Agur, Donostia

The past, the present, and the future — as our final days wind down in San Sebastián, that is what I find myself thinking about the most. As college students from the United States, everyone is always asking, “When are you going to graduate?” or “What are you going to do with your life?”. Myself, having endured these questions many times before, have come up with a bulleted list in my head of how to make it sound like I have all of my ducks in a row — or in other words, to act like I have any idea what the future holds.

The truth is, I haven’t the slightest idea.

At the end of our first week in San Sebastián, Professor Zabalbeascoa took us to see the Combs of the Wind, sculpted by Eduardo Chillida. Giant iron fingers reached from the rocks on the coast, forming three distinct figures. Professor Zabalbeascoa asked us what we thought these sculptures represented, and to be honest, I was stumped. At first, they just looked like iron fingers coming up from the rocks. After a few ideas, he told us his favorite interpretation of the sculpture — that one each represented the past, the present, and the future. The past, off to the right, at first appeared twisted and scarred, but upon second thought was quite beautiful, as it pointed towards the future with a concrete surety. The present, the one that we could touch, was the most clear, the one that felt as though we ourselves could examine with the most truth. Finally, looking through the present we saw the future, looking upwards towards the sky, far off in the distance, looking open to change, and to be filled with whatever the world has to offer.

Professor Zabalbeascoa then took out a pen and put it on his finger. He explained that there has to be a balance between the past and the future in order for us to become balanced in the present. Without this, the pen would fall — just as our minds would become clouded and worried too much in one place or the next.

Then, I thought of the past three weeks we had spent together. I thought of how most of us were total strangers, hopping on planes to bring us to a place that none of us had ever known. I thought of how since then we have shared food, stories, classes, feelings, and most importantly, the memories that we have made here. From trying pinxtos (for better or for worse), to climbing seemingly insurmountable mountains, to resting on the beautiful shores of La Concha and Zurriola, to immersing ourselves in new languages and cultures, and finally to doing more than many of us had ever imagined doing — I felt inspired by all that I had once thought impossible.

I thought back even further then, to the ancient past of the Basques, the people and the culture we came here to learn about in the first place. I remembered the few words of Euskera that somehow stuck in my head — a language unlike any other in the word. I remembered the museums we visited, learning about how the Basques built their ships to bring whales home to provide light and heat. I thought of Gernika, and how a society that had been put through so much pain, dedicated their lives to peace and helping others find it.

As we have immersed ourselves in this culture, we have tried not to be that typical American tourist that the world often perceives us as. We spoke Spanish, Euskera, and French. We asked questions to our host families about their past and why they do what they do. We took the paths less traveled, so that we may see things not from the flashy bus, but from where they were meant to be seen. We learned too that there are multiple sides to history, and that no one side is completely in the right — as we saw the impact the pact of forgetting had on the youth of the people. We learned why the Basques are such a proud, kind, and optimistic people today. Even though they have been through atrocities in the past, both due to Franco’s dictatorship and the scars left by their own terrorists, the Basque people continue to celebrate their traditions, their heritage, their language, and their lives. They have taught us the definition of the word resiliency, and how kindness is more powerful than any weapon.

The past, be it for better or for worse, shapes us into who we are today. Before we came here, I found myself struggling with my own past — believing that my family would be the ones who defined all that I was or ever would be. I realize now that while the past was what brought all of us to this moment in time, it does not define who we are — that power belongs to the present moment.

As I sat at our final dinner as a group (granted this is in the very recent past, only a few hours ago), I found myself feeling connected entirely to one another. All that mattered was that we were together, enjoying some of the most amazing food in the world, celebrating what we had done, and what we are going to do. We smiled and laughed at our triumphs and our slip-ups (granted there were many), we marveled at the beautiful food brought before us, and more than anything, we simply enjoyed one another´s company. Before we came here, most of us were complete strangers, only known by a name in an email or a short conversation at the pre-departure meeting; these same people have now become friends that we will hold onto for a lifetime to come. In that moment the past and the future were in balance to make the perfect present.

