Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Weekend Getaway: San Sebastian

For a relaxing weekend in Spain, look no further than San Sebastian! I told my mom I would stay away from “the bad place” but I couldn’t hold off any longer. After four years of coming and going to Spain, I finally made it to the North – to Pais Vasco. Pais Vasco is a part of Spain that 1) is home to former terrorist group ETA and 2) wants to form its own country because its people claim they aren’t like the rest of Spain. 

Well, my thoughts on the second part of the Pais Vasco description are this: it is Spain. The only main difference is that the tapas are the best I’ve ever had and that the language was strange. In Pais Vasco, they speak Basque/Vasco.  Really, it is just like the rest of Spain, but just a few slight differences – the same differences you see in Barcelona (Catalan) and Valencia (Valenciano). Again, the tapas were great – all the reason to go back again.

I went with my Extremadurian/American friend, Kristen. We had our first travels together to Romania back in December 2011. Neither of us had been to San Sebastian, so I jumped at the chance to go when Kristen mentioned it to me. This was our plan: Thursday night we’d go for tapas in Valladolid. Friday and Saturday were allotted to San Sebastian! Sunday we’d explore Valladolid again, just before Kristen had to return to Caceres. It was a fantastic plan and we executed it “atope!” 

San Sebastian was everything I could have asked for on a relaxing weekend away! We climbed a mountain to visit Jesus (there was a gigantic Jesus statue) – and after half an hour of climbing, we made it! The views were amazing, overlooking the port and Playa de la Concha. We stopped for one of the best canas I’ve ever had, super cool and refreshing. We sat awhile and took in the view some more, which never got old.
Main plaza along the beach!
Playa de la Concha! Springtime happiness!
Beautiful flowers on all the trees!
Stopping along the way for a photo shoot!
Overlooking the cafe where we stopped for cañas!
Cool. Crisp. Refreshing. Cañas.
San Sebastian, you rock.
After our trek, we took time to eat some tapas – our first round of many of the trip. Basically, in San Sebastian, you take a plate and help yourself. You show the waiter what you’ve taken so he can put it on your tab – and then you just dig. right. in. YUM! We watched the sun set from the surfer beach, had more tapas, and called it a night.
Surfer beach for the sunset.
The sunset was rather spectacular.
View from the port. The white lit building is lit up for different festivals in different colors!
Grab a plate and help yourself. Be careful, it's a little crowded.
Tapas for two.
Sunday, we managed to do some walking along the Playa de la Concha to visit a theme park that was on top of another mountain on the other side of the town. We took the teleferico to the top and had another great view of the city. 
San Sebastian, Playa de la Concha
Enjoying myself.
Coming up. Going down.
Mysterious River? Elastic Beds? (aka, boat ride or trampolines)
Sunday’s weather was insane! 27 degrees Celsius (74 degrees Fahrenheit) in April! We were stripping like it was our job! We went for a nice boat rideWe decided to rent bikes in the afternoon to go see this famous “comb” statue at the complete opposite end of town from where we were staying. After we arrived, we decided to have more cañas to tell ourselves “good job” and after, we went back to the hotel to head out for another night of tapas. Really, it was a pattern – cañas, tapas, beach, great views, cañas, tapas, bike… It was such a nice getaway from boring Valladolid. 
View of the Bay of Biscay... from the Bay of Biscay! We went on a boat ride! Wahoo!
Port of San Sebastian.
Port and blue blue water!
"The Comb" Statue
The comb is rather big...
I had quite the surprise on our train ride back home: an old train hotel (we were just in a car with seats, not a sleeping car) from the 1800s, seriously! Ok, it wasn’t that old, but it was probably from the 80s, and I couldn’t get over it! Nowadays, Spain’s trains are all high speed and super nice. I can’t say the same for this train. When I asked the ticket taker how old the train was, he told me “the people around you are much older than the train!” Thanks for the joke, funny ticket taker.
If you've ever been on a Spanish train... I think you'll agree this isn't the norm.
Seriously, looks like we were in a train in Eastern Europe or somewhere!
All in all, San Sebastian blew me away. I had seen photos of its beach before, but to see it in person is another thing! And the tapas – wow!! I can’t say enough great things about the weekend. Seriously.

