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Rain in Spain falls mainly on San Sebastian

Friday, October 26th, 2007
While “the rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain” according to Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) in the 1964 film “My Fair Lady,” the rain in Spain that our tour group encountered fell mainly in the resort town of San Sebastian. As Hemingway reflected in “The Sun Also Rises”: “The trees seem as though their leaves were never quite dry.”
The lush hillsides were dotted with sheep, which meant Basque cheese to me. The Basque have a language, which is in no way similar to Spanish. In my quest for Idiazabal, the local cheese, I was directed to Aitor Lasa. Our Hemingway speaker for the Pamplona trip, Gabriella Ranelli De Aguirre, an ex-patriot, was also a culinary director. She assured me the shop would vacuum-seal my cheese for transport home.  
Orinda’s Tom and Carol Mapes were with me on this 10-day tour of Spain.
Carol, a member of the Council on Architecture, an Oakland Museum guild, described our journey as an architectural tour. “I really enjoyed the Codorniu winery and Casa Amatiller, designed by Josep Puig I Cadafalch,” reflects Mapes. She also admired Barcelona’s Antoni Gaudi for his forward thinking in terms of Parc Guell’s water filtration system and the use of recycled tiles at Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila. We both agreed that he was a global artist ahead of his time. Other highlights were Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao and Zaragoza’s Espanity fountain. Zaragoza will host the 2008 Universal Exposition based on the theme of water.

Are you a procrastinator when it comes to gift giving? Why not be ahead of the curve this year and take off to the German “Holiday Markets of the Rhine and Main Rivers” for the outdoor Christmas markets featuring local crafts and regional cuisine. Marjory DeRoeck of Lafayette’s All About Image said, “It was a great way to get all my Christmas shopping done.”

She left for Munich Nov. 30 from SFO, returning Dec. 6 with Vantage, on a river cruise ship, visiting markets in Würzburg, Rothenburg, Bamberg, Wertheim and Frankfurt. “We also were escorted on wonderful side trips to see such historic sights as the Heidelberg Castle, Gutenberg Museum and Cathedral, Rudesheim’s Musikkabinett, with beautiful old music boxes and player pianos, and Cologne’s Gothic Cathedral and Shrine of the 3 Magi,” said DeRoeck.

Orinda resident and local artist Ann Testa was drawn to the trip because she had lived in Germany in the past. “The markets are much more commercial now,” notes Testa. “Yet there are still a lot of handmade crafts.” She also remembered that they were entirely fortunate with the weather. Among the things she liked the most, “there were a lot of young Germans sitting at the food stand drinking beer and Gluwein, a type of mulled wine, and eating bratwurst. They were chatting and enjoying themselves. It was a big place to gather. No matter where I travel, I always pick up new ideas. At the Lafayette Gallery, I’ll probably have some Christmas Angels this year.”

Speaking of angels, I met Paola Gianturco at a Book Passage Travel Writers Conference this summer. The Bay Area author of “Women Who Light the Dark,” has a slew of gift giving suggestions under the “shop wisely” section of her Web site. The “shop for change” store offers products by talented craftswomen who live in areas of conflict. How about a gift that furthers peace? The Jerusalem Candle of Hope is made by women of Israel and Palestine. The candle is available through the Amber Chand Collection.





Nancy Brown grew up in Moraga and lives in Lafayette with her husband and children. Send news of your adventures to


Pamplona Church Bells

Friday, October 5th, 2007


 It was noon in Pamplona’s Plaza de Castillo.  A cacaphony of bells exploded from every direction as if competiting for a mother’s attention.  “Look at me.  My bells chime loudly.”  In fact, the calamity was almost comical. 

Our Tour Guide, Francisco Glaria of Novotur Guides, had not only run with the bulls, (don’t tell his mother) he had also survived the running of the bulls.  He shared a story with us about his grandmother who did not own a clock.  It seems that when she traveled from Pamplona, she was confused as to the time of day because the bells did not toll as in her reliable hometown.

Mutiny in Bilbao

Thursday, October 4th, 2007
 Guggenheim In the former industrial city of 354,000 residents, Bilbao has transformed itself from the once ugly ogre to the dashing young prince of the Vizcaya Province. Once surrounded by cranes, container ships and sludge, the rejuvinated ... [Continue reading this entry]

San Sebastian; A culinary quest

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007
   I've never been asked to be a mule before. For you law-abiding citizens, a mule is a person who carries drugs for someone. In this case, I was asked to be a cheese mule. This was not ... [Continue reading this entry]

Zaragoza to host Universal Exposition in 2008

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
  The 2008 banner hangs proudly from the administration building announcing the Zaragoza Universal Exposition, taking place June 14 until September 14 of next year, based on the theme of water and sustainable development. The 17th ... [Continue reading this entry]