Julio Medem Spotlight Parte 2: Vacas

Last week, I wrote about Ma Ma, the latest in Julio Medem’s career. This has inspired me to go back and rewatch films from his terrific career. I’m not going to write about all of them (he hit, at least for me, a creative drought in the mid-00s with Caótica Ana and Habitación en Roma), but I am going to take a look at the films that made him my second favourite Spanish director after Pedro Almodóvar. La semana pasada, escribí sobre Ma Ma, la nueva película de Julio Medem. Me ha inspirado para volver a ver sus pelis buenas. No voy a escribir sobre todos (creo que ha sufrido durante los años 00 creativamente), pero voy a volver a ver sus pelis que explican porque es mi director español segundo preferido.

Medem was born in San Sebastián-Donostia in 1958. (Gasp! The people of Bilbao will have my head on a platter for fawning over a director from Donostia! Sorry, Alex de la Iglesia is too hit or miss for me! Of course, comparing de la Iglesia with Medem is like comparing Michael Bay to Fellini. De la Iglesia is a great mainstream director, and eventually I’ll get to his career.) Although he studied medicine in university, Medem had always shown an interest in film since a child when he shot films with his father’s Super 8 camera while everyone was sleeping. After getting his start as a film critic and then screenwriter, Medem made his first feature film, Vacas (Cows) in 1992. This film would win him the 1993 Goya (Spanish Oscar) for Best New Director. Medem nació en San Sebastián-Donostia en 1958. (¡Que horror! Los bilbaínos me van a matar para dar piropos a un director giputxi! Perdona, pero Álex de la Iglesia tiene tantas pelis malas para mi. Bueno, comprar de la Iglesia con Medem es como comprar Michael Bay a Fellini. De la Iglesa es un buen director para su estilo y eventualmente voy a escribir de él.) Aunque estudió medecina en la universidad, Medem siempre había mostrado un interés en cine desde que era un niño y hizo pelis con la Super 8 de su padre mientras su familia durmieron. Después de un inicio como un critico de películas y después guionista, Medem hizo su primera película de larga duración, Vacas en 1992. Esta película le ganó la Goya para Mejor Director Novel en 1993.

The film stars Carmelo Gómez, Emma Suárez, Karra Elejade (who would later star in Ocho Apellidos Vascos), and a grown-up Ana Torrent (from El espiritú de la colmena). It tells the story of two neighbouring families in the Basque Country between the end of the Carlist Wars and the Spanish Civil War (1875-1936). Throughout the film, various cows are seen watching the crazy stunts of men in war. A cow is the only witness to Carmelo Mendiluz’s faked death and escape during a Carlist War battle. Various events and battles between the families take place over the years until the final scene during the Spanish Civil War. The grandchildren of the original rivals find themselves together again for the first time in 20 years  right before the war hits the village, and the end is ambiguous. (SPOILER) Did Peru really survived by faking his death and run away to France with neighbour Cristina? Or was that his dying dream? Medem doesn’t say. Only the cows could inform us, and they’re not talking. Los actores de la película son Carmelo Gómez, Emma Suárez, Karra Elejade (de fama de Ocho Apellidos Vascos) y Ana Torrent como adulta. Es la historia de familias vecinas vascas durante el final de las Guerras Carlistas y la Guerra Civil (1875-1936). Durante la película, varias vacas están viendo las locuras de los hombres de guerra. Una vaca es la única testiga a la muerte falsificada y escape de Carmelo Mendiluz durante una batalla. Durante los años, muchos eventos y discusiones entre las familias tienen lugar hasta la escena final durante la Guerra Civil. Los nietos de los rivales originales están juntos por la primera vez en 20 años y el final es ambiguo. (SPOILER)  ¿Ha sobrevivido Peru por falsificar su muerte y huir a Francia con su vecina Cristina? ¿O era su sueño mientras estaba muriéndose? Medem no nos dice. Solo las vacas podrían informarnos, y no están hablando.

The film captures the daily life of the rural Basque countryside in the years 1905, 1915 and 1936 perfectly. The film might be hard to digest because it’s not explicitly told, leaving a lot open to interpretation to the viewer. For viewers not familiar with Basque history, the plot will be even more confusing. (The Basques aligned themselves with the Carlists during the Carlists war, who were right-wing, and with the left-wing republicanos (Nothing to do with American Republicans! Quite the opposite.) during the Civil War, both because they were promised greater autonomy during each.)  To make things more complicated, Medem uses the same actors to play the corresponding characters of each generation. La película muestra la vida coitidiana de Euskadi profunda en los años 1905, 1915 y 1936 perfectamente. La película puede ser difícil entender porque hay mucho abierto a los espectadores. Para los que no saben la historia vasca, el trama será aun más confundido. Para hacer las cosas más complicadas, Medem usa los mismos actores para los personajes correspondidos de cada generación.

My first watching in 2007, I was quite lost and originally rated it a 6 on IMDB. With the rewatching, I understood more of the rivalry between this family and was able to appreciate Medem’s handiwork and metaphors. The cinematography is amazing. I am left, however, with a question bigger than the one of the real destiny of Peru and Cristina. How did Medem find so much good weather during filming? It’s never that sunny for so long in the Basque Country! Cuando la vi por la primera vez en 2007, no entendí nada y la di un 6 en IMDB. Cuando la volví a ver, la entendí mucho mejor y la historia, y también aprecié más las metáforas y el trabajo de Medem. La cinematografía es genial. Sin embargo, me quedo con una pregunta mucha más grande que la del destino de Peru y Cristina. ¿Cómo pudo encontrar tiempo tan bueno para grabar la peli? ¡Nunca hace sol durante tanto tiempo en el País vasco!

