Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This time last year...

IMG_1763, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

This time last year I arrived in Finisterre after almost 1000km and 40 days walking along the Camino Frances..... What a wonderful feeling to plunge into the icy Atlantic and watch the sun melt into the sea amongst fellow peregrinos!!

A very happy memory!

One week later I followed my nose to Madrid and laid the foundations for the next adventure - a life in Madrid. Since August I have been trying to etch out a life here - sometimes successfully, more often not..... But poco y poco!! I am slowly getting there....

Its all a big adventure, a big challenge, a big test of emotional stamina and ultimately a part of my life that I know I will never regret!

One year ago, none of this was even a seed in my head, and now it is a small, but growing existence...... Just that thought keeps it hopeful and exciting...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thelma and Louise Part 2 - San Sebastian

Well, after the road trip of Portugal and the south, Mum was hoping to see some of the north of Spain. It was starting to look like the flights were too expensive, so we were researching other options, like Segovia and Seguenzia etc - both respectable, interesting, old towns close to Madrid, but really, deep down, it was the Basque country on the northern coast that held the most appeal.

So at the eleventh hour, we looked at the el-cheapo airline webistes and found a budget flight for the next day!!! woo hoo!! The flight there was 3 euros (+ taxes of course) and all up it was only 80 euros eachr return!! Pretty good.

Ruben was hired to help us book a room for the weekend - I mean, I could do it, but what would take me an hour, he can manage in 5 minutes....... After a few calls he decided that he liked the sound of a little old lady who called him "son" - so we were to stay with deaf, old Josephina for the weekend....

So we set off on Sat morning, checked in to our pension close to the beach and went straight to the old town to try the world famous pinxos of San Sebastian.

A litle history to start with:

San Sebastian is a coast town in the Basque region of Spain. The Basque´s dont think of themselves as Spanish, they have their own language, their own cultures and customs and they are fiercely patriotic to their region. ETA is the terrorist group that originate in the Basque region and the region has been fighting for autonomy from Spain for a long long long time....

The Basques have also been credited with "inventing" the pinxo style of tapas (slices of bread stick with a vast variety of toppings) and they are world famous for their innovative chefs etc....

So that brings mum and I to one of the many bars in the old town, eating pinxos and sipping a beer for breakfast (well, it was after 12!!) A big part of the pinxo (pronounced Pin-Cho) experience is the presentation... They look amazing - piles of food of a variety of colours loaded onto the bar ready for you to peruse at your leisure... you don´t order pinxos, you get a plate and take whichever ones you like.... you pay at the end by telling the waiter how many you had in a kind of honour system. The waiters have eyes like hawks - they seem to see every morsel on every plate in a very very crowded bar.... But there is little reason to cheat the system - its not too expensive and a few will be filling enough for the afternoon. These bars ahve an amazing atmosphere and the locals seem to enjoy this wonderful afternoon tradition.

Mum became a fan of the ham croquettes and I couldn´t stop choosing the crab salad one... hmmmmm, yummo! For the first day, we were just walking into every bar to see how much more exotic the selection could become. We had a number of bars now that had to be tried this weekend, and also a committment that this weekend was about eating and enjoying and we could deal with the exercising next week...

As we walked in the cobble stoned streets we heard a choir singing in one of the streets and we followed the echoing voices til we found about 100 people blocking one the tiny streets, except for one little area where pedestrians could squeeze through to continue with their day... I was certain that we had come across either some zealous religious folk or, perhaps even a politically motivated group, but either way, it was really beautiful - 100 voices singing with gusto and in harmony...... We stayed til they moved on to the next street and I asked if they were part of the church (they had a certain believers glow on their faces...) but in fact "no - we are proud Basque people who love our language and we love to sing and every third saturday we sing in the streets..." So perhaps a little political, but non-violent and really enjoyable. We saw them again later in the night, when their number had dropped to about 20 people, and people spilled out of bars with a drink in their hand (us included) to enjoy the free concert.

So, it warmed up a little and we took a walk along the beach, La Concha! The beach here is really beautiful - looking out ot the bay, on your right is the old town, and the old fortressed hill with the prominent statue of Jesus on top. To your right is the old summer palace and the funicular to the amusement park on top of the hill. Directly in front is a turtle shaped island like a dot in the middle of the bay. In summer pontoons are set up in the bay with slides and trampolines etc and you need to take a reasonable swim to get to them. Its still out of season, but a decent number of people were soaking up the early spring rays.

