Monthly Archives: October 2011

Grover Knows Best

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Now you’re perhaps wondering (or you will be after a paragraph) why I waited so long to tell you all about my fantastic, scintillating, marvelous adventures while caving, but just assume that I have been diligently doing my homework…not procrastinating.

But ANYWAY. Last Saturday I went to some prehistoric caves in a place called Puente Viesco, and saw two of the four caves at the site (El Castillo and Las Monedas). You can’t take photos inside the caves, so you’ll just have to trust me that they BLEW MY MIND. You can fool around on their website if you want:

http://cuevas.culturadecantabria.com/english/castillo.asp

I was less interested in the paintings themselves than the actual architecture of the caves themselves, especially after the great Geology class I had, but still – Las Monedas especially was a marvel. (We also had our doubts about how real some of the paintings were – as far as I know, the five pointed star is a bit more recent than thousands of years ago. Just saying.)

And just a note on caves: they don’t illuminate these places very well, and so you have to be very careful about where you place your feet. I will also note that caves tend to be a bit damp (that’s how stalagmites and stalactites are made, after all), so that even if you are wearing your sexiest sneakers, you are going to slip and almost eat dirt a minimum of five times.

YAY! (I really don’t know what else to say about this picture; it’s just filler for that weird awkward space in between photos. And if it wasn’t awkward before, it is now. Muahahahaha. Or something.)

The countryside there was fantastic – about two hours by bus gets you to this little country town with fabulous vistas. This is the path to get to the Las Monedas cave.

(Awkward!!!)

(Super awkward!!!)

This is along the road to get to the caves, and not a nice hill to walk up while worrying about making your tour time. Nice to walk down, though.

(Embarrassing small talk.)

Here’s the town. (How’s the family…?)

(It would now be weird if I didn’t write something. Feel better?)

There are always loads of wedding going on in Spain. Anne and I were actually on our way down the hill when we heard this colossal BANG!!! coming from the town. I think that marked the moment when the happy couple kissed and lost their hearing. I must have seen twenty weddings so far. Is that normal?

This is in Santander, where we had to wait a couple of hours before catching our bus back to Bilbao.

Now, this is homework for Manny: I would like to know what this is. I don’t think it’s native to Spain, but I thought that this was up your alley, so I’m putting you on the spot. But what else are sisters for?

(Oh my God I didn’t say anything in the pause!! Oh no!) (I am having WAY too much fun with this.)

Anyway, this is a wall that we found while looking for the cathedral we’d seen earlier – cathedrals here have funky hours, and are closed more often than not. It’s an excerpt from something, but I just think it’s cool aesthetically. And it’s literally writing on the wall!

This is the courtyard of the cathedral. Gorgeous. We went into this cathedral and then realized that a short mass was going to go on. We checked the time, and stayed for the half-hour service. I had my first little bread round thing (which really does dissolve in your mouth like they say), and was happy to get some churching, of whatever denomination, especially in a cathedral.

So that’s all she wrote, but for one detail. Smokers in Spain SUCK. They tend to light up at the most inconvenient places: tops of stairs (where you’re gasping for air and get a nice mouthful of smoke, muchas gracias), clusters in front of doors, UPWIND, and so on. So that’s why I laughed when I saw this poster at the campus in Leioa:

This says something to the effect: I am Grover and I am going to explain the meaning of inside and outside. I love Sesame Street.

Adios!

For the Trees Have No Tongues

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I’m starting this post listening to “Delia’s Gone” by the one and only Johnny Cash – if you don’t know it, I suggest that you find it on the internet or take my word for it and just buy it. You won’t be sorry. And feel free to sing along – though if you sing with another person, you won’t seem like such a disturbed serial killer.

So this past Friday they let us off school (gee thanks for the test on Thursday, though, that was REAL NICE), so we could go on the USAC-sponsored excursion to Guernica and Lekeitio (don’t worry, I can’t really pronounce the L-one, either).

Guernika is not just a painting by Picasso – that painting was inspired by the 1937 bombing of the small town of Guernica by the Nazi German forces, who were allied to Franco (bad dictator guy), who was in the middle of trying to win a civil war. Franco was having trouble with Basque opposition and decided to hit Guernica because it is the seat of Basque government. The bombing was terrible and is forever imprinted on the memory of the Basque country, but it was not as bad as it could have been, because the oak tree of Guernica survived: it is under the generations of each of these trees that people are initiated into the higher seats of government, and is a symbol of the Basques.