Vacas, although far from being his most famous work, was an incredible start for Medem and well worth a viewing, especially for fans of Spanish Cinema or those wanting to know about life in Euskadi a century ago.  Vacas, aunque no sea su película más famosa, era un inicio genial para Medem y vale la pena para ver, especialmente para aficionados del cine español o los que quieren saber más de la vida en Euskadi hace un siglo.


Lekeitio and a goodbye to summer.

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Located 53 kilometres (31 miles) northeast of Bilbao, Lekeitio, a town of 7000 inhabitants, is always a great bet for a day on the beach or the mountains, whichever you prefer. I’ve been four times now. I would go more often than once a year, but the winding roads through the mountains to get from Bilbao to the coastal port wrecks havoc on my stomach, and I’m not prone to motion sickness. Ubicado a 53 kilometres noreste de Bilbao, Lekeitio, un pueblo de 7000 habitantes, siempre es bueno para un día de playa o monte, lo que querías tú. Ya he estado cuatro veces. Iría más pero con las curvas de la carretera por el monte para llegar a Lekeitio desde Bilbao siempre me marea, y no suelo marearme. 

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The town has a 15th century Gothic basilica (Santa María), the island of San Nicolas (on low tides, you can walk to it. On high tides, island) and a lighthouse. For the foodies, there are many typical pintxo bars and tons of seafood restaurants. If I didn’t have an intolerance for seafood, perhaps this would be more of a positive for me. It has a ton of beautiful ocean and mountain views.  The “monte” (more of a hill than mountain) Lumentza in the middle of town enables visitors to see the town from around 150 metres above sea level with some great views. El pueblo tiene una basilica gótica de Siglo XV (Santa María), la isla de San Nicolás (en mareabaja se puede caminar porque ya no es isla) y un faro. Para los que les gusta comer, hay muchos bares de pintxo y restaurantes (jatetxea en euskera) de marisco. Si no tuviera una intolerancia de marisco, igual sería más de un punto positivo para mi. También dispone de muchas vistas bonitas del Mar Cantábrico y del monte. El “monte” (solo tiene unos 150 metros de altura) Lumentza en el pueblo provee una oportunidad para ver el pueblo con vistas bonitas. 


Lumentza in 2014

This weekend, as I was rebuilding my strength after a cold that didn’t want to go away, I returned to Lekeitio as I had found a really nice hike on those hiking pamphlets I picked up in Deba in 2014.   I didn’t reclimb Lumentza, though, and made a detour to the lighthouse of Santa Katalina, as I felt the need for some coast as summer begins to make its “agur” from the Basque Country. (Agur is “adiós” or “goodbye” in Euskera.)  The walk to the lighthouse takes maybe 20 minutes (I wasn’t counting), and the views are stunning. Este fin de semana, como estaba recuperando fuerzas después de un resfriado que no quería irse de mi cuerpo, volví a Lekeitio porque había un sendero interesante que encontré en las fichas de senderismo vasco que encontré en Deba en 2014. No volví a subir Lumentza porque hice un desavío al faro de Santa Katalina porque me apetecía más costa porque el verano está despiendose con un “agur” a Euskadi. LORENZO, ¡QUÉDATE AQUÍ POR FAVOR! 

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Santa Katalina

After walking around the lighthouse for a bit, I headed back into town, ordered a pintxo and café con leche in Euskera (in Lekeitio, you stick out like a sore thumb if you speak Spanish. It’s all Basque, all the time. One bar has a poster informing patrons that they know Spanish and will speak it on request…in Basque, French and English.)) My Euskera is very basic, so sometimes I just have to say “bai” (sí/yes) and hope for the best. I was rewarded with a lot of smiles for my efforts and appreciation for my attempts, and I had a nice pintxo de tortilla as I uploaded a few pictures to Instagram (@setmeravelles if you’re not already following). Después de explorar el faro un rato, volví al pueblo y pedí un pintxo y café con leche en euskera. En Lekeitio, se nota mucho cuando alguién habla en castellano porque se habla euskera todo el rato. Un bar tiene un cartel informando clientes que sí, saben castellano y lo hablarán si hace falta. Lo tiene escrito en euskera, francés e inglés pero no en castellano.) Mi nivel de euskera es A0, super básico, y a veces no queda más remedio que decir “bai” (“sí”) y esperar lo mejor. Aprecieron los esfuerzos de hablar euskera, y me tomé un pintxo de tortilla con jamón y queso mientras subí fotos a Instagram (@setmeravelles si no me sigues y quieres).

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Then it was on to the purpose of the day, a walk along the River Lea and the former mill. It’s a short path along the river through some woods and crosses a cool bridge (that goes to some grandmother’s house, I’m sure). I wanted to extend the walk to a nearby village as it was so beautiful, but I decided to try to catch the bus back to Bilbao and not outdo myself after this nightmare cold I’ve had. I got there one minute too late, so I just enjoyed the beach views and listened to the Basque being spoken.

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Después, al tema del día, un paseo por la Ría Lea y el molino antiguo. Es un sendero corto que pasea por la ría por el bosque y cruza un puente chulo. Seguro que va a alguna abuela por el camino. Eh, esta mala broma no se traduce al español. Tranquilos, era mala en inglés también. Pensaba en caminar más a un pueblo a unos 55 minutos de distancia, pero decedí intentar coger el autobus a Bilbao y no hacer tanto después de este resfriado de pesadilla que he tenido. Llegué un minuto demasiado tarde, y disfruté de las vistas de la playa y escuché euskera en la calle. 

