Recap session 1

As I am parting ways with San Sebastián I reflect on a trip of a lifetime. My fellow students and I hopped onto a plane and set off to study in a small city in Spain. We would later come to find out we were living in a unique city in the Basque country. Not your typical paella and tapa dishes one could expect upon traveling to España. 

Now I almost do not want to write about how special this place is as I have found this city is so enjoyable because one can immerse themselves into the basque culture, rather than being a typical tourist sightseeing in large crowds. There is so much to learn about the Basque culture and this is because the people that live in San Sebastián want to share all these glorious aspects around town.

As a student that knew minimal Spanish it seemed crazy to pack up and head off to Spain, all though felt very at peace immediately once the Basque people were happy to assist in any way possible. Whether teaching small words in the homeland Basque language to later impress the next bartender you see or special lookout areas along the beaches to enjoy the sunset from. Often times I was greeted by a smile and the questionable hello? to give a warm welcome hoping my language was English. Little things like this are appreciated when in a foreign country. The warmth and lightheartedness felt within the city made San Sebastián feel like a home very quickly. 

Session one did experience the true San Sebastián glories. Waking up with showers in the morning turning to a wonderful beach day come 1pm! A surprise like no other, as if it was meant to happen. Perhaps rain all day which led to exploring old town in which we were on the hunt to try some new pintxos. Whether it was squid in its own ink or the classic gilda pintxo with peppers and anchovies and olives, students were willing to try whatever was presented. Should there of been a question to which was our favorite pintxo or restaurant, most were too busy enjoying their time to remember each great things experienced. But, the spicy meatball at Bartolo is one to beat. Now after a couple days of being adventurous of course there were some trips to the Australian Açaí shop or the Italian restaurant for some pasta. Once there was sunshine and not a cloud in the sky students could not help but run to zurriola to swim in the large waves or even surf with some friends they had made at school. All these treasures cannot compare to another place, the weather can switch up and the basque are ready to conquer it as you should be too if traveling there!

With the city being designed around the wonderful beaches the corners of the city are very far apart in which a bike came in handy every single day. Every day there was a new encounter with these bike rides. Something was bound to happen within the 24 hour day right? Shoe laces and pants were commonly caught in the gears of the bike causing a masacre of grease that one can only laugh at. Maybe even when a shoe lace gets stuck the bike tips over and down goes the person along with the bike. These experiences made traveling around a lot more enjoyable. We laughed while getting yelled at police for riding down the wrong way or attempting to ride one handed to get our cameras out to capture the beautiful scenery on these glorious white and green bikes! 

Now anyone traveling within Europe understands how easy it is to explore within trains and buses. I am very glad I took this opportunity to go and experience new places near San Sebastián. To those who enjoy fiestas and fun the San Fermin festival is for you. Held in Pamplona July 6-14th every year brings great fun and thrill. Bull runs or even if up to it bull fights, those weren’t for me. As well Madrid holds the Royal Palace and many gorgeous Plazas worth exploring for a few days.

San Sebastián will hold a special place in all of our hearts. Maybe even some will return to study more there. Take in the beauties each and every day, something I will live by after having a breathtaking 3 weeks!

Santa Clara Island

The day began at good old Lacunza. We practiced our Spanish, grabbed lunch and headed straight to the beach! 

It was a little cloudy, but not rainy. An absolutely lovely beach day. When evening eventually rolled around, we met up with Julian and his friend Ander, who used to be  representative of the Basque Country in North America. We boarded our boat and we were off to the island!

There’s a small island in the bay of La Concha Beach. It has a tiny beach that disappears with the tide, and some gorgeous views. People paddle board, kayak and even swim out to it every day. Just another amazing thing San Sebastián has to offer!

View of the island from the beach

After hiking up a little ways, we sat in a patch of grass with a view of the ocean. We discussed the differences between life here and back in America with Ander. 

We talked about how the work-life balance is much better here in the Basque Country. It is easier to get time off here if it is difficult for you to work for any reason. Maternity AND paternity leave are both 18 weeks. And everyone takes a break in the afternoon for a “siesta,” which means nap. The life expectancy is much longer here because people are way less stressed out. 

