother towards the other mountain, than continued on to the top where there is an old amusement park and more great views. Basically just the views since literally everything in the “amusement park” is closed. I puttered around a little more than spent a few hours on the pretty but very crowded beach. That night my host and I went out pinxto hopping again and I left early the following morning. San Sebastián was beautiful, but so many people supposedly fall in love with it, and I thought it was just okay. It also probably made a difference that, while my host was very nice, there wasn’t that great connection like I had with Emilie and Mamo. I can also tell that I am getting a little tired of traveling. In San Sebastián and in Pamplona I was really feeling it. I tried to enjoy the moment but I really just wanted to get to Haro to see leticia and then to start the camino. Anyway, no doubt San Sebastián had some nice views.
The next morning I took Blablacar to Pamplona and the young guy driving sounded EXACTLY like the andaluz in ocho apellidos vascos when he was pretending to have a north of Spain accent. It was hilarious and I immediately texted all of my roommates. (The movie came out this year in Spain. Extremely popular comedy about an andaluz that falls in love with a basque girl and pretends to be from the north to win over her father. It makes fun of the stereotypes of both areas so it might not be worth watching for a non-resident but the movie is great and had to put down the detail so I’ll always remember it).
Pamplona is also a beautiful city, known for it’s running of the bulls during the festival of san fermin that Hemingway wrote about. I had two full days and the city is small so I had time to relax in the hostel a bit and watch a movie, go grocery shopping and cook for a few days instead of eating out. I also saw transcendence because movies are cheap on Wednesdays but it sucks… So oh well.
Pamplona is also famous for it’s fortifications that surround the city and for a park that has wildlife in a moat. Probably the only time I’ll ever get to see peacocks, chicken, turkey, roosters, ducks, swans, and deer all in the same enclosure. Plus it must have been mating season because the peacocks were puffing out their tails which was pretty cool. In Pamplona I explored the city center, went to the museum of Navarre, walked around to look at the old walls, and relaxed a lot. I’m glad that my travel is winding down, I’m honestly ready to start hiking. But I still enjoyed these two cities.
I took the regional train to Bordeaux so I didn’t get there until late. I also couchsurfed in Bordeaux, staying with a young couple close to my age. When I got to Emilie and Mamo’s apartment they were watching the end of the France-Switzerland World Cup match with two of their friends. France won, to everyone’s immense happiness. I was thrown into an environment of all French really quickly and it was a little hard so I probably came off a little awkward especially because I was tired, but my first impression of my hosts was a good one.
On Saturday I woke up and ate breakfast with Emilie and Mamo and then we walked around their neighborhood a little. According to them, Bordeaux is basically divided between the really bourgeois “bobos” and everybody else. We walked around the neighborhood of “everybody else” and it was great. We went to the market to buy vegetables for tomorrow’s lunch and I was happy to see that, unlike in Paris, there was a large variety of fresh fruit and veggies for decent prices. That’s one of many things I will miss about Europe. After we came back to eat lunch and then two of their friends came over before we left to go to the fête de la musique.
Every year in France (it could be in other European countries too but I don’t know) there is one day full of music and the bigger cities like Bordeaux have a whole line up of free concerts on different stages throughout the city. It started at 4pm and ended after midnight. Today was without a doubt the best day I’ve had traveling so far. There were all types of music, from rap to big band to jazz to bagpipes. We wandered around the different stages, drinking nice cold beer to cool us down because it was hot hot hot. Mamo had to leave because he was working security so I spent the rest of the day with Emilie and various groups of her friends. It was absolutely amazing. I learned that all I really needed to be able to speak French was to be forced into it. I spent 90% of the day speaking French and it wasn’t horrible! I could be understood and understood enough to not be awkward and to get along really well with everyone. They were all really nice and made me feel comfortable, but didn’t treat me like I was dumb (like speaking overly slowly or loudly). Emilie is 23 so I really think that made a difference as far as couch surfing hosts go because we got along as friends and really connected. It was an incredible experience. Bordeaux came alive with music and especially as it got later it was just a ton of university students out on the street having a great time, like one giant party. At around 12:00 am it started to rain, effectively ending the planned concerts so a bunch of people decided to jump in the large fountain in one of Bordeaux’s main squares. It was spontaneous, beautiful, surely illegal, and over in about 10 minutes but during those 10 minutes, about 40 people with clothes to spare (so not me) just stripped and jumped right in. It was incredible to watch. After the streets were still full and the groups that still felt like playing (because you don’t need to be scheduled to play music on this day) were met with raucous drunken enthusiasm. Emilie and I headed home slowly and watched part of a movie trying to stay up and wait for mamo but ended up giving up around 4 am.
