The Paths Less Traveled

July 17th

Daytrip to Pasaia & The Sea Factory of the Basques

 

After abruptly learning of our change in plans, my roommates and I panicked, rushing home to prepare for the new adventure. How many snacks are necessary? Where are we going? Why are we just hearing about this now?  We were not prepared for the day ahead, but my roommates´ positivity and sense of humor about the situation made me feel much better.

Beginning in Gros, with the beautiful view of Zurriola beach behind us, it was difficult to imagine that the landscape could transform into something more grandiose. However, every time we found an opening through the trees, I fell more in love with this place. Although the hike was grueling, steep, and strenuous, spirits were high because the company was so good. These people were complete strangers to me a week ago, and now they are integral to my social experience. We didn’t know where we were headed, how long it would take, or (at some points) if we were even headed in the proper direction. Despite this, we laughed, talked amongst each other, shared our food, and sprinted through treacherous terrain.

For example, it has become visually obvious (at several points throughout this trip) that I am cripplingly afraid of heights. Despite this, and without convincing, I climbed up a ladder to overlook the ocean.

The adventurous spirit of the group continually pushes me out of my comfort zone, so much so that I feel compelled to seek out adventures myself (something my naturally introverted self tends to avoid). Through every wrong turn, we laughed. The wrong paths were happy accidents that widened our perspectives of the landscape and gave us a chance to bond, run, climb, and adventure. These wrong turns matched the unexpected, face pace of the day following our quick change in plans. Everything came together perfectly despite our confusion and uncertainty. The weather, sights, and people made for a perfect three hour trek through a foreign country.

We took advantage of any scenic outlook to not only appreciate the view but to relax and recharge. We took pictures of the scenery and of each other to memorialize the goofy mood we always seem to find ourselves in. I thought I had seen all the beauty this place had to offer, but we barely made a dent. The hike provided us with an opportunity to step out of the ´tourist agenda´ and do something that certainly not everyone physically can. The unpopulated trails left us guessing at how far we´ve gone and how far we need to go.

After many dog interactions and photoshoots, we arrived in Pasaia. At the Sea Factory of the Basques, we learned important historical context of the culture we have been thrown into. The replication of the San Juan boat represents unprecedented research and will contain features unique to Basque ships of the period (1565). Most notably, the keel made from beech or oakwood will have the traditional complex design will be carved from a single trunk with two adjacent planks.

The project is in collaboration with research in Newfoundland. The replication shows the importance of communication between different countries that strives to preserve culture and history.

Although I am not fluent in Spanish, I was attentive to our guide. Relating back to our quickly formed social structure, I was happily surprised at the support I received from my classmates. They explained certain phrases to me, answered my questions, and we laughed when I couldn´t understand or keep up

The boat tour overlooked the prettiest town I´ve ever seen. Tucked into the mountainside were beautiful houses decorated with flowers and restaurants rushing to deliver wine to their customers. Food brought us all together by the ocean after a quick boat taxi ride from the museum. 

We certainly took the paths less traveled, and each time they proved to be the better way. The untouched countryside and unpopulated coastline provided us with a nice contrast to San Sebastian for a day. Although it was long and we were all very tired and hungry, the views, company, and some awesome doggos helped us recharge and continue forward. The diversity of the group keeps every conversation interesting, but our mutual values of appreciating the culture and beauty of our surroundings reassures me that I´ve made the right decision to travel here.  I´m thankful the day changed and the spontaneity kept the day interesting and fun!

