It was the first time when we went out in a real club. I mean “real” because in Mondragon there are no clubs, only bars. So we took the last bus to Vitoria-Gasteiz at 9.30 pm, our new arrival of Erasmus students and something to drink with. The bus goes approximately half an hour but it took us the whole hour because lady bus driver had problems to cope with a hilly road.
At first, in Vitoria we went searching a nice place to sit in. And it was not so easy. You ask why? It is strange, but a lot of bars are closing very early, at 11 pm.
Finally, we have found one and came in. It was modern bar called ZABALA. Nice music, good cocktails and colourful lights. After two, three hours suddenly came police, told something to barmen and they begun to close the bar. I don’t know the reason but I think it is something to do with taxes, who knows…
I liked, that in Vitoria you can buy tickets to a club just on the street. Girls are selling them cheaper than in a club. We fell for a commercial and went to CIRCULO. It has s big dance floor, few bars, dirty closet and a terrace with a hamburger stall. There was a retro music but is depends on a program.
Tired but happy we took the first bus at 6.30 am. It is possible also to take a taxi, which will cost you for about 40 euro to Mondragon/Arrasate.
I really liked Vitoria. In a night light it was very attractive, although very empty. In a park, which we were crossing, I felt myself very romantic, maybe because of the autumn and huge, tall trees with yellow leaves. Now, my next wish is to visit this city during the daytime.
When I woke up the first thing what i saw when I opened my window were mountains. You can feel the fresh air and freedom everywhere. Live in Modragon is very slowly and relaxed. And I love that. There is no where to hurry.
What are the most important things to do at first day?
It is very difficult to get used to siesta. Everyday we have siesta time (from 1-2 pm to 5 pm). At that time nothing works (exept chinese shops) All bank are working only till 1 pm.
It is better to do a buscard at first because it will take you one hour in a line in a shop and two weeks of waiting ordinary plastic card. With a card you have almost 50% discount.
After you`ll better to buy a phonecard. It costs 10 euro but messages to anothers countries are very expensive. So sometimes it is easier to buy the cheapest phone with a card
Also, is very strange to have a dinner at 9-11 pm. In my country (Estonia) we don’t have such an opportunity because most of citizens go sleep at 10 or 11 pm and we take more care about their figure and not eating after 7 pm.
Don`t be scared if you meet someone and this someone begins to kiss you and hug you. Basque people are very warm and kind, so they are just happy to see new faces and do that everytime.
At the end of of busy day go to a bar or meet with friend to share your feeling =)
Well, I am studying in Basque Country as exchange student by Erasmus program. Never in my life I have thought to visit this beautiful land. BC is located on the north of Spain, so it is a part of it. But this small land (it is bigger than Estonia) is very different from the common Spain. So now I am very happy that I have got here, otherwise I would never see it.
While sitting in a train for 6 hours (Madrid-Vitoria) I was looking out of the window . It is very different to I used to see. Everyway are mountains. I have never seen such huge mountains. So, I am going to live in Mondragon (Arrasate – the name in Basque language). It is a small city in a valley.
At a very first night we were eating a potatoes pie. Our housekeeper Ander made it for us. And that was also the first time I have tryed it =)) I advice you all to try it once and you woun`t be dissapointed.
Jon 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.
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 do 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”.
Shopping 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.”
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.”
One 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.”
I 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 racing 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).
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.”
After a short period back home in Belgium, it was about time to come back. Bilbao: the sequel.
After a while you take a number of the things for granted, but when it is no longer there, you start to miss it. It sounds so cliché, but unfortunately it’s the bitter truth. It’s really weird to notice how fast some other culture can grow on you.
Walking into a bar and see delicious food on the counter, cheap wine, enthusiastic and talkative people, and of course the landscape. Large mountains, a beautiful seaside and stunning beaches. Hiking or surfing? Knock yourself out!
The landscape is one, but it’s sure not the only thing that the Basque Country has to offer. Does Bilbao with the famous Guggenheim ring any bell? And the authentic Casco Viejo that stands in a huge contrast with the more modern centre of the town.
And what about Donostia – San Sebastían with more Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the entire world.
What is there not to like about Euskal Herria. Okay, it might rain occasionally, but hey, there is an umbrella shop around every single corner.
But enough with all the positive adjectives. I’m really struggling to come up with some new and unused ones, so let’s continue.
As the loyal readers might know, as an Erasmus student I already spend the first trimester in a small town called Bergara (Guipúzcoa). But now, as I am a couple of months older and wiser, it was time to move up north to Bilbao (Indautxu) and discover the big city in all its facets. Updates of that will probably follow in the upcoming months.
‘But why coming back?’, I hear you all simultaneously think. I was hoping to entertain you with a nice, long and funny story but unfortunately the truth is less exciting.
As I am in my final year of university college, it is obligated to do a three month long internship at a media company. During my Erasmus period I already worked on a weekly basis at EITB and all of a sudden the opportunity came up to do the real internship there too. One and one makes two and now, two months after date Michael and myself returned to the Basque Country.
Being car-less blows! You’re bound to busconnections and time schedules, which can be very frustrating at times. Sanne was very excited about her Bilbao sleepover weekend last week so she convinced me to do the same. Continue reading →
Monika, our Basque culture teacher, organized a field trip to Arantzazu, a Fransiscan sanctuary in Oñati. This shrine in the midst of the Gipuzkoan highlands attracts a lot of devotees while it’s postmodern church and the Virgin of Arantzazu are surely worth the visit. Continue reading →
Well, it has been quite a while since the last post, time to get back into the blog-vibe. Alas, the flu has caught me by surprise, leaving me sick in bed at the moment. On the bright side: my cousin Anniek, my mum, and her boyfriend Jos came to visit me this week, making me the guide for a few days. Continue reading →