I lied, I am not yet in Istanbul. Instead I am writing to you from my hospital bed in beautiful San Sebastián in the north of Spain. I decided that in order to fully appreciate the academic endeavor of studying the Eastern Mediterranean I needed to begin with research on the culture and political-economy of the Western Mediterranean as a point of comparison. Just kidding, I’m on vacation and I injured myself, but more on that later.
For you non-SFSers, this is Spain, which is in Europe. Not to be confused with Mexico
Our first stop was in Madrid, where my father and I tried to emulate the lifestyle of Ernest Hemingway, only to pass out from jetlag on the first bottle of Rioja.
Don Ernesto at Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world
The first morning in Madrid, we went to El Rastro, the largest open-air market in Europe. In little stalls, the locals sold everything from clothing and sunglasses to electrical appliances and car parts.
El Rastro Market
Our arrival in Madrid also coincided with Catholic World Youth Day. As far as I could tell WYD is just a giant hippie festival but with the Pope instead of Jimi Hendrix and the father, son and holy ghost taking the place of cannabis, LSD and mushrooms. Honestly the Youths seemed to be having a better time than me. If I were to be reincarnated as a Catholic I would definitely be there.
World Youth Day
Not everyone in Spain was thrilled with the Papal visit. At a time when the Spanish government cannot pay its debts, the hundred million euro Papal visit did strike me as a wasteful excess. In the face of a massive debt crisis and crippling austerity measures, Spain’s political system is under a great deal of stress.
As an IPOL (International Politics) nerd, I was intrigued to witness first-hand the political polarization and the rise of the far-right that is taking place across Europe. At approximately 40% unemployment, Spain’s youth have become thoroughly disillusioned with the government and are gravitating towards extremist movements.
Swastika graffiti marks the rise of the European right; crossing them out marks the half-assed response of the European left
Oh and I also saw some churches and art and stuff.
Toledo and Castilla y León
From Madrid we headed first to Toledo for a day trip. Famously the home of Miguel de Cervantes, author of the novel Don Quixote. Toledo was also a center of Spain’s Sephardic Jewish population before the Jews were expelled in 1492. The only remaining synagogue is now apparently staffed by nuns who try to convert anyone who looks like they might be a jew.
Translation: we will force feed you bacon until you submit
The next day, we rented a car and drove to Segovia. This town is famous for its perfectly preserved Roman aqueduct and a full-scale copy of Cinderella’s Disney Princess castle from Disneyland in California, which was given by Walt Disney to the Spanish government as a reward for expelling the jews (#notintendedtobeafactualstatement).
Later that night, we arrived in León. For accommodations, we stayed in a 16th century monastery. This hotel was part of the Parador chain of hotels, a chain owned and operated by the Spanish government, which are also famously the setting for Ron Paul’s worst nightmares.
It's a Don Quixote reference (I love when google images does my work for me).
Asturias and Cantabria
Yay more maps. León to Ovideo to Santillana del Mar
Pouring the Sidra in Ovideo.
Our next stop was in Oviedo where we enjoyed a lunch served by the most stressed out waitstaff in the world. Despite their incessant drinking and chain smoking, the waiters at this restaurant did display an element of charming local culture that redeemed the whole experience. Sidra, Spanish for cider, is a specialty of the Asturias region. In order to bring out the carbonation in the cider, the waiters would pour the cider from over their heads and into the glass below.
Moving on, we arrived at Santillana del Mar, also known as the “Town of Three Lies.” According to Wikipedia, the town is deceptively named:
since it is neither a Saint (Santo), nor flat (llana) and has no sea (Mar) as implied by the town’s name. However, the name actually derives from Santa Julliana
As it turns out, in a very tangential connection to the rest of this blog, Santa Julliana was killed in Turkey!
Pais Vascó (Basque Country)
After 2 more nights at another Parador (Ayn Rand is rolling over in her grave, (she’s dead right?)) we departed for Basque Country. Our first stop was in Bilbao, home of the famous Guggenheim museum. This may not be the most original travel insight you’ve ever heard, but definitely see it if you get the chance.
Here's me in front of the Guggenheim and looking all sexy with 2 functional legs.
Based on my fairly limited knowledge of the subject, I find myself generally sympathetic to the Basque separatist cause. This was especially true after I learned out about the bombing of Guernica, which inspired the famous Picasso painting. Which, by the way, I saw at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid:
Hitler was kind of an asshole; so was Franco in case you weren't aware
My final stop is here in San Sebastián. In this magnificent seaside resort, where everyone thankfully speaks French and I can tell what’s going on, my story comes to its tragic climax. However, I would first like to talk about food. San Sebastián also known as Donostia, is famous for its cuisine. Here are some cell phone camera pictures of food:
Lemon sorbet blended with champagne, probably the most delicious non-meat thing I've ever tasted.
Merluza a la Vasca, a traditional Basque dish.
This is what the mini-bar looks like in heaven. (Sorry those were actually just pics of alcohol not food)
Finally, I will describe yesterday morning’s incidents in graphic detail. Around 10am I went for a surfing lesson at Playa la Zurriola, supposedly the best surf location in Europe. The last time I went surfing, I was 9-years-old. As far as I’m concerned, and as people who know me well will confirm, having done something once 12 years ago pretty much qualifies me as an expert in my mind.
On the first wave, I stood up and confidently rode into shore. My ego massively inflated by this initial success, I went back for round 2. As soon as I stood up on the surfboard, I lost my balance and fell toes first into my right foot. Simultaneously, the wave carried the surfboard further out, wrapping the safety cord around my ankle and pulling violently as the wave crested.
An artist's rendering of the moment before the accident.
“Probably God’s punishment for me making fun of the catholics earlier” I mused to myself as I screamed in agony face down in the shallows. If you’re more of a visual learner, I believe there is a video on YouTube of the entire incident, complete with my family laughing hysterically in the background. I’ll post a link later.
With the help of some lifeguards, taxi drivers, and my dad, I made it to a clinic and then the hospital. The excellent doctors at Hospital Donostia confirmed that I had a fracture of the right fibula and promptly treated and discharged me. I’ll refrain from here launching into polemics on the superiority of single-payer healthcare except to say that It is my sincere hope that, one day, my tax dollars go to pay for the healthcare of some stupid Spanish tourist who injures himself surfing on Cape Cod.
I leave for Istanbul on Thursday, where I will continue medical treatment and to hobble my way through the city sites. Of course I’ll be blogging all the excitement right here so stay tuned for my next post from Istanbul, Turkey!