Take Me Out To The Pelota Game

On one of our last days in San Sebastian our group ventured to one of the nearby towns to watch a pelota match. Although before going on the trip none of us had ever heard of this amazing game, we were quickly enthralled in what we thought was one of the most impressive sports we had ever seen. 

Pelota is very similar to squash. One player bounces the ball off the wall. Then, the next player has the ability to either play the ball off the bounce or to hit it right out of the air.  The ball must then make it back to the wall or the other player will get a point. Matches are played to 30 or 40 points.  The biggest difference of Basque pelota and squash is that instead of using a racket, or your hand to hit the ball, a giant curved stick  attached to your hand know as a cesta is used. The cesta is designed to catch and throw the pelota ball in one continuous moment. 

A traditional chistera

Before watching the game, we were all given the opportunity to try to practice  a little bit. We quickly learned that the task of catching and and releasing the ball in one solid motion was no easy feat. Personally, I had a difficult enough time even serving the ball straight. 

I believe that being given the opportunity to try to play ourselves gave us a greater appreciation  for just how impressive the athletic feats taking place in front of us truly were. I  was happy if I was able to serve the ball and have it travel straight and hit the wall 10 feet in front of me. Meanwhile the pelota players would make diving catches going backward and then manage to twist and throw the ball back to the wall 50 meters away from them in one continuous motion. 

As a group we were lucky enough to be taught how to play pelota by one of the club’s athletes. He went right from teaching us how to play to playing in the doubles match we got to watch. Having a connection to one of the players gave us all a rooting interest in the match that we may not have had otherwise. The match itself was an extremely close affair fraught with all the drama and moment shifts of any of the best basketball or football games. 

Us being taught how to play

I believe that the sport of pelota is emblematic of experience in San Sebastian. Just as with pelota, before taking this class I had no knowledge of San Sebastian or Basque culture. However after just three weeks in the wonderful city of San Sebastian I question how I could have gone my entire life without knowledge of this place or Basque culture. 

Although Pelota is a big part of Basque culture there is so much more to it that I was lucky enough to learn about during my three weeks in San Sebastian. 

When not playing pelota, the Basques have a much more laid back lifestyle than I am used to in Massachusetts. This is especially evident in the restaurants and bars of San Sebastian in which it wasn’t uncommon to spend upwards of two hours at a restaurant.  While on vacation, this kind of laid back lifestyle is a nice change of pace from the norm. 

This laidback lifestyle was more evident during what felt like the  endless summer days of our three weeks in Spain. The sun, which felt like it never set, allowed us to jam pack our days with activities, from Spanish class in the morning, to class with Julian in the afternoon, to exploring the city’s many restaurants bars and beaches at night. 

In accordance with the Basque culture, I turned this blog in fashionably late. I am currently writing this from my house in Massachusetts. It’s 8 o-clock outside  and is currently pitch black outside my window. So far, in my one day since being in San-Sebastian, this has been the biggest culture shock I have experienced. I got very used to the sun setting well after 9:30 and it never being truly dark out

Basque sunsets

I believe that Americans can learn a lot from Basque culture. Whether that be learning to be more laid back or incorporating new sports such as pelota into the national consciousness. 

It is Hasta Luego not Adios Forever

Taking on the farewell dinner blog post is a big task, and one that I have stressed about doing. How can one describe such emotions adequately in writing? After three weeks of knowing one another, we have made lifelong connections, some of which I do not think would have happened without being placed in the same session. Constantly throughout the weeks, we have repeatedly said “Isn’t it crazy, we did not know each other before this, but now we can’t imagine life without one another.” These feelings were exhibited and could be seen from across the room last night at Petritegi. At the cider house, we recalled some of our favorite memories, like scootering around Paris and enjoying each other’s company, whether we were biking to class, eating gelato, or eating dinner at the dining hall. 

Pictures at Petritegi as a group

As for the food, we were told we would not leave hungry, and that statement could not have been any more true. There were several courses including options for everything’s food preferences. For example, two girls got the vegetarian option, whilst the rest of us got the main menu. With the meal came cider, apple juice, and water. As soon as we sat down we were met with starters: chorizo and bread. The chorizo was delicious. I may even go on to say that it was my favorite food that I have eaten on this trip. After enjoying the start of the meal, we explored the facility a bit, looking at the barrels of cider, along with the outside, taking our final photo of all 11 of us. It was somewhat emotional, thinking that our time together would come to an end, but I would not have wanted to spend these past three weeks any other way. 

Hanging out, chatting, while eating our starters and trying the apple cider

Going back inside the girls who got the veggie option were met with a salad. The salad was just lettuce, tomatoes, onions, oil and vinegar. Both said that it was good, and we learned that Bailey likes tomatoes! This was a big accomplishment because over the course of the trip, we had all tried foods we would never try at home: some of us having meat again for the first time in years, some of us trying different foods like pigs ear and squid ink, and others enjoying all the different variations of seafood that are created here in San Sebastián. Studying abroad has tested all of us to branch out of our comfort zone, and experiencing it with one another made a world of a difference. I don’t think I would have tried as many things as I did if it were not for these newfound friends to push me to be the most adventurous self I could be. While they were having the salad, the rest of us were served a fish omelette. Personally, I was not a fan, but others said it was fairly good. I’m not a big egg or fish fan, but for those who do like the ingredients, they said it was very good. Once this was taken we were served with other fried fish, with both peppers and onions. I did enjoy this, even though, again, I’m not a fan of white fish usually. While we were having this, the girls with the vegetarian meal were served with their own omelette, which contained peppers and onions. It smelled delicious. 

