Saturday, October 13, 2012

Summertime Adventures August, Part 1

We spent the majority of the first week and a half of August glued to the TV to watch the 2012 Olympics.  I'm used to watching it in the USA where winning medals is so common it's not always a big deal and no one I know really cares.  It was different to actually watch the Olympics for the first time, and sorry USA, but I was rooting for Spain.  Every day we woke up and checked the schedule to see what events Spain was competing in for the day so we knew what to watch.  It was a slow, start but once the first medal was won in swimming things started to pick up.  It was really exciting and I got really into sports I have never watched before like: taekwondo, handball, and polo, and started getting into sports I had never liked before like basketball. All in all it was a great Olympics and I was proud of Spain and the USA, though my boyfriend's mom sure was glad when it was over and we stopped watching TV all day long!

When the Olympics ended we felt a little bit lost without following it everyday.  But it had been a nice few weeks to just relax and hang out together and hang out with our friends.  The past two times I visited we traveled a lot and saw so much that everything felt rushed.  It was definitely nice to have seen the main things in the area already and just enjoy everyone's company.

Talking with a few of our friends though we decided to take a day trip to Asturias.  It's the province to the west of my boyfriend's province of Cantabria and though I had been very close to the border before, I had never actually been.  We first stopped in Llanes, a town not too far over the border.  It is a port town and is known for its harbor and the colored blocks along the port.  I've seen similar blocks at other ports in Spain, and with my boyfriend being the good civil engineer he is, he tried to explain the use of them (which I take to understand is to help protect the harbor  from large waves) but with his engineering mind and subsequent explanation it was a little too complicated!  
Anyway, it was a very pretty area and we happened to visit on the day they celebrate the Fiesta de San Roque.  It was fascinating because everyone was wearing the traditional Asturiana outfits and there were people everywhere dancing and singing to traditional music.  There was also plenty of sidra, a drink I love that comes from Asturias, which is a apple cider type drink that has to be poured in a distinct way to taste correctly.  It was so much fun and I even bought some delicious cheese to have a picnic with later, can you tell the common theme of my love of cheese?!

After we left Llanes we went to a beach called Gulpiyuri which is a small beach with no ocean.  Instead the water comes from the sea through underground caves and tunnels.  It's still salt water and even has a tide!  
It was beautiful, but we came at high tide so there wasn't much of a beach left to lie on.  We all went swimming and even though it was small, it was pretty deep.  Once in the water a couple of us tried to sit out on some rocks, but the waves were so strong it kept pushing us off.  We quickly found out not to stay on the rocks anyway because a few of us left with some scratches, my poor feet included.  It was well worth it though because it's so rare to find a land formation like Gulpiyuri.  In fact, there's only a few in the world!

Next we tried to find the cliffs of Pría, which was quite hard.  The GPS wasn't working and we drove up and down different tiny dirt roads in tiny villages trying to find the right one.  Finally we found where we meant to go in the first place; it was quite the adventure just trying to get there!  The thing about these specific cliffs is that there are holes that have been carved from the water and when the waves are big enough water will shoot out of them looking like a geyser.  
We looked up when the biggest waves would be for the next couple weeks and it was supposed to be the day we went.  However, the waves still apparently were not big enough to shoot as much water as they usually do (apparently they can get big enough to throw people down if they're too close!).  There were some decent ones but usually all you could see was a stream of mist.  Although you couldn't see much, you could definitely hear it, and there were still very beautiful views from the cliff.

The Sella River
Before we went home we decided to stop by the town of Ribadesella.  This town is known for its river and the party that takes place at the beginning of August where people have a rowing race, and of course because it's Spain, drink.  We stopped by to take a drink ourselves and have some tapas but didn't stay for long because we were heading back to go to the parties of a village nearby Santander called Bezana where one of our friend's family has one of their restaurants, Pizzeria L'archetto.  There they had a lot of different foods to try and I of course got something with cheese, and it was delicious!  I had one with blue cheese and honey and another with goat cheese...he such a good friend that he knows how much I love cheese!!

Although my summer in Spain was starting to come to an end, I was glad we got to have a relaxing start of August.  Especially with so much left to do before I went back home!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Summertime Adventures July, Part 2


For the third week of July we went to Paris with a group of friends so get prepared for the mother of all posts!  We all stayed in this adorable apartment in the Latin Quarter.  From the balcony you could just barely see the Eiffel Tower, we were literally next to the Church of Saint-Séverin (as you can see in the picture on the left), and were about three minutes walking from the Notre Dame.  Amazing!  The very first night we got there we walked around for a while to see a little of Paris at night.