After our talk, we walked back down to the ferry. It was a beautiful evening and a very enjoyable ride back. 

After the boat ride, we had hake in green sauce for dinner, which is a very popular dish around here. Then we spent the rest of the night walking around the city! Just another perfect day in San Sebastián 🙂

Free Weekend

Along the coast of northern Spain, on the beach of Zurriola was where you could find the waves sending each and every one of my classmates and I into the “washing machine”.  After taking a very brief lesson we headed into the ocean to attempt to surf some waves.  Few were successful, many had tumbles, but there were laughs to last a lifetime. Will was lucky enough to escape post-washer machine hair, unlike the rest of us.  We had a fantastic instructor who taught us the basics of surfing and helped us onto the waves that were very rarely surfed once we got into the water. Going into this experience, I hadn’t expected it to be as challenging as it was, as for the past couple of weeks we’ve been watching many surfers out in the waves during the days and into the evenings on Zurriola. The professionals truly make it look easy.

Regardless of our surfing abilities we all had the best time and again, tons of laughs. However, by the smiles on everyone’s faces and by the fact that we were all able to walk away on our own two feet I’d say our success rate was through the roof!

Some honorable mentions include Will and Maggie, they are on the road to pro!!

Just outside of the bay where the beautiful city of San Sebastián lies would be one of the coolest experiences of my life with a few of my friends. We decided to see the landscape of the breathtaking Basque Country from a new perspective on a sailboat letting the wind lead us on our next adventure. Our cruise was guided by a man native to San Sebastián, who also finds himself spending time on his family farm out in Pamplona. Thanks to his knowledge of the area and love for sailing we learned a lot, saw lots of beautiful sights and had ourselves a night with some gorgeous weather.

Emma had some time at the wheel, but don’t worry, she has her sailing license!

The sun began its descent as we entered back into La Concha bay. Our guide set up an amazing dinner for us.  The display highlighted some of the most famous pinxtos of the Basque Country including the Gilda pinxto and a wide variety of meats.

One of our favorite parts of our cruise was the gorgeous sunset we were able to watch at the end of the night.  We knew how much we were going to cherish this night, it’s not everyday you get to watch a sunset like that.

We had an early morning the next day, rode our bikes to the train station, hopped on a bus and five and a half hours later would find ourselves in Madrid.  We didn’t really know exactly what to expect after spending the last two weeks in San Sebastián, but found Madrid to be just as exciting. There was a lot to see with such little time, as we were spending just over twenty four hours there we first came across Plaza Mayor.  The Plaza was a bit overwhelming at first, the atmosphere had a completely different vibe than San Sebastián.  But the vibrant colors and beautiful architecture was unique in its own way and we ended up enjoying our time in Plaza Mayor.  The Plaza was also where we would later clear our firsts plates of paella, an authentic Spanish dish.  Maggie loved it so much she got it for lunch the next day!     

That same night, trying to make the most of our time in Madrid, we attended a Flamenco dance show.  The theater was stunning, the walls decorated from top to bottom and the stage illuminated by a garland of lights. It was already a sight to see and the show hadn’t even started yet!  There wasn’t an inch of wasted space as people filed in waiting for the dancers to come on stage.  There were five performers: three dancers, one singer and one guitarist.  Watching from our table we were mesmerized by the talent, passion and energy each of the dancers brought to the stage.  There were so many intricate details within the Flamenco dance, from the stomp of their heels to the movement in their fingertips, to say we were impressed would be an understatement.

We ventured to the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral for our last day in Madrid.  The Royal Palace was breathtaking, not only for its appearance, but also the fact that it contains over three thousand rooms.  Inside the palace was stunning, the walls were covered in embroidery and the ceilings painted and sculpted to form beautiful works of art.  The Almudena Cathedral would also be a place I would never forget.  There was something to see in every corner and once again the artwork in the stained glass and architecture was picturesque.  Pictures truly couldn’t do these places justice. 

