We had our hearts set on going to Basque country, so we decided to rent a car—more freedom to explore San Sebastian to the north, Guernica to the west and France to the east.

We determined it would take 4 + hours to get to our fabulous beach setting, with the Pyrenees mountains as a backdrop on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.   Visions of iconic little beach villages dotting the shoreline danced in our heads.  And it’s off season, so we thought that we would have the place to ourselves.

Good plan.

First of all, you must have an International Driver’s License.

We do.

Secondly, unless you want to pay a fortune, you must be able to drive a standard shift.

I can’t.  Ellioto can.

Third, get a GPS.

I wish that we had!  (We didn’t know that I could download Google maps to use offline—until the trip back to Madrid.  It was helpful–but didn’t keep us from getting lost.)

Remember when road maps were offered at the car `rental offices?

Not any more!

In Spain, people do not navigate by route numbers much. No one knows which routes are what.  And street signs quaintly displayed as decorative tiles on the side of some of the buildings, are very hard to see—especially at night.    And you may remember that I’ve discussed the number of round-abouts this country has—now I get it—it’s because so many streets converge at once!  You have to circle a few times to get your bearings and find the right one.  It can be stressful—a test for good-natured traveling, for sure.

How to negotiate their toll booths? We seemed to choose the right ones and they do take credit cards, FYI.

The route we took went due north—with mountain terrain between Madrid and Biscay Bay.  Not winding, but certainly high enough to have snow and freezing rain, the land is pretty barren except for a few villages– but never fear, McDonalds and Burger King have gone before us—and when you need a restroom, they are a welcome sight!

Getting to the hotel was not easy—in fact, it was cra-zy because San Sebastian is a full-fledged city with many twists and turns, 1-way streets and nothing is in English–in fact, many things are in Basque rather than Spanish–or both.

We finally called the hotel to hone us in.   “Just come down the Avenue marked  “do not enter” (!)”, she said, “it’s ok—everyone does it–you’ll find us at the end. …then we’ll explain how to find the parking garage a few blocks away.” !

 

 

 

 

 

The staff of the SanseBay Hotel was so nice that we quickly forgot the pain, I must say.

And the view was indeed remarkable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The location could not be beat–once we got there– (except for having to drive and park, that is) we were happy to find that we were bordering the quaint walls of the Old Town—and I love Old Towns!


 

 

 

 

 

The funicular, creeping up Igueldo Mountain,  was one of the steepest I’ve ever ridden. At the top is a theme park dating back to 1912, but it is closed during the winter months.  It’s all about the view!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion in Spain?

In Madrid, style is alive and well.  (Out away from the cities, as you might expect—not so much.)


And belled sleeves are making a come-back.

As you can see, prints are fantastical and flamboyant.

Everywhere, makeup is dramatic, making dark eyes darker, flashing and mysterious; lipstick is red, red, red.

Shoes rate.  And somehow tight-pantsed women click across cobbled stones in heels too way too high for safety, let alone comfort—a feat of its own (pun intended).

There seems not to be as much wild colored hair as before.

Something a little disturbing to my vegetarian attitude is how many real fur coats I see in this cold weather.  They are beautiful, but…

Scarves continue to be a staple as are the puff-coats– back home in the U.S.  Black, always black dominates but Winter Pink and rich Gold are still evident and I’ve been noticing olive green.  With so many red-heads over here, it stands out.

 

Well, that’s my fashion-on-the-street report for now.

 

 

Flaminco! Ole`

 

 

 

Not to be trite, but we had to experience Flamenco before leaving Madrid.  Hot-blooded and intense, the music soon drew us into its thrall.

Described as a Spanish art form consisting of guitar playing, singing and dancing, Flamenco  developed in southern Spain, but its origins are multi-cultural—including Gypsy, Cuban, Jewish and Latin American traditions.

Starting out with the mesmerizing hand-clapping called, “toque de palmas”, the female performer kept time, drawing the audience into syncopated rhythm.

Each of the four performers took their turn in the limelight—the guitar player with his stunning and sometimes frantic finger-work;  a male singer who pulled us into the drama through the story in his voice and the two untiring dancers—male and female, regaled in ethnic finery while  tapping their feet faster than the eye could see.

The style is emotionally aggressive yet tightly wound— while barking, “ole`”, as if agreeing to the emotion pouring from the guitar sweet and sensually fluid until it hooked you into the rising frenzy that matched their dancing feet.

Although her steps never wavered, the woman’s face portrayed emotion ranging from haughty indignation to perhaps the torment of a love long lost.  The emotion is relatable even if the story isn’t obvious to our foreign ears.

 

The male dancer, on the other hand, seemed remote in his accomplished movements.   So controlled—so in sync.

And it got wild.  By the time the performance was over, I was breathless and emotionally satiated.

A few more excerpts are forthcoming–our venture north and into France!
Driving a rental car over here is not for the uncourageous!  Oh my…

Madrid! Now I get it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems like a dream that I’m back in Madrid. Yes, I count my Blessings–travel is high on the list..

 

This time, Madrid is sinking in. This time, I see the sparkle and shine of it all.
Much of this trip’s impression is from staying in city-center. It’s quaint; it’s edgy.  !Que guay! (that’s cool).

 

Living in the outskirts last year (Getalfe), I didn’t have such access. Here, near Sol, there are shops lining the streets between our airbnb and the beckoning cafes on every corner—literally. Mid-day siesta makes evening shopping a grand adventure. People are out-and-about, the antithesis of being couch potatoes, dulled-out, watching the tube, waiiting for sleep to steal the night.

 

Tapas are popular here because most Spaniards have lunch as their largest meal so Tapas + wine seems just the thing for mid-evening—maybe that’s why obesity is not obvious here. Walking in my ‘hood, within a 1/4 mile radius, I had at least 20 choices for Tapas bars or restaurants—I chose La Cueva de La Tina. My choice was mostly due to finding a menu also written in English.

 

Even so, I thought that I was getting a quick grilled cheese sandwich—though I did make out that 6 cheeses were involved. Thet and Sangria sounded like just the thing. But when it was delivered, I was delighted by the round mini-loaf, filled in the carved out center with molten cheeses, blended to perfection. Oh dear—I’ve been over-doing the bread since I got here—I’ll just have to walk it off!

 

The chef walked by, hearing my exclamation as I savored the flavor. “You like it?” “Oh yes!”
It turns out that he is Jose, from Mexico and the recipe was concocted by the owner. Struggling not to finish it off right then, I was gauche enough to ask to have some “to go”—not favored by Europeans.

But now, I have lunch for today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, I did not work-out as much prior to this trip as I’d planned. And I feel it. My legs are not as strong as I would like—but I have remedies for the road:

 

-Magnesium to avoid spasms and fatique
-Leg Stretches for quads and hamstrings, both!
-Enough water
-Walk at a speed that encourages a steady stride
-I take a cane—just in case                                                                                            (using a cane is the new sexy for mature people—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)