The Man’s Place in the Kitchen?

When I first purchased my plane ticket to Spain, I was aware that I would be voluntarily immersing myself in a completely new culture. I brought with me five shirts, five shorts, four bathing suits, and one open mind.

Today, my open mind was put to the ultimate test during a “Basque Cooking Class”. My expectation was that the class would go to a kitchen to prepare a meal alongside the chef. To my surprise, this was not true at all. In fact, due to Basque tradition, women were not even allowed to cross the line into the kitchen. They merely came to eat. They were not even allowed to wash dishes. This was shocking to our group of young Americans, some of which were extreme feminists.

In order to get a sneak peak into the kitchen, I gave my camera to Eric Miller, who served as my eyes on the other side of the line. Behind the counter, the chef began to make Marmitako, which is a sort of fish stew. It is thick and chunky with large pieces of potato and tuna. None of the men from class actually cooked. Instead they just observed, so I suppose I did not miss too much in the kitchen.


What I found interesting was the honesty policy that has been implemented in the Basque country. When you go to a bar for pintxos or if you’re a member at a bar, you take your pintxos and you drink your drinks first. Afterwards, you tell the bartender what items you had already enjoyed in order to pay. To show how much you have had to drink, you are expected to keep the lids and pay for them that way. There is a lot more trust between the consumers and the owners here than there is in the United States, and I really admire that part of the culture.

At first when we all sat down, we made a very traditional pintxo. We were given small sword-like toothpicks as well as olives, onion balls, anchovies, and peppers. The word pintxo means to pierce, and that is exactly what we did. First, we slid the pepper onto the spear followed by the anchovy, the olive, and the onion ball. The tail ends of both the pepper and anchovy were wrapped around the olive and the onion and pierced again.


The flavor was very strong. The vinegar was prominent and the peppers were delicious. We could not get too full, though, because this was just the beginning.

Next, we enjoyed a salad and copious amounts of delicious bread. We were given multiple bottles of cider which was much harder to pour than one would think. The idea is to pour the glass from far away, but only real artists seemed to have that skill mastered. As we finished the course, the chef brought out the stew. The students on my end of the table managed to finish two entire pots alone. The students described the taste as fresh, perfect, and “so good”.

For dessert we enjoyed a Patxineta. Apparently this pastry is a Basque version of a French dessert. It is a warm creme surrounded by sugary crust. It was simple and delicious.


Overall, I had a great time during the class. This cooking class exhibited many common traditions of Basque culture, and I would recommend it to all who travel, especially to the women who would like a break from the kitchen.




Jesus Mountain

While having the opportunity to travel to Spain is certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and there are truly some incredible sites to check out, this trip is, first and foremost, a class. Actually, I suppose that it’s technically two classes.

Every morning, we head off to a school called Lacunza, where we have two class sessions on learning to speak Spanish. I was placed in an intermediate-level Spanish class, which is perfect because I understand a fair amount of Spanish, but not enough to actually hold a conversation. The teachers are great, and the fact that pretty much the entire class is in Spanish really helps because it forces you to practice the language.

The second class, which is taught by our professors from UML, Sean Conway and Julian Zabalbeascoa, focuses on Basque culture. So far this has involved a walking tour of San Sebastian, a museum tour, a pintxo tasting tour, and hikes up some of the various mountains.

Yesterday was one of these hikes. We hiked up Mount Urgull for a discussion about the book we read before we left for Spain, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The book chronicles a group of Americans living in Paris who decide to take a trip to Pamplona for the fiesta. Our discussion involved an analysis of the characters and their situations, as well as some of the various cultural aspects that seem a bit odd in America but are perfectly normal in the Basque country, such as going from bar to bar ordering drinks and pintxos. In America, that would be very out of the ordinary, but in Spain, it is actually abnormal to stay in the same bar for an extended period of time.

Aside from the discussion, our hike up the mountain provided some fascinating sites. There is a fantastic view of La Concha, which is San Sebastian’s most popular beach. There are also some really nice grassy areas where people will bring their kids and their dogs to play, or where they can just hang out and enjoy the view, and where we had our literature discussion. The mountain is also littered with stone buildings that serve as passageways from one part of the mountain to another. At the very top of the mountain, there is a stone statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the city. All in all, it is a very beautiful mountain.

