A Travellerspoint blog

April 2011

Day 11, San Sebastian

sunny 21 °C

We started this morning with a cup of coffee at our coffee bar here, called Ekain, where we ordered the requisit cafe con leche, which is a nice heavy shot of espresso with an thick top up of milk. We change up our pastry every morning, but it's always there. I've been asking when I want the cheque "kwan-to kwes-ta esto?" (cuanto cuesta esto? in Spanish) it means "how much is it?" and everytime I do the person serving me will kind of snicker and laugh, I'm feeling awfully insecure about it, I'm obvisouly doing something wrong.
We walked over to the train station because we need to book a few train rides and when we asked about it the man said we would need to go back to France to make those reservations. We're obviously very confused about this because the station is part of RENFE the national train company. So we're hoping they will be more help in Barcelona and crossing our fingers our trains don't get booked up before then.
We walked the sea wall after this and sat on the wall watching the waves crash hard onto the rocks below. The ocean here is so beautiful it makes me wish I was snorkeling in Jamaica again. On our way back to our room to change I bought a pair of red shoes and two white shirts, for something pretty. You'll see them around I'm sure.
We got into our bathing suits and stopped across the road at the market for lunch where we picked up some serrano ham, a half baugette, a few dips and some roasted red peppers. We sauntered off towards the beach. Once we finished eating we spent an hour flipping and flopping in the sun trying not to burn. We didn't have towels so I layed on the sand and didn't go in the water very much because I couldn't dry myself off.
After the beach Shane took a nap in our room and I tried to sort out more stuff for the rest of our vacation. All this planning while already on vacation really takes away from being in the moment. While he slept I also went for a walk and watched the surfers on the beach and the kids in the sand. People watching is a major past time for me here. We went to dinner a little earlier today, back to our favourite bar, Astelena, which once again blew our minds, it is by far the most expensive place we go to but the quality and fact that they cook everything to order AFTER you select it makes it totally worth it.
Shane was wondering out loud last night whether or not a pintxos style restaurant would work in Canada, and I kindly pointed out that if a Canadian health inspector walked into one of these bars he would have the place shut down in half a second just based on the fact that the meat, seafood and cheese sit out ALL NIGHT for at least 5 hours, there is not really a concept of make to order when you are eating tapas. Your meat skewer or seafood topped sandwich will be there from 7 regardless of whether you order it at 8 or 12. In fact in the last bar we went into last night our ham and mayo sandwich came with not one but TWO dead flies on it trapped in the mayo, how delicious is that?
We really enjoyed San Sebastian and it's relaxing atmosphere. We are going to miss not having a private room for the next few days, you don't know how nice it is to spread out and leave your stuff lying around until you can't do it.

Posted by s-a 00:01 Archived in Spain Tagged san sebastian Comments (7)