And it is in that present moment that I realized that we have the power to be whoever it is that we want to be. It doesn’t matter what you study in school, how much money you make, or where you came from in life. What matters is this moment in your life now, and what you are going to do with the precious gift that is this life that we have. While the past gave us the circumstances of our present, it is our present that gives us the chance to make the decisions that will lead to the circumstances of the future.

Again, looking at the culture we have learned so much about, the Basque culture continues to grow and change, even in this present moment. Euskera has become a part of daily life (instead of something to be censored and hidden), and is the first language children learn. Pinxto pote in Gros, first started to help bars during the economic crisis, has now become a social tradition of joy and merriment. Even in this ever changing, globalized world, the Basques still find a way to show the world their beautiful spirit and culture.

And now, what everyone asks us college kids about, the future. Like I said, I have no idea what it is going to entail. All I do know is that I have learned so much, experienced more than I ever thought I could, and have been blessed with an experience that has completely changed my life for the better.

The best gift Donostia gave me was the ability to live in the present — to love this life and all it has to offer, because I promise you, it’s more than worth it.

Agur, Donostia.

C´est la vie!

This Friday the group did something different than our usual routine. We left class early and ran to a nearby bus stop, where we boarded a private bus to France! Why France? Well you see, the Basque Country is composed of seven regions: Biscay, Gipuzkoa, Álava, Navarre, Labourd, Basse-Navarre, and Soule. Three of these regions, Labourd, Basse-Navarre, and Soule, are in France. So we voyaged across the border to explore the French side of the Euskal Herria(1).

It was really interesting to see and experience the other half of a culture that transcends modern national boundaries. Despite having crossed through border control, it was clear that we were still in the Basque Country. While we may have left Spain, we had not left Euskadi, and we were still surrounded by the same friendly and inviting people we had grown accustomed to over the last two weeks. And while the people there spoke more French than Spanish, “Kaixo” and “Agur”(2) remained universal.

One noteworthy difference, however, was the embracing of Basque culture and French culture as an intertwined pair. This contrasts the common sentiment in the Spanish Basque culture, where people are Basque first and Spanish second. Basques are Spanish in that they live in Spain and they speak Spanish, but in almost all other respects, they are exclusively Basque. They even have their own government. The French Basques however, are definitely French. When crossing the border, one of the immigrations officers asked me, “If your professor is Basque, why doesn´t he speak French?” I found it interesting that the officer did not think to ask if our professor spoke Euskara(3).

Once we had arrived at our first destination of the day, Bayonne, we met up with Sandra Ott, author of Living with the Enemy. We had read this book prior to our departure, so it was really cool to meet the mind behind the work. Later in the day, she would provide a casual lecture on the subject, but first we had to eat. We gathered at a local restaurant and enjoyed an incredible three-course meal composed of traditional dishes and local ingredients. I was lucky enough to sit near Sandra, so while we ate, I learned a little bit about her past and how she ended up in the Basque Country. She had some wild stories, such as eating monkey in the Amazon, but what impressed me the most was her ability to throw herself headfirst into cultures with which she was completely unfamiliar. She is certainly someone who does not let fear of failure stop her from trying. Her strategy is to immerse herself completely into a culture and fumble through the learning stages until she has it figured out. She once mixed up the word for blanket and intercourse, but she and her host family had a good laugh and moved on. This was not only an amusing anecdote, but a perfect example of how cultural immersion (or any personal endeavor for that matter) should be. This was the kind of thing that inspired every one of us. And it is that same type of confidence that I have seen myself and my peers build on this trip 一 the kind of confidence that comes not from perfection but from acceptance of imperfection, from the knowledge that mistakes lead to improvement.

