A Special Visit

The last two weeks of November have been busy in the best possible way. My parents came to Austria for 10 days, half of which we spent in Vienna and the other half in Graz. It was so good to see them and show them around Austria and where I have been living for the past two and half months. Their visit allowed me to experience a different side of Austria (I call it Austria with money!), but also allowed me to play tourist with them back in Graz. While I realize how fortunate I am to have my parents able to visit me and that not everyone who goes on exchange will have this opportunity, in general I think it is a great thing to have friends or family visit. On the one hand, you see things through their eyes, and realize how much you have become normalized in your new environment. Having visitors also helps ward of any homesickness that usually sets in after a couple of months.

Some highlights from my parents stay:

1) Food

Austrians do food and wine very well. I would argue from my experiences that the local food, or traditional Styrian food in Graz is way better than most of the traditional German food I have sampled. Highlights included dining at the top of the Schlossberg in Graz (at the very originally named restaurant Schlossberg), where I had the best dessert plate of all time, and indulging in  some amazing Austrian wines

Yum!

2) Museums galore

Vienna is a museum city. During our 4 day stay we went to at least one museum a day. The art and history of Vienna is truly impressive, and some of my two favourite artists’s (Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele) major collections can be found in Vienna. It was nice to step back from my daily routine in Graz and spend a few days appreciating the culture and architecture of Vienna.

Kunsthistoriches Museum

3) Mini-road trip

I have been fortunate enough to make Austrian friends here who have a car and are willing to drive me to places outside of Graz. Since I don’t have a driver’s license, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to have my parents rent a car and go on day-trip. We drove along the famous Styrian wine road; although the wine season is long over, you could still appreciate the huge vineyards, tiny villages, old castles, and stunning landscape.

Schloss Seggau, in south Styria

Vineyards

I am gearing up for two last trips before I go back home in three weeks. I am spending this weekend in Prague with my cousin and her fiance, and visiting an old friend of mine in Cologne the following weekend. November has gone by so quickly, and I know that my last three weeks here will also go by in a flash…

quintessentially st andrews.

they call st andrews the bubble…and to be fair, there are a lot of quintessentially st andrean things that help promulgate the idea

there are student newspapers, websites, facebook groups, student societies, st andrews radio…even a tv channel that all help to re-affirm the idea of the bubble. and now you’ll be introduced to some, so put your books aside, because this is going to absorb you for quite a while…you’ll see.

of all of the things that will be listed, this has to be one of the best: ‘overheard st andrews’. basically it’s a facebook group where people post funny/random things they heard/saw on the street, in class, in halls…anywhere around town.
usually it’s students who post…but even the taxi drivers get into it sometimes…go ahead, search it.

remember the student debating society? well, bubble tv (itself a student run organization) made a video about it, http://bubble-tv.com/culture/
watch and get a better idea of what the society is like. also, search around the rest of the videos– they’re all really good!

and for those who like to read, why not try the student newspaper? yes, quite right, there’s more than one…but this is the biggest one:
http://www.thesaint-online.com/

you know the best thing about all of these? people do read the newspaper articles, and post on the discussions, and talk about the issues
raised at meals…so it’s not a typical student initiative where no one participates…the students really do get involved here. and not just in regards to the newspaper– in literally everything.

want proof? well, one of the music clubs is an all-boys group called ‘the other guys’– and they’ve got quite a following. especially because of this video that they made which pretty much everyone now knows…

amazing right?

i told you, the creativity is just in the water.

Saint-V

Last Tuesday (Nov. 20th) was Saint-Verhaegen, or also called Saint-V and there was no class because this is the day ULB (University of Brussels; Université Libre de Bruxelles) celebrates the founder of the university Théodore Verhaegen. The entire day, there are festivities in the city and the clubs (or cercles like they call them here) wear their hats (called penne), rope and using a big decorated truck they drive from the university to the centre. Below is a picture of their special hat and an explanation of a cercle in my ULB agenda.

