vacation

Four Days in Coastal Maine

When I was up north last month, for the Maine Coast Bosom Buddy Relay, the race was clearly the highlight of the trip. But I also had a great time exploring the stretch of coast from Kennebunkport to Portland.

Since the race was in Biddeford, I wanted to stay somewhere nearby. After a bit of searching online, I came across a little beach cottage for rent in Saco, a neighboring town.

Eiderdown Cottage, Saco, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

While it wasn’t big or fancy, it worked well for our purposes. It had two bedrooms and an enclosed porch that served as a third, which more than accommodated five of us.

Plus, it was on the same block as the beach! And luckily, the weather was in the 80s for two of our four days, which gave us some much-appreciated sun time.

Saco, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Saco, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

The Saco/Biddeford area also had some great food:

Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery: I love trying new breweries, and this was our first stop when we arrived in Maine. We sat outside and had beers and a late lunch.

The Portland Pie Co., which has some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten outside of NYC. It was so good, we had it three times (!!!) in four days: for dinner the first night we were in Maine; at the race, where each finisher received a slice; and the day we were heading back to NYC! I highly recommend a veggie-laden pie with the beer crust.

Biscuits & Company, another restaurant that we visited multiple times. It’s a bright, airy cafe that specializes in its namesake. We had breakfast there the day before the race—delicious biscuit sandwiches that were crispy and salty on the outside, and rich and soft on the inside. And on Sunday after the race, we went back for Mother’s Day brunch.

Biscuits & Company, Biddeford, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Huot’s Seafood Restaurant: Hunt, the caretaker of our cottage, highly recommended this place, just a quick drive away. We went for dinner the evening after our race and the place was packed! The restaurant is larger and nicer than it looks from the outside, and once the food came, we could see why it was so popular. I loved the clam chowder and every bit of my whole lobster.

Huot's, Saco, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Huot's, Saco, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Portland and Cape Elizabeth
The day before the race, we drove into Portland for the sole purpose of going to Lululemon. (Yeah, I know!) I needed running pants and a wicking shirt. Plus, I’d never been to Portland.

I could easily see the appeal of the city. It’s small, walkable and has a cute downtown with stone streets. We picked up my running gear at Lulu, and then spent a few hours exploring the nearby streets. We loved Sherman’s bookstore; the Coastal Maine Popcorn Co., a place that sells popcorn in every flavor; and the Holy Donut, which features potato doughnuts. Of course, we had to try the chocolate sea salt one.

From there, we drove to Cape Elizabeth.

We grabbed lunch at the Lobster Shack.

Lobster Shack, Cape Elizabeth, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

It has the look and location of your classic New England joint: perched on a rocky shore, and decorated to the brim with fishing paraphernalia.

Lobster Shack, Cape Elizabeth, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Yet, the lobster rolls, though pretty, didn’t blow us away.

Lobster Shack, Cape Elizabeth, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

But watching the waves crash against the shore outside the restaurant, afterwards, made the trip worth it.

Lobster Shack, Cape Elizabeth, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Afterwards, we drove north to Portland Head Light, a beautiful lighthouse in pristine condition. I’ll admit, as we were walking up to it, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh yes—this is what a Maine lighthouse is supposed to look like!”

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Kennebunk
After the race, despite the free pizza and beer at the end, we wanted a proper celebratory seafood lunch. We opted for the Clam Shack, in Kennebunkport, which had just reopened for the season.

This was my favorite lobster roll of the trip. The meat was so fresh and sweet.

The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport, Maine | nycexpeditionist.com

Kennebunkport is a cute little tourist town, but by the time we’d finished lunch, we were zonked—getting up early for the race caught up with us. We were too tired to explore, but we mustered up enough energy to go to Rococo, an amazing ice cream parlor with flavors like goat cheese and blackberry chambord swirl, honey vanilla and whoopie pie.

It was worth it—as was running a road race just to have a good excuse to travel!

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Race Recap: Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay

Last month, Evan and I went north to run the Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay. The race was in Biddeford, a small town about halfway between Kennebunkport and Portland.

We had a great four days in the area with Mal, Peter and my mom, who came up to cheer us on. (Photos and recommendations in another post!) The beaches were quiet and pretty, and the small towns had some good food. But the highlight of the weekend was, of course, the race.

Like most half-marathon relays, the 13.1 mile course was split up into two legs: a first leg of 7.25 miles, and a second of 5.85 miles. Evan opted to do the longer half.