After our meal, we went to the Musée Basque/Euskal Museoa. Here, Sandra discussed her book and the process of writing it. She covered many of the same points and historical anecdotes that she had discussed in the book, however, this time, it was much more personal, which really brought the book to life. In her book, for example, she references a man named Thomas, who was denounced by his father for uncertain reasons. In person, however, she told us about how she came across his file in the archives one day and when she asked her host family about it that evening, she found out that the story of Thomas was, like many stories she came across, better off not discussed. This made it difficult for her to gather the information she wanted, which made me appreciate her book more. It made me realize that everything in it was hard earned. She had done some deep digging over the course of multiple visits. Many of us agreed initially that her book was dense with information and, at times, difficult to get through, but after her lecture, we all had a whole new appreciation for it. After her lecture, we walked around the museum and saw Basque art and culture, ranging from ecclesiastical architecture to pelota chisterak(4).

At the end of the day, we drove 30 or so minutes to the port city of Saint Jean de Luz. Inspired by Sandra, and equipped with a newfound sense of determination, we ventured into the city to explore. For me, this was the perfect opportunity to practice my French! I may have tripped up once or twice, but I had the confidence to put myself out there and try. I think that is one of the most important things we have discovered on this trip, and it is definitely something we will take home with us!

1.Basque Country
2.The Basque words for “hello” and “goodbye,” respectively
3.The Basque language
4.A chistera is a basket-like racket used in the sport pelota

Dressing the Part

Coming into this trip I had no idea what to expect; I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy the experience and be able to whole heartedly live in and learn from the trip, or if I would freeze up at the moment that anyone from the city spoke any amount of Spanish to me. Through the days I have spent here I have been waiting in apprehension towards the day I would have to do my blog post, and was worried if I would be able to apply myself appropriately throughout the activity as well as the actual act of writing about it the following day, especially given that the day I had chosen was going to have a “surprise activity”.

Moving to this Tuesday, July 25th, I woke up like any other day. I went to my classes, and then walked to the meeting place across the city to where we would begin that days endeavours with the University. We started at the San Telmo Museoa, in which we looked around and listened to audio about the history of the Basque region. We only had an hour to browse the various exhibits around the building, and as such we tried to go through it as quickly as possible. From the outside, the building is very interesting, covered with holes of different sizes, through which ivy is supposed to grow. This is as example of the architecture style that is very common in San Sebastian, as it is made to change with time, and eventually become part of the surrounding natural environment. The hope of the project is to make it blend in with the mountain behind it.

Picture of the San Telmo Museum Borrowed under the fair use law which states “fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” Image found at

Inside the museum we began by going through the section of the museum that contained various paintings, statues, and monologues relating to the ancient Greek gods and their respective lores. Following that we walked around the rest of the building, looking at the timeline of Spanish history, reaching from the Balleneros (Basque whalers) to the Spanish civil war.

After leaving the museum we all started waking to the Plaza de la Constitucion for the “surprise activity”. We weren’t sure what it was gonna be, however as we got very close we saw two people who instantly recognized Julian…. with trolleys of what seemed to be very old clothing. We were then told that we were going to put on the clothes in front of us, which turned out to be traditional Basque clothing for different roles in the community, and that we were going to walk through the old part of San Sebastian, “La Parte Vieja” holding various Basque objects.

Me with some Basque women

The outfit I had on was that of a Basque farmer, and I was told that my character was coming into town in his “fancy” clothing to peruse the town after selling the crops he had brought. In addition, I chose to carry an accordion, as I play the piano, to play around the town as I walked. As we walked down the streets dressed as farmers, musicians, shepherds, and housewives, the local and touristic people in the town smiled, took pictures, and talked to us in good spirits as we passed. It was very cool to see that even though we were just some American students dressed up, the clothing, accessories, and general appearance of our outfits made people happy, not just because it may have looked a little silly, but because it reminded them of their culture and local customs that used to be, some of which still persist in current times.

Me as a farmer with my trusty accordion

Going through the town playing the accordion, I felt like even though it was a silly activity, it really starts to represent what the study abroad program is all about. Through that hour walk we were able to gleam a bit of what the Basque culture was like, we were able to practice our Spanish as random people continued to come up to us, and most importantly to be able to raise our confidence in ourselves.