At 12:30 p.m. there was at the Town Center “Verre de l’amitié” (English: drink of friendship), which was organised by the mayor Freddy Thielemans. They served free beer, juice and also free brioche sandwiches with “poulet curry” (chicken with curry) and “americain préparé” (steak tartar) (both are Belgian specialities). It was awesome to see young students with their hats and old people wearing their old hats celebrating together. It was particularly funny to see grownups with suits wearing their old hats.

Then we decided to go see the Mannekin Pis with his ULB costume. At one point instead of urinating vertically he urinated horizontally and sprayed on purpose a lot of people. Moreover, they also served free fruity beer, however you had to have your own cup with you. Thus a lot of people brought their cups and some even brought kitchen measuring cups or put a string on their cup to hang on their neck. Then we saw all the trucks and cercles from the university, there was music and for 10 Euros you could get unlimited beer from the back of their truck for the entire day. Sometimes they even used very unsual ways to serve beer like for example a watering can (see picture below).

I think Belgium is the only country where people are running behind trucks to get beer in the middle of the afternoon and it seems totally normal. Belgians are not only friendly but they also have a sense of humour and are not afraid to have a good time. I personally love Brussels, its people, its beer and all its craziness that comes with it…

Dog driving a car (?!?)

Musician that randomly plays accordion for money on the middle of the street in my neighbourhood.

Kisses from Brussels – the city where there is never a dull moment

sincerely,

Nazanin

Friday photo: Christmas??… it’s summer time though….

 

V.A Waterfront: Christmas Tree

This to me was just kind of hilarious. I knew I was going to be in South Africa for Christmas, but still. It feels a little to early for Christmas decorations. And a little to hot for them. I ended up with sunburn that day… hardly christmas weather.

The V.A. Waterfront is kind of a nice place to walk around, it’s sort of just a big mall and harbour. There’s a lot of boat tours that dock out of there, and it’s also where the ferry picks up to take passengers over to Robben Island. During the day, especially on weekends, there’s often a lot of performers and musicians. We saw a guy breathing fire, and heard a lot of cool drumming.

Travelling in Europe…Paris

Brussels is known as the capital of Europe because it is in the heart of Europe and it is really easy to travel to a lot of countries. There are buses that you can take to Paris or Amsterdam for 12.50 Euro, which is an AWESOME price it’s almost what I pay to go to UofT and back from where I live. So I’ve decided to go to Paris during our statuary holidays, All Saints Day.

We decided to go to Paris Wednesday and come back on Saturday, unfortunately with the bus trip we were really there for only 2 full days. However, we made the best of it and we tried to see a lot of things. I’ve visited Paris before, thus I knew a little bit the city and where to go (weirdly enough people thought like I knew really well the city, I was asked for direction 3-4 times…). Nevertheless, the metro (English: subway) is really well made and it is really easy to navigate through the city even if it’s your first time there. Wednesday evening we decided to see Paris at night, personally I think it’s when it’s the most charming  because of all the lights. The Eiffel Tower has 2 types of lights, there is one where it is all the time illuminated then there is one where there are a lot of lights blinking like if a million people on the Eiffel Tower are taking pictures (that’s my favorite one). Walking in Paris at night is special, very different and almost magical just like in the movie Midnight in Paris.

In Brussels I met a Parisian student in exchange in Brussels, who worked in Versailles and because he was going home for the holiday, we were extremely lucky to have a private guide show us around Versailles the next day. I learned a lot, he showed us several fountains and buildings, and he explained that Washington DC architecture was influenced by Versailles. The castle and the property is very big and I was really amazed by how they maintained the park so well, the hedges were perfectly straight and some were cut in shapes of rectangles using…wait for it… helicopters!! how cool is that? We were also lucky with the weather, it was so sunny that we really could enjoy every minute of the park, the castle, the Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon, house of Marie-Antoinette and Grand Canal. The castle is spectacular especially the ceilings, I did my best to capture some pictures of the remarkable rooms.

Walking around I really felt a weird sensation because so many important people were walking, breathing, talking, touching the same things as me in the past; Travelling is almost like talking with those of another century (René Descartes).

