Saturday, September 28, 2013

Beach Architecture

San Sebastian is beautiful. The sun shines, the air smells like the sea, and the water is crystal clear. I could swim out to where my shoulders were under water and I could still see my feet. I feel like I'm on vacation!

Not to say I haven't been busy. Friday was an easy day architecturally, but we still ended up walking halfway across town. We visited the Kursaal again in the morning to sit and sketch. We tried to get inside the building, but the Film Festival has everything so hectic and you need a ticket to actually get inside the theater. We tried to buy a movie ticket just so we could get inside, but all the ones we possibly wanted to see were sold out. There goes THAT idea.

A window of the Kursaal


So, Wallace and I walked around old town. We stopped in a bar for a tapas lunch. All the bars set up the same way- they make lots of tiny tapas dishes and lay them out on the counter. You, the hungry patron, come up and ask for una plata, and Mr. Bartender gives you one. You then fill it up with whatever tapas you desire, like sausages and salmon on bread and octopus on skewers and crab puffs, and hand it back to Mr. Bartender. He cuts up your sausage into tiny pieces for you and then tells you how much it costs. Then you take it, sit down, and NOM NOM NOM.

We walked to the harbor at the Concha Beach, and I saw a sign for the Aquarium. I have an unhealthy love for fish and aquariums, so I begged Wallace to join me. He agreed, and we paid 9 euros to go look at Spanish fish. But it was so much cooler than just an aquarium, it was also part maritime museum. The top two floors had exhibits on ships, fishing, whaling, seashells, and the history of San Sebastian. The space was also interesting architecturally. It was a small area, but they used mirrors to make the building seem much larger. My favorite example was in the ship room. They had built a quarter of a hull of a ship, and used mirrors to complete the hull!

The harbor

The lights on the floor would change with the movie on the wall, and the mirrors made the space feel a mile long


Also the fish were totally awesome. I love fish. I love to eat them, I love the way they smell, I love the way they swim. I was talking to Wallace while sitting in front of the big tank about how crazy it is that fish can move so spatially. They can swim in all three axis at once, and never have to swim in the same place twice, while people and land animals can only move linearly. Wallace then compared it to architecture, and we mused about how you can (and should) design a space that a person can interact with spatially, instead of linearly. I like that I can tie my love of fishies into architecture.

Fish and sharks <3

After the aquarium, we hit the grocery store and the beach. I'm not really one for chilling on the beach, but this was nice. We walked up and down the shore, and I found a few shells I'm going to try to bring home. We had a calm afternoon, and made plans to meet up with Hanna and Rebecca at 7 for dinner.

One of the parks in town

Once again, I set out by myself without camera or sketchbook to check out the city. It's nice sometimes to turn your brain off and just exist with your senses, letting your feet carry you around and your eyes take everything in. I found a little tent dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia, in honor of the 30th anniversary of "Return of the Jedi". There were tiny storm trooper figurines and a couple of Darth Vader's helmets. It was cool.

I had left around 6, and made it to our meeting point at 7. We all then headed out for burgers and beach walking, which is the perfect way to end a day. Saturday started off early though, with breakfast at 9 with the girls. We split off afterwards- Wallace and I to the Chilliada sculpture, Hanna and Rebecca to Bilbao. The sculpture was on the opposite side of town, so we had a nice lengthy walk next to the beach out to the peninsula.

La Concha beach

Loving live in Spain

I'm definitely going to write about this sculpture in my paper. It's called Peine de los Vientos, or the Wind's Comb. I thought it was incredible, I loved how the combs protruded from the rock and seemed to claw at the air, or towards the sea. Also the colors were spectacular, the orange of the rusting steel contrasted so well with the blue sky and the brown rocks.


After the sculpture, we took the tram up the mountain. The views were stunning, and we were surprised by what was at the top. The most we expected was a visitor's center, but there was a restaurant, a  hotel, and a children's theme park. Apparently, in the late 1910's, Queen Maria Christiana set aside the land to be a theme park or something and built the tram up the mountain, and it has been preserved and maintained since then. It was super cheesy and amazing, I want to go back.

They had a little roller coaster and a bumper boats area!

We ended our tour for the day at the San Telmo Museum. The museum is actually a renovation project, consisting of an old convent and a new addition. The architects who did the project are based in Berlin, and we actually had a chance to visit their office while we were there. Small world, right? We expected it to be an art museum for some reason, but were surprised to find out it was a history museum. Wallace and I both agreed that the vibe of the building better suited art, instead of artifacts.

Details- of the exterior cladding and the convent's ceiling


We then hit the beach again, where I sat on some rocks and watch the tide and crabs. We spent a fair bit of time there, then headed home to chill before dinner. Apparently we are incredibly out of synch with the Spanish eating schedule though. We're used to a noon and seven approach, but everyone here eats at 2 and 10. It's a little too late for me, and I get identified as a tourist because I eat so early, but I'm ok with it. Dinner was fantastic though- one of the guys at our hostel suggested we visit Bar Nestor, which is famous for its meat and its tomatoes.

We got to the bar at 7 and it looked super closed, the metal wall was only half open in front of the storefront. We stood awkwardly talking about what to do next, until a friendly man came up and helped us out. Dennis the Canadian has been living in San Sebastian for 4 years, and is a regular at Bar Nestor. He told us about their famous tortilla pintxa (tortilla tapas) and suggested we get a reservation for a slice. The tortilla is more like a quiche than a grocery store tortilla. It's made of potato and cheese and veggies and little tiny pieces of heaven. Apparently, it's also the best tortilla in Basque country. However, you need a reservation because they only make it twice a day and there's only 16 pieces. So Dennis helped us out majorly, because that thing was DELICIOUS. We also had their tomatoes, which are straight up tomatoes in delicious olive oil and sea salt. It was perfect.