The fried fish, peppers and onions
Bailee likes tomatoes now!

After all of these courses, we were still left with the main course which for those with the veggie meal, they got a veggie burger with peas, green beans, and other vegetables. For those who got the main menu choice, got a piece of steak. It was tasty. I typically like my steak done medium, and this was more on the rare side, but I decided to bask in the culture and try to eat it the way I saw those around us eating it. The people next to our table were singing and enjoying themselves while eating their meal, indicating how the environment provides comfort and an opportunity for celebration, which is how I felt at each restaurant I walked into throughout the weeks here in San Sebastián. We continued to eat and take pictures during our meal, and when the night came to a close, the emotions were high. 

Veggie burger and vegetables for the Vegetarian eaters
Steak for the main course
The desert is served!

Leaving the restaurant we needed a taxi to get back. This was the last we would see the Professor during the trip, and for some of us, the last time seeing him at all. Packing into our taxis alone, we got to use all the skills we had learned over our stay. When we first arrived in San Sebastián, I could never follow a conversation in Spanish, but during this taxi ride, I was able to contribute to parts of it. It has been interesting to see people’s viewpoints on America, and how everyone had their thoughts. Our taxi driver, who told us lived in Zarautz, has some family who had moved to Idaho in order to herd, just like what they were doing in Spain. During the drive we were saying how we didn’t want to leave, and he told us that we had 2 hours to meet someone and get married in order to get a visa! It was strongly considered. 

How could one want to leave a place that was so relaxing. At home, everyone is always in a rush to get somewhere, whereas here in San Sebastián, people are relishing in each other’s company rather than worrying about what comes next. This aspect of the trip is one of the many that I truly hope to carry home with me on my flight back. The lack of worry and angst has aided me a lot on this trip. At home I am constantly thinking about the future but surrounding myself with the locals who are living in the present has given me the opportunity to change. We’ve all noticed this change in ourselves, walking down the road, and instead of breaking apart and passing people as we walked, we adjusted our pace and enjoyed life. It’s my hope that someday we can come back together and do it again, because these three weeks have been among the best that I can remember, and I hope I speak of all of us on the trip and our time together was truly unforgettable. 

The cider barrels, they were huge!
The beautiful view from outside of the restaurant

Savoring the last Moments

Weeks have passed now, and memories are still being made. Within the first few weeks we had a rollercoaster of emotions that tend to continuously flow. The first day our group got here nobody knew what they were in for. Nobody knew what was to follow. Nobody knew just how beautiful this city was.

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My time here was well spent but felt like a fever dream that I just have not woken up from. On one of our last excursions, we took a ferry over to an island called Santa Clara. Santa Clara is home to the fourth and final beach here in San Sebastian. This beach is known as the ghost beach as it comes and goes with the tides. On this island there was so much to see. There was a beautiful lighthouse with an even more precious view. With the light house there was a bar, trails, and a dock we could go swimming off. Even though the weather was a little less than favorable, all of us still decided to submerge ourselves one last time. The water here seemed to be pleasantly calm and peaceful as we all came together. We united in solitude as now is the time to come together and get ready for the life we must go back to at home. 

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On this island we shared a talk about everything we had achieved here. We talked about the good and even some of the bad, although there wasn’t much to say about the bad. Everyone agrees, we do miss home but home is just going to miss that special feeling we have here. There will be no beach 10 minutes down the street. Our early mornings spent going to Spanish are over and to be quite fair the odds of us all being together in the same room together again are slim. We are going to miss this place.  We are going to miss everything that San Sebastian truly has to offer. Going home is going to be a reverse culture shock for sure.

The feeling you get walking through this city and eating pintxos is unlike any other you will ever feel. There is a special feeling that comes with walking down the slippery streets of San Sebastian. In San Sebastian the magic floats through the air. It’s an experience you can’t explain but only feel. While all of us are taking some sort of magic home with us, a part of us will always stay here. A part we may never have back. Many people might see study abroad as just a vacation; for us, it became a binding experience of a lifetime. I mean who can say they went out with 11 of their friends to a foreign country. This ferry excursion brought us together and made a memory I will have for a lifetime.

This island that we took the ferry to also had a sentiment to it. Sitting there with the beautiful view in the background had us savoring every moment. Our time here was short but in the same sense it was the longest three weeks of my life. Every day was jam packed with some new adventure. On this island we laughed and even made more memories to follow. We reminisced about our time here and realized just how traumatic going back may be for all of us. Reverse culture shock is going to hit all of us in the face and not feel great. But this trauma helps affirm the realization of the dream we were living in. It is what will help us affirm all the memories we have and even then, last chance bucket list items we want to complete.

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With everything set aside we all agreed that three weeks just is not enough. San Sebastian has a magical aura to it that pulls you in. It’s peaceful but energetic, tranquil but chaotic. Without San Sebastian many of us would be the same old students going to the same old lives back in Lowell. But now we all are slightly different. But that’s the difference that makes us truly who we are.