(picture below) À TOUTES LES GLOIRES DE LA FRANCE (ENGLISH: To all the  glories of France)

 

Here are a few pictures of bedrooms

The next day we went to see the famous cathedral Notre-Dame the Paris, who is well-known because of Victor Hugo. It was beautiful especially the stained glass, however what I didn’t like about it was that everything was commercialized, you went inside you had to pay to see things, to light a candle was very expensive and they had a souvenir shop. Nevertheless, I liked the 2 guestbooks they had in which people, residents or travelers left messages. There is also a beautiful bridge that is filled with locks left by lovers behind the cathedral. Unfortunately it started to rain, therefore we decided to go to the Louvre a bit earlier than planned instead of walking near the Seine river.

France’s motto Liberté Egalité Fraternité (English: Liberty Equality Fraternity)

Hotel-Dieu is a hospital, it has a nice name “Hotel-of-God”.

In France ex-president Sarkozy had a great idea, he made all the museums in France for people under 26 free. This gives a great opportunity to young people and students to visit museums and learn new things. The Louvre has a lot of art sculpture, paintings and work of arts. It is for a non-art/history student sometimes overwhelming because there are so many beautiful things to see and learn. I truly believe that to really enjoy the Louvre one has to visit each room for at least one day. The most well-known painting is the Mona Lisa (la Joconde) and there’s always so many people around that take pictures. Fortunately, we decided to go to the Louvre the entire afternoon until 9p.m., it was great not only because there were less people but also because we felt like we were in The Da Vinci Code.

After the Louvre we met other Canadian and Belgian students from Brussels, it was nice and funny to meet new people from Brussels in Paris. We had a great time, sadly there isn’t enough hours in a day and we had to leave the next day.

Before we took our bus in the morning, we saw the Arc de Triomphe (English: Arch of Triumph) near the Champs Elysées. On it and beneath it are all the names of the generals and wars fought.

Until next time,

sincerely,

Nazanin

P.S. special thanks to my friend who travelled with me and to our Parisian friend, who was so kind to show us around his home town.

 

Finances, Dutch small talk and poetry

Goethe said, “Art and love amplify the small things in life.” I’ve always thought that Goethe missed one thing in that thought— that is travel. I believe that art, love and travel amplify the small things in life. This week, I’m putting  a magnifying glass to:

  • #1: The economics of living abroad— it can be affordable.
  • #2: Cultural Differences: Is it small talk or is it a dig?
  • #3: Food adventures part 4: Gouda, I camembert anything else.
  • #4: Why riding the train is the best

#1: The economics of living abroad— it can be affordable.

Finances are a big issue for those who want to live or travel abroad, I always hear people saying they can’t travel because it costs too much. This blog topic is going to be a 2-parter because living abroad finances and financial tips for traveling abroad are two different beasts. This week’s blog will look into the economics of living abroad, how to do it cheaply, and the vices and virtues that come with budgets.

The top reason students don’t go on exchange is because of finances. I would like to dispel this myth, but admit that there is the risk of things getting expensive. Here are 3 reasons why things can get expensive:

Everything is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We love justifying instant gratification. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “if you don’t do this, future Julie will regret that I didn’t do this!!!” But trust me, you can bankrupt yourself if you say ‘yes’ every time. Seizing the day is important, but is it affordable to do every day?

You can start to forget about the exchange rate. I’m no expert, but something tells me that if you start to roll your estimates down, by like 20-50% that your budgeting is going to be a mess. But this is remarkably easy to do! This is how it happens. First you think, “ This is almost $20 dollars, maybe $5 more…” Then, “20 euro and $20 Canadian are practically the same…” Then, “Exchange rate? What exchange rate?” Boom, just like that, the ghost of budgets past is on your doorstep.

 

You don’t have enough information to know what a good financial decision would look like. If you don’t do your research you may get ripped off as a tourist or just be wasting oodles of money without realizing there are cheaper options. Do your research. Nuff said.

The good thing is, if you know these three pitfalls you can pull yourself out of a financial nosedive, but all this may still sound kind of risky. Here are some decisions I made which I can show the financial impact of and other consequences that were part and parcel.

