Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The best fall break EVER

Sooo I'm back again!

It's been a crazy past few weeks...Just got back from our fall break last Wednesday (we had to be back at school on Thursday, so got 2 weeks off!) and have just been getting settled in my new apartment-yay! I finally got to move in right before I took off for fall break, so that was good.

Fall break was AWESOME. I got off on a Thursday (I never have classes on Fridays anyway) and spent the weekend in Toulouse and moved into my apartment on Friday. Then on Sunday I left early in the morning to take the all-day train to Madrid (literally took 12 hours because I had to stop over at 2 places) and meet up with Micaela who had already been there since Thursday...I got in at 10pm at night, went to the hostel (awesome hostel!) and met all of Micaela's new Australian friends that she had made over the weekend!

And so begins the crazy Spanish nightlife...One of the great things about traveling in hostels is no matter what day of the week it is (in this case it was a Sunday), everyone is always up for going out! And of course since we're in Spain, the nightlife is going to be incredible no matter what day of the week it is.

So we all headed out around 1:30 am and when we got to the jazz bar that we wanted to go to, the bouncer told us that the place wasn't open for another half an hour! Seriously! On a Sunday night! So we headed to a karaoke bar (no, nobody sang anything) to kill some time and then went back to the jazz bar which was PACKED and had a band playing and everything. Again, this is like 2:30 am on a Sunday night and this place is hopping. I'm already loving Spain.

The next day we did some sightseeing but since it was a Monday, all of the museums were closed! Luckily the weather was BEAUTIFUL and sunny (we were wearing shorts!) so we walked around and snapped some photos. Madrid is HUGE which we realized by underestimating the map by a lot! So we did lots of walking and saw lots but still, barely saw a quarter of the city!

Me and Micaela sightseeing in Madrid

That night was everyone's last night in Madrid so four of us went to a tapas restaurant and then out, of course. We went out to eat around 10:30 at night and the place was packed-most people don't even start eating dinner in Spain until 10 or 11 at night...its crazy. And this is a Monday night! It was definitely worth the wait though! We then headed back to the hostel for some vino and socializing before heading out again around like 1:30 (which is actually early for Spaniards haha).
Out at an 11pm dinner with our Aussie friends from the hostel...

The next day Micaela and I headed to Salamanca but we didn't end up getting there till the evening. Both of us were low on cash so we decided to couchsurf with this Brazilian guy (who had really good references and seemed legit!)-He was really nice and met us as soon as we got there by Plaza Mayor. Let me just say that this city was drop-dead BEAUTIFUL. I seriously want to move there some day (yes, I know I want to live everywhere - but I loveddd Salamanca). It is a huge university town so pretty much all you see are students walking around, the architecture is STUNNING and it is all just lit up at night. Plus it's the perfect size-not too big (Madrid was nice but a bit overwhelming) and not too small. And I love the small, narrow cobblestone streets that took up the entire city center-I don't think I saw one car drive in the center of town-everything is pedestrian friendly!

Seriously fell in love with this city

Anyways, we dropped out stuff off at this guy's apartment and then he took us out to dinner with his friends (also all Brazilian) to this Brazilian restaurant (how original), all you can eat meat. Micaela and I were pretty exhausted from lack of sleep and excessive partying so we went home pretty much right after dinner. The next day we spent touring the entire city -fell more in love with this place by the second! Universidad de Salamanca has been around for over 800 years! I believe it's one of the oldest universities in Spain. So just to see those buildings and realize that people STILL go to school there is pretty amazing. Then we wanted to go to the tourist office but it was closed for 2 hours in the afternoon (from 2-4)-pretty prime hours...I love the laid-back culture here and I think it's great that everyone takes siestas in the afternoon, but it does get a bit annoying -I guess it takes some getting used to..

Later, we met up with another fellow couchsurfer who was going to be staying at his apartment. She was introduced as Sunshine (I guess that's her real name?), from Arizona and she had been backpacking around Europe for 7 months. Micaela and I's one request before we met this girl: "I just hope she's normal." Ironically, she was THE weirdest person I have ever met. I almost think she was putting on an act or something because there is no way this girl was for real. She was homeschooled (okay, fine) by her hippy-Christian parents (a bit of an oxymoron, but okay) with her thirteen brothers and sisters, in the woods (definitely getting weirder). She said that her mother was not even a good teacher but refused to let her go to a normal school-in fact, that was out of the question. Further, she had no idea that we were in a global economic criss and when we told her that our friends couldn't find jobs and were getting laid off, she proceeded to ask if she would have to live on the streets when she got home...She then claimed that this economic crisis might mean the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Wow. She continued to shock us with more and more revelations-like the fact that she had never watched television (only had maybe seen the news if it was on at her Grandmother's house) and had no idea what reality television was...how you can live in America and NOT know what reality TV is (that's half of TV these days!), I don't even know...so we had to explain to her what it was. It was definitely interesting (to say the least) having her around...

