Well our first beach stop in Europe was Biarritz, a seaside town in Southern France. I have heard reports of terrible weather in NZ so I am going to stick to an abstract topic about Biarritz and omit any discussion about sea, sand or sun.
We’ve had our fair share of culture shocks on our trip so far, and the beaches France and Spain were no exception. No amount of convincing would ever make me to go topless at the beach, however in France and Spain they regard it as normal as eating breakfast. What is even more shocking is the ages of the “topless” – mothers with their small children, mothers and daughters baking topless side by side and grandmothers who have obviously spent so many years sunbathing they look positively orange. There seems to be minimal swimming that goes on, what you would hope is sunscreen is actually tanning oil and a fair share of sunbakers combine this with having a smoke or two.
The highlight (for want of another description) of our stay in San Sebastian was definitely our accommodation. So far on our trip we have stayed in a wide variety of accommodation options. Some great, others not so much. Most of what we have stayed in through Europe has been hostels and this is what we thought we had booked in San Sebastian. As it turns out we were actually staying in a Hospetaje (sp.) which is a Spanish home. We were greeted by our somewhat strange, but very lovely, non-English speaking, Spanish hosts on arrival and were shown to our room which contained bunk beds for 6 people. We soon discovered that they had also converted their lounge next door into another room to host another 7 guests. The rest of the apartment was made up of the hosts’ bedroom, come living room, a kitchen, a small bedroom for their adult son and the smallest bathroom I think I have ever seen. Yes that’s 15 people in total and 1 bathroom.
Despite our interesting accommodation we loved San Sebastian and ended up staying there one more night than we had originally planned. On our final night the Rolling Stones were in town to perform so the town was buzzing and there were more people on the beach than I could have ever imagined possible.
To be honest I was a little disappointed with Barcelona. Don’t get me wrong it has some absolutely fantastic architecture and sights, by they are largely surrounded by a rather unremarkable city which tends to swamp them, rather than show them off like they deserve. Having said that, we had a most enjoyable time wandering around the Olympic Park, admiring the famous Sagrada Familia (which had its foundations laid in 1882 and is still very much a work in progress!) and watching a fabulous light and water show in the central city fountain.
Aside from the sights, I think I will probably most remember Barcelona for the worst food we have had at a hostel on tour so far. It was so bad in fact that we flagged the free breakfast on our last day and just brought our own. Turning down free food is the worst crime you commit on tour, short of loosing our passports, so it was quite a concession for us to make.
VALENCIA – AMERICAS CUP
After Barcelona we headed back to Valencia to join the largest collection of Kiwis outside of New Zealand for race 5 of the America’s Cup. I am writing this having just returned from watching Team NZ lose their final match of the Cup. As disappointed as we are that the team didn’t pull through we have had the most amazing time watching the racing here in Spain. It’s hard to put into words, but neither of us have ever been a part of any kind of event that has had as many ups and downs as this and I truly believe we have had an experience that will never be repeated.
We have met many great people here, both young and old. Each day we went down to the Cup Village we would chat away to other Kiwis who have come from all over the world to support Team NZ. It was quite sad seeing the disappointment on everyone’s faces and saying goodbye to a great bunch a people. It is not often that Kiwis get that excited about anything and there were a few occasions where the crowd broke into impromptu renditions of the national anthem which is almost unheard of.
We are a little bit sad to be leaving Spain as we have spent enough time here now to really start to appreciate Spain’s vibrant and fascinating culture (we would like to think our Spanish may even have improved a bit too). Nevertheless we are quite excited about the destinations to come and fly out to Brussels on Thursday to spend the weekend drinking beer and eating Belgian chocolate with our hosts Alana and Nat. It is going to be quite a novelty being picked up at the airport and having the comforts of home for a few days. After that it’s off to Amsterdam for a couple of days before we are back to France to catch a couple of the mountain stages of the Tour de France.