Rather than living in the dorms at the University of Amsterdam, I sought independent housing. It can often take months to find housing in Holland, my situation happened to work out because I had a friend who offered me a room. But this one decision is saving me about 500 Euro a month! So if you can find alternative housing, you may be able to save a lot, but if it will make it more difficult to meet people. So you have to decide if the economic benefits outweigh the possible social sacrifices.

It’s tempting to go out for coffee, drinks and dinner all the time, but this dramatically increases your cost of living. I try to stay in for meals during the week and allow myself to go out on weekends. The caveat here is that you do not restrict your budget so much that you are just buying the european equivalent of  kraft dinner every night. This will make you very disgruntled, as it should.

Other quick tips for making living abroad affordable:

  • Many countries allow you to work a 10-20 hours a week without a visa and Universities often offer international students jobs on campus
  • If you are looking for independent housing, you can use airbnb.com to book a room for a week while you are looking
  • See if there are any free communal spaces for people to work in, these often have free coffee/tea and food. The one to look for in the Netherlands is seats2meet.

Cultural Differences: Is this small talk or is it a dig?

Treading new cultural waters can be difficult

Whenever I get to a place I try to figure out what the small talk is in the area. This way I can avoid offending people with questions that make them uncomfortable or topics that fall flat. I remember learning in Lyon that I should ask people about a topical issue rather than something personal. In Italy, it was wise to talk about someone’s family or ask where they were originally from. In the Netherlands, the small talk is similar to Canada, in that you ask, “What do you do?” as one of the first questions. But in the Netherlands there is a certain bluntness or directness that is threaded into the conversation. People will often just point things out in a matter of fact way, which if you are used to less direct communication (as we often are in Canada) it can catch you off-guard. Sometimes I don’t know if something is small talk or if it a negative observation made with motives I clearly don’t understand. (I’m calling it a dig, like when someone digs into you about something)

Here is an example:

I’m in line at the grocery store after the gym, so I still have my kicks on and my basket is full of healthy things like yogurt, muesli, bananas and the not so healthy stroopwaffles. The man behind me looks at me, the things in my basket and points out that everything is healthy except for the stroopwaffles, which he claimed, I had hidden under the bananas.

 Is this small talk or is it a dig? What would the right reply be?

I laughed and said something to the effect that I wasn’t hiding it, but that we all had our vices. But he didn’t laugh. Nor say anything else after. This may seem like a one off, but I’ve noticed that the way I react to direct comments made to me still has not felt smooth. In any case, I’m working on uncovering the mystery and will report back after some more detective work.

Food Adventures Part 4: Gouda, I camembert anything else.

So far I have not seen a strong sense of nationalism in the Netherlands, but I know it exists. On Queen’s day in April everyone dresses in orange and floods the street. Unfortunately, my exchange will end months before I can experience this, but there is one thing that reveals Dutch pride…that is the cheese store. If I were to say, “ I’m going to visit the speciality cheese shop,” you may envision a store with a variety of different cheeses and other procurements to go with them. But, in the Netherlands, you’d be mistaken. Most of the time the cheese shop stays close to its grammar, it is not the cheeses shop, it is the cheese shop—it sells Gouda and only Gouda.

To be fair, there are different varieties of Gouda, but you would still walk into the store and say, “Hmm…Gouda, gouda or gouda?” I told this to my French friends and they thought it was hilarious, they simply couldn’t wrap their minds around it. They’d say, “What do you mean there is only one kind of cheese?” and then they would burst out laughing.

What would astound them, more than the fact that the store only sells Gouda is how many different kinds of Gouda there are! There are aged goudas, pesto flavoured gouda, herb infused goudas and baby goudas. If you haven’t had Gouda, I can describe it like this: it is like the kid in class that is a bit quiet, but likeable, particularly because he/she does not have too strong a personality. Gouda is agreeable. And if I were to pick a diplomatic cheese to represent my country, I think Gouda is a fine choice!

 

 

Why riding the train is the best:

Since I live in Utrecht, I commute to Amsterdam by train which isn’t far, only about 20 minutes. For the majority of this train ride we are passing by soft green fields with canals that reflect the sky and a peppering of grazing sheep or cows. It never ceases to amaze me that the Dutch have the countryside right on their doorstep. More amazingly, that the way the land is cultivated has a history of hundreds of years. Sometimes I think that the way the canal splits the land is like the spine of an old book, holding together the landscape that would sink otherwise.

