Sun and Tapas Make Everything Better

I have been under a massive amount of stress lately. Last week I think I cried just about everyday. I realize I am making a giant decision to stay in a foreign country, pick up a 9 to 6 job, … Continue reading

In the Land of Tapas– San Sebastian

Front of our hostel, Enjoyss

Because Callie and I could not bear another day in Bilbao we left for San Sebastián as soon as we checked out of our hostel. The bus ride is only about an hour so it wasnt too bad. Right off the bat, San Sebastián was a better experience for us. Not only was our hostel easy to find, but also it was in the middle of everything. We stayed at the Enjoyss Hostel and it was so incredible. First off, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful, especially Pablo who ran the place. The vibe was right up our alley too, (unlike the hostel in Bilbao). Young backpackers filled the place! The hostel offered a bunch of opportunities to tour around San Sebastián or rent things like surfboards and roller blades. Oh and the beds–heavenly. They were so unbelievably comfortable it was ridiculous. The street our hostel was on was the oldest and only street in San Sebastián to not be destroyed by the huge fire in 1813.

Replica of Iglesia de San Vicente

Right outside our hostel was the oldest building in San Sebastián, Iglesia de San Vicente. It was built in 1507. Not only was it really cool to have the some much history right outside our door, but also it helped us always find our way back to the hostel!

Me eating my first tapa!

Right after we checked into our hostel and settled in, we of course were hungry. Sian, (the mom of the children I watch), had given us a tapas guide for San Sebastián so we were very excited to try the best tapas at the best places. It is very popular to go tapas bar hoping here and that is exactly what we did. We went to about 4 or 5 different places and got a few tapas at each in order to try the most. SO DELICIOUS! Everything we tried was incredible. A little miniature piece of heaven! I have to say, although everything is absolutely amazing, that my favorite kind of tapas are croquetas.

My favorite croquetas!

They are a little fried food roll made up of potatoes and minced meat or cheese, then encased in bread crumbs. It is shaped into a cylinder or ball usually . Incredible. Another great thing about tapas is that they are pretty cheap.

View of Jazzaldia

After was filled our tummys with tapas, we headed back to the hostel to shower and get ready for the night. San Sebastián was hosting Heineken Jazzaldia while we were there. This jazz festival is the longest, continuously running music festival in Europe. It is right on the beach and free to the public (though there are special shows that you have to pay for, but most of it is free). I am so happy that our trip was conveniently around the same time because I absolutely loved the festival. There were a few different stages and although it was mostly just jazz, they also showcased some soul and other types of music. After staying at Jazzaldia for quite some time, we decided to check out the bar/club situation. The streets of San Sebastián were already packed so it was already looking much better than Bilbao. By this time it was around 1230am, (people go out much later in Europe–and stay out till the early morning!) so we decided to grab a drink and some tapas. We met some new friends and then continued our bar hopping with them. We ended up going to several bars/clubs and also going back to see more of Jazzaldia. It was such a fun night!

San Sebastián Beach

The next day had absolutely gorgeous weather so we headed to the beach. After getting used to the topless sunbathers, we were able to relax. The beach was packed with locals and tourist alike. It was very entertaining to people watch! When finished up at the beach, we walked around the marina area and looked around the shops. There was this incredible smell coming from all the restaurants of the fresh seafood. I really could not asked for better weather.

Cathedral Buen Pastor

We eventually made our way to some of the churches we had been interested in seeing. First we went to the Cathedral Buen Pastor, which was built in the 1890s. This cathedral has the highest point in San Sebastián with its 75 meter high tower.

The Basilica of Santa María del Coro

Next, we walked over to The Basilica of Santa María del Coro, which was built in the 18th century. Both churches, although different were beautiful. Seeing churches and cathedrals is probably one of my favorite things to do when I am traveling. It is incredible to me that something so magnificent could have been built in a time were there was very limited technology. The time and effort spent on the these buildings is just incredible to me.

Later that day, we went back to Jazzaldia and called it an early night. San Sebastián had taken a lot out of us!

Check out my pictures from the trip!

The Ups and Downs of Bilbao

Second stop on holiday– Bilbao, Spain. I have to say I was disappointed. I was very excited to go into Spain and although Bilbao had fabulous things to offer like the Guggenheim, it is definitely a city that only needs a day to see. To give Bilbao the benefit of the doubt, we were there Wednesday and Thursday. Being the middle of the week, and many residents being on holiday, I could understand a slight lack of people. However, this place was like a ghost town.

