When looking back at my first few blog posts in Spain, I realized that I was constantly comparing Spain to Southern California and the cultural differences within. Here are my first impressions of Spain, but here’s to once last comparison and how my … Continue reading
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10 reasons to travel with olive oil
“I found the perfect travel partner who never fails to fix my hair when in need, repair my stuck zipper, cure me when I’m sick, and shine my shoes. It’s never in my way and hails from the Mediterranean.
Olive oil, you’re the best! Okay, maybe s/he isn’t a real person, but yes, I take olive oil with me wherever I go. Olive oil has been used for medicines, soaps, skin care, and religious rituals, among many food recipes for thousands and thousands of years. Spain, Italy and Greece are among the top producers of olive oil, and together…(continue reading)
My time in Spain is coming to an end. I still have about a month and a half left, but I’m now making plans for the summer instead of Spain. When I speak to my friends from the States, certain items come to mind more than others. I’m not excited to leave Spain, but I’m excited to reunite with what I miss most about the U.S.
I hear it’s common for Americans to miss peanut butter. I never had an issue with peanut butter until today when the grocery store closest to me ran out. They’ve been out all week so I finally came to the conclusion that they no longer carried it. But, one of the perks of living where I do is that there is another grocery store 25 yards away.
Yes, there are going to be many things I miss about Spain, but the grass is always greener on the other side.
Things I miss about living in the US:
- Microwave bean and cheese burritos
- Smoothies and my Magic Bullet
- Take Out
- Diverse food.
- Almond Milk
- Egg Whites
- Friends and family of course
- Holidays with family
- Customer service
- People who walk at a “normal” speed
- 24 hour grocery stores
- Or just grocery stores open past 9 p.m.
- English: communicating freely
- Department stores with everything in them
- Free wi-fi
- Clothes dryer
- Sundays: NOTHING is open on Sundays in the Basque Country
- The dollar with out conversion fees
- The Internet in general: they are a little behind here
- Football season
- The Rec Center
- Having a house
- The Library
- Actually, just having a campus
San Sebastian (or Donostia in the Basque language) is a city in the Basque Country in Northern Spain. It is about 12 miles (20 km) south of France on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. San Sebastian is known … Continue reading
I have often heard of people moving overseas and after a few months, bang, they are fluent in a new language. I had high expectations moving to Spain. I figured I would return to my home university bilingual and have a Spanish major on my résumé. HA.
Let’s clear things up first:
The Basque Country, El País Vasco, and Euskadi each mean the same thing. The Basque Country is the name in English. El País Vasco is the name in Spanish. Euskadi is the name in the native language. I will refer to the region as the Basque Country to avoid further confusion.
Now in the Basque Country, they speak Euskara (the native language) or Castilian (Spanish). When wandering around the Basque Country, you often see Spanish or Basque and the two languages are nowhere near close to each other.
If you think this is all confusing, wait to you see how they spell. They sound NOTHING like they look (obviously from a foreigner’s point-of-view).
So far in my three months here, I have noticed many of the current inhabitants of this region are simply Basque. I have yet to meet many people who were born elsewhere in Spain and moved to this region. So naturally, locals are very prideful of their culture and language. Not many speak English.
So, again, how to not learn Spanish while in Spain:
1) Live in the Basque Country: I cannot say you won’t learn Spanish at all, but I haven’t learned Spanish. Like many countries that share a common language, different phrases are used for different situations, different dialects, etc. Or there is Spanglish, which is a blend of Spanish and English. I would compare this region to Spanglish, but Basque+Spanish= Basish. Yes, Basish.
For example, people do not say “adios” here as we learned in our high school/college textbooks. They say “agur.” And for those of you who do not know what adios means, you are obviously not from the Southwest.
The fact that locals say “agur” is not a big deal, I know. The Basque language is hard to learn and is very different from Spanish making it discouraging. I find myself not wanting to speak at all.
*Disclaimer: I love the Basque Country and think EVERYONE should come visit this gorgeous region of Spain.
2) Live with Americans: I figured this was obvious so I opted to live with locals. That backfired when my roommates turned out to never come home.
3) Travel outside Spain: Other countries in Europe do not speak Spanish. Clearly. If you did not know, I don’t know how you even read this far.
Thankfully I have traveled mainly throughout Spain, but when I did go to Portugal, I obviously did not speak Spanish. It slipped a few times though, I’ll admit.
