A Big, Beautiful World

Throughout my time here in San Sebastián, I’ve learned so much about culture and how it brings people together. Being completely immersed in a new country, I now have a better understanding of why language is so powerful. Having been surrounded by more than one language all at the same time has allowed me to truly appreciate the art of language. We have had plenty of excursions throughout our whole trip, and culture and language have been huge focal points. There isn’t a day where I haven’t learned something new here in San Sebastián. 

For the majority of my time here, I’ve been learning Spanish. However, the native language here is Basque. Basque is unlike any other language and is no way similar to Spanish. Today, our class walked up to Mount Urgull for a Basuqe language class. We learned some basic Basque, which only showed me how difficult it was to learn a brand new language. San Sebastián prides itself on being the cultural capital of the Basque Country, so speaking the native language here truly identifies locals as Basque people. Frequently, you will hear people greet you in Basque, but then continue the rest of the conversation in Spanish. Our Basque class taught us how to greet others and say goodbye in Basque, which are the most commonly used Basque phrases when carrying a conversation with a local. It was really cool to get a taste of a new language while here in the Basque country. Undoubtedly, language is one of the most important gateways to communicating with people all over this Earth, making it a major necessity to those who wish to travel in their lifetime. 

Language is a major tool, that when utilized correctly, can immerse us in other cultures. However, it can also be a barrier. Sometimes, I have a hard time explaining what I want to say in Spanish, so I revert to using English. I’ve encountered many people here who also understand English in addition to their native language, as well as other languages. In America, our default language is English, of course, so many people do not take the time to learn any other language. However, because English is a universal language, everyone else outside of the US must put in an effort to learn English. Kids around the world are raised learning English, along with their own native language, which is something that is so fascinating to me. Since San Sebastian borders France, many locals here speak Spanish, Basque, French, and English. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to learn four languages all at one time. This enlightening experience has allowed me to have a new respect for people living outside of the US. Being surrounded by so many multilingual people made me realize that culturally, other countries are actually a step ahead of the US. 

The differences between Spain and the United States are quite noticeable. The closest thing that resembled America here was the robots that we were able to take a look at in the museum. We visited the San Telmo Museum, which contained exhibits of different types of machines and robots. Artificial intelligence is becoming very prominent in America, and it was surprising to see that the robots have made it to Spain, as well.

San Telmo Museum

Prior to arriving in Spain, I was working seven days a week, almost every week, leaving myself no free time. Countless hours of my days were spent doing things I didn’t want to do. However, these past three weeks in San Sebastián have consisted of beautiful, long days, where I’ve made the most of my time. Before traveling to Spain, I thought the best thing to do with my summer was work any chance I could, and, as a result, I was compensating all of my free time. My time here has brought me to the realization that life is short, so we must make the most of our days. Money is not as scarce as time, so we must take every opportunity we can to travel and experience everything that the Earth has to offer. If there is one thing I have learned here in San Sebastián, it’s that traveling will connect you to the rest of the world and make you aware that there is so much more beyond your home. 

Outside of my small home, there are sites, languages, and foods that I never even knew existed. There’s a big world left to be discovered, and this trip reminded me of just how beautiful our world really is. 

Atop of Mount Urgull

The Ancient Game of Jai Alai

Most people who know me can you tell you that I am a competitor in every sport. When I heard that I was going to be able to learn a new sport, I was literally jumping for joy. All week long my fellow classmates have been telling me to quiet down because I was talking about Jai Alai so much. I find sports, especially sports made from work, to be the most exciting thing to learn about. There is so much history in every rule and movement. We saw one player fall to the ground while launching the ball towards the wall. This takes a huge amount of stamina and strength to pull off.

The game originated from a game called handball. This game is very similar to a childhood game I used to play: Off The Wall. The whole premise of this game is to get the ball to hit the wall. However, the difference between my childhood game and handball is that the Basque’s hit a leather/wood ball with their hand while I threw a tennis ball. One sport is for grown men and mine is for kids. When I saw the similarity, I was immediately hooked and had to try it myself.