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The coastal villages of Euskadi are definitely a trip back through time and offer some amazing views of the Cantabrian sea and Basque Mountains. It’s always nice to have a break from the hustle and bustle of the self-proclaimed Capital of the World, Bilbao. Los pueblos de la costa de Euskadi son un viaje por tiempo y ofrecen vistas preciosas del Mar Cantábrico y montes vascos. Siempre está bien descansar del moviemiento del auto-proclamado capital del mundo, Bilbao. 

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Movie review: Ma Ma.

Julio Medem (San Sebastián-Donostia 1958) is, in my opinion, one of Spain’s best directors. He is the master who directed Vacas (1991), La ardilla roja (1993), Tierra (1996), Los amantes del círculo polar (1998), Lucía y el sexo (2001), Caótica Ana (2007) and Habitación en Roma (2010). He also directed the 2003 documentary La pelota vasca about the political problems in the Basque Country. Julio Medem (San Sebastián-Donostia 1958) es, en mi opinion, uno de los mejores directores españoles. Es el genio que dirigió Vacas, La ardilla roja, Tierra, Los amantes del círculo polar, Lucía y el sexo, Caótica Ana y Habitación en Roma. También es el director de documental de 2003 La pelota vasca que se trata de los problemas políticos en el País vasco. 

It’s been five long years since Habitación en Roma, and Medem has returned with his first collaboration with the Oscar winning actress Penélope Cruz. Like other auteur directors Pedro Almodóvar and Woody Allen, he is able to bring her to a subperb performance that should probably bring her another Goya (Spain’s Oscar) nomination if not fourth win overall. It could even bring about the attention of Oscar. However, it’s difficult to predict the politics of these awards, and as Spain has decided that it will not be one of the films to represent the country at the Oscars this year, another Oscar nomination for Penélope isn’t likely. Also, the fact that it’s not doing well at the Spanish box office is not a good sign. Ya hace cinco años largos desde el estreno de Habitación en Roma, y Medem vuelve con su primera colaboración con la ganadora de Oscar y Goya Penélope Cruz. Como otros directors del cine de auteur Pedro Almodóvar y Woody Allen, saca una actuación estupenda que debería llevarle otra nominación de Goya e igual podría ganar otra Goya. También podría atraer la atención de los Oscars. Sin embargo, es difícil pronosticar la política de esos premios, y como España ha decidido que Ma Ma no representará a España en los Oscars, otra nominación de Oscar para Penélope no es probable. Y como está fracasando en la taquilla española, no es buen señal. 

Penélope plays Magda, an unemployed teacher who has recently separated from her husband. Magda goes in as she found a lump in her breast and fears for the worst. The worst is true, breast cancer (referred to in Spain as cáncer de mamá). She goes about her business, a trip to the salon for a haircut and watching her son’s football (soccer) match and tries to put it out of her mind. Penélope interpreta Magda, una maestra en paro que está separada de su marido. Magda va para un chequeo después de encontrar algo sospecho en su pecho y tema el peor. El peor es la verdad: cáncer de mamá. Intenta vivir normalmente, va a la peluquería y al partido de fútbol de su hijo e intenta olvidarse.

At the football match, she meets Arturo, a recruiter for Real Madrid (the worst part of the film. Força Barça!) , played by one of Spain’s most popular and reliable actors, Luis Tosar. He gets the call that his wife is in a coma and the odds don’t look good. Magda accompanies him to the hospital. Durante el equipo de fútbol, conoce a Arturo, un ojeador para Real Madrid (la peor parte de la peli. FORÇA BARÇA!). Arturo es interpretado por Luis Tosar, un actor español popular. 

SPOILER ALERT: Magda and Arturo develop a relationship after her treatment for cancer appears successful and Arturo’s wife passes away. It is from this relationship and successful treatment that teaches Magda how to live and what’s important in life. However, is the treatment as successful as she thought? SPOILER ALERT: Magda y Arturo empiezan una relación después de su tratamiento de cáncer aparece tener exitó y la mujer de Arturo fallece. Es de esa relación y después del tratamiento que enseña a Magda lo que es realmente vivir y lo importante de la vida. Pero…¿el tratamiento tenía exitó de verdad?

The film is beautifully shot, and it ranks as one of Medem’s best in his impeccable pedigree. Like almost all his films, it stayed with me long after the film ended and I had left the cinema. Penélope’s performance as Magda might rank as her best performance yet, but I also say that being a total Penélope fanboy. La película es preciosa, y es una de las mejores de Medem. Como en la mayoria de sus pelis, ha quedado en mi mente durante mucho tiempo después de salir del cine. La actuación de Penélope puede ser su mejor, aunque soy superfan de Penélope y tengo bias.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to revisit the films of Medem and why he is one of my top 5 Spanish directors. Hey, I gotta do something while battling a cold and when the rain is keeping me from being out in nature as I’d like! Durante las próximas semanas, voy a revisitar los films de Medem y acordarme porque es uno de mis directors españoles preferidos. Ey, he de hacer algo mientras recupero de un mal resfriado y cuando la lluvia me atrapa en casa. 

Dear readers: Do you have any favourite Spanish directors and/or films? After I finish revisiting Medem, I do plan to take a look at Almódovar and Luis Buñuel. (Buñuel is Spanish, born in Spain, exiled from Spain, criticized the religion of Spain in Viridianaetc. France and Mexico both rightly want to take credit for him, but he is most definitely a Spanish director!) Queridos lectores: ¿Tienes un (a) director(a) español (a) o una película preferida española? Después de rever Medem, quiero volver a ver las pelis de Almódovar y ver y rever las películas de Luis Buñuel (que sí que sí es director español y no frances ni mexicano como esos países quieren llamarle).

Here is the trailer (in Spanish) for Ma Ma. Aquí tenéis el trailer para Ma Ma en castellano. 