Picture of San Sebastian taken from the top of Urgull Mendia

Throughout this trip I have been continuously encouraged to try new things, and to develop my character. From the various strange and unique foods that populate the city to the amazing opportunities that we had to engage with the culture and populous, I have been provided the chance to figure out more for what I want in my life, as well as how I should carry myself in not only other cultures, but also my own. The people in San Sebastian have been nothing but kind and patient with everyone on the trip trying to develop their Spanish, as well as ready and willing to help whenever they can. I can’t wait to hopefully follow up this trip with one of my own, and immerse myself even further into what is España.

Adventures of San Sebastian

San Sebastian is a city that continues to offer something new each and everyday. The city has an abundance of culture, from its people, to its food to its traditions and much more. San sebastian has so much to offer and the accessibility to many extraordinary activities is within everyone’s reach.Throughout three days we were able to experience all sorts of different activities, from beaches to food to even traveling to other countries.

Saturday afternoon the group met outside the Miramar palace to discuss several topics, such as the last week in Spain and our trip to France the previous day.The Miramar palace was originally built in 1893, for Queen Maria Christina of Austria. The palace served as the royal family’s summer home for many years. Upon Queen Maria Cristina´s death, Alfonso XIII received the palace, but two years later was confiscated and was San Sebastian local government property. It would only remain San Sebastian local government property, as long as it continued to be the designated place for the president of the Republic to stay when he visited San Sebastian.
Unfortunately the palace has limited public visiting hours. However for what it lacks in indoor accessibility it makes up for with it’s beautiful landscape and scenery. The palace is set upon a hill that overlooks La Concha Bay, and offers yet another stunning perspective of the ocean. The palace also has great landscaping from it’s beautiful gardens to its well kept grass and is the perfect for weddings, several of which we saw. We were able to sit on the front lawn of the palace whilst discussing our upcoming final week all while being surrounded by utter beauty.

Sunday morning many of the group awoke with high hopes to travel to France on our free day. Unfortunately due to lack of transportation research, we came to the conclusion that that day trip would be better suited on Monday. We then proceeded to have a pretty ordinary day, filled with lounging on the Zurriola beach, and stopping for Pintxos, similar to tapas at the local bars. As we were heading home, seeming like we had not done anything spectacular, we were able to witness a french singer perform some traditional songs in French.

The beauty of a city like San Sebastian is that one can plan to do essentially the same thing every day, but each beach trip has something unique about it, such as the French performer. The city continues to change each day and continues to provide more opportunities for the locals and tourists to explore. Such as the Heineken Jazzaldia, a jazz festival hosted by San Sebastian each year, in the third week of July. This was the first jazz festival ever hosted in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe and this year, we are privileged to be able to witness it in our last week here.

On Monday, with more confidence in our travel itinerary we ventured to France. But as Murphy’s law says “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” was a seemly recurrent moto of the day. Our second train was delayed by two hours. With slight disappointment we decided to make the best of the situation and explore the city of Hendaye that surrounded the train station. Upon our return to the train station we were gifted yet another curve ball and were told that the bus would now be taking us to Biarritz rather than the train. With Biarritz, the coastal city still in mind we boarded the bus, which felt like the longest and bumpiest ride ever.

Despite all of our travel difficulties, we made it to Biarritz. The trip would not have been possible without our adaptability and determination. The city is located on the southern coast of France, and a strong Basque presences is felt throughout the stores, shops and restaurants. The majority of the city and beach overlooked the water and the ocean seemed to stretch out for miles. After dining at a restaurant that overlooked the ocean we were able to lay out on the beach and enjoy the sun and waves.

The last week while in Spain seems to be flying by, the opposite to what many of us felt when we first arrived in San Sebastian; that it would feel like we would be here for forever. Now as the time seems to be closing in, we all desire to experience all that San Sebastian has to offer in this short amount of time.

