Forgive me for posting this one first, since was in fact my last of European adventure-tours, but it is here I shall begin, my tales from the Spain tour – classic whirlwind traveling:
- June 30- Barcelona (2 nights)
- July 2- Valencia (2)
- July 4- San Sebastian (2)
- July 6- Pamplona
- July 8- Fly to back to U.S.A.
Barcelona: Ideal Youth Hostel, Cost: E22/person/night (2 nights, 7 people dorm)
This hostel frustrated me with its slow check in and out procedures and triple key card swipes to get in, with a malfunctioning card for about 20% of the time. It had your standard bunkbed dorms, though I never have really been a fan of the 10 person set up- it’s a little crowded. Bathroom was decent, nothing special. Free breakfast included nasty push-button coffee, a cup of OJ or apple juice, and a plate of toast/crackers, prepackaged mini muffin, and jelly. They have a nice little hang out zone with cheap drinks. The wifi didn’t work and the staff were unhelpful. Its in a good location, though, right out of a metra stop and on one of the main streets, a couple blocks down from the St. Joseph Mercato.
Valencia: Home Backpackers, Cost: E20/Saturday night; E18/Sunday night (2 nights, 7 people dorm)
About 15 minutes hike slightly uphill from Estation del Nord, this hostel was truly a home for the backpackers. Hitting it up in early July, there were plenty of collage age vacationers. It had a standard bathroom and bunk bed set up with a very nice, upstairs kitchen with dishes and cookware for use open from 8am-mindnight for use. The cool thing about this hostel (which unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of) was its pub crawl and tapa hopping options. One, for E16, got you a night of free drinks, free tapas, and a show of the traditional dance with costume: Flamenco. I liked how it was in heart of the Mercatos (markets) and restaurants, pretty much at the heart of the city. Unfortunately, as they say, Valencia is a coastal Spanish city with “its back to the ocean,” therefore this city center it’s about 9k from the beach.
San Sebastian: Old City Luca, Cost: E35/night (2 nights, 4 people checked in sneaking in 3 people)
AWESOME location, but the sneaking was tricky.
Pamplona: Residencia de Estudiantes Los Abedules, Cost: E88(1 night, 2 people to a room with shower/bath)
This Place was pretty fancy compared to other places we stayed which is expected since it was an actual hotel, not a hostel and considering what we paid! With google instructions, it was still incredibly hard to find. From the room facing the city, we could see the awesome festival fireworks the San Fermin festival like it was in our backyard, and the window had no screen
Oh it is quite the flexing of the hippocampus, the memory portion of the brain, to recount my ventures in Spain, as it is currently 3 months AFTER said occurrence, but O I shall try, as preservation of that glorious experience is of utmost importance!
Our first destination: Barcelona! We had been warned of the pickpockets and mugging rates of the city from fellow exchange students and so it shouldn’t have been a shock to find my rear backpack pocket hanging open, unzipped when we arrived at our hostel, called the Ideal Youth Hostel. I was very glad that it occurred to me just before departing our train, to move my wallet over to the backmost compartment.
It took us a full day of travel time to train ride all the way from Konstanz, so that night we were rather limited in activities. I recall checking in, hiking about a bit to look for some tapas, and I believe we may have explored for an hour or so before returning to shower and sleep.
That morning, I awoke before everyone and took an exploratory trip about the town. I had one thing in mind that I really wished to find, and miraculously stumbled upon it after hiking about 3 blocks north on that main street, Las Ramblas: The Mercat St. Josep la Boqueri!
My excitement only grew as turned the corner to delve into this vast market of brightly colored exotic produce, fresh fish, fruit juices, and cafes filled with tapas, pastries, and finally the gloriously delicious, filling, and veggieful tortillas. I sat at the café and chatted with a couple of British tourists as I ate my eggplant tortilla, an egg dish resembling a pie standing about 2 inches tall and 4 inches in radius, accompanied by 4 crispy golden baguette slices, drizzled in a red sauce. MMmmmm!
Though, at this point, I wasn’t even close to hungry, I gave in and purchased an indulgent s pastry, called Xuixo, which was a sugar coated fried piece of dough with a dollop of custard like cream in the center. It melted in my mouth and was o so good but o so rich! Knowing Stacy would love one such delicacy, I saved what little I could refrain from finishing to give her to taste. Needless to say I was stuffed.