Another Day In Paradise

Throughout this short week, I have been in San Sebastián I have been able to explore many of the amazing things that the city has to offer. On July 14th, my classmates and I were able to explore some new parts of the city. The first sight we visited on our journey to the top of the mountain was The Combs of the Wind sculptures. The Combs of the Wind is three sculptures created by Eduardo Chillida. These sculptures were embedded into the natural rock in the area and were made with solid steel, weighing about ten tons each. These works of art were finished in 1976 and are located at the western end of La Concha Bay. The Combs of the Wind essentially symbolize the past, present, and future. The way these works of art were integrated into the surrounding nature shows that these sculptures are meant to be changed by nature itself. This is similar to the past, present, and future because everything that has, is, or will happen is determined by all of the things life throws at you. For example, a storm hitting those sculptures over and over or the sun constantly shining on them changes the physical being as time goes on. The same way a person can change with the experiences they go through with their own personal “storms” and “sunny days.” Everyone goes through different events in their life that change a person in one way or another, similar to the meaning of The Combs of the Wind sculptures.

The next activity we set out to do was head on up to the top of Monte Igueldo. My expectation was to just take a ride up to the top of a mountain and admire the beautiful scenery of the city. Once we got to the top I was very pleased to see that there was more than just a view to look at. There was a whole collection of different activities to enjoy. This place is very different compared to most other places with these types of activities. Monte Igueldo is a very popular tourist attraction and of course, I am a tourist so how could I not visit this place. There are a total of 20 different attractions for people of all ages. With all the different attractions on Monte Igueldo, there are a bunch of different people circulating in and out to experience the amazing culture of San Sebastián. One of my favorite attractions was the small roller coaster that went around the top of the mountain. Being able to experience the thrill of a roller coaster pared with the thrill of seeing the beautiful surrounding scenery is something anyone would want to see. The more places I see such as Monte Igueldo, the more I want to explore the rest of San Sebastián and so many more countries. If one small part of San Sebastián such as Monte Igueldo can bring so many people and cultures together in one place to have a great time, imagine what other places in the world could do as well.  

After enjoying a couple of hours on Mount Igueldo, my friends and I headed over to the beach. The weather that day was 80 degrees and sunny, which in my opinion is perfect beach weather. The beach is my favorite place so far because of the many different cultures and types of people you encounter while being there. The beaches are very different in Europe for they allow women to be topless. As you can imagine, the first time I was seeing this was a little shocking. I am not saying the word shocking in a bad way, but that it was something I had never encountered before. At this point in my travels, I have been to the beach many times where this is now normal and I understand that different people have different cultures and this is normal for them. La Concha beach is now my favorite beach for two reasons. San Sebastián is a popular place where people from all over the world come for vacation, family, school, etc. Being at the beach here in this city, you are able to experience many different cultures all in one place and try to see the world from other individuals point of view. Many countries in Europe see the human body as beautiful artwork created by God, that is meant to be nurtured. Experiencing this minor part of a different culture has opened my eyes and shown me that there is much more than what’s on the surface. I can’t wait to continue exploring the city and what it has to offer!   

Pintxos, Pintxos, and More Pintxos!

If I have learned anything while I have been in San Sebastian, I have learned that meals here are more than just meals. The residents of San Sebastian seek out meals in different and exciting ways. I have seen the art that is food-first hand. In crowded bars we have found small beautifully arranged pintxos. Pintxos are similar to appetizers in the United States-or tapas at your neighborhood spanish restaurant. They are the small sandwiches, rice dishes, and bird livers creatively perched on top of every bar. They are a huge part of the culture here in San Sebastian. Pintxos were originally created as aquick and delicious lunch. Between the hours of 1:00pm and 4:00pm stores throughout the city close. This gives their employee´s a couple of hours to go into the city in search of lunch; more specifically in search of Pintxos.