So, mom, the next time you ask me if I’m going to “the bad place”, I’ll just tell you “I’m going to get some tapas and enjoy the views.” Then, I don’t think you’ll tell me to “stay away” – but rather, “GO!”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Going to a foreign country – from Valladolid – just got easier. While the airport isn’t new to Valladolid, I utilized its location for the first time to go on a long weekend break to Belgium. Being able to sleep in a few more hours in the morning can make all the difference; not having to go to Madrid was the nicest time saver! Just 20 minutes to the airport was all we needed. I’ve never lived so close to an airport… boy, was it nice.

They say first impressions are everything... well, I was an instant fan of Brussels.
This isn't zoomed in. I was actually standing farther back and had to cut some of it off... it was THAT BIG! :)
This was actually the first thing that caught my attention... but, I couldn't stand to bare in mind that Justin was taking a back seat to an outdoor, handy john. But seriously, I've never seen one of these in my life... whyyy!?!
Katie and I arrived to Brussels mid-afternoon. We went to our bed and breakfast and got another nice surprise: a room with two twin beds, a couch, a TV, and a piano! We had our own private bathroom, which was also a nice space. Breakfast was quite nice too, with a good selection of toasts, yoghurts, juice, coffee, and Belgian pancakes! 
And this wasn't even the whole thing... :)
Our beds for a few nights. I wasn't complaining!
We were quite hungry after our journey that we headed straight for dinner. I love non-touristy places, and we found just that when we set off on our first Belgian dining experience. Luckily, our waiter (Nathan) spoke English or it would have been a “point and order” kind of meal. We don’t speak French. We don’t speak Dutch. Those were our two options of languages in Belgium… since it boasts the capital of the EU, many people spoke English as well… 

I told Nathan – “I want something really traditional Belgian…and a sweet, light beer.” Katie told him, “I want something with chicken and a darker beer…” Well, we got just what we were fancying! Seriously, Nathan read our personalities and food preferences to a T. We were so happy with Nathan that when he gave us his number to meet up later in the weekend, we jumped at the chance!  After dinner, we visited the center – to see the Gran Plaz and the Mannequin Pis, a small statue of a little boy peeing… (It’s famous… and about 1 foot tall…) It was here, just beside the Mannequin Pis that I had my first authentic Belgian waffle! Ok, maybe it wasn’t too authentic, as I had it topped off with nutella and bananas, but it was so tasty!
Pure heaven. Mine isn't pictured here because I ate it. haha
Seriously, I'm not sure why he is so famous... it's just a tiny little statue!
Sometimes, he gets dressed up, too! He has worn tons of different costumes!
Belgian chocolates?
Early on Saturday morning, we ventured off to Brugge/Brujas. It’s a smaller town, with nice walking zones and small canals. We had Belgium’s famous mussels and chips for lunch, which were quite good! We entered many chocolate shops to just smell the fantastic aromas, as smelling was less fattening than actually buying the chocolates. (Not sure if you’ve seen, but all we did was eat! Waffles. Mussels. Fries. Chocolates… not to mention the beer, which we had at every meal...what a culinary experience of junk food!)
Main plaza in Brugge.
I was here. These photos never get old for me.
Enjoying the day!
Yes, we have matching boots. Katie had them first. Don't judge us!
Mussels, fries & beer.
Doesn't get much better than this, unless we want to talk about the sauce we dipped them in.
Saturday evening, we returned to Brussels to find the Gran Plaz lit up: GREEN! It was St. Patrick’s Day! To celebrate, we bought our favorite Belgian beers and drank them on the Stock Market steps, just like the locals. We bought them in a shop just near the Stock Market and when we got to the steps, we realized they weren’t twist off tops…. So, we went back to the shop, had them opened and went back to the steps. We took the second beer home (very carefully!) to drink while we relaxed on our sofa in our room. We put our feet up and watched The Hangover that was on the television. After watching the first part in French, we finally figured out how to change the language. Thank goodness. Watching a movie in Spanish is one thing, but French is another… I don’t understand French, so to sum it up: Not fun.
Happy St. Patty's Day!