That evening we had a "proper" (ie not more tapas!!) meal in a restaurant - ok, not one with a world famous chef, but a really cute place with a nice chatty waiter and had a really nice meal. The walk home was lovely as the evening mists had rolled in giving the bay a really etherial look with the high tide and the lights along the promenade.

On day 2 we bought some fruit and took a walk up the hill to visit Jesus and get a view down over the bay and old town. A lovely day and finally out of the fleeces and jeans that we had come to despise over the last 3 weeks!!

When we were passing through the old town we heard some music and mums ears pricked..... "hey, thats Argentine Tango music!!" We followed the sound to the main squre to find about 80 people from the Friends of Tango group doing a display. They were fantastic and I decided that this would be a very cool dance to learn. When they finished we had a beer in the sun before setting off for the other side of the bay to see what there was to see.

We found an old Funikular that we took to the top where we then found a fun park for kids.... The first ride we saw were little boats going round a little path - designed for kids but we really wanted a go so as I was mum´s child, we used that technicality to justify it. We got some funny looks from the other adults, but I think they were a little jealous because they wanted a go too!!

It was on the walk home, as the evening promenade started that we realised that we were literally surrounded by strollers and babies - LITERALLY!! Mum thought that there was a baby-bonus here because it was a crazy amount of kids for one small town!

We saw everyone with an icecream, so of course, we wanted one too.... then we saw everyone with a white bag, eating something with a shell, so we followed them to find a seafood shop selling sea snails....... when i was young, we used to go to Bulli beach and get Baboushi shells, pop would cook them and we would eat them in their kitchen..... So, for old times sake, we bought a bag and ate them on the edge of harbour, surrounded by fishing boats.

On our last day (after a hurry on from our now-not-so-friendly host Josephina) we wandered the streets with our suitcases to find a suitable bar to haunt til our airport bus came. We found a good spot in the shade near the harbour and I watched these ladies mending the fishing nets in the hot hot sun. They worked together really well, telling stories and passing around a bottle of water to stay cool. I was thinking of the Stitch and Bitch group that I had with friends at home and decided to go over for a chat. My spanish is basic but they told me that they do this every month or so, or as needed, and that it takes all day - so there is no avoiding the worst of the heat. I donñt know if they ar the fishermans wives or family or if they are only employees, but regardless, its a tough job.

So that brings us to the end of our weekend escape. We caught the plane home, got back to the flat and crashed for the night. I have developed a pregnant looking belly from all those pinchos and pastries and icecream and beers, but it was worth it..... Ill just have to take the stairs a bit more this week ;-()

Friday, May 04, 2007

portugal and spain - the thelma and louise tour

Well, well well, the month with mum came and went in a flash, and now i am trying to record what happened..... It turns out that we did an awful lot really...... BUT - I am flat out catching up with work, paperwork, etc etc and cant give it the attention that it deserves here now.....

SO, here is the summary....

Mum arrived and had the jet lag to prove that she had a 32 hour journey!!

Ruben and I cooked up a spanish tapas lunch, Pete visited and we propped mum up with our news until we let her crash and try to catch up on sleep

We picked up our very cute hire car on Wed 4 April and drove on the wrong side of the road, in a manual, out of Madrid, through the countryside and into Portugal.

As we had no plans, we were able to stop in Portalegre just across the border as we were tired and couldnt face the next few hours driving into Lisbon. Cute walled town not built for foreign drivers - we drove around and around and around and around being quite lost but managed to get a pretty good feel for the place without walking a step! Found a room, had an (interesting) meal and crashed.

Next day we went to Evora and I managed to follow my nose to the pension that I stayed in in 1998!!! The same lady was there and i explained that Id stayed there before. The town is really lovely - we had some roasted chestnuts in the square, watching the old men standing around and chatting all afternoon while their wives cooked!! The Roman ruins were lovely and this is where I started to see the street art that i noticed everywhere throughout Portugal.

