Monday, April 26, 2010

My 1st Bartending Experience...

In my 23 years, I have seen a lot of death. Before I even left primary school, I lost one of my favorite Spanish teachers to a plane crash in Michigan, I lost my beloved Grandpa, and I witnessed the traumatic death of my best friend’s dad. In high school, I lost three of my favorite teachers and mentors to cancer, and I lost both my Grandma and my Great-grandmother. And in the past few years, I’ve lost four friends – Justin, only 20, was killed in 2006 by a drunk driver, one friend (21) committed suicide, Lauren, 23, was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning (a result of an apartment fire) in 2008; and most recently, Molly, 22, was one of the hundreds of thousands of victims taken by the earthquake that struck Port au Prince, Haiti in January 2010.

However, in all this tragedy, I find a great amount of inspiration and life. It may sound strange, but I think the loss of four friends, four very young, incredible people, really made me realize how short and unpredictable life really is. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are doing, or where you are. You can’t avoid death.

Where am I going with all this? I guess I am trying to say that life cannot be taken for granted. Life can be taken from us in an instant – whether at the hands of another human being, a natural catastrophe, or illness, etc. This means we should not only pay more attention to and appreciate the simple, little pleasures in life, but also that we should stop procrastinating, stop worrying about “what if’s”…and just ACT. As Edmund Burke once said, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This is probably one of my favorite quotes of all time, and I truly believe in it. I also believe just as strongly in the opposite, meaning that all that is necessary for the triumph of good is for good men to do something. As Rachel P., a college friend of mine who survived the Haiti earthquake notes, “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.” If only we were all more like Molly, being proactive and not reactive.

After the death of my long time childhood friend, Justin, I became active in MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving). I spent time volunteering at overnight DUI checkpoints, performing compliance checks, and raising awareness of the dangers of driving drunk. I’ve always felt strong about responsible consumption of alcohol, and throughout high school was involved in Students Against Drunk Driving, but it took Justin’s death for me to wake up and start really doing something.

Now, after Molly’s tragic death, I’ve also been inspired. Being thousands of miles away from Oregon, where most of my friends have been participating in fundraisers for Haiti, shoe drives (Shoes for Molly), benefit concerts, etc., I felt compelled to do something here in Spain. So, I did. Simple as that. Immediately after the earthquake, I made a donation to Friends of the Orphans in Molly’s name. But it was small, and I wasn’t satisfied with my contribution. But since I wasn’t financially in a position to donate the funds that I wanted to, and that were so desperately needed in Haiti, I decided to organize something that would get a lot of people to all contribute a little…with the idea that the end result would in fact be a lot! So, I marched into the Ubrique town hall one morning and asked permission to speak to the director of cultural affairs. I presented my idea to set up a bar during one of Ubrique’s many festivals/events to raise money to send to Haiti, and to my surprise was basically told that if I could pull it off, I could do it. I went to work immediately, and in only two weeks, was able to “pull it off.”

For those of you who can also read/understand Spanish, here is a link to the blog of Ubrique (Los Callejones), and an article/write-up of me and the event.

A concert (“Los Robledos”) had been organized for the evening of Saturday, April 24. So, I took the opportunity to set up a bar…with the idea that all the money I raised, I would donate to Friends of the Orphans in Haiti. Organizing and ordering everything I needed for the bar turned out to be much more complicated than I had imagined, but I managed to get it all in order for Saturday. And once Saturday came, the day flew by and before I knew it, the sun was setting, the band was playing, and the people were consuming! :) In just about 4 hours, we earned over 1,700 euros!!! I was quite impressed and very content. Unfortunately by the time I paid for (and thus subtracted from the total earned) all the alcohol, soft-drinks, etc., only about 1,000 euros will be going to Friends of the Orphans. However, that translates into just over $1,300!
The people of Ubrique truly collaborated and without them, the night would have been a disaster. Not to mention five of my friends who so generously donated their time to help me behind the bar! I organized the event, yes, but the people who chose to collaborate and donate, are the ones who made it possible and made it such a success! In fact, one of my friends, also an auxiliar de conversacion here in Ubrique, donated 100 euros to the cause! This is the kind of generosity, ambition, and willingness that changes the world, little by little. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to all of you who motivated me, who participated, and who collaborated this weekend. On Saturday we were "Juntos por Haiti" (working together for Haiti), today what shall we do?  While we may very well be ordinary people, together, we can do extraordinary things. We just have to remember to act, and start making a difference now…not tomorrow.