THIS is why couchsurfing is an incredible movement. I spent the day without entering a single church or museum and still managed to really see the city, meet and connect with the people, and have an incredible, incredible day. I can’t even emphasize how wonderful it was, and I’ll have great memories of Bordeaux because of it.
The next morning my hosts slept in but I made myself wake up around 10 to see some of the more touristy things before leaving as well as enjoy my last pain au chocolat (last day in France). I got back to their apartment in the afternoon and Emilie made lunch for everyone which was great and totally not required to be a host, she just likes cooking and every Sunday spends time making a more elaborate recipe than what she makes during the week. Around 4 I had to leave to catch a ride in Blablacar to San Sebastián. The driver and her friends were super nice and I got a few recommendations for San Sebastián as well as started to get used to speaking Spanish again (although I definitely said oui a few times over the next few days instead of sí…). If it wasn’t obvious by what I said earlier, I LOVED Bordeaux. The city itself was nice, but what really made it amazing was having incredibly fun hosts. If my negative couchsurfing experience (or lack thereof) in Nantes made me a little wary regarding the couchsurfing movement, Bordeaux completely restored my confidence. Amazing, amazing time.
Then at night I had a train to Rennes. I was Couch surfing in Rennes with Manuel and Camille, a young couple. They were super nice! Their house is exactly how I want mine to be. Full of books movies and doodads, teapot collection, Harry potter fan, half inside half out feel because the doors and windows were always open. They also had two beautiful cats and a garden. I got there pretty late so talked a bit then went to bed. I gave up way too quickly on my French when I realized they spoke really good English.
Wednesday I had a full day in Rennes. I had some recommendations because my friend Leticia did her Erasmus year there but I still didn’t know where anything was so I went to the tourist office for a map. I saw a bunch of pretty churches (this is Europe what else is new) some beautiful buildings and an incredible garden that I ended up wandering in and out of three times that day. For lunch I took a recommendation for a restaurant serving tartines. Basically a tartine is an open faced sandwich. I had one with brie, walnuts and honey. Unsurprisingly because this is France and what else are they known for but their cuisine, (especially bread and cheese), it was really good. In other gastronomy news, Brittany is famous for galettes, (savory crêpes made with buckwheat flour) crêpes, and salted caramel. I got a salted caramel crepe to combine two of those things and it was pretty decent. In the afternoon I went to their fine arts museum. Overall I really liked Rennes! It’s a beautiful city that’s a decent size but still manages to be charming. I wouldn’t spend years here but it filled up a day perfectly and I could see why people would want to live there. But bad news- I didn’t have time to get a postcard! This affects only me but it’ll always be a hole in the collection 😦
On Thursday in the morning I took a bus from Rennes to mt saint Michel. It’s one of the biggest tourist destinations in France. Luckily I missed the high tourist season, which starts in July, although there were still a ton of people there. It was beautiful and I’m glad I went but I honestly don’t understand the reason for the masses. It is incredible that they managed to build an abbey and a town on a giant rock, but unfortunately nowadays it has a very touristy feel. It would’ve been cool to stay in a hotel on the actual rock, but obviously they are very pricey. Anyway then I headed back to Rennes, relaxed for a little, said goodbye to my hosts, and went to meet my ride to Nantes. I used Blabla car, a ride sharing program which I think I’ve talked about before because I used it to get to Granada. I got to practice my French a lot more because this woman didn’t speak a ton of English. It was probably 75-25. I’m so ashamed of speaking in French because it’s really bad and my accent is awful, but I realize that it’s not going to get better if I don’t use it. It’s just so weird the huge discrepancy between how well I can read in French and how poorly I speak and write. I arrived in Nantes and went to call my couch surfing host then realized I hadn’t gotten her number. I thought no big deal, I’ll just go to the place we arranged to meet. She had invited me to a party with her community bike shop so I went there and… It was empty. I know it is partially my fault for not confirming with her and insisting on getting her number but comeon… Really? So obviously I was a little panicked at ending up in a city with almost no hostels with no place to stay at around 10:00pm. So I ended up spending 36€ for the ONLY hostel in the city. The price included a mandatory hosteling international card that I probably won’t use again … Overall I spent like 75 or more $ today but I really can’t keep count or it will stress me out. It was a stupid mistake but it won’t happen again.