In fact, the entire city is beautiful. There are so many spots throughout the city with a view of the water, and it is simply gorgeous. I have spent more than my fair share of time at Zurriola Beach. It is about a ten minute walk from my house and is an excellent spot to hang out with my friends or just lay in the sun and take a nap.

This has been an absolutely fantastic trip so far. I am sad that it is already half over, but we still have half the trip to go, and I am really looking forward to seeing what is in store for us.

Santa Clara Smiles

Abuela crew

After starting the day in our usual hurry, waking at 7:30 and finally succeeding in showering before our delicious breakfast of bread. Of course, to spice things up, we had strawberry marmalade, instead of last week’s apricot. Anyway, after we finished our meal, thanked our Spanish abuela, Leighton, our Swedish housemate Thobias, and our Norwegian housemate Marcus, and I headed out for Lacunza classes at 9:30.



One thing, though: we live on a mountain. In the highest room in the tallest apartment building. The only thing missing is a fictional creature guarding our keep. As the farthest students, we leave about 40 minutes before class to get there on time. Aside from the ocean of sweat that comes from the heat, commute, and humidity, the sights are spectacular. From our room’s vantage point, we have an immaculate view of inland San Sebastian.


As this was a new week, we started new classes, and after meeting new teachers and classmates, we reviewed our third tense: the future tense. I came into these classes very skeptical, but so far my Spanish has improved immensely. With an emphasis on conversation, Lacunza has prepared us more than I imagined for exploring the city and living in Spain. It has also made dinner conversations with our Spanish abuela much more fruitful.

KonxtaDuring our 30 minute lunch break,my friends and I tried a bakery near the school. Needless to say, the pastries were delicious.The rest of the daily routine consisted of hunting for lunch, taking a siesta, and prepping for the long awaited mini cruise. Leighton and I took the scenic route, a white staircase that overlooked La Konxta beach and The Bay of Biscay.


After our fat 3 hour siesta, we set off for food before reconvening with the rest of our class at the boat. So far, finding a place for food has been as easy as finding a dog, and there are plenty of dogs in San Sebastian. Anyway, Leighton and I tried a pinxto place close to us. After finishing some delicious tortilla pinxtos of egg and potato, we met up with the class to board the boat at 5:30.


Until today, my favorite part of the trip was climbing Mount Urgull and seeing the entire city from above. Now, this boat and island excursion set the high bar for the rest of the trip. To get started, the boat was almost entirely us UML students and professors Julian and Sean. As soon as we departed, the boat blasted dance music and the festivities started. The captain took us around to each corner of the Bay and circled the island. The entire ride over was filled with us students taking pictures, dancing, and Basquing in the spectacular new vantage point the boat gave us to admire the beautiful city Donostia.

Boat Party

Island beachOnce we docked at Santa Clara Island, we were again greeted by the cheery and festive spirit of this city. The island was packed with people swimming, playing on the beach, and enjoying the ISLAND BAR. This place really is incredible, but we did not stop for refreshments. Our destination was the top.


As we donned our Honor’s polos and The Climbclimbed this mini mountain, I could faintly hear Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” echoing through my head  It ain’t about how fast we got there, and it ain’t about what was waiting on the other side (although the scenery was gorgeous), it’s about the climb and the journey we all took to get there together. The 20 strangers that started this trip had now become great friends and traveling companions.


As we all smiled for a charming picture to send back to the fans, we were finally united by these shiny white shirts. Regardless of whatever brought us here as individuals, we are all here together facing struggles and climbs as one unit. This trip has brought us close and allows us to enjoy the incredible moments of this journey together.


Thank you Julian, Sean, the UMass Lowell Honors College, and beautiful San Sebastian for the precious memories and friendships created here.


The Basque Street Boys cruisin’


P.S. you’re welcome

I Think I may be in Yet Another Foreign Country

Hola amigos!!