Studying in Holland has introduced me to a lot of writers that I would never have found in Toronto. I’ve attached a poem below of a Dutch writer Hendrik Marsman describing the landscape. When I read this, I felt like he did a beautiful job at summarizing the sensation that I get when watching the landscape from the train.

Memory of Holland

Thinking of Holland
I picture broad rivers
meandering through
unending lowland:
rows or incredibly
lanky poplars, huge
plumes That linger
at the edge of the world;
in the astounding
distance small-holdings
That recede into space
Throughout the country;
clumps of trees, town-lands,
stumpy towers, churches
and elms That Contribute
to the grand design;
a low sky, and the sun
smothering slowly in mists, pearl-gray,
mother-of-pearl;
and in every county
the water ‘s warning
or more catastrophes
heard and heeded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Photo: Neighbourhood Goods Market

Neighbourhood Goods Market

This market happens ever Saturday morning at the Old Biscuit Mill in Observatory/Woodstock. It’s a lot like the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, only with more craft beer/sangria/bloody marys. In fact I’ve been told several times that it’s home to the best Bloody Mary in Cape Town.. I haven’t confirmed this, however, the food is pretty amazing. There’s vendors selling locally produced cheeses, a lot of different condiments, pestos, and dips, and local produce. Most of the food comes to around R40-R70, though there’s a lot of things you can try for R10 if you want to try a bunch of little things. It ranges from seafood, to pork belly sandwiches, to dumplings, to smoothies, and falafels. There’s dutch pancakes, crepes, cupcakes, frozen yogurt, chocolate & honey liquor shots, and a ton of other things to try as well.

My favourites?

Food — Spanish Seafood Paella
Dessert — Frozen Yogurt…or cupcakes. yum.
Free Sample — Pesto Princess has a ton of things to try, it’s pretty awesome
Favorite drink — Sangria OR there’s a lot of great beers 

St Andrew’s passtimes.

currently we are all covered under mounds of work; it seems you can’t have a proper conversation without some mention of deadlines or word counts. but it doesn’t seem to stop anyone from having fun. so in the spirit of things to do when you’re not in the library or stuck in a book, here is a post dedicated to two big ways of passing the time at St Andrew’s: sports and balls.

sports:

there are literally a million sports teams at st andrew’s, ranging from contact sports to leisure pursuits. at the beginning of the semester there is always a sports fayre (english spelling) where you can go and meet the committees behind every team, and they all have give-it-a-go sessions during the first few weeks of school. During these sessions you can just go and try something out, even if it’s your first time around and you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.

case and point: me at fencing. I always wanted to try it out and it turns out the team is super nice! (except to be honest… that scene in the parent trap makes it look a lot more fun…)

and apart from practices and games, all the teams put on weekly socials. then, a couple of times a semester, all the sports teams have big socials together– and let me tell you about the last one we had:

the student union was rented out and everyone invited. on one condition: you had to go in your sport kit (aka, your team gear). which is lovely and fine if you’re a football (soccer) player, and even better if you’re a cheerleader…but no excuses for shy water polo players or surfers… rules are rules, and they had to be followed. so as soon as you walked in, there was everyone: a big mix of snowboarders in their jackets, rugby players in their shorts, rowers in spandex, kayakers with their life jackets, runners with their shoes, polo players in their boots, boxers with their gloves…

all in all a night not to be missed. well, for some, a morning not to be missed either. people were still running around at 7 in their sport kit… going to class I’m sure…

well, perhaps sports are not your thing…and you prefer something a little bit more dressed up… don’t worry, St Andrew’s is famous for its dances…that is, for its balls

yes, as the school year is beginning and the admissions office sends you their last reminders, they don’t just tell you about move-in dates and driving directions, they remind you to pack for balls, because there will always be an occassion to celebrate.

some balls are traditional and just beautiful: opening ball, Christmas ball                      some are for charity: bongo ball (to raise money for African relief)                                  and some are just purely St Andrews: welly ball

I know, what is welly ball? it turns out it’s a really original idea: the claypigeon (that’s the shooting team) has a tournament that day–a shooting challenge–where they compete against other Scottish teams. then, at night, they get joined by all the students, and everyone has a big dinner and a dance out in the country.

where they have to wear black tie. and, of course, their wellies.