Friday morning. I’ve officially been traveling for over a week and strangely getting used to wearing the same thing almost every day and developing a nice odor. Just kidding… Or am I? I had the day until my train to Bordeaux to wander around Nantes. Honestly my favorite part was the morning when I went to the Jardin des Plants. Seriously, if there is one thing France does right it’s their gardens! Each time I think I couldn’t see a cooler one I get to a new city and I am blown away. This one was beautiful but also whimsical, with plant sculptures including a giant sea serpent spanning like 3 different ponds and a sleeping duck. There was also a mini farm and a giant bird cafe with those beautiful parakeets that are lime green and turquoise. I could’ve spent all day there. But I didn’t, because I had a giant mechanical elephant to get to. I’ll let wiki explain: “In the warehouses of the former shipyards in Nantes, the Machines of the Isle is created by two artists, François Delarozière (La Machine) and Pierre Orefice (Manaus association), visualising a travel-through-time world at the crossroads of the “imaginary worlds” of Jules Verne and the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci.” So I saw a giant wooden elephant that can hold 50 people and shoot water out of its wooden trunk. So unique and awesome!
After that, I wandered around some of the neighborhoods for a little while, popping in and out of a few pretty plazas and churches before stopping for lunch and finally getting to taste a delicious galette. After lunch I made my way I the chateau of the dukes of Bretagne, an old castle that fulfilled all of the stereotypes, with torrents, large stone walls, and even a moat! Then I spent a while trying to find another park that looked promising on the map but in reality was a little disappointing. Finally it was time to grab my bag and make my way to the train station to catch my train to Bordeaux!
An aside- travel will never cease to amaze me with its ups and downs. I can be panicked and pissy one moment and absolutely in awe the next. But what really blows my mind is how it connects people. Especially while couch surfing and in hostels, you skip all the acquaintance bullshit and head right to a very interesting conversation. You can click with someone 100%, then get up, walk away, and know you will never see them again. It’s so strange and wonderful and sad.
Anyway, some pictures –
Updating from the road! I’m actually in San Sebastián right now but this is the first chance I’ve gotten to pause and take a breath.
My adventure started on Thursday, June 12 at night when a slightly delayed flight got me smack dab in the middle of the Paris suburbs (after already paying for a bus from the airport) as the metro closed for the night. Super. Luckily a 12€ cab ride to Emma’s apartment resolved my problem, and, although more expensive than the metro, it wasn’t as pricey as I feared. I also got to jump start my French practice with the cab driver who was pretty nice, although probably a little misguided in his idea that I could easily find a job in Paris and that would be the best way to learn French. Obviously living in France would improve my French, but I doubt I could just walk into bars and expect a job…
Anyway, on Friday June 13 I started the day with a beautiful walk (it was a gorgeous day) around the Île de Saint Louis and île de la cité and actually stumbled upon the Conciergerie (old prison famous for some of its French Revolution prisoners – Marie Antoinette was held there for 2 months, and Robespierre was lead to the guillotine from there if I remember correctly) and Saint Chapelle church which was beautiful in spite of being in the middle of construction work. I went through both of those and then met up with Emma who got out of work early. We went to lunch, walked along champs elysses a little, walked through the Petit Palais (a beautiful building but pretty boring as a museum) and got a coffee in the Jardin Des Tuileries. We headed back and walked around Bastille a little (Emma’s neighborhood) then made dinner and caught up on orange is the new black.
Saturday morning June 14 I took the RER to Versailles. It was completely over the top and beautiful, and so nice to finally see after all of the history lessons and movies I saw Versailles palace in. The town of Versailles was also pretty and I spent a little time walking around before I headed back to Paris and went to Les Invalides to the war museum. I am almost 0% interested in the kind of stuff that might be in a war museum, although parts of it were okay and I wanted to see napoleons tomb. Also, my bitchy resting face is helping me blend in with the Parisians – people keep assuming I’m one of them or asking for directions until my accent gives me away.