A little background about our host family before I tell you about the trip we went on the day after America’s Independence Day (aka July 5th)…

Originally, we were placed with an older woman who lived alone. A few weeks later we received an email that our home had been switched with that of Arick and Leighton; however, upon arrival we were delivered to the daughter of the first lady. This lady, whom is known as “Abuela” (like other single hosts), is 81 years old, lives with her friend Ana, and speaks absolutely no English. She is very considerate of our likes and dislikes pertaining to food and speaks slowly to us so that we understand. Ana, who is significantly younger (and in much better health), is constantly around and always escorting us places around town if she happens to be leaving at the same time.

I chose Sunday to blog about because I knew we had the entire day free and I wanted to go exploring, which I assumed would provide plenty of blog-worthy material. When I mentioned this desire at the dinner table, Ana immediately jumped at the opportunity to take us out and suggested the short bus trip to the beautiful coastal town of Biarritz. We had been told that travelling throughout Europe is different than travelling from the US, but Hannah and I were still surprised when no one asked for an ID or passport at the bus station.

Writing that now, though, I remember that Biarritz is part of the Basque Country. Because the Basques want to be an independent country, perhaps travelling within it is a different situation than travelling between Spain and France. A lot of the signs in Biarritz were even in Basque, though I could understand those no more than the ones in French. Luckily, Ana is a native of the Basque country and was able to helps us order our hamburgers and crepes for lunch. This was my first experience with crepes, and the chocolate banana was a good choice. I liked it, but I think I’ll be sticking to traditional brownie sundaes for future dessert choices.

French Dessert

The first thing we did upon arriving was take a few (5 million) pictures of the landscape. I wish my phone and camera had better quality, because the scene was truly spectacular. After walking around like the tourists we are, Hannah and I went shopping…like tourists. Our purchases included France sweatshirts and graphic coasters, along with some over-priced (but French!) clothing. The weather was absolutely perfect, neither too hot nor too cold. I wish we had brought bathing suits to enjoy the beach more, but the weather in San Sebastian Sunday morning was cloudy and we thought it would stay that way. Even without the beach, there was plenty to do.

Welcome to the Beach

Though it was Sunday and a lot of stores were closed, there were enough open to entertain us for most of the afternoon. Recycled sail bags, which are very popular amongst boaters like myself, had a line in France! Foolishly thinking they would be reasonably priced, I went in and was disappointed. I did manage to take a tag that said “Sail 727 France” on it, a scrapbook memento to prove I had indeed been in France. Our scenic day ended at a reasonable time, but some British tourists ruined what should have been a perfect outing. Loud and possibly intoxicated, they sang and clapped the whole bus ride home. For those of us that had been walking all day and needed a siesta, their rendition of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” was not appreciated.

Blog on, everybody. It helps with my to-do list for other free afternoons.

Wine and Independence

Happy Fourth of July! While everyone at home was attending cookouts and celebrating our wonderful country, we celebrated in our own way. My roommate, Sydney, and I went to a nearby café to have breakfast. Normally in the morning our house mother makes up coffee and toast or bread. Here everything is accompanied by bread: we hear “¿mas pan?” at least three times a day. Café con leche has become one of our favorites and we can’t survive without it in the morning. We ordered our coffee and croissants to go in Spanish which is a great accomplishment for us.

At nine o’clock this morning we made our way to Zarautz for a tour of a Txakoli vineyard. The man who runs the vineyard explained the process of making the wine to us, all in Spanish of course, which then needed to be translated. We saw where they bottled the wine for the year and where each step of creating the wine takes place. The man explained that the entire process, before fermentation, of collecting the grapes and creating what is going to be the wine within fifteen to twenty days. This happens in either in September or October depending on the weather and the ripeness of the grapes.

After our tour we were brought out onto a balcony that overlooks the vineyard and given Txakoli to try with snacks and bread (shocking, everything is always with bread). They vineyard also makes different types of vinegar and we were able to sample that as well, and it was delicious. The view from the balcony was amazing and everyone spent their time taking “artsy” pictures from every angle possible and pictures of themselves with the beautiful background. After everyone got all the pictures they wanted we were allowed to purchase what we had sampled. Sydney and I both bought Txakoli and vinegar to take home with us and to give to our house mother here because she had asked for it.