Day 10, San Sebastian

semi-overcast 19 °C

Everything in Spain happens a little late. The sun comes up late, breakfast is late, lunch doesn't start till 1:30, all the shops are closed from 2-4 and close again at 8:30. So, of course, everything takes a little getting used to. I woke up at 7, but we didn't leave to get some coffee until 9. We bought some plastic spoons. On a side note, here are a few things I recommend to future backpackers; plastic forks and spoons, plastic camping cups and make sure you have a swiss army knife. These are all things we would use daily. At least we remembered the knife.
We walked through the old town and up Mount Urgull, which was a beautiful walk. The front side of the mountain faces the town and beaches that line the bay and the port. The growth is natural and not manicured, the plants were growing out of the stone walls and the birds were singing (at times loudly.) At the top we reached a structure first started in the 1200's as a church, it was later made into a fort loaded with canons the whole way around to protect the city, now it is a free museum with great views.
We very much liked this castle because all though it was very old we were one of only a few people there, so we could really connect with the place and nothing was off limits for touching, there were no "do not touch" signs and no fences between us and anything except for a one of a kind canon. The backside of the mountain faces only the ocean, from up top it is very calming. We walked another route down the hill staying on the backside away from the town. We noticed a shooting range where they trained soldiers to shoot in the 1800's and graveyard used between the years 1800-1836. I found it amazing that other people had walked through the same foliage and touched the same old gate as I had for the last two hundred years.
We walked back to our room to change our clothes and left straight away for lunch. It was 2pm before we finally decided which restaurant to go in but it was worth the wait. The place we chose was very quaint and full of locals and their families. We ordered what everyone seemed to be ordering, the paella. It was amazing, so so so amazing. Each pan was baked with the seafood loaded into it for at least 20 minutes, until it formed a thick chewy crust. It was creamy like risotto on the inside, and get this! Shane didn't complain about the green peppers in it! This is a miraculous achievement, because if ANYTHING has green peppers in it, he will not eat it! I was floored!!
After lunch we went back to our room and I spent a few hours trying to book rooms for later in our trip, which is extremely frustrating because everything is already full. We left the room again around 6 to visit the church only a block away, the one who's bells we hear chiming once an hour. It was a very beautiful church, still very much in use and at the particular moment we were there the sun was coming through the stained glass windows in a way that took our breath away. We sat and watched for quite a while.
This keller is good local beer
We walked a few minutes down the street to get some ice cream (don't want the blood sugars to get too low!) and espresso. On the way back we stopped in a few stores and tried on some clothes. We are getting tired of feeling like frumpy backpackers. I bought a scarf and a navy blue sweater and Shane bought a pair of jeans and some really cool sneakers. We showered and dressed for dinner.
Dinner was another amazing experience, we didn't do so well for the budget, but we really enjoyed ourselves and the great food. If anyone ever comes to San Sebastian we HIGHLY recommend Bar Astelena, it has the best food, they take a few minutes to prepare everything perfectly and the wine is top notch.

Posted by s-a 22:35 Archived in France Tagged san sebastian Comments (2)

Day 9, San Sebastian

semi-overcast 18 °C

We woke up in our dingy room this morning later than I would have liked, 8:15. We dressed and gathered our things and went to find breakfast at Paul's. We settled on a croissant, (best one so far) a jar of yogurt with berries and two espresso (brewed coffee is not an option in France, it simply doesn't exist). We took out loot to the park to eat in the sunshine. On our way back from breakfast we tried to get money out of the atm with our credit cards and it said (a few times) we had the wrong pin. We knew that it couldn't be the PIN numbers because we'd used them many times before.
We got back to the hotel and checked out, walked back to a cafe to update the blog, tried to get a hold of Visa numerous times. The pay phones in France are very difficult to use, even when you do finally give a number in the correct format you get the message "number not available in this region." Shane and I walked into a bank we had tried to use earlier and talked to two of the women working there, they didn't know what to do, so we tried the visa with them watching, OF COURSE IT WORKED. WHY WOULDN'T IT WORK?! We felt so dumb! We were able to take out money no problem! In our defense we had tried 3 separate time that morning. Oh well, live and learn.
We picked up some lunch, grabbed our bags and found our way to the train station. On our way through to the platform I couldn't resist buying an apricot tart to bring on the train. And it was SO good. I'm so glad I bought it, I'd been eyeing them up every time we went into a pastry shop for the last 9 days. It was perfect, tart apricots slightly sweetened with glaze on a flaky puff pastry crust.
We got into San Sebastian around four and found out pension (it's getting easier every time, thank goodness) which is amazing. If any of you ever come to San Sebastian we would highly recommend Pension La Perla. It's in a great location with rooms that are both simple and beautiful, plenty of windows an ensuite bathroom, there are even mini fridges in every room. I'm going to point out the fact that this is the largest shower we have seen so far and the only one that I haven't accidentally turned off with my butt while I was turning around.
When we first get into our rooms we always open the windows and this time the sound of Spanish music filled the room, as though they were serenading us down to the street. All around out room the streets are free of cars and people (a lot of them) cruise the shops for goods.
Across the street is a beautiful old church and after we had showered and unpacked a little we explored our area. Eventually we came across a supermarket filled with neat things. We bought some fresh squeezed orange juice and a container of yogurt for breakfast tomorrow. We also bought a 2 euro bottle of Spanish white wine and a bag of ham flavoured chips which we promptly devoured.
We came home to unload our goodies and I quickly booked our b&b in Rome (because we've got to keep on top of these things.) Dinner in Spain can't even be found before 7:30 so around 8:30 we walked to the old town. In this particular region of Spain (and the main reason we came here) dinner is eaten in pintxo bars, or in a tapas style. You order a drink and a few nibbles, chat a little, pay and move on to the next bar. It's a really fun way of doing things. Tonight there was a soccer game on between Madrid and Barcelona, arch nemesis in Spain, apparently this is a BIG thing. Madrid scored two goals while we were out, it was really neat to see (and hear) the streets erupt with cheers. We really enjoyed our dinner and as a bonus it was a very good value, 30 euros bought us 7 (!) drinks and dinner for two.