 

So you see, there is no end to the creativity floating around St Andrew’s, so no matter who you’re with, or what you’re doing, you’ll always be having fun.

El País Vasco: Bilbao & San Sebastián

Well yet another great trip to another great destination! Our goal for this voyage was centred more locally where we decided on “Destination España!”. This trip however, I was extremely fortunate to have my good buddy Martin join me as we headed off from Barcelona to the cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián in the País Vasco region in Northern Spain.
Martin was in my spanish class during my first week in Barcelona and over the past two and half months, I have been lucky to have him as a wingman for the all to fun Barcelona nightlife, a beach volleyball match and as of now, a travel buddy! Him and I both are here to increase our fluency in spanish and with that, we naturally decided that we were only going to speak spanish between each other to avoid falling into the english norm that is so often present. So since I have known him, it is been an invaluable opportunity to constantly speak spanish and get to know a great friend at the same time!
We both decided a while back that we were interested in exploring around this incredible country and the we had to take advantage with our location here in Barcelona. We fortunately stumbled upon our “Mejor Amigo” (Best Friend) Ryanair who allowed us to fly from Barcelona to Bilbao for a whopping price of 12€ each way!
We explored around the city and then decided to take a quick day trip to the coastal city of San Sebastián before returning to Bilbao for a night out on the town!
Enjoy the photos, the stories and hopefully the incredible sights of this País Vasco Viaje!

Well it was Ryanair flight 7333 that got Martin and I up bright and early for our 6:00am meeting in Plaza España before heading off to Barcelona’s El Prat International Airport for our 7:45 am departure direct to Bilbao. As accustomed for the spanish, when we arrived at the gate there was already a massive line waiting for the pre-boarding to begin. Often with Ryanair’s first come first serve seating system, people begin lining up one hour before flight time just to ensure they have a good seat. However Martin and I decided to wait on the bank of chairs before boarding and fortunate enough, the Ryanair hostess opened up one of the blocked aisles just as we were entering and we got our own row! Although not incredible for Ryanair standards, it did us a bit of justice for the quick morning nap! Ryanair 7333 with a flight time of 1h10m took us direct from BCN–>BIO (Barcelona El Prat to Bilbao Airport) with an incredible landing over the lush green Pyrenee Mountain dominated region of El País Vasco!

Well we jumped on the Bizkaibus that took us from the modernly designed airport of Bilbao in the region of Loiu, Biscay 9km south to the city of Bilbao. However we quickly realized the immense difference between the locally spoken language Euskera (Basque) and pretty much every language on the globe. Euskera is known as one of the Pre-Indo-European languages that is considered a language isolate due to the Basque Region’s location in Northern Spain.

However, with our spanish we managed to work our way downtown following the river Nervión from the airport until our arrival in Bilbao.

We hopped off the bus at a stop on the Puente Euskalduna (Bridge of Euskalduna) where we were instantly stunned by the modern architecture of this bridge as well as the impeccably designed Guggenheim Museum just off to the right of the bridge. We were instantly gratified with our first sights of this modern city.

Stumbling through the morning commuters to get up north, we arrived at our Hostel Surf Backpackers, with its location along a small road with some small bars and restaurants. Upon checking in, we met Flor from Argentina who greeted us with open arms and her bubbly attitude and who gave us the low down on what to see and do in Bilbao!

Our morning began with a (aka:many, many) cups of coffee to get us through the sightseeing day ahead. We began by heading along the Rio Nervión to the west side of Bilbao where we encountered the famous “University of Deutso”. Then after crossing the river getting closer to ‘Casco Viejo’ we were stunned to see the world headquarters of BBVA ( Bank of Biscay) and the headquarters for Iberdrola with its 40 floor glass tower looming above the city.