We then made our way to Zarautz to explore the town. Our class was given a brief tour and then let loose to look around. We separated into a couple groups and went and got pintxo, little sandwiches, and coffee before we explored. Sydney, Eliana, and I walked around through the plazas and went into a few clothing stores. We ended up at a small bakery before we had to meet back up with the group.

There was a large group of people singing and dancing together in the plaza where the class was supposed to meet. They were gathered to show that the people of the Basque Country want to be their own nation. There was a sign hanging above where the group was preforming that read, “Tourist remember: this is neither Spain, nor France. You are in the Basque Country.” These people are fighting for their independence on a day that our nation celebrates our own. It was amazing to see a demonstration that gave insight to Basque culture and history, and it was a perfect way to end our day trip. Today was a day that will be ingrained into our memories for the rest of our lives.


Pintxos & Paddleboards

When people ask what my hobbies include, I usually reply with simple things like hanging out with friends and eating. I really like to eat… and eat… and eat. That’s why the pintxo tour with a group of new friends through the stone streets of San Sebastián was my ideal afternoon.

After Spanish language class at Lacunza got out at 1:00, our pintxo group met Professor Z & Professor Conway at our usual McDonald’s meeting place and we set off for two and a half hours of some of the greatest food I’ve ever tasted. We  began at a corner pintxo bar that served the Gilda, which was the first ever pintxo ever created.

The Gilda consists of a pickled pepper, a pickled onion, an olive, and an anchovie all skewered on a toothpick. At first glance, anchovies are intimidating. Their gray/purple color is questionable to the eyes and their slimy appearance can easily make one apprehensive. However, when Julian told us they’re supposed to be eaten all in one bite, despite my anchovie anxiety, I dove right in. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered they simply tasted like the vinegar peppers my parents eat with pork chops. This specific pintxo bar was also the only bar in Donostia to serve a mousse pinxto. I tried a sample forkful of the red pepper mousse, then proceeded to take the rest of it as well as the bread it was on and finish both.

After visiting countless pintxo bars and eating plates full of tiny deliciousness, a group of us had to leave early because we had signed up for the stand up paddle surf class at La Playa Concha. We took the short walk to the carousel by the ocean and met the rest of the paddle boarding class, then trekked down to the water. We were lead to a locker room-esque place under the Boardwalk filled with kayaks and surfboards and paddle boards. After getting our denim shorts off and our 50 SPF on, everyone in the class was given a paddle board and a paddle. The boards were carried to the sand via a blocked off portion of beach to avoid hitting sunbathers with 10 foot long boards.

After a quick demonstration in the sand of how to kneel, paddle, and most importantly, stand, we were off! Once knee-deep in the water, we got on our boards and kneeled so we could begin paddling out to deeper water. As soon as the water became a slightly darker shade of blue, my paddle was placed horizontal and perpendicular to my bent legs on the board as I pushed up and hopped to my feet as gracefully as one can while floating in the ocean. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t fall! I paddled slowly but surely following the instructors.

Once we made it out past most of the swimmers and a floating dock weighed down with children eager to slide or dive in the water, we all stopped. The instructors told us we would play a game where people try to get others off their board by pushing them with your paddle. Naturally, I did not enjoy this game, as I was an easy target for my friends. After falling once or twice, I threw in the towel and settled for swimming in the warm water for a bit.

The trek back to shore was made slightly more difficult by the off shore winds blowing against us. However, despite the obstacle, I committed to the sit down and row style, which got me farther than standing up on the way out.

All in all, I’d say July 3 was a huge thumbs up. Enjoying delicious pintxos with my class and professors followed by an hour paddle surfing (and only falling twice!), the day was an absolute success.

The world's first pintxo!

The world’s first pintxo!

Paddle Surfing

A countertop full of pintxos ready to be devoured!

A countertop full of pintxos ready to be devoured!