When I got back to the hostel, the rest of the group was mid-morning preparations: showering, dressing, and eating the hostels’ strange cracker/biscuit, muffin, and coffee breakfast. We went as a group to explore one of the cities’ greatest architectural landmarks: the Gaudi Cathedral. It was unlike any cathedral I’ve visited thus far in my European travels. Gaudi, as today’s definition of the term “gaudy” is to mean showy, obnoxious, or overdone and unusual, created a temple inspired by the geometries found in nature, a temple who’s great arching columns shaped like the trunk of a tree from the Redwood forest, crowned with great ellipsoids belittle and enchant you, the visitor from afar. Many of Gaudi’s works adorn the city.
Ben and I, however we more interested in taking a random hike around the city, and so ended up splitting from the group after Stacy and I took an elevator ride to tour the upper region of the temple. The tour was nice; we were able to see out beyond the edge of the city to the open Sea! It was a little unfortunate, however, that the wait to ride this elevator was about two hours and then when we went up we found that, depending on the elevator one chooses, the tour only allows a visit of one portion of the upper levels of the cathedral (we picked the South).
Ben and I returned to that awesome market: I wasn’t terribly hungry but really wanted him to experience the awesomeness of this place, as he was searching for food and it was all I could do to recommend this place. We purchased some awesome tapas: one was fried, battered ball of spinach. The tortillas were all gone, so Ben and I ended up sipping la refreshing serveza at one of the fish restaurants, and he ordered a plate of baby clams and fried peppers which I tried to just take a few bites of, but ended up eating about half of!
By the time we were done at the market, the day was already beginning to fade. It had been a smoldering, humid, hot climate since our arrival, so with what time we had left of the sweltering rays of sunshine, we set out towards the beach. It took quite a while to hike there because somehow we lost our place on the map and ended up hiking to the marina, full of ships and docks, and a floating mall. When we finally put our towels down, after encountering far more naked people than I could ever imagine or wish upon anyone, we hopped in a couple times, taking turns sitting with our bags and frolicking in the ocean, till the end when we both just abandoned our belongings and hopped in together. The waves were rather calm, and the water was fantastic. As the day was losing its heat intensity and was still very humid, I wanted to start drying out fairly soon. We hiked down the beach hoping to find the others and sat together for a bit on the edge of a pier on some giant rocks, watching the waves crashing against their edge and bracing ourselves against the cool wind.
A little boy and girl came out after us, holding hands and acting o so poetic together. They climbed over our rock to get to a neighboring one, and asked Ben to snap their picture. I looked on at them in wonder, ah puppy love…
After a bit, we started to walk back towards the station only to run into Derek and Nicole. It was funny to see them, but as we wished to see the Magic Fountain, we soon resumed our separate ways. The magic fountain, which we took the Metra too, was awe inspiring. I had Goosebumps during the first two pieces, and when the Disney one came on, I actually stood there and cried.
That night we enjoyed some more tapas- mostly sea food inspired, and a cup of mint + dark chocolate gelato!
We went to the market one last time before heading out to the next city: had to buy that amazing tortilla again: I bought the zucchini one that time, but ended up switching with Ben halfway thru because, not sure if it was from the memory of yesterday, but I just liked that eggplant one just a little bit better…
We arrived in Valencia late in the day, due to an excessively long wait at the train station having missed the 10 am train only to find the following 4 trains booked: we arrived just before sunset, hiked a long mile or so uphill lugging everything with stooped, weary shoulders and backs. At our hostel, Backpacker’s Hostel, in the Placa del Music Lopez-Chavarri, we all unwound, I recall flopping out on a bed letting the window fan blast the cooler outside air over my sweat soaked body, horizontal on the top bunk of that small 3rd or 4th floor orange and yellow-painted room.
The day was waning, and by the time we mustered enough motivation, it was well past dark, but the city was hopping. We hobbled out on the cobbled streets finding for ourselves some more cultural experiences: super sweet wine with Fanta, fruit, and a couple dozen scoops of sugar, called Valencia water and gazpacho, apparently a popular dish I had never before heard of-which is like a veggie/tomato pureed soup served cold. Then, later in the streets, at a jewelry artist’s stand, I found a pretty pearl bracelet for Mary. In the communal bath rooms that evening, I got to talk a bit with girls at the hostel. In the morning I was joined by Ben for a breakfast venture- at a café called El Parisian (ha, and while we’re in Spain, I know, but the huge market down the street from our hostel was closed). I ate at half the curry chicken sandwich, Panini de Pollo al Curry, saving half for lunch, thank goodness I didn’t get food poison…and had cappuccino with chocolate pastry. Another light, delicate breakfast! Ha ha ha… We met briefly with the group back at the hostel and split off from them to take a little architectural-tour walk through the park-strip heading east toward the beach.