Thank you Justin, Loren, Lauren, and Molly for this reminder.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

XV Subida Ubrique

English up top/Español abajo

This weekend was the XV Subida Ubrique...a 4.5 km car race up the narrow, winding, mountain highway that connects Ubrique and Benaocaz. It is a fairly important event in Andalucia, and Ubrique is very proud to host it.

The race brings a huge number of people to Ubrique - mainly folks from the nearby surrounding towns, but also from the neighboring provinces. Some people stay the night in one of the two hotels in Ubrique, but most people find a spot on the mountain, pitch a tent or park their caravan, and bring out the BBQ and beer.  It is quite a sight to see the mountains and hillsides covered with people - most of whom really don't seem to care about the cars or the race, but just like the excuse of drinking out in nature instead of in the bars. And of course, the excitement of some 20 cars speeding up a mountain adds a little something.

While I watched the race (and training runs) last year from the first curve (quite near the starting line), I decided to head up a bit higher this year. So, I met up with some friends and trekked up the mountain to one of the most important curves...and most popular spectator point. There were hundreds of young people (mainly in their 20s and 30s) with caravans, cars, motos, etc just hanging out, enjoying the day and 15:00.  There was also music and a snack bar. For three hours I stayed up there and enjoyed watching the cars as they zoomed, skidded, and flew on by. Unfortunately two cars went off the road - both were severely damaged and carted away by tow-trucks. To my knowledge, the driver's were not injured, however, one car did clip an onlooker who was taken away by ambulance. To be very honest, it surprises me how close people stand to the road - and the curves! - during this race. It really is foolish and quite dangerous. But, its all just for a thrill, right?! And who am I to tell people where they should or should not stand?

As is typical of Ubrique this year, it just wouldn't be right if it didn't rain.  And boy did it rain - and yes, there was a severe lack of things to hide under...  However, we all semi-managed to squeeze under the snack bar's tent.  But, with no end in sight, I decided just to go for it...turned my leather jacket inside out, and started the long treck back to Ubrique in the rain. No sooner did I arrive home, than the rain stopped, and the sun came out.  Talk about a crazy, typical spring day.

Now, its a little after 20:30 on Saturday, and people have already been partying all day. And...the party will continue all night...until the official race tomorrow morning at 9:00 am. Whether or not I will be partaking in this crazy tradition has yet to be decided...

* * * * * *
Este fin de semana fue el XV Subida Ubrique...una carrera de coches por 4,5 km por una estrecha y enrollada carretera de montaña que conecta Ubrique y Benaocaz. Es un acontecimiento bastante importante en Andalucia, y Ubrique está muy orgulloso patrocinarlo.

La carrera atrae un monton de personas a Ubrique - principalmente gente de los otros pueblos blancos, pero también de las provincias vecinas. Algúna gente se queda el fin de semana en uno de los dos hoteles en Ubrique, pero la mayoría de las personas encuentran un lugar en la montaña, echan una tienda o aparcan su caravana, y sacan la barbacoa y la cerveza. Es una vista guay de ver las montañas y las colinas cubiertos con personas - la mayoria quien realmente no parece tener interés en los coches ni la carrera, sino en la excusa de beber fuera en naturaleza en vez de en los bares. Y por supuesto, el entusiasmo de unos 20 coches que aceleran una montaña esta guay.