Travelers and Tourists: Paris Edition

One of the best ways for one to truly appreciate the experiences they’ve had is to be able to contrast them with others. They provide a frame of reference to better understand what you’ve gained from those experiences. Ten of us had the opportunity to do just that when we spent a few of our precious (and limited) days in San Sebastian in Paris. A bus to Biarritz, a flight into Paris and a ride in a French Uber brought us to our Airbnb right in the heart of Paris on Thursday night. A bus line and metro station were within walking distance, giving us quick access to just about anywhere we desired to be in the city.

When we first got up on Friday morning, we grabbed croissants and fruits at a local supermarket that was right across the street. We then headed off on our first journey into the city. We first stopped at Notre Dame, which was unfortunately closed, meaning we’d be unable to view the beauty of the building’s interior because of the fire from 2019. So we continued on our journey, stopping next at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. This store’s original location during the 1920’s had been a place of interest for many of the 20th century’s great writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

Countless books and novels of various genres lined up throughout the store, taking one to topics of the current day or foundational works of the distant past. Some of us were able to purchase books, myself included.

Next up on our journey was the Sainte Chapelle. The holy chapel was finished back in 1248 for King Louis IX to house some of the most important relics of Christianity, such as Christ’s Crown of Thorns. One of the greatest achievements of Gothic architecture from the time, the Sainte Chapelle (along with the neighboring Conciergerie) was part of the Capetian royal palace, one of the oldest buildings from it that still stands today. The stained glass that lines the walls of the upper interior level was a sight to behold.

Sainte Chapelle

Our next planned destination was the Eiffel Tower, but we were able to explore a few other places along the way. Along the Seines River, there were a few little bookstores that had older French books, a few of which I was able to purchase as a gift for my sister. We then walked through some of the exterior of the Louvre (more on that later) before finally arriving at the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower was quite magnificent, living up to its billing as one of the world’s premier landmarks. There is actually work being done currently to modernize, as well as recoating the tower’s paint to give it a golden hue in time for the 2024 Olympic Games, but it’s iconic look hasn’t been impeded at all. Stopping at a nearby local supermarket, we were able to have a picnic right under the Eiffel Tower, enjoying sandwiches, crackers and wine.

Part of our group at the Eiffel Tower for a picnic

After a while, we were able to witness a beautiful sunset right near the tower. The aesthetic lighting of the tower at night alone is worth the wait, but the light show that followed shortly after was something to behold. A picture won’t do it justice, but I’ll try anyway to help craft the image of what we experienced.

The Eiffel Tower, lights flashing in the night

To top off our first night, we ended up at a very fine French restaurant called Bouillon Julien where we were able to try snails for the first time; it was a dish that, I will admit, was not my favorite, but it was certainly an interesting experience in its own right.

Snails (or Escargot) from Bouillon Julien

The next morning, we got ourselves up for a 9:30am visit to the Louvre Museum. Personally, I found this to be the most interesting part of our Paris excursion. A labyrinth of art and history across four different floors, it’d be almost impossible to describe all that we were able to see, much less the myriad priceless artworks that would’ve taken days on end to see all of. Our first visit was to the Mona Lisa, which was surprisingly small compared to what most think it is. We weaved our way throughout the different time periods and nations that were separated into their own special sections of the museum, whether it be French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Roman, or Egyptian; art and history spanning from thousands of years B.C. to the Renaissance, French Revolution, and beyond. To keep this from becoming a laundry list of hundreds of exhibits we saw from the four to five hours we spent there, I’ll stick to a few personal favorites: “Liberty Leading the People,” a statue of Julius Caesar and, of course, “Saint Sebastian.”

“Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix

Julius Caesar statue by Nicholas Coustou

“St. Sebastian” by Andrea Mantega

Towards the latter half of our final day in Paris, we finally got to do what we weren’t able to the previous night: make our way to the top of the Eiffel Tower. One can walk 674 steps to the second floor if they so choose, but we ended up taking the elevator to the second floor and then the top. I just recently mentioned that the Louvre was my favorite part of Paris, but the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, seeing across the vastness and variety of one of the largest cities in the world, is a close second. As has been the case for most of what we saw, the images could easily speak for themselves.

View of the Parc du Champ de Mars and beyond from the top of the Eiffel Tower

As a part of our time here in San Sebastián, we’ve been working on improving our Spanish through language courses each day. One of the topics discussed in said course was that of the difference between a “tourist” and a “traveler.” A tourist is someone who is there for the main sights and attractions that a city has to offer. By contrast, a traveler is someone who dives a bit deeper beneath the surface, looking to fully immerse oneself in the culture and breadth of experiences available. For us, we’ve been travelers when in San Sebastián, experiencing more than just the occasional major landmark that’s been advertised to foreigners. But when ten of us decided to adventure to Paris for a weekend, we got the opportunity to be tourists rather than travelers for a few days. To experience both sides of the proverbial coin has given a whole new and deeper understanding of San Sebastián and what we’ve been able to do here.

I’d Take A Bite Out Of San Sebástian

“Where some cultures judge a dish primarily by look and then flavor, the Basques go a step further. They are on another wavelength, one where texture is an important quality of a dish.” – Marti Buckley, “Basque Country”

San Sebástian is a city rich in texture, which is seen in its architectural facade where modern day sensibilities of a clean silhouette are rarely seen, in its delicious food summed up so eloquently by Marti Buckley, and in its diverse history, full of strife and innovation. The former is plain to see with a simple walk around the city, which one will have plenty of opportunities to do even with the numerous buses serving as public transport and the easy access bike paths that also make San Sebástian wheel chair user friendly. After only a week and a half I feel ridiculous for wanting to take a bus back to the dorms where our group is staying, opting instead to talk the hour long walk along the beach and through the city. Although I do opt for it in the morning, especially to avoid the risk of running late. Or of running.