4) Tell someone you speak English: Because they will ONLY want to speak English. My program sets each student up with an intercambio, or a language partner. He/she is a local who speaks the language and you meet anywhere from once-a-week to once-a-month to practice your Spanish. Surprise! She only wanted to speak English.
It’s mainly the younger generation wanting to speak English with you, but I cannot limit the age group. But seriously, guests at hostels, foreigners at the Erasmus parties (all study abroad students from around Europe), students at our school, the boy I tutor’s mom…
You will lose all chances of speaking English when you introduce yourself as a native English speaker. Just pretend you don’t know any language and they will help you with your Spanish.
We already knew it a beautiful hike and destination, but we weren’t exactly sure on how to get there. But thanks to Google, we figured it out. Google gave us directions from my apartment in Algorta to every Metro stop and bus stop. Google gave us the addresses of every bus stop. Google gave us the bus numbers, bus routes, and where we would be getting a taxi. And I didn’t have to click on 15 different pages. It was all there on one page with a map. It seriously amazed me.
We researched what to do around San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, figuring it wouldn’t take the entire day. On many Basque Country tourism websites, Bakio sounded appealing for lunch or drinks. This beach town especially sounded appealing when we found out the weather was forecasted at 73 degrees and sunny. We figured we would get to Bakio around 11:30ish, have some lunch, head to the hike, get back to Bakio for the 5:30 bus back to Bilbao, watch the Athletic Bilbao vs. Manchester United game in San Mames (home game!), and finish the day with the Erasmus students at the St. Patrick’s Day Party. It was going to be a great day.
We arrived in a ghost town…that also happened to be Bakio. Great! People were absent from the streets (much different than the busy streets of Bilbao and Getxo), and everything was closed. Not even the Sun made an appearance in Bakio. I guess we cannot always trust tourism websites? I’m sure it’s a cute little town, but not today.
We had to walk about 10 minutes the closest open cafe. There still wasn’t very many people there. It was a Thursday around noon. Strange.
I drank some coffee and we shared a croissant just to have a place to sit until Mr. Sun showed up. After about an hour, it started to clean up and we made our way back to the bus stop to ask for directions at the Information Center. Oh, you’re closed, too? Okay. Perfect.
Luckily a man who worked for Bizkaibus had directions to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. But the 10 euro taxi was hard to come by and the bus wouldn’t come for about 2 hours. Our best bet was to walk, he said. As he was giving us walking directions, a taxi pulled up!
The taxi dropped us off at the start of the trail. We began to descend down the mountain along the narrow, steep, uneven, rocky trail. My Toms (shoes) were not expecting this. But nonetheless, it was beautiful.
Once we made it to the bottom, it took a break to prepare ourselves for the 223 (?) stairs to the top. I counted 223, but I could be wrong. The “rule” is, if you count every step to the top and then ring the bell, you will get married.
The Basque Coast is rocky, green and beautiful. There was an old “bathroom,” or something that slightly resembled one. It was basically just a hole that led to the water below… David said it didn’t smell too good. I trusted his word and did not attempt to prove him wrong.
We made our way up the winding path up to the church while taking pictures every three seconds and observing the architectural quirks along the way. At one point, there a tile placed that was different than the rest of the stone walkway. It was interesting because it was the same tile that lines all of Getxo.
Once we made it to the top, we rang the bell and noticed we hadn’t heard it yet that day. Oops, darn tourists.
We took our pictures and went back down the mountain. That’s when we realized that the steep mountain we just (basically slid down) walked down was now going to be that steep mountain we have to climb up. And after hiking up to the church, it wasn’t too appealing.
But we made it to the top knowing that there was a cute little restaurant looking over the coast just waiting for us. We ordered some drinks and asked them when the next bus would come. They looked at me like I was crazy for asking such a thing. They had no idea that a bus stopped there. Again. Perfect.
We started walking or something like walking. We were exhausted, unfit students walking through the narrow, 2-laned, curvy Basque Countryside. It was safe, I guess.
I was nervous at first and felt a little stupid. How did I not get the taxi number? What an idiot. David’s bad knees were hurting after the hike, and this 30 minute walk was not going to help them feel any better.
Oh, and the clouds were coming back in. Bye blue sky, bye happy Kristi, bye happy David.