Friday afternoon we (being Me, Amalia, Brianna, Emily, Nick and Rachel) sought out to experience the traditional restaurant experiences in San Sebastian with-ofcourse-Prof Z. guiding our path. Similar to the employee´s I mentioned above; we were also in search of Pintxos. We visited all the Pintxo bars that the eye could see in the little neighborhood known as Gros. In each restaurant we tried something different. In the first restaurant I tried what the Basques know as ´Gilda´. Gilda is a skewered pepper and an olive wrapped in an anchovy. It was quite a combination. From one restaurant to the next Julian pushed each of us out of our comfort zones in unique ways. Exploring food had never felt like such an adventure. While there our group tried everything from cow cheek to Oxtail. The food was delicious, scary, but delicious. And yet that didn’t even seem to be the most important part of the tour. I discovered that pintxos are more than just appetizers. Pintxos are what bring people into the bars but are not what keep people coming back. It´s the environment, the culture, in Loren terms “it’s the vibe”. The vibe is a safe and exciting environment for native Basque citizens as well as for silly American students. The friendliness and helpfulness I saw from the bartenders, waiters, and even the other restaurant goers was amazing. Everyone welcomed us inside with excitement and anticipation. I discovered that pintxo bars are places to gather together socially. They call people from all across the world to step inside, feel their environment, and to try the squid.

Food has always been known as something that brings people together, to share a meal is to share a bond, but what surprised me was that even in such a fast paced environment everyone is able to savor the moment. Pintxo Pote is a little event found In San Sebastian, centered all around-you guessed it-pintxos. It is similar to bar hopping in the United States. Similar while at the same time oh-so-different. It originated in the time of the Great Recession where people stopped being able to afford eating out. At that point restaurants were a luxury that very few people could afford. Pintxo Pote was created to repair this problem. On Thursday nights all the bars on one street in Gros offered people a deal. The price of one Pintxo and a beer was dropped significantly. To an affordable 2€ This made it so that people from all around were able to afford to eat out. They could grab a pintxo and be an active member of their community. I attended Pintxo Pote with a couple of students and experienced first hand how exciting it was. Like I explained above the food was just a ticket inside. Once inside you were able to meet new people, interact genuinely with bartenders, and experience bar culture in a foreign country. All while filling your stomach for a measly 6€. I believe that this is another great example of how important togetherness is in the Basque culture. It brings people together and leaves no one behind; all through bite sized appetizers!

Within our little group we have vegetarians, lactose-intolerance, and picky picky people. And yet no matter what you ate, whether it be the mussels or the quiche-like tortillas, you could find a bar that welcomed you into the Basque culture with open arms. Pintxo bars are a place for diverse and exciting socialization. They cater to people all over the world as well as the citizens of San Sebastian. The restaurants and bars are places to see friends, family, and to create new relationships. I believe that the importance of food in the Basque culture stems from the importance of human relationships and of connection. Food begins this connections but the Basque people extend that opportunity to all.

A More Balanced Life Through Food

All of my previous knowledge of food, culture, and social interaction has been thrown away and rewritten over the past few days. In America, we tend to treat food as a time-sensitive objective at specific hours of the day. We eat quickly to save time. We eat alone to save time. We eat the lowest quality foods to save time. Our dinner tables are outside the house so that we are together yet still alone. Tables inside the house are quiet, small, and often filled with technology. We rarely know anything about the lives of our neighbors except for passing glimpses. In essence, we put aside wholesome enjoyment for the sake of convenience.

After just a brief tour of la Parte Vieja yesterday, I can confidently say that the Basques treat food, culture, and brotherhood as it should be treated. There are more Pintxo bars than one could possibly explore in even a week. Our three hour two just barely scraped the surface of the culture that lives in the Spanish Basque region. Our tour, of course led by Professor Julien Zabalbeascoa, the Basque man himself, took us to some of the most famous Pintxo bars in the city and showed us classic Basque dishes and Pinxtos as well as some of Julien´s personal favorites. Our Pintxo tour started with Txakoli, a classic Basque white wine. The wine is poured from high in the air (as pictured below) to break and aerate the wine against the glass.

It was incredible to be able to experience the culinary genius and creativity of the Basques. Every dish put in front of us was a masterpiece there to savor, not to have for the purpose of convenience. The original pioneers of the Pinxtos and many of the dishes still served today were Basque chefs who trained in France with the greatest culinary minds in the world. They brought the techniques back from France and added local ingredients and inspirations to create a new lifestyle revolving around food and friends.