When the day came for the Jai Alai demonstration I couldn’t help jumping when I heard we were going to be able to try the game. As I walked in the arena, I felt an overwhelming wave of emotions that could only be described as a fierce historic awakening. I could feel all of the blood, sweat, and tears that have passed through this great palace of Basque culture. I could hear the screams of all the people when the arena would be full and gambling would run rampant. When we walked in we saw two players throwing this tiny ball at a marble wall, and each and every time it struck the wall a gunshot – “Boom!” – would echo throughout the entire arena.

We sat down in the front row and learned a little history of Jai Alai. The whole sport was made as a brief diversion from work but eventually evolved into a huge gambling scene in America in the 70’s through the 90’s and even to this day. Miami, Florida is still a huge scene of Jai Alai. Games would show extreme strength, endurance, and precision. This enticed many rich investors to support the budding sport and made it popular in the USA for a few decades. Eventually this newfound excitement for the sport died and Jai Alai is now a very niche sport not well known to many people around the world.

After learning about this incredible sport we saw an exhibition match between two pro players. Red vs. Blue. This was not just for fun, no, we were playing for a prize. I put my bets on blue. As the game progressed we saw each competitor tire and start to slow down. Nevertheless, they both pushed on to the end. One last “Smack!” against the stone wall ended the match with blue prevailing 18-15. I was thrilled. The prize was a green backpack with little doohickies but the gambling essence is always flowing through Jai Alai.

We then moved on to my favorite part: practicing Jai Alai in the court. From the stands the court doesn’t seem too huge, but it’s massive. I put the cesta on, the curved tool used the throw the ball, and man was that thing strapped on tight. We started throwing the ball, or at least trying to with little success, and it was time for yet another competition. Who could throw the ball the farthest. Most of us were pretty bad at throwing with the exception of two colleagues: Mr. Zabalbeascoa and Jimmy Burke. Mr. Z placed first but forfeited the prize, a t-shirt, to Jimmy in good spirit.

Learning about this sport was truly incredible. We all loved playing and learning about Jai Alai. The sport brings together two of my top interests, sports and history. The pure adrenaline that all sports produce just increases when you are playing the fastest ball sport in the world. I used to play baseball and the speed I throw compared to Jai Alai players is laughable. Overall, we had a great new experience. The idea of experiencing new things has been the central theme of this trip for me. Adding a new sport to my library just excites me to learn more about this ancient sport.

Visit to Guernica and Walk Atop Gaztelugatxe

The activities of July 13th saw two distinct excursions, the first being a visit to the Basque city of Guernica. Guernica, infamously known for the bombing attack it suffered on the 26th of April 1937, is most definitely one of the most beautiful and historic locations in the Basque Country. To begin our experience in the city, Professor Zabalbeascoa gave us a brief explanation of the city’s history and introduced us to the monuments of Jose Antonio Aguirre and George L. Steer. Aguirre, an activist for the Basque nationalist party, is held in high regard for his defense of the Basque Country during the Spanish Civil War while Steer is for his report and book on the bombing of Guernica. The bombing of the city, as part of Francisco Franco ́s plan to capture Bilbao and northern Spain for the Spanish Nationalists, is an example of innocence suffering at the hands of war, as it is believed that hundreds of civilians died that day. The Spanish Nationalists denied its involvement in the matter, but Steer ́s first hand report on the bombing revealed the truth about what had happened. Seeing the city pay homage to these two figures speaks levels about what the Basque value and appreciate regarding their history and independent pride.

The group then proceeded to take a tour of the Guernica Museum of Peace, viewing the many exhibits and artifacts from the bombing of 1937. This museum not only serves as a time capsule for the bombing, but as an opportunity to discuss and contemplate peace. The museum uses the history surrounded by the bombing of Guernica as a canvas to paint a picture of what peace truly is. At its simplest level, peace is a “positive energy deeply rooted in life,” which uses “non-violence in its battles,” to prove that “we can still change the world (Guernica Museum of Peace).” A victim of war, Guernica looks to use itself as an example of what can be appreciated and what can spawn out of such destruction: true peace.

Probably the most compelling and tragic of the exhibits in the museum was “La Casa de Begoña,” in which the group entered and were given the story of the simple citizen Begoña before and after the bombing. With stunning visuals and sounds to immerse yourself into her home and life before and after the destruction of the city, this exhibit truly put into perspective the personal and monumental devastation the bombing had on the people of Guernica.