Cooking Class

After beach day just the day before, I looked at the weather app and was ready for some pouring rain as usual. I walked out of my room with a rain jacket to prepare for the unpredictable periods of rain throughout the day. Fortunately enough, today began with a nice weather of on and off sun, which is better than gloomy skies that we get usually. I enjoyed the sun by going to the park next to our school during the break. Although I was sunburnt from yesterday, I still love the feeling of the sun on my skin so I ended up extending a few minutes of break to soak up the sun. 

For lunch, me and my friends from the school got Thai food together. The food gave me the feeling of home since it is similar to my mom’s cooking. 

Our Thai food takeout

5 pm rolls around and I’m riding on my bike along the beach to meet up with our professor and classmates for the cooking lessons. We met up and walked to the “Cofradía Vasca de Gastronomía”, a gastronomic society where members of the society have access to the kitchen and dining area to dine whenever they want. The idea of meeting up to dine elsewhere besides one’s house intrigues because it’s so different from home. 

We were welcomed by Oniza as soon as we walk in and she showed us different parts of the property. 

The international gastronomical library and the 4 paintings from 16th to 19th century from left to right.

Oniza talked about the library and some of the Spanish history. The books are donated from the people in the neighborhood and there were still more that she hasn’t gone through. She also went over the Destruction of San Sebastián in 1813, which destroyed the city of its beauty. The solution to recover from that tragedy was to have fiestas. The people would have parties all the time and sometimes 24h fiestas.

Pirate costumes and props that people used to dress up for 24h fiestas. 

Finally, it’s time to start cooking. We started off by making the dessert because it takes the longest to make. Aritz, the chef, showed us with the first cake and we helped with a few steps on making the second one. We helped with making pintxos and some of the steps of the two dishes but mostly it was the work of the amazing chef. 

The results of the cake
A dish with cod fish stuffed inside red peppers and heavy cream with red pepper sauce. The Spanish name for the dish is “Pimiento relleno de bacalao” 
Fish and clams with green sauce dish. 

Each dish was special and has a unique taste that I’ve never had before. Out of all the dishes, my favorite would have to be the cake for dessert. The almonds on top were crunchy and accompanied the cream well. The day ended with a very delicious dinner and that’s all it takes to make me happy.

Monte Urgull

After a chain of rainy days and much too cold temperatures compared to late Junes we were used to, Tuesday welcomed us with a warm sun at last. Our commute to school was much more blissful than the day before, where just 24 hours prior we were trekking through pouring rain. Itching to soak up as much sun as we could, a small group of us decided to go to the park next to the school on our break. The park is known as Parque de Cristina Enea, noted for its beautiful scenery and exotic animals (although after just over a week of exploring we have begun to suspect the peacocks might be an old wise tale). 1:00 soon came and we dashed to our bikes, heading to Zurriola, the closest beach to the school. Lately we have found ourselves ditching Google Maps as we become more acquainted with the city, allowing us more freedom to enjoy the beautiful days. Some stayed at the beach all day, some wandered, but we all met again at 7:00 for our hike up Monte Urgull to see the statue of Jesus that watches over the beaches, called Estatua del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. 

As soon as we stepped off the paths of Old Town and into the trail, it seemed as though we were in a different place entirely. Where we were just neighboring quaint shops, bars and the sea, we were soon surrounded in a wonderland of tall trees and lush greenness growing out of what seemed to be every corner of the dark cobblestone. The tiny roads and steep hills at first were daunting, and soon exhausting, but worth the heavy breathing as we kept ascending, as each step led us to a more unique view of the city than the last. We could easily see the streets we’d been traveling, which at first seemed so complicated, now so small. We could point to where we went to class, our hotel and our favorite spots on the beaches like a map. After a surprisingly short amount of time, we were as close to the statue as we could get, and we were able to really appreciate all the details that went into making the statue. 

