Sunday, March 25, 2012

Funicular to Mount Igueldo

We took a long walk on La Concha beach early this morning. The beach has gold, soft fine sand and is spectacular. We ate breakfast at an outdoor café along the promenade overlooking the water. Then we walked to the western edge of the bay and rode a rumbling funicular to the summit of Mount Igueldo. The tower at the top claims to be “the best view in the world.” It is indeed very grand!! There’s also an old amusement park, where rickety rides and classic carnival games are so retro that they transcend tackiness and are fun for young and old alike. We ate lunch at a restaurant along the promenade. The day was 70 degrees, sunny and gorgeous. We took a 4:40 pm train back to Madrid. We made the mistake of not purchasing our ticket ahead so we had to go first class part of the way. Not terrible, just more expensive. We learned our lesson! The train arrives at 10 pm in Madrid and I’m spending the night with Evie at her apartment. Tomorrow morning I head back home.

I’ve had a fantastic trip full of adventure and fun. The best part was being with Evie!!! She planned a very complete and well thought out itinerary for us in Madrid. It was fantastic to this city that she has come to love so much through her eyes. Highlights included having Evie row me around the lake in Parque Retiro, touring the Prado, having wine at the Mercado San Miguel, seeing the Palaceo Rial, having a massage at Hammam Arab Bathhouse, and seeing Elsa’s pajama party. I was so impressed with Evie’s command of the Spanish language. She communicates beautifully and guided us around with ease. I couldn’t have gotten around without her because I’m terrible with foreign languages.

I’m glad we had the opportunity to explore San Sebastian too. It was so relaxing and I loved listening to the waves at night as we fell asleep. It’s scallop-shaped bay, gold sand, turquoise water, wind-swept trees and seaside promenade were all breathe-taking I loved our adventurous days in Getaria and hiking the Camino trail. Evie’s a wonderful and fun traveling companion. I will remember our time together forever!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hiking the Camino de Santiago

One of the major routes of the Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage trail running from the French border right across north Spain, passes through San Sebastian. So for a taste of the celebrated trek we hiked from San Sebastian to the town of Pasajes San Pedro following the yellow Camino trail markings (in reverse). We hiked for 2 1/2 hours through lush forests and past postcard-perfect panoramas of cliffs sinking into the sea. It was a spectacular hike and real adventure. The weather was 70 degrees and gorgeous. Once we arrived in Pasajes San Pedro we took a short ferry ride across the channel to Pasajes San Juan where we had lunch at a local seafood restaurant. The seafood was fresh off the boats. Best food we’ve had here. Then we took the ferry back to Pasajes San Pedro and then a bus to San Sebastian, only 15 minutes away. We walked back to the hotel along the promenade enjoying the sites and fresh air. For dinner we ate at an Italian restaurant and then had ice cream on the promenade.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Adventure to Getaria

We slept wonderfully with our window open to the sound of the sea. Best night’s sleep so far. Woke to a spectacular view from our balcony of LaConcha beach and promenade. We took a bus to Getaria, a charming fishing village on the Cantabrian Sea, about 25 minutes away. We visited the newly opened Balenciaga Museum. Balenciaga, the grand Maestro of modern couture, was born in this village and his first designs were for the aristocracy who summered here. The fabulous collection is housed in Queen Fabiola of Belgium’s former summer home. Evie loved seeing this fashion museum. After tapas for lunch we called a cab to take us to a local winery called Txomin Etxaniz where I had arranged a tour at 4:30 pm. The driver showed up in a Mercedes no less and drove super fast around curvy roads while blasting American music really loud. It was a real hoot! The winery is situated on a rocky bluff overlooking the Atlantic, surrounded by sloped vineyards. The winery, family owned and operated since the 1600s, is known for its excellent Geteriako Txakolina. The wine is sold primarily in this region. The owner’s son gave us a private tour. He explained the history and production of this delightful white wine before a special tasting session accompanied by homemade anchovies. This tour was the real thing, not touristy in any way. Back to San Sebastian by bus. For dinner we went to Ni Neu, which means “I Myself” in Basque. It’s a new restaurant at the Kursaal, the auditorium and convention center. The restaurant’s slick black walls and spotlighted tables were the stage for a gourmet dinner including ravioli, salad with shrimp and potatoes, cod, lamb, peanut soufflé, and French toast with goat cheese ice cream. Of course the dinner included a bottle of wine. What a fabulous end to a memorable day.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Train to San Sebastian

