Katie' Pau Life En France

Ma vie En France

Brussels and Bilbao April 18, 2010

Filed under: Spain — katiespaulife @ 5:42 pm

I realized I never wrote about Brussels. I stayed for one day and one night in Brussels on the way home from Ireland. We had to go through the airport, so I figured I might as well see the city and eat some of their famous chocolate and waffles. It is a very good thing we were only there for one day. There is nothing to do, but eat! At the end of the day…actually more like the end of the afternoon (ran out of cool sites to see) we returned to our hostel room with belly aches. This hostel was kind of strange, because they put us in a room set in a seperate building. It reminded me of girl scout cabins, because there was a loft with 2 wooden beds up top and 2 below. It was kind of fun, but the front was made entirely out of glass and there was no heat. I spent a very restless night trying to keep warm!

Let me back the story of Brussels up a bit, to what few sites we actually saw. Elly and I got this tourist map of “sites to see” from the hostel. It was obvious the tourist office is getting desperate for “sites to see” when they tell you to go to the top of a parking garage for a cool view. It also advised bringing a bottle of wine to drink.

“Drinking wine on the top of a parking garage,” Elly thought aloud, “….that would basically make us homeless…”

 

We saw a good portion of the sites on the map and did hit up the parking garage (saw a wine cork on the ground). The view was pretty awesome and I wish I had photos, but I left my camera in the hostel.

I have no evidence of visiting Brussels. My taste buds will never forget it though- the chocolate was sooo yummy, the Belgian waffle so light and crispy! Never had one quite like that.

 

Another interesting aspect to this city is the comics painted all over random walls. It is very strange, but kind of awesome. There are also lots of statues of creatures peeing. We saw one of a little boy peeing and a dog peeing. According to the tourist map there was one of a girl peeing too. We missed that one, which could have been the most interesting….and disturbing.

 

There is weird art in Brussels. A lot of weird art. The city is pretty tacky being full of sketchy industrial sections dotted with an occasional old, beautiful monument or building, as well as randomly placed modern art. We were already baffled by the city’s oddities when we wandered into a cathedral that was cluttered looking on the inside, with really out of place crap lying everywhere and cheesy 70’s music playing.

 

Brussels was strange. I’m glad I went. The capital of Europe is so bizarre it made the trip worth it.

 

I also ended my trip to Spain with an ugly city: Bilbao.

 

Bilbao isn’t far from San Sebastian….I think I mentioned it in my blog where I whined about my feet hurting. That was the last straw for my poor feet, I bought new shoes as soon as I got home.

The city was alright to see, but I was so worn out by the end of my trip I really should have just gone home to Pau.

 

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I took a lot of pictures of the pretty parts of the city. It had an old section of town that was quite nice – a lot like San Sebastian. The most impressive part of all is the museum. The name of it is really long…and I cannot remember it, but I didn’t actually go in. It costs 13 euros and I was tired, sore and sick of spending money by the time I got there. I walked around the outside of it though – so interesting!

 

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Love the cat made of flowers!

 

Anyways you are now up to date on my travels = ) I haven’t been able to leave since my trip to Spain because of the strikes and in 3 days I leave for Paris and then home!

 

Barcelona!! April 17, 2010

Filed under: Spain — katiespaulife @ 7:56 am
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Okay, back to the subject of Spain, since I only mentioned San Sebastian….

In Barcelona I met up with fellow cougs Ashley and Lauren (who are also keeping blogs which I added to my blogroll). It was nice to see some familiar faces after a long bus ride where I couldn’t understand anything or talk to anyone. I like travelling alone, but I think in the future I probably won’t go to countries where I don’t speak the language without another person.

 

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Barcelona was a cool city. One and a half days there was not enough, but sadly I don’t think I will ever return – there are too many other places in the world to see. I was fascinated by all of Gaudi’s architecture, but I think Paris is a much prettier city overall (sorry Goonting!).

 

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Our first night there we went out for some awesome Spanish cuisine! Ashley got regular Sangria, but Lauren and I ordered the Sangria Cava Blanc. I’ve had my fair share of regular red Sangria in France, but this drink was incomparable.So delicious and very large!

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And some yummy yummy Paella! (Mom – your paella is still the best = )

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The waiter tried to convince us that this wouldn’t be big enough for 2 people – haha, I’m glad I stuck to my intuition and told Lauren it would be.

 

The next day I went to Park Guell, which was amazing!

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The best of Gaudi is of course the Sagrada Familia.

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This church has been under construction for 150 years and won’t be finished for60. Seeing other USAC student’s pictures of this place is what made me decide Barcelona was a must-see.

 

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For my second (and last) night here, we went down to this fountain for an awesome show (complete with cheesy American music) and saw the remnants of the Olympic games!