The latter is shared in Buckley’s book, arguably more than a simple cook book, it melds culinary text with a story of the Basque history. Buckley’s work stands apart not just because of the ease of the recipes and its thoroughness, whereas Spanish cookbooks assume a greater degree of familiarity with the dish, but at how it looks at the cultural context of Basque food, because it isn’t Basque cuisine without the culture. And, if some of the paragraphs before the recipes are to be trusted, without fresh quality sourced ingredients, but that’s not as easily accomplished as reading one of the many passages on Basque fishing.

The Author Herself

Sitting on the beach the other night, nursing a gelato and enjoying the sea air in solitude without a mask, I contemplated the talk with Buckley the previous day. We were the group of clearly clueless Americans sitting on some benches by the bikes, waiting for our professor and the author herself. She might have recognized the feeling, having journeyed to Spain for a semester abroad back when she was in college, and after asked to go to Madrid, instead thankfully getting placed in Pamplona ie Iruña, as the cities tend to be double-named in the Basque Country. San Sebástian is just as easily recognized as Donostia around here. Buckley said it was a good thing she got placed in Pamplona instead of Madrid, since it placed her in the Basque Country, and for another reason: it forced her outside of her comfort zone, as compared to big city Madrid, Pamplona is a small town, and she was more fully immersed in the experience.

Buckley talking with a rapt group of American college students

From its conception, Basque Country was intended to be a culinary book geared towards American audiences, intended to introduce others to what Buckley herself had fallen in love with. To hear her tell it, she didn’t even like seafood before her first experience in a restaurant’s kitchen, although that night didn’t change that. It was almost an experience she didn’t repeat, although I’m sure most of the group would be able to say they’re happy she did.

Initially, Buckley did not feel herself qualified to write about Basque cuisine. Basques can’t even agree on how one goes about making a particular Basque dish, and that’s before you start going into the differences between the Spanish Basques and the French Basques. I can’t help but admire her dedication to doing Basque food justice. Too often people think ‘how can I avoid doing this wrong’ and not often enough ‘how do I do this right’, which seems like similar enough sentiments but are worlds apart, as the first is an avoidance of penalization, metaphorical or not, while the second is a commitment to excellence, transforming Basque Country into a labor of love, although it would take her a few years to get to the point where she felt confident enough to begin.

A Splash of Lemon

Basque Country was geared towards an American audience without sacrificing the qualities that made Basque food Basque. With cultural context provided to enlighten its readers, it didn’t make concessions in its recipes as it came to test, except for a few editorial suggestions. A few fish recipes call for a splash of lemon, and Buckley says that the Basque people think black pepper is a spicy additive, sometimes too spicy. Just because something doesn’t taste ideal for an American palate doesn’t make it bad food. We all can appreciate Basque Country for its look into the culture as well.

Risotto from Bar Uda Berri

As an added bonus: were Buckley to have only one meal here again, she says that among the pintxos would be this risotto from Borda Berri, seen here.

A Stairway to Heaven and All that Followed

We walked out into the hot sun after finishing class at Lacunza and made our way to our first destination of the day – La Concha. We hopped on our burning hot bike seats and pedaled as fast as we could to the beach, hoping to soak up as much of the ocean as possible before our excursion later in the day. We waded in the ocean, avoiding the towering waves as much as possible. Occasionally, we would all glance up at the endeavor that awaited us – looming over us was the unmistakable figure of Jesus Christ that marked the top of Mount Urgull.

     After a few hours of swimming, tanning, and eventually napping at La Concha, we gathered our things and headed to meet Professor Z at the bottom of the stairs leading to the mountain. I will admit, I was nervous for the journey up the mountain. From the streets of San Sebastian, Mount Urgull looks daunting – a large, luscious green dome with a small, spiraling gap in the greenery to allow for foot paths to the top. We began our ascent with 4 flights of stairs, which foreshadowed the rest of our journey. We opted for the steeper stair route as opposed to the more gradual path, ultimately shaving off about 10 minutes from our climb. Occasionally, a clearing in the trees would allow for a glimpse of the view that would only get better the more we climbed, providing us great encouragement to continue up the slightly misshapen stairs. 

Views of the city, seen in between clearings in trees on the climb up Urgull.

         The climb ended up being not nearly as bad as any of us expected. Upon reaching the base of the statue of the Sacred Heart, we were rewarded with a view of San Sebastian that never seems to get old. Sprawling mountains provide a backdrop to the bustling city below, the deep blue water of the Atlantic ocean that we were swimming in just an hour before was now crashing against the city walls hundreds of feet below us.

         To our surprise, we were not done climbing yet. We continued into the fortress at the base of the Sacred Heart, which contained artifacts, descriptions, and even a model of “The Old Part” of San Sebastian in 1813. Here, we discussed the history and industry of the Basque country. The Basque were some of the first whalers of their time, with their use of bacalao (salted cod) allowing them to venture into the Atlantic for long periods of time. Whaling required sailors to hunt in freezing temperatures, even 30 seconds in which could be deadly. The reward for their work, however, seemed to outweigh the risk. Every part of the whale could be used: its blubber for oil and lamps, its baleen for corsets, and its meat as a food source. Although the Basques were eventually pushed out of the whaling industry and industry slowly moved outside of San Sebastian, the Basque country continues to dominate trade and exports for Spain; including soap, chocolate, tobacco, beer, and concrete. 

