Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Corrida del toros y San Sebastian…


Well, I went to the bullfights yesterday. It is definitely the farthest thing from American culture I’ve seen so far. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I went, but it was interesting. There is a very particular ritual in the bullfights, and I learned a lot about it just by watching even though I didn’t know anything about it before I went. We also asked the fans around us a lot of questions, so it was really good practice talking to local Spaniards and learning the culture. They ended up killing 6 bulls that afternoon and it was a little bit sad. Also, when a particular bullfight goes really well (meaning they kill it fast and in the right place) they cut off the dead bull’s ear as a trophy for the bullfighter. Well, one torero (bullfighter) received an ear during the afternoon I went and he threw it into the audience – a little reminiscent of foul balls during baseball games in the States, only a little bit more…what’s the right word? Different? All in all, it was a great cultural experience that I don’t care to experience again.

The trip to San Sebastian was a good cultural experience as well, and it brought on more positive thoughts than the bullfights. A warning…it was a long trip, and I’m going to tell all. I just hope it doesn’t get boring for all of you. It starts with my first train ride. Let me tell you, the train rides here unfortunately do not resemble the Hogwarts Express (for all my fellow Harry Potter fans). We traveled Friday night from midnight to 6 in the morning, so we were on a sleeping compartment train. It would have been really great, except I’m not fond of sleeping with strangers, so it was a little awkward and muy uncomfortable! So we arrived in San Sebastian around 6 or 6:30 and went searching for our hostel. Spaniards are night owls – late to bed, late to rise. So at 7 in the morning it felt like 3 or 4 and was a little nerve-wracking walking around the city that early in the morning. Thankfully, we were able to get into our hostel even though we couldn’t check in until noon. There was absolutely nothing for us to do except sit in the lobby of the hostel because our rooms were not yet vacant and even cafés in Spain do not open until 9:00. So all 8 of us fell fast asleep at 8:00 (I don’t think anyone had decent sleep on the train) and like clockwork woke up at 9:00 all at the same time. It was so crazy (but you probably had to be there). We then set out to find breakfast and happened upon an amazing little place that had incredible morning sweets and café con leche. Also, their hot chocolate was like a melted chocolate bar, it looked so good, even though I didn’t have any. We all felt much better after that.

For most of the first day, we were on the beach. San Sebastian has two beaches, one that is more or less a bay and then one that completely faces out into the ocean. We were at the first one because it was safer and the more popular of the two. The water was so cold, but it was so nice just to lay out in the sand after a full week of school, fiestas every night, and a long train ride! That afternoon, we took a tour on a little train around the city (which wasn’t really a train because it rides on wheels not tracks). The city was so beautiful, but I can’t say much about it because I got tired of listening to the tour in four languages – Spanish, Basque, French, and English. The Basque language is really weird and does not resemble anything I’ve ever seen or heard before, but everything was also in Spanish and everyone spoke Spanish, so we didn’t have any problems. What I do know is that there is an old part of the city and a new part, just like Toledo and many other Spanish cities. The old part of the city is 400-500 years old and the “new” part of the city is at least 200 years old (to put it into perspective, the “new” Spanish cities are as old as the United States of America). After the tour, we ate dinner at Café La Concha which sits right beside the beach. I had seafood kabobs and rice – seafood doesn’t get much better than eating it right beside the ocean from where it came!

Instead of going out like we usually do, we all decided to spend time together at the hostel. One thing that I’ve actually learned to appreciate about the States is that you can just go to other people’s houses and watch movies or talk or do anything. I didn’t realize this, but that’s how you get to know people really well. My friends and I don’t have that luxury here in Spain because it is not customary to invite guests to the house unless it’s for a family function, and then it’s usually just family (go figure). So we had a really good time playing Mafia (a camp game that I taught everyone…it’s never gone over well outside of camp, but it did this time!). No matter what company you’re in, when you go out with friends you always have to have some sort of composure because you are in public, but when it was just us in a more intimate setting, we could let our guards down and be goofy, which especially worked because we were all delirious from a lack of sleep. Needless to say, the hostel beds that night were pretty comfortable.