Posted by s-a 13:54 Archived in Spain Tagged san sebastian bordeaux Comments (7)

Day 8, Bordeaux

sunny 24 °C

We woke up very early this morning, 4:40am to be exact. With four other roommates we tried our very best to be quiet. We had everything ready to go the night before, we didn’t turn on any lights and made minimal noise. As a result Shane forgot his favourite hat and sunglasses, which really sucks, because now we gotta buy a new one. We checked out of the hostel and grabbed a croissant (free!) which we ate while walking down the street. At 4:50 in the morning we started our 3km walk to the train station. It was an experience in itself to be up before anyone else walking down the streets of Paris. The air was warm, I was only wearing shorts, but still free of the heat from the sun. The only people we came across were the few setting up the Montparnasse market stalls, which would open a few hours later.
We arrived with a few minutes to spare and bought some espresso from a vending machine(weird). We hopped on our train and settled in for our ride, which ended up being just about 3 hours. An hour in Shane made his way to the dining car and bought us some more espresso and another croissant, which we proceeded to flake all over our seats.
The train ride to Bordeaux was uneventful. We weren’t totally sure, given that we only had one night here, we really wanted to come, but after we had been in the city for only 30 minutes we knew we had made the right decision. Bordeaux is a small town, only about the size of Abbotsford but it gives such a sense of belonging. The trams run all over town and the parks are magnificent. The people we came across were so helpful and giving and never ONCE did we feel unsafe, which is crazy for my psychotically paranoid husband to say. The whole city is a beautiful mix of old world styles and natural beauty, where the cracking buildings with their peeling paint combine nicely with twisted green vines and colourful patio flower boxes.
We found our hostel fairly easily and because we were feeling extremely dirty we asked the reception dude for the closest laundromat. He directed us just a block away and recommended a cafe just across the way with wifi which turned out to be very cute (and useful.)
It took an hour to do our laundry, but that gave us enough time to get on the internet and tie up some loose ends. We felt so much better knowing our clothes didn’t stink like something awful. We stashed our bags at the hotel and asked for the reception dude’s favourite canel store and then for a restaurant recommendation. He gladly (we think) gave us both.
First we (got a little lost) found the store selling cannels, something Bordeaux is famous for. The little cakes are baked in metal tins in a funny solution that makes the shells crispy and the interiors silky and smooth, I was very impressed with them. Then we walked back to our street and checked out a restaurant that had looked very promising earlier, La Chaperon Rouge. We walked in and were ushered to the back, to a table for two. The owner plunked down a carafe of red house wine on her way by and hurriedly asked something while pointing to a little table set in the middle of the restaurant where people were helping themselves to a first, second or third helping of food. We nodded and looked at each other wondering, slightly perplexed to exactly what was happening. It was as though the restaurant had a plan for us and we were just along for the ride. We took a few sips of wine and then I stood up. I took a plate from the end of the table and started filling my plate with all sorts of homemade french goodies. Pork pate, ham and cheese salad, house-made salami, perfectly cooked potatoes, lightly dressed mushrooms, hard boiled eggs, cooked asparagus, balsamic dressed watercress. The list goes on, I wandered back to Shane, slightly dazed. The whole of the tiny restaurant was packed with locals clearly on break from work. We worked our way through one plate each and then went back for a little more. The wine we drank, then moved on to water. The owner came by eventually, “you want more food?” she asked, “no” we answered “full up to here” motioning to the top of my head. “Coffee? Dessert?” Could we say no? Moments later she brings two perfect espresso and a creme caramel to share. We enjoyed our meal immensely, it was like someone invited us into their house for lunch,an amazing experience. And the whole thing, 20 euros, the bargain of the century.
After our blissful lunch we checked into our hotel, showered and took a nap. Around 5:30 we left to find some dinner, which we ate in a park. None of the food was that memorable except for dessert which we bought from a boulangerie named Paul’s that seems to be the favourite around here. Tartelette au citron meringue. It was so good! The crust was perfectly delicate and the lemon curd was not very sweet, just how it should be, tart. And the meringue was like eating a cloud with just the perfect crust on top. I’m sure I’ll never be able to replicated such an amazing dessert.
We walked around for a bit before we bought some cheap (1 euro per bottle) Heineken and drank it on the boardwalk watching the locals run, bike and rollerblade for their evening exercise. A fittingly low-key ending to a fairly relaxing day.

