A Week in Rainy Pamplona

J’s favorite cliff site is ten minutes outside Pamplona in Spain, and he used to go every Christmas vacation (the climbing season there is October to March). He also used to sleep in a tent in the village playground (so, not Pamplona) or on country roads near the cliff. But it was always very, very cold in the evening so at some point he gave that up. This year we packed up Littlest and his aunt and rented an apartment on an AirB&B-type site a 15-minute walk from downtown Pamplona.

Unfortunately the weather was pretty terrible but the two days that Littlest and I stayed in the city without J and his sister, we still managed to have some satisfying walks around the historic city center.

Pamplona is really very pretty and walkable. We took the elevator/funicular to get up to the city center from the exterior, which is something I was unaware of before. I think we had always driven in and parked right near the main square. J and I managed to get pintxos and beer one afternoon with Littlest in tow.

Otherwise Littlest and I made the most of all the amazing Spanish playgrounds. They really are better and more numerous, at least than in Poitiers. There was even this one with an area for very small children:


We spent two days at the cliffside with J and his sister who tried to make the best of the terrible weather.


Traveling with Baby Trip 1: Spain at 4 months

Well we are back from our trip to Catalunia. It was fun but also a little stressful for me for a few reasons:

  1. The bungalow we rented was, as they often are, tiny, and had some important flaws in terms of baby naps: no outlets in the bedrooms for the white noise machine, and creaky doors. The heat also was only in the main room so we had to leave the bedroom doors open at night. Things would have been easier (and less fun) if it had only been the three of us, but we also had J’s sister, her boyfriend, and another friend over most nights so it was really cramped and the baby was napping so nearby that we had to whisper.
  2. I got hit with bad allergies about day five and had to actually leave the cliffside.

Otherwise things went swimmingly at the cliffside. The first day Littlest fell asleep almost immediately for about three hours.


Exhibit A: Sleeping baby in baby suit and baby tent


Exhibit B: Tent in context

Day two and day three he slept for over two hours.


Exhibit C: Baby at another cliffside

In his brief moments of awake time, there was some silliness that went on between his Daddy and his auntie.



I was responsible for none of this.

Otherwise he does seem to be going through some sort of sleep transition because he is back to waking up twice a night, at 11:30 and 3:30 (ish). We’re trying to move his bedtime earlier too. I don’t know if he’s teething or if it’s the infamous four-month sleep regression, but so far it’s not too bad—I’m just glad I’m on vacation. Then again, it may be because I’m on vacation that he’s off his rhythm.

In other developments, he turned himself over from back to tummy the first afternoon we were there. He hasn’t done it again but is often on his side.


Improvised vacation play mat, with baby on his side.

He’s grabbing things all over the place and moving around a lot by pushing on his feet.

All in all, J seemed to enjoy the climbing and Littlest is none the worse for wear, though I’m happy to have him home and getting back into the normal swing of things. It was good to see J’s sister and her boyfriend before they move away next week (not far away, but just far enough), to drink a few beers, and even eat some spicy patatas bravas. All the Spanish-Italian-Frenchish languages are fascinating, and we drove through Andorra on the way home, where we ate lunch and bought some alcohol.


Too interested in his surroundings to look at the camera

Le Pays-Basque

I don’t typically tag along for an entire rock-climbing vacation with J, but since this time it was only a week after the wedding, I wasn’t up for spending so much time alone at the house. So after our mini-moon, we headed down to the Basque Country with J’s sister and her boyfriend for two weeks of escalade.

We didn’t actually know where we were going exactly until the night before, which made for very little planning. I had at least looked up camp-sites for the two rock-climbing sites he wanted to go to and written down the addresses.

The first place J wanted to go is called Araotz, and it’s a cliff not far from the Spanish city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Araotz is in the middle of mountains, and the nearest mid-sized city is called Oñati. While J’s sister and her boyfriend have a van that they’ve fitted out for camping (fridge that works when their solar panels get enough sun, sink, mattress), I was not prepared to spend two weeks without a toilet. So J and I stayed at a campsite that was 18 kilometers from the cliffs, but a thirty-minute drive what with all the switch-backs.

To give you an idea of why it took so long to get from the cliff to the campsite, here is a picture of our tent:

View of our tent from Lakiola Campground

View of our tent from Lakiola Campground

A walk farther up the hill brings you to this type of view:

View from above Lakiola

View from above Lakiola

We spent a little over a week there, taking one rest day to go to the beach at Deba. The sanctuary of Arantzazu is also right near Araotz, so we went up there one evening to see this very modern-looking church

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

Looking out from the sanctuary

Looking out from the sanctuary

Next we headed down to Valdegovia, where the campground actually was full (fail for rock-climber-style vacation planning there), so we spent two days on a “squat” taking full advantage of J’s sister’s van. Fortunately the village pool nearby let us take showers there for two euros.

