Moments from Spain 2012

Spain – 16 July 2012

I love travel writing but often I find myself so consumed with the experience that I can’t stop and write and then at the end, like now on a plane back to Austin, I have to pull it all out at once and hope I don’t forget too many details.  Although having said that, we don’t really remember days anyway.  Mostly, we remember moments…

Like sitting in a café in San Sebastian kicking around what to do next and Roland declaring, “we should go to France RIGHT NOW!”  And you do.

Or in a divine stroke of luck, ending up in Noel Chandler’s apartment AFTER everyone has left the party and he opens up a new bottle of red, pulls out fresh glasses, serves you like an old friend, and pops a Jerry Lee Lewis CD into an old jam box.  By the way, Noel knows all the songs.  I will never ever forget the image of that man smelling his vino tinto while shuffling his white tennis shoes and singing, “Chantilly Lace.”

Or renaming a historical landmark, “Cell phone Jesus.”  Sorry, Mom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr sampling wine at a space-ship looking bodega at the foot of the Basque country only to sneak into a backroom to dump your glass because the wine was so bad, but thanking your lucky stars you stopped for that wine because you found a map on the counter for a castle 20 minutes away that ends up blowing your mind.  Castle of AlquézarAnd not only does this castle rock your imagination with it’s ancient cobblestone streets, jaw-dropping cliff backdrop and the invitation to ride rapids at a nearby river, but on your way out you see a sign for a “Pool Bar” and so you stop for a drink to discover not just some little hotel pool, but an Olympic-size swimming pool with lanes (we are still on top of a medieval village).  I may live here someday.

Grand Plage BiarritzOr pretending to stay in the most luxurious hotel in Biarritz and the staff totally believing you.  It’s a good thing your pool towels aren’t sexy, Grand Plage Hotel, or we would have stolen one.


Or arriving at Txoxco for morning kaiku and cognacs, wearing a totally garish polo shirt with PAMPLONA embroidered on the collar and news/camera crews zooming in on me like I was famous.  They either thought I was Catherine Donnell or they just liked the shirt.

Or seeing how delighted Gordon was to drive my little rental car up through the mountains to another medieval castle in Ainsa…I almost didn’t’ take them the scenic route because the forecast was rain.  Silly me and my wellies.  We had gorgeous blue skies and I’ll never forget Gordon, Malia and myself laughing that “WTF” laugh as we passed the biggest flock of goats I’ve ever seen.  Or the look on the old villager’s face when we took a wrong turn and upon replying to our request for directions, he smiled at us like we must be completely bonkers for driving where we were.

Or making bread bracelets. Who doesn’t like a spiffy bracelet made from the crust of a baguette slice?  I mean, it is wearing food, but I’ve seen worse.  I once saw a dried meat bracelet on a girl in Ecuador.  Not kidding.  Turns out she was from Austin.  Of course.

Or blowing a 0.00 into a breathalyzer administered by the Spanish police as you’re leaving San Fermin. Sounds crazy, I know.  It happened to me.  In the middle of Fiesta.  It was weirdly exciting…like I had just passed a big exam or accomplished something really important.  Which, I guess I sort of did…like not drinking and driving.  The funniest thing (besides the people in my car shouting, “HOLY F**KING SHIT, I can’t believe that just happened!) was the policia waving me through saying, “ok, lady.”  I don’t know why that cracked me up.

Or hooking up a film crew (ok, just one guy who set up the camera and a girl who came back an hour later to turn it on) to shoot the encierro from one of the best balconies in San Fermin (check out this video).

Or how if feels to be covered from head to toe in red wine…and loving it.

Or having one of the best meals of my life with eight complete strangers at San Ignacio. Those three hours were culinary genius.

Or wanting to have one last beach picnic but realizing the only bottle of wine you have left is a rose that isn’t cold but you drink it anyway and it’s unbelievably delicious.

And there is something to be said for meeting new people.  In the spirit of Radiohead, it really IS easy.  Not only did we have the grand pleasure of reconnecting with some really special people from last year, we also met new people…all of them generous beyond measure.