Scenes from our way up
The man himself, also known as the Baywatcher
POV: you’re Jesus
Nature by the sea

After taking pictures and exploring all the cobblestone nooks, we were led down a tiny staircase to get another breathtaking view of the city. It was there we had a discussion of Basque history, starting with the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. Franco’s dictatorship began soon after the war ended, which, in a poor attempt to create a unified Spain, entailed the Basque language becoming illegal to speak, causing families to shed their sacred ancestral names. It was in this socioeconomic culture where the ETA found they could easily recruit young, disadvantaged people looking for a cause to fight for, a purpose. The ETA made countless violent political acts against the Franco regime, the most impactful being in 1973, after the death of Franco himself, bombing and killing his successor. Two years later when democracy was made into law, the ETA had no real reason to continue. Despite this fact, the group split into political and military wings and instigated the Spanish government through violence and assassinations, which indeed caused the government to track down and arrest members. The ones who got arrested were sent to prisons far from the Basque country, away from families that could visit them and any signs of familiarity. Prisoners in Spain were usually able to have their families visit them in order to assimilate back into society more effectively, however, this was not the case for those with terrorist causes, ultimately causing a swell in membership of the ETA and a rise in support of their cause. 

Fast forwarding to the 1990s, Spain was under rule of the conservative party. In 1997, the ETA kidnapped a young councilman in hopes the threat of his death would bring back the Basque prisoners. However, their ruthless murder of the councilman not only brought opposition from the Spanish government, but the civilians themselves. They were no longer scared of the terrorist group, causing many protests to rage throughout the city. After more violence, the ETA finally ended in 2017. 

Even with Spain’s turbulent political past, the country is making incredible strides today. The Spanish government has one of the highest percentages of women in parliament and has passed a number of progressive laws. One of which includes making it illegal to harass a woman about her choice to attain a abortion, and additionally, making access to menstruation products astonishingly accessable to all. The incredible political bounce back Spain has demonstrated gives hope for a more progressive future despite the past, and even the steps backwards as we’ve recently seen in America. 

Our special guest to the class

Mount Igueldo and The Combs of the Wind

Lunes. Also known as Mondays, they are often the days that most people dread. Like any other Monday, my journey started biking in the pouring rain with soaked clothes and foggy glasses. Despite the rain, I was fortunate to have a new friend by my side. We rode our bikes along the coast of Ondaretta and La Concha beach. Once the rain finally stopped, my friend and I went shopping and ate delicious ice cream at Smöoy. To make a rainy day brighter, the friendly workers poured the remaining amount of my smoothie into my cup. On the left, I bought a strawberry and banana smoothie, ambrosía, whereas my friend bought chocolate ice cream. 

A cloudy view of the La Concha beach 
Smöoy yogurt & ice cream treats.

Mount Igueldo

In the late afternoon, we took an old train up the steep hill. Slowly but steadily, we made it at the top of the train station where there was a map displaying the different attractions, rides, and carnival games.  After taking some photos, my friend and I payed two euros to ride a lazy river called Rio Misterioso. Even though the water carried us slowly, a thought of “what ifs” popped into my brain. “What if we were to fall off the edge? What if I fell into the water?” Nevertheless, the support from my new friend turned these thoughts into more optimistic ones like “what if it is actually fun? What if I can make it to the end?” In the end, we made it together. 

Monte Igueldo’s train at the top of the hill.  
Map of Monte Igueldo.
Admiring the breathtaking view of San Sebastián.
Views at the top of Monte Igueldo.
My friend and I in the Rio Misterioso.
A glimpse of Biscay Providence.

Combs of the Wind

Puzzle pieces made out of stone.

On the way to the Combs of the Wind sculpture, some students stood on these small platforms. These pieces blasted a gust of cool and misty breeze rising from the bottom of the hole. Originally, the purpose of these stone puzzle pieces was to play different sounds or notes based on the number of waves.

The Comb of the Wind by Eduardo Chiliada. Each sculptor represents the past (on the right side), present (on the left side), and future (in the middle). 