El año pasado fui a ver la carrera desde la primera curva (bastante cerca de la línea de comienza), pero decidí dirigir arriba un poco más alto este año. Así que, me quedé con algunos amigos y fuimos andando arduamente arriba la montaña a uno de las curvas más importantes y uno de los puntos mas populares para espectadores. Había cientos de jóvenes (principalmente en los 20s y 30s) con caravanas, coches, motos, etc ahi disfrutando del día y de fiesta...a las 15:00. Había también música y un bar con refrescos, cerveza, y bocadillos. Por tres horas estaba ahi disfrutando y mirando mientras los coches fueron zumbando, patinarando, y volando por la curva. Desafortunadamente dos coches se fueron el camino - fueron dañados severamente y fueron acarreados  por un "tow truck". A mi conocimiento, los conductores no fueron heridos, sin embargo un coche choque con un espectador, quien fue llevado por ambulancia. ¡Para ser muy honesta, me sorprende muchisimo donde se pone la gente - super cerca de la carretera, y siempre por las curvas. Es realmente insensato y bastante peligroso. Pero...quién soy yo para decir a las personas donde deben o no deben ponerse?

Como es típico de Ubrique este año, no tendría razón si no llovió. Y oju, como llovió hoy - y sí, había una falta severa de cosas de ocultar debajo... Sin embargo, todos nosotros medio-logró apretar bajo la tienda del bar. Pero, con ningún fin a la vista y como ya estaba media mojada, decidí irme. Puse mi chaqueta de piel de cabo a rabo, y comenzó el camino largo hacia Ubrique bajo la lluvia. No más pronto hizo llego en casa, que la lluvia paró, y el sol salió. Increible. Un día bastante loco y típico de primavera.

Ahora, es un poco después de 20:30 el sábado, y las personas ya han estado de fiesta todo el día. Y la fiesta continuará toda la noche hasta la carrera oficial mañana por la mañana a las 9:00. Si o no tomaré parte en esta tradición loca tiene para ser decidido todavía...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Semana Santa - Huelva (Days 8, 9, and 10)

On Friday, April 2nd I landed in Sevilla...back in my "homeland" of Andalucia :).  At the airport waiting for me were Nacho and Florian, two friends I met while walking the Camino de Santiago. Florian, from Berlin, had planned to visit Nacho in Tarragona over Easter, but Nacho surprised him with a trip south, to Huelva. Since Huelva is sort of in my neck of the woods, I decided to join them for a couple days.

We left Sevilla and an hour or so later, arrived in Huelva. Despite its proximity to Ubrique and the province of Cadiz, I had never visited I was pretty excited.  We arrived, went straight to meet Nacho's cousins, and then we all went out for lunch. And boy was it a grand lunch!  After traveling alone for a week, I had been saving money and buying most of my meals (aka sandwiches) from supermarkets. But not in Huelva. Nope. My first meal in Huelva was with six other people, and included about three or four courses of tapas, salads, main dishes, etc. After lunch, we briefly explored the capital city of Huelva and stopped for coffee and some of the best desserts in the world!  I tried about three or four different cakes and typical sweets, and loved every bite of every one!

The afternoon was pretty low key - we were all tired from traveling, dropped our bags off at our little cabin (that Nacho had rented for him and Florian) and just hung out for the rest of the afternoon. Around 20:00, we headed back into town to see some of the Holy Week processions.  After the processions, we grabbed a bite to eat, and of course, went out for a quick night cap. 

On Saturday, April 3, Florian, Nacho, Nacho's cousins (Sandra and Antonio) and I jumped in the car and headed for the mountains. We visited the historic RioTinto Mines, Aracena, and a few more charming mountain towns. We spent the afternoon town hopping - enjoying lunch in one, coffee and dessert in another, and the views of another. It was a very pleasant day to say the least!  When we got back to Huelva, we stopped off to visit the monument to Cristopher Columbus (or to Cristobal Colon as he is known here), explored the dock area, and headed back to Sandra and Antonio's flat to order Chinese food! After a delicious and incredibly cheap meal, we spent a couple hours just talking, exchanging travel stories and experiences and practicing a mixture of Spanish, English, and German! :)  

On Sunday, well, my adventures came to an end.  Florian, Nacho, Nacho's uncle, and I hopped in the car and headed for Ubrique. Once in Ubrique, I took everyone out for tapas and we enjoyed some typical andalucian/ubriqueno food. Then we went down the main Avenue, had a coffee, and explored Ubrique.  Unfortunately, since it was about 2 hours 30 minutes back to Huelva, around 18:30 I said my goodbye's to Nacho and Florian (two dear friends) and they went on their way. 