On Sunday Emma and I woke up and went to the quai d’Orsay museum. Full of African art and stuff. Not my favorite but the architecture of the museum is beautiful and they also had a temporary exposition about tattoos so Emma and I made it our mission to visit that. It was really interesting, exploring tattoos as taboo, as an art form, a way of social inclusion/exclusion… Definitely worth the visit especially for tattoo fans. We next went and got lunch to go and picnicked at the champs mars with views of the Eiffel Tower. I had to – it was on my bucket list. And it was great. Emma had planned to see a musical after so we split up and I walked. For hours. Saint germain des près, quartier latin, île de la cité by notre dame, louvre, Tuileries… I may have walked for 4 hours straight stopping only for a crêpe break. I guess it will get me ready for my camino.
Monday: I started my Monday – how else- by walking. I headed in a new direction and stumbled upon the National archives which are in an old building that used to be the residence of some sort of prince. There was also an exhibition about jaurès. The most interesting was the decoration of the rooms. It was even more enjoyable than Versailles because it was basically deserted. I wandered through le marais and went to the Shoah memorial, which was depressing but well done. Then I went to galleries Lafayette for a little bit of window shopping and they have a terrace on top with great views. I walked to another small museum but it was 10€ so I passed and headed towards the orangerie, which has great impressionist period artwork and Monets water lilies.
Tuesday was my last day in Paris, so I decided to take advantage of some more museums since Paris is full of them. I went to one that just opened- mundolingua. I don’t know how hyperlinks work on my phone so please look it up it is great! Especially for a language nerd. Signifiers and signified, second language acquisition, history of languages, endangered languages, nonverbal, codes, slang… Literally a museum about languages. Next I headed to the outskirts of Paris for a Museum all about music. I saw lots of interesting musical instruments. Notable were the kit fiddles, strangely shaped instruments, beautifully painted clavinets, harpsichords and pianos. I could’ve been there much longer – almost every type of instrument had an audio with an explanation and another with an example of what it sounds like. If I had actually played all of them all the way through it could have easily taken me 6 hours to get through it, but it’s obviously too much for one day. On my way back I went to the Parc des buttes chaumont. It was really pretty and really hilly! It always impresses me to have beautiful parks in the middle of a large city. After that I went back to Emma’s apartment and grabbed my stuff to catch the train to Rennes!
I got really lazy about posting the last month, sorry!
The past month or so has been normal, but fun. About a month ago, during the second half of Feria, I went to Galicia to hike three days of the Camino de Santiago, and I loved it so much that I’m going back this summer! But more on that later.
Some random things that have happened the past month:
I went to a music festival! It was really fun, and one of the bands (the one in the video) I was actually really looking forward to seeing. What I didn’t know ahead of time, however, (although I should have guessed) that even the concerts are on Spanish time. I thought it was going to be during the day…in fact the first bands started playing at 11pm and the concert lasted literally all night. It was a surreal experience, because it was literally the middle of the night in the middle of a field, and yet, everyone was full of energy. Some things about Spain will never cease to amaze me.
I went to my first soccer game! It was a friendly, Spain vs Bolivia. Everyone is gearing up for the world cup so that’s why there are games with countries playing one another. I think there was a USA vs Turkey game in New Jersey around the same time. I learned a lot of rules, got to see some really good players/moves, and got to shout “GOOOOOOOOOOOL” along with thousands as Spain easily won the game. Spaniards have mixed feelings about the patriotic use of their flag, tied to the Franco days, but one place where the flag is always flying is at a fútbol game. It was a great experience. This video was taken right after one of the goals.