Sunday morning we visited the European Union buildings and stumbled upon the Royal Palace, too! We walked forever to find them, but I was quite happy when we did. To my surprise, I found many “1st of March” bracelets hanging on the trees! The “1st of March” bracelets are a typical tradition in Bulgaria, that symbolizes “Spring has arrived!”
The magnificent Royal Palace.
EU Parliament House
European Union Flags!
Health! Luck! Happiness!
Sunday morning we also visited the famous Atomium structure, one of the only things that is still around after the World’s Fair in 1958. We went to the very top and toured the inside of the structure, which is comprised of 9 different spheres connected by tubes you can walk through. From the top, you could overlook the city in the distance – what a view it was! 
Overlooking Brussels.
Looking outside! Mini Europe is just behind - a park with all of Europe's main attractions in miniatures!
The Atonium.
Sunday afternoon was spent in Ghent/Gante, another small town near Brussels. It had a really nice center area, complete with a castle! The canal was much grander here and everyone used bikes for transportation. We wandered onto a street full of graffiti; while we were a bit scared at first that we were going down a scary alley, we soon realized that it was legal for people to make paintings and artworks here. There were several artists painting as we walked through, and when we left, we saw a group of school children making their marks on the wall! Controlled graffiti like this was such a nice thing to look at – I think all cities should have an area set aside for artists so they don’t ruin the main streets and buildings. 
Holy bikes!
Inside the graffiti tunnel.
I can still smell the fresh paint...
Bike Love in Gent.
Ghent, Belgium
Just down from the castle, Ghent.
Great houses!
Looking out, into the canal. (and another bike...)
It just looked so inviting... and super Euro!
A larger plaza in Ghent... we were on the search for a mid-afternoon snack: beer.
It was in Ghent where I had my first authentic, authentic Belgian waffle…. No whipped cream, no strawberries, no nutella, no bananas…. Just waffle and this light caramelized sauce that they cook it in, in the machine. Just the right flavours! Just pure heaven!  (I repeated this experience once more on the trip before I could say that I had had my fill of sweets!)
Can you see the syrupy sauce running down the side of the waffle maker? yummm!
We had enough time Sunday evening to give our new Belgian friend, Nathan, a call to meet up for drinks. We went to a place that has over 2,000 types of beer from all over the world. Nathan did the ordering, so again, we were happy with our drinks! My new favorite type of beer: PEACH! Fruity beers are so tasty! It’s kinda like drinking black vodka – goes down like water because I don’t realize there is alcohol in it! However, the prices were high, so that reminds you it isn’t water. I guess it’s better – easy way to watch your alcoholic intake! (Collection of beer photos from the whole trip, not just the last night!)
Favorite! Lindeman's Peach!
Kriek came in strawberry, cherry and raspberry!
Leffe Blond.
This was actually Katie's beer. I just liked the elephants.
Mystic Raspberry. You forget it's beer!
Barbar honey beer was a refreshing afternoon treat!
Another Lindeman's... mmmmm!
Katie, Nathan and I on our last night at the super famous bar Delirium.
We had to wake up early on Monday morning to catch our flight – just another of the luxuries of flying with Ryanair. Haha (Note, if you fly with Ryanair, it’s better to bring a bag with wheels – this guarantees that it can go in the overhead bin – if you have a backpack, it must go under the seat in front of you… all types of handbags/carry bags. While everyone is allowed one bag under 10kilo, if it doesn’t have wheels, you automatically lose your leg room too. Que discrimination!) 

When it was time to return to Valladolid, it wasn’t a dreaded return.  Unlike normal trips outside of Spain, there is always the dreaded return to Madrid, transfer to the train station, and back to Valladolid. But, flying with Ryanair from Valladolid made everything so much easier! Unfortunately, I’ve been to all the places it goes, (not to toot my own horn) so I don’t think I’ll be utilizing it too much more before my year in Valladolid is over. I did see a transfer/shuttle bus from the airport to Luxembourg for just five euros… I might have to make a trip back Belgium to just get that shuttle bus! It would be fun, wouldn’t it!? Or maybe I could use it’s close proximity to visit Paris or Amsterdam again, just because it’s cheap and easy to get to! 

I have to say I really enjoyed Belgium. I mean, what isn’t there to like… waffles, chocolate, beer… Cheers, to you, Belgium – until the next round!