Pintxos Tour

(posted on behalf of

When I found out that I would be spending three weeks in Spain, I was excited beyond belief. My mother brought to my attention of how I am such a picky eater in America, never mind in Spain. She was very worried that I not only wouldn’t love the food, I wouldn’t eat it at all.

When I saw the pintxos tasting tour on the schedule, I was a tad bit nervous. I have never heard of a pintxos bar before until I arrived in Spain. When I come home, I want to be able to tell everyone that I tried as much food as possible and took risks – something I do not ordinarily do. One of the pinxtos bars we went to was A Luego Negro, which was this really cool and funky place. The menu was quite eccentric as well. I decided to go out of my comfort zone and try crab ice cream. I did not think anything of it. I just thought, “Hey, ice cream.” I had no idea what to expect. When I heard my order was ready, I was really nervous; my face dropped. I could not believe that my ice cream actually came out in a crab shell. It looked awesome; however, the taste was not. It tasted like someone gave me a spoonful of salt water and fish. It was probably one of the worst things I have ever tried.

Another food I tried and did not like was the blood sausage. The texture threw me for a loop. The only reason I tried it was because the pintxo bar, Casa Vergara, is best known for three dishes: 1. Carrilera Agridulce (“Rato De Plata”) (2013 Compeaonato pintas de Guipuecoa”) 2. Hasanito (“2007 Label Vasco”) 3. Incomprendido (“2006 premio originalidad”). I cannot believe I was brave enough to try it.

I will say that I am very happy that I was bold and daring during the pintxos tours. I want to get in as much experience as possible. My favorite part of the pintxo tasting was seeing a dog named Whisky at Casa Vergara. I thought the dog made the place more fun and exciting. Everyone was going crazy over the dog: a friendly dog in Spain, we are trying pintxos – what can be better than that? Nothing.

I cannot get over how cheap the food is over here compared to America. Especially the drinks and pastries. I am so blessed and fortunate to be able to spend three weeks in this beautiful city. I love being able to experience this lifestyle and culture. I cannot wait to get back home and tell everyone what a great time I am having and how much of a great experience this is. Three weeks is not enough, I would love to come back.


Julian addressing our tour group.


A plate of pintxos from one of the bars on the tour.

“I had a rocking horse as a child. It died.”

Since first hearing of the opportunity to study abroad in San Sebastian, I have anxiously awaited the time of departure. Upon arriving in Spain (after the world’s longest commute) I found myself in several emotional states- one part anxiety, one part excitement, and three parts absolutely exhausted. It has been a dream of mine all my life to travel the world, and I am finally setting out to accomplish just that. It seemed surreal when we landed in Frankfurt, and I had FINALLY arrived in Europe for the first of (hopefully) countless times.

The past few days have been long, action packed, and some of the most dynamic times of my life. Wednesday began with day three of Spanish class (day three of my Spanish learning life). Coming into Spain with only the knowledge of a few Spanish phrases was daunting, but being completely immersed in the language and culture has inspired me to learn as much as I can and to see how far my limits of comprehension can really be stretched. I am truly enjoying learning Spanish by way of class every morning and in communicating with my completely Spanish-speaking host family. It is a huge challenge,  but I feel that I, and many others, have risen to it gracefully.

Later in the day came several absolutely beautiful hours at Playa Zurriola. The waves were huge and the undertow severe, so I found myself mostly soaking up the sun and observing San Sebastian natives enjoying their time. I noticed that everyone exists together in this little paradise so harmoniously- locals and tourists alike. I am so glad to find myself among such a plethora of nationalities, languages, and personalities. It is only day three, but I think by the end of these three weeks I will have a new understanding of myself and the world simply through the observation of everyone around me.

To continue with Wednesday, our group gathered by Playa de la Concha to walk to our First Ever Basque Class with Stuart- a friend of our professor, Julian. The class consisted of Basque language that I will never for the life of me remember with Basque cultural information and anecdotes tied together with the best of British humor. I found that learning about yet another language and culture opened my eyes even more to the amazing opportunity that has been handed to me.