Going into it, I wasn’t sure how my time would be. Evan and I didn’t train as much as we could have. As usual, I based my training around my ballet schedule, adding one day at the gym and one outdoor run, each week. Evan did about two days at the gym and one outdoor run, a week. Not bad, but not a ton of mileage. Based on our training runs, I figured Evan would go around 12 minutes per mile, and I’d go around 9:15, putting our total finish time at about 2 hours, 15 minutes.

The race started on Saturday morning, at the University of New England. At 7 a.m., Mal, Peter and my mom dropped us off, and they headed to the relay exchange point, a couple miles away, near the coast.

The weather was perfect for running: overcast and cool, in the 50s—but it was freezing waiting around for an hour!

Finally, at a few minutes to 8, they called runners to the starting line.

Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay | nycexpeditionist.com

Evan was in the fourth and final wave; I waited alongside him, on the other side of the corral. We snapped pictured and got excited as the other waves took off, every three minutes.

When they released Evan’s wave, I cheered him on and watched as he ran out of sight. Then I boarded a cheese bus that was transporting us second leg relay runners to the exchange place.

Once we arrived, I met up with my family. I was so glad they were there!

Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay | nycexpeditionist.com

Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay | nycexpeditionist.com

Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay | nycexpeditionist.com

I sat in Mal’s car to beat the chill—this is one problem I’ve noticed with relay races. The second runner ends up waiting around outside for hours, making it hard to stay warm.

The lead runners started coming in amazingly soon. The second one who arrived was actually a relay runner who tagged his teammate. A few other runners zoomed in, including relayers. Those runners were hardcore! They tagged each other the way they do in the Olympics and other big races, with the second runner starting to run as the first is coming in, so they’re in motion together.

…that was something I had never thought of doing! 😉

Within a half hour, more runners were coming through. After it had been more than an hour since the start, I decided it was time to head into the relay corral to wait for Evan.

I watched other relay runners come in and tag their teammates. Seeing the exchanges was one of my favorite parts of the race. Teams were made up of all sorts of relationships: couples, friends, siblings, parents and their adult kids. Everyone was so excited as they came in and hugged or tagged their partner.

I started to get a little nervous when I realized I was one of the last relayers left. But then, my mom and Mal shouted that they saw Evan in the distance. I was so proud and excited that I couldn’t help but jump up and down and wave. When he reached me, he was all smiles. I gave him a big hug, but he shook me off, saying, “Go! Go!”

The first few miles were my favorite. The road went through a residential area, so I ran by pretty shore houses. The ocean gleamed beyond.

Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay | nycexpeditionist.com

Some runners were taking photos along the way (!!) but I’m not coordinated enough to snap pictures while running. Plus, my competitive nature wanted me to clock in with my best possible time.

Because I was on fresh legs, I steadily passed other runners. (And felt kind of bad about it, since they were running the full 13.1 miles!) In a way, it became like a game that helped me get through the run—target someone to gradually pass, then target someone else once I had.

The Maine Coast Half Marathon is a race that’s mostly run on roads that are still open to traffic. (As was the Saint Michaels race we ran in Maryland three years ago.) Initially, I was worried about this—running a race is trying enough, and I didn’t want to think about getting hit by a car while doing so. But the race organizers and Biddeford law enforcement did a great job. They directed traffic around the runners, and held it up, when necessary. And for most of the race, there were very few cars on the road.

Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay | nycexpeditionist.com

I felt great for most of my run—strong and upbeat as I ran along the coastal road, then made my way back inland, among houses and trees.

Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay | nycexpeditionist.com

As usual, I started getting antsy towards the end. The last half-mile or so is always the toughest for me, when I just want the race to be over.

The course ended in a clever way. The final stretch went back into the University of New England campus, then through a small underpass that led right to the spectators near the finish line.

It was there where I saw Mal, Peter, Evan and my mom cheering me on. Clearly, I was thrilled to see them!

Maine Coast Half Marathon Bosom Buddy Relay | nycexpeditionist.com

The finish line was right beyond. Our final time was 2:07:08—much faster than I had expected! Evan ended up running about 10:20 a mile, and I ran an average pace of 8:53.

Shipyard Brewing Co. sponsored the race, so there was free beer at the end, as well as pizza from the Portland Pie Co. But we didn’t stick around the festivities for too long. I was looking forward to celebrating my finish with a few crustaceous meals elsewhere!

