7/9/10 - 25/9/10 24 °C
Monday september 7th was moving day with all the extra luggage (bottles of wine) we headed for the station and a 2 hour train trip to San Sebastian Spain. San Sebastian is a beautiful town with really nice beaches and vivid blue water. Our hotel is just a block off the beach and almost everything is within walking distance, a great spot!
Once again we did the great chase for a SIM card and with nobody in the shops speaking English (naturally), it made the chase even harder. We eventually purchased a Spanish SIM card and some credit which was good because Liz gets a little agitated if she doesn’t have lines of communication with the kids.
We had a little siesta before heading out for dinner at about 8.00pm (a little early by local standards). We decided on a restaurant meal instead of Tapas because we wanted to sit down and have something a little more substantial. We had a nice meal including some paella and were pleasantly surprised when our wine was included in the meal price. We wandered around the old part of the city and visited some tourist shops that were still open at 10.30pm before wandering back along the promenade to our hotel.
Tuesday was another bright sunny day so we decided to do the climb to the Castillo de la Mota early before it got too hot. This was a strenuous climb but the views from the castle were spectacular. The climb up and the walk down provided a good day’s exercise after a big dinner last night. Once down we walked around the northern headland and back through the old part of the city for a baguette lunch.
After lunch we walked to the other side of the city whose beach opened directly onto the Atlantic Ocean. Liz walked down along the beach and said the water was pretty cold (probably explained why the surfers were wearing steamers!) but there were lots of people on the beach sunbathing. The beach culture is very different with few umbrellas and no sun shelters present and many people exposing plenty of skin to the sun; most women sunbathed topless regardless of age.
In the afternoon I laid down for a siesta and rested my aching knees while Liz decided to go to the beach to get some sun and read. However when she returned she hadn’t been able to resist the water and had gone for a swim. The bay side beaches she said had warmer water than the ocean side and she really enjoyed her plunge in the Atlantic.
During the evening we went out for a walk around the old town again and tried some tapas which were only OK and eventually settled on a restaurant that specialised in paella. Liz had a vegetarian and I had the mixed, which was full of mussels, squid, spare ribs and prawns, which was washed down with a nice rosé. We had a good walk back to the hotel along the promenade stopping to take some photos on the way.
Wednesday came around eventually (our room has no natural light so no sun coming through the window to indicate morning) and we firstly went to the station to make our reservation for the train to Madrid on Thursday. Seat booking for this train were going to cost about €25 each for First Class so this time we chose Second Class, which was €6.50 each – with what you pay for the Eurail Pass paying another €25 is crazy.
This was our last day in San Sebastian so we wanted to check out the western area of the bay, the walk was not as long as we thought which was good. When we reached the end of the path we found a few sculptures but most strangely a feral growling sound – this was actually a half dozen holes in the rock path that were 10cm in diameter which let the air from a blow hole below out (at high tide this would have shot water out). Liz placed her hat over the hole and for a second thought she might lose it as the air sucked in before the exhale that shot her hat about 3 metres in the air, much to the people near-bys delight!
We then took the funicular (uphill tram/train) to Monte Igueldo which had a fun-fair at the top but more importantly it had magnificent views of the bay. We took many photos and had a walk around the hilltop, the funfair was mostly closed so we didn’t stay long before getting the funicular back down. Once down the bottom we walked back around the bay and stopped for lunch at a beachside cafe – great views but mediocre food Liz did enjoy the fresh OJ!
Afternoon is always time for siesta but Liz decided on a swim instead while I again rested the dicky knees.
It is Thursday so its moving day with our entire luggage packed we hit the streets for the 15 minute walk to the station. Our train departed for Madrid at 8.40am so it was an early start for our 4 ½ hour journey, we began slowly travelling about 120km/h for the first 2 ½ hours but then hit 250km/h for the rest of the journey – I knew this because they had a digital display in each carriage. Eventually we arrived in Madrid and set about finding out way to the Metro with our heavy bags. Once we had arrived at the metro station it was a matter of determining which line to take to get to the closest station to out accommodation – Number 10 Line to Nuevos Ministerios. On arriving at the station we took the wrong entrance to the surface and ended up on the wrong side of a major road. Liz eventually sent me off to scout the streets to ensure we didn’t have to carry the bags in the wrong direction. Once I found the correct street we walked/dragged the bags the 20 minute walk to the Hotel.
We had paid a little extra for this hotel as it had a ‘full’ American kitchenette, WIFI and was close to our departure point for our Vaughantown experience. The hotel had no microwave, the WIFI was €6.00 an hour and the place was 4 metro stops on 2 lines from the departure point (OK the last one was my fault for not reading the map well enough). It was a nice apartment with a living room and separate bedroom but the area was very noisy at night so you couldn’t leave the windows open.