By the way, getting lost in a city, and getting lost in the countryside are two VERY different things. When you’re in the city, you can stop and rest, you can ask for directions, you can stop and get food, you can walk on a sidewalk, you can get a taxi. When you’re in the countryside, you have to pray that you aren’t about get splattered on a semi-truck’s window like a bug, you have no one to ask directions, you can’t just sit in the road and rest, you have nothing to eat, and you don’t have a side-walk. The side-walk is knee-high, wet bushes.
But I decided to pull out my camera and find the beauty in getting lost.
We finally made it to Bakio. We only had a 10 minute wait until the next bus into Bilbao. We got into Bilbao around 6 p.m.. Of course, everyone was decked out in their red and while stripes for the big game at 7.
We went to the closest restaurant from the bus station that had a wide range of food (something you won’t find in Spain often) and wi-fi to see where the rest of the USAC group was going to watch the game. Of course, the restaurant with the big menu was only serving sandwiches that night. of course.
We were exhausted. We started making our way toward the stadium where it’s popular to watch the game. Every bar is packed and has layers and layers of people outside trying to watch the game. Oh, and everyone is very drunk. Very drunk. It’s a great atmosphere….if you haven’t been hiking all day. We walked through the streets, absorbing everything and decided it would be best to go back to Getxo, put our backpacks down, clean up, and watch the game at a bar close to my apartment.
And we were right! Even though the bar was filled with old people, it was a great experience. One die-hard Athletic Bilbao fan was teaching us some Basque words, but I couldn’t help but stare at his loose snaggle tooth! My bad!
It ended up being a perfect night. And it helped that Athletic beat Manchester United…again!
¡Osasuna! (cheers in Basque)
3 facts we all know about Europe: it’s old, it’s diverse, and it’s beautiful.
Between the infinite assortment of “exotic” foods or the charming architecture from the earliest years, Europe is something we just cannot experience in the States. Because Europe dates back to somewhere in the 45,000 – 25,000 BC, it’s hard to get a solid perspective on how old it really is. My grandparents are old. Anything before they were born is really old. But 25,000 BC, that’s really, really old.
But today we still share something in common with the first settlers of Europe, which is eating. We all eat. We all may eat differently, but I will save that for another blog post (welcome to my brainstorming sessions).
While wandering through Madrid, we toured the “World’s Oldest Restaurant,” dubbed not only by the restaurant itself, but by the Guinness Book of World Records as well. That’s some reputation to maintain. I had never thought about the concept of a restaurant mainly because eating has been around since day one of humanity.
According to the website, husband and wife Emilio González and Amparo Martín opened Restaurante Botin opened in 1725. The family owned restaurant is now in its third generation, but offers the same Mediterranean cuisine, but with a new name: Restaurante Sobrino de Botin.
The restaurant is near Plaza Mayor, but surprisingly (considering its reputation) had only one customer at the time. The expensive menu ranged from a 6 euro soup to a 99 euro (fish) dish.
I was ahead of the tour group and originally walked past the restaurant. At first glance, it looks like any other bar from the outside. Our guide stopped us and told us a little about what we were standing in front of, and proceeded with our tour inside like it was her restaurant.
There are small hallways (I liked to pretend they were secret passageways) that l could crawl through. I kept finding more and more. You could see that some of the brick did not match because of Madrid’s history with secret tunnels. Close to Plaza Mayor was a prison and to avoid the busy streets, the monarchs ordered a system of secret tunnels that connected the prison to their most popular destinations.
Soon I ran off and I gave myself a self-tour. I ran into the owner and though he did not provide tours, he was quick to offer me anything I needed and allowed me to go wherever I wanted. I wanted to capture a candid pictures of the chefs at work, but they seem to be used to tourists as they posed for me.
But I still got a candid of one of the chefs cooking cochinillo asado, or roasted pig. I believe the restaurant is known for this dish. Both cochinillo asado and a lamb dish have been cooked the same way since the restaurant opened and in the same wood-fire oven.
It’s interesting to stand inside a restaurant that has survived so many wars and economic depressions. I wonder how many people have eaten at the restaurant since its opening.
Overall, much has changed in Madrid since 1725, but it’s refreshing to know that the Botin tradition remains.
When I told my friends I was going to Spain, they expected Barcelona or Madrid. But when I told them Bilbao, they did not seem to understand why. Besides the business program, I think I already knew I wanted to stay away from the touristy areas. After all, I do go to school in Moscow, Idaho; another town that isn’t well-known.