Haizearen orrazia, as known as The Comb of the Wind, was built by one of the most famous Basque sculptors, Eduardo Chiliada. Nearly weighting 10 tons each, Chiliada utilized cranes and iron deposits from the mountains to build this unique artwork. As the wind blew throughout the city and the waves crashed down, rust remained on the artwork. Chiliada’s goal of creating this piece was for nature to interact with it; to change its original form. In other words, Chiliada desired to illustrate experience and balance throughout his work. This three piece sculpture represents the past, present, and future. The future piece, for example, symbolizes how we, as humans, project ourselves throughout our individual lives as well as the lives of strangers, acquaintances, lovers, friends, and family.  Yet, with the other pieces, past and present, represent how our lives will continue to change and leave marks behind just as nature turned the sculpture from iron into rust. To be truly happy, we should focus on being present in the moment rather than thinking about our past or the future. The best thing that we can do for ourselves is to focus on each moment in the present, no matter how big or small. Ultimately, we create our future path by learning from the past, growing from it, and making each decision in the present. In other words, we strive to maintain balance in our lives, which cannot be too easy or difficult to do. We cannot control our past nor our future, but we can control what we think, believe, and do in the present moment. 

A group photo of us at the Comb of the Wind sculpture (in the present). 

In the photo above, we are standing and experiencing the present, whereas our future is in the far distance. Perhaps the past sculpture is not shown here because we already learned to let it go and grow from it. Each of us are at different stages, moments, of our lives, yet we all decided to come to Spain at the same time. We may not see what our future holds, but it will come nevertheless. 

Entrance of Bar Pepe
My friend and I got ordered spaghetti and bolognese, fried calamari, and beef with fries and red peppers. 

Throughout the past week, I felt homesick as this was my first time outside my little bubble, the United States. I miss my family, friends, cats; all of the things that are familiar to me. Even though I enjoyed eating Basque food such as pintxos, tortillas, and cheesecake, I craved for something familiar; homemade pasta. As this is the beginning of a new week in San Sebastián, I realize-to put this bluntly, how ignorant I actually am. I am ignorant because of little bubble I grew up in. Despite this, I will continue to grow from my past by staying open minded to the culture, food, and the social etiquetes, especially in restaurants and bars that are unfarmilar to me. 

Ignorance. To put it another way, perhaps there are just a lot of things that I do not know; and that alone is okay. It is okay to not know about everything at this very moment. Change can be scary. However, it can be easier when there is help from people who support and love you unconditionally. They accept your flaws, imperfections, and especially are the ones that you can tell when you have good or bad news. These are the ones who should stay close to your heart. 

Visit to Talai Berri – Txakoli Winery

Talai Berri is a small, family owned winery in a village en el Pais Vasco. Through five generations, Bixente Eizaguirre, his daughter and family have operated this location for thirty years. Talai Berri lies on the Talai Mendes slopes in Zarautz. The winery is small, but grand and overlooks the vast land of the vineyards that produce the Basque wine called Txakoli.

As soon as you enter the building, you are greeted with a breathtaking view of the vineyard. The air was misty over the vineyard with the light rain known as Txirimiri, an Euskera word used to describe the phenomenon that only happens in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Inside, to the right, the entrance to the wine tasting room. To the left, pictures of each generation of Talai Berri winemakers adorns the wall. Underneath those pictures, stands the remnants of a grape vine that dates all the way back to the first generation. As Bixente tells us his story, one can see how proud he is of his family and all that they have produced.

At Talai Berri, they produce four to five kilograms of grapes from each vine and fifteen kilograms are put into crates. To ensure the best quality of grape, the vines (which normally have four branches) are often cut to allow for new growth. The harvesting season begins at the end of September and in just twenty days, they are able to harvest all of the grapes (weather permitting). Each grape is handpicked by workers of the winery. In old times, it would be the immediate and extended family all pitching in to help harvest. Now, Bixente tells us that they hire people to harvest the grapes and that it is just like any other job, one with which they receive health benefits, a living wage and more; but once inside, the machines do all the work. Once harvested, the grapes are sent through a pneumatic press, that has a capacity of 4,000 kilograms. The machine moves all the grapes and breaks down the juice. The pressing process takes about two hours and every two hours a new 4,000 kilograms of grapes is put in. From the tank, it goes straight to the barrel room. There are ten barrels, two of which are fridges. The juice immediately goes into the fridges (on the right), which are dropped down between eight and ten degrees Celsius. They keep it at that temperature for twenty-four hours so that the txakoli doesn’t ferment (and so it can naturally filter out anything unwanted) and then it is moved to the barrels on the left. When they are ready to begin fermentation, the barrels are slowly raised to between sixteen and twenty degrees Celsius. To keep the fermentation natural and slow, they introduce cold water into the barrel when the temperature begins to rise beyond eighteen degrees. After twenty days of harvesting and twenty days of fermenting, it is brought back to the fridges and dropped down to ten degrees to stay that way until they are ready to bottle it. It spends eight to ten days in below zero temperature and the first batches are ready to go by the end of October. The entire season lasts between the end of September to the end of December and with what’s left of the grape and seeds they use to make aguardiente, or grappa. Txakoli is a young wine and it is not meant to age because otherwise it loses the qualities that make it a txakoli, so as soon as it is bottled it is ready to go and spends no more than two or three days in the winery.

