San Sebastián and Pamplona

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.

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Bordeaux

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.

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Rennes, Mont Saint Michel, and Nantes

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 –

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Paris, je t’aime

This weekend was important for three reasons:

  1. The weather is a bit cooler now.
  2. I got to see my best friend.
  3. I left Spain for the first time to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world.

This trip to Paris was actually the very first one I planned, all the way back in September. It was one thing I absolutely did not want to miss – what could be better than visiting your best friend in Paris? I flew in Wednesday night and got to Emma’s apartment around midnight (she lives in a neighborhood near the Bastille), so we just talked for a little while and went to bed, because she had class in the morning and we both had a long weekend ahead of us!

On Thursday, Emma had class for three hours in the morning so I went to the Louvre. It was GIGANTIC. I was in there for over three hours but by the last hour or so had started to walk through the rooms, barely stopping unless something really caught my eye. I did get to see most of the famous stuff – the Mona Lisa, The Code of Hammurabi (a Babylonian code of law, one of the oldest written works, and the origin of the phrase “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”), and the Venus de Milo. I’m glad I went to the Louvre because I couldn’t imagine having gone to Paris without exploring it, however, it was definitely the least favorite of the museums I went to in Paris. After, Emma and I met up and went to see the Palais Garnier, the opera building. The outside was beautiful, and I would love to someday return and see a show there. We decided we didn’t want to pay to go inside, and instead went to the Galeries Lafayette, a famous department store. There were actually ten whole stories of beautiful things I couldn’t afford. We spent some time drooling over the beautiful, super-expensive products while admiring the store’s elaborate Christmas decorations. After, we went to the Arc de Triomphe, but decided not to go to the top because for some reason my “But I’m an EU citizen!” thing didn’t work there as it did everywhere else I went throughout the weekend. (Side note – most attractions are free for EU residents under 26. At this point, I have not yet received my resident card from the Spanish government, but I have my University of Seville ID card. While it doesn’t have my birth-date, it worked everywhere except the Arc de Triomphe, saving me about 50 Euro on museum/monument entrances throughout the weekend!).

We walked back along the Champs Élysées, a street with (more) high end shops. It was beautiful at night with all of the Christmas lights. We got macarons at Ladurée, an amazing sweet store selling many incredible looking sweets for prices I wouldn’t even spend on a meal, famous for their amazing quality macarons. I had never had macarons before, so I got two flavors I knew I would like – coconut and coffee. They were absolutely AMAZING! On our way home, we went grocery shopping near Emma’s house. I got some brie. So good, but who knew the stereotype about smelly French cheese was true? It stunk up the apartment all weekend – sorry Emma. We then ate at home and watched a movie because we were pooped.

On Friday, we had a bit of a lazier morning with a slow breakfast and Vampire Diaries. This weekend was interesting in that there were so many things in Paris to do and I wanted to see everything, but I also wanted to spend time with Emma, and as it so happens, what we enjoy doing together the most is absolutely nothing. So there were really long days, but also most nights in watching movies. I wouldn’t have it any other way. After breakfast, we walked to the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris. It was amazing getting to see some fall foliage as Seville, like Florida, is too warm to have a fall. We accidentally stumbled upon a museum showing an apartment Victor Hugo had in Paris for many years, and decided to walk through. Let me say, that man had some weird taste. I can’t really describe it in any other way besides “over the top.”

Actually, let me just show you a picture.

Ugly, right? From the Place des Voges, we walked to Hôtel de Ville, a beautiful government building, and from there to Notre Dame. I still can’t believe after all these years of seeing Notre Dame via VCR in the Hunchback or Notre Dame via stage set at Disney, I got to see it in real life. Frollo wasn’t there, though, probably because he’s hanging out in Orlando :). I think I was also so impressed because this year marks the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame. I keep encountering this in Europe – everything is so much older than I am used to! In the US, our history really starts a paltry 400 some-odd years back. I guess I just can’t even picture something being around for all that time. From there, we went to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore and got amazing greasy street crêpes for lunch.We also saw these awesome street performers!

Street Performing… Paris, you’re doing it right.

Emma then went to class while I wandered through a few neighborhoods (Latin Quarter?) to the Musée d’Orsay – SO much better than the Louvre, as I’m a huge fan of Impressionism and discovered Neo-impressionism, a style I knew little about but liked even more. Here’s some of my favorite paintings that I saw (Van Gogh, Matisse, and Herbe), but there were so many more!