 

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Thanks to Lauren and Ashley for being great travelling companions and have a safe trip home next week!

 

Sous Le Soleil D’Espagne! April 15, 2010

Filed under: Spain — katiespaulife @ 6:47 am
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I LOVE San Sebastian! Just look how blue that water is! What a beautiful place!

 

My trip to Spain was rather complicated, but it started off with 2 nights in San Seabass on the northern coast. You might recall a blog I wrote when I went here way back in January on my first weekend in Pau. The weather was so stormy (and snowy!!) that I couldn’t do anything but the bars. This time I did everything else!

 

My first night there I met a girl from Quebec who I practiced French with and had a nice dinner of fruit, bread and cheese on the beach after dark. The bay was equally beautiful at night, with all the buildings lit up, but my pictures didn’t turn out well, so here is one in daylight:

 

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It felt so relaxing to just sit in my shorts at 9 pm with my toes in the sand as the Atlantic ocean washed up on this quiet shore. Not to mention I was eating the freshest strawberries from Portugal and had a great dinner companion! Sadly my dinner company was extremely homesick that night. We spoke of Quebec and the hunting trips she would take with her dad when she was younger, her big family back home and her tiny country village where no one speaks English. And of course there is a boy in the picture to add to the homesickness. She told me every place she has visited in Europe is so romantic (San Sebastian really was!) and she has a boy in Montreal she won’t see again for a long, long time. My heart really went out to her, because she is so nostalgic for Canada and won’t return until the end of July. However, it is true that there is no place like home, but I also think there is no place quite like San Sebastian!

 

The photos above and below were taken from the top of a funicular that led up to an amusement park for kids! There was a hotel up there as well, with views like this one:

 

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I wonder how much a night here would cost??

 

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Unfortunately the weather wasn’t this perfect for the entire trip. The first day it started off with pouring rain and winds. I tried to keep dry by going to the aquarium – which was awesome. It had one of those tanks with a tunnel where you can see sharks swim right over your head! Oh and the aquarium was at the end of all the docks so I got to see a lot of Basque fishing boats on the way.

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In the afternoon the skies cleared up a bit so I reunited with my Canadian friend and we climbed Mt. Urgull. Actually, “climb” is kind of a misleading word, we walked up a paved path – nothing too extreme for my flip flops.

 

Here are my only shots of the mountain and the Jesus statue on top!

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The horizon that evening was amazing! Never looks as awesome on camera, but it was a once in a lifetime kind of sunset – great to see from the top of Urgull! And across the way you can see that hotel.

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Another great thing about San Sebastian was the hostel I stayed in. The owner spoke only Spanish, but he still gave me advice on where to go, was kind-hearted and genuinely hospitable. After the freezing rain he gave the Canadian and I tea with lemon and when I returned from Barcelona he had seen that I gave him a 100% review on hostelworld so he grabbed my face and kissed me on both cheeks. That was a bit awkward for me…I feel like I’ve had so many random ppl kiss me on the cheeks here.

 

Anyway, I’m too tired to write more, but here are a few more pictures of San Sebastian. If you ever go to Spain you must visit!

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Weary from Walking April 12, 2010

Filed under: Spain — katiespaulife @ 1:50 pm
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I’ve just spent 6 days in Spain! Kind of a last minute trip that I ended up on, but a very good one. I was supposed to go to the Riviera this past week.Once again the French and their lovely strikes put a damper on my plans. I thought I would be stuck in Pau for 3 days because of booked hostels and no trains, but at the last minute I realized I could escape the country! San Sebastian was my savior!

 

I had already planned on going to San Sebastian Saturday night with 3 friends, so I didn’t want to stay there from Tuesday night through Sunday and bought a ticket to Barcelona and back .San Seabass ended up being heaven on earth  and I think my trip would have been just as enjoyable if I had stayed the full 6 nights. Instead this was my agenda:

 

Tues night – Thursday morning = San Sebastian

Thursday = 7 hour bus ride to Barcelona

Thursday night – Saturday morning = Barcelona

Saturday = 7 hour bus ride to San Sebastian

Saturday night – Sunday = San Sebastian encore!

Sunday (today) = one hour bus ride and afternoon in Bilbao

 

I’ll rest here for the night and travel all day tomorrow. Getting back to Pau will be a bit complicated…I have to take a bus back to San Sebastian, then a tram to Hendaye in France and then 2 trains. I just hope the strikes are over in France! As of today it was dependant on the train.

 

I had a great trip here, but I’m worn down from the bus rides and walking all over the cities. I think I need to see a foot doctor ASAP when I get home – my arches and achilles tendons are really messed up! I suppose I deserve it for not investing in good walking shoes, but the only ones with decent arch support are about 90 Euros!

