NauNo Recap: Trip to Spain and France- Part One

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." //Saint Augustine

This past November I was given the trip of a lifetime. The photographer I work for's son was in his senior year of college and was doing a semester abroad in San Sebastian, Spain. I was invited to go along with them on their trip to visit him over Thanksgiving break- all expenses paid. There is nothing I can ever say or do to be able to repay them for taking me on the trip. I got to see and experience things I didn't think I would be able to do for quite some time, if ever. Being in my mid twenties with a mountainous amount of college loan debt, there was no way I would be able to take a trip like that any time soon. They are truly like family to me and have done SO much for me over the years I can't even begin to tell you. Some of the nicest and most giving and caring people I have ever met in my life. 

I was a little worried at first because I had never been abroad before and after seeing movies like Taken and Hostel, I have to admit I was kind of anxious and scared. I took Spanish all throughout high school and into college and initially I wanted to double major in Art History and Spanish, but somehow that turned into accounting? Still not quite sure how... But I was somewhat comfortable reading Spanish and recognizing words/phrases, yet in terms of speaking it and having conversations I knew I was way off. I just wasn't sure how much the language barrier was going to effect me and how "safe" I needed to be in terms of walking around by myself or having my belongings/purse/camera out with me in public. Over the past couple of years I have followed several bloggers such as 'Marshalls Abroad', 'La Mia Vita' and 'Explore. Dream. Discover', all of which are ladies about my age who were living abroad and sharing their journeys over the internet. Nicole from 'La Mia Vita' in particular was living abroad in Spain while finishing her teaching degree and I had remembered seeing her post one time about a trip to San Sebastian, and how it was her absolute favorite place she had been thus far in Europe. I know it sounds ignorant, but to be honest I had never even HEARD of San Sebastian before this trip. The entire Basque region actually I really had no clue about. The northern portion of Spain and the South West portion of France actually refer to themselves as "Basque Country", and they have an amazing history and to this day still almost consider themselves a separate country. Yes, Spanish is spoken in Spain and French is spoken in France, but in the Basque country they ALL also speak and PREFER to speak Basque. Kids start off in Kindergarten learning Spanish, Basque, and sometimes English or French as well. So here I was thinking I was going to be greeted with "Hola", but instead I was hearing "Agur". You also might think that the Basque language might be similar to Spanish or French, but it is COMPLETELY different. For example, "take me to the beach" translates to "hartu dit hondartzara" and "how are you" is "zer moduz".... nothing like Spanish. So there was a definite language barrier but it was actually not difficult at all to communicate. I was so surprised and proud of myself for how well I did with my Spanish. If you have no choice but to speak the language it really helps you just figure it out. So much of my Spanish came back to me and I was able to form sentences, order food, make purchases, ask for things, take public transportation and so on. I could see after being there for a year or so how someone could become fluent. Anyways, Nicole had posted a time or two about San Sebastian and so I sent her an email about a month before I left asking her some questions and she graciously sent me a really nice response and also attached two detailed word documents both about San Sebastian and about traveling in Spain in general. It was so nice of her to offer up that information and it really helped put me at ease a bit about what to expect. I ended up feeling more safe and comfortable walking around in Spain than I have ever felt!