Over the next two days we visited the city centre, a number of monuments, the Egyptian temple and the Palace Real. Liz did a great change in the park after realizing the day was much hot than she envisaged. Luckily we had come across a street market that sold some clothing which allowed her to buy a dress that she changed into out of her long pants and long sleeved top. She also stopped along a crowded street and got a foot massage from a street vendor.
We had a good paella meal with some sangria at a restaurant in Mayor Plaza which sounded reasonable until we got the €50 bill – the downfall was three large sangria costing €20 which seemed excessive. We once again checked out all the tourist shops around the place and purchased some small mementos.
Over all Madrid was OK but nothing really outstanding. I think Liz enjoyed the opportunity to remember some Spanish from her days on exchange in the US. Daily she would remember a number of words and their meanings as she saw signs or heard people on the street or in shops.
Saturday night was the tapas reception for the Vaughantown program we almost stuffed it up as we both thought it started at 7.00pm (on the original emails) but had changed to 5.00pm when the venue changed so we arrived a fashionable hour late! We meet a number of Australians who were also doing the program as well as some Americans and English.
After the reception we went to meet Ashlee at the metro station, as she was joining us at Vaughantown for the week, before returning to the Hotel to get a good night’s sleep as we needed to be at the departure point at 9.30am Sunday morning. The Vaughantown program aims to improve the English skills of Spanish business people and others by immersing them in a totally English speaking environment. Our job was the speak English to them in one on ones, group sessions and over meals for 6 days while they provide us with accommodation and meals for the duration of the program.
Sunday morning we arrived at the departure point right on 9.30am and waited with the Anglos (the Vaughantown term for we English speakers) who we’d meet the night before for the Spaniards who looked a little nervous and bewildered at meeting all these people who would take them out of their comfort zone. The bus trip was interesting as we were paired Anglo and Spaniard for the trip to start the learning process. We travelled north for 2 hours by bus before stopping at a small community for lunch (the Spanish lunch break is 2 hours long) before jumping in the bus for the final 2 hours. We arrived at an isolated village, Valdelavilla, that had been deserted but VaughanSystems had purchased and renovated it specifically for these programs. There was no mobile reception and really no way to spend money (except at the bar at night) so it was good for saving us some money from later in the trip.
After settling into our 3 bedroom/2 bathroom villa (low ceiling and narrow winding steps for fun), we’re sharing with Ashlee, we headed for orientation and our first of 2 one on ones before dinner. Getting used to the times for this program will be a challenge as breakfast is at 9.00am (very civilised), lunch at 2.00pm followed by siesta until 5.00pm and dinner at 9.00pm with the in between times filled with one on ones, group activities, phone one on ones, group teleconference calls, rehearsals for evening entertainment and presentations. Basically everyone is totally stuffed by lunchtime from the constant talking but we soldier on. It is fun and interesting speaking to the Spaniards who are at first reluctant to speak but eventually loosen up to discuss a myriad of subjects in English.
As the week progressed we all became comfortable with each other and the Spaniards language skills improved. Each meal time was fun as we had 3 courses with wine as desired and in the evenings before our 9.00pm dinner we had entertainment done by various members of the group, I did a skit based on the 4 Yorkshiremen from the Monty Python guys (Liz said I just can’t act but I thought I wasn’t too bad!) one night and the Smith Family made up the Anglo section of a tongue twister game against the Spaniards – Ashlee and I had to do Spanish tongue twisters while Liz was luck as she had to read ‘Sally sells sea shells................’ the Smith family rose to the challenge to win (how I’ll never know as my attempt was pathetic – perhaps I got a sympathy vote or two!). Ashlee was involved in a group that did a couple of improv performances that were very funny and I taught everyone to do the Heel and Toe Polka and Queensland Backstep bush dances.
Overall the experience at Valdelavilla was very rewarding and good fun as we meet some good people from across the world. While the days were long and tiring I was pleased to have been involved with such a great bunch of people.
The final day was really great fun as we had a group activity, a pub quiz, followed by a live radio broadcast to promote the program for Vaughansystems (only 2 selected Anglos and 2 Spaniards spoke), a presentation ceremony and another good lunch before getting into the coach for the long trip back to Madrid. We had such a good time together that we even organised to have dinner together in Madrid with some of the others. We visited a Tapas bar which Kelly and Jim (English newlyweds) had visited before and had a good meal and plenty of Sangria before calling it a night at around 11.30pm.