Sunday, July 19, 2015

As the Days Fly...

Well our days are flying by and we only have about 8 days left. Actually Dean left this morning as he is headed to work in Vimperk, Czech Republic for a few days before heading back to Madison. In any case, this entry will be some of the more recent highlights from this adventure.

On July 5th we headed into Bilbao for the "estropatada," rubber ducky race. This was the 3rd edition and it is to raise money for people who contract unusual diseases. People "purchase" a duck for 5 euros that enters the race.  Each duck has a geolocator so the "owner" knows where it is in the race. 35, 000 ducks were launched off of the Deusto bridge from giant duck painted containers. On the linked site above you can find the news video that tells the story as well.  There were several people in kayaks connected to a series of swim lane ropes that created a canal down which the ducks float to the next bridge. The streets were lined with people watching despite the rainy weather. Marina came in from Mundaka to join us for the race. The photos below will give you some idea.
That evening, we went with our friends Raul, Viviana, and Fernanda to check out the nearby abandoned Butrón castle. It is not far from where we are staying and for years we would drive by it and I always wondered about it. It does, on the outside, look like something from a Disney movie that has gotten run down and not well maintained. The location is nice, although isolated, along a river and we happened to catch a group of horseback riders that had also made their way there to check it out.
Here are some photos from our excursion.

As  you may know the lifestyle here is much different. Most people live in flats above stores and don't entertain in their homes. Those who have gardens for the most part are in a community plot, as yards aren't typical. That said the area we are living in used to be mostly an undeveloped area. Between where we are living off a main street and the beach, there were wooded/field paths to the beach. Now most of that has been cleared and there are houses and duplexes going up everywhere for those who would like a beach house. It is a great area to be in for beach and surf. We have enjoyed our flat, although the one house across the street is a bit loud. It is one of the original old homes that has a fair amount of fenced in yard. Behind the fence are ducks, chickens, hens, turkeys, dogs, cats, and I'm not sure what else. We hear the dogs at night around midnight and the hens at about 5am. I suspect this is like living on a farm, although we don't have the responsibility of the animals. Despite that, we are in a great location for our needs. Dean and I have been getting our exercise regularly. These photos  are a some pictures I took on my speed walk the other day.

As much as we can we have been reconnecting with our friends
from when we lived her 4 years ago. Eugenia was one of Morgan's friends from school and her sister Alejandra and Maia are also the same age. We took a stroll with them down to the Puerto Deportivo de Algorta for ice cream and a walk on the beach. Since there really isn't room to entertain in people's houses, we have enjoyed the customs of going out for walks, meeting and hanging out with people in parks, plazas, and on terraces. Everyone walks everywhere or takes the metro. All of us are enjoying the fresh air
and opportunity to walk from place to place with friends. Dean and I are hoping to keep that "habit" up at least a bit in the states to take a walk regularly after we eat as it feels healthier. It's also really nice to see older people out walking all the time. Our dependency in the states on cars to get around and only moving for the sake of exercise is a bit less healthy of a lifestyle in our opinion as we see older people with so much mobility here. The day we were on that walk in the Puerto Deportivo we saw a really beautiful sunset.

While we are close to the beach we are also only about a 20-30 min metro ride into Bilbao. We have gone in to the city a handful of times for shopping and the best massage therapist I have ever found. One afternoon following a massage, I was walking down the Gran Via, a main street, and came upon a concert by Coldplace which is a really amazing tribute band to Coldplay. If you heard them without seeing them, you might not know the difference as Soundhound identified Coldplay, not a cover, for every song despite crowd noise. It was really awesome. They played for about 1.5 hours. This was the opening, to get people excited before Bilbao Live, a 3 day concert up in the mountain just above Bibao. Mumford and Sons played there among other well known artists. Unfortunately we didn't have tickets.

Another part of summer here in Spain is that every town has it's "fiestas" which are all centered
around Santos, saints, that they choose to celebrate. That said, these are far from religious events and they typically go all day and late into the night. Since most of our kid's friends are in Algorta area where we used to live, we went to the parties in Neguri. In addition to a variety of theatrical entertainment, portable dj/disco, friends, and a bar, the festival started out with cabezudos which are people dressed up with gigantic heads carrying sacks that they use to chase and wack people with.

 Since the fiestas in Neguri, the girls have regularly returned to the park to meet up with friends and hang out. One of the nice things is that they are able to go alone on the metro. Generally that's how kids socialize. They travel in groups and wonder around parks, stop at nearby stores for snacks and the like. I think the girls will miss that when we return.

Monday, July 13, 2015


It's become clear that I'm just not able to keep up with the blog. We have been very busy, often out from morning until very late at night. We didn't completely forget about July 4th though. In fact, we spent it together, just the four of us on a wonderful hike. We drove almost 2 hours to Urederra in Navarra, Spain. It's an area I have never visited before and it's beautiful.

We went to the Nacedero del Urederra which is a national park and it’s part of the bigger Parque Natural de Urbasa-Andía chain in Navarra. The best time to go is in the early spring when there is more water running than what was there at this point but it was still incredibly beautiful.  

We first checked in at the information booth where they were surprised to find out we were from the states. Apparently there are very few folks from the states that have made their way there, although they did say the numbers are growing due to the photos that have made their way to the Internet. It took us about 3-4 hours to hike the whole thing mostly because of stopping to take pictures. I can't explain how beautiful it was but below is a slideshow of the highlights of what we saw along the way.