On Sunday, we climbed a mountain on top of which stood a HUGE statue of Jesus. It reminded me of the cross at Valle de los Caidos that we toured at the beginning of my program. Of course it was absolutely gorgeous because from the mountain you could see all of San Sebastian, the ocean, and the island called Santa Klara between the bay and the rest of the ocean. I really should open up a postcard stand with all of the pictures I have of these places!
Our group split up after our hike and I went with a couple of other friends to explore the other beach and poke around the rest of the city. We hit up the souvenir shops and a few other stores in the old part of the city. The plan was to go visit some museums and cathedrals, but the museums were closed because it was Sunday. We were so tired by early afternoon, it was hard not to lay down like bums on the steps of the massive cathedrals. We ended up going to the beach until it was time for dinner and the train ride home. A fun fact about European beaches…they don’t have to be declared nude beaches to see more skin than necessary. My friends and I were definitely in the minority with our bikini tops on the whole time. I know all the guys are drooling right now, but the 60 and 70 year olds were right there with the youngun’s bearing all (and no, that is not an exaggeration on the age)! The women also like to roll there bottoms up to resemble thongs to get maximum tan, not always a pretty sight. I even witnessed men and women, alike, change on the beach right there in front of everyone. They at least covered up everything below the waist with towels (which worked provided that the towel actually stayed up for the duration of their changing clothes, and it sometimes did not). The women didn’t even bother to put on tops when they went up to the bar to get a drink. It is definitely a different world over here!

Después de la playa (after the beach), we went for pinchos (same as tapas – little appetizers that Spanish people like to eat for dinner). The food consisted mostly of slices of tortilla (remember, tortillas are not flat bread, they are omelets) and different seafood spreads on baguette slices. I had a slice of tortilla bacalao (not sure what bacalao is, but it’s seafood and it’s good), and some tuna spread on bread, it was delicious.

We finally made our way to the station (it had been a long day) to catch our 10:30pm-4:30am train ride. This ride seemed a tad shorter, which probably meant I was able to sleep better that time than on the way to San Sebastian. It was still pretty uncomfortable sleeping with 3 other old men who didn’t even speak any language that I speak (I have two to choose from now!) My friends and I tried to switch compartments so that we could all be together, but the conductor would not have that, and the conductor had tall, mean-looking security friends with pistols and nightsticks, so we didn’t press our luck. I stood outside the train compartment with my friend for the last hour of the ride because it was so uncomfortable in the compartments. It was actually a really enjoyable ride standing and looking out of the window watching the country go by.

I did indeed have to go to school today after all of that. I got back to the house at 5 or 5:30 and went to school at 9 this morning. It was raining all day, too, which made me long for my bed even more. Most of the people in my classes also took a weekend trip, and we were all so tired that one of my teachers told the class to sleep more at home so we wouldn’t be as tired in class. I felt kind of bad because usually I’m really engaged in class and I ask a lot of questions, but I was just dead today. It was SO worth it though, and I had a really good siesta this afternoon! (I slept for two hours and woke up not having any idea where I was or what was going on. It took me a second to get my bearings, that’s how hard I fell asleep.) Surprisingly, I was really good at Spanish today even though I was pretty exhausted (usually it takes me at least 30 seconds to form a sentence in Spanish before I have my coffee in the morning). My señora and I had dinner tonight, just the two of us, which has never happened because there are 3 other students living in the house. It was really good because I had to talk to her by myself, I didn’t have the luxury of turning to Gina when I didn’t understand something, or simply not taking a big part in the conversation (which I try to avoid, but happens when I’m tired).

Well, that’s about it for my weekend. San Sebastian was such a good trip because we did so much for so little cost! We definitely took advantage of our time and did everything we could possibly do. The weather was perfect and the city was beautiful, it turned out to be the perfect first trip that I’ve ever planned with only peers. ¡Buenas noches, todos! ¡Besos y abrazos (kisses and hugs)!


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