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books

In 2007, when I returned to university for a year to make my Spanish minor a major, I discovered a Spanish book in the library that had been translated into English. I read the book voraciously, unable to put it down in spite of all my studies and papers analyzing why El País used “ser” instead of “estar” and papers analyzing the symbiotic excess of Alex de la Iglesia’s El Día de la Bestia.

I had no idea that this marvelous book was one of the most popular books in Spain and had become popular throughout the world. I have since returned to read it in Spanish, and I can say not much was lost in translation for once, thanks to the expertise of English translator Lucia Graves, daughter of poet Robert Graves.

In Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s masterpiece La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind), readers are taken back to Barcelona of the 1940s. Franco’s regime had just come into power. A young Daniel Sempere is taken by his father to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where he is allowed to rescue one book that he must promise to always protect. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax and devours it (much like I devoured the book!) and sets out to find out more about this mysterious writer. Too bad all books by Julián Carax are being burned in post-Civil War Spain. The book then follows Daniel as an adult and his quest to learn about the mysterious man, putting himself into danger.

The 2001 successful was followed by a 2008 novel, El Juego de Ángel, which goes back to 1920s and 30s Barcelona to follow young writer David Martin, who is asked to write a book by a mysterious stranger. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Sempere and Sons bookshop make appearances. This was one of the first books I read in Spanish upon my arrival in Spain in December 2008, and I remember loving it, or what I understood of it, almost as much as the original.

The 2011 El prisionero del cielo, (The Prisoner of Heaven) is a disappointment after the first two. I remember being on the waiting list for about six months to read it, and it relies too heavily on being an homage to The Count of Monte Cristo and trying to make connections that aren’t really there between the first two novels in the series. It is nice, however, to return to see how Daniel Sempere is doing as an adult.

This series of books are not only a love affair to the city of Barcelona but also a love affair to books. They combine mystery, suspense, history and romance. And thankfully, neither Hollywood nor Spanish cinema has made a lesser film version yet. I’m knocking on wood here.

In a world of Twilights and 50 Shades of Grey, it’s nice to have a well-written suspense novel ride to the top of the literary world. For anyone who loves Barcelona as much as I do, these books are a must-read for insight on how it was during a tumultuous time in Spain’s history.

I just wish the Cemetery of Forgotten Books was real, as I’d probably never leave it.

Bilbao, the cheapskate guide.


Bilbao is one of the most expensive cities in Spain to live in, although it’s cheaper than its rival, the “barrio pijo” (posh neighbourhood) Donostia (San Sebastián). While waiting for payment for my July job that took six weeks to arrive, I’ve had to be creative with activities to enjoy the city while trying to save money so I can pay rent and stuff. Bilbao es una de las ciudades más caras de España para vivir, aunque es más barato que su rival, el barrio pijo de Bilbao Donostia. Mientras sigo esperando recebir el pagamento para mi trabajo de julio que aún no viene, he tenido que ser creativo para encontrar actividades para disfrutar de la ciudad y a la misma vez intentar ahorrar para aquiler. 

While the weather in Bilbao is not always (never) cooperative, when we do get a real glimpse of Lorenzo (their name for eguzki, or “sun” in Euskera), there are many wonderful mountains to climb and enjoy without even leaving the city. The most popular is Artxanda, where for less than a Euro you can take the funicular for some of the most incredible views of El Botxo (Bilbao’s other nickname for those who are too lazy to write “la capital del mundo” (Capital of the World). There are quite a few nice trails through Artxanda and Mount Avril (where the Camino de Santiago descends into Bilbao). A pesar del tiempo de Bilbao nunca quiere cooperar, cuando vemos Lorenzo (el nombre del eguzki (euskera por “sol) es Lorenzo. No sé si es igual en otras partes de la mejor península del mundo), hay muchos montes increíbles para subir y disfrutar sin dejar la ciudad. El monte más popular es Artxanda. Por menos de un euro se puede tomar el funicular para disfrutar de las vistas más espectaculares del Botxo (el otro apodo por Bilbao es “El Botxo” para los que somos demasiados vagos para escribir “la capital del mundo”. Hay muchas rutas bonitas por Artxanda y Monte Avril (donde el Camino de Santiago desciende a Bilbao).

Pagasarri is another favourite among the locals, although there is no funicular to reach the top. Kobeta is another popular mountain, and it is part of the Camino de Santiago too. There is another funicular just outside of Bilbao in Trápaga, the funicular de La Reineta, that is a bit more difficult to find but well worth to take for a nice lake and views of Gran Bilbao. Pagasarri es otro monte preferido por los bilbaínos, aunque no hay un funicular para subir. Kobeta es otro monte popular y es parte del Camino de Santiago también. Hay otro funicular en las afueras de Bilbao en Valle de Trápaga, el funicular de La Reineta, que es un poco más difícil encontrar pero vale la pena para ver un lago bonito y vistas de Gran Bilbao.

Vizcaya has a ton of great mountains and hiking trails for those who have the funds to leave the so-called Capital of the World. With the Barrik transport card, the province of Vizcaya is suddenly at your fingertips as BizkaiBus connects most places in Vizcaya with Bilbao on a regular basis (at least every two hours if not hourly). The Barrik transport card makes travel in Vizcaya cheaper and is also usable on Euskotren, the Bilbao metro and tram. Vizcaya tiene muchos montes grandes y rutas de senderismo para los que disponen del dinero para dejar la Capital del Mundo. Con la tarjeta de transporte Barrik, la provincia se encuentra super bien conectado porque BizkaiBus une la mayoria de sitios en Vizcaya con Bilbao frecuemente (al menos cada dos horas si no cada hora). La tarjeta Barrik hace viajar por Vizcaya más barato y también se puede usar en Euskotren, el metro de Bilbao y la tramvía de Bilbao. 