All in all, it was a fabulous Spring/Easter break. I've never been to so many places in so little time - nor have I ever truly travelled alone.  I've gone on various organized tours "alone", but that's not technically alone...since you are with a tour.  However, I am now more confident than ever that I can survive travelling on my own. Plus, I am now a true expert at public transportation (buses, trains, trams, metros, etc). :)  Look out world....I'm just starting!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Semana Santa - Majorca (Days 5, 6, and 7)

When I woke up Tuesday morning March 30th, packed my suitcase, and left my hostel in Bilbao, I was surprised to find that the good weather streak had come to an end. Instead of sunshine, it was now raining...but, I decided to tough it up, dug out my umbrella, and took off on the 30 minute walk to the Bilbao bus station where I planned to hop on a bus that would take me to the airport.  Yup, that's right; I was leaving the rain behind, and heading to sunny Palma de Mallorca (on the island of Majorca)!!

Once I had arrived in Palma de Mallorca, I was happy to see that it was indeed sunny (albeit extremely windy and a bit chilly for my liking). Nevertheless, I couldn't complain as I was thrilled to be on a lovely island in the Mediterranean!  From the airport I took about a 20 minute bus ride to the center of Palma. From there, I had to catch another bus to my hostel. After about 30 minutes or so on the bus, I realized and was slightly surprised to find that my hostel was located in a lovely (but pretty far away) district known as Cala Mayor.  I followed my printed out directions and got off at the correct stop. However, after wandering around for about 15 minutes and not finding the hostel, I decided to stop in a bar and ask for directions. So, I approached a man (who only had two people in his bar), and said "excuse me, can I ask you a quick question - I think I'm lost," to which the man replied, "no." I was slightly taken aback, and just said "uh..." and left. That was my first of many experiences with what I would consider to be very rude and unfriendly mallorquins. I was fortunate enough, however, to find someone else who was much friendlier and pointed me in the correct direction.  My hostel was lovely, and for the first time I had my own room and bath!  As usual, I dropped off my bags, freshened up a bit, and took off to explore Mallorca!

My first stop was the Castell de Bellver, a 14th century castle built for King James II of Aragon. Here is where I met my second not-so-friendly Mallorquin.  The price to enter the castle was 2,50 euros, and I had exactly 2,48 cents in change or a 50 euro bill. I asked the ticket seller if 2,48 cents would be okay...and he said "most certainly not." Then I said, "well, the only other thing I have is a 50 euro bill...and I've walked a long way to see this..." He then proceeded to snatch the 50 euros out of my hand...and give me my ticket.  Now, I'm a very honest person, and I always pay the correct price/fare/etc, but I really didn't see it as such a huge problem to allow me to pay 2,48 (afterall, most places have penny jars...).  Anyway, apparently the castle was used as a military prison during the 18th and 19th centuries, and is now one of the primary tourist attractions in Palma de Mallorca.  It is circular in nature, and probably one of the coolest, most unusual, and most well preserved castles that I have ever had the opportunity to visit.  After exploring the castle for a bit and admiring the stunning views it offered, I headed back towards my hostel.  Along the way, I decided to stop off at the beach, and just sat there for a couple hours watching the sun slowly sink below the horizon. 

On Wednesday, I woke up early, hopped on a bus to the center of Palma and immediately caught a vintage (albeit touristy) train to Soller, a small town on the other side of the island. I must say the train ride was nice, but to be honest I wasn't very impressed. Most of the time, the train was going through dark tunnels...and there wasn't much to see. However, it was a fun experience. Once in Soller, I took a few moments to look around, then took off walking the 4 km to the Port d'Soller.  Port d'Soller had beautiful views of the Mediterranean, and was a quaint little port town. 