I went to El Rocío to see the Virgen del Rocío, o Nuestra Señora del Rocío. I know it’s hard to imagine, but as I’ve mentioned before, loyalty to different Virgins runs deep in Spain, and this one is particularly special. In the town of El Rocío once a year, there is a pilgrimage by roughly a million people to come see the Virgin. This is called the Romería de El Rocío. Pilgrims make their way from all over Spain (and beyond), mostly traveling on foot, in carts, or on horseback to arrive in El Rocío. The environment is a cross between Semana Santa and Feria, obviously it is a religious pilgrimage, but the environment is very festive. The family of the girl I teach English to goes every year, as the mother is from El Rocío and they have a house on the main street and thus can see all of the processions as they enter town. Side note- El Rocío the town reminds me of a Wild West movie – the town doesn’t have any concrete streets, the streets are all dirt! It was really interesting. Each time a hermandad entered, someone would announce over the speaker something like “Congratulations to _____ Hermandad for arriving en El Rocío. Long live the Virgen del Rocio! Long live the white dove! (another name for the Virgen)” with shouts of “Viva! Viva!” from the crowds. Larger carts were pulled by huge oxen, but there were also carts pulled by 5-6 burros, people riding horses, women riding horses in dresses, thousands of people walking…it was a people watcher’s dream! People also dress in flamenco dresses for El Rocío, although I passed this time around. I spent the day admiring the hermandades, the dresses, eating/drinking, and going to the church to see the much-loved Virgen. It was definitely a unique event.
My roommates threw me a surprise party! I was supposed to hang out that night with my friends Leticia and Shannon, so I went to meet up with them near Leticia’s apartment. Since we were so close, Leticia convinced me to come grab some stuff that I had left there the last time. When we got there, she presented me with a mini present- a paper she had made with pictures of us on the front and a really heartfelt note on the back. She also brought a bottle of really nice wine from her parents to my parents. Leticia is from La Rioja, which is the most famous region for wine in Spain. Then, they convinced me to swing by MY apartment on the way to the center of the city to drop off the wine. I didn’t want to carry it around all night, so I agreed. When I walked in, it was oddly dark, and the set of doors into our living room was closed, which alone is a reason for suspicion. When I opened the doors, my roommates shouted “surprise!” It was honestly the most thoughtful thing. They had signs saying “we will miss you” and “we love you” and made me a poster with a picture of each of them with me and a heartfelt note under. They had food and drink as well. The part that got me is that they made sure I could eat most of it, meaning only one pizza had ham on it, and one of my roommates said to me about the vegetable pizza, “I know you don’t like olives so I picked them off.” Seriously, how did I end up with such an amazing group of girls! I am going to miss them a TON.
Well, I’m off to Paris tomorrow. My travel plan was very up in the air before, but going to Galicia in May solidified it. Even doing three days of the camino was an amazing experience. For those who don’t know, while the French Way is the most popular, there are something like 10 different caminos that all end up in Santiago, where supposedly the remains of St. James are buried. When I went in May, I did part of the Camino Inglés, or the English Way. It was very uncrowded, but I met some great people. The first night in an albergue with the 7 or so other people on the camino solidified it for me. Two Slovenians, two Italians, three Spaniards, and me. Somehow we made it work, although the Italians and Slovenians didn’t know too much Spanish, while the Spaniards didn’t know too much English. Still, great bonds were made. Three days just wasn’t enough for me. So basically, here is what I am doing with the rest of my summer –
I’m going back to Paris again to visit Emma, and this time around it’ll be more fun because I’ll be able to take my time and not worry about fitting everything in. I’ll be there for around 5 days, then I’m going to Rennes, with one day spent visiting Mont Saint Michel. From Rennes I am going to Nantes, then Bordeaux, then back to Spain to visit San Sebastian and Pamplona. From there, I am going to visit Leticia in her home town of Haro, La Rioja. Followed by one night back in Bilbao (it’s on the way, and I loved it the first time) and from there to Oviedo. From Oviedo, I will be hiking the Camino Primitivo for two weeks, which is said to be one of the most difficult, but one of the most beautiful, caminos. I will arrive in Santiago and a few days later, July 14th, will fly back to Seville. From Seville, I will be going to a beach town in Huelva for two weeks with the family of the girl I teach English to. Her parents want me to spend two weeks with them in a sort of immersion environment, as if I don’t know any Spanish, speaking only in English, playing games in English, watching TV in English… etc, because Clara (although she is only 13) is spending next semester in Ireland. That will be fun and will also replenish my bank account. From there, I’m back in Sevilla for a few more days then finally, back home.
I’ll be busy and without a computer for the next month or so, but maybe I’ll be able to figure something out. See ya!