This is the end of the boring informational section. Pictures!

The next few you’re going to see are from inside the building, where they have governmental sessions and stuff:

Oh look. A tree.

All around this massive panel are smaller blocks to signify all the different towns in the Basque country. Here’s Gexto’s:

The real thing, now:

The current oak looks a bit scrawny now, but I suppose if I want to visit it in 50 years it’ll look less…anticlimactic. (Sorry to diss the tree, but it’s a bit different from my expectations.)

I do like the idea, though, of everything but the tree changing – it creates a kind of continuity that you don’t generally see elsewhere.

No we take a closer look at what’s behind the tree:

Now, I am fairly certain that these are used for perfectly innocent purposes (note that there’s one on either side of the little courtyard thing), but to me, my first thought is that they’re sacrificial altars. I’ll just have to repeat to myself that it was the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs that did that sort of thing, but, well, still. I can’t help but wonder.

The ‘Grandfather Tree’ (a couple of generations back, I guess):

Yep, it’s dead. Cool looking (and more impressive than the live one), but you know, dead.

Look Manny – A GARDEN!!!! (Too much? I’m sure you’ll let me know.)

So we got out of the government building complex and were all waiting for the bus when we noticed an anomaly:

If you see yoghurt cups hanging off of a tree, you aren’t going crazy. Yep, the trees here in Spain yield strange and wonderful fruit. It’s a bit reminiscent of people throwing tied-together sneakers over telephone lines to mourn their departed gang members – which is, of course, complete crap in Maine. I’ve wondered what would happen if I tied together a pair of stilettos and threw them over a line. Would I be able to plant a camera and see what happened? Yes, this is what I wonder about in my spare time. So yeah; in Spain they grieve the dead with yoghurt: more cost-friendly – or at least, that’s my story.

So we hopped on the bus to go to a winery that makes a kind of wine that can only be made in the Basque country called txocoli. Don’t like the Basque spelling? Then how about: chocoli (better, right? Basque is really confusing, because it’s not a romance language and they speak it REALLY FAST). It’s a sweet white wine that has a bit of a salty taste, a result of the grapes being grown so close to the ocean. How close, you say?

Neat, huh?

I am sorry to report that, even though this was really good wine, it didn’t do a thing to better my impression of wine or even alcohol in general. All wine tastes pretty much the same to me (I can tell the difference between white and red, though, if you were wondering…), and it takes me a really long time to finish any drink – if I finish it. I finished this glass with a bit of a grimace, which is too bad, as it really spells the last nail in the coffin for any affinity I might have for becoming an aficionado. But why love wine when I can love chocolate? They have goooood chocolate here – don’t even think about any of that Hershey’s nonsense. Did you know that Hershey’s doesn’t even count as chocolate? It’s all flavorings and a bit of the oil from the cacao beans – check the package, it doesn’t say ‘chocolate’ on it. And if I’m wrong, send me a picture. But prepare to be amazed.

Next we spent about an hour in the town of Lekeitio, which had a great cathedral we couldn’t get into, but an interesting little detail is worth sharing:

If you notice something in this picture that doesn’t belong, you get five points.

Lekeitio had other cool stuff, too. Like a beach:

And boats:

And an island:

If you see the thing curving from the lower left hand corner, that’s a really slippery pier-thing that gives you a great view of stuff. I almost went ass over teakettle a bazillion times (bazillion is metric, don’t judge), but I took the precaution of taking my shoes off;  it was worth it.

More of the beach (from the pier-thing this time):

So that’s all for now. I’ll update later on the other things I’ve been doing but now I’m going to go to sleep instead. Well, okay, I might read first. (Yes, Mom, crappy romance novels. You can get those on a kindle. Cheap.)

‘Night!

The B**ch

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There’s a couple of beaches within walking distance of my apartment – I have successfully found both of them, but have only taken pictures of one. I have loads of homework to get done tonight, so this will be another post with pretty much only pictures – but don’t they say that pictures are worth 1,000 words? These pictures are mostly from Sunday, when Anne and I decided to make the most of a beautiful sunny day. We walked along a cliff that runs away from the beach: this is it.