Depicted on the right, are the fridges and on the left, the fermentation barrels.
The thermostat to control fermentation.
Everything that Talai Berri produces.

Talai Berri’s specialty is txakoli (and makes up 90% of what they produce), however they also produce red wines, rose, vinegars and aguardiente. Each bottle of wine produced by Talai Berri comes with the coveted sticker noting the denomination of origin, which protects the rights of the winemaker and the integrity of the wine itself and the way it is made.

This was my very first trip to a winery. My only previous experience was as a child, visiting the cellar of a good family friend in Massachusetts where he harvested his own grapes and made and bottled his own wine – but not at all on the same scale as Talai Berri. Standing out on the terrace, even in the rain, made me feel at peace. I watched the pilgrims on their journey through the north route of El Camino pass by. I loved the vastness of it all and I liked how the world felt so big.

Meeting Marti Buckley

Today was the day we met Marti Buckley. Marti is an American from Alabama who fell in love the San Sebastián and although it was a long journey to get here, decided to go back to San Sebastián and stay. She has a fascinating story of how she got here, beginning with a study abroad experience much like then one I am on now. She then went back to the states to finish her degree. She married, started a family, and learned how to cook. She then learned of a program run by the Spanish government where Americans are allowed to go to Spain and teach English for a year. Following gaining this information from an old friend, Marti sent in her application as soon as the next round of applications opened and was finally accepted after a long wait. She took her young daughter and husband to Spain for a year, then another year, and while she no longer teaches English, she continues to live in San Sebastián while working in marketing and writing Basque cook books. 
The study abroad group had the privilege of hearing this story in person from Marti herself. One thing I found to be particularly interesting was when she spoke about the second book she is working on about pintxos. Marti spoke about all the research she has done for this cook book including reading every pintxo recipe she could find, although few and far between and quite unspecific. The few recipes she was able to find had no measurements and vague directions such as “cook the fish” or “put the salt on the fish”. She told us that to learn everything she needed to know about pintxos she had to do first person interviews due to the limited literature. I found it particularly interesting that there is such little written literature on pintxos as it is something that is such a large and important part of Basque culture. 
It was interesting to hear Marti’s story as I could hear a few similarities to my story in the beginning of hers, as well as the vast cultural differences from America to San Sebastián. An American lifestyle tends to be fast paced, always on the go, and stressful. There is always something that needs to be done with no time for breaks and socialization is not on the list of priorities.  Basque culture varies greatly as it is more slow paced, stress is seen as a medical condition, and taking socialization breaks is built into the culture. Marti explained how on the weekends lunch takes all day in San Sebastián. Typically, your cuadrilla would start with a glass of vermouth around 11:30, then go shopping for the ingredients to make lunch. Once your cuadrilla has gotten all of the ingredients you would all go cook lunch together and eat, maybe around 2:30. Followed by another glass of vermouth, ending around 4:00. This is vastly different from American society where we typically have half an hour or an hour for lunch during the week and on the weekends and even more often take it in the go to get the next thing done, especially in the weekends. Even during the week many pintxo bars will close from 3:30 or 4:00 until 7:30 or 8:00 to allow for a siesta.
Another interesting difference between America and San Sebastián is the social groups. In San Sebastián the friends you make in elementary school are the friends you are stuck with for life. You form what is called a cuadrilla which is a small group of friends that is formed when you are in elementary school that stay your friends for life. As opposed to American socialization culture where friends come and go frequently and it is often difficult to find time to spend with them. One important consideration with the concept of a cuadrilla is how immigrants, like Marti, would integrate into a society like this. The Basque people are naturally closed off, making it even more difficult to make friends in a new place across the ocean from home. Marti explained how she formed something like a cuadrilla with the friends she made who are also immigrants to San Sebastián, although it took her a few years to begin making friends when she first arrived. 
It was a great and enriching experience to meet Marti Buckley. Our study abroad group was able to hear her story of how she ended up living in San Sebastián and writing Basque cook books as well as learn about Basque culture including cuadrillas, pintxos, and the stress-free life style. 