        It is amazing what we were able to see in the 3 minutes that we were allowed at the very top of Mount Urgill. In just three minutes, we took in a panoramic view of all that the Basque country has to offer: the vast ocean that provides us refuge from the August heat and fresh, delicious seafood for dinner, the city whose people, architecture, restaurants, and markets have shown us an entirely new way of living, and the mountains that once served to protect the city now allow us to look down on San Sebastian and reflect on what its people have overcome.

San Sebastian as seen from the top of Mount Urgull.

       After abdicating our throne atop San Sebastian, we retreated to a more secluded area to discuss Gabriel Urza’s All That Followed. With a gorgeous view of the city behind us, we reflected on the history of the Basque country and Urza’s ability to portray the sociohistorical and political struggles of the Basque people in his novel. All That Followed is a novel based off the real kidnapping and murder of a Spanish politician by the Basque separatist group ETA. ETA, a group formed by university students during the Franco era, ultimately turned violent and became known as a terrorist organization and killed over 500 people before their cease fire in 2010. While you cannot solve violence with more violence, ETA did at times represent the beliefs of many Basques, and, before they started committing more senseless crimes, ETA was supported by many. The Basque people were extremely oppressed by the Spanish government, at times becoming so discriminated against that speaking their native language outside the home was too dangerous. Basque country was the most policed region in Spain, and “terrorism” was the excuse used by the Spanish to justify the arresting, killing, and torture of hundreds of Basques. Reading All That Followed gives insight into the mindset of many Basques during this time, which was one set in a foundation of tight-knit community. Basques held tightly on to their culture that was being attacked and made it difficult for those who didn’t speak Basque to be accepted as one, no matter how long they’ve been living in the region. This mindset seems to still stand today, as Basques seem to be a very proud community and not afraid to show it.

Our classroom atop Mount Urgull as we discussed All That Followed

After spending only a week immersed in Basque culture and its people, it is devasting to know that this beautiful region was once extremely oppressed and its language almost destroyed. Now, it is beautiful to climb to the top of Mount Urgull and be looking out at a thriving autonomous community bursting with tourists and students looking to appreciate the Basque culture. Instead of being a language that was afraid to be spoken, Basque is now sought out to be learned and kept alive by the youth in the community. It is refreshing to know that such a strong culture is being preserved instead of destroyed.

Wine is cheaper than water!

After a week here in San Sebastián, the group and I finally felt confident enough to navigate this picturesque city without our GPS! Our days feel endless, starting with Spanish class in the morning followed by a quick stop for the meal of the day or pintxos, daily gelato and some time spent in the sun at one of the three beautiful beaches. Although we have developed a routine, today’s itinerary was a little different. 

This morning, we embarked to Talai Berri txakolina, a winery in Zarautz. Our bus was tardy, but surprisingly we were not. Up a long windy hill, passing the town of Getaria, beautiful scenery was revealed in Gipuzkoa. The winery goes on for acres, showcasing what makes up the Basque Country’s famous red and white wine: txakoli. 

The entrance of the winery has a gift shop and a beautiful window peering out onto the acres of land.

We entered the winery through massive wooden doors and were greeted by our tour guide. Our tour guide started by talking about what the winery means to her. Talai Berri is a family-owned winery, currently in the hands of its fifth generation. Our tour guide and her sister are currently caring for the winery. She handles the agriculture, while her sister deals with administrative side of the business.

Talai Berri’s family tree 

Our quick history lesson was followed up with a trip down to the cellar. We quickly learned the multipurpose value that is within the walls of our surroundings and the people within the community. Our tour guide discussed that it takes about sixteen people to manually collect the grapes within the field. These helping hands are also usually neighbors. Every grape is manually picked. The individual is aware of what grapes to take and what to leave behind on the vine. The crates are picked up and brought back to the cellar, where we were standing, accompanied by two essential assets to wine production. The crates are emptied down a slope where they are sorted through again. An emphasis in the entire winery is how most every aspect of the wine production is done manually. The grapes are then sent into a pneumatic press. This press contains a filter, allowing the juice to pass through. The initial press has the highest quality grape juice, but the other presses will still be utilized. The first press is a minimum of five percent of the juice and will be immediately transitioned to the next step. The other ninety five percent of the juice will be taken to a distillery, since it is a lower quality product. At Talai Berri, the skin and all of the grapes are included in the process, as concerns the red wine. The quality batch is moved from our current location into the room across the hall. This next room has about twenty stainless steel tanks. The batch is distributed within these tanks. The batch is left there for twenty four hours, allowing natural filtration. Essentially, it will clean itself and the sediment will settle. This process is vital. The fermentation period allows the sugar to change into alcohol. The white wine fermentation is the same except the top of the tank will be closed so carbonation can’t escape. While for fermentation of Txakoli, the top of the tank is left open until there is about three or four days left in the process . It is then closed so that a little bit of carbonation is contained. The wine is then moved to another stainless steel tank where the temperature is dropped to negative two degrees. After the sediment is completely cleared the wine is moved to the center room to be cleaned one last time. Finally, the wine is bottled and corked. 

The cellar, where fermentation of the wine takes place.