 

My foot injuries are making it difficult to stay positive at this point. I probably should have gone home instead of to Bilbao this afternoon, but curiosity got the best of me. I walked around the city for a good 3 hours and saw most of the tourist map (except that I didn’t enter the famous museum in Bilbao, the idea of more walking plus the cost of 13 Euros made me decide against it).

Overall this city was probably the sketchiest one I have yet to visit. I knew that I wanted to be back in the hostel before dark, just to be safe. I was travelling alone this time and sans pepper spray. I saw lots of crazy people and in the three hours I spent walking around, I saw at least three people searching through dumpsters.

I wanted to walk more than three hours, because I didn’t see the garden and some popular streets, but at this point I feel like I have 2 voices in my head: one who constantly bitches and moans about how much pain my feet are in and how I am permanently damaging them and the other wants to see everything and walk until I cannot walk any further. I’m at the point where I’m praying to Saint Christopher and I’m going to get ice as soon as I get home to Pau!

 

On a positive note,  I finally hung out with people I met at hostels. Today I even met 2 girls with clam shells on their backpacks, which signifies they are travelling “Le Chemin de St Jacques”; a religious pilgrimage throughout France and part of Spain. I think I’ve written about it before, as it goes through Pau and St Jean Pied de Port. The pilgrimage has always interested me and I probably annoyed these exhausted girls with my many questions about their experience thus far. Unfortunately, they are cutting their trip short because of a foot injury and have to return home (which is South Africa for one and Switzerland for the other). One of them already did a third of the pilgrimage last summer and the other one just started it this year. They said that it was quite the experience, much harder than anticipated, but that there is a great sense of “walking the well trodden path” and a good connection with fellow travelers. They usually only pay about 5-6 Euros for board a night and some places are even donation only, such as one where they stayed at, which even provided huge dinner and breakfast for everyone that fellow pilgrims prepared.

 

I’ve also hung out with a couple Canadians and a Brazilian at the hostels in Spain, which has been a nice change. Up until this trip I felt I hadn’t gotten the real “hostel experience”. I’m going to bed early tonight (as every night in this trip) and tomorrow I’m hoping to head out early enough to spend a couple more hours in San Sebastian. Just cannot get enough of that place – you’ll see why when I put up pictures in a few days!

 

P.S. I sent out some more postcards last week and on 2 of them I signed my full name! Sorry about that guys, I’m so used to signing my signature on forms that it just kind of flows when I sign letters and cards. Such a bad habit, I promise I don’t mean to end a cheery postcard on a cold and impersonal note.

 

San Sebastian January 11, 2010

Filed under: Spain — katiespaulife @ 8:01 pm
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Sorry about the last blog, European keyboards mess me up.

Arriving in San Sebastian I was pumped to climb Mt. Urgull and see the giant statue of Jesus and check out some of the cool churches. Unfortunately there was a huge storm in San Sebastian and the weather was changing from howling winds to pouring rain and snow flurries. Apparently it only snows there once every 20 years. Lucky me. I did see the statue from the highway (it’s enormous) and it was lit up at night and looked wicked! Walking around the city felt as the French would say, “as cold as a duck”, but the architecture was very impressive and I could see huge waves rolling in from the Atlantic under the bridge we crossed. The city is right on the ocean and I think that was the first time I’ve ever seen the Atlantic from this coast. “The Other West Coast” as my fellow traveller Mike Johnson called it, was beautiful. I would love to go back this Spring if I have time to see the beach, climb the mountain, ect… basically everything else San Sebastian is known for aside from it’s nightlife.

Saturday night, I rushed through my last blog and then went to find my group who was eating Paella. They were all finished and there was a ton left when I arrived, so they offered me some. I put a scoop or two on a plate and tried it, it was good, but not as good as my mom makes it. Then they split the bill which was 77 euros for 8 of us and I had to pay 10 euros for just trying their dinner!! I wasn’t too happy, plus some of them had ordered drinks which were probably on the bill too!

After getting ripped off at dinner, we went out to get more ripped off on alcohol. The bars were packed, even though it was the off season and finding one with room to stand was difficult. Three of us were staying in a mixed hostel room with a guy from Barcelona and a Swede. They were flying solo so I invited them along with us. By the end of the night the Swedish guy probably thought I was a moron haha, because I asked him how long the train ride is from Sweden and I confessed I didn’t know Luxembourg was both a city and a country. The looks on his face for my stupidity were pretty priceless though and I suppose it wasn’t as bad as when Michelle asked Marco where Italy is.