We then made a quick visit to the highly recommended Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de Bellas Artes). Famous Columbian figurative artist Fernando Botero had his exposition on display. The most impressive piece of art was a 2m high black acrylic concave dish. With a reflective surface and its seemingly “depth insensitive” optical design, the closer you stand to the optical point, the more it feels like you are looking into a black abyss. So of course we spent a while there teasing our brains and getting in trouble for whistling and making great echo sounds in the museum!

We then settled down for an incredible lunch where Martin tried a great seafood dish with squid ink sauce. I as well had heard great reviews of this type of sauce, so I had to give it a try myself. At first, I was surprised when my “Pimientos Rellenos” (Stuffed Peppers) came covered in a sauce blacker then I have ever seen before. But with a mix of great cilantro and parsley spices and the incredibly tasting cheese within the peppers, I was delightfully surprised at how good the dish was!

The Funicular was our next stop as we headed up to the “Mirardor de Bilbao” the lookout of Bilbao. Upon the top of Mount Artxanda we were fortunate enough to get a stunning view of the surrounding Cantabrian Mountains along with the distant sea and airport in the background. With the sun’s rays peaking through the clouds, we had a great time just chilling at the top.

We topped off our day with a tour of the Guggenheim Museum where upon entering we met some…very nice… ladies from Madrid who were in town for a national gymnastics tournament! But after spending some time in the museum and realizing that we either to…ahem “sober”…to appreciate some of the “Extreme Modern Art” pieces, we just ended up having a great time making up our own stories of the artwork! I will remember the famous “Mälm Ikea Section”, the “Epilepsy Causing Word Screens”, the oddly scary “Electric Kitchen” and the “El Gato Encerrado” Metal Disk that we were wondering if we could escape from had the circumstances been necessary!

But it was off to the supermarket that evening for a quick dinner purchase before realizing that everyone (aka: las chicas) were not in the Hostel that night and were out and about. We however, had a great “makeshift” dinner in the Hostel before making our way just down the street to a local bar where we were in for a bit of a surprise. We walked in and saw a group of locals sitting and intently watching this unknown “Sport” that Martin and I had seen a version of earlier in the day. It resembled a Squash game along a massive court with only one wall on the left and along the front of the court. We later found out that the sport is called “Pelota Vasca” and it is quite a popular sport in the north of Spain. We began chatting with the locals and introduced ourselves in Spanish being content that they responded and continued to speak with us in Castellano instead of Euskera! However, neither Martin nor I could remember one of there names because of how different they were in the language of Euskera, all we know of the language is that there are a lot of “Z’s” “TX’s” and a whole bunch of letters in between! But we watched the doubles match  sharing a beer with them and then the singles match where the “Red Jersey” either older or champion holder played against the “Blue Jersey” player who was the younger or challenging player.

After an early night out, we headed back to the hostel for a good nights sleep…..which we then realized was not going to happen when there was 12 people in the same room coming in and out every hour of the night and then the electricity going on and off causing the emergency lights to go on and off throughout the evening! ¡Bienvenidos a España! A short sleep it was indeed!

A bright and early start it was for this adventure off to San Sebastián or Donostia in Euskera, however we began they day with an interesting start! With a completely whacko night in regards to our neighbours coming in and out at every single hour, then the lights flicking on and off due to power issues, we finally awoke to our alarm at 7:30 to where we then realized that there was no electricity at all! That I have to say was an interesting experience, we both had to use our flashlights on our phones to shower, eat and brush our teeth in the pitch black hostel before finally someone came down and reset the fuse box! But we managed the morning by getting ourselves to the bus station on time for our 1.5 hour bus ride to San Sebastián.

After a quick nap and a scenic bus ride on our way to San Sebastián we arrived in the centre along the Rio Urumea where we were fortunate enough to catch the morning rowers out and about practicing.

Then the touring began of this beautiful ocean side town. We began with a quick walk along the river to the “Boca” (mouth) of the ocean where we first saw the stunning views of ‘La Concha’ (The Shell Beach). After a quick tour around the beach, we were desperately in need of some caffeine, so we decided to settle down at a little café with a great view of Bahía de la Concha (Bay of the Shell).