It was a long walk, and we encountered many awesome statues and artsy architecture: a huge fountain spraying in coordination with some classical music (the music with waterworks must be a popular form of entertainment in Spain…), a larger than life sized pirate-playground, and the gigantic aquatic inspired series of buildings and pools, totally breath taking, and a huge fun dog park, which despite the overcast and sprinkling weather, was full of occupants, all joyfully frolicking about in the wondrous playland. There were several stands selling this weird drink, called Xufa Fruit juice, made from a strange, dried up beige berry which they had on display. I think it was supposed to be some kind of health food promotion, however it tasted very sugary.
When we finally made it to the beach, I passed the time by transforming into a mermaid and swam forever, riding waves in the stormy weather water was really warm. Full of energy, I went for a seaside run. Washed up and salty, I turned to the markets lining the beach and shopped around a bit. I purchased for myself some bone earrings while doing so, I lost everyone Ben and I had caught up with. Fortunately, I found them, we took a photo together after waiting for the African woman to finish cornrowing half my hair- which is apparently an illegal trade-as she hid her tools and walked away very quickly when the police strolled by…she returned immediately and finished with wicked speed. We took train back to the hostel, stopping at the yogurtlandia that night for an evening snack.
We had an early departure in the morning, stopping for breakfast this time at the market, called Juguetes Tradicionales, reminiscently grand, like the Marcado in Barcelona, in a different and slightly lesser manor. Stacy purchased an AMAZING chocolate pastry and so awesomely shared it with me (!) … was sooo good, I bought apples in light of the incredibly large amount of food I had been eating and purchased a Kafe de Leche- creamy but SOoo good.
…Train to San Sebastian, a looooong journey.
In San Sebastian, the beautiful beach city on the north coast of Spain, we luggage rolled our way to the hostel. We had to do a bit of juggling when the hostel owners finally showed up for us to check in, as we had to hide the fact that we had 7 people checking into a 4 person room. It was another LONG day of travels, at the end of which, we could found our tired selves able to find little to do which we all could agree on. We went to the brick-walled coast to sit and watch the amazing orange and pink sunset. It was by the recommendation of a friend of mine at work which brought us to this place, and his selling point was the glorious way in which, from this point, one could observe both the sunrise and sun set.
We walked around a bit in hopes of finding a good place to dance or eat gelato. We got the gelato, but the dancing seemed in short supply, though there appeared to be many young people dressed up and wandering out and about. As we were tired, we gave up on the dancing endeavor, but ended up bar hopping, tasting a variety of drinks and tappas of the area. We socialized a bit with others, finding a large number of Australians (or Ausies, the nickname, which at this point I’m unsure as to its association with some kind of negative or rather fond connotations…) touring about among us. One young man I conversed with shared with me his rather fascinating endeavor to become an underwater welder in New Zeeland. When the others wanted to retire for the night, Ben and I continued on, starting out a fun looking bar with Stella beers and Mojitos out for a good price. We weren’t too far from our hostel, the Old City-Luca on Fermin Calbeton (no11). We danced until the bar closed- which was at a very early time- 1 or 2 am.
That was when we parted from the rest, Ben and I. We trounced around silly in the streets, stopping to stare in wonder at a very skilled flame throwing artist. Next we danced for a bit at another bar that was similarly closing very early in the night. We hiked over to the beach and found a spot on the wall to sit and huddle out till about 6 am, when we saw the morning sun’s ascent into the sky break over the peninsula’s mountainous edge. Despite having huddled, I froze to death and caught a cold.
After tying to recover from the night’s brain-missing activities, curled up in a ball for a few hours in the hostel beds, Ben and I set out for the beach. Sitting in the warm sand, under the clear beach sun, we feasted on delicious sandwiches of olive paste with fat slices of fresh juicy tomato and creamy rich bre on the best ciabatta bread I’ve ever had.
The waves on this beach were amazing! Stacy, Ben and I all became wanna-be surfers (with, by the way, the real surfers at work within sight, at none too far a distance) and curled up in the crazy strong and gigantic waves of crystal clear blue ocean. Chasing the larger than life-sized waves around till my knees were weak and my bathing suit was full of sand and sea weed, I tossed my corn-rowed hair about in the spay of the salty sea water, letting the joy of free flying through the water like a fish fill and sweep me away! Unlike Valencia, the water was very cold, and I couldn’t last nearly as long, but I sure did enjoy the ride while it lasted!
We spent long hours of frolicking in the sun. Later that night, Ben, Nicole, Derek, Stacy, and I found ourselves back at the bar at which Ben and I had started our previous evening’s adventure, dancing with a really fun crowd: we were drinking mojito and sangria, singing, and wearing cowboy hats which came free with the fun.