A Birthday Weekend in the Hudson Valley

A few weekends ago, Evan and I escaped NYC to celebrate his birthday.

He asked that I plan the whole trip and make it a surprise—which made it both easier and harder for me!

I decided that since we weren’t taking time off from work, I wanted to keep travel time to under two hours. And I know that Evan loves being in the country, so I focused on places with a farm-like vibe.

I spent weeks down the trip research rabbit hole as I decided for, then against numerous places: a farm b&b that my parents recommendedbut seemed too much like other trips Evan and I had taken. A North Fork b&b on a vineyard—that ended up being booked the weekend we wanted to go away. A Woodstock b&b that I reserved, then cancelled when we changed our trip weekend. A number of awesomelooking places that I loved, but seemed more my style than his.

After weeks of searching, I finally stumbled upon an Airbnb listing that immediately said: “Evan!!!”

It was for a small, Ulster County cottage on what was once a farm. It looked bright and airy with plank wood floors and doors. And it was less than two hours from the city.

I booked it right away.

Evan and I drove up on a Friday after work. The cottage’s owner, Reinhold, met us upon our arrival.

Farmstead Cottage, Stone Ridge | NYC Expeditionist

It turns out that he and his wife Lisette, an architect, fashioned the cottage out of a chicken coop.

Farmstead Cottage, Stone Ridge | NYCExpeditionist.com

Farmstead Cottage, Stone Ridge | NYCExpeditionist.com

The couple splits their time between there and NYC.

I could certainly see why—we loved being there.

Farmstead Cottage, Stone Ridge | NYCExpeditionist.com

The setting was so quiet and peaceful.

We loved the two barns that sit on the property.

Farmstead Cottage, Stone Ridge | NYCExpeditionist.com

Farmstead Cottage, Stone Ridge | NYCExpeditionist.com

Evan made friends with Batman, Lisette and Reinhold’s cat.

It turns out that he also splits his time between the city and country!

Batman, Farmstead Cottage, Stone Ridge | NYCExpeditionist.com

Farmstead Cottage, Stone Ridge | NYCExpeditionist.com

The location couldn’t have been better. The cottage is in Stone Ridge, a small town that’s near other cute, small towns, like Kingston, New Paltz, Accord, High Falls and Rosendale.

In each town, we met other NYC expats, or people who share their time between there and the city.

I have to say: I now want to be one of them!

Some highlights:

Evan and I had dinner at Boitson’s on Friday night. A Williamsburg expat runs the hopping restaurant/bar, and it’s one of the few places that served dinner after 10. We were happy with this as our first meal of the trip—we especially liked the cocktails, deviled eggs and bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese.

The next morning, we drove to the Village Tea Room, in New Paltz. Like many restaurants in the area, they source most ingredients locally.

Village Tea Room, New Paltz | NYCExpeditionist.com

We enjoyed their corn pudding and the madeleines we took on the road.

On the way back, we passed through Stone Ridge, and a big barn with a yard full of antiques caught our eye. We stopped to browse. It turned out to be Field and Barn, an antiques expo, that had even more gorgeous, rustic finds inside.

Field and Barn, High Falls | NYCExpeditionist.com

We also went into Fred, a boutique with beautiful new and vintage furnishings. While Evan and I didn’t realize it, we were shopping alongside Daniel Craig and Rachael Weisz, who made a purchase.

In an effort to train for our upcoming road race, Evan and I attempted to run in Minnewaska State Park. Let’s just say, it did not go well. Ice and snow covered so much of the trails that we really couldn’t run.

The lake was pretty, though!

Minnewaska State Park | NYCExpeditionist.com

Minnewaska State Park | NYCExpeditionist.com

Afterwards, we had awesome lunch of bratwurst, sauerbraten and beer at Gunk Haus

…and later on, a fabulous dinner at A Tavola, an Italian restaurant in New Paltz. That was our favorite meal of the trip. Our upstairs table was quiet and romantic and we loved everything we ordered: pappardelle bolognese, and an outstanding fish special in a tomato lobster sauce. (At one point, Evan turned to me and said it was the best fish he’d ever eaten. I wholeheartedly agreed!)

The next day, we went to the spa at Mohonk Mountain House. We’d both had so much going on, lately, that I thought we could use some pampering.