We then visited “el Árbol de Gernika,” otherwise known as the tree of Guernica. We witnessed both the old trunk of the old tree and the new tree, a symbol of Basque freedom that prevailed through the bombings by the Spanish nationalists. It is easy to see why the tree is widely regarded as a manifestation of the Basque freedom and pride, as it stands strong and beautiful despite the destruction that occurred around it.

Professor Zabalbeascoa then gave us time to explore the city for ourselves, which me and a few others noted as time to eat. We grabbed pinxchos at a local restaurant and dined next to what appeared to be a contra dancing group. We ate and marveled at the wonderful show in front of us, the drums creating the rhythm for each individual to move their hands and feet to. I could not recall any reason for this showing, other than to simply celebrate the weather and company they were providing each other with, which further proves the spirit and pride of the Basque people.

Island of Gaztelugatxe

After reconveining with the others, we set out for our next adventure, the island of Gaztelugatxe. This island, even though I had never set foot on it or actually seen it for myself, already held a special place in my heart prior to the trip. Famous for being one of the set locations for HBO’s Game of Thrones, Gaztelugatxe proved to conjure much anticipation and excitement for me when I heard we would be walking to the hermitage atop it. I knew I would be ecstatic to see the location where most of Dragonstone was filmed, but actually being there and walking on the same steps that one of the world ́s most renowned stories took place was something I did not expect. Chills rolled down my back as I breathed in the salt air and watched people make the journey up the stone steps to ring the bell atop the island. The spectacle was incredible, and the journey breathtaking. Each step I took I could feel more sweat condense on my skin, and when I finally reached the top, I overlooked the island and reminded myself where I was, Dragonstone, and that made me smile. It was a day full of adventures and eye opening experiences, giving me even more stories for me to tell about my time here in the Basque Country.

Discussion from La Isla de Santa Clara

“Oh, crap, we’re gonna miss the boat!”

The wise words of Professor Z, that almost rang true, hastily got the eleven of us off of our bums to race—very, very carefully—down the steep cobblestone path towards the boat dock. Really, it was less of a race, and more of a try-not-to-trip-and-fall-but-we-need-to-make-it-off-of-this-island type of thing. As you do. Nevertheless, we made it, and thus ended our day. 

Before we thought we might have to swim home, our class had spent the previous few hours sunbathing on a sloping, grassy hill on La Isla de Santa Clara. We faced the brilliant sun, which for us perfected a concoction of sweat and blindness, and yet there was a sense of bliss among us as we discussed two books we had read previous to the trip.

As an English major, there’s little in this world that is more gratifying to me than a conversation analyzing not only the rich text that lies inside two covers, but also the history, politics, and personality that fed into it. However, discussing The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway while physically being in the region of Spain—Navarra—in which the story takes place has to top it all. Being me, this was my second time reading this book, and being a few years older than I was the first time, I picked up on a lot more, especially within the characters. I think in order to really read Hemingway you need to read his works multiple times, as his use of “iceberg” writing is magnificent, and therefore vague and confusing at any point that you let your brain lag a little. 

In discussing The Sun Also Rises, we learned from Professor Z about a lot of historical context, which segued into talking about the second book, Homeland, by Fernando Aramburu. This book is not only an amazing read, but has incredible insight into the time of the Spanish Civil War when the country was terrorized by Franco’s fascism and also ETA, the Basque terrorist organization that disbanded only two years ago. 

Since San Sebastian is located in the Basque Country, we are fortunate enough to have the Basque culture present just outside the borders of the city; going on day trips, we often see signs that read:

Tourists remember:

This is neither Spain, nor France.


There are also flags seemingly everywhere that symbolize the fight to return Basque prisoners to the Basque Country. For the last so many decades, the Spanish government dispersed ETA prisoners into all parts of Spain and France, including the Canary Islands. This was done to prevent the prisoners from conspiring with each other, but it has taken a drastic toll for the families of the prisoners. 

As we learned from Homeland, the Basque people place an incredible amount of emphasis on “home.” To keep the prisoners a train or even a plane ride away takes away their basic rights to see their family.

Strangely, while having our discussion on La Isla de Santa Clara, I felt very connected to home, 3,500 miles away. The prejudice the Basque people face is, I think, related to the crisis we have going in the U.S. Our government, by trying to enforce a system that maybe we should reevaluate, has taken away one of the most important rights a person can have: to be with their family. And, to be honest, I felt and still feel somewhat fearful that immigrants and their allies will have to fight, scream, and die for as long as the Basque people have in order to be heard and helped. 