Valdegovia is pretty cool though, pretty much a meadow leading up to the cliff-face, which is different from any other rock-climbing site I’ve seen. They typically involve walks up a mountain-side. Valdegovia did require some cow-pie-related vigilance though, since the meadow is occupied by Spanish cows who keep the grass nice and short.

The cliff at Valdegovia

The cliff at Valdegovia

Cliff + meadow

Cliff + meadow

For a second rest day we went to Bilbao where I mostly wanted to see the Guggenheim and eat pintxos.

We started with the Guggenheim in the morning, where we spent most of our time in the Jeff Koons exhibit. Then J’s sister and her boyfriend joined us and we walked to the Casco Vieja where we ate pintxos for lunch and walked around. We stopped in the North Face store to buy me a backpack and finished at the beach at Solepa, which to our surprise was a nudist-friendly beach, so no pictures of that, even though it was really beautiful.

The Puppy

The Puppy

In the Casco Vieja

In the Casco Vieja

Turron in the Casco Vieja

Turron in the Casco Vieja

Street sign in the Casco Vieja

Street sign in the Casco Vieja

Building decorate with umbrellas in the Casco Vieja

Building decorated with umbrellas in the Casco Vieja

Looking up from a covered walk-way in the Casco Vieja

Looking up from a covered walk-way in the Casco Vieja

In the Casco Vieja

In the Casco Vieja

While we did end up staying in the campground for the last four nights, it was so crowded that I think we might have been happier at the squat with J’s sister. I’m just still really attached to toilets. But all in all, it was a fun time, though it might have been more fun had I had time to prepare more, as in research things to do besides read books at the cliff-side. It has made me more curious about the history and culture of the Basque Country, so I hope to read up on that at some point.


We still don’t have internet at the new house so here is a short post with a few pictures from this vacation.

We started out visiting my parents in Alcalá de Henares, and finished in Albarracin, a small village in the hills between Madrid and Valencia.


Outside Cervantes’ home in Alacalá de Henares. Sancho Panza is wearing J’s hat.

The rest are from Albarracin. The impetus for going to Albarracin was J’s rock climbing club’s trip there for bouldering, but it is a big tourist spot for the Spanish. I was there Friday to Wednesday and it seemed like all of Spain descended on Albarracin for the weekend.

It is a truly beautiful place, possibly more so than the French villages we’ve visited—comparable to Gordes, Roussillon, Sarlat, Angle-sur-Anglin… (know any other breathtaking French villages?). The old town is mostly this rusty color and all up on a hill—don’t go in high heels. The restaurants left something to be desired until we found an excellent one our last night there, called Alcazaba (calle Portal de Molina, No 10). We trekked all over the little village, did the lovely walk along the river, visited the Museo de Albarracin which, though entirely in Spanish, was well worth the 2€50 entry. We also walked up the ramparts our last evening before dinner (this being Spain there’s no rush to eat before 9 o’clock).

We watched some bouldering as well, and I would like to go back sometime with an intact knee, despite the ten-hour drive.

We slept at the campsite where they rent out four- and six-person cabins (60-75€) and rooms above the bar that were perfectly good (40€ a night).

Here are some of the pictures from Albarracin which begs you to take one about every ten seconds.









Spain, knees

Just a bit of an update on the knee situation: I did go to Spain last week to visit my parents and my aunt, in Alcalá de Henares, which is where Cervantes was born, and where my mom is doing a semester as part of her university’s study abroad program.

I almost turned around at Charles de Gaulle to take the next train back to Poitiers, but after a pep talk from J I stuck it out and had a great week in Spain, even if it did involve a lot of sitting. We had tapas every night, saw the inhabitants burn their giant sardine for Ash Wednesday (a tradition which no one seems able to explain), and went to Madrid my final evening. In Madrid I got to ride around the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen museums in a wheelchair, eat really delicious pintchos (like the things we ate everywhere in Pamplona where they were spelled with a Basque x), and see a flamenco show. I even spoke a tiny bit of Spanish and got back onto Duolingo (though there are some definite issues with that app and I wish they would hire me to fix them!).

All in all it was a great trip but walking was still very hard for any sort of distance. It required a lot of concentration and sometimes it hurt anyway. So I didn’t go in to work yesterday, since I had an appointment with the surgeon anyway for my feet. The same surgeon does knees so we looked at both of them, and he thought it was by no means sure that my ACL is actually broken. Unfortunately we won’t know till my MRI in La Rochelle on March 29th (in Poitiers the first appointment was even later!). He was more shocked by the state of my left big toe which I do need to get operated on at some point but I don’t know when I’ll be able to squeeze it in.

I’ll be back at work next Monday, in time for my conseil de classe, the bac blanc, and all sorts of other fun stuff. In the meantime I’m doing exercices every day and will head back to physical therapy tomorrow evening.

Christmas Vacation 2013

There’s not much to report on other than my Christmas vacation, which was spent with the usual celebration at J’s aunt’s, the trip to Etxauri, Spain, between Christmas and New Year’s, and New Year’s Eve celebrated at our house.