It really is amazing how quickly we all become family with our fellow travelers…

Actually a quite funny staged photo we took at a hotel in St. Jean de Luz. Roland started the French nautical theme and then it sort of snowballed into this.

On Paris

On Paris – 15 July 2011

Bastille Day ParisIt’s Friday morning…an utterly gorgeous day in Paris and I’m beyond exhausted.  Delirious is more like it. I’ve been gone for 11 days now and I think I’m ready for my own bed. I want to tell you all about this trip, but I’m going to make it easy and point out the highlights…

  1. I celebrated Bastille Day in Paris yesterday. We wore berets. Nobody else wore them. We’re pretty cute girls but every French guy that talked to us only had eyes for Matt.Berets in Paris
  2. Mid-July is the highest point of high season in Paris. If you want IMG_1683to see any major site or museum, you must rise early and get there when it opens. This requires you to go to sleep before 2am. I’ve seen very few sites in Paris.
  3. I’ve been inside one monument. It’s called the Pantheon. I’ve never heard of it before.
  4. I’ve not laid eyes on the Louvre but I did take pictures of the line to get into Notre Dame.
  5. I went to the medical museum. Oddly, there was no line.  It was a beautiful space in a building at the university around the corner from our apartment.  It was creepy and made my IMG_1513tummy hurt.
  6. We rented a golf cart to cruise around Versailles.  It’s big enough that you actually need a cart. I immediately got into trouble as follows: 1) I parked the cart in the tram lane and then hit the side mirror of the tram when I tried to unwedge the cart. 2) I went down an unauthorized road. Twice. Both times the cart completely stopped and a woman’s recorded voice advised me to put the cart in reverse and return to the authorized path. We still don’t know how that worked. 3) I was over an hour late turning in the cart. The cart guy was pissed.
  7. If you screw up in Paris, say “I’m sorry” in Spanish…it will go over much better. Lo siento! Lo siento! Lo siento!
  8. Don’t buy a metro pass if you prefer cabs. We spent 15 minutes jacking around with the subway ticket machine, rode it once and then spent the next five days in taxis.
  9. Don’t bring cash to Europe.  The 3% your bank may charge you is better than the exchange rate on the street.
  10. The plastic container in the fridge is to store cheese.
  11. The Latin Quarter in Paris is not Latin as in sexy guys from Mexico or Argentina. It’s Latin in the language context and is where all the university students live.
  12. Taxi drivers and cops in Paris are really nice. Waiters are not. (update: waiters and service people in general are lovely once you get outside the touristy areas.  If I had to deal with that many tourists every day, I would probably be an asshole, too.)
  13. Take a walking food tour. Was the best money I’ve spent in Paris. Corrine was a blast and her friend does the same type tours in Italy. You’ll learn so much. Like, you’re not IMG_1541supposed to eat your meat and cheese from the same plate or at the same time. Cheese and meat are just like wines…their flavors are determined by the region in which the livestock is raised. Pair wine and cheese from the same region. Slurping your wine is not impolite. It helps to arriate the wine. So much more to tell, but just do your own tour here:
  14. I can’t believe I’m not going to make it to see the catacombs.
  15. The Thai massage place around the corner from the Moulin Rouge may or may not be a good idea.
  16. The Moulin Rouge still has performances.
  17. After too much champagne, Matt might advise you to start speaking with “legible sentences.”
  18. There are no good French bands hired to play the Bastille Day concert at the Eiffel Tower. Seriously, none.
  19. There is no need to pay for a gym membership if you’re planning to visit Paris for a week and stay in a flat thaIMG_1604t’s on the fourth floor. With no lift.
  20. Tourist maps lie.
  21. I could live on crepes and escargot. Not kidding…like, if that was the only food available, I could totally survive (although I’m not sure which catastrophic event would leave me with only these food choices). Um, maybe I would survive if I also had champagne.  And coffee.  And Mexican food.  Ok, so I probably need other food, but seriously, I can eat the crap out of crepes and escargot.       IMG_1755