That being said, I think it’s encouraging to see that people are unrelenting in their fight as I hope we are across the ocean. Additionally, in learning about the Basque people, I have realized something about the world. I love to travel because I love to learn about different cultures, peoples, and lands. I love to feel connected to all things living. But after travelling to many different countries on multiple continents, developed and developing, my mind has synthesized what I have observed and have been fortunate enough to be a part of.

Akin cultures can exist everywhere in the world, not dependent on location, language, or skin color. Humans suffer in very similar ways, whether through the faults of others or independent causes; and, though the way we handle damage is personal, as societies, it shapes us into one united body. Through suffering also comes the realization of what we actually need for survival. 

Among those is family. Some of the greatest feats that have been performed have been for family and for love. And, while I long for my home with a growing sense of appreciation that seems to occur each time I leave, I am in utter awe at the speed at which my classmates and I have eased into a family-like bond, even though we are only halfway through our trip. It leaves me with the notion that maybe we can have multiple homes, since our hearts can be in so many places with so many people at once. I know, for me, it is possible. 

Say Cheese

It has always been a dream of mine to travel and explore the beauty that the world has to offer. This is, however, my first time traveling out of the Americas. That being said I did not know what to expect from this trip. I have had friends and family members who have traveled to Europe and even Spain, and I have heard all of the glorious stories they told. But I knew that in order to truly understand what they were saying, I would need my own authentic experiences. Thanks to this study abroad trip I have been able to explore deeper into the beautiful country of Spain than I could on my own. With various group trips and immersive experiences, I have been able to get a sense of what life is like everyday for the Basque people. 

With that said, one of our group excursions was to the little town of Idiazabal. This town is famous not only in the Basque Country, but surrounding countries, as well. This is because of the rich, delicious cheese that is all natural and wonderfully crafted. For generations, the Aranburu family has been gifting others with the production of their mouth watering cheese. 

The trip began with one of the more scenic drives I have witnessed. Rolling green hills dotted with red tile roof houses and scattered livestock. The peaks and valleys were many and seemed to grow in magnitude the further we went. As we drove further into the rural parts of the Basque Country, the sense of traditional lifestyles was prominent. Upon entering the cheese factory, that is exactly what was displayed. 

Professor Z has never taken his students on this specific excursion before, so this experience was going to be new for everyone involved. Some students had mixed feelings about learning how to make sheep cheese and spending the day inside a factory, but others were excited. I personally was interested because I knew that an experience like this is beautifully unusual, and it would shine a light on the intricate details of Basque history and culture. 

Once the bus stopped and we stepped outside, the small town of Idiazabal was vastly different than the city we have become used to: San Sebastián. Little roads paved the way to fields and herds of livestock. In order to get to the factory, we had to walk up a hill, keeping our eyes open for my sign of this factory. We arrived at what we thought was the correct building and waited. Soon a man stumbled out, rubbing his eyes as if just waking from a nap. We were told to wait some more, so I took the time to take in my surroundings. It’s not often that you are located in a town like Idiazabal, one without the tourist scene and rush of everyday life. Life here was slower, more authentic and laid back. I couldn’t imagine a better place than that for some of the best cheese in the world to be made. 

Once we were let inside, we were introduced to an old man who has been making cheese for his entire life. He showed us how cheese used to be made before there was technology, and it was fascinating. With a controlled temperature of sheep milk, a wooden spoon made from twigs, and a secret ingredient, cheese was made in front of our eyes. This secret ingredient was the stomach of a lamb that has only been fed milk its entire life. This makes for the purest stomach, and it even smells like cheese itself. Once the stomach is added to the milk, the small batch took roughly 30 minutes to start to solidify. During this time, we learned a lot about the process they use today with machines and many details about their specific history. There were many interesting facts we were able to pick up along the way, such as their relation to the famous wine family that is towns over who make the Txakoli wine. These two families account for so much of the culture within the Basque Country, and it was cool to see the connection. 