The Spanish guy, Alex, took us barhopping along the main street. He was hillarious. We passed a McDonalds and he yelled, “Look it’s your embassy!”. He was also shameless and spent the night hitting on each girl, hoping to score with an American. None of the girls in our group were into him at all, which made the situation even more amusing. This was probably due to him acting very very flambouyant. If he had been American I would’ve been convinced he was gay. The Swede (whose name is Rickard) and I were watching Alex salsa with my friend Vanessa at the first bar and he points at Alex and asks me, “Is this what Americans picture when they think of European men?”

Alex is a European stereotype, but Rickard was one too. Alex was the suave, slightly creepy guy with the cheesy lines (“Try this shot, it’s sweet like me”) and Rickard was the overly senstive, blue eyed scandanavian. We were listening to some American pop song in a bar when he began to tell me how it reminded him of a friend he had who was like a little brother and made him want to cry out of homesickness….really man? The best part is he was completely serious and wasn’t remotely intersted in any of the American girls. He was nice and a good conversationalist. He told me how much he loved Obama, but how ashamed he was of the peace prize and said he blushes every time he thinks about it. He also commented to me after an hour or so in the first bar that it was now full of men. I said, “hmm, you’re right….thats kind of scary”. “You should be scared” was his response and taking his advice I gathered the group to go to the next bar.

[By the way, I should add we did have two guys in our USAC group…it wasn’t 6 girls and 2 random European men]

The second out of many bars was very rustic looking. Red Bricks lined the walls and built the bar. A bronze tile on the floor went matched and made the Spanish atmosphere tangible. There I tried this basque liquor which was the smoothest shot I’ve ever taken. It was very sweet and yummy! I also tasted Sangria for the first time and had a mixed coke and wine (surprisingly delicious). We met ppl from all over the world that night, including other Americans, a French speaking woman from somewhere besides France… and even an Irish guy. At first the Irish guy didn’t believe I was American and said, “Thats what all English speakers claim! What are you really?”, “Okay, I’m Canadian”, “Oh no! Thats the worst!!!” Vanessa was drunk and then picking up on the accent yelled, “You’re Irish!! We’re American, we love accents!” I yelled, “Shush Vanessa you aren’t supposed to say that!” “Oh really?” he said, “I own my own farm ya know”. <— Nicole if you're reading this, I thought you would love that haha!

Vanessa is incredibly funny and I loved spending the weekend with her. Plus, she has a boyfriend back home, so all her comments were in good fun and it was nice hanging out with someone who wasn't looking to hook up with a European guy (Not that most girls are, but a few can be). She did drink far more than me though and thus at 2:30 or I said bye to my group to take her home. She was tired and had gone outside by herself to get some fresh air. I found a creepy Spanish guy trying to speak french with her while she was backing up against a wall trying to escape. I whisked my hand around him, grabbed her arm and pulled away saying, "Time to go!! Elle ne parle pas francais, bon nuit!"

We went back to the hostel and passed out in the beds only to wake up a few hours later at 8:10 am to get an early train back to Pau. On the last train home I spoke with this woman born in San Sebastian for an hour and a half about her world travels. She was awesome!! She has been everywhere! Off the top of my head I recall her telling me about Hong Kong, Tokyo, Thailand, Australia, London, Dublin, Rome, Bruxelles, Paris, visitng New York 4 times, living in Canada, Barcelona, Seville, travelling the states, Lourdes, Lyon, Nice, Marseilles, Lilles, and more! She knows France like the back of her hand and gave me over a dozen cities "I have to go to". Unfortunately many of them are in the north which is hard to get away to for a weekend. The lady now lives in Lons, the town just outside of Pau I'm in! She gave me her number, e-mail and name, repeatedly telling me to call her if I ever need anything. She also wants to take me shopping at les soldes or get coffee!! It was great to meet someone with such a passion for world travel and she gave me a lot of advice for my stay in Pau, including how I can find my residents in Lourdes online!!

This weekend I'll probably take it easy in Pau, but next weekend I'm going to a winery in Bordeaux and St Jean-De-Pied with USAC on saturday. I might take a day trip to Lourdes Sunday since I'm so close and try to track down some relatives!!

 

January 9, 2010

Filed under: Spain — katiespaulife @ 7:47 pm

So I just typed up a blog all about San Sebastian and then pressed some button in Spanish and deleted it all!

Don�t want to retype everything, so heres the main points-

-I�m in Spain! Woot!

-I�ll never plan a trip for 5 strangers again, it was so stressful!!!

-Had to deal with this southern gentleman all day, who is outwardly nice, but sexist, which really gets on my nerves….kind of like a smug Mike Johnson for those of you that know him

-San Sebastian is cold and snowy and windy = (

-Ate Tapas for the first time, yum!!

 

 
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