The meats in every Pintxo were cooked to perfection. One of the best dishes of our tour was a pork rib (pictured below) that fell apart in your mouth. It may simply be the quality of the local ingredients, or perhaps a Basque secret for cooking meats, but these dishes could not have been any better. An explanation for the quality of the meats is that the animals that end up on the plates are all free range. Each dish is made with only the highest quality ingredients. This is not the easy way, but the Basque are not willing to sacrifice quality for convenience.

After grazing through the Pintxo bars in la Parte Vieja, we can understand the lifestyle that the Basque try to live, and we can get a taste of the most important values in their culture. As I mentioned, quality is key. Every dish´s presentation is important as well as the taste. Innovation with traditional ties is also an important value. There are many Pintxo bars who continue to add new, crazy Pintxos to the menu. One example of this is ox tail shaped and glazed like a brownie with whipped cream on the side.

One of the things that has never changed is the way in which the Basque go about the Pintxo bars. Basques like to meander from one Pintxo bar to the next having only a drink and a couple Pintxos at each one. The experience is meant to be a social one in which you interact with the friends you are with as well as those around you. It is apparant that those in this area are not introverted. People enjoy talking about the latest soccer match or the newest politcal story. Going out for Pintxos is also not a rushed event. People take their time enjoying every aspect. The same values can be seen in the siesta. Between two and four pm, shops close and people will rest or often times go to the bars.

The mentality of the Basque is almost an extreme opposite of the mentatlity we see in the United States. In terms of food, we care much less about the quality of the ingredients. We would rather have more food that we can buy and eat as quickly as possible to fit into the busy schedules we create for ourselves. We value long hours of hard work rather than a healthy mental and physical state. I believe that the Basque emphasis on quality, leisure, family, and community creates a more balanced life.

 

The Walk Up Monte Urgull To the Jesus Statue

It was another beautiful day in San Sebastian on Tuesday July 10th. After our classes, Professor Zabalbeascoa walked us, well, some of us ran, up the Monte Urgull mountain, where one of the most well known tourist attractions lie. The famous Jesus statue at the top of the mountain sits at the heart of the Basque city of San Sebastián, Spain.

Walking up the mountain was a breathtaking experience. Overlooking the harbor and the beach (Playa de La Concha) was a view that I’m sure many of us have never experienced before. San Sebastián is known to have a rich history and walking up the mountain has allowed us to witness some of the beautiful architecture that has been maintained from the civil war. A few noticeable points along the walk were the different paths that people took to get up the mountain. Some paths were faster than others, which I believe heightens the walk because everyone can have a different experience. Even if we wanted to walk up it again, we would have a different experience and view from before. I also was impressed that half way up the mountain there is an outdoor seating area and a bar that allows people to take a break, relax, and have a more enjoyable experience.

When we reached the top area, there was a museum-like entrance that allowed people to learn about the history of the statue as well as the history of Spain and San Sebastián. However, when we reached the very top of the statue, there were very few words to express our thoughts. Instead, we mostly just took in the amazing view and captured those moments with pictures. After taking several group photos, we began our descent and found a nice spot with a gorgeous view to hold our class discussion about San Sebastián’s history and an analysis on the book “The Sun Also Rises”, by the famous author, Earnest Hemingway. We discussed how and why Hemingway portrays the main character, Jake, the way he does. What really brought the book together for me in relation to our trip was how Jake felt visiting La Playa de La Concha after participating in the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, which is another part of Spain just over an hour away from San Sebastián.

It has always been common for people to take a bus or drive over to San Sebastián after running from death. This week especially is most significant because The Running of the Bulls only takes place once a year, and this year it happened to fall on the exact week that we are visiting. Moving back to the story, laying on the beach for Jake, he felt a completely new state of inner peace because all throughout the book, he had been struggling with an inner conflict with himself. I believe that the reason his mindset had changed in the book was because he had just seen death in the face with Romero and now he feels at ease, or at least much calmer.