Etxauri is one of J’s favorite rock-climbing sites and he goes there every year between Christmas and New Year’s. Usually he and his friend(s) sleep in tents set up in the village playground, and usually they go to bed very early because it’s so cold they just want to be in their sleeping bags. This also typically leaves me alone at the house between the two holidays. So this year I told him if he reserved a hotel, I would come along.

Seven of us slept at a surprisingly inexpensive four-star hotel in Pamplona, a ten-minute drive from Etxauri. We went into Pamplona every night but one (when we tried the excellent hotel restaurant). We soon discovered than in the region of Navarra, tapas are called pintxos and are individual servings that are typically bought with a small beer or a glass of wine for 2 euros. Other than a first evening mishap where someone didn’t understand that ostras were oysters (less obvious to the French maybe…), we loved the food and paid very little for it.

I skipped out on climbing one day when it was threatening rain, to have a walk around Pamplona’s city center. It’s a very pretty walled medieval city, known for the festival in early July, when hotels triple in price though people typically don’t sleep at night but rather line up starting at 6 am to watch the running of the bulls.

Illustrated here in the statue in the city center

Illustrated here in this statue in the city center

Plaza del castillo (if I remember correctly)

Plaza del castillo (if I remember correctly)



I did a little shopping, including a stop at The Body Shop where I finally got my hands on some good sulfate- and silicone-free shampoo.

Otherwise, not much is going on, though J and I have started house hunting and will be doing a second visit of a house we like on Thursday.

Le Pont de la Toussaint

Last night Ju and I got back from four days traveling. Ju was having trouble finding someone to go rock-climbing with so we decided to go somewhere together. One of his favorite spots to climb is Etxauri, in the Basque country in Spain.

We drove down to Bayonne and spent the night there Wednesday night, and then hit the road again for the hour and a half left to get to Etxauri. At one point we switched radio stations to one in some truly unrecognizable language, and since Ju has been down there many times before he was able to tell me immediately it was Basque. What a truly mystifying moment though—it sounded like no other language I’ve ever heard.

I belayed for Ju for two days on the Etxauri cliff.

He climbed that detached bit on the right one afternoon. He sat down on top of it.

Trying to find the right route

We had fairly good weather and it wasn’t very cold at all. There’s no campsite near Etxauri so we had to sleep in a tent on the side of the road but that was fine. We ate in the village using Ju’s gas camping stove. Etxauri is a really pretty little village. They also have two great playgrounds there. All the children running around the village at night were rock-climbers’ kids and you could tell from the way they played.

We went into Pamplona one evening and found it pretty drab. All the buildings, even in the city center, seemed to be new, with lots of blocks of apartment buildings. We weren’t crazy about it.

Saturday morning on our way out of Spain we stopped in San Sebastian which was very pretty.

A pedestrian street with lots of tapas bars. YUM.

A surfer

The funny thing about San Sebastian is the beach, which is right in the center, and a great beach for surfing. We saw several people walking around barefoot or in flip flops, full surfing suit, with a surfboard under their shoulder, on their way to the beach.

We continued north and stopped at the Dune de Pyla, which I’ve been wanting to see for years. It was unfortunately drizzling when we were there.

I took the staircase.

It moves into the forest by a meter or two every year.

The dune was very pretty but there wasn’t much to do once you climbed up it. It wasn’t easy to walk around in all that sand and besides taking a few pictures, I got bored pretty quick. I’d always imagined you could spend an hour or two there but we spent only around fifteen minutes on the actual dune.

We ended the weekend passing through Bordeaux and then in Gémozac, watching the European youth climbing championship. Unfortunately we missed the “difficulté” (in English, “lead”) climbing and only got to see the speed climbers.

A regulation speed climbing wall

Here you can see the regulation speed climbing wall (the lead wall is to the left, you can see maybe a quarter of it in this picture) with a climber in it, practicing. The holds are the same on every speed climbing wall in the world, and only the height of the wall varies, with more holds added for a longer wall. For example, at the world championships in Bercy this September, Ju said the wall was 15 meters high. This wall in Gémozac, for the youth climbers, was only 10 meters high. The route is nonetheless about a 6b or 6b+, so anyone who hasn’t trained well in lead climbing can’t get up there much less do it quickly. Ju says his sister, who is very good in lead climbing, spent 35 seconds getting to the top of this wall. The best young men climbers (mostly from Russia) spent between 4 and 6 seconds! They have specific holds on the bottom to help them get into place, much like the footholds for the track runners in a normal 100-meter race. The foothold on the bottom has a sensor to detect an early start and there were a ton of them (it was really annoying). It was interesting but I won’t ever go watch speed climbing again—they all do the same thing, there’s no creativity in the climbing, and there’s no real time to cheer.

I posted on Ju’s blog about the trip, in French, with a focus on the climbing that he did.

We got home last night and Ju had to leave this morning to spend the week working in Normandy, which is a bit of a bummer because I’m still on vacation. But I have some private tutoring to do and some work to do (blech) so I should be a bit busy.