Quick note: This is where the official “Dichos” began! Ones to remember: El Gato Encerrado, Un pájarito me dijo, Es ist etwas im Busch, Wer dem Pfennig nicht erht, its den Taler nich wert and many more over the course of the day! And somehow our day was filled with “Calcetines, Cinturones, cajones, palizas” and other seemingly easily forgettable words!

After the great start to the day and a stomach full of caffeine, we headed out to walk along the Paseo de la Concha ( the Beach Walkway). It was stunning to have such great weather for this day as we passed all the locals touring around the city. We ran into some incredible houses overlooking the ocean that we couldn’t even imagine how expensive they would be!

We then stopped off at the Miramar Palace which is a “Harvard Like” House (aka. Mansion) perched on the banks of San Sebastián overlooking the bay and the Island of Santa Clara. This building now houses the famous music school Musikene.

Then it was up the Funicular to get some views of the city from atop and to have a quick lunch. After touring through the amusement park, and watching Martin attempt to beat the “Kids Soccer Kick” game high score of 920, we made our way back down the mountain for our continuing tour.

We headed over to the east side of the bay where we relaxed to the sound and sights of the waves crashing against the sea barriers and providing incredible sights of the green and white water in the sea.

We then made our way over to the centre for some shopping. Martin was interested in buying an “American Filled” jacket from a high end store but…. he was advised otherwise by me! It was a quick snack, Empanadas and Bocadillos, and then we headed to the bus station to catch our bus back to Bilbao.

While waiting for the bus, it began “Lloviendo a Cántaros” (Raining cats and dogs) as the bus showed up a wee bit late. But Martin became friends with some lovely Spanish Grandmas that helped us pass the time!

A quick trip back and then the fun began for the evening!

We met a group of Erasmus students studying in Madrid from the UK and we had a great time chit chatting and sharing some wine at the Hostel. Turns out one of the girls had done an exchange in Banff of all places and the other had family in Calgary! Small world indeed!

After a bottle or two of wine, we finally convinced the girls to come out with us to Casco Viejo where the discos were! We stumbled around the town where we bar hopped first, meeting our friends from the local bar from the last evening, and then off for some Chupitos and Cuba Libres. We then made our way to a disco in the old town where we met a group of guys who we assume (aka. hoped) they were on there Bachelor party, because one was dressed quite interestingly for a night out in Bilbao! But we did meet the first Spaniard that was taller then both Martin and I, he seemed to take to us quite well and was always trying to introduce us to everyone in the club!

The night seemed to slip away like nothing because we found ourselves at 5:00am wandering the streets, singing, chanting but more like yelling great english soccer songs! Never will forget, “I want to go home” and Martin’s debut singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” in the middle of Bilbao where we was given the best “Self Clap” applause in appreciation of his work! JAJAJA, good times!

Then after some running, waiting, bridge crossing, story telling, sandwich eating, snack tasting, we realized that it actually was 6:30am and we had to get at least 3 hours before the alarm clock woke us up at 9:30am!

After a hiccup in the morning regarding Un Ladrón, we made our way to the airport unfortunately seeing all the locals preparing themselves for the days football match which we so eagerly wanted to attend. It was a quick Ryanair flight with our hangovers where we tested our geographical skills on our iPhones and then before we knew it we were landing in Barcelona.

An incredible trip overall, too many laughs to recall, too many memories to remember but I was happy to have a wingman along with me and can not wait for the next adventures to come!

First Friday Photo: Muizenberg Beach

I have a friend who kept a blog while abroad and she’d always post a photo on Fridays. I love taking photos, I have a billion of them already from this trip, so I thought I’d adopt her idea. So here’s the first of many! 

Muizenberg Beach

This past weekend we went out to Muizenberg to check out the kite festival. The train stop is literally right at the beach, and because of the nice weather there were tons of surfers, stand-up paddle boarders, and swimmers out enjoying the waves. Muizenberg’s water is much warmer than the other side of Cape Town (Atlantic) and it’s the place they generally tell you to go to if you wanna learn how to surf.