Once we learned about the cheese, we were able to try it ourselves. We walked to the back of the factory through racks of cheese and machines to the table set up with samples. We tried 4 different kinds, which were regular, smoked, aged and smoked and aged. Each had a unique flavor, but the consensus best was the smoked cheese. We were shown how to eat the cheese, and as simple as it sounds, there is a technique. And if anyone knows how to eat cheese properly, it is these Basques. With the tasting done and our stomachs full of cheese, we headed out for a farewell picture and one last moment that was as cool as any. Jesús the cheesemaker let us in on a Basque handshake that was simple, yet personal. That moment to me was authentic as any and made me feel accepted by the Basque Country.

Guernica Exhibit

Art has never been something that I was very interested in. Visuals are difficult for me to analyze immediately, and I do not always see the point of a famous art piece’s reputation. Why are certain pieces the ones that manage to succeed more than others? Why is one painting famous when another is not? How is someone actually deserved to be called a good artist? My understanding of deeper meanings like these typically finds itself in pieces of writing or music pieces but ceases to exist in most other cases. Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica, however, is one of the few art pieces that I feel I can see for what it is. It has always interested me in general, but after visiting both the painting itself as well as a local art exhibit in San Sebastián solely focused on the one painting, I believe that my understanding of Guernica and physical art in itself has been truly developed more than I ever expected it to. In Madrid last week, I had the pleasure of seeing the painting in person. Yesterday in San Sebastián, I had the pleasure of seeing an exhibit on the painting with my classmates.

When I saw Guernica in Madrid, it was heavily guarded by multiple museum security guards, as well as multiple roped off areas. People were struggling to fit into spots to admire this amazing work, so much so that it almost took away from the experience itself. Tired in a big city on my second day ever out of America, I was both grateful for and oblivious to the rare opportunity I had been given.

Coming to the exhibit in San Sebastián was a completely different experience. With our own guide to show us around the two small rooms, we huddled around projections of Picasso’s process as well as rough cuts of each fragment of the piece. A man working in the exhibit stood before us and explained the significance of each slide and clipping as we watched in awe. We saw changes that Picasso himself decided to make between stages of the 5-week creation, and we were told the multiple contradictory meanings to the painting’s aspects that Picasso himself told throughout his life. We learned things including the exact size of the huge painting as well as the places it has been exhibited since (fun fact: Cambridge, MA, is on the list!). We saw close ups of the damage that had been done to Guernica during its travels between museums as well as how workers transported the painting to begin with, and heard stories of other artists’ defamation of the painting out of political frustration. Even after seeing the real, physical painting in Madrid, I never would have known some of the information we received yesterday. These were the hidden treasures of Guernica’s past, and a clearer deciphering of the piece than I have ever received before.

While seeing Guernica in person was breathtaking and did not quite seem real, there was something different about learning the history of it with my new family in our temporary home. We have spent the past week together seeing San Sebastián and the art that it holds— from colorful graffiti on our school’s building to photography exhibits around the corner to the man who paints nightly on the street above La Concha— and at that moment in this small exhibit, I realized how lucky we are to be here in this small city with each other. Some people don’t get to step foot in such a finely put together art exhibit, never mind one in Spain, but there we stood yesterday. Other people get to see the same things that we did, but do not have genuine people to do it with. This group is being granted the ability to see all the beauty and art San Sebastián (and Spain in general) has to offer for these three weeks, and we are doing it together. Eight months ago if someone had told me that I would be here in Spain today with ten people who I get along with perfectly and have come to love in a matter of one week by my own choice, I would have laughed as a natural response. Somehow, though, I am here, learning to appreciate the art the surrounds me at every second of the day no matter where I am. What better way is there to spend my time in San Sebastián than with my friends?

Daytrip to Txakoli Winery in Zarautz and Surrounding Cities (July 6)

Some of the Txakoli wine

Hello, Blog! I am Nicholas Coughlin and I am going to be a Junior at UMass Lowell this coming fall. I took this trip to kickstart my goal to learn a new language. This morning starts off with me and my new friends walking to the bus stop. The walks here are amazing.  The wind always cools me as I walk by the river.  This sensation is enhanced when I happen to pass by a bakery and the sudden scent of fresh baked goods wafts past. As I walk closer to the bus stop, I see people dressed in vibrant white clothes as well as a piece of red clothing. What I have heard is that they are going to the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