The hotel, itself, is insane—we drove nearly two miles down its “driveway” before reaching it. The building is ultra-dramatic—it doesn’t seem like such an old world, castle-looking place would exist there.

The spa, however, was perfectly low-key and tranquil. Evan and I got a much-needed couples massage—that was among the best I’ve had—and relaxed in the whirlpool before heading back to the city.

Favorite Destination of 2014: San Sebastian, Spain

Of all the places I visited this year, one was my clear favorite: San Sebastian, Spain.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was one of those rare cities where I felt I could actually live.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

My family and I spent a few days there, on the tail end of our Spain trip.

I was so glad it worked out that way. San Sebastian definitely closed our vacation on a high note.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian is one of those rare beach towns that feels cosmopolitan.

It has historic buildings, great shops and restaurants, and a river running through it. (It reminded me a bit of Boston and Cambridge.)

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Gorgeous beaches flanked by hills make up its coastline. And the city has an active vibe that I loved: I saw so many surfers, bikers and runners.

Zurriola Beach, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian also has some of the most unique, inventive and delicious food I’ve come across during my travels. The city is Spain’s unofficial pintxos capitol—small bites served in bars, alongside txakoli, an effervescent Basque wine.

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

But more about pintxos in a few.

Hotel Okako, a small boutique, was our home base.

Hotel Okako, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The rooms were tiny, but clean, comfortable and artfully decorated. (That’s my single, below.)

Hotel Okako, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was in an ideal location, just minutes from Zurriola beach and Parte Vieja, the old town.

On our first day, one of Okako’s employees recommended Bodega Donostiarra, a restaurant just a few blocks away.

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We had a delicious lunch that included prawns and rice…

Prawns and rice, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and seafood skewers.

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was a fantastic first meal in San Seb. And so good that we actually went back two days later for more tortilla…

Tortilla, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…blood sausage…

Blood sausage, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and veal ribs.

Veal ribs, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

On our second morning in town, my mom, E and I walked along San Sebastian’s beaches…

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…to the funicular at the edge of town.

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We rode it to the top of the hill…

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and arrived at a bird’s eye view of the city.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

There was also a children’s amusement park that was closed.

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Too bad. I kind of wanted a trip through the Casa del Terror. (Muah ha ha ha.)

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We made sure to have a few hours of beach time, each day.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

One afternoon was warm and sunny—we all took advantage of it, and enjoyed long, post-lunch naps.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

But since it was early October, not every day was bikini weather. Two afternoons were chillier.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

That still worked for me—I didn’t mind bundling up to nap.

Because I needed to rest up for going pintxo bar hopping each night!

It’s hard to capture the essence and allure of pintxos in words. I didn’t really get what was so great until we actually experienced them in San Sebastián.

But I can best describe the scene like this: Imagine a number of bars in one area of town. (In San Seb, they’re mainly in Parte Vieja.) When you walk into each bar, you’re faced with some of the prettiest, most delicious-looking platters of finger food that you’ve ever seen. You can order short glasses of txakoli or beer, and tell the bartender which pieces you want from the platters. Plus, you’ll order one of their hot specialties, which is also about the size of an amuse bouche.

When you’re done eating, you’ll throw your napkins on the floor, then pay your tab. (The amount of crumpled napkins is a good indication of how good the food is.)

Then, you’ll continue from bar to bar, sampling food from each.

We did this all three nights we were in town.

Our favorite pintxo bars included:

Zeruko, a stylish, modern bar with updated takes on pintxos—each plate was so pretty and elegant!

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We tried several pintxos: octopus, blood sausage topped with egg, marinated mushrooms topped with egg.

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Borda Barri looked like a dive bar, but had a surprisingly sophisticated menu: veal cheeks, duck breast, mushroom risotto, sweetbread ravioli.

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Not surprisingly, it was crowded every time we went there. (And it was on our hit list, all three nights.)

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

At Bar Ganbera, the platters of fresh mushrooms beckoned.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We tried them grilled…

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…along with grilled prawns.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We were clearly happy with our selections.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Nestor is known for two things: tortilla and steak. To get a slice of the tortilla, you have to arrive early and put your name on a list. Same with the steak. You have to be there close to when they start serving, to get a seat at the bar or a table outside. We managed the latter.

Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

From our table, we could order txakolis through the window. (Note the pour: Basque bartenders always serve the drink a couple feet above the glass.)

Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We enjoyed each of Nestor’s specialities as they arrived. First the tortilla, which was as delicious as it was hyped up to be.

Tortilla, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The the tomato salad—fresh and delicious with lot of olive oil and flaky salt…

Tomato salad, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…followed by charred peppers…

Peppers, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and then the famous steak, also perfectly cooked and simply seasoned with more of that flaky salt.

Steak, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari Gastroteka, a hopping bar with an innovative menu, had one of my favorite pintxos: a slow cooked egg in a pea puree.

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari was in a prime location, right across from the gorgeous Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus.

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Outside of Parte Vieja, we had amazing pintxos at Bar Bergara.

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I couldn’t get enough of their tortilla or risotto.

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-crawling was some of the most fun I had with my family: Deciding which bars to try, picking out pintxos, savoring the flavor combinations in a setting that’s unlike anything in the States.

Peter, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

M&H, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-hopping, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-hopping, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

(We talked about what the scene would be like if someone transported San Sebastian’s pintxo bars to NYC: crowded. Unbearably crowded and expensive.)

I feel incredibly lucky to have shared that experience, in such an awesome city, with some of my very favorite people. My family doesn’t often take big vacations together, so I’m thrilled that our Spain trip turned out to be so wonderful.

Fam, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I’m looking forward to more memorable journeys in 2015. Here’s to many travels in the new year!

And wishing Mal, my sister, my very best friend and other half, a happy birthday—it’s her big 3-0 today!

Loredo and the Caves of Monte Castillo

On our fourth day in Spain, we left the Bilbao area and headed west to Asturias. We’d heard great things about that part of the country: that it was one of Spain’s greenest regions, with gorgeous landscapes and few people. Plus, some of the prettiest northern Spain images we’d come across on Pinterest were of Asturias. How could we not swing through there?

We were headed for the Picos de Europa, the dramatic mountain range that spans across Asturias, Cantabria and Castile-León. But to break up the drive, we decided to stop at a few places along the way.

Ever since we spent a few hours near the coast, at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, I was craving a little more beach time.

Even if it were just an hour or two.

That’s how we ended up stopping in Loredo, a small coastal town. It’s known as a surfing and resort area, though it looked like it had seen better days. Perhaps because it wasn’t high summer, but we didn’t feel vibrant energy in the town. Much of it looked like it could use a little sprucing up.

We stopped for lunch at El Pescador, a seafood restaurant near the water.

El Pescador, Loredo, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We sat outside and ordered the local beer, which was definitely the best brew of the trip…

Raquera | nycexpeditionist.com

P and M, El Pescador | nycexpeditionist.com

…and had huge platters of grilled fish. The food was a bit pricey, but everything was fresh and well-cooked.

Afterwards, we walked to the beach.

M & P, Loredo Beach, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Since the day was overcast and cool, there was no one out sunbathing.

Loredo, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Still, we couldn’t resist kicking off our shoes and dipping our toes in the water.

Loredo, Cantabria, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Our next stop was the Monte Castillo caves, in Puente Viesgo. We’d only heard of them that morning, while looking at our guidebook, and were intrigued. They’re a UNESCO World Heritage site, discovered in 1903, where you can see ancient cave paintings. Two of the four caves are open to the public.

We arrived at the El Castillo cave late in the afternoon, in time for the final tour of the day.

Cuevas del Monte del Castillo, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I’ll admit—I was a bit skeptical while we were waiting for it to begin. We were waiting in what could best be described as the “cave lobby”—an area with informational signs—from where we could see another group standing inside the actual cave, listening to a guide speak. Was this the whole cave tour?

El Castillo Cave, Cantabria, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Once ours started, we soon realized that you go through a doorway that leads much deeper into the cave. Our guide, who relayed the information in both English and Spanish (though in much more detail in Spanish) walked us past intricate stalactites, and pointed out hand prints and animal paintings on the walls. (We weren’t permitted to take photos inside the cave.)

After reemerging from the cave, we departed Puente Viesgo…

Puente Viesgo, Cantabria, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and headed on to the Picos.

A Few Hours in Bilbao, Spain

Though we stayed three days in the Bilbao area, we spent very little time in the actual city. Friends who’d visited Bilbao before were neutral on it. The city hadn’t wowed anyone, but they all felt it’s worth exploring for a day or so.

And that’s about all the time we had for it—the afternoon following our visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. (And that impromptu dinner on our first night in Spain.)