Location is everything. Txakoli is a slightly carbonated beverage around Getaria, but in Bizkaia the fermentation process varies slightly. Biscayan wineries keep the top of the tank open throughout the entire fermentation process. Txakoli here in Getaria is sparkling, while in Bizkaia it is not carbonated. This entire process begins with the harvest in September and concludes with bottling the wine by Christmas, a duration of three months. At Talai Berri, nearly one hundred percent of the rosado made is shipped to the United States, the Japanese receive most of the vinegar and Txakoli remains mostly local. Talai Berri is ninety percent white wine production and ten percent red. The latest wine made is Vermouth. It was a recent addition within the last year, containing about fifty to sixty percent of herbs. The wine here is made to be consumed within the next year, reflecting the taste of the past one. Just imagine the taste of 2020, as it was a rough year! Although this year was like no other, the wine was still fantastic. 

The first pour of Talai Berri, white wine.

After our background knowledge of the winery was completed, we went upstairs to begin our tasting! The first glass was a white wine named “Talai Berri” after the winery. This was the signature wine. The first taste was a shock to our taste buds. It was crisp and tart with remembrance of a Boston autumn afternoon. Overall this wine won as the group’s favorite because of its balance of sweetness. The next wine poured into our glasses was vermouth. We had the option of white or red vermouth. Personally, I wish I chose red; however, I got white. The white vermouth had a very strong taste. I felt an overpowering sweetness coat my tongue as I took the first sip. My classmates had a similar reaction. Although the few individuals who chose the red wine, such as my friend Bailee, described the wine as having an airy caramel hint, reminding her of the holidays back home. Lastly, we tried a mix of the red and white Vermouth. This was the perfect balance between sweetness and caramel hints. Along with the beverages we were offered fresh tuna, chorizo, cheese and bread to accentuate the taste of our wine. 

Avi showcasing the group’s favorite wine, Talai Berri.

Vermouth, tuna, cheese, chorizo and bread with a view! 

To end off our wine tasting, we looked out over the winery to see the hectares. The view was remarkable and left us very grateful to have this experience. Two more weeks of adventures left to go, for a lifetime of memories to forever reflect back on. 

Just a few of the amazing people I have met on this trip enjoying the view (not pictured: Avi, Nathan and Sean).

Rainy Days and Roller Coasters

From the moment I arrived in the Basque Country I was simply blown away by all the beauty the area has to offer. San Sebastián thus far has definitely surpassed all my greatest expectations regardless of being only four short days into the experience. One of the most amazing aspects of our days in San Sebastián is that each moment is uncertain in the best ways. The days feel longer as a result. 

Today, for example, began with beautiful warmth perfect for a beach day along the crystal clear blue ocean of La Playa de La Concha. The expansive sandy beach is perfect for a relaxing afternoon after class. After being at the beach for a few short hours the day feels complete, yet there is time for a whole new excursion to begin.

View from Monte Igueldo

Following the day spent at the beach, a new adventure ensued as our class ascended El Monte Igueldo to capture the best view of San Sebastián from the top of The Tower. It is no secret that the city truly is breathtaking and it was such a unique perspective to view its beauty from the very top of El Monte Igueldo. The funicular gondola ride takes you up the mountain to enter the park.

The Tower is found within the Monte Igueldo amusement park which is home to some other distinctive attractions, including La Montaña Suiza. La Montaña Suiza is the oldest roller coaster in all of Spain. The ride has a distinctively vintage feel, as it is still man operated by an employee on the cart which is an unseen aspect of amusement park rides in the United States. One of the other main attractions is the Mysterious River. This tranquil water ride around the perimeter of the mountain was unfortunately closed during our visit; however, it offers yet another gorgeous view of the stunning basque terrain. 

Montaña Suiza

As our time in the park came to an end, the weather took a mild turn. The clouds pillowed in and the xirimiri, the Basque word describing the soft, misty rain of the local area, ensued. Admittedly, the weather during the earlier part of the day spent swimming and eating gelato was superior,  but part of me loves the feeling of xirimiri. Typically when it rains, it pours, but that is not the case here. It is an inexplicably refreshing precipitation that captures the beauty in the unpredictability that each day in the Basque Country has to offer. There is something special about having to live in the moment and not being able to rely upon the predicted forecast.

Even more fitting was viewing the Comb of the Wind sculpture while reflecting on the changes and surprises we encounter each day, as this concept of living in the moment is generally tied into the meaning behind this work. However, in front of the Comb of the Wind exhibit there are several holes in the ground along the way. The idea for this piece was that when the ocean tide rises, the water would spew through the holes and create not only an eye catching visual, but would make music. While the music component was unsuccessful, the water still erupts from the holes.

As for the Comb of the Wind sculpture itself, the pure iron sculpture weighing 10 tons each was built in the 70’s by one of the biggest Basque artists of the time, Eduardo Chillida. The focus of Chillida’s work was an interaction with the natural world. The exhibit includes three separate pieces, each installed directly into the rocks on the hillside. They are stunning structures and because the material is iron, the piece is ever changing. The colors are intense and pictures cannot capture the image in all its glory. The significance of the sculpture is greatly up to individual interpretation. For example, one of the interpretations is that each of the three portions of the sculpture represent the past, present, and future. The iron structure located closest to the public access to the exhibit is said to represent the past. Of the three, this one is the most warped and changed from its natural state. As with life, our past is constantly changing as we go through various experiences and encounter both the positives and the challenges that life has to offer. The furthest point is the representation of the future, which is the portion which appears untouched and the most pristine. The future is what holds opportunity, and will experience change only as it becomes the present. The middle portion of the piece, spaced equally between the other two, is the representation of the present. The meaning many find behind the sculpture as a whole is the importance of finding a balance between the past and the future which is achieved by living in the present, a concept that is so easy to embrace while being in San Sebastian. 

