28 July 2012

Weekend at the Beach: San Sebastian, Spain

In Spain, where I live, people go on vacation in August. The whole month is not unusual depending on their resources. It's either the beach or  traditionally families have a place from their original village and many  go spend time there during the brutal heat of August.

We thought we'd get a jump on that mass exodus of Madrid and went to the beach for a 3 day weekend in July. We'd heard from Spanish friends that San Sebastian is one of the prettiest cities in Spain and it has one of the Spanish people's favorite beaches - La Concha.

We almost pulled the plug on the trip because we couldn't find a reasonable hotel. Prices were crazy high even for Europe. We still paid what is a lot for us --  and we stayed in a dormitory/hotel on the university campus there. It was a decent, basic room with our own bath and only a 10 minute walk from Ondaretta Beach. I was a little disappointed because I was afraid it was too far away for us to get a chance to visit La Concha. Turned out my fears were in vain.

The whole city was quite walkable and had tons of bicycle paths too. It's a flat little carving out of city right before the mountains start. It hadn't been damaged by the civil wars and had a lovely mix of architecture. Art nouveau, 18th Century and revival styles. As one friend put it, it has lots of beautiful little squares and neighborhoods, not just one main plaza for tourists.

You could easily walk down Ondaretta Beach, climb some rocks with the aid of steps and be on the La Concha Beach. It was pretty. I don't know if I know why it is a favorite for Spaniards or not, but the city lines the beach and some of it with the nice historic architecture. Some lovely victorian glass pavilions right on the beach have been converted into restaurants where you can have a sandwich or a coffee and look right out over the water. Prices were reasonable too -- maybe cheaper than Madrid.

We would drive in the evenings from the hotel to the main downtown area. About a 5 minute drive and the paid parking was cheaper than Madrid too. Evening meals tended to be more expensive of course and the seafood area by the bay had really high prices which we decided not to try, but we still ate good just exploring the city. We had our seafood at the Chinese pick your own food to grill place.

The weather in the north is much cooler and we needed a light sweater and jeans at night and even had the chilly temps drive us off the beach with clouds one afternoon. But that part of the country is known for rain and cooler weather so we were fortunate.

Always remember when you go to the beach in Spain that you'll see some skin, but some beaches are more family friendly than others. These seemed to be the family friendly variety. Some topless bathing or changing into your swimsuit on the beach but no big exhibitions. So that's either really good or disappointing -- depending on your perspective. ha!

It was glorious to be out of the heat of Madrid, but one drawback we faced was that MadrileƱos had indeed already started going on vacation. The result of all these city dwellers going to the beach or to the old family homestead for the weekend is huge traffic jams getting back into the city on Sunday night (or leaving on Fridays). We spent one hour in a crawl as the autopista approached the city ring highways. In July! So much for beating the vacation traffic of August. But those traffic jams jump up to 5 and six hours when August comes, so maybe it wasn't so bad. Next time we'll ask for Monday off and come back without traffic.

18 July 2012

Ode to Sam

In 2005, we were preparing to move to Spain. We had this group of people we hung out with a lot. We were part of several of the same groups at our church and several of us lived in the same neighborhood too, so walks would inevitable end up saying hello at someone's house. When our departure approached, Forrest, as he called himself in his original blog, pushed and pushed for us all to start blogs. That way when my hubby and I moved away, we could all still know what was going on in each other's lives.

I resisted at first, honestly. I always felt that I should be working on my books if I was writing, not frittering away at blogs. But Forrest won out. This blog is due to him. The first few years it was just stories between our friends about life using our nom de plumes. It was a private and entertaining circle.

I discovered that blogging was therapeutic in that I could get a good or bad story off my chest. I also discovered it was a good thing to prime the writing pump and get me going. It was also good writing practice I could do in moments rather than hours.

Well, Facebook came along and many of us drifted away from our blogs. By then, I'd found the benefits and still posted things in a haphazard way. Like I do now, but now I'm working vigorously on my work in progress so I'm not pressuring myself on the blog.

Forrest, whose "real" name was Sam (at least that's what we all called him) one time taught a class at our church that challenged people of faith to participate in the arts - be it movies, fine art, music etc. It was a delight to my soul as an author to find someone inside the walls of a church encouraging art for art's sake. It's a movement that has grown through the years and seems to have it's own place in the world now, but at the time it was unique to me.

Sam had quit blogging in our small group but in 2009 started an art blog. He challenged himself to do a piece of artwork a week for one year. Sam was by day an architect and a by night a creative soul.

I was fascinated watching the year progress as Sam did his art work and posted it on Facebook and his blog. Here's his art blog. It was so much work and so interesting to see. I was so inspired, in fact, the following year in 2010 I decided to blog 52 times. A much easier task, really, than producing 52 paintings, but a commitment for me none the less. My writing was in a slump again and this was a great opportunity to get it rolling again.

One thing has led to another and now I have a book and short stories for sale online with plans for print books this fall. I can credit some of that to Sam for pushing and inspiring. He would always ask me about my writing and we could always have conversations comparing writing as and art and painting and the discipline of art.

He loved art and music and had STRONG opinions on them. Actually Sam had strong opinions on everything and while there were moments, he could drive me crazy with that, I totally learned to be more willing to offer my own opinions and to listen to others even if I didn't agree.

Sam and some of the guys would hang out at a coffee shop on Thursdays and one of his projects was taking music he'd discovered and creating seasonal themed CDs. Seasonal in that these songs made him feel or think of summer, fall, winter, or spring. While I wasn't necessarily in this crowd of hombres, I got the advantage of discovering new music from these music CDs. In fact, I found some of my favorite bands because of Sam and his insatiable search for new or edgy music.

It's amazing how one person can seep into you without you really knowing. We had to say goodbye to Sam last week. Mesothelioma (a vicious kind of cancer) took him suddenly from our circle of friends and his family.  Absence is hard to take.

RIP GF "Sam" Wagner 1974-2012.