No street sweeper… Trash stays on the floor…

It was really funny being inside the fortress and seeing people trying to open the gates, when the way that we got in was around the side, on a little path that you can’t see if you’re not looking for it. We waved.

So that’s it for photos for today.  UNLESS. Unless I saw something today in Bilbao that I can’t resist sharing.

This guy was great – every time that he moved he made robot noises, and I also saw him high-five a little kid as I was walking past. I don’t usually give money to street performers, but this guy was just too cool.

Castro Isn’t Just in Cuba

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So in case you were wondering…this isn’t my first post today. I figure it’s easier to digest small chunks when I haven’t posted in a while, so here’s the little ‘chunk’ of awesome I did yesterday.

Julienne, Meta (an au pair from Denmark, who, regrettably, will be leaving soon), and I went to Castro, a seaside town about 45 minutes away from Bilbao. It’s gorgeous, picturesque, and we walked our little legs off – though fortunately there were few hills (or rather, in Dad-speak, fewer slow places in the road).

We got off the bus and immediately saw something that looks suspiciously like a bullring. Which it turns out to be – my first bullring in Spain!!! (Are you excited? I was.)

(You get up here by hopping over a fence.)

It was pretty cool, especially since there wasn’t a fight going on at the time – and for those wondering, bullfights happen only during certain times/festivals of the year, and none will be happening (that I know about) while I’m here. For that matter, the last bullfight of Barcelona happened about three weeks ago, though they’re still happening in other places during the festivals that happen regionally – occasionally you see triumphant crowds bearing the matador on their shoulders, though I have seen one bit of video of a guy getting literally run over by a bull he pissed off.

Castro is a great little town that must be hopping during the tourist season because it’s just incredibly gorgeous.

Beach:

A little rocky, but still gorgeous: check.

Coastline:

Don’t bring a friend with a grudge there, but yes, awesome: check.

Harbor:

Yep, definitley. Check.

And there you have it: the components for a great holiday spot in Spain. Bright sun, beautiful views, a whiff of fish, fabulous.

I took almost all of these pictures while we were walking away from the castle we were trying to get to, which was a bit of a walk but definitley worthwhile, though it did mean that neither the castle nor the cathedral were open – but hey, none of us were expecting a cathedral too, so that was a bonus. On the way toward the cathedral, we ran into a group of girls taking care of two little baby cats. The more active one took a real liking to Julienne – the only one of the three of us who isn’t partial to them, which is a little ironic:

This cat was the cutest thing, even with its bad eye (in this photo, the left one). I just hope that the girls found the two of them homes or that they decided to take them to a humane society, if they exist here. They’re just little balls of fur. Awwwwwwww.

We also came upon an interestingly built road on the way to the cathedral that looks really Roman – I don’t think a road like that in the middle of a town could still survive, but why not have a little suspense of belief?

Now here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for…the cool old stuff.

The cathedral is on the left and the castle is on the right. AREN’T THEY SO COOL??? (History geek. Sorry, it’s impulse.)

This last one is the salt damage done by the ocean air on the stone of the cathedral. It’s really pretty, but you can still go up to the stone and rub bits of it off with your fingers – which I did (I also determined that it’s sandstone).

One of the funny things about living in Spain is that people get married here like you wouldn’t believe. I’m not saying it’s really elaborate, but what I am saying is that during the time we were checking out the cathedral, there were three different wedding parties. Apart from this, I must have seen maybe ten weddings since getting here – it gives you a great excuse to windowshop dresses, though. Though I suppose it’s not technically windowshopping if it’s at a wedding – is it just ogling, then?

We ate lunch at a surprisingly good pizza place (I gave my mushrooms away), with some interesting ‘local’ entertainment:

It was inauthentic and they were playing to a background of native music which somehow included violins, and a charming break in all of the Spanishness – not to mention a ridiculous one.

So that’s all, folks. I went back home, dawdled a few hours, and went to bed at 10:30 and slept like a ton of bricks. WHAM.