Bilbao has a few parks, and my favourite is Parque Etxebarria. Many people take their dogs here, and it offers some beautiful views over Bilbao. I tend to take a book and read while watching the sunset. If you take the stairs leading from Plaza de Unamuno, it’s at the very top. Bilbao tiene muchas parques, y mi preferido es el Parque Etxebarria. Mucha gente llevan sus perros para jugar, y tiene vistas preciosas de Bilbao. Suelo llevar un libro y leer mientras veo la puesta de sol. Si tomas las escaleras de Plaza de Unamuno, está arriba de todo.

For those who prefer the indoors, especially with the typical rainy Basque weather, most of Bilbao’s museums have one day a week when they are free. Even the Guggenheim is usually free on their anniversary weekend (In October).  Para los que prefieren estar dentro, especialmente con el clima lluvioso típico de Euskadi, la mayoria de los museos en Bilbao tiene un día con entrada gratuita. Incluso el Guggenheim tiene entrada gratis el fin de semana de su aniversario (en octubre)

The other art museum in Bilbao, el Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts) is free on Wednesdays and also on Sundays after 14:00.  El otro museo de arte en Bilbao, el Museo de Bellas Artes, es gratis los miércoles y también los domingos a partir de las 14:00.

The Museo Marítimo (Maritime Museum) is free on Tuesdays. Located on the Ría Nervión not far from San Mamés, it offers a history of the naval and shipyards of Bilbao. El Museo Marítimo es gratis los jueves. Está situado en la Ría Nervión cerca al nuevo San Mamés y ofrece una historia de las puertas de Bilbao.

The Museo Vasco, located in Plaza de Unamuno, is free on Thursdays. It has a fantastic interactive map of the province of Vizcaya.  El Museo Vasco, ubicado en Plaza de Unamuno, es gratis los jueves. Tiene un mapa interactivo fantástico de la provincia de Vizcaya.

On the last Friday of every month, the Arkeologi Museoa (Archaelogical Musuem), located in Plaza de Unamuno, also has free entrance on the “Día de museo” (Museum day). I’ve seen reports that it’s every Friday, but I haven’t been able to verify this as I went on the last Friday of August 2013. I’ve been meaning to go back. El último viernes de cada mes, el Arkeologi Museoa, ubicado en Plaza de Unamuno, tiene entrada gratis en el Día del Museo. Algunos me dicen que es todos los viernes, pero no he podido verificar eso. Fui el último viernes de agosto de 2013. He querido volver.

There are also a few beaches accessible by metro, including the beaches of Plentzia, Sopelana and Getxo.  Visiting the famous hanging bridge, el Puente de Vizcaya (Puente Colgante), is free, 35 cents to be ferried over on its suspension cords but 5.75€ to cross on foot on the top of it. It’s located in Getxo and Portugalete. También hay algunas playas conectadas por metro. Por ejemplo, las playas de Plentzia, Sopelana y Getxo están situadas cerca del metro. También se puede visitar el Puente Colgante (Puente de Vizcaya) gratis, aunque se cuesta 35 centímos por ser transportado en el ferry y 5,75€ para cruzar a pie arriba de todo.

Also noteworthy is the Azkuna Zentroa, better known as the Alhóndiga. The Alhóndiga is an old wine storage place that has been converted into a library, gym, cine, restaurants and meeting point for the citizens of Bilbao. It’s free to visit. También hay la Azkuna Zentroa, mejor conocido como La Alhóndiga. La Alhóndiga antes era un almacén de vino que ha sido convertido a una biblioteca, gimnasio, cine, restuarantes y un sitio de encuentro para los bilbaínos. Es gratis para ver lo que hay aquí.

Bilbao has a lot to offer besides rain, pintxos and the Guggenheim, and it doesn’t have to be super expensive to visit. Bilbao tiene mucho ofrecer, más que el sirimiri, pintxos y Guggenheim, y no tiene que ser caro para visitar. 

Climbing Jata.


Jata, located near the Basque village of Bakio (most famous for its surfing beach and proximity to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe) has been on my list of mountains to climb for a while. Sunday, Sept. 6 provided a sunny, crisp late summer day (still not autumn yet!), so I took advantage and caught the bus to Bakio, getting off in Larrauri, where I read on Biendealtura to begin the day’s trek. Jata, situado cerca al pueblo vasco de Bakio (famoso por sus playas de surfeo y proximidad a San Juan de Gaztelugatxe) ha estado en mi lista de montes para subir desde hace un rato. El domingo, 6 de septiembre, dio un día de verano fresquito y soledado (¡todavía no ha llegado el otoño!). Aproveché y cogí el autobus a Bakio, bajando en la parada de Larrauri, donde la ruta de Biendealtura empieza. 


I found the starting point easily enough and lamented no place for a café con leche and pintxo de tortilla. I had brought a banana with me, but I forgot the biscuits. The directions from Biendealtura were easy enough to follow, but I still got off trail and back on trail. I paused at a small gathering of houses around a church to admire the views before continuing on my way. Encontré el inicio de la ruta fácilmente y lamenté que no habia un sitio para tomar un relaxing café con leche y pintxo de tortilla. Había llevado un plátano, pero se me había olvidado las galletas. Las direciones de Biendealtura eran fáciles seguir, pero me perdí del sendero…y después me encontré en el sendero otra vez. Paré en un aldea con una iglesia bonita para admirar las vistas.


