Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nahi Euskal Herriko I

(I think that is how you say "I love País Vasco" in Vasco).

This weekend in País Vasco (Basque Country) was absolutely lovely! The ocean views, the tapas, the weather (it didn't rain!), the people, the culture, the history...I loved it!

We rented a car in Toledo and left Thursday morning for San Sebastian. We arrived mid-afternoon and after settling into our hostel we walked along the coast. It was a beautiful walk, and I took picture after picture of the water (and I now realize that they are all very similar...). There were some pretty big waves, and it I made a game of trying to capture a picture without getting drenched!

(These pictures are all from San Sebastian on Thursday afternoon; I'm writing this at work and I don't have any other pictures uploaded!).

Friday morning we wandered around town, stopped into a neat bookstore, picked up picnic materials from an underground supermarket (it was literally underneath the plaza outside our hostel), and went to the beach! We enjoyed our lunch and the incredible views for a few hours. Then, we went back to the hostel to clean up before venturing into France for the evening. We were only 30 minutes from the Spanish/French border, and decided to hop over for dinner. We ended up in the splashy (pun intended) resort town Biarritz just after the sun had set. We took another, this time chilly, walk along the beach and took what pictures we could in the dark. We walked through the town, which is full of shops and restaurants. We ate in a very small but lovely restaurant. There was one friendly waiter, and when we asked if he spoke Spanish or English (we forgot our French phrasebook!) he replied: "Habla little". Our attempts to communicate were quite entertaining and our dinner was delicious. We drove back to San Sebastian for the night and said goodbye to the city in the morning.

Saturday we left around 12:00, after another stop by the beach, to drive to Bilbao. The main reason we rented a car was to travel the coast on our way. It was lovely! Breathtaking view after breathtaking view. We stopped for lunch in another resort town and ate at a table practically on the sand. It was chilly, but sunny. We tried the local cider (I didn't care for it) and with full bellies we were on the road again. After another stop in a small, colorful town, we turned south for Bilbao, with a brief drive through Guernica. Guernica is the subject of Picaso's famous painting; it was targeted and destroyed by bombing under Franco's direction in 1937. Franco used the city as an example, warning the Basque people to quell their hunger for independence.

We arrived in Bilbao around 6:00pm and settled in our hotel. We went for tapas to a restaurant recommended in the guidebook. It was a beautiful building opened in 1903! It was very popular, and thus very crowded. I love the theory of tapas, but I still get overwhelmed in the busy bars. We did discover the pichos morunos. In the back corner of the bar was a father-son duo with a rectangle box of charcoal, cooking skewers of meat. The line was long, but well worth the wait. They were delicious!

We caught the first half of the Barcelona-Real Madrid game, but left when it was tied 1-1. The drive wore us out, and we were wary of the early morning on Sunday...

We left the hotel around 8:30 in search of the old neighborhood and it's bustling market. We arrived too early for any bustle, but were able to quietly peruse the few tables (mostly full of books and antiques, though I did see a live-bird display...) before the square filled. We had coffee and pastries, followed by chocolate con churros and tortilla...not exactly well balanced, but so delicious.

We then went to the Guggenheim Museum, the must-see attraction in Bilbao. It was very interesting! Modern art isn't my favorite, but the building is fascinating.

While we were walking to the car we spotted Subway, and picked up sandwiches for the road. Yum!

And that was that, we were heading home to Toledo. We arrived without incident, except for some confusion around Madrid (read: we didn't know which highway to take). It was tiring, but a wonderful trip!

Spain has four distinct and official languages, each in a separate region. Castellano (what we know as Spanish) is spoken in the central and southern parts of the country; Gallego is spoken in Galicia, in the northwest; Catalán is spoken in Cataluña in the east (where Barcelona is located); Vasco (Euskedi, in Vasco) is spoken in País Vasco to the north. Castellano is spoken in all parts, but the other languages are also very widely used. Luckily, communication is not a problem, because most people speak both.

There is a strong push for independence from Spain among the Basque people. You may be familiar with the ETA, which is the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna. It translates to Basque Homeland and Freedom, and operates as a paramilitary group promoting independence. Previously, the group partook in terrorist activities against the Spanish government. I learned from a teacher that the violence has subsided and the group has promised to work more peacefully towards their goals.

I didn't notice any anger or resentment. Just lovely people and lovely cities. And an interesting language. For example:
"I enjoyed my holiday in Basque Country." translates to: "Nire opor gozatu I Euskadi."

The language is ancient, and it has not been reputably connected with any other language. It was likely spoken before Indo-European romance languages.

On another note, guess what?! I will be home in just one week (from tomorrow)!! I was told by a teacher that my excitement makes me look very pretty. Haha.

I hope all your Christmas preparations, both in your home and in your heart, are going well!

Un abrazo.

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