Marti Buckley with her first Basque cuisine cook book.

a glimpse into basque cuisine

The morning started off with a beautiful bike ride (for some) along the beach as we made our way to Lacunza for our Spanish class of the day. The beach was empty of people, the sun was shining on us, and the sounds of the waves were so soothing. We all got some exercise in preparation for all the calories to come during our pintxo tour with Professor Julian. After hearing about the tour the other group went on yesterday, we were all nervous for what was to come. As a picky eater, I did not want to go in scared of being of trying new things.

Our pintxo tour was in and around Gros. At our first pintxo spot, we were presented with croquettas, Iberico ham, and the gilda. Gilda was a skewer with pepper olive and anchovies which were to be consumed all in one bite. I did not have the courage to try that as it is very outside of my comfort zone. However, my classmates did and they all reacted differently from one another, which I found interesting. Next we tried Iberico ham, which is a ham produced here in Spain. This was so delicious and flavorful. I could have finished the whole plate myself. However, I did have to save room for more food as this was just the beginning. I also tried croquettas which were my favorite because I had made them for an assignment in my Basque Culture course during the spring semester. I followed the recipe in Marti Buckleys Basque Culture cookbook; however, they obviously did not turn out exactly as they were supposed to. Tasting the way in which they are properly supposed to be made was a fun experience and enlightened me on the mistakes I had made texture wise when I had made them. 

We left this pinxto bar and headed to the next, but had made a stop along the way for tortilla. As we were walking do the next spot, Professor Julian had pointed this place out and we saw there was fresh tortilla, and ended up all trying some. This to me gave me the best experience of what it is like to hop pinxto bars. Eat at one bar, walk a little and stop where you find something intriguing. The tortilla was cooked well on the outside and runny on the inside which gave it a unique but delicious taste and texture. 

After having two croquettas, Iberico ham, and a  tortilla, I was beginning to feel very full. At our next pinxto spot, we all got a block of cheese that was melted on the inside and covered in seaseme seeds and fried on the outside. This pinxto had such a unique taste to it that I’m still not sure if I like it or not. It was hard to tell as I’ve never had a combination of these foods.

We all each got another pinxto off the menu that we were interested in trying. I had chosen grilled mushrooms.

Others chose Basque style sausages, tuna, and salmon. We all shared our pintxos so we all had the opportunity to try a variety of foods at this bar. my favorite was the Basque style sausage because it tasted very similar to linguiça. 

For the students who tried the pinxto gilda, the pinxto tour came full circle as we went to our last pinxto spot. This pinxto bar reinvented the gilda into a sushi roll with anchovies in the center topped with little balls filled with the oils of pepper and olives. They looked aesthetically pleasing; however, as mentioned I am a very picky eater and this pinxto was a combination of two foods I would never eat, so this was a no from me. Like the gilda, everyone had mixed reactions to this sushi roll. 

Although we were all full, we all had room for dessert of course! We got some gelato from one of the best gelato spots in San Sebastián, and walked to a desert place while we ate.

We arrived at a cafe across from Zurriola beach. There we had Basque cheesecake; which I had made following the recipe from Marti Buckleys cookbook for my Basque culture class. I have been looking forward to trying a Basque cheesecake because when I made mine for class I mistook 1 teaspoon of salt foe 1 tablespoon, so I was extremely curious as to how it tasted without all that extra salt. We also tried brownies at this cafe that is made from Marti Buckley’s cookbook. Along with our deserts we also had some coffee.