On our first full day in Paris we did a lot of walking, no metro for us!  First we saw the d'Orsay Museum, which I personally loved because it has one of the most extensive collections of Impressionist paintings, my favorite style of painting.  After the museum we walked up the seine to see the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, a famous bridge thamy boyfriend and his other civil engineering friends studied in class.  It was really cool how you could walk from the lower level to the upper to cross the river.  

After that we had lunch in the Tuileries Gardens and continued on to see the Luxor Obelisk, La Madeleine, the Vendôme Column of Napoleon, the Arc d'Triomphe, and finally the Eiffel Tower!  So much walking in one day! Even though I have studied the art and architecture of Paris in my history classes I was still surprised by everything and how quickly I fell in love with Paris. As for the Eiffel Tower, the line to take the elevator was very long--and more expensive--so we decided to walk up as far as we could; which is about half way before taking the elevator.  After we made it to the top we rested in the park below for a bit before our long walk home.  I'm glad we got the experience walking because you got to see great views of Paris.  We were exhausted but did manage to get some wine and delicious cheese, cheese being of course my absolute favorite food, for dinner!

Our second full day in Paris we spent the morning at the Louvre.  It was wonderful because I studied many of the artwork and sculptures in my art history classes so I was almost overly excited to see it in real life, especially the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.  It was all spectacular, though a bit overwhelming fighting all the photo taking tourists to even look at the pieces!  After the Louvre we walked some more around Paris and got to see the Opera before we headed to Les Invalides.  It was once a hospital but is now where the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte is and is also a arms museum.  The tomb of Napoleon was huge!!    My boyfriend and I went back a little earlier than everyone else because like clockwork my hip was hurting again, and we went to a cafe near the Notre Dame to have a snack and some Paris.  If it wasn't such a cliché, I would have felt almost Parisian sitting in a cafe in Paris, let alone with a view of Notre Dame!

The Queen's Chambers
The Hall of Mirrors
The Next Day we were at Versailles, it was just a quick train ride away and was luckily a beautiful day.  Once we got to Versailles we had to wait in a HUGE line, over an hour.  But during this time we at least got to take pictures of the front before we went in.  Once inside it was honestly a little bit of a let down for me, it was so crowded and so many rooms were closed off.  You were funneled through the rooms and because of amount roped off and the amount of people, there was not a lot of time to look at each room because everyone was essentially shoving you through!  Despite this it was very beautiful.  The best part for me though was the gardens, even though you had to pay extra because it was the summer.   And my absolute favorite part of the gardens AND Versailles was the hamlet behind the Petit Trianon that Marie Antoinette had built for herself.  It was beautiful and had a working farm complete with adorable farm animals.  My boyfriend and I visited it just the two of us, so we had some alone time walking around the different buildings and petting the farm animals--well I pet the farm animals while he shook his head at me!  When we finally returned from Versailles we visited the north of Paris to see Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge and have dinner.  

 The following Day Adrián and I took our own day trip to Giverny to see Monet's Garden, which is actually the main reason I really wanted to go to Paris!  Ever since I was little I loved Monet's paintings, so much that my Grandma said that for my high school graduation trip she would take me to his famous gardens.  Sadly she passed away  before I graduated and I was not able to take our trip.  This Paris trip was partly planned by our friends so I could go because they knew how important it was to me, it was very sweet.  And it was such an amazing feeling going because it was like I had my grandma with me.  Getting to Giverny is a bit Chaotic though.  You have to take the train in the North of Paris to Vernon
and from Vernon you have to take a bus to Giverny, unfortunately we missed our first train because of the long ticket line.  When we finally got to Giverny we had a picnic with some French cheese I had bought the other day along with a fresh baguette, chocolate, and jamón.  The cheese was absolutely delicious and it was probably one of my favorite meals in France!  Giverny was a tiny little village and was so absolutely beautiful, but for me it was nothing compared to Monet's Garden and the lily pond.  It was a dream come true, I was so happy I was practically in tears!  It was truly one of the most beautiful places I've seen, absolutely breathtaking and quite truthfully a dream come true!  If you're going to Paris I highly suggest this day trip, you won't be sorry.

On our final day literally before leaving we visited the Notre Dame.  In the morning we saw the inside but we had to come back later to climb to the bell towers.  The inside was beautiful; I love the Gothic styles and, thanks again to all my art history classes, I had previously learned about the symbolism in religious art and architecture and was able to explain it to my friends as well--which I proudly overheard a tour guide repeating everything I had just explained, winning!  As for going to the top of the Notre Dame we had to wait in line for about an hour and a half, but the view to me was worth it.  While waiting we got some shopping done and took a quick look at the Pompidou building.  
When we finally walked up more stairs we saw that it was worth the wait.  From the bottom looking up you couldn't see any of the gargoyles but from above you had a perfect view!  It was like a scene from the "Hunchback of Notre Dame."  You got to walk across the building to the famous bell tower from the novel to see the actual bell, then climb all the way to the top of the tower.  The views of Paris were beautiful and we were even able to see our apartment from the top!  After the Notre Dame we bought some sandwiches to eat along the Seine.  I even indulged in an éclair, not cliché right?