The Spanish culture is SO different from America. We often say in the US "All work no play", in Spain it is pretty much the opposite. Our cab driver even said that all they want to do is play! They still work, but the emphasis on work and work life balance is so much different than that of the US. The schedule and hours and timeline of the day are so far from what we do here in the US. A typical day in San Seb would be to wake up and have breakfast, which is usually more like lunch and involves coffee, bread, tomatoes, olive oil, etc. They don't really eat american breakfast with eggs or bacon or cereal. Then they would go to work for a bit, or if they don't work they go to the markets and do their shopping for the day/week and walk around town. And then, anywhere between 3 and 7, they have Siesta. Everything shuts down. EVERYTHING. SHUTS. DOWN. You need to pick up your medicine? Too bad come back later. You didn't make it to market in time to pick up food for dinner? Oh well. Absolutely nothing is open. The siesta tradition is such a huge part of the Spanish culture but I honestly can't figure out how their economy can survive in such a way. And we heard from a lot of people there that their parliament wants to do away with the siesta but that the people will never go for it. After you come out of your 3-4 hour nap/hibernation, EVERYONE comes out of their houses and heads to the Spanish version of "Happy Hour." Most of the rest of Spain calls them 'Tapas', but in San Sebastian they are unique and more particular, and are referred to as "Pinxtos" (pronounced pin-cho's). All the bars and restaurant put out plates and trays of the most amazingly delicious and beautiful finger food you could ever imagine, and most of it is free! You usually would just have to buy a beer or wine and then the food was free! I couldn't believe it. Even the fancier places with really high end pinxtos would only be around 1 euro each. One or two nights of the week they also have "Pinxto-Pote" which means you get a pinxto and a drink for 1 euro. Every single person goes out, every night, for pinxtos and drinks. Imagine going to happy hour every single day in the US.... I'd be broke by next Friday! They then head to dinner, usually between 10 and 11pm at night! They eat SO late! This was actually easy for me because Spain was 6 hours ahead, so staying up late was a lot easier than getting up in the morning. Having dinner at 10 or 11 was really like having dinner at 4 or 5 at home. They eat a lot of ham in most of their meals, but really good prosciutto type ham that melted in your mouth. Wine or cider was always served with dinner and it would only be 10euro or less for the bottle- no where we ate served by the glass no matter what you order they bring you a bottle, fine by me!

I can't even begin to describe the food in San-seb. They have the highest concentration of Michelin star restaurants in the world. More than Paris. It is the food capital/mecca, and foodies from all around the globe travel to San-seb each year to feast at all the different eateries. I refer to everything I ate before going there as "Pre san-seb" and everything I have eaten since I've been home is "post San-seb", as there truly is no comparison. We don't eat real food here. We eat crap, processed crap. Even buying organic and grass fed and gluten free pales in comparison to the quality of the food in that region. It actually made me sick to think of what I had been eating my whole life versus what they eat there. I felt so clean and healthy when I came home!

I could go on and on about the trip but I'm sure by now you are getting bored and just want to see pictures. Everything was beautiful there. Can't tell you how many times I got tears in my eyes, and those of you who know me know I am NOT a very sensitive/feelings oriented type of person. The architecture, the views and vistas around ever corner, the art, the fashion, the people. Everything was beautiful. I kid you not I was there for eight days and did not see ONE overweight person- not one! Everyone walks everywhere and is so friendly. I never knew what other people meant when they went abroad and said "the people are so friendly", but I truly do now. They are so nice, outgoing, patient, willing to help or guide and just have such calm demeanors. They take SO much pride in how they look as well. Whether they were going out to a 5 star restaurant or just going to the corner to pick up a pack of toilet paper they were decked out to the nines. Thigh-high leather boots, fur coats upon fur coats, hats, fabulous hand bags and more. I brought the "best of the best" of my wardrobe and still felt like a peasant!

Here is a little outline of my trip and where we were each day:

Day 1- Landed in Madrid,Spain and then five hour drive to San-Sebastian
Day 2- San Sebastian, Spain
Day 3- San Sebastian, Spain
Day 4- Day trip to Biarritz, France and back to San Sebastian for Thanksgiving Dinner
Day 5- Day trip to Pamplona, Spain 
Day 6- Day trip to Bilbao, Spain
Day 7- Drive back to Madrid in the morning, spend day in Madrid, Spain
Day 8- Breakfast in Madrid and the off to the airport!

Here are some photos from each day of the trip, some are taken with just the iPhone but most are with the Nikon D300 I brought:

Day 1 (these are all on the iPhone because I was a ZOMBIE after 24 hours of travel)

FIRST STAMP IN THE PASSORT! Officially a world traveler.

First sight of the Spanish flag- welcome to Madrid!

Not within 5 minutes of the drive there was a rainbow, and there was about 6 more along the way to San Sebastian. Surely a sign of good things to come!