Orsay

After the museum, I walked back to the Louvre via le Jardin des Tuileries (the oldest and biggest garden in Paris), where Emma and I met up again to walk to the Eiffel tower. I had seen it from a distance, but went to see it close up. You can wait in line to go up to the top, but it cost money and it was WAY too cold to wait in line for. Thank you Emma for talking me out of it! But the Tour Eiffel was beautiful at night all lit up, and every hour it sparkled! Here’s a video: please don’t make fun of me, saying Eiffel tower in proper french is hard! I was trying to say “Eiffel Tower with sparkles,” but the word “sparkle” isn’t exactly among the first words one learns in another language. Basically, watch this on mute.

On the way back home, we stumbled upon a free Dior exhibit at the Grand Palais, a beautiful building with a lot of events and exhibitions. The exhibit, celebrating the Miss Dior perfume, was really interesting and I felt more chic just by being there. It’s clear the French take their fashion seriously and have a lot of pride in producing high quality products. That night, Emma’s friends came over and we hung out for a while, talking and listening to music. It was basically like a 5 hour French test. When someone got really into a story they were telling, their French got faster and faster and with the music in the background it was really hard to catch some of it. However, I really surprised myself with how much French I knew! I know I shouldn’t be surprised because I have technically been studying French for over 4 years, but I guess I have always seen it as a secondary language to Spanish and since I haven’t been making it a priority, I guess I just always assumed my French was awful. Anyway, it made me appreciate, once again, the power of language and communication. Sorry – I feel like sometimes this blog is one big advertisement to learn a second language, but I always get so happy when I feel like knowing another language is giving me a kind of inside access into another culture. That’s just my dorky Culture and Politics major talking. ANYWAY, Emma’s friends were so nice and totally busted the rude Parisian stereotype. However, Emma totally reinforced it throughout the weekend strolling through red lights like it was her job (hehe, sorry Emma). Although the second half of our night included plans to go to an interesting club, those plans didn’t play out as the venue was small and crowded. Honestly, though, I had so much fun just hanging out in Emma’s apartment talking with her friends and listening to music, I didn’t see the night as a failure at all. Thanks Emma for considering me cool enough to meet your friends 😉

On Saturday, we went to Montmarte, a hill in Paris containing the Sacré Coeur. According to Wikipedia, “Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the excesses of the Second Empire and socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ.” The inside was predictably beautiful, although in contrast to Notre Dame, I enjoyed it more for its mosaics than its stained glass. We explored Montmarte a bit, then headed to the Palais du Luxembourg, originally built as a residence for the mother of Louis XIII, but now the seat of the French Senate. Luxembourg is also known for the beautiful gardens that surround it, and even in autumn it was easy to appreciate its beauty. After a brief break for lunch, we headed to the Panthéon, originally a church but now a mausoleum. We saw some dead people! Well, the tombs anyway – notably the remains of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Louis Braille, Marie Curie, and Alexandre Dumas were all there in the crypt. Also, some of the “remains” of certain people are nothing more than an urn containing their heart – so spooky. That night we stayed in and watched another movie – it’s what Emma and I do best.

On Sunday, we woke up early to go to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the world’s most visited cemetery, to see more dead people. The cemetary is still used today, although recently, “Père Lachaise has adopted a standard practice of issuing 30-year leases on gravesites, so that if a lease is not renewed by the family, the remains can be removed, space made for a new grave, and the overall deterioration of the cemetery minimized. Abandoned remains are boxed, tagged and moved to Aux Morts ossuary, in Père Lachaise cemetery.” How cool and morbid! Notably, we saw the graves of Jim Morrison (which was covered in flowers, and Emma said the last time she went someone had left a glass of whiskey there), Chopin, and Oscar Wilde. It is a popular tradition to leave a lipstick print on his grave, but at a request from the family, it’s now highly discouraged.

Next, we went to the Centre Georges Pompidou, containing the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Apparently, it is the second largest collection of modern art after the MOMA in NYC. I was a little bit wary after my experience at the Guggenheim, and although the museum and a few questionable pieces, the majority of them were actually pretty cool! By this time, we had to rush back to the apartment to grab my stuff so I could catch my flight.

I realize this post is really long, but it’s only because I did so many things and I don’t want to forget a single one of them! I had an absolutely amazing weekend in Paris. Emma, thank you so much for hosting me and I’ll make sure to show you the same amazing hospitality when you come to visit me. I can’t even believe I was actually there – now it all feels like an amazing dream. Although to experience everything Paris has to offer would take months, I’m happy I got to see so many amazing things and I definitely want to go back someday (maybe when I have more money to go shopping). Paris, je t’aime!