Driving into Lisbon was really lovely - the Golden Gate style bridge is really impressive, the Jesus statue on the hill mirrors the twin in Rio de Janeiro and watches over the gorgeous city. Again getting a tad lost we accidentally looped past the airport twice before getting into town. A visit to the tourist office told us that the city was fully booked, so we decided to push on to Sintra. Visited the Tower of Balem and San Jeronimos monastry before taking the hilly roads up to the picturesque town, known for its fairytale castles. We found a room and tried to visit the castle. When i came here in 1998 the hill top was shrouded in cloud and the "amazing views" were hidden from us...... but this was a clear day and it was time to finally see it..... except we were stuck in a traffic jam, kept missing our street and when we finally got there we were told that sorry, we are closed now....... Stoopid castle!!! Met some nice people in a winebar later that night and had some looooovely chees made from goat, sheep and cow!! yummmmm

Lisbon - finally!! Lovely day, strange but comfortable room and a beautiful city to explore on foot. We took the scenic bus, went up the old winding streets of the Barrio Alto - old district, found some amazing funky designer shops, ate some divine pastries and at the very end, when mum was about to crash, we ran into some Aussie boys with money to burn who bought us dinner and beers!! Think they were missing their mum as mum was duly adopted as the group mum!! The budget gods were smiling on us as our room that night turned out to be free also - we couldnt get the guy to let us pay, so we left, feeling guilty, but...... if they dont want it, they dont want it!!

Big day of driving to Lagos...... and finally the cold weather cleared so that we could enjoy the beach!! We walked and shopped and drank beers by the edge of the sea!! LOVELY!! Mum now got the cold I had the week before so we decided to slow down the pace and stay another night here to relax and unwind. Day two was more of the same!!

Time to leave Portugal and drive across to Seville! Again, struck on a cool pension with a friendly owner who helped us park illegally and watched over our car in its poll position outside the front door. Our central position made it easy to walk and eat and watch flamenco at our leisure...... then, in the middle of the night it all went a bit pear shaped...... yelling, screaming, breaking bottles, for HOURS..... who´s that yelling in the middle of the echoing stone streets..... oh, dear, its our kindly host and a lady.....got pretty scary actually and also meant that we didnt sleep at all from about 2-5am!! Then when we tried to pay the 40 euro per night that he quoted me became 80 euro..... ummm, no, we cant pay that..... on and on it went until he gave in (perhaps recalling that he told us the wrong price, perhaps not, i dont know). Regardless, we decided it was all a bit too much and high-tailed it out of there..... But the highlights were the tapas, the funny barmen and the flamenco show!!
Now, because we listened to the advise of a drunk irishman, we drove the looooooooooooooong way to Rhonda instread of the 2 hour direct road!! But it was scenic....... although with no sleep we had a few stops were we crashed in the car park of a roadside diner for a bit of shut-eye...... We finally arrived in the mountains around 7 and could see how lovely the place is. The ancient bridge (in this picture) is really impressive and is the main feature.... the deep gorge is amazing and this was apparently the town that Hemmingway used "For Whom the Bell Tolls" - and was one of the most dramatic scenes in the book where the republicans sacked the town and threw the fascists off the walls into the gorge and left to die.... Explored more in the morning and enjoyed being out of a big city!

Next morning we ventured into the lap of luxury to visit Kim´s best friend Bron and her hubby Spencer!! Pulling our dusty car into the Mansions Club in Marbella was a relief, but after negotiating the tiniest roads, lanes and walled cities, this is the first time i didnt feel brave enough to park the car..... a crooked park by the Jaguar in the next spot meant that it was too tight a fit, and as the owner is an Arab diplomat and his minder in the (not so subtle) parked car behind us is the chief of police, I decided that this was not the time to have my first accident! The flat was amazing and Bron and Spence were totally welcoming. A perfect finish to our budget road tour! We went for dinner at the posh wharf of Porta Banus, had lunch at the uber posh "Nicky´s Beach" beach club (think 1950 euros for a bottle of champers) and very relaxing time talking and drinking red wine.

Sadly, this brings us to the end of the road part of the trip - a 6 hour drive up to Madrid finished us off.... we picked up Ruben on the way through and knowing that we would have no food in the fridge, he came fully equipped to cook us dinner!!! Tired but happy we crashed in the pad in Madrid.

I worked the next two weeks, but we managed to do some other things along the way..... This was meant to be brief, but, well, there is a lot to tell.

Will update more soon with the rest of our time together.....

PS: The new pics are on Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/kellieu) - not all captioned yet, but from our trip!