When we arrived in Santander it was actually the start of their annual parties celebrating the city called, Semana Grande.  All around the city bars set up 'casetas' or little wooden houses, at these houses you can try different tapas and drinks.  Usually there is a special where one tapa and a beer are 2.5 euros.  They also have some areas where tents are set up for different provinces in Spain.  I loved going to the Asturias one because I love the sidra, since we don't have anything like it at home.  

Also at the same time there is a feria or fun fair going on near the stadium.  It has a bunch of food, rides, and games where you can win prizes.  We went on a couple rides with our friends, tried a special coconut treat--where my boyfriend, not so humorously for him, chipped his tooth--, and he even won me some stuffed animals!  It was really fun and I loved trying the different tapas and foods from different parts of Spain.  

During this week it was one of our friend's birthdays and we decided to have a tapas party to celebrate where each person cooked one dish of tapas to eat for dinner.  My boyfriend and I decided to make American food, and cooked buffalo wings and then pancakes for dessert.  Everything was so delicious, I love Spanish food!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Summertime Adventures July, Part 1

Finally settling back into the swing of things after coming home and figured after a three month hiatus I should begin blogging once again, more for myself than anyone else.  While away from 'blog world' I was lucky enough to visit my boyfriend in Spain and do some traveling around Europe.  I was lucky enough to fit so much in that I'm going to split it up into multiple posts so as not to bore the few people who love me enough to humor me with their reading ;-)

I left July 4th, kind of funny leaving the USA on Independence Day, and at 9am started my long day of traveling from a two hour drive to Boston, a flight from Boston to JFK, New York to Madrid, and Madrid to Bilbao.  FINALLY in Bilbao I waited to be picked me up from the airport but my boyfriend was *cough cough* like twenty minutes late.  We did stop in Laredo so I could see the port he did his senior engineering project on.  We laid on the beach and ate sandwiches his oh-so-adorable mom made for us, before we continued to Santander.

I didn't have too much time to rest because the next day we head off to Pamplona for sanfermines, the Spanish fiesta famous for the running of the bulls (which we did not run in).  We went in a group and all stayed in the apartment of one of their friends, who quite possibly was one of the sweetest girls I've ever met.  It was such a good weekend.  The first night we went out around 8pm and drank in the park, watched fireworks, and enjoyed the fiesta until around dawn the next day.  
That Saturday night was even more special for me because it was the eve of my  birthday, everyone so sweetly celebrated by giving me a delicious cake of probably the best tasting cheese wheel I've eaten in my life--complete with candles and singing Happy Birthday in English and Spanish.  On top of the delicious cheese we had jamón and fresh bread to complete my birthday dinner of some of my favorite Spanish foods.  As we ate and drank in the park there were some 'birthday' fireworks and then like the night before we 'explored' Pamplona until about 7 in the morning.  With my 'cheese' cake, my birthday was complete with dancing in the street. 

At this point some of us decided to go to the bull plaza to watch the ending of that morning's running with the bulls.  Everyone runs in with the bulls and then some young bulls, less dangerous bulls, are released against the participants.  I did not really care for it because the participants were very disrespectful to the bulls, grabbing their horns and pushing them, and the crowd felt the same way and would yell quite a few not very nice words in Spanish whenever a participant did something disrespectful.  Despite my personal opinion though, it was very cool to watch the running on the screens in the plaza and to see the end of it in person.  Such a once and a lifetime experience!  And we didn't even get home until 9ish in the morning, over 12 hours out!  Overall, it was a great birthday weekend and a great experience.  Later that day after some sleep and telepizza, we made the two-ish hour drive back to Santander and my boyfriend took me out to a restaurant near his house called Británica for my birthday dinner. Later that week all of our friends even surprised me with a birthday party with delicious food, a delicious cake, and great company.  It was my very first surprise party!

After our Pamplona weekend we rested for  the next week.  We spent most of the time with our friends or walking around Santander.  It was the third time I've visited him there and I really like the local parks and beaches so we made sure to visit all of them.  In the Magdalena park there are different animals and I love seeing the seals and sea lions so we always visit them when go to see the Palace.  We also went to the beach Mataleñas quite often, which is one of my favorite of the Santander beaches.  The water is just so clear and it's really secluded, although the Sardinero beaches are equally as beautiful. Other than that we all visited some local caves famous for their geology and cave paintings, and celebrated his grandfather's birthday.  It was a nice week of resting because we were about to go on our big summer trip, a whole week in Paris!