First of all, when we arrived we had to go on the journey of finding our hostel that was described as close to the Guggenheim, which apparently translates to 20 minute walk away. From the bus station we started toward the direction of our hostel. We found ourselves among car repair shops and industrial stores. The hostel, Bilbao Akelarre Hostel, did have good qualities such as the friendly staff and cleanliness, however, the location and the vibe did not work for us. There was a much older crowd, (and anti-social I might add) than typical for hostels–I’m talking 40 and 50 year olds. This is kind of rare to see in the hostel world. Because of the social butterflies we are, Callie and I were looking forward to meeting new people. This is why we gave up on the people at the hostel and attempted to go out that night… I will get back to this later. For now, I will continue on my day.

My favorite piece from the Balenciaga collection

After settling in at the hostel, we walked over to the Museo de Bella Artes de Bilbao because Callie had found that they were doing a free exhibit on Balenciaga. Balenciaga is a famous fashion designer who was born in Basque Country. He is known for his bubble skirt; his feminine but ultra-modern style; and his use of innovative fabrics. The exhibit had 35 of his pieces. I have never seen a fashion exhibit so I really enjoyed getting the chance to see such a fashion genius’ work.

When we were finished at the museum, we walked around a bit but of course, we were hungry and wanted to find some food! However, for those of you who have not been to Spain, you need to know about siestas. It’s this inconvenient time in the middle of the day for like 2 or 3 hours where everywhere closes. No shops. No food. No churches. No museums. Nothing. We were starving and basically out of luck. Oh but wait, there is a Telepizza open– just our luck. Hands down biggest waste of 8 euros and the worst meal I have eaten. This was the first major flaw of Bilbao! After being traumatized from that experience, we decided to go back to the hostel to get ready to go out in hopes of making more of this trip here.

Me scared in the middle of a street in Bilbao because no one is around.

We asked the staff were we should go out since we didn’t know much about Bilbao. She gave us a few places and we were on our way. Well, let me tell you, even with the help of someone who knows Bilbao, you are not going to find any fun. It legitimately was vacant. Nothing. No one.

Callie and I behind the bar at Irish Stone!

Frustrated and disappointed we decided to head to the street with Irish pubs near our hostel. We went to a place called Irish Stone, a Guinness bar. The awesome guy who ran the bar, (we called him Pechos), did not know what an Irish Car Bomb. So naturally, I felt it was my duty to teach a man who was running a Guinness bar who to do a “Bomba de Coche Irelandez.” He was impressed! He let Callie and I behind the bar and took a picture for his website. It is so easy to make friends when traveling! Pechos didn’t speak English and with our broken Spanish it made it pretty difficult to communicate with someone who speaks Basque. This is the beauty of the people you meet when you travel–finding common ground. I love it!  While we were there we met a couple of guys who lived in Bilbao. They were nice, but again hard to communicate. Because Callie and I were complaining about who lame Bilbao was, they told us they were going to a party the next day. We didn’t know what to expect but if we could take the Metro there, we thought it sounded fun and somewhat safe.

Me at the Guggenheim

The next day, Callie and I decided to head to the Guggenheim Museum.

Kapoor's work at the Guggenheim

Bilbao’s true gem! Because I absolutely loved the museum, I can’t write off Bilbao completely… just mostly. There was a featured artist there called Anish Kapoor. He is an Indian sculptor that studied in London. His work is abstract and he believes in “taking the artist out of the art” and leaving it to the viewer to figure what they believe the meaning is. Kapoor has simple, colorful, and monochromatic pieces varying immensely. I havent really ever seen artwork like his, and although it can definitely be considered weird, it made me think. I wish I had more pictures of his pieces but the few I had were taken illegally without the camera nazis at the museum seeing!

When we finished at the museum, we went on a hunt for bread and cheese. I know what you are thinking: “you’re in Spain not France,” but come on, there are reasons for this. One, it gets expensive traveling and for two au pairs that make barely any money, a cheap meal sounds perfect. Two, yes we live in France. We headed to the Cathedral de Santiago after lunch only to find it closed. Again the Spaniards and their siesta. So H&M was a much better choice.

Callie and I in Plentzia

On our way to getting more gelato before we made our journey to the Irish pub again, we saw these awesome street performers. When we finally made our way to the pub, we asked the guys we had met about the details and headed to Plentzia on the Metro. Plentzia is this little village  right on the coast about 40 minutes from Bilbao. Apparently they were having a huge party for the whole village, (aka fiesta de popular). Callie and I were sold. When we arrived in Plentzia and immediately could see the crowds of people lining the streets in the distance. We crossed this gorgeous bridge and on the other side the fiesta awaited!