I spent about an hour on promenade, then headed off to catch a bus to Deia, a neighbouring town nestled in the Serra de Tramuntana (Mountains of Tramuntana).  Once in Deia, I explored an old church and historic cemetary, then headed down a dirt trail that eventually led me to a beautiful, hidden cove along the beach.  Unfortunately, I only had a few minutes to enjoy the scenery, as I had to hurry back up the mountains and catch the next bus to Valldemossa, the next town.

I got on the bus to Valldemossa...and about 10 minutes later, it came to a stop at a slightly sketchy looking bus stop with a sign that read "Valldemossa."  I didn't see a town, but the stop clearly was marked Valldemossa, so I proceeded to ask the bus driver if this was the stop for Valldemossa.  I had just expected a "yes" or "no", but instead he responded "Where is Valldemossa?" I said, "well, I suppose this is it, isn't it?"  He said, "Where is Valldemossa?" Then I said, "I don't know - hence why I'm asking if this is the stop or not." To which he replied, "Do you see a town? Do you see Valldemossa?" I confusedly responded, "I see a few buildings, and for all I know, the town is down the hill and I can't see the rest of it."  Finally a lady in the front row spoke up and said "It's the next stop."  To which I said, "thank you very much" and sat back down.  I mean, was all that discourse really necessary???? All I wanted to know was if I should get off the bus, or stay on.  Apparently the bus driver was not in a good mood, but he should be happy because he wins the prize for being the third unfriendly person I met in just two days on the island.

Once I actually arrived in the town of Valldemossa, I ran and picked up a guide and started looking around. I only had 1 hour and 30 minutes before my bus came to take me back to Palma.  So, I went to the most important monument, the Real Cartuja de Valldemossa.  Originally a royal residence, the monastery was inhabited by Carthusian monks from 1399 to 1835!  However, it is probably most famous for housing Frederick Chopin (famous Polish pianist and composer) and George Sand (French writer) during the winter of 1838-39.  It was truly beautiful and was incredibly well decorated (with original artifacts).  Next to the monastery were some absolutely stunningly manicured gardens, and the Palacio del Rey Sancho.  I took thirty minutes to run through the Palace, which had been a home to many famous people including the Latin American poet and author Ruben Dario (who I have studied many times and really enjoy!). 

At 18:30, I hopped on my last bus for the day, and headed back to Palma de Mallorca.  Somehow I managed to find yet another unfriendly and extremely cranky bus driver who cussed out two passengers (they didn't understand, but I sure did) and almost killed a pedestrian by accelerating on purpose (and saying, in Spanish of course "take that and shove it up your @$$").  I am not sure how, but I managed to make it back to Palma in one piece...and I took off on the 90 minute walk back to my hostel.  All in all, it had been a very busy day and I was ready to just chill out and do a few sudoku's in my room. 

Thursday I had planned to explore the city of Palma..., however ended up spending most of the day on the beach. I left my hostel around 9:00 and walked along the coast and peninsula in an attempt to visit the naval museum. However, when I got there, it was closed...despite the fact that it's timetable said it should be opened. Since it is connected to the naval base, I proceeded to the guard's hut and asked one of the guards if it was a holiday (that was the only reason I could think it would be closed). He said he didn't think so, but that it was quite possible. Well, I took that to mean, "yes."  So I went on my way, slightly bummed I wouldn't have the opportunity to visit the base or museum.  When I finally arrived in Palma, I headed over to the famous cathedral.  I couldn't quite figure out where the entrance was, and I saw people lined up to enter the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, so I joined in the line. When I bought my ticket to enter the palace, I asked where I should buy the ticket for the cathedral. The attendee then proceeded to inform me that it was a holiday and the cathedral was closed.  Fantastic. My last day in Palma, and I wasn't able to visit the famous cathedral.  I was once again, bummed, to say the least.  However, I took my time exploring the Palace of Almudaina, which was actually quite impressive...then spent a few hours exploring central Palma.  However, there really was not much to see, so I headed back to my hostel, put on my bathing suit, and went out to enjoy the last few hours of sun.  I at least had a relaxing afternoon, so again, really cannot complain!