The next thing we do is board the bus and embark upon the sinuous ride to the winery with displays of rolling fields of green and beautiful houses. As we traverse through the beautiful countryside, we start to climb a hill towards the winery. On the left, I see a beautiful golf course right near the water. It reminds me of playing golf with my brother. Once we reach the top of the hill, I see a beautiful vineyard like the ones you see on television or on the bottles of wine that someone would buy in the store. A kind woman approaches us and starts to give us a tour of her winery and explains the process of making wine. She explains that the grapes are ready for harvest in late August, and she tells us that among all the txakoli wineries they make about four million bottles of wine a year. She continues to show us where they store the wine and discard any of the grape remnants. Lastly, she shows us where they bottle the wine. Also, she told us that she was the fifth generation of wine makers in her family and that her sister ran the wine making process as she does the sales portion. Once we learn the process and go in the cold storage area where the wine is fermented, we go up to a balcony to taste the wine with some appetizers. The appetizers consist of cheese, bread, tuna and chorizo. Chorizo is a sausage that is savory and is very common here. My host mom uses it all the time for dinner.

The first wine that she brought out was their famous Txakoli wine. It is a white wine with a little bit of natural carbonation to it. For me, it tasted really good. Then they brought out their rosé wine and that was not too bad either. Of the two, I preferred the white wine more. But the big thing that stood out was the views. I felt like I was in a movie.  The vines seemed to go on forever on a sloped hill as the brilliant blue sky seemed to bring it all together.

After the tour, we went to a city right near the winery and started to walk around the streets. The beach there was beautiful and the water looked refreshing as well. We continued to walk around until we met two guys playing guitar and drums. As one began to sing, I took a video to capture the memory of his beautiful voice. At the end of the walk, we went to get gelato. The next stop on the trip was another city. And as soon as we got off the bus, we saw four kids playing a game of handball. This is a game where they would take their hands and hit the ball against the wall until someone would mess up and the other team would score. The crowd cheered as the teams scored. Then, to the right of the court was what seemed to be a drum line. We watched them for a bit and they played really well while changing beats at a good pace. When they finished, we continued on to get some food and I got my favorite dish which was tortilla. Tortilla is a type of dish that is like quiche but fluffier and better tasting. It can have anything in it but I prefer the plain one with potatoes and onions. Later, we returned to the handball courts to be picked up for our return to our home.  One of my friends went over to play some handball with one of the kids. I saw that he was enjoying it so I joined with another friend and it was really fun!

Finally, we boarded the bus and went back to San Sebastián. The trip overall was amazing.  Not only did I get to see the beautiful winery, but I got to see what the weekend life was like for the locals. It put things into perspective of how things don’t need to be so complicated, and to enjoy life how it is. 

Expectations of San Sebastián

Before coming on this trip I was honestly really scared and had no idea what to expect. I was scared of meeting so many new people because, typically I’m an introvert unless I’ve known you for a while. I’m also not the best at small talk so I didn’t know if I was going to connect with anyone in the group. After the first couple of nights I started to became close with everyone. We all just vibe really well and could joke around as if we already knew each other prior to the trip. After realizing what a great group we had I couldn’t wait to spend more time with them and really get to know them. This was a surprise to me because usually I have a hard time getting comfortable with and liking new people.

So far my time in San Sebastián has taught me that I really need to be willing to try new things, even if I think I won’t like it at least I can say that I tried it. Today, after sitting in a Spanish class that seemed like it would never end since all I could think about was food, our professor took us on a pintxo tour in Gros. Starting off this tasting tour we had the opportunity to try what is believed to be the first ever pintxo called, Gilda made of peppers, olives, and anchovies. Despite all of the professors efforts to get me to try this one I sat out of it because I knew I just wouldn’t enjoy it although others really seemed to, I was not one to jump at the thought of anchovies and olives.

While I didn’t try the famous Gilda pintxo I tried something during this tour that I thought I would never even think to eat and that is meat that was completely pink in the middle, it was practically still alive. Anyone that knows me knows that I can’t even stand when others around me eat raw meat, typically I am disgusted by the thought of it, but I’m so happy that I tried it because I then realized I’ve been missing out. My advice to those who haven’t tried it is not to shame raw meat by its looks like I have always done, but to give it a chance because it could change your mind, or possibly make you gag.