Church with a view

I was happy to see the Ermita (hermitage) de San Miguel de Zumetxaga and the sign pointing to Jata in one direction, Bakio the other. This meant I was on the right way. Me alegré ver la Ermita de San Miguel de Zumetxaga y la cruce de Jata y Bakio. Significaba que estaba en el camino correcto.


San Miguel de Zumetxaga

I took the path to Jata, climbing some steep, rocky trails. This was a good mountain to get back into hiking again after a few weeks off as I was knackered. I paused to let families descending by. Seguí la ruta a Jata, subiendo un sendero rocoso y con mucho pendiente. Era un monte adecuado para volver al senderismo después de un descanso de unas semanas. Estaba cansado. Me descansé para dejar pasar unas familias bajando la misma ruta.


I miss the Camino, but I have other hikes to walk.

After a half hour or 40 minutes or so of climbing, I reached the summit. Some families had brought their bocadillos (sub sandwiches) to eat lunch at the top. I paused and smelled the non-existent roses and admired the amazing views. Bilbao was off in the distance, and I saw my fave Gaztelugatxe on its island near Bakio. One of the best mountain views I’ve seen in Euskadi, and that’s saying a lot! Jata is 600 meteres high (about 1800 feet). Después de unos 35-40 minutos de subir, alcancé la cima. Algunas familias habían llevado sus bocadillos para comer en la cima. Aproveché para admirar las vistas otra vez. Eran estupendas, maravillosas. Se puede ver Bilbao en la distancia, y también más cerca, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe en su isla a lado de Bakio. Es una de las mejores vistas que he visto en Euskadi, y eso dice mucho. Jata tiene 600 metros de altura. 


I started for Jata Txki (Small Jata at 555 metres), but I decided to opt for a trail that appeared to go straight for Bakio as I was hungry and my banana was long gone. I need to learn to pack more for these trips as God always enjoys laughing at my plans. The path was not straightforward and didn’t go straight to Bakio. It instead took me to a forest where I got lost. Después, empecé con la ruta a Jata Txiki ( Jata pequeño a 555 metros), pero decidí intentar con una ruta que pareció ir directo a Bakio porque tenía hambre y ya había comido el plátano. He de aprender llevar más comida para mis días de senderismo como Dios siempre disfruta de reirse en mis planes. El sendero no era recto y no iba hacía Bakio. Iba a un bosque donde me perdí. 


Yep. Lost. I had to make my own trail, which I didn’t like to do, and use common sense, which I’m not the best with, to find my way back to a trail. I eventually did after near slips a few times. I now know that if I ever see a Nordic walking path to always take that one. It will lead somewhere. The others may just lead to a dead end. Sí. Perdido. Tenía que hacer mi propio sendero, que no me gusta hacer, y usar sentido común, que no es uno de mis puntos buenos, para encontrar otro sendero. Por fin encontré uno después de casí caerme unas veces. He aprendido de eso que si veo una ruta de Nordic Walking seguir esta ruta. Va a llevarme a un sitio.


When I finally arrived in Bakio, I took some time to enjoy my first and last ice cream of the summer for my lunch while strolling on the beach. Cuando por fin llegué a Bakio, aproveché para tomar mi primer y último helado del verano para la comida mientras paseaba por la playa. 


Me gusta la playa I like the beach.

All in all, it was a fun day. Even getting lost was an adventure in retrospect. The hike took about 4 hours in total. A pesar de perderme, que era una aventura, era un día divertido. La ruta tardó sobre 4 horas en total.


Spanish Director Spotlight: Juan Antonio Bardem

The Spanish have a tendency to badmouth their own cinema, but they have so many stellar classics among their bad movies that they overlook. They only see the big budget action flicks and the Oscar movies from the States and are envious of the Hollywood films. They forget about the horrid movies that bomb every week from the US. Spanish Cinema may not be as famous as French or Italian cinema, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Quite the contrary.

Originally I was going to write about two classic Spanish films this week. Little did I know they had something in common: Juan Antonio Bardem. He was the screenwriter for Bienvenido Mister Marshall! (1953) and directed Calle Mayor (1956).

Juan Antonio Bardem (sometimes credited as J.A. Bardem) was born in Madrid in 1922 and died in 2002. The uncle of Javier Bardem was very critical of the Franco regime and was arrested while filming Calle Mayor in Palencia for his communist views and criticism of Franco. He was later released on the condition that he would not talk about his views during interviews. He also directed La Venganza (Vengeance) and Muerte de una ciclista (Death of a Cyclist), which I still have yet to see.

When finding out I come from the United States, many Spaniards mention Bienvenido Mister Marshall. The small village of Villar del Río is waiting for help from the United States Marshall Plan after the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The town goes out of their way to promote themselves as the best representative of Spain (also mocking how Spain was promoting the Andalusian stereotype of flamenco dancers and matadores as all of Spain at the time). They keep waiting…and waiting…for their rescue (a metaphor of Spain waiting for rescue from Franco’s regime?) . The film is a brilliant critique of Spain (that passed the censors!) and the United States at the same time without being offensive to either.

Calle Mayor is a bit different but still holds up as a classic of Spanish cinema. Two friends are in any pueblo (town/village) in the provinces of Spain (filmed in Palencia, Cuenca and Logroño) where the only thing to do is walk along the Calle Mayor (Main Street) in the evening. They come across Isabel, a “spinster” (at 35? Whatever! Times have changed) who doesn’t believe she’ll ever get married. They decide to play a trick on her and convince her that Juan is in love with her and wants to marry her. You bastard! The film is a social commentary and captures life in the small towns of Spain during the early Franco regime perfectly.