The meat was too much for us, sadly. You order enough for the amount of people in your party, and the bartenders bring out two massive chunks of meat for you to pick from. You choose, they weigh it, they cook it, you eat it. But it looked a little too out of our price range. But two beers, two tortilla pieces, and the tomatoes only cost us 15 euro total. It was a delicious dinner and I don't regret not getting a hunk of cow at all.

I love food. I love the beach. I love sculptures. I love San Sebastian.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Adieu Paris, Hola San Sebastian!

Wednesday was our last day in Paris, as we broke apart for the independent travel portion of our trip on Thursday morning. We had a nice "last dinner" on Wednesday with our professor, who left for Blacksburg Thursday morning. Our next prof, Mario, will be joining us in Barcelona on October 5th.

First view of the tower on Wednesday!

We visited two more museums on Wednesday, and then had lots of time in the afternoon to check off a few more tourist things. Our first stop was the  Branly Museum, designed by Jean Nouvelle. It was a magnificently large and colorful building, with lots of neat spaces and nooks for exhibits.

It had a really cool green wall on the north facade. Because the north side of a building gets the least amount of light, they had to select plants that can grown without direct sunlight

And I met a French slug

I really liked the building. It's a large building suspended off the ground by columns, with a garden underneath. I thought the exhibition space was dynamic , but not so much that it took away from the exhibits on display. There was plenty of space for artifacts and the flow of traffic was good. We were there at the same time as at least three elementary school groups, and it never felt crowded.

The exterior, a view of the "boxes"

A column under the building

The inside! Rich and colorful, and magnificently laid out

The North side of the building had those boxes and nooks, while the south (which gets the most sun) had adjustable louvers and sun shades.

The coolest thing was on the outside though. The Branly Museum is situated along a busy street, so to block noise from the road, they built a huge, tall, glass wall on the edge of the lot. Glass is a massive material and absorbs sound very well. So stepping through the glass wall and into the gardens under the museum was surreal, all of the sound from outside disappeared.

You can see the edge of the glass wall in the left photo!

We broke apart for lunch, and Erica, John and I visited a market across the street. I had a peach, paella, and a sugar crepe for lunch. The three of us made a crepe song and dance too, to sing while we ate.

We visited the Cite de l'Architecture after lunch, where they had lots of models on display. And coincidentally, we saw a model and a designer leaving a fashion show in the building. Paris fashion week for the win.

The lower floor had stone ruins on display. You have to wonder, how are the stone carvings mounted on the wall so they don't fall?

A model of the Saint Genevieve Library that we visited on Tuesday

Our afternoon ended there, and a small group of us headed down to the Eiffel tower. We plopped down in the gardens of the Champ de Mars, and I had a wonderful nap. It was such a nice day and the temperature was perfect, I was so comfortable.

Checked that off on my tourist list!

Pardon the tummy and the grimace on my face. I swear I'm having fun, haha!

We ended our day at the Arc de Triomphe, where a military parade was going on. I listened and watched as a band and flag carriers marched past me.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in Paris, but I don't feel like I actually did much. Heiner didn't take us to many buildings, and I didn't know how to best fill my free time. I'm a little embarrassed and sad that I feel this way, but I still had fun, so it doesn't really matter, right? We will be back in France (in the south) in October, so I'll see this fine land again.

But oh my goodness, I may not want to go back to France after arriving in San Sebastian on Thursday. We took the 6 hour train from Paris to Hendaye, and then the 30 minute metro from Hendaye to San Sebastian. It was my first train ride in Europe, and goddness was it nice. Wallace and I booked our tickets back in July, and it was only $40 for a first class seat. Hanna and Rebecca, who are also going to San Sebastian, waited until this past week to buy theirs, and the price had gone up to $90. But I'd say it was worth it- the seats were bigger than airplane seats, much comfier, and we were right next to the food car.

Woop woop, independent travel!

It is HOT in Northern Spain. I was wearing jeans in order to lighten my pack, but sweet goodness was it miserable walking from the train station to our hostel. But our hostel is awesome, it's on the first floor of the building, has 8 beds, a sweet courtyard terrace, and Wallace and I are the only people here. It's beautiful and quiet, and also it's about a 5 minute walk to the beach and one of the buildings here.

Fist moments in Spain

And just our luck, we happened to be in San Sebastian during their film festival week. First it was Iceland's Culture Day, then Paris Fashion Week, and now the Film Festival. We're pretty lucky.

I told them to look dramatic on the red carpet. It didn't really work out.

We broke apart from Hanna and Rebecca at the train station and made plans to meet back up at 7. Wallace and I immediately ditched our stuff, changed clothes, and ran to the beach. It is beautiful and I am definitely getting some beach time while I'm here.

Bridge at night

and beach :)

Conveniently, we are located very close to one of the buildings I was thinking about studying- the Kursaal. It's the big theater where the Film Festival is being held. We got to walk around it in both daylight and at nighttime, so now I really want to get inside it and look around. We have to write a paper when we get home about our travels and studies, and my topic was going to be "The Architecture of Water". So, buildings near water. I was definitely going to talk about the Harpa Concert Hall in Iceland, and maybe even the squiggly boathouse we saw in Bregenz. The Kursaal was on my list, but it's not actually on the water, it's up off of it. So, it'll take some analysis before I decide to write about it.

The buildings light up and glow at night

And the 61st Film Festival!

Oh I am ready for some relaxation. Not even just time on the beach, but time without the big group, without a teacher, and with my own agenda.

A beautiful sand sculpture made by a hobo