That night, we all went out with Almir (our host) and his Brazilian friends-and I thought that European boys were flirtatious! Brazilian boys are like an entirely different species...haha.

Micaela and I at a CHEAP bar with some of the brazilian boys..

We did some more touring the next day and went out the next night again with Almir and his friends...I'm so glad we couchsurfed because it definitely made the trip a lot more interesting and fun having new people to hang out with (even if they turned out to be a truly unique kind of weirdness, like Sunshine).

On Friday I headed to Bordeaux to meet up with my friend Shauna, who's from Ireland and is also an assistant in the Toulouse region (but unfortunately doesn't live in Toulouse). Not much to say about Bordeaux-I really didn't like it very much, especially compared to Madrid and Salamanca. I thought that the architecture was beautiful and very French but I just didn't like it-perhaps it seemed a bit uptight for my taste (as opposed to more laid-back Salamanca) or perhaps it was the hostel we stayed in the first night (awful) or the guy we couchsurfed with the next night and went to a Halloween party with (so boring and superlame!). I was ready to move on after Bordeaux...Let me preface this by saying that Spaniards and French alike need a serious lesson on how to dress up for Halloween-if you are going to dress up, you might as well go all out-take a hint from our finely dressed and creative Americans. That was slightly frustrating because in Spain, everyone dressed exactly the same! They painted their faces white, put some red stuff on their lips and wore a white tshirt and pretended to be a ghost or something! Come on now..and Bordeaux was even worse! People would put on a hat or some type of accessory (wearing normal clothes) and claim to be someone. It was awful...I need to give these people a lesson on how to dress up for Halloween.

So after that experience, Shauna and I were definitely ready for the next destination-we were so ambivalent about it and debating between Biarritz (surfing capital of Europe), San Sebastian (a great beach town in Spain), Poitiers (a University town north of us in France) and wherever else was easy and accessible to get to. We finally decided on San Sebastian because there was an abundance of hostels and after our experience in Bordeaux, we wanted to meet some people our own age and have a good time in a fun city! I thought it would be fun, but I think I underestimated just how much fun it would be..let's just say that it was the PERFECT end to my (our) trip.

For starters, this city is beautiful. Unfortunately the weather was crappy and raining for a lot of the time (and super windy!) but we made the most of it and still got to see most of the city! I definitely want to go back when the weather is nicer in the spring because it has some crazy waves (great for surfing!) and the beaches are just beautiful. We stayed at an AWESOME hostel (thanks to Parker's recommendation and hostelbookers.com which rated it a 92%!)-The man who worked at the front desk didn't speak a word of English so I had to use my limited Spanish skills (which surprisingly, after 2 years of Spanish, is really awful) to locate the hostel (turns out it's RIGHT on the beach!). I was lacking a Spanish dictionary but luckily Spanish and French are pretty similar so that helped!

The people staying in our hostel were SO cool. Is it weird that I really like staying in hostels? (As long as it's a good one with a social atmosphere), you meet people from all over the world (or in our case, mostly from Australia), everyone also seems to be super friendly and outgoing (well most do) and everyone just makes friends with each other. I guess the one downside is that most of them you will probably never see again! This hostel (Olga's hostel!) had a common room and a terrace so we all ate dinner and drank wine in there before all going out together. I could rave about this hostel all night but I won't bore you-it was definitely awesome though and I will most definitely be going back...

You'd think that because it's a beach town San Sebastian is only hopping in the summertime...think again. This hostel was packed with people and when we went out at night, there were tons of people out and so many tourists visiting!

Anyways, I was excited to come back to Toulouse but I will definitely miss Spain. I love France but the culture in Spain is so different and I absolutely love it. I love how everyone takes siestas later in the afternoon (even if that does mean stores are closed for 2 hours!) and then goes out to eat late at night and then parties till after dawn (literally). Our host in Salamanca told us that he oftentimes won't go out till 3 in the morning..and then party till 9 am. I don't know if I could handle a schedule THAT intense, but since I'm a night owl, I definitely like their thinking...It's crazy-you would think that this whole nightlife scene this would just be limited to the huge cities like Madrid and Barcelona, but even the smaller cities like Salamanca and San Sebastian are always hopping!

Everything and everyone is just so laid-back over here and I love it. Compared to the States where everyone seems to be competing with each other and everyone always seems to be stressed about one thing or another, this is definitely a breath of fresh air! The lifestyle is just so different -people take their time doing things (la patience is definitely necessary for living in France!) and really know how to live (hence their normal 5 weeks of vacation time compared to our 2!). I really wish I could transport this lifestyle back home because it's pretty awesome...case in point, everyone out at a jazz bar at 3am on a Sunday night, not even thinking about work the next day! While many Americans may see that as irresponsible or impractical (and in some ways, maybe it is), I'm thinking, damn, these people sure know how to live their life...

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