What I Learned in Boating School Is…

July 19th

Visit to the Basque Naval Museum

“The Basques helped the Americans before. Let’s see if they can do it again,” mused our professor Julian as our group studied the artifacts and signs of the Basque Naval Museum in Parte Vieja. Julian was referring to the fact that the Basques aided us Americans in our revolutionary war some two centuries ago, but I only fretted about how I’d be able to write my portion of the blog. The museum was on the smaller side, and we were only there for a few hours! What would there be to write about?

Originally, we were scheduled to travel to Idiazabal to learn about the process of cheesemaking, which sounded like a lot of fun, and a potential opportunity to snack on some tasty Basque cheese. Unfortunately, this plan fell through, so we opted for the naval museum instead, which brought about another case of finding the good in any situation, and that when traveling anything can change.

As I looked at the artifacts and read the information on the walls (a good number of which were fortunately in English!) I realized that I didn’t know much about the Basque people at all, and I wasn’t aware they existed until this trip. For example, did you know that the Basques were the most proficient whalers in the world? It was a crucial part of their livelihood, and they were experts at using at using all parts of the whale. They used the bones for making tools, corsets, and even umbrellas. We were informed the next day by Stuart, our Basque teacher, that Basque women were essentially the inventors of using the whale fat to make bars of soap as we think of them today. They were Europe’s main supplier of whale oil and whale products for a long time. Oh, and in case you wanted to know, the best material to create whaling boats out of, at least for a time, was oak wood. Since it was their livelihood for years, the Basques needed the best of the best.

I used to think I was fairly in touch with our Revolutionary War, but how come I don’t remember the Basques being mentioned in that context even once? Lafayette, one of our allies in the Revolution, had set a base in Pasaia in order to travel to America and aid us in our fight. Many Basque mariners and military personnel fought alongside us and the French against Great Britain. John Adams, considered to be one of the fathers of the American Constitution, took notes on how other European governments worked and decided the best model for America’s new government would be like that of Bizkaia, a province in the Basque country.

The U.S. is quick to tout its own patriotism during the fourth of July, that it is a strong nation for freeing itself from Britain’s rule, but I can’t recall a single time in which we thanked the French for giving us a hand in our secession on good ol’ Independence day, let alone for a culture that I bet a good number of Americans haven’t heard of. I feel now as if the Basques have been just out of my line of sight this entire time, and it’s only just through plunging headfirst into a different culture that I now know they existed at all. Could we have won our war without the aid of the Basques? I don’t think I’m fluent in history enough to answer that here, but history dictates that we won, and the Basques were there to help us out, so maybe it might behoove us to include the Basques in our Revolutionary discussions.

On the uppermost floor of the museum, the work of Ricardo Ugarte de Zubiarrain, a Basque artist, was being displayed. Every piece there was made out of parts of a ship, a characteristic of his work, thus connecting each of them to the sea, and giving them a unique, introspective narrative on the sea itself. Maybe it was just because of the knowledge that they were made out parts of ships, but each of them appeared to carry an abstract quality of belonging near the sea, as if the ocean breeze was meant to blow through the carefully sculpted holes and open loops. This artistic connection with the ocean made sense though. Basque culture was deeply linked with the ocean, as shown by their whaling proficiency. And as such, I feel culture can be described as the context in which we find our sense of self. For the Basques, the sea was an inseparable part of that. As someone who is studying art, I find myself looking not only for that inseparable piece of myself, but how others express it too.

To conclude: What I Learned in Boating School Is…The Basques are essentially an inseparable part of the American cultural idea of freedom, even if we don’t all know it — that idea being that liberty and justice are for all, because the Basques strongly believed this too. After all, our government was inspired by theirs.