Only being here for four days now, I personally feel more at peace here learning about the Spanish and Basque culture along with the Spanish language, than if I was studying it back at home. Laying on the beach, watching the beautiful teal waves during the day and meeting so many new people from all over the world at night has given me an entirely new perspective on the world. Thus, when Hemingway talks about Jake visiting San Sebastián and how it made him feel, I feel like I can personally relate to him.

Even though we still have class in the summer, learning about San Sebastián and its vast history has been an incredible experience for me so far, and we still have a full two and a half weeks left to explore learn. I have no problem sitting and listening for over an hour about the Spanish culture here because it doesn’t even feel like I am in class, but rather just having fun, having new experiences with great people, and learning about the culture.

Once our class time has ended, around 8 o’clock, we started to descend all the way back down the mountain for some final glimpse of the wonderful views on the mountain. So far, I have made lasting memories and have had a journey that I will never forget. Walking down the mountain with my friends was very fun for me and very peaceful.

Arriving and Walking Tour

Ever since I got off the plane in Bilbao I have had this beautiful picture of what Spain should be in my mind. I have never been outside of the country before, and so I was expecting an immediate culture shock the second I stepped off the plane and into the airport.  However I felt oddly comfortable in the airport setting, and even so our first short day in Bilbao and San Sebastian. When traveling away from the airport I was a bit shocked at the lack of scenery, or at least the difference from what I was expecting. There were still stunning mountains and rolling hills, but it reminded me very much of the rural hills and ranches I saw when visiting northeast California.

The closer we got to San Sebastian the more intense the landscape became.  It was beginning to look more like the picture in my mind, but not quite. What truly shocked me was all the amazing houses built into the rolling hills. When we arrived in San Sebastian the first day, I did not get to see a lot of the city as my host family is very far away from the main city and the area appears a little more industrial. Just based on all the research, reading, and even basic google searches I was expecting a slam in the face of beauty the second I got there, and I was afraid that I had made the place beautiful in my mind, filling it with expectations of phony photos and over the top descriptions.

However upon our excellent tour of the city, I was ecstatic at how wrong I was.  This beautiful place in my mind was real! And it is even better than I could have ever imagined.  The beaches stunning, with their golden sands and clear water, all I wanted to do was go join everyone else on that beach and sunbathe and swim.  The amount of people in the water was another shock, although it made sense since the water is so much warmer. I have never seen that many people on a beach in New England, and certainly never that many people in the water.  Another part that truly struck my eye was the rolling mountains over the horizons. They look absolutely remarkable and the cliffs along the edges of the water as well are breathtaking. My family and I very much enjoy hiking and often trip in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont for waterfalls, and waterside views, but nothing, not even the waterside views in part of California compare to this place.  But the part that truly struck me, and really landed my mindset into the fact that I was in an exquisite country in Europe was the architecture. The buildings in the old part of San Sebastian were exquisitely built. Every brick seemed to hold a purpose for structure and beauty. Every building was so massive and the streets and alleys were thin and tall. Every single church, the squares, the buildings with bullet holes on them; they all were full of not only beauty, but years and years of history.  

Our tour guide spoke of the fact that San Sebastian is in charge of the majority of tourism in the Basque Country and I understand why the area attracts so many locals as well as tourists now.  The city is so easy to navigate, accessible and full of immediate cultural immersion. Just walking the streets I was able to get an idea of what the Basque people are trying to preserve as a culture and it is truly a remarkable place to which I hope they do not give into the expenses of tourism and keep this city as accessible to the people of the world as possible.  Everyone deserves to witness this breathtaking place!

So, is San Sebastian all that I hoped it would be? No, it is so much more than I could have ever imagined, and it was only my first day in this gorgeous city! I feel as though I am already beginning to understand why these places are held so meaningful to the Basque people.  The natural and seemingly ageless beauty they get to experience in their culture and everyday life is amazing. I am more than excited to explore the beautiful city and learn as much as I can about the culture and history of San Sebastian, as well as improve the little Spanish I know.  I am very confident in my ability to learn while being immersed in this city and can say with more confidence that I plan to spend every moment trying to gain knowledge and experiences from this trip.