On Friday morning, I had set my alarm to go off at 5:40 am in order to catch a bus at 6:30 am.  My alarm did indeed go off...but I for some reason turned it off...and continued sleeping.  At exactly 6:40 am I woke up, looked at the clock, and screamed...well, I won't tell you what I yelled.  I had missed the bus, and now was thinking I would miss my plane. I have never dressed so quickly in my life.  I didn't do my hair, I didn't put on makeup, I just dressed, grabbed my suitcase, and went running (literally) out of my hostel and down the street.  I anxiously waited for the bus, which luckily came only a few minutes after I got to the bus stop.  It was only 7:15 am, but I was still worried because I had to transfer buses and get to the airport no later than 8:15 (and that was really pushing it as it was). However, no sooner had I gotten off the first bus, than the next bus pulled right up.  It was truly my lucky day! I arrived at the airport with a few minutes to spare, ran to the restroom, put my face on and fixed my hair, and headed to catch my flight to Sevilla. Whew, what a whirlwind of a morning.

Semana Santa - Bilbao and Vitoria (Days 3 and 4)

Sunday morning, March 28th, I woke up bright and early and caught the first train from San Sebastian-Donostia to Bilbao. With the daylight savings time change, I was slightly worried about missing the train or oversleeping, but in the end, everything worked out perfectly and I was quite content to be on my way to Bilbao (albeit a bit more tired than normal).

I arrived in Bilbao shortly after 11:30. I quickly made my way to Bilbao Akelarre Youth Hostal, and although I couldn’t check in yet, dropped my bag off. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the reception and saw a clean, cozy, and lively reception, kitchen area, and lounge full of people taking advantage of the free breakfast, internet, and tv! Needless to say, it was quite a change from the filthy hostel I had stayed in for two nights in San Sebastian. I picked up a map, got directions to the Guggenheim, and immediately started exploring. When you are only in a city for a day or two, you cannot afford to waste a second!

The Guggenheim museum was a pleasant twenty-minute walk along the river. It was so exciting to see for the first time in real life! Since I’ve lived in Spain, it has been a very familiar image; it appears frequently on post cards, in calendars, and coffee table books. To finally see it in person was wonderful! While I did pay the 13 euros to go in, pick up one of those nerdy audio guides, and spend a good two or three hours contemplating and exploring the impressionist and modern art exhibits of Robert Rauschenberg, Anish Kapoor, Henri Rousseau, among others, the most impressive work of art was indeed the museum itself.

After the Guggenheim, I took the rest of the afternoon to explore the historic district of Bilbao. I passed through various parks full of colorful flowers, trees in bloom, and fountains with sparkling water; walked down the main avenue full of shops, cafes, and bars; and snapped photos of important churches, statues, town halls, and government buildings. I wandered through the narrow streets of old town, treated myself to a hot chocolate and my new favorite “pastel de arroz” pastry, and enjoyed a lovely afternoon.

When I got back to the Hostel, I moved into my room, and then went out to the lounge to watch some TV. I met some fellow travelers, from England, Ireland, Austria, Germany, and the US. One of them, Marco, had actually been living in the hostel for a few months, and invited us to watch Inglorious Bastards. His version was in German, but we managed to change it back to English and put German subtitles haha.

The next morning, Monday the 29th, I hopped on a bus to Vitoria. Since I had already visited the capital cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao, I figured I should visit Vitoria, the third capital of Pais Vasco. It was a beautiful city with a world famous medieval district and various stunning cathedrals. I enjoyed it very much, had the opportunity to talk to a few of the locals, and spent a good couple of hours in the main square before heading back to Bilbao. To top off my visit to Bilbao, I met up with a few of the other travelers from my hostel for some pintxos and drinks. After a fun evening, exchanging names, numbers, and addresses, we headed back to the hostel to catch some zzz’s.

