Category Archives: Country life

El coste de mare de Euskadi

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My love to the nature became stronger and I decided to visit also a cost of  BC. In Estonia I live ten minutes to the sea, so I really miss it. But I can say, that you can not compare the sea in BC to the Baltic sea. There are different mountains and islands nearby.

There is a 2.8 km long beach in Zarauz – the largest beach in Gipuzkoa. It is a very romantic to walk through a promenade and watch how waves are moving and listen to the music of a sea. In this village there are a lot of bars and clubs just near the beach, so it is cool to party there in the summer.

There is even a special road which goes through mountains and cost, so, every year hundreds of people do that trip walking and exploring the nature for some weeks.

Aitzulo – small piece of paradise in BC

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I think that anyone who comes to visit BC can not stay indifferent to the nature. This is the first time in my live when i felt butterflies in my stomack because of a beauty of nature.

It was very spontanious when we decided to go to the mountains. We went by car to Oñati, in the way of Arrikrutz caves (I will write about these caves next week). The sightes around the Oñati are amazing. So, we parked our car beneath Orkatzategi mountain and began our trip.

It is not difficult to climb, especially with a nice weather and a good company. It took us for about an hour to get to the top, where the most beatiful thing was waiting for us. I speak about a cave, or, actually, the caves called Aitzulo. It is so beatiful, that you can hardly discribe it. I think it’s better to see the pictures. But, when you stay there you analyze that  humanbeing is nothing infront of a Nature.

I suggest anyone to visit this gorgeous place!!!

Jon Warren: on San Sebastian and food

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jon-paginaJon Warren first arrived in Donostia-San Sebastian around 2002 on an ordinary summer’s evening that would eventually prove life-changing.

Stopping off for the night during a road trip down to Portugal, the vibrant atmosphere and sight of copious pintxos on the bar convinced Jon and his friend they had hit fiesta-time: “it was like: wow!”

Such was the draw of the place for Jon that on the way back they decided to spend two nights in the Gipuzkoa capital: “We had such a good time; standing on the Concha (beach) I said to my friend: ‘I’m going to live here one day’.”

True to his word, Jon returned to live in the city, though not after four years working in the City of London.

“Working in London.. I never really felt excited. Everyday on a desk,.. doing something I wasn’t passionate about, you think ‘surely this can’t be it’.”

“I quit my job in November 2007 just knowing I wanted to do something else… Doing this, I absolutely love it because every day’s an adventure, doing my own thing.”

Jon’s “own thing” is San Sebastian Food, his own self-run tour business. The aim of the company is to provide tourists over on a short break to the Basque Country with a culinary insight they may otherwise miss. It is inspired in what Jon calls his “six-month gastronomic adventure” sussing out the bars and discovering the best pintxos.

Jon’s personal interest in food is more broadly centred on the entire experience of eating; something which may be linked to some of his earliest memories: “I’ve got some great food memories, but always linked to the people I’m with. “

Reflecting on what aroused his love for all things culinary, Jon recalls his uncle Paddy, an “adventurer” who lived mostly in Sierra Leone, given to roasting whole pigs and baking bread on visits home to the family. It is an almost tangible memory that evokes warm summer evenings and smells of spit-roast pork wafting over lawns of playing children.

Capturing that more sensuous experience is what underlines a lot of Jon’s tours, which move away from the often sterile sensation of a restaurant, to the shouts and smells of a packed bar or busy farmers’ market; “I love Michelin-starred food but I’m a lot more interested in the social side of things,… pintxos, the cider houses, where it’s all about meeting your friends and chatting”.

Life change

Jon made the move to San Sebastian in January 2008. After an 8-week language course at Lacunza he went “armed with dodgy Spanish, a basic CV but plenty of enthusiasm” to seek work at the Villa Soro hotel in Ategorrieta. He did “a bit of everything.. bellboy, porter, barman…” though it would later prove to be a significant decision.

Aside from becoming for many guests an unofficial guide to the best places to eat, he would also, ironically perhaps, meet his English girlfriend Nicole, who came to stay at the hotel one weekend with a group of friends:

“She moved out here last May and I have her to thank for helping me so much; from brain-storming to proof reading she has helped enormously.”

As far as his success this side of the Atlantic, Jon is unreserved in his praise for the Basque people whom he has encountered over the past three years: “They’ve been so incredibly friendly from when I arrived… such warm, open people, so happy to help..

“Thanks to friends, for example, I’ve been able to make contacts with the cheese farm in Urnieta where we Jon Warren - culinar#7B6835do a tour with the owners,” says Jon.