Driving through the mountains 5 hours to San-sebastian... so beautiful!

Finally in San-seb! View from the balcony of our apartment looking straight out.

 View from the balcony looking right- the ocean!

After a few hours of siesta trying to catch up on sleep and jet-lag, we ventured out for Pinxtos.

Um yeah so like I said... AMAZING FOOD. All for the taking, with my 2euro Cana (beer).

Some of the amazing Pinxtos on night 1

Beautiful church at night on our walk to dinner!

Then we went to an amazing dinner at around 10pm, which is usual dinner time in Spain, we were actually one of the first groups in the restaurant! When we left around 11:30 it had just fully filled up! When you order they just ask if you want red or white or sidre (cider).. and then whatever you say, you get a BOTTLE of it. Like a whole bottle!!! A WHOLE BOTTLE!!

That was the end of our first night in Spain and my first night in Europe! I am just realizing now how many pictures I have and want to share, so I think I am actually going to break this Spain post up into several posts so that it is not one giant long post. I'll stick to day one and two for now and then I will follow up with the rest of the trip.

Day 2

Larry gave me 100euros for Hannukah (I'm not even Jewish). My first euros! And again, the nicest people ever!

Our apartment did have a washer and dryer but it is really rare to have them in San-seb. They conserve electricity as much as they can so lights are always off and clothes are hung to dry in between the buildings or walls of the apartments.

Beautiful San Sebastian! It was nearly impossible to take a bad picture here... everything was so clean and colorful.

My Pam! Mentor, teacher, boss, Mom and one of my best friends.

THE CHOCOLATE! So good. The bakeries were out of this world! I've never eaten so much bread in my life, but I wasn't complaining.

I loved all the close-lined streets and alleyways. Built for walking only, no cars. Really encourages people to get out and walk and be around each other.

So many amazing churches! I wish I remembered the names of all of them. The architecture is amazing.  I used to know all of the names of the styles when I was taking art history class but they are now long forgotten.

Little Ash, big door. Sounds like a TLC series.

Cows used to be my favorite animal. This one was pretty schweet.

The fishing marina and pier was to die for! So colorful and cute and amazing to see how so many of the people here make their living from fishing. A lot of the food at the restaurants serve what was caught and brought in that very same day. I love fishing and appreciate all the hard work that goes into it.

I want to make a print out of this picture- I love it!

Another gorgeous church!

The view from our balcony at dusk..... No words! One of those tears-in-my-eyes-pinch-me moments!

More wine!!! I was not complaining! By far the best wines I have ever drank, and they were all so inexpensive. Just a few euros for amazing bottles. The grocery market Lidl literally had a bottle of wine for 1.75euro, and it was so good!  We were right outside the Rioja region, and drove through it on our way to Pamplona, I'd love to go back and do a wine tour of the countryside.

Cider is also very popular in the San-seb area. They had really cool cider houses all over, and the way they pour it was so interesting, the further they held it from the glass the better in order to let air into it and have it bubble. Some of the waiters could hold the bottle 5-6 feet from your glass and still pour it in perfectly.

The food speaks for itself. I don't remember all the names of the dishes but lots of seafood and meat.

Sorry if this picture is a little gross but I just wanted to show everyone what is considered MEDIUM in Spain. I had originally ordered medium-rare, which in the US means maybe you'll get a hint of pink. Then I saw the couple next to us had gotten the steak and it was almost blue- I asked how they had requested it and they said medium! I quickly got the waiters attention and changed my order to medium because I was afraid I would be served raw meat. However, after the fact I wish I would have gone out of my comfort zone and stayed medium rare because it was by far the best piece of meat I have ever eaten- literally melted in your mouth!

My first Spanish outfit for the night out! I had gone shopping earlier that day to an awesome Spanish store called Pull & Bear. It was great to shop at and support a Spanish born retailer. Great clothes and great prices, I loved the style!

Thanks so much for reading- I know this was a long post! I hope you'll stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 and the rest of my Spanish adventure.

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