Streets of Plentzia

On this one street there were 2 bars open on either side. At the end of the street was a section roped off for children to play, (which, towards the end of the night turned into a huge bubble party for kids). The streets were packed with people constantly going in and out of the bars. Music rang in the streets–a mix of popular American and Spanish tunes. Callie and I order a few… well several… vodkas with orange schwepps (which later we learned were called destornilladors from our new friend David, who happened to be a fifty year old guy wearing eye shadow). We had been told the Metro stopped at 11pm so although we were having the time of our life, we made sure we were at the station by then. Well someone lied. Luckily, these nice girls who could clearly tell we were confused told us the last bus was coming. After a few more adventures, we finally made it back to our hostel. A successful night!

San Sebastián is next…

Check out my pictures from the trip!

Journey into the South- Biarritz and St Jean de Luz

So here is the first of several many posts I am going to have about my recent holiday to the south of France and Spain. It was such an awesome time and I have no idea how I am going to write all about it! Bear with me… I promise I will get to it eventually.

Biarritz beach early in the morning

Callie and I left on the 19th late at night for Biarritz to meet the family I am au pairing for. They had rented a house just outside Biarritz and invited us to stay with them for a few days. Callie and I were really excited to go on the night train because it was one that was supposed to be designed for a younger crowd (such as, having a bar/club on board). Although it was not what we expected, it still ended up being a lot of fun. I tried Desperados for the first time, which is beer and tequila mixed! Definitely not very tasty… but made for a very interesting train ride! Because Callie and I got no sleep on the train, we were exhausted when we got into Biarritz.

The colorful tents lining the beach

We arrived there around 6am and had to wait until about 10am for our family to pick us up. We must have looked so funny– exhausted, no place to go, and with luggage! However, there is so much beauty in seeing the beach this early. Beside the occasional runners, the beach was empty and quiet. We sat there watching people set up the tents to get ready for the day. The beaches in Europe are very different than California. They set up all of these tents and activities on the beach– a huge ordeal! Seeing the beach made me miss San Diego a bit but I reminded myself where I was and the adventures I am about to take on! Callie and I sat on the beach until the stores and cafes started to open. We grabbed a bite to eat and then the family came to pick us up. I was nervous but they are so nice. I felt comfortable right away!

Our house just outside of Biarritz

Me in the middle of the road on our beautiful walk

When we arrived at their house, I fell in love with the boys I will be watching right away. I am extremely fortunate to have found such a great family. After resting for a bit, I had lunch with the family and their guests. I cannot get over this love affair I have with the food in France. Even the simplest meal can be so mouth-watering. I seriously look forward to every meal. On the bright side, Europeans walk everywhere so hopefully my tummy doesn’t start to show how much I love the food! Callie and I decided to explore the village after lunch. All the country houses are look like they are out of a movie. Almost all the houses have red shutters in this area because in the past when there was no paint, they used bull’s blood. The walk was phenomenal. Green, luscious plants line the dirt roads making for an idyllic walk through the French countryside. When we got back home, we joined everyone in the pool and had a laid back evening.

Me and my pot of delicious mussels!

The next day we decided to join the family on a day trip to a town near by called St. Jean de Luz. Another gorgeous beach town. We walked around with the family taking in the sights and shopping in the little stores that line the streets. We were able to see the church that Louis XIV married Marie Antoinette. It is incredible to me that there is so much history intertwined with modern culture on the streets in Europe. People hustle and bustle on the streets flooding the tourist shops and then you just turn the corner to find a miraculous church filled with remarkable history. I will always love this the most about Europe.

One of the things this area is known for is their mussels. As food connoisseurs, Callie and I of course had to try them! There are no words to describe the delectable tastes that came from the pot of mussels I consumed–truly incredible! Callie got mussels with a blue cheese sauce and mine was cream based with a touch of peppers in it. Now I know why they are famous for them! Delicious!

After our day trip, we went back to the house and played with the boys. And of course, we had a fabulous dinner! We rested up the rest of the night for our trip in preparation to go Bilbao the next morning. Before our bus ride to Bilbao, we walked around Biarritz a bit. The bus ride to Bilbao was about 3 hours. Stay tuned for most posts about my holiday!

Check out my pictures from the trip!