When I told my friends I would be going to school in Moscow, Idaho, they said, “East Coast? You’ll be so far away!” Sad, but true. Even my friends in Oregon thought Idaho was on the East Coast, and Oregon shares a border with Idaho!
I hesitate to tell Spaniards I go to school in Idaho, but not for lack of school pride. If the West Coast doesn’t know where Idaho is, why would Spaniards?! But the Basques do know. Is the American education system failing? Maybe. Or is it their Basque pride? Definitely (there is a strong Basque presence in Idaho, but I’ll save that for another post).
Long story short, Basque people are prideful of their culture.
When I’m on the Metro, or just walking around, I try to think of what I would tell people about Bilbao: what it’s like and how the people are. I’m starting to forget what is different from America because I am starting to learn to live like a Basque.
As much as I think I fit in, I don’t. Side Story: While dressed up for Carnival, locals could still tell we were Americans! But how? We were in full costume. There must be something about how we carry ourselves.
But anyway, here are some of the characteristics I still notice:
Social Gatherings: Spaniards live life to the fullest to say the least. They embrace relationships with their family and friends and seem to always have time to get together for lunch or pintxos. They take long siesta hours during the day from anywhere from 1:30-5 p.m. (not exactly sure of the hours) and then go back to work until about 7 or 8 p.m. People never seem to be in a rush as they slowly walk through town with each others’ arms intertwined. Most nights, the children are out running around after I am already in bed around 11 p.m.
Fitness/Health: Everything is very natural in Spain. Spanish media doesn’t negatively influence body images.
My first impression was they weren’t an entirely healthy culture because their exercise consisted solely of walking, which they do a lot of. I see gyms, but it’s not as common as in America.
My first fruit purchase was strawberries and oranges. They went bad after a few days and I found myself complaining. But then I remembered I used to complain that everything in America was not local or it is genetically modified to stay “fresh” longer.
Elderly: The amount of elderly couples walking around never ceases to amaze me. Sometimes I think Algorta (my neighborhood) has a retirement center around. Nope, they are just very strong and independent people for how old they are. It’s hard to say why because we grew up two entirely different lives, but not because we are from two different countries. As much as I would like to think I will be that strong when I’m older, I doubt it will happen after the amount of stress I put on my body with soccer for the last 14 years.
Shopping: Americans can get all of their groceries and household items at Wal-Mart and be done for the day. Spain is just the opposite. There are butcher shops for meat and seafood, fruit shops, bakeries and small grocery stores. If your food stock is empty at home, you must hit many stores to fill it back up. Luckily there are many on each corner so you won’t have to travel far.
Cafes: Cafes are also everywhere. Every morning before school, I get a Spanish tortilla. In the cafe near my apartment, it costs 1 E. Around the corner, it costs 1.50 E. Across the street from school, it costs 1.60 E. And by the Metro, it costs 2 E. I have been to a new cafe everyday to check the prices. For the most part, they all taste the same. But yes, it seems like every other store is a cafe.
Manners: Mannerisms are very different from in America. While Americans (or at least the USAC students) want to say “thank you,” “sorry,” or “excuse me” any time we speak to someone, locals just look at us weird (if they even look at us). They just don’t take the time to say those things in Spain. I guess it’s just implied.
As I mentioned earlier, people walk very slow here. Many love to window shop as well. I have yet to give up my American walking speed just yet (it’s still cold!) and find myself almost plowing people over on accident. So if they aren’t walking slow enough, they will randomly stop to window shop. Or there are the people who are having a smoke break outside the cafes, but take up the entire sidewalk. I don’t complain, but I find myself just physically pushing them out of my way. They don’t get upset, it’s just common.
Even the dogs are well-behaved. It’s almost something you see out of a scary movie like they are hypnotized are something. I love dogs, and they are everywhere here. My first instinct is to pet it because, you know, usually dogs seem excited to see people, right? In Spain, it’s like they are another human. When their owners go inside, they know when to stop and not go in.
In the end: I was walking to work in heels the other day when these two little boys were running around with the soccer ball. They were running straight into me so (in my heels), I started playing with them. I wasn’t sure how they would take it, but they seemed to be smiling. I didn’t have to speak the Basque language to have fun with them. Having fun and soccer are both universal activities.
I cannot say that these characteristics are tied to the Basque Country only, but either way, the Basque pride has taught be to prideful about my own characteristics. I shouldn’t be trying to act like a Basque when I’m American, but I can pretend every once in a while.