Throughout this tour I ate food that didn’t even look like it was edible and I loved every second of it. This tour was like a heaven for me because I love food and could literally eat all day long if I could, or so I thought before going on this tour of literally eating everything in sight.

By the end of this tour I was filled with so many different kinds of amazing food, my favorite of course being the tortillas, I probably eat at least one a day. We finally ended this tour by stuffing gelato and coffee down our packed stomachs because as everyone knows, there is always room for dessert.

Once this tour was over and we were all nice and bloated we went over to La Concha, the most beautiful beach I have ever been to and the fourth most beautiful beach in the world, and met with the rest of the group that was already there. After waiting a while and walking all my food off so I wouldn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean, I tried to swim but it was just too cold for me so I sat back and watched as there were people swimming farther out than I could even see. Relaxing on the beach was when I realized how lucky I am to be in Spain with one of my best friends and I’m lucky to have met so many amazing people. I then thought to myself that not many people even have the opportunity to travel let alone with their closest friend.

Even though I haven’t been here long I feel like being on this trip has changed my outlook on meeting new people and opening up to things I’m not usually comfortable with and this is something I know I’ll be grateful for in the future. This trip has given me great food and new friends that I’ll hopefully still hang around with once we’re all back to our regular lives.

While I’m still the same girl that cracks way too many jokes and can’t take anything seriously, I feel as though San Sebastián has given me a new version of myself that I didn’t even know was in me and I’m excited to see what opportunities come next.

Day Two: Pintxo Tasting

Sitting in my Spanish class at Lacunza yesterday morning, my leg jiggled wildly as I
watched the minutes pass leisurely in the way days expire here in San Sebastián. My mind struggled to focus on the lesson unfolding before me in addition to the piles of pintxos that awaited me in the bars throughout La Parte Vieja. My stomach growled and I thought of the almuerzo m​y host mother handed me this morning, sitting uneaten in my bag in order to preserve every square inch of space in my stomach for the incredible food experience my peers and I were about to embark upon. When the bell finally resonated through the halls I practically jumped from my seat in my rush to make my way towards the lobby, where our small group was set to leave from. We left the building consumed in lively chatter and began to make our way towards the old town, our minds open and our stomachs empty.

We started our pintxo tasting tour, which was led by our professor Julian Zabalbeascoa, at a bar called Haizea, that serves ​Gilda―​the supposed first pintxo ever created―composed of an olive, pickled guindilla peppers, and salted anchovies. Most of our group cringed at the description of this infamous bite sized morsel. Despite our initial reaction to the ​Gilda​ the plate Julian brought us emptied rapidly, and our first pintxo was chased down by glasses of cool Txakoli w​ine.The drinks were poured an entire arms length away from each glass, and the purpose of this seemingly messy action is to give the alcohol aeration, allowing the liquid to bubble delicately as it is drunk. For many members of our group this mouthful was hard to swallow, something new and foreign and nerve wracking, but everyone embraced this new experience with appreciation.

Following our first real taste of San Sebastián at Haizea, Julian led us through more of La Parte Vieja. For the following three hours, we bounced from bar to bar, eating pintxos until we thought it impossible to eat another bite. While joking about gaining weight as a result of the incredible food in the city the day before, we adopted a new nickname for our full stomachs―pintxo pouches, and did we ever fill them up during our tour. We ate everything in sight: croissant topped with ​bacalao​ (salted cod), tartlets filled with spider crab, sliced eggplant on toasted bread that was piled high with fried onions and peppers. Our stomachs rumbled no longer, and some of us even groaned when he announced we still had more stops to go. We

discussed the city as we walked, listening as our instructor described the best places to get certain dishes, the culture of pintxo bars, and the history of the surrounding area. We stopped on more than one occasion to pet dogs as we made our way, struggling to politely ask in broken Spanish (which many of us need to practice desperately during the three short weeks we have here). Our afternoon was filled with endless joy, trying so many new things in quick succession; all the while taking in the unlimited sights, sounds, and ​sabores t​ hat San Sebastián has to offer.

