Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Muy Bonita Espana

Hola Amigos! We had a wonderful "hols" in Spain and France to finish up our summer!  My folks had mentioned San Sebastian and Biarritz as great places to visit so we took their word for it and were not disappointed.
We flew into Bilbao in the evening, went to the Guggenheim Museum the following day and then headed to San Sebastian. We arrived to WARM temps and to a HUGE festival happening in Bilbao! We couldn't figure out when the cab driver told us he couldn't get us exactly to our hotel? We soon learned because the Grande Semana was happening outside of our hotel! He dropped us off "close enough" and we had to weave our way through massive amounts of people, beer gardens, and stages with our rolling luggage. We got a lot of funny looks. After checking in, we hit the streets in search of dinner and the infamous leg of "jamon"! We didn't have to look far...jamon was everywhere and it was quite salty and delicious! As we were eating, we suddenly heard these huge booms and explosions...we looked outside and the most amazing firework show was beginning right above us! Apparently the Grande Semana is an 8 day festival and the highlight is the firework contest held every night! It was at least 45 minutes long and fantastic.
After dinner, we strolled the festival, listened to music and hit a Spanish pastry shop for a little dessert. By about 12:30 AM we were done but there were no signs of this thing ever stopping. We braced ourselves for a loud, sleepless night and we weren't disappointed. I think I fell asleep by about 4 AM when things started to quiet down.
Senor Enrique at Heathrow (representin' Pt. Reyes Blue!)

Our hotel room in Bilbao-the kids had a view of the LOO from the bunk bed!

Little did we know that Bilbao was hosting an 8 day Grande Semana (the Big Week) Festival!
Beer gardens, people everywhere and HUGE firework shows!

Had to duck into a pinxtos (tapas) bar to get away from all the people!

Jamon is the specialty in Basque country

That is not Pepsi...but we did enjoy the walk up "drive thru" of beer

Typical small European hotel room

We think she is the Grande Semana "mascot" - weird, clown lady with large breasts.
The next morning we were ready for some contemporary culture! I had no idea what to expect at the Guggenheim Museum and to say it was great is an understatement! It reminded us, of course, of the EMP in Seattle and we loved all the art. I highly recommend-it was fantastic. So fun to see such  contemporary architecture amongst really old Spanish buildings.
Headed to the Guggenheim Museum

"Maman" outside the Guggenheim

There she is-fantastic museum!

7 Richard Serra sculptures in one room-VERY COOL

We were familiar with this artist because in Sun Valley (where my folks live),
 their neighbors across the street had a Richard Serra sculpture in their backyard...yes they had a huge yard!


The park outside of the museum was excellent...

plenty of room for May to show off her skillz

Henry was excited to see the "Puppy"


Love this shot of "Puppy" and the museum

Outside our hotel in Bilbao
This is about midnight on our first night in Bilbao
People, beer and music everywhere!

During the fireworks show-biggest and baddest show we have ever seen!

Parade of freaky giant Basque people!
We made it to San Sebastian (via bus)...first night out to try some pinxtos in the Old Town
After the museum, we took a bus down to the beachy, surf town of San Sebastian. We rented a flat for a week about 2 blocks from the beach. Our flat was ok. Nothing great, but it had a kitchen, a "washing" machine and US Disney Channel. The kids were thrilled! I wasn't that thrilled with it but we made due for a week and I just kept us out of there except to sleep!

San Sebastian is a much bigger town than we thought and has a couple of really great beaches. We preferred the surfing beach with  bigger waves, but they also had a great big, calm bay with kayaks and SUPs. We hit them both, ran the beaches in the AM and hiked up the big mountains surrounding the city! Surfing was very popular and people come from all over to surf in San Sebastian. The waves looked pretty good and some big swells came in!
Still going after a long day at the Guggenheim

And then they discovered the gelato store...they went there everyday.

Finally the beach!! This was La Concha Beach
Sunset at Zurriola Beach in San Sebastian


Practicing the "long jump"

We took the train from San Sebastian to the French resort town of Biarritz. It was rainy and windy when we arrived and we had one umbrella, so we ducked into a cute little pizza place. After lunch, it at least stopped raining, so we strolled along the beach promenade and the cliffs of Biarritz towards the aquarium. Everyone else had that idea too so we ditched that and went to the beach. The clouds cleared away and the sun came out, so we decided to go for a swim in French waters. That night, we ate dinner in the town my father recommended called St. Jean de Luz.
Windy day in Biarritz, France
When training to France, one must have a baguette!

The wind and rain cleared out so it was time to hit the beach for a quick dip!

St. Jean de Luz, France-charming French beach town. Definitely our favorite!

We had a delicious seafood bonanza in Jean de Luz!

Henry takes after his Grandfather with his love of mussels!

We loved Jean de Luz!!
We fell in love with Jean de Luz and went back the next day. So charming, great shops and food, a lovely big beach and beautiful French families. We spent the entire day at the beach. The kids were reluctant to befriend any other kids because 1) there was the language barrier and 2) quite a few of the girls (May's age) were topless. Now we had been to the beaches in Spain the days before, so kids were "aware" of the topless situation and it had been repeatedly discussed before the trip. In fact, I used the topless situation to my advantage by just threatening to go topless on our trip if the kids misbehaved. It worked like a charm. But the BIG difference between topless in France and topless in Spain is that French women are in shape, effortlessly chic and gorgeous, whereas most of the Spanish women were older women, in tiny bikini bottoms who really should have a cover-up on...don't get me wrong, we saw some nice looking Spanish women too, but not as many. I will say that the recent "Princess Kate Topless in France" scandal has been much easier to discuss with the kids because they know it is just how it is "done" here in Europe.

A chic French family turned us on to some churros!

Reading and having a cold one!

Celebrated 15 years this August!
Waiting for the train back to SS from Jean de Luz

Hiking around San Sebastian

We made it to the top and were rewarded with a spectacular view of all of San Sebastian!

Old Town

There were several pinxtos bars on every street...all with their delicious tapas on display!

Of course May found a dog to pet...

Heading out to our last dinner in San Sebastian...stopped into our favorite cafe for a quick drink!
We had a wonderful dinner at Mirador de Ulia on our last night in San Sebastian. It is a 1-star Michelin restaurant and there are actually several 1,2 and 3-star Michelin restaurants in SS. We decided to start with a 1-star to ease the kids into their first true "foodie" experience. They did really well, had great behavior (til the end...see pics) and were very adventurous. Foie gras, tuna tartare, and salmon roe...pretty good. It was a beautiful restaurant high above the city, but unfortunately it was pouring so my hope of getting a great family photo with a beautiful Spanish view was dashed. Oh well...we had a memorable night and a fantastic vacation!
Pete lookin' Euro in his skinny, orange khakis and his fedora!
The view from our restaurant...too bad it was rainy and cloudy!

On the balcony of Mirador de Ulia - 1 star Michelin
The kid's first very "fancy" meal in Europe.
They were quite adventurous and tried foie gras and tuna tartare!

Not so appropriate...doing the Bolt to signify the completion of his HUGE meal!

Then May got in on it!
Then Dad...

Ice cream sampler...3 HUGE scoops!
 Boy vs. Food once again...who will win?