Jon is modest about his own contribution to his success, a trait that goes down well in this part of the world. He is, by his own admission, sociable and often “gets chatting to people”, a characteristic of a natural networker and one that has helped him to open a lot of doors into the heart of the Basque culinary experience, sometimes literally.

Jon says his “strongest” food memory was in the Rioja with Nicole looking for somewhere to eat. With a predilection for talking to people – “old ladies especially” – they were finally led by one senior citizen to a restaurant that was seemingly locked up:

“She turned the lights on and said ‘right, what are you having?’; she cooked this lunch just for us with a nice bottle of wine…

“It was nothing amazing; the TV was blaring and the food wasn’t fabulous but for me that’s what it’s about: That incredible, unique experience”.

Angela Linskey, Naera Haundi: Jam with scruples

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AngelaShopping for jams in the supermarket, I little expected to find Angela Linskey and much less the discoveries I would make when visiting Naera Haundi where the conserves are made.

Naera Haundi is a four hundred-year-old farmhouse officially in the Basque town of Abaltzisketa, though in reality located down a steep path on the side of a valley at the foothills of the Txindoki mountain, an ideal spot for spending a few days if, as the website says, it is peace and tranquillity you are after.

It is more than 30 years since Angela and her Basque husband Jesus Mari decided to leave San Sebastian to “try the rural lifestyle of a traditional Basque farm.” While perhaps happy to escape the increasing buzz of the city, however, it was a different concern that encouraged this couple to make such a radical change:

“We started getting a bit worried about the food we were eating. We read a book called Your Daily Bread by a woman who had been around a flour-refining factory where they were gassing the flour to make it whiter. We started reading more about what we were eating and it just went on from there. The only clear idea we had was that we wanted another kind of life and it had to be in the sphere of organic farming.”

Naera Haundi is dedicated to growing, processing and selling only organically home-grown fruit jams and jellies. “We make between 12-14,000 jars (of “Nahera” jam) a year. About 75% of that is currently from our own fruit… And the whole process is here – we don’t have any machinery, it’s literally spooning it in.”jams and jellies

The decision of Angela and others like her to pursue organic farming coincided with a growing trend for alternative farming during the 1970s and beyond (though still almost unheard of in the Basque Country) among people disillusioned with conventional methods or routines: “Most of us who started that way are from small or large towns… It was a revolution you see – not just going out and shouting in the streets – to go back and work on the land.”

From trend to trendy

Though organic products continue to have a rather middle-class image, Angela staunchly defends their dietary value: “If you’re eating organic, you’re generally eating very healthily – people eating organic food are not often at the doctors… If you take into account the hydrogenated fats and pesticides in conventional foods, what is that costing a country in its health service?” (Interestingly, the UK’s Soil Association recently published a report confirming the nutritional value of organic to be significantly higher than non-organic foods).

Since their compromise with organic farming over 30 years ago, Naera Haundi have taken steps to broaden their commitment to global issues such as climate change. “We have an installation with photo-voltaic panels for producing electricity… Next to them are thermal solar panels for heating water. We heat water for up to 10-12 people.” (Enough for the maximum 8 people they can put up in two apartments plus themselves).

Then there are the two wood-burning stoves: “Wood- produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as a rotting log,” she explains. “We use the ash – potash – as fertilizer and chip the wood we can’t use for compost.”

I point out that in Vietnam, fishermen on the Mekong recycle everything, including rice husks, out of economic necessity: “I think we need to be poor again,” she concurs. “The amount of things that people throw away.. (My generation) were brought up to think throwing food away was a sin.”

Naera Haundi BaserriOne is reminded of a by-gone era at Naera Haundi and not by accident. The modern obsession with packaging is one of Angela’s major grievances: “It’s just so unnecessary,” she says. She confesses to feeling “out of place” in her hometown of Birstall, West Yorkshire, partly due to the demise of high street shops. “It’s so disappointing – there used to be small shops, the dairy etc; now there’s (sic) just the two supermarkets – it really depresses me.”

Almost forty years have passed since Angela and her sister left Birstall  to embark on a hitchhiking holiday in France, deciding on impulse to come this way. She expresses curiosity at an English woman working for (the inherently Basque) EITB, but Angela’s integration after four decades is profound: “To live on a farm in this country, to understand the Basque culture, you have to speak Euskera… So when we came to (Naera Haundi) we decided we would use Basque all the time.”

The entire eleven acres of Naera Haundi, Angela and Jesus Mari planted themselves; trees include apple, quince and pear, though a recent cyclone in the Basque Country blew down fifty in total, twenty-seven of them pear trees, an all too poignant reminder for the couple of the possible effects of climate change. A massive problem, though possibly with a small solution?