This morning we walked by Glamour Magazine’s headquarters in Madrid where Evie has an internship two days a week. Condé Nast publishes 18 magazines including Vogue, Glamour and Vanity Fair. It’s been a great experience for Evie. We ate lunch at Evie’s house and then took a 4 pm train to San Sebastian. San Sebastian is on the northern coast in the Basque region. The train took 5 hours and was a very pleasant ride. We both snoozed. We checked into Hotel Niza on Zubieta, 56. Our room overlooks Playa de La Concha and with our balcony door open we hear the sea. I could get used to this!! For dinner we walked to the old town a few blocks away. San Sebastian is known for its gourmet food. Apparently there are more three star Michelin stars per capita here than anywhere else on earth. Foodies love this place!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An Amazing Day at Hammam Al Andalus

Today is cold and raining. It’s between 40-50 degrees. Burr! We started off the day having breakfast at a cute café across the street from Evie’s apartment (pictured here). Then off to Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid’s premiere collection of contemporary art. In addition to Picasso’s Guernica, which is worth the price of admission on its own, the museum also includes famous artwork by Spanish artist’s Joan Miro and Salvador Dali among many others. Lunch nearby at La Taperia, which is one of Evie’s hangouts before going to her drawing class around the corner. We had hanging kebabs and tortilla Espanola. After lunch we walked by El Estudio, the art studio where Evie takes class but it was closed for siesta. Next we had an amazing experience!! We went to Hammam Al Andalus, an ancient Islamic bathhouse used to cleanse women in the harem. The Islamic architecture was awesome. Soft Andalusia music, warm candlelight, and the aroma of herbal fragrances, enveloped us as we followed the circuit through a series of thermal contrasts. First we dipped in a hot pool for absolute relaxation, then in a cold pool (not me, only Evie) for stimulation, and finally in a warm pool. Then our skin was ready for a massage, with our choice of rose, lavender, violet or red amber scented oil. It was an amazing experience and renewed our bodies and minds!! What a fun experience to share with Evie; one we’ll never forget! For a decadent snack we went to Chocolateria San Gines, where supposedly they have the best churros in Madrid. They’re like strips of rolled donuts that you dip in chocolate. Yum! We went to dinner at La Cocina de San Anton with Evie’s friend, Christina. The downstairs is a market and the upstairs is a restaurant and rooftop bar. What an amazing day!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Walking Tour

Today Evie has class from from 9-10:30 am, 1-2:30 pm and 5:30-8:30 pm. I went to class with her this morning. It’s a class on Women in Spain. Two groups made presentations, one about domestic violence and the other about stereotypes of women. Everything was in Spanish so I couldn’t understand. Glad I got to see the building the school is in and meet the other students. From there I took the metro to Plaza Mayor where I joined a 3-hr. walking tour. Our tour guide was a nice Israeli young man now living in Madrid. Even though we toured many of the sites I had already seen, it was great learning about the history. It really helped me put it all together and get my bearings. I enjoyed seeing the Teatro Real in the daylight and the Bear and the Tree statue, which is the symbol of Madrid. Also liked going back to Museo de Jamon and seeing all the hanging hams. On the way back to the hotel I took a photo of an almond tree blossom. Reminded me of cherry blossoms. The weather today is really raw, cold and cloudy. I met Evie and Fiona for lunch at Whitby, a restaurant right in our Santa Barbara neighborhood. Evie went back to class and I took it easy at the hotel. Tonight I was invited to dinner at Evie’s host family’s house. Isabel, Elsa, Fiona, Evie and I had a delicious home-cooked meal and lovely dinner conversation. Afterwards Evie and I stopped by a jazz bar right next to the hotel.