As full as we were, an hour or two later we were all hungry again, so we hopped on our bikes in search for some more food. We got to see a beautiful sunsrt and the city come to life at night as everyone was out on walks, watching the sunset, and eating dinner. Oveall, today was filled with so much culture and I feel as though I got a good glimpse of the way of life here in San Sebastian!

Day 2: Pintxo Tasting Tour in Parte Vieja

It’s 9:15 am. The bus is late, therefore we will be late. A couple of us had left the residence early so we could get to Lacunza (the Spanish school) on time, since the bus ride is about 17 minutes and then it’s a 10 minute walk from the bus stop to the school. After arriving there late, we each went to class and got together after. At around 1:30 we met with Professor Zabalbeascoa and went on a Pintxo tasting tour. That’s when the adventure began. The task he had assigned us before meeting up with him in the old part of the city was to come hungry, thankfully we were all starving. 

Before having our first bite of a pintxo we all decided to go into the tour with an open mind and with the willingness to try everything regardless of how weird or ugly it looked. The point was to open up our minds to a new culture and their food. We started the pintxo tasting tour in one of the city’s most typical bars, where only locals went; Bar Haizea. There we had our first taste of what an original pintxo is like. It was a combination of olives, peppers, alubias (the Spanish words for beans), and an anchovy going over it, all soaked in olive oil. It had an interesting taste to it, because it didn’t taste bad but it was also very salty. There we also tried two other pintxos, one called “the brick” which was the most liked by everyone, and the last one we tried was a combination of different ingredients but it was the one we disliked the most. 

From here, we were able to obtain a better idea of what the rest of the afternoon was going to look like for us, and so on we went to try new pintxos at different bars. 

The bars in San Sebastián are very interesting. They are not like your typical U.S. bars where you walk in and sit around it and the bartender serves you drink after drink, don’t get me wrong, that can totally be done here but not in a single place we went to did we see something like this. The idea of bars here is mostly to socialize, therefore you walk into the bar and most have tables, some people sit around the bar, but the place tends to look like a small restaurant mostly. People walk in, order a drink and a pintxo, sit down, eat and drink what they ordered, they socialize, they pay, leave, they move on to the next bar, and so on. We tried doing the same, to obtain the whole experience of what being a local here feels like, unfortunately, because it was a Tuesday, some of the bars were closed, so we went to the ones we could.

After that first original pintxo bar we went to around four more bars; in each one always trying something new and unique. The second bar we went to I decided to try “Foie A La Plantxa con Salsa De Uvas” which is grilled goose liver covered in grape sauce. This dish was very unique and tasted amazing, but it did leave a weird aftertaste to it. Here, we also tried things like Risotto and baby squids, which both plates were delicious; afterwards we went to a different bar. 

In the next bar we went to, we had the famous Spanish tortilla, it’s a great dish and one of my favorites. It’s scrambled eggs, with potatoes and onions inside and it looks like a tortilla. Some places make it better than others, the one we had yesterday was good. There we also tried some bread topped with seafood mix and mayonnaise on top, which also tasted delicious. 

From there we moved to another bar, and at this point we were all stuffed. Here, we only got a couple of pintxos and we decided to share them because not only were we too full but also we all wanted to save space for the last stop, which was a bar where we were going to try the glorious Basque cheesecake. The bar we originally wanted to go to for the cheesecake was closed because they were on vacation, which was very disappointing because their cheesecake is considered the best. Therefore, we had to find a different bar; after we did, we sat down and finally had our first bite of a Basque Cheesecake made in the Basque Country; it certainly did not disappoint. 

We ended the pintxo tasting tour, and I can say that personally, I have a better understanding of pintxo bars, and my eyes have been open to a whole different perspective and experience. Throughout the way we saw places that were closed but that were very recommended by tourists and locals, and to not miss those out, we decided to make a list of them so we could visit them on a different day. Now I can’t wait to try other bars around the city, including those we missed, while embracing a new culture! 

First round of Pintxos at Haizea.