I almost forgot what color was. Bilbao is filled with grey buildings, grey clouds, and black streets, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Bilbao is very similar to New York City-Upper West Side to be exact. It’s wealthy, it’s clean, it’s glamorous. The architecture spans ages, and the women love their fur coats. But there isn’t much diversity within Bilbao, unless you include the dogs. There are a lot of dogs.
As I’ve mentioned before (yes, multiple times), I love Bilbao and I’m not complaining about its uniformity. But I couldn’t help but adore Lisboa‘s colors. The vibrant buildings, the detailed tile, and the boundless graffiti instantly grasped my attention and would not let go.
I experienced my first European backpacking adventure this past weekend. About ten USAC girls took off to Lisbon, Portugal for the five-day weekend. Four of us made a detour to Madrid for two days.
It was only five days, but it was exhausting. Am I too young to tell you I am getting too old to do this? I am not sure if I was exhausted because our multiple 8-hour sightseeing days, or because of the people I was with never seemed to stop going. But I just want a nap!
I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. I fell in love with Lisbon’s vibrant colors, beautiful tile, and endless graffiti.
I fell in love with what I do not see in Bilbao or Getxo. For the first time since my arrival in Spain, I was not comparing anything to California or Idaho, but I was comparing everything to Bilbao and Getxo.
Sure, there are still cultural differences between the U.S. and The Basque Country, but I was not thinking about it anymore because Bilbao/Getxo is my new home.
I found myself comparing the food: Basque vs U.S. vs Lisbon.
There is a lot of diversity when it comes to food in America. I used to ask myself, “What kind of food do I feel like tonight?” and the answer would be based off the food’s ethnicity. “I want Chinese food, or Mexican,” I would tell myself.
In Spain, at least in Bilbao, my answer would not be an option. Tapas, or Pintxos, or Kababs (a middle eastern dish). I do not know why there are so many Kabab places around Spain, but they are delicious. It’s a mixture between shredded lettuce, tomatoes, meat, a delicious mystery cheese, a thin ketchup like sauce, and a thin mayo-ranch-type sauce wrapped in a pita pocket. For vegetarians alike, they have falafel to replace the meat.
I cannot say I am a fan of Pintxos, but only because I am vegetarian. And the vegetarian Pintxos come complete with crab and ham. I wish I could say I could scrape off those bits of meat and seafood, but the crab is mixed in with the mayo and the taste lingers.
The only Pintxo I can eat are the Spanish tortillas, which I love! It is basically like a Quiche. A tortilla normal is cheesy potato, eggs and occasionally sautéed onions or peppers. Sometimes they make a sandwich with their fresh-baked baguette. I could eat this for every meal.
The tortilla sounds nothing special, right? It’s a very simple dish with not a lot of flavor, I know. But that is Spanish food. Or that is the Spanish food I can afford. I cannot treat myself to an actual restaurant. I have heard that Spain does not use a lot of spices, though. Instead, they use a lot of oil to cook things.
So once we made it to Lisbon, we felt as if we were in food heaven. The locals looked at us very weird when we raved about their most simple dishes. A simple sandwich with goat cheese, basil, and tomato was heaven to the four of us who ordered it. We went to a Portuguese restaurant and ordered food that came with flavor and spices. I am not sure if the food was actually that good, or if we have just been deprived of tasteful food. The world will never know.
Overall, some of my food habits have changed and some have stayed the same:
-I used to hate Ketchup, but I learned to like it while in Spain because I need something to put on my food and hot sauce is not an option here. I told my mom, and all she could say was, “At 20 years old…” Ooopps!
-I drink coffee because it is only .25 E at school and it compliments my croissant breakfast. Which leads me to my next point…
-I eat small breakfasts. I do not like eating a pastry for breakfast because I get an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I miss veggie omelets with egg whites-something I have yet to find in Spain.
-I eat later in the day. My lunch is around 14 or 15:00 (2 or 3 p.m.), and my dinner is at 21:00 (9 p.m.), which keeps me up late at night. Dinner is eaten anywhere from 9:00 and can last until midnight! This meal is often eaten at a bar or a restaurant, while enjoying the company of friends. It may be full meal or just tapas/Pintxos while bar hopping.
Overall, I am getting used to Basque Cuisine, but my occasional backpacking trips will be including a lot of stops for different types of food so I can escape tortillas!