These two classic films offer a bit more insight into Spain’s past, and Juan Antonio Bardem deserves more credit. I’m excited to explore the world of his films…however, it’ll have to wait as I already have plans to delve into the world of another director first…

Return to Ávila and Salamanca



For five long years now, I’ve wanted to return to Ávila, a small Castilian capital that I fell in love with on a short day trip from Madrid on a snowy February day in 2010. I even toyed with switching with someone in Ávila who was wanting to stay in Bilbao (and in the end, I’m glad I stayed in Bilbao, rain and egotistical people Capital of the World). I also wanted to return to Salamanca and give the famous university city a second chance, as the first time left me rather unimpressed.

I took advantage of being in Ávila province last week for VaughanTown to revisit these places on the way back. I regret not being able to visit some of the places nearby like Ciudad Rodrígo and Zamora, but that gives me an excuse to return in the future. (I plan on picking up Zamora, Lugo and Ourense whenever I finish the Camino de Santiago.) It also gave me an opportunity to complete some travel to-dos that I had left hanging on my prior 2010 visits.


¡Bienvenidos a Ávila!

On Friday afternoon, I said goodbye to my new friends from VaughanTown at Cuatro Postes, which was coincidentally the monument I deliberately avoided seeing so I would have an excuse to return to Ávila. Five years later…I went to my pensión next to the train station, rested a bit as I waited for it to cool down, and went off to explore the province capital.


Cuatro Postes

I stopped at the Oficina de Turismo for a map and meandered the cobblestone streets and admired the walls and views. I didn’t go up the walls (murallas in Spanish) as it was 5€ and I was on a budget, and I had already done the wall walk. It’s well worth doing again though, but budgets are budgets unfortunately. I walked through the park along the Río Adaja and went to the Cuatro Postes to admire Ávila. On the way back, I visited the Parador, as I am prone to do whenever I am in a city that has a castle renovated into a hotel (ie…Parador).



Ávila is the highest province capital in Spain and is said to have more Romanesque and Gothic churches (along with bars and cafés) per capita in Spain and has been a UNESCO World Heritiage site since 1985.


A león de Athletic in Ávila.

As I am prone to do, I took time to admire the beautiful sunset from just outside the walls. It was a special moment as I reflected on the amazing week I had just had and on my future as the sun said adiós to Friday, August 28th, 2015.


Ávila Sunset

On Saturday morning, I had a quick tostada con tomate y café con leche at a bar near the train station before catching a bus to Salamanca. The bus was pretty empty, as I like buses to be, and it went through the small towns and villages between the two capital cities. I arrived to Salamanca around noon, and at first, my impression was the same as before: overrated.

After dropping my stuff off at the pensión, I made my way to the city centre and meandered the streets. It was hot, about 35ºC (90s F). The streets were full of people, however. The Plaza Mayor was happening, and although I didn’t have a relaxing café con leche in the actual Plaza, I did nearby.

The Plaza seemed smaller for some reason, but it also seemed more impressive than I remembered. I went inside the library at the Casa de las Conches (the Shell House), and I had a unmemorable lunch before going to find the frog. On my previous visit, I didn’t find the frog, and I wonder if that is why I have had a lot of bad luck in my professional career. It is said that university students must find the hidden frog for luck on their exams.


Find the frog. ¿Dónde está la rana? I’ll never tell…

It took me a while, but I did it. I found the frog. Team Pablo for the win!


Team Pablo!

I crossed the Roman bridge and admired the river.


Lanzarillo de Tormes

As a fan of Lanzarillo de Tormes, an important piece of Spanish literature that inspired Charles Dickens, I was super excited to see the river again.


Salamanca sunset

I watched the sun set from the Roman bridge, and I saw a bit of the supermoon, although it was hard to capture a picture of it.


My camera doesn’t like moon pics.

Sunday morning, I went to the Cueva de Salamanca (the Cave of Salamanca), where legend has it the Devil gave lessons in evil. I saw no traces of Lucifer, thankfully (and that part of the legend escaped me until just now while researching the cave!) Today you can climb some steps for some precious views of the city.

Next, I went to the Parador, which didn’t impress me much. I took advantage of exploring the area near the river more. I stopped at a bar-café, Mordiscos I believe, and the waiter happened to be from Bilbao. Although I don’t support the local team (I am a diehard culé (Barça supporter) along with my #1 team, València CF), whenever I see an Athletic item, I have to ask. I do like how Athletic will only sign players from the Basque region, and I believe La Liga would be more interesting with Spanish-only players (I do like Messi and don’t mind Suarez, but I am so sick and tired of the antics of Neymar and especially Cristinao Ronaldo.) I digress. I had a relaxing café con leche here and read a while before having lunch at the same restaurant I ate at five years ago, Don Quijote.



The Don Quijote restaurant has some amazing ambiance, and the food is quite good too. For those complaining that Spain doesn’t have vegetables, I had a delicious salad that also included peaches. (I never was a fan of veggies until I moved to Spain).

Salamanca left a better second impression than a first. When they had told me it was a “Granada del norte” (Granada of the north), I had my hopes high. If you say a city is a “Granada” of a place, you raise the bar so high it is impossible to reach. This time, with lower expectations, I got more out of my visit to the city.

That said…I still prefer Ávila and believe it is my favourite capital of Castilla y Léon, but Segovia, León and Burgos are pretty stiff competitors.

When I moved to Spain, one of my professors told me to spend a night in Ávila and another on Salamanca whenever I visted these two cities. I finally listened…por fin, le hice caso. The moral of the story, as he would say, is don’t marry a loser and listen to your professors.