Comb of the Wind

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Tasty

I, like most people, love food. I am also willing to leave my comfort zone and try almost anything at least once. Even before arriving in San Sebastian, I knew that I wanted to try the food and experience the unique cuisine carried on by generations of Basque. The only thing that I knew would haunt me was the fact that taste would fade and eventually, even the memories of the taste and the way I felt when eating would fade. That is why I decided to take a picture, rate, and review each and every item of Spanish cuisine that I consumed, and why I was very excited for the opportunity to try many flavors at once on a pintxo-tasting tour in La Parte Vieja de San Sebastián.

The tour began in a bar made famous by Bourdain: Bar Haizea. In this bar we were served one of the first pintxos in history, so it was only fitting that we should start our tour with it. From this bar, we had two pintxos, each of which represented a vital part of the Basque culture and identity.

The gilda consisted of pickled peppers, an olive, and an anchovy. Being one of my lowest rated the pintxos at a 4 out of ten, I found the true value of this pintxo to come not from its taste, but from the unique blend of flavors brought about by the salty combinations of pickle and anchovy. Being one of the first pintxos, gilda was named after a movie starring Rita Hayworth. Along with the historical value of the gilda speaks, it is still one of the most popular pintxos that can be found at many bars throughout San Sebastián.


The brick de bacalao has been one of my top three favorite dishes that I have eaten in the city to date and earned an outstanding 9.25 out of ten. The salted cod is made into a creamy, fluffy texture. Additionally, as opposed to the saltiness of the gilda, which may be suggested by the salted cod, the cod filling in this pintxo was somewhat sweet and the crunch of the exterior made each bite more satisfying than the last.

Brick de Bocaloo

The next bar that we visited on the tour had a line going out the door, a theme that would come up multiple times during the day. Thanks to the professor’s connections at the bar, we were able to avoid the line by ordering our pintxos to go. While this is not the customary way to eat pintxos because the Basque do not like to give you the bill until you have finished your meal, there are bars that have items “para llevar” or “to go.”

The pintxo from this bar was a beautiful, buttered croissant with the famous Spanish jamón. Once again, the idea of high-quality ingredients shining through was highlighted as the croissant melting in my mouth led to a score of 8.5 out of ten. While anyone may be able to pick up a croissant and some ham slices, the intense flavor accomplished by such a simple item truly epitome of Basque cooking ideals.

Croissants with jamón

Luckily, even after the brief wait at the previous bar, the next bar was close by. This is almost always the case in San Sebastián’s parte vieja, where bars are more plentiful than stores and there is the greatest number of bars per square meter in the world. It is custom to grab a pintxo and a drink at one bar then move on to the next place which may be only feet away.


The next pintxo is probably the one that I will get the most during my time in San Sebastián. Landing in my top three with a 9.25 out of 10 was the gamba, or fried prawn. The prawn itself was of the highest quality. I am a big fan of shrimp and prawn, but this was by far the best I have ever had. The beer-batter used to fry the prawn adds to the already rich natural flavor of the fresh prawn and creates an incredible combination of texture and taste.


All this is not to say that every food is for everyone. People still have their preferences and things that they do not like. For me, this came in the vine with eggs which is my lowest rated item at the time of this post with a score of 3.5 out of ten. While I did not enjoy the taste of the dish, others found it quite good, and it is something definitely different than anything I had tried before. However, the lackluster taste of the vines meant that the flavor only came from the egg, which left the dish bland in my opinion.

Vines with Egg

It is not surprising that the dessert was the last topic of discussion. The world-famous cheesecake was beyond my wildest expectations. When I heard that people called it the best cheesecake in the world, I was definitely skeptical, but once I took my first spoonful, I knew that this was the best cheesecake I had every had. It was different than cheesecake in America. It was super fluffy and airy for a cheesecake, and it was the perfect balance of sweetness.


While much of the food in San Sebastián is top notch, the seafood is definitely my favorite, filling all the spots in my top three. I believe this to be due to the local fisherman bringing in quality products that the bars use to make their incredible delicious. This has been going on for centuries if not millennium now, where fisherman go to sea and provide fish and various seafood to the restaurants and bars to serve, speaking for the strength of Basque culture and its traditions.

Adventures Eating, and Attempting to Eat, Pintxos in Gros, San Sebastián, Spain.

August 3, 2021, was a big day for me. Before I begin with the real content of the post, here is a little background information about me. I have been a vegetarian since I was in second grade. To put that in perspective, I have not had meat in about 12 years. Now that you have that fun fact about me I can continue.