It turns out that experts believe that Basque may have been one of the first languages ever spoken. This fact blows my mind- especially being here, in the center of it all. Just being in Europe where everything is older than America by tenfold is enough to make you realize just how small you are in comparison to the world and all of history. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it really puts everything into perspective, at least as far as I am concerned. Basque language and culture are both equally beautiful. With z’s pronounced as “hair-dresser s’s” and “tx” as “ch”, the words are difficult to navigate, but once you get there it is definitely a treat.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be studying here in the beautiful San Sebastian, Donostia, Spain, realizing my dreams of traveling abroad and expanding my horizons to anything and everything that comes my way.

San Sebastian mid afternoon

San Sebastian mid afternoon



The view from a bridge on the way to La Concha from La Zurriola

Different Lives, Many Experiences: San Telmo Museum (June 30th, 2015)


Que tal, mis amigos?

When I was a junior in high school, a choir conductor I was working with introduced me to the concept that music and the arts convey the human experience in a way that is unlike any other. Since that moment, my commitment to the arts has been truly integral to my existence. Though that may sound like a bit of a cliché, it is true. Architecture, visual arts, dance, theater, literature, and music are all of the utmost importance to me, and when I found out I was going on this trip I became ecstatic about the possibilities San Sebastian had to offer in terms of new and exciting art to experience.

Between eating at a myriad of pintxos bars, visiting and enjoying the beautiful beaches, studying in our Spanish classes at Lacunza, wandering around the city (with and without tour guides), and meeting scores of new friends, we’ve been kept quite busy over the past few days. Thusly, our biggest experience thus far with the history and art of San Sebastian was today at San Telmo Museum. San Telmo Museum consists of two parts. The first part is a mid-sixteenth century convent (the original San Telmo building) built using a mix of Renaissance and Gothic styles. The convent is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, San Telmo, from whom of course it takes its name. The second part of the building is the rest of the museum, which was designed by two modern architects, Nieto and Sobejano. The rest of the museum was designed to mimic the surrounding natural landscape (mountainous and verdurous) and has holes through which plants will eventually grow. The combination of architecture new and old is quite fascinating and in my opinion appeals to a desire for usefulness found within the basic survival instinct of animals and humans alike.

Animalistic survival instincts aside (am I getting too weird for a college blog post?), I found myself deeply moved by the original San Telmo convent. Even though I am not a particularly religious person, I was so taken by the immense size and beauty of the church’s interior that I nearly cried. Seeing the tremendous stone pillars and the high ceiling of the building stirred my imagination, and I began to consider what incredible lengths humans will go to in order to express their feelings through art. In the case of the church, the most advanced engineering and architectural skills of the time were employed to express a simultaneous love for and fear of God in the form of a building. The end result was a room that truly dwarfs its human occupants, demonstrating the greatness of God and our relative unimportance. You, like me, may not necessarily subscribe to the Christian God, but nonetheless Christianity must be taken into account when thinking about the intention behind a church.

After about twenty minutes spent in total awe of the church interior, I began talking to some classmates about the church, and eventually discovered some friends singing in the crypt under the altar. The acoustics were truly a wonder to behold. A vocal improvisation then took place between my friends and I – a divine musical experience that brought us closer together, if only for a short amount of time. As the vibrations of our final chord slowly fizzled out, we all shared a final moment of connectedness. Over the course of two more trips down to the crypt, I brought around ten total people to hear the wonderful acoustics through a short musical demonstration. Some Spanish tourists even got to hear the demonstration. This was truly meaningful to me – I was able to share my love of music and the joy it gives me with others, even though I am thousands of miles away from my home.

The rest of the museum was something that I unfortunately experienced mostly by myself. However, what I shared with others in the cathedral is something that I would not trade for any material good in the world. Art helps us to share and to better understand the human experience, no matter our religion or nationality, the languages we speak, or the experiences we’ve had in life. Though the impact the arts can have on our lives may differ between people – one person may listen to a symphony and feel great grief and wistfulness while another person may experience great joy and hope for the future – we are all changed in some capacity by the art to which we expose ourselves. Because of our artistic experiences still to come in San Sebastian, we will return to the United States healthier and more complete human beings. If growth as a person doesn’t make a study abroad experience worth it, I’d be hard pressed to find something else that could.