“We just can’t continue with the way we’re consuming now,” saying Angela, “eventually we’re all going to have to go back to the 1950s – and that will be a good thing, not only for the planet, but for people’s health, physical and spiritual.”

Jess Soodeen: ‘I grew up hearing all about Basques’

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ear_plugI first met Jess Soodeen in Azkoitia’s noisy(-est) bar Dean one night, where she’s become a regular face. Shouting into her ear, I wanted to know what brought her to a small town like Azkoitia. (Answer: a one-year Masters in Motorsport Engineering with local race car team, Epsilon Euskadi). My second question was, what on earth was keeping her here: “I love it!” she declared. And it wasn’t the drink talking – she’d just come off stage after gigging in the town’s main square with local veteran group Dirección Obligatoria.

For those who don’t know, Azkoitia is a Basque town of around 10,000 inhabitants situated within the Urola Valley near the heart of Gipuzkoa. By their own admission Basques take a while opening up to outsiders and in few places is this more evident than in Azkoitia.

But Jess is unphased: “I walk down the street and people say hello to me,” she says cheerily.

Aside from her integration into Dirección Obligatoria, Jess confesses to having three ‘cuadrillas’ (notoriously tight-knit friendship groups, typical in the Basque Country) and since her time spent in Azkoitia learning Spanish, has also managed a fair amount of ‘Azkoitiarra’ (a local dialect of the Basque language Euskera).

It is perhaps no coincidence that most Basque Country Live interviewees commonly share a culturally diverse background, and Jess is no exception,  starting with her surname: ‘Basically, a few centuries back a man who they named Soodeen jumped on a boat in Calcutta bound for Trinidad,’ she explains. At another time and place, meanwhile, a man named O’Leary (an ancestor of her mother) made a similar journey to the island the Irish called Talamh an Éisc, “land of the fish”, or Newfoundland, a large land mass off the east coast of Canada with strong historic ties to the Basque Country, based on whaling and cod fishing: “When I found out about the course in the Basque Country I said ‘I’m going there’; I grew up hearing about the Basques.”

And so to Euskadi…

Jess jumped on a plane bound for Valencia armed barely with a word of Spanish. But then, with a career spent both working and racing on the motortrack, she has had to be ballsy. It is an environment that requires tough decisions and quick thinking: “As a woman in the field, you have to earn respect and the fact that I’m not only a motorcycle racer, but also the mechanic of my own bike… these things work in my favour”.

Jess’s interest in motors goes back to 1999 when a group of mates “rigged it” for her to win bike lessons. She started r5racing in 2003 and by 2004 was only riding circuits. In 2005 she bought a Yamaha TZ 125 GP bike all the way from New Zealand and began tinkering. A degree in mechanical and a masters in motorsports engineering is, says Jess, “fine and dandy,” but it was hands on recognition that she needed, which is why she rebuilt her own motor: “I bought the bike to learn mechanics and this way gain respect for my ambitions as a circuit engineer”.  So why the switch to cars? “When I found the course in the Basque Country I realised that having education in cars as well would benefit my motorsports career in general in Europe.”

Not that that was the only factor that drew her our way: “I was fascinated by the Basque Country because of its history with Newfoundland,” says Jess. “I researched Azkoitia before I came; I had a picture of the indoor market on my computer screen for six months before I got here.

“Between the ages of 9 and 10 I lived in Libya. The rest of the time I lived in Calgary (a city of just over a million inhabitants) but all my summers were spent in Newfoundland.” Though essentially a city girl, Jess confesses to being something of a provincial soul. Something to do with all those long summers?

“Absolutely. The largest town in Newfoundland (capital San Juan de Terranova) has 100,000 inhabitants. That’s about the size of Vitoria.” To give  you an idea of the depth of the history between Euskadi and Newfoundland, thirteen of the Canadian island ports have Basque names, including Baya Ederra (Beautiful Bay) Port aux Basques and Balea Baya ,Whale Bay. (Basque whalers were recently cleared of having caused the extinction of the species off Newfoundland’s famous Labrador Bay).

Future prospects

With all these things in mind, you get the sense that Jess has discovered her spiritual home, the addition of Epsilon Euskadi (recently moved to Vitoria-Gasteiz), satisfying another important part of her ambition – working in motorsports – a dream she’s close to fulfilling:

“After completing my masters in 2008 I stayed one year more as an internship student doing race engineering with Epsilon Euskadi. Then they offered me a contract to start work this year. On 23rd December I found out they couldn’t give me the job.” (Current Government policy is to give preference to home-grown candidates where possible).