The final stop on our tour was the one we had all been patiently awaiting―La Viña. Reviewed by travel writers and news sites alike, this restaurant is home to the “world’s best cheesecake”, which is made using only a handful of ingredients. This concoction called ​gazta tarta​ is carmelized to perfection and lacks a crust, but with the creamy texture inside and mouthwatering taste, this desert hardly needs one. We all sat outside on the ground eating our final treat, reflecting on the afternoon, and as our time together in this moment began to pass, someone in the group kicked over my espresso. At home I would have been annoyed or horrified by the mess, but on San Sebastián time, it mattered little. I just quietly appreciated the fact that it didn’t burn anyone or soak my pants. And pondering on that moment made me realize the sense of appreciation this trip has filled me with, a feeling I know my peers are experiencing as well. At times during the day I was overwhelmed by it: appreciation towards my host family, for the new friends I have made, for the incredible food I am surrounded by, towards myself for stepping out of my comfort zone. I know this affection for every experience I have will only continue and grow throughout my time in the city; an affection I will take home with me at the end of my three weeks here. And how lucky I am to be reminded of this in San Sebastián, of how simple it is to give thanks, of how easy it is to spin anything into a positive. No need to cry over spilled café con leche, right?

Realizations of Day 1

I would consider myself a pretty well-traveled individual. I’ve been to Europe several times and toured in placed like Italy, Spain, Germany, and Portugal. I was given these opportunities through my high school exchange trips and with my orchestra. Although I’ve been to Europe quite a bit, I have never stayed in such a small city before, and more specifically, I’ve never been to an area similar to the Basque region. Is it really all that it’s said to be? Are the beaches really as beautiful as everybody s saying? What makes pintxos such a delicacy? I could not wait to explore and discover all that the city has to offer.

In order to familiarize ourselves with the city, we were taken on a walking tour with a professor from Lacunza. Along this two-hour guided adventure, jam-packed with historical background, insider tips, and Julian’s favorite shops, we went to the greatest gelato shop in the entire world (and no, I am not exaggerating). We all stared at the options through the glass container, trying to think of the best flavors to choose. I treated myself to Kinder Bueno and Ferrero Rocher while others tried flavors like Cookies, Oreo, Mango, and Tiramisu. Pictured below is the snack I received, and just seeing the picture makes me wish I had more.

We took our snack to our next stop; La Concha, the fourth most beautiful beach in the world. People were swimming, relaxing, and enjoying the view. The ships danced in the water as the birds flew overhead. As I watched the waves crash on the shore, as the mist touched my skin, as I watched the children run around and play, I came to a realization; I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime here. It is important to note that I’ve only been to Europe through school trips or organizations. While on the trips, we would have a structured itinerary, supervision at almost all times, extensive rules, and sometimes we were not even allowed to be seen without a partner due to safety precautions. To be fair, it was in high school and when the groups comprised of younger people, but overall the trips I’ve experienced have been planned for me. During this trip, however, we are responsible for getting to Spanish on time, participating in the cultural classes, and representing ourselves and the university in a respectful manner. Aside from that, we are free to go about the city as we please. With that comes plentiful opportunities to try new foods, learn about the local culture, and, most importantly, learn more about ourselves. I’d say the independence factor is the thing I look the most forward to on this trip, aside from getting more of the gelato.

The next stop was to a point overlooking all of La Concha and the ships. Here we introduced ourselves and discussed the activities that the trip entails. As each activity was introduced, I could feel myself getting more and more excited about the trip. We get to have a Basque language class, paella making class, and free time, where one could probably find me taking a surfing class or at the shops. Pictured below is just one of many pictures I will collect of the beach. It is easy to see why La Concha was rated so high.

After our group discussion overlooking the beach was completed, a majority of us headed to the city where we tried pintxos for the first time, explored the shops, and just discussed how excited we were for the trip. It was awesome just being able to walk around and see what the city has to offer; there is always something new around every corner! I particularly like the textures, colors, and architecture on the buildings. While we were walking around, I came to another realization; I have some pretty cool people around me. One thing that I learned while traveling is that no matter what destination, what season, or what event, the people surrounding you can either make or break your experiences. I could easily tell from the laughter we all shared, the stories we told, and the excitement in the air every time we discovered something new that this group is going to have a great time.

Day one ended in a flash. Before I knew it, I was laying in my bed, journaling about the day’s experiences. Yet at the same time, the day seemed endless. In a city where the sun does not set until 9:45 PM, it is easy to wonder how it’s only mid-afternoon. The next three weeks hold so much potential and I can’t wait to see what it has to offer.