15 October 2009

el país vasco, the basque country

i was greeted in san sebastian, a fishermans' village turned resort town, by raindrops that put copenhagen to shame. they came out of nowhere as i was walking from the bus station to my hostel, soaking me completely and unraveling my plans of spending the afternoon at the beach.

san sebastian is, for those of you that know california, like a hybrid of santa cruz and santa barbara. imagine santa cruz with all the wealth of santa barbara, a few palm trees, and a lot of people walking their dogs without leashes. imagine the boardwalk beach with a break as rideable as pleasure point.

it was pretty small while i was there. i wish i had gone out this evening, because most of the rest of the time there was an onshore wind.

i was in bilbao for 12 hours before going to san sebastian but didn't see much of the city - i arrived at 11 at night and left at 11 the following morning. the bus ride to san sebastian was beautiful. i had no idea spain could be so green; the basque country, however, gets the most rain of all of spain, and is covered in trees. if not for the beaches and all the tile roofs, i would have thought i was in sweden.

i had a window seat on the bus

and after i dropped my stuff off at my hostel, i went to the beach.

then i walked around town for a while.

most of the dogs i saw weren't on leashes, and there was a whole pack of stray cats at zurriola.

landing in madrid on the way to bilbao was exciting. the city is framed by mountains and the ground is a vibrant red, very rich. my week in the bay of biscay (or bizkaia, in basque) definitely made me want to see the rest of spain - i heard so many amazing things about barcelona and madrid from other travelers i met along the way. i also went to france (just to hendaye and biarritz) on sunday, just for the day. it was raining and just about everything was closed but i got an amazing chocolate-filled pastry at a little bakery where all the locals were coming in for their daily loaves of bread. it was really frustrating not being able to speak french.

waiting for my train in hendaye

back in san sebastián

pintxos and sangria at my favorite bar, where i befriended the waiter because i was the only one in our group (of mostly aussies) who could speak spanish

i was able to get by with my spanish in spain, although most of the people i met were native english speakers, as well as a few fantastic danes and an austrian. but i hardly spoke spanish the entire time i was down there, which was disappointing. i did, however, get to use my spanish at the tapas bars and with a woman i met on the street with whom i got hot chocolate and discussed life. people are just so nice.

the old part of the city

fruits and veggies and garlic, oh my!

i really felt a cultural difference coming from denmark to spain. i didn't feel like i was experiencing spain from an american perspective - maybe just the perspective of a displaced american who is used to life in denmark, although i'm not sure. anyway, people were so helpful and friendly there. here, no one would ever notice you looking at a map and ask if you needed help, or overhear your question on a bus about how to get somewhere and then take you with them because they were going to the same place. also, in spain people actually show their emotions on their faces. the people-watching was incredible because you could follow an entire conversation without even needing to hear it.

i think my favorite thing about san sebastian was the food. i had tapas the first three nights i was there. in the basque country they're called pintxos, and, well, i don't know about tapas anywhere else (it was the first time i'd tried them), but they're probably one of the best food inventions alongside burritos and sushi. i love the concept of going to a place, choosing food from what's laid out in front of you, having a few bites and a drink, and then moving on to the next place. i only encountered one tapa i didn't really like; i think it was filled with cod roe. but i tried octopus, cod tempura, cheese stuffed with like a shrimp salad, and who knows what else and loved it all. i also discovered that i really like sangria.

the one tapa i didn't really like was the one on the far right. i think it was a sac of some sort filled with cod roe and topped with onions.

so all that was amazing. the food was amazing, the drink was amazing, the hostels were fun. however, the weather was a different story. i went down to spain to surf and get some sun before settling in for the long haul that is the scandinavian winter. however, it was only really sunny two out of the five days i was in san sebastian. it rained off and on, and was pretty windy. although it wasn't cold, the surf wasn't any good, and i only went one day. i did, however, surf twice in that one day, and had a lot of fun.

in san sebastian there is a statue of jesus on top of a castle on top of a hill, which i climbed twice. on top of the hill you have a great view of the city, and the place is really peaceful.

about to head up

from the top

view from the other side of the castle

up close and personal

basque, obviously, is everywhere. it's a completely different language from spanish, and the basque culture is different as well. i don't know that much about it, but while i was in san sebastian there were a couple of (peaceful) demonstrations for basque separation. the place is definitely full of life.


La Force said...

wow! these pictures are wonderful! i really enjoy your descriptions of the city, makes me feel like im there too :) .

catherine said...

wonderful post. as always, i love the way you write. the pictures aren't bad either.
i think i miss speaking spanish. you probably do too.

Barbara said...

I loved your observations of the differences between northern and southern Europeans. Too true. My taste buds are not as adventurous as yours, so I'm glad it was you, not me, trying all those new foods. Sorry to hear you didn't get in the last blast of summer you had hoped for!