Culture and Calling

Yesterday, we left the mainland we have come to know so well this past week and a half, and took a boat to the Isla Santa Clara, the “pearl” of La Concha Bay. There we swam at a “ghost beach” (one that disappears at high tide), discussed a novel by Gabriel Urza, “All That Followed,” and learned a beginner´s lesson in Euskera, the native Basque language.

As we began to discuss the themes and characters of the book, one particular theme was woven through the accounts of two characters, Marian and Iker: the theme of identity in relation to culture and current events of one´s country.

At their current time in Spain, the then-turned terrorist group of ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, Basque for “Basque Homeland and Liberty”) was actively assassinating politicians and other people of influence associated with the dictator Franco and his party, the Partido Popular (PP). On the one hand, Mariana is the wife of one such politician associated with the PP, while on the other, Iker is a student in segundaria (high school) who, along with his friend group, gathers after school to discuss and plan helping the cause of ETA. Though each holds a completely different association, their separate searches for identity illuminate the dominating effect that ETA has on their character development.

Mariana through the excuse of a transplanted kidney, which she believes came from a young ETA terrorist, discovers her wild and erotic side which she had suppressed in the context of her stale marriage. At the same time, Iker finds himself part of the only nearby interesting friend-group-turned-society, at which the latest ETA strikes are discussed, and acts of violence around the city are planned in detail, only to be quite seriously carried out in due time. These young people (14-20 years old) had found a cause with which to unite themselves, swept up into the distant yet dangerous ETA and the cause of nationality.

Perhaps I should discuss what it means to be “Basque.” The name of the Basque Country in the Basque language is “Euskal Herria,” meaning, “nation of Basque-speakers.” Thus, language is inextricably linked to the culture and identity of the Basque people. When Franco began to suppress the Basque language in the 1930s, he attempted to crush this part of Basque identity while seeking to culturally unite Spain by force. Amidst this blatant oppression, the organization of ETA, then a peaceful operation to preserve Basque language and culture, was born in 1959.


Location of the Basque Country (courtesy of Wikipedia)

One of the reasons that language stands as such a crucial piece of culture in the Basque Country is that it is one of three recognized pre-indo-european languages (alongside Lithuanian and Finnish). It is thought to be the oldest language on earth, as it has no traceable origin. Whereas the roots of English are found in Latin, Greek, and German, and the roots of Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian are found in Latin, while Basque has roots only in earlier versions of Basque.

Even though some speculate that Basque is connected in some way with Japanese, the unique historical experience of the Basques has set the identity on its very own course. One thing we were taught about this people is that when the Romans were conquering northern Spain (then called Vasconia), they did not see fit to attempt the defeat of the Basques, because of their strength and autonomy. Their history is riddled with other such stories of being tough fighters and suave negotiators. Whether these stories are true or based in some sort of mythology of the region, the self-perception remains. To themselves they are an independent region and people and, history seems to indicate, will continue to be for a long while.

Thus, through language and history, a Basque people is identified. It has become more evident to me now here than ever before the way in which these cultural settings affect the identity of members of society where the culture is propagated. No human being is born and raised without the influences of both language and culture effecting their identity. It is the cultural soup in which we all must swim if we are to be inhabitants of the earth. We are all in some sense products of our family, city, state, and country.

As a young person looking for purpose in life the situation of Iker and his desire for a cause greater than himself resonated with me. What college student or 18-25 year old in the United States isn´t yearning or searching for greatness of purpose in some way or another? The main pursuit of some is their career, their pursuit of knowledge, their religion, or the helping of others to make this world a better place. Each one of us young people is searching for the way we can be of use to the world, and not simply fall subject to our culture, but to rise up and contribute our strong voice into actions over time.

There is no person to whom the responsibility does not fall to find his calling and purpose. Let us, however, be aware of the strong forces of culture that could be causes that lead to ruin. Though Iker and his best friend were drawn into the purposes of ETA, a terrorist group that had become characterized by murder and violence, may we take this warning to be prudent and wise in considering our missions and reason for living, not only as citizens of the United States, but also as citizens of the world.

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.