There was one more adventure to be had: Pamplona. We arrived just as the opening ceremony was erupting in the main square. Due to some poor route planning, it took us a far longer than expected amount of time to get from the train station to our VERY overpriced hotel (those bus lines and google map instructions are tricky!) and it was from our hotel lobby, that we saw and heard that outrageous commencement “ceremony” of the Sangria soaked and saturated crazy crowds firing up what was the start of a 9-day long party, aka the San Fermin festival: drinking and splashing around in Sangria coupled with running with the Toros, insanely huge and scary bulls. We joined in the festivities as soon as we could, missing out on very little, I believe, besides the opportunity to get forcibly totally hosed down with Sangria…we were able to observe, as one could observe all week long, the drunks: totally unharnessed, mobs of crazies filing their way up and down the streets.
We appeared at the event as, likely, the only ones not dressed in white with red, but left that evening each (except for Ben) decked out in the Pamplona festive attire, complete with Sangria stains.
Stacy, Ericka, and I, the only sober ones, became continually less amused as the afternoon progress into evening progressed into chaos and as our own group members gravitated towards the mob’s state of mind. Ben and Derek actually gave each other black eyes and at one point we lost Derek and when we did finally find him, Nicole broke out in tears. But despite all this, I was able to shop around in the fancy markets and took fun pictures. It was a beautiful day, and there was delicious food to try. I found a wooden earing that I liked a lot and purchased my red Pamplona sash. By the end of the night, we had totally lost Derek and Andy. Ericka and Nicole resolved to search the city for them meanwhile Stacy and I returned to the hotel to rest before the morning’s event: Day 1 of running with the bulls.
Though the Bull Run starts at 8 am sharp each morning of the festival, to participate, or even to observe, you have to get there at least an hour in advanced. I believe we left around 5 in the morning. I was in the unfortunate situation of having the need to poop TERRIBLY bad for the entire hour before the run. Derek, Andy, and I, the only ones crazy enough to partake in this unique cultural event, passed the time in contemplative and philosophical conversation as we stood in the Town Hall Square, about a third of the way down the road from the gates of the bull coral. The run is only about a half a mile long, and lasts only approximately 4 minutes, the bulls run so fast. There are six steers: total fierce, man eating, large, and fast. At the end of the route there is an arena which the runners and the bulls together get locked in. The nature of the grand finale was yet a curious matter to me, as was the entirety of the run. There was a short set of rules, of which included: wear good running shoes, don’t be drunk, and if you fall, don’t get back up. The adrenalin of the crowd was a steady high climbing higher; I recall the Spanish girl in drunken chorus looking me gravely in the eye reciting “every morning I run with the toros!” and I recall the police force hoisting her up and out of the runner’s lane: no run for her on this morning…As the first rocket sounded, I felt my heart drop a foot down into my stomach, and at the sound of the second rocket (signally the last bull had left the ring), I thought I was going to fly out of my shoes. It wasn’t long before the once stagnant crowd was transformed into wildly sprinting, leaping, shoving, and shouting stampede. I ran as fast as the crowds would let me, not daring to glance back to catch sight of the first approaching Toros. They quickly passed us by. Despite the so called bravo some men supposedly come to display at this event, all I could see was panic.
At the first corner, dubiously referred to as the “meat grinder,” one of the bulls turned around. As I rounded the corner, I found myself face to face with that pale monster: my closest shave and undoubtedly my scariest moment of the run. Thinking there was a very good chance at this point that I was going to be gored, I sprinted with all my might to the other side of street and passed the beast. I ran on, knowing he was behind, until finally maybe ten seconds which felt like hours later, he again made his pass.
In the arena, we were subjected to running from one bull at a time, either a fierce demon possessed Toros or a smaller, younger one, horns capped with rubber stubs. After a while, I could take it no longer and ended the fight or flight buzz I had been riding on for what seemed forever; climbing my way out into the audience stands. There I spied my friend whom I had lost during the run, and together we found our more stable, less insane friends.
That was the final adventure of my European trip! We had the remainder of that very long day in Pamplona, at the end of which we were in Madrid, sleeping or attempting sleep on the cold tile floors of the airport. Ben and I flew to Munich, to Toronto, to Detroit, whereupon I, wearing my crazy new earrings, billowy pansy-pants, and cornrowed hair, weary, exhausted, bloated, and half crazy, embraced my mom and sister, Mary for the first time in three and a half months and kissed Ben good bye for the very last time ever.