“Obviously because of the current employment situation I understand why they did it, but it was a massive blow.”

Despite this setback, she remains positive and intensely fond of her adopted hometown. On the job front, things are looking up as well: “With the contacts that I managed to make during my time spent at the circuits I have managed to find some contract work with another team based in Switzerland, racing in German, French, and Italian circuits. It’s still not full time work, but my dream of a house in the mountains and only working in circuits is on its way.”

The discovery of Azul Vergara

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This week, our Basque Culture class consisted of a seminar by a guest lecturer on Basque traditional clothing. The speaker, Ane Albisu, has written an important book on the evolution and historical context of dressing habits in Euskal Herria. Continue reading

Enjoying Eskoriatza (no more rain!)

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I had to write you today because seeing the sun come out again, after the past weeks of rain, rain and more rain, has made me incredibly happy. Good timing too, since I had to do a photography project for school today and a lot of the locations were outside. Continue reading

Education issues (and Basque food invades Belgium!)

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Last weekend, during my stay in Bilbao, I talked to Mikel and his roommate about communication issues and the generally low level of English in the Basque Country and Spain. They gave me a bit of insight in the main educational problems and it became a bit clearer to me where the biggest gaps are. Continue reading

Vascos ecologicos?

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Know what’s funny? Before I came here, people told me: ‘Oh, you’re going to southern Europe, people are very polluting there!’ Well, I wasn’t born on Mars so I knew a little something about the cultural differences in the ecological aspect. It’s for a reasong that they call us and the Scandinavians ‘Eco freaks’ here.

On the other hand, they were a bit right. I can still be stunned if I see someone in a public place, where there’s plenty of trash bins, just dropping his rubish on the ground without thinking. In our clean little country it’s just rude to do that! People might even tell you something, and you don’t want to do it in front of a policeman!

But I think a slow shift is coming up over here, it will take a while to get it into the minds of people I think though. in Arrasate for example they have these big bio diesel gathering points, where people can drop their used cooking oil. Great stuff! I never thought of that, but since people are quite fond of oil here, it’s not such a bad idea. And they use it too, you know.  In kitchens you see these smutty, greasy glass jar filled with oil. Way to go Arrasate!

Another thing they do correctly is that they seperate their trash quite neatly. It nearly confuses me sometimes but they do a good job. Well, I wished I could think of more, but I haven’t really seen much more.

It’s a shame, cause especally here, Basques have so much to lose. But maybe they take nature for granted sometimes, since it’s there anyway..  For example the food; the ground is so furtile and rich here, you could grow anything.. from cold country stuff like potatoes and carrots, to kiwi’s and oranges. And I know that they realize that Basque farm products are brilliant, but hey, Eroski has it all, neatly packed and sliced, easy peasy.. Let’s hope that in the future people here will realize that a bit more. There is some work to be done here Basques!

What to do on a rainy Saturday?

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Last Saturday me and my French friend were at my place, thinking what to do. It was a sad, rainy Saturday in our little, industrial Arrasate. The rain seemed impossible for us to avoid.. We checked the forecast for all places we could imagine, but everywhere it was raining! From Valencia to Cape Town and  from Buenos Aires to Arrasate. Okay, so “no outside programme for today”, we concluded.

So what do you do then? We were really looking forward to do at least a little something, all seemed better then hanging around at home. We started looking for places that could be fun to visit with this weather. And what else can come to your mind at that moment than Leinz Gatzaga?!

Leinz Gatzaga is a tiny hamlet, leaning on the side of a mountain, a couple of kilometres up from Eskoriatza. This border town of Gipuzkoa has it all, or not, depending on what you’re looking for. Leinz Gatzaga’s well kept old centre, which is practically the whole town, kept a silence that makes you fantasize yourself away some hundred years ago. Pretty little streets, tiny churches and cosy bars around the squares.

We entered one of them, is was a lucky guess.. To be honest, it didn’t look all that promising from the outside; plasticised, dirty white doors and an ice cream sign makes you wonder why we entered it at all! But it turned out to be just a bit more than we’d expected. The small room crowded with people eating appealing dishes on tables with those typical old fashioned table cloths, old men and women playing cards and having a drink, good jazz music and just a warm atmosphere!

Lucky us, one table was free! We sat down, ordered ourselves a fish soup (suppose there wasn’t much more on the menu) and a good Rioja. Not the worst way to spend your Saturday afternoon! The soup appeared to be great, filled with chickpeas, monk fish and clams it was a considerable meal. We finished with some home made flan, coffee and an essential patxaran. Good times on a rainy Saturday in Leinz Gatzaga, quite recommendable