Posted by s-a 01:32 Archived in France Tagged bordeaux Comments (5)

Day 7, Pontorson

sunny 27 °C

View from our room

View from our room

First view of MSM

First view of MSM

Yesterday started with a disappointing breakfast at our B&B. In their defense, it was a national holiday and the boulangerie was closed for the day, so the bread and croissants were a day old. What did Shane and I conclude? Don’t let an English cook do a French cook’s job. Our host, Steve gave us a ride to Mont St-Michel and left us with instructions on where to drop our bags and where to find a bus schedule. He also mentioned that after we finished those things, that we should to go straight to the abbey before the push of crowds arrived. All his advice was sound.
The 9 euros we each paid was well worth it. I thought we were just going to see an abbey, but we saw so much more. Dining halls, multiple praying rooms, an inner court yard, the knights hall, where they kept prisoners, it was all very awesome. When you see the views on top of Mont St-Michel you can understand why they chose to build an abbey there. With the sun streaming in through the many stained glass windows throughout the buildings you get the feeling that the place was touched by a divine hand.
After the tour we found a few postcards and got some lunch and a nutella crepe. Yum!
We waited for the public bus to come and bring us to the train station. We arrived just in time to catch the 1:40 train to Caen. The train ride was really nice, we accidentally sat in 1st class the whole was, though the conductor checking tickets didn’t say anything. When we arrived in Caen we very quickly found the train going to Paris. It was getting loaded with people, we frantically tried to find unreserved seats, competing with others carrying far less luggage than us. Eventually we made our way to the back car and found two seats. Every stop we made on the way to Paris filled up a little more. By the end of the 2 hour ride there were: 4 babies (all who we’re crying, sometimes in chorus), 1 minister, 1 guy who looked exactly like Shane’s brother (except for the dark hair), 1 cat, 1 XL girl who wouldn’t stay in her seat and kept asking people for money, and at least 15 people sitting on the floor in the narrow isles. Then, for a grande finale, a newborn baby decided to belt out a solo for the last 15 minutes of our ride. Longest 15 minutes ever.
We got into Paris at 6:10pm and found our way to our hostel for the night. It was a nice hostel, all new. By the end of the night we had a full room.
We left the hostel and got some dinner at a place we really didn’t think was going to be that great, it turned out to be awesome! My body was craving vegetables, I haven’t had near enough so I had the salad terrior. It had everything on it including a fried egg and a few sliced of raw bacon, Shane says he’s been eating for years, I didn’t even know it was food safe. Shane had a steak with bearnaise sauce. For dessert we shared the best creme brulee I’ve ever had.
It was 10pm by the time we got back to our hostel. We got all our stuff ready to go for the morning and set our alarm for 4:50am. I hadn’t thought about the fact that in hostels no one goes to bed by 11. We went to sleep with the lights on.

Posted by s-a 02:08 Archived in France Tagged pontorson Comments (4)

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