Necedero del Urederra - Kizoa Video Maker

As you can see from the photos it is a series of waterfalls and pools along the hike. The word Urederra in Basque means beautiful water. The blue color of the water was amazing. I have never seen water so clear and blue except in pictures of tropical places I have yet to visit. Despite the long drive the kids said it was worth it because of the incredible beauty. I hope to get a few more of these excursions in before we head back to the states.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Festival and Friends

Well, keeping busy has certainly not been a problem so far. During the first couple of days of our arrival in Sopela/Larrabasterra we settled into our flat. For short term living, we are in great place. It is nice, clean, and well located for all that we need.

We happened to arrive during the Sopelana festivals so we managed to catch some of the events such as the Gildas band, our friend Sara is a drummer and singer, some other musical groups and a Thai Chi exposition in which our friend Lola participated. Unfortunately it didn't occur to me to take pictures or video of either of them. I wish I could go back in time so that I could share it with you. I did however manage to take pictures of some of the other people we saw but don't know...

In the pictures below is a musical group from France called Funky Style Brass and they were super fun. And the second photo was just a street actor eating some fire for a couple of euros.
Of course no festival is complete without the weird car parade thing and some giant stilt walking animal things...

When we weren't spending our evenings at the festival, we were with friends, Viviana, Raul and Fernanda, in a really cool park called Akarlanda. They arranged a big lunch BBQ for us and brought along 3 other kids that Morgan went to school with so it was fun to see everyone again. 
  The kids still seem to get along the same and other than being a bit taller, and presumably smarter, not much has changed. Needless to say, it feels really good to be back here. It's hard to believe that 4 years have passed since our 7 month stint and I hope that we don't wait this long the next time.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Many of you have met Marina as she lived with us the past two summers. She is from a small town called Mundaka, in the Basque region of Spain. Upon leaving Madrid we headed up to spend a few days with her and her family in their hometown. Mundaka is well known for surfing and beautiful beaches so we made the most of that. This first photo is a view from our balcony that looks out towards the beach across the street. It was well located as Marina's family lives across the street on the beach side.

Mundaka is small enough that you can basically walk the whole town in 10 minutes. It has a small grocery store, several bars, a surf shop that has been open for 30 years (owned and operated an Australian who came to Mundaka as a surfer and made it his home), and great views from just about everywhere you go. To the left are some of the sites around town.

During our time we made use of the water. In addition to swimming, we rented kayaks and paddle boards. It was Dean's first time trying out SUP, as balance is not something he is particularly confident with. Our new Australian assistant actually got him to stand which was quite impressive.  Below are some photos of our water adventures.

We also did a bit of sea kayaking. It was harder than we expected with the current and ocean waves but still a good time.

As luck would have it, in addition to a great place for water adventures, it was time for the town celebrations of Mundaka. They had a small carnival set up with rides. The girls took advantage of the bumper cars and the bungee trampoline. Kids and people were out and about everywhere. One evening there was also a "parade" sort of thing. What was interesting is that people would line the streets and as the parade car came by, they would then join in. It wasn't just a parade for watching but rather for everyone to participate in as they wished.

We also had the opportunity to see Marina dance a couple of traditional Basque dances as part of the festivities. As is tradition with most celebrations around here, everything lasts all night. Marina's dance group had a mobile bar that opened at night. The dancers took turns tending bar and Marina had the 3-6 am shift one day and 12-3am shift the next. It was brutal for her with that and also trying to spend time with us.

It was a great visit and nice to get to know her parents and her town a bit better. We look forward to a couple more adventures with Marina before we head back to Wisconsin. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Churches, Castles & Palaces

We spent our days in the Madrid area visiting mostly castles and palaces. There are a few common day trips from that area so we took them. We hit Segovia, Toledo, and El Escorial/Valle de los Caídos. What these areas had in common were churches, castles and palaces, of which I think we have all seen enough. While they are beautiful and the history is interesting, it all starts to run together a bit.

Of the most interesting sites I would say the aqueducts in Segovia, the Jewish area/history and artesania of Toledo, and the views from Valle de los Caídos (VC). Toledo is known for it's swords. While we didn't get one to bring home, however we did get a tour of the oldest true artisan shop for sword making. Most now are made industrially and all look the same. In this small shop tucked away in the corner, the swords are made by hand in a very traditional way. The owner, a descendent from the original owner is short a few fingers from his years of sword making but clearly loves what he does and knows the details in a way that most industrial sword makers probably don't. We were also lucky enough to catch a day when we could view the making of traditional style pendents with there golden designs made into a specially smooth hand cut stone.

We walked a ton in all of the places we visited.

For those of you who are unfamilair, VC is where Franco is buried. I was very tempted to spit on his grave but there was a guard there watching what everyone did and strict silence was to be respected. Also buried there are many who died during the Spanish Civil War. What I didn't realize is what has been characterized as "typically Spain" was also a result of what Franco wanted to show the world so he latched on to the idea of Flamenco dancing from the south and bull fighting and those became the symbols of the country. That's what most people tend to hear about and know. I find this middle area of the country to be extremely different from the northern areas where we tend to spend our time, and frankly, I prefer the north.