Bilbao’s biggest claim to fame is the Guggenheim. My mom and E actually wanted to go into the museum. Mal, Peter and I were eager to check out the Frank Gehry architecture and outdoor sculptures, but not necessarily the galleries. (I’m not a huge museum fan. If I only have a short time in a city, I’d rather wander around outside, unless there’s an exhibit I’m dying to see.)

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I have mixed feelings about Jeff Koons’ art—some of it feels a little too earnest or overdone. But I loved Puppy, which stands guard right outside the Guggenheim.

Puppy, by Jeff Koons; The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I couldn’t stop talking pictures of it.

Puppy, by Jeff Koons; The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Puppy, by Jeff Koons; The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It’s funny. Koons’ Split-Rocker was outside Rockefeller Center (where I work!) all summer, and I barely looked at it. Yet, this freaking dog captivated me.

Puppy, by Jeff Koons; The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

As did the Guggenheim’s metallic exterior.

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

While my parents went inside, Mal, Peter and I walked around town.

Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The streets near the museum seemed to be a big shopping area, with lots of clothing and shoe stores. (Both international retailers like H&M and Hugo Boss, as well as local chains.) We ducked into a few, got coffee, then wandered back to the Guggenheim.

By that point, we were hungry and tired from a long day in the sun. (Hence, the lack of photos!)

Since it was around 6:30 and too early for dinner, we headed to Diputacion, a hopping street with bars, restaurants and lots of outdoor seating. We settled into El Globo, a cozy bar for pintxos and raciones. (Pintxos are small bites, just a tad larger than your standard canape or amuse bouche, eaten with drinks—usually the Basque wine txakoli—in bars. Raciones are larger plates.)

This was the first time I saw the cute little beer glasses that are served at pintxo bars, along with pintxos, themselves, looking all pretty, lined up on the bar. Those were some tasty bites!

Pintxos and beer at El Globo, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and just a preview of what was to come a week later, in San Sebastian, Spain’s pintxos capitol.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

One Basque Country place that all of us wanted to visit was San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

It’s a little chapel, dedicated to Saint John, that sits atop 231 steps, on a tiny island that’s connected to the mainland by a long stone bridge. Before going to Spain, I found images of the place to be so enchanting! I even posted a photo of it, the day I departed for Spain.

My family and I referred to it as “The Great Wall”—because it kind of looks like it!

…also, we weren’t sure how to pronounce “Gaztelugatxe.” (Once in Basque Country, we learned it sounds like “gatz-uh-leg-at-tay.”)

I really enjoyed the ride from Hotel Ellauri to Gaztelugatxe. The last part of the drive was along the coast—and you know how much I love being by the beach. Seeing the small coastal towns and smelling the salty air just made me happy.

I was surprised at how hopping the the parking area for Gaztelugatxe was. We’d barely seen people, over the previous few days, and I didn’t think this would be such a popular attraction.

But then, they wanted to see this, for themselves, just as I did.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

From the parking lot, we walked down a steep, paved ramp to a lookout point. It had the perfect view of Gaztelugatxe.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The coast, near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

After snapping a ton of pics, we headed down a narrow, winding, rocky, dirt path to get to the base of the bridge. I was surprised that there wasn’t an easier way down, given the amount of people (including kids and older folks!) who make the trip. But I suppose that kind of overprotectedness is what you get used to from living in the States. 😉

Finally, we reached the bridge.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We chose the hottest point of the day to walk up the steps. It was high noon and not a cloud in the sky.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Walking up San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The climb wasn’t bad, at all—just hot! We stopped a few times on the way up, to sip water and enjoy the views.

At one point, we passed a wedding party coming down the stairs. The bride looked as if she’d walked down stone steps in a gown and stilettos every day. But I really wanted to applaud one of the older women in the group. She’d taken off her heels and was walking down barefoot!

Soon, we reached the chapel at the top.

The chapel of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

After refueling with granola bars and water, we headed back down the stairs.

M & P at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Near the bottom, there was another staircase that lead down to a rocky beach.

The beach at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The beach at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

By the time we made our way back up the rocky, dirt path, to the parking lot, we were sweaty and hungry—and very much in need of cervezas. Luckily, there was a bar/restaurant that served that, and pintxos. We chowed down on a few types of tortillas and toasted the day…before heading on to Bilbao.

Meme and E, post-hike