Semana Santa - San Sebastian (Day 1 and 2)

Since my time in Spain is quickly winding down, I decided to take advantage of our 10-day Easter vacation to travel and see some parts of Spain that I had not previously seen. So, on Friday, March 26th at 6:00 am I caught a bus from Ubrique to Sevilla, flew from Sevilla to Bilbao (Pais Vasco), and then caught another bus to the beautiful city of San Sebastian (Pais Vasco). I arrived in San Sebastian around 16:30, checked into and dropped off my suitcase at my hostal (which left a lot to be desired - it was absolutely filthy and run by a very unusual/crazy lady), and took off exploring.

My first stop was the tourist office, which was conveniently located 5 minutes from my hostel. I stopped in, asked a few questions, then picked up a map and a "walking tour" guide, and began exploring Old town and Mount Urgull. I passed by "La Bretxa" Market, appropriately named (The Breach) for being the spot where Wellington's English troops penetrated the city during the siege of 1813. From there, I wandered along the narrow enchanted streets, passing tons of local bars, shops, and bakeries until I came to Constitution Sqaure in the heart of Old Town. It is a beautiful square surrounded on all four sides by residential buildings with numbers painted onto every balcony (as a reminder that it was once a bullring). After taking a few pictures, I walked down one of the most famous streets in San Sebastian - Calle 31 de Agosto - the only street in the city that remained standing after it was burnt down in 1813. At the end of Calle 31 de Agosto there is a lovely little plaza and the San Vicente Church (built at the beginning of the 16th century). After admiring the beautiful and oldest church in San Sebastian, I continued on my "tour" and ended up at the Basilica of Santa Maria. Both churches were absolutely stunning, and in the basilica, I had the fortune of entering while the orchestra and choir were rehearsing for Semana Santa services. Quite inspiring.

I left the basillica and meandered to the end of town where there is a steep staircase that leads to the Paseo de los Curas (The Priests' Promenade), where in past centuries the priests of San Sebastian went for a stroll. The route takes you up on a hill (Mount Urgull) that offers a beautiful view of all of San Sebastian. At the top of Mount Urgull is La Mota Castle, a castle dating back to the 12th century. Behind the castle, stands the Sacred Heart monument, a tall statue of Christ with a small chapel overlooking the bay. After spending a couple hours exploring Mount Urgull, I headed back to Old Town.

The narrow streets of Old Town San Sebastian had become full of life. It was about 19:30, or "snack time" for the Spanish. So, I decided to stop in a typical bar and try some "pintxos" (small samples of food, like tapas, typical of Pais Vasco). On my way home, I passed a bakery, and decided to go in and check it out. From living in Granada and Ubrique, I know that each town/region of Spain has typical pastries/sweets, especially around Easter. In Ubrique, we have the "ganote", so I decided to ask what a typical pastry from San Sebastian was, and of course, decided to try it. I got a "pastel de arroz," which is like a little pie (1 inch in diameter) filled with a special cream and sometimes topped with cinnamon, and it was probably the worst thing I could have done. I fell in love with it - and probably bought two "pastel de arroz" a day! :) But hey, I was on vacation!

After my scrumptious dessert, I went back to the hostel, and met my roommates. I was in a room with two Australians who were travelling around Europe for 6 months, and two young American girls who were studying abroad in France. We were all pretty tired from our travels, so we made it an early night.

On Saturday morning, I woke up, grabbed a bit of cereal for breakfast, and went out to explore the rest of San Sebastian. I walked the other two suggested "walking-tour" routes. First I walked through what is known as the romantique area that separates the old town from the new pedestrian district. I passed by the famous Bandstand, Town Hall, the gardens of Alderdi Eder, Gipuzkoa Square, the famous Victoria Eguenia Theater and the huge 5-star Mari Cristina Hotel which has housed celebrities ranging from Mata Hari to John Malkovich... As I continued my tour, I crossed the Santa Catalina Bridge (the oldest bridge in the city). I eventually came to the beautiful neo-gothic style Cathedral of El Buen Pastor. From there, I headed back towards Old Town, and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon walking along the promenade overlooking the famous La Concha beach.

San Sebastian is a beautiful city that, like most of Spain, succeeds in mixing history with modernity. Aside from the rotten hostel, I couldn't have asked for a lovelier two days in San Sebastian! Great sights, pretty good weather, and pleasant people!