When deciding which excursions each of us would write about, my hand shot up for the reflection on our adventures pintxo tasting in Gros. Since the moment I heard this was on our schedule I knew exactly what I was going to write. The original plan was to write a post about what is available at the pintxo bars in San Sebastián for vegetarians to eat. It was going to be a nice informational piece for anyone who was thinking about going to this beautiful city but worried they would not be able to find vegetarian safe food. Sorry to tell all you vegetarians out there, that did not happen. My first step into our first bar (that was open) I decided I was going to do something crazy, or crazy for me at least. I was going to try meat for the first time in 12 years. I know, pretty lame for most people but this was huge for me! There is something about this amazing place that makes you want to experience everything possible. Anyway, here is a recount of my adventures being bold and stepping out of my comfort zone on our pintxo tasting tour in San Sebastián, Spain.

First Stop: Casa Valles

Our first stop in this tour was at a bar called Casa Valles. This was on the list because it is the birthplace of the “original pintxo”. Unfortunately, the bar ended up being closed so all we got here was a nice picture of all of us looking sad 🙂 Bars being closed or too busy were definitely the theme of our outing but did not in any way deter from the amazing experience.

Second Stop: Antonio Bar

Our second stop was at Antonio Bar where we were met with much better luck, scoring the last three pieces of their Spanish tortilla. This bar is home to chef Marti Buckley’s favorite tortilla in all of San Sebastián, and I totally see why. This was definitely my favorite pintxo of the tour. It had so many delicious flavors, the potatoes were excellent, and the egg, in my opinion, was cooked perfectly. Not too runny, which is just what I like. I cannot wait to go back to this bar and get this tortilla again. This one was right in my comfort zone but the rest of this tour was crazy.

Third Stop: Ezkurra Bar

On our third stop we were able to go into the bar, sit at a table and order several different pintxos and raciones to try. One of these was a raciones called Ensaladilla Rusa. Apparently this dish is what this bar does best so I had to try it. Another thing I should mention about myself, I do not eat fish or most seafood, so this dish was the first of many that was out of my comfort zone. It consisted of potatoes, mayonnaise, and maybe a hint tuna and anchovies. It was honestly pretty good, and tasted similarly to potato salad. Although I would probably not order it for myself at a bar, I am glad I tried it.

The next raciones we tried was called Tabla de Ibéricos. This was a plate filled with slices of cured ham from the leg of a black pig, which San Sebastián apparently has a very large amount of. I was unsure of whether I wanted to try this one or not, but when in Rome (or San Sebastián)! It was actually really good. It was very salty due to it being cured so it did not really taste like the ham I remember eating 12 years ago. As I write this post I am still shocked I tried it but I am glad I did.

The third raciones we tried was called Rabas de calamar and it was SO good. This was a plate of fried calamari, which I already know I like but this was by far the best I have ever had. I suppose that is to be expected in a city ranked with some of the best food ever. I would 100% order this again and will be doing so before we head back to the US.

The last thing we tried was called the Gilda pintxo. I previously mentioned how we attempted to try the original pintxo at our first stop but could not, well we finally did. This pintxo has peppers, an olive, and a whole anchovy, served on a skewer. This pintxo was daunting to say the least. I was very close to not trying it but with encouragement from those in my group who had already tried it and liked it, I went for it. All I can say, not my favorite. It does not help that I do not like banana peppers, which is what the peppers taste like, I do not like olives, and I do not like anchovies, so this pintxo was doomed from the start. It was certainly an experience but was not for me. I am, however, glad I can say I have tried the “original pintxo”!

Fourth Stop: Gure Txoko

During our fourth stop at the lovely Gure Txoko, we tried a lot of food so I am only going to include the ones that were adventurous for me. One dish that we tried was a sandwich with lettuce, tomato and a soft shelled crab. The whole concept of eating a soft shelled crab is wild to me. You eat the whole thing, shell and all! I just had to try it, and I am so glad I did. It was delicious! I would definitely get this again.

The next pintxo was one that included a squid, cooked in its own ink. I had previously had calamari before so I am no stranger to eating squid, but one cooked in its own ink was a first for me. It was surprisingly good. I thought I was not going to enjoy this one but I did and would probably order it again if I was feeling adventurous.

A few pintxos I could not get myself to partake in at this stop was blood sausage and foie gras. I don’t see myself ever being ready for anything with the word blood in it or duck liver, but those who tried them really enjoyed them, so maybe someday!

Fifth Stop: Txiki Taberna

Our fifth and final pintxo stop of the day was at a bar called Txiki Taberna where we tried a few more pintxos. One of which I just could not convince myself to try was pig ear. Those in my group who tried this one actually liked it, so if you find yourself here in San Sebastián, give it a try!

A pintxo I did try was one with pieces of octopus served in a potato sauce. This one was actually really good. It was chewier than expected but had great flavor and the sauce was really good.

Another one that I tried was salted cod with a slow cooked egg served on top. Like I stated above, I do not eat fish, so this was also pretty far out of my comfort zone. The cod was not my favorite of the day but it was still good and I would recommend it to any fish lover.

The last pintxo of the day was a croquetas de jamón. This one was delicious. After everything else I had eaten on this tour, the idea of eating ham was no longer that wild to me, so this was easy to try, and even easier to eat the whole thing! I definitely recommend this one and will be ordering it again.

Last Stop

To end the day we got the best gelato I have ever had from Papperino. This pintxo tasting tour was an incredible experience that I am so grateful I was able to participate in. Being in a new place can be overwhelming, especially a new place that’s in a country you have never been to, with food you have never had. This tour gave me and everyone else in my group the opportunity to try new things, while gaining a better understanding of this beautiful city and its food. I cannot wait to take my new knowledge and go explore San Sebastián and its food some more.