Birds, Art, and Green Fountains

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I’ve been just a bit busy lately – moving up a level in my track class (305 to 306) has meant loads more homework, which has also meant a deficit in sleep. Since I did most of my homework this morning and since I got ten (yup, TEN) hours of sleep last night, I finally have time to post.

So Wednesday was Columbus Day – some of you may be wondering what on earth I’m talking about because Columbus Day is obviously on Monday, but Spanish people have theirs on whatever day happens to be the 12th, which is nice when you get a break in the middle of the week to sleep and not do your homework. I did end up taking a break from doing nothing, though (a break from a break): Anne and I ended up going to El Museo de Bellas Artes (so that I could see the rest and so Anne could see it to begin with). We got a bit lost on the way there but ended up seeing a beautiful garden:

…which included a pool for birds. Lots of birds. Including:

That’s right, kids. A PEACOCK. Now, this thing as on a little island, so I don’t know how it got there, but yes, a peacock. There were loads of other birds there, noodling around:

(Of course, you can’t really see them, but they’re there, trust me. Lying about, all birdlike.)

So anyway. The park isn’t just a bird haven – though I wouldn’t swim in the water if you paid me – there’s also trees and paths:

…and some weird stuff:

This is Westley. He never goes anywhere without his pet fish Sally, but his life of bliss is soon going to end, as Sally has a strange illness whose cause is not yet known to modern science. Poor Westley. If he has any luck, he will pick up piratry, make loads of money, come back home to find Sally well again, beat the whipper-snapper who’s taken her hostage (kind of), and ride off into the sunset on a matching pair of dolphins. Or am I copying that from something?

So we got to the museum, museum-ed (still better than the Guggenheim), and went to head back home. We successfully found the metro (!!!), and then realized that something was amiss. There was an attraction that even the Spanish people were taking photos of. What could this be?

GAH! WHY IS THE WATER SO GREEN???

So since it was Columbus Day, and since there’s a population of Basque people that really don’t dig the Spanish government around here, they made the fountain green, all passive-agressive and stuff. They chose green because of the pure shock factor and because it is one of the three colors of the Basque flag: red, white, and green. Of course, there was also a protest going on in a different part of the city, but this is cooler…and has less to do with armed policemen. And yes, there were armed dudes hanging about with their guns, but we didn’t take pictures with them because they didn’t seem very child-friendly.

The Coast, the Sea, the Sky

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Today is going to be all about pictures, as I still have to do homework after all the time I’m wasting. If there were an Olympic event for procrastination, I would win whatever metal there would be above gold. But anyway… Yesterday (Saturday) I went to a place called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – and don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either. I think there’s a conspiracy with people in this area: they think up all these crazy words with too many xs and zs and just say them fast to make everyone else’s heads spin, and when they are alone, they shorten the crap out of all these nouns.

But anyway, this was a beautiful enough place to bother spelling it all out. Welcome to the exhibit.

This is Madison, after seeing the hole/pipe in the floor that leads pretty directly to the ocean. Oh, but it has toilet paper! I saw it too…as well as smelled it.

So that’s what it is. The product of four to five hours’ hard walking uphill (both ways): sore legs, sore feet, but it was exhilarating.

‘Hondarribia’ Three Times Fast

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I know that this post is fabulously late, but I’ve been rather busy not-studying for my final for Spanish 305 – the way it works is that the Spanish track classes are 2-4 semesters of college Spanish in one semester, so I’ve just finished my first course of three so far. I’m sure I did all right, though I get an idea that our professor had mercy to some degree, which I am profoundly grateful. And now I can forget all about ‘expressions of hypothesis!’

So this past weekend I went on the USAC-sponsored excursion to France and San Sebastian. You’re probably getting really excited right about now – Sarah went to France!! – but I was there for perhaps three and a half to four hours, in a town called Saint Jean de Luz, a pretty place, that was host to the last Louis of France, as well as Marie Antoinette, of course. They had separate houses, neither of which we could go into because the timing was all wrong, though we did figure out later that the bar we’d stopped at for coffee and bread (I had a chocolate croissant – yumyumyum butter) was actually part of the bottom floor of Louis’ house. Snazzy,eh? Louis’ house was the uglier of the two in my opinion, so I’ll show you Marie’s:

(She also had a better view.)