Madrid, the cheapskate guide.

madrid first two days94

I could’ve created some controversy and said the “catalán” guide to Madrid, but for those outside of Spain, they wouldn’t catch the hidden meaning of the Catalans’ reputation for being cheapskates. And after my last entry about Madrid was so negative, I wanted to reset the karma by writing a more positive entry about the capital city. Pensaba en si quería crear polémica por decir “el guía catalán de Madrid”, pero para los que no son de España, no entendrían el doble sentido del fama de los catalanes por ser agarrados y tacaños. Después de la entrada negativa sobre Madrid, quería equilibrar el karma y escribir una entrada más positiva sobre la capital española.

Along with Barcelona and Catalunya and Bilbao and San Sebastián-Donostia in the Basque Country, Madrid is one of the most expensive cities in Spain for living. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to enjoy Madrid as a tourist or even living there. Madrid, con Barcelona y Catalunya y Bilbao/San Sebastián-Donostia en el País vasco, Madrid es una de las ciudades más caras de España para vivir. Eso no significa que tienes que gastar mucha pasta para disfrutar de Madrid como una turista o incluso vivir allí.

I was in Madrid a week ago on a very tight budget due to some unforeseen circumstances that are continuing (which has also caused me to postpone the Camino until…?) and had one of my better visits. After a stroll down memory lane, I shook off the bad memories and remembered the good as I strolled down the streets of Madrid. Meandering the streets in any city is always free and is a very Spanish thing to do. I only took one metro trip on my weekend in the Spanish capital. Those days on the Camino aren’t for nothing. Estaba en Madrid hace una semana en un presupuesto pequeño dado que circumstancias que no pude controlar y que siguen (que también me ha causado posponer el Camino hasta…?) y tenía una de las mejores visitas. Después de mi nostalgia, me olvidé de los recuerdos malos y pensé en solo los recuerdos buenos. Pasear por las calles en cualquier ciudad siempre sale gratis y es algo super español. Solo cogí el metro una vez durante este fin de semana en la capital española. Esos días en el Camino aún me sirven de ayuda.

I found a new-to-me museum across from the Tribunal metro stop (Lines 1 and 10) on Calle Fuencarral.  The Museum of the History of Madrid, formerly known as el Museo Municipal, reopened in December 2014, so I wasn’t completely oblivious to it. I had always noticed it under construction. Entrance is FREE and visitors can see art, paintings and pottery through Madrid’s history since Felipe II moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid. Encontré un museo nuevo (al menos para mí) enfrente de la salida del metro Tribunal (Líneas 1 y 10) en Calle Fuencarral. El Museo de la Historia e Madrid, antes el Museo Municipal, reabrió sus puertas en diciembre de 2014 después de unos 10 años de estar en obras. La entrada es gratuita y visitantes puden ver arte, cuadros y cerámica durante la historia de Madrid desde Felipe II se trasladó la capital de Toledo a Madrid. 

Another trip to the past is the Estación de Chamberi. The former metro stop Chamberi closed in 1966 and remained intact, a buried secret, until 2008 when they converted it into a museum. The station, Andén 0 (Platform 0, like the mystical Platform 9 1/4), is located between the actual stops Bilbao and Iglesia (Line 1) in the Chamberi barrio (neighbourhood), and entrance is free. I remember finding out about this museum when I looked up from my book and saw an old man looking at me, truly giving it the effect of a ghost station. Otro viaje al pasado es la Estación de Chamberi. El antiguo parada de metro cerró en 1966 y se quedó intacto, un secreto, hasta 2008 cuando abrió como un museo. La estación, Andén 0, está situado entre las paradas de Bilbao y Iglesia (Línea 1) en el barrio de Chamberi y tiene entrada gratuita. Recuerco que descrubí de este museo cuando miré arriba de mi libro y vi un señorito mirándome, dando un efecto verdadero de estación fantasma.

My next trip to Madrid will include a visit to the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), which is free and has a copy of every book published in Spain. How I never went in three years of living in Madrid, I will never know. It’s located near Metro Serrano (Line 4). En el próximo viaje a Madrid, quiero ir a la Bilbioteca Nacional, que es gratis y tiene una copia de todos los libros publicado en España. No sé porque nunca fui durante los tres años que viví en Madrid. Está cerca a la parada de metro Serrano (Línea 4)

Madrid’s most famous museum, el Prado, is free between 18:00 and 20:00 (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) Monday-Saturday and on Sundays between 17:00 and 19:00 (5 p.m. and 7 p.m.) The Museo Thyssen grants free admission to the permanent collections on Mondays.  And the third museum of the Art Triangle, Museo de la Reina Sofía, has free admission daily the last two hours of the day (it is closed on Tuesdays) and on Sundays from 15-19 (3 p.m.-7 p.m.) El museo más conocido de Madrid, el Prado, es gratis entre 18:00 y 20:00 días laborales y sabados y los domingos entre 17:00 y 19:00. El Museo Thyssen también tiene entrada gratuita a las colecciones permanentes los lunes. Y el tercer museo del triangulo de art, el Museo de la Reina Sofía, tiene entrada gratuita durante las dos últimas horas del día (cerrado los martes) y los domingos entre 15 y 19. 

And then there are always parks. Parque Retiro is a nice place for a walk, but I always preferred the Templo de Debod and the Parque de Oeste, which offers the best sunset (in my opinion) of the city. Adémas hay muchos parques. El Parque Retiro es un sitio bonito para pasear, pero siempre prefería el Templo de Debod y el Parque de Oeste, que ofrece, en mi opinion, la mejor puesta de sol en la ciudad.

Just because Madrid is super expensive compared to the rest of Spain doesn’t mean that a visit in these times of eternal crisis has to break the bank. Aunque Madrid es super caro en comparasion del resto de la península no significa que una vista durante estes tiempos de crisis tiene que ser caro.