Oh, I love Thursdays. On that day every week is a party with pintxos called pintxo pote. Pintxos mean snacks. They do it here so tasty that you can eat hundreds of them. On Thursday everybody who wants can get 1 pintxo and a cup of vine for 1 euro. That’s why everybody goes out and drink till the morning after. Bars in BC are not the same as we are used to.
First, nobody sits where
Second, you can smoke inside (and not only cigarettes)
Third, there are no ash-trays, so the floor is full with cigarette-butts and other stuff
Fourth, music plays so laud, like in a club, so you can hardly hear somebody speaking
Fifth, you can dance and meet some new people
And the music, here it`s very strange. It is like a heavy rock and sometimes country but everybody are shaking theirs heads all the time and singing. I guess, they like that but I don’t really.
There is no typical clubs in Mondragon, only very similar bars which are closed at 4 in the morning. Only one bar is open till 5, so the whole crowd is going there and you can not breath anymore.
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”.
After my Erasmus adventure last year, I knew I would someday go back to the Basque Country. The climate, the people, the food, the culture, the cities, the beach, … too many reasons not to come back. A training period at EiTB was the ideal solution to explore Euskal Herria some more.
Koen and I said Gipuzkoa goodbye and moved up north to the inner city of Bilbao (Bizkaia) in the Abando district. An opportunity to live the city life style to the fullest, while we are not restricted by long distances and bus lines (our last stay was in Bergara, approx. 50 km from Bilbao). Bilbao itself has enough to offer, as we knew already.
Our apartment lies in Indautxu, one of the two neighbourhoods of Abando. It is ideally situated in the heart of the city with everything within walking distance.
Culturally and gastronomically this is going to be a welcome break from the everyday life back home. My first bite in a pintxo yesterday was a delight for my tastebuds. Don’t get me wrong, Belgium has some great dishes, especially in winter, but the Basques simply take cooking food to another level.
My Spanish language skills upgraded from ‘terrible’ to ‘understandable’ which eases social converse and brings with it the opportunity to connect a bit more with locals. But I have still a very long way to go until I can master the language.
Of course the climate is a positive change as well. Although there’s only a small difference of 5°C in comparison to Belgium you notice an immediate shift when you get of the plane. Not exactly Meditarianian but good enough for me.
Another week comes to an end and we’re starting to realize that there are only four of them left. Four weeks to enjoy every moment we have and meanwhile trying to obey our upcoming deadlines. This week didn’t really help doing that, since one of my best friends, Zahra, arrived on Wednesday and stayed until today. No complaints though, I really loved having her over! Continue reading →
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 →
At home, everybody was sceptical about me leaving for the Basque Country. “Why the Basque Country?”, they asked. “It’s always raining over there and the only news you hear is about the ETA and their terrorist attacks. If you absolutely want to go to Spain, then go to a warm and safe place in that country.” Continue reading →
For months and months this year I have anticipated my Erasmus adventure to the Basque Country, not really knowing what to expect or even where I would be living. Being here now, it’s in so many ways different from what I had in mind, but at the same time a genuine familiar feeling has affected me right from the start. I give you a few of my impressions of these first weeks.Continue reading →