Here’s what the town looked like:

And have you heard of French kissing? Don’t try it after eating French cheese:

In the foreground are little rounds of cheese with twigs in them. Mmmmm, fiber! This is merely a portion of the cheese counter in the market we went to – and the guy at the counter gave me a particularly sour look as I took bazillions of pictures of all the different types (“stupid American tourists”), but I just couldn’t help myself: when in your life do you get see a fifteen-foot cheese bar in France, being glared at by a local?

Mainly we walked around the town, looking at overpriced clothes and souvenirs. After a couple of hours we gathered to take the bus to the boat back to Spain – the bus ride was spectacular, as we went past miles of gorgeous coastline:

The boat ride was an unimpressive fifteen minutes, but there were fish right by the dock:

Lots of fish. Big ones. I WAS SO EXCITED!!! (What can I say, fish make me happy. Don’t judge.)

The boat took us to a place called Hondarribia, a picturesque town that no one can pronounce and so must get fewer tourists. This means that this place looks fan-freakin’-tastic:

I absolutely love trees like this, and didn’t think I’d find one anywhere around. But it’s big and it’s beautiful and it makes me realize that I can zoom in on a little slice of nature – and when I see things like this, Maine seems just a little bit closer. Isn’t it gorgeous?

There’s gorgeous and then there’s just plain weird:

It’s a creepy little child-sized hand, masquerading as a very odd door knocker. For some reason this gives me the heebie-jeebies – but really, who wants a hand on their door, just resting there, waiting. I think the next nightmare I’m going to have will feature me, reaching up for the knocker…grabbing it – IT GRABS ME BACK! IT WON’T LET GO! THERE’S A WHOLE PERSON APPEARING OUT OF THE DOOR! Good thing I don’t remember my dreams.

So anyway, we had a fabulously large lunch and then took the bus to San Sebastian, which was the one-time summer hangout of the Queen of Spain – which means that it’s an immaculate beach hotspot…and has the highest rents of anywhere in Spain.

(This is when the battery in my camera turned its head to the wall and died.)

It’s a great beach town, swarmed with tourists. I happened to get the best hotel room with Courtney – it had a huge window and a table with two chairs right by it. That night – after trying my first kabob (not something on a stick – it’s basically a wad of good-enough tasting food that makes you full. What can I say? It’s cheap and I’m a college student), and after going to the old part of town for pinchos and some sort-of-good tasting wine (WHY don’t I like alcohol???), I read for about a half an hour, next to the window, occasionally looking out onto the street. It was a great feeling.

The next day we went on a walking tour of the city, which was pretty cool – note the two-story fish market – though I skipped walking up a really big hill to see a big statue guy (who, as it turns out, wasn’t Jesus, as I’d thought) and went to the old cathedral of the town instead. They had huge sculptures of wood all over the place that were just fantastic – I’d give you the name if I remembered, but I don’t, incidentally.

Later, we went to an aquarium, a large part of which is a gigantic tank with loads of marine life noodling around in it. I was a kid in a candy store, whereas loads of people from the California area were all underwhelmed: “it’s smaller than ___ Aquarium.” Downers. They had loads of different fish, sharks, turtles, a REALLY cool eel, nautilus, jellies, and other stuff. At one point we were looking at a tank with clownfish and a kid was telling his mother about all the ‘Nemos’ in the water – in Spanish, of course. Kids are so cute – and apparently mothers around here are in the habit of dressing their children in leiderhosen every now and then.

That was all she wrote for San Sebastian.

Oh, and the pool I talked about in the last post?

The faults of the pool are as follows:

  1. You have to pay upwards of five euros to use the pool for the day.
  2. The pool isn’t open to the air like I thought that it was, bummer.
  3. You can’t eat on the sundeck, no matter how desperate you are for a chocolate fix.
  4. If you want to sit on a chair on the deck, you have to pay a euro.
  5. You need a swim cap to go in the pool and the lifeguard will place you on a spike if you don’t get out immediately.
  6. The water is cold.
  7. Most of the employees are grumpy.
  8. Trantulas roam free throughout the whole facility.

You could say that their advertising stinks. But is was an interesting learning experience and an opportunity for bonding for Julienne and I. (And better than being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.)