So please, enjoy some medium of art today. I hope that you have a wonderful and human experience in doing so.

Agur, y gracias por leer,

Eric Miller

Here’s a view of the inside of the church from the balcony. (sorry about my phone’s poor photo quality!)

The upper level of the cloister was cleverly equipped with one-way mirrors. The mirror side faced into the courtyard and created a feeling of continuity and openness, while the space behind the mirror allowed for the actual walkway to be used for exhibits.

The upper level of the cloister outside the church was cleverly equipped with one-way mirrors. The mirror side faced into the courtyard and created a feeling of continuity and openness in the cloister. The space behind the mirror in the walkway was therefore available for exhibits, and one could see down into the courtyard from the walkway.


6 Hours Ahead and Still in One Piece

Here we are, 50 hours in beautiful San Sebastian, and already the city is capturing us! Eighteen of the full group of twenty students and one Professor Sean Conway from UMass Lowell left on the 4:40pm flight to Frankfurt, Germany at Logan Airport. We gathered in groups around Terminal E and talked excitedly about what was to come, or at least what we could imagine was to come. A little nervous banter here and there, but that is to be expected when flying to a new place. This first flight lasted no more than 8 hours, but we came into Frankfurt 5:40 am local time, so I think I can speak for all when I say that we definitely felt weird during our five hour layover. We took it stride, however, and meandered around the airport just as more bakeries and stores were opening for the day. People from all across the globe with different styles and thick accents meandered with us. By the time we reach America again, it is all right to say we travelled to Spain AND Germany! . . . sort of. Finally, we made it onto our connecting flight to Bilbao in one tired, smelly, but still excited piece.

Once in Bilbao, we took our time to retrieve our luggage and it was off to the bus to take the hour journey into the city of our new home, San Sebastian. The bus pulled up in front of a gigantic Calvin Klein sign on a cobblestone road. This sign distracted me for a second, but as soon as I got a quality 360 degree view of my surroundings I saw a magnificent square lined with old-style ornate shops and restaurants. This is where we paired off with our host families. My roommate, Mara, and I followed our host mother’s daughter and boyfriend along more cobblestone roads and the ocean to the apartment. Up 6 floors, we met Marian who was happy to see we arrived safely and showed us to our room. The rest of this afternoon we spent trying to keep ourselves from falling asleep, and staying awake until at least 11pm to escape jetlag the next couple of days.

Official day 1 began with a 7:30 breakfast at our home-stay, followed by a guided walk to the school we will be attending for these three weeks, Lacunza. Here, we were first randomly divided into classrooms where we took a two-part written placement test and one-part oral test. Teachers streamed in and out, giving different welcome presentations and answering questions in “Spanglish.” By 11:30, it came time to split into the different groups based on level and expertise in Spanish. I was, no surprise, placed in Level 1, but UMass Lowell had a good range of levels overall. Until 1:00, we were in classes where only Spanish is spoken. To say the least, I received more information in that one class than I have the whole summer leading up to this trip! From there, we had three hours to ourselves before we met back at the school for a welcome tour of San Sebastian. During this time, we split off into groups, and my particular group wandered off to dine at a pintxo bar specializing in seafood. My salmon was not what I expected, with eyes that looked right into mine – but no worries, I still ate it.

Off to the tour at 4:00: we were guided to old and new parts of San Sebastian. My favorite part was looking down both sides of the straight road that connected two old churches at each end. After the tour, we were surprised with a traditional Basque photoshoot; one of our pictures precedes this post, and should most definitely be viewed. To end this beautiful first official day in San Sebastian, we officially met everyone on our group officially. It was pretty official. At the foot of a mountain, and overlooking a harbor during sunset, we reviewed the logistics for the trip; including who would write which blog post. I volunteered for the first day, which leads us to the present. I’m looking forward to really jumping into this city even more, so I must say adios!

A closeup of a salmon's head from a seafood pinxtos restaurant

A closeup of a salmon’s head from a seafood pintxos restaurant

La Concha Beach

One of San Sebatian’s gorgeous beaches, La Concha. You can tell that beaches aren’t very popular here.