With no idea what to expect, Giovanni and I embarked on our trip from Barcelona to San Sebastian on 9/22. Our real destination was Zarautz, a smaller city which is located about 15 minutes from San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque). Giovanni and I were really excited to see his first cousin Ramon that Giovanni hadn’t seen in over 15 years. After the 6 hour train ride, Ramon and Oihane (Ramon’s girlfriend) greeted us at the train station. No one had yet picked us up at any train station or airport so that was really exciting! The next five days were amazing! We won’t forget the hospitality of these two. Ramon is an amazing cook and so much of the Basque culture revolved around planning for the next meal. In fact, there are even “sociedad gastronomicas” in pais vasco in which you pay a fixed membership fee and you are allowed to use the dining room with your family. Basically you bring the ingredients you want to cook, and they provide the plates and utensils. You can buy wine and beer at cost prices and there is no clean-up! You just pay for what you use. It is a great idea for any big city where you can host people even if you have a small apartment or kitchen by going to this place. At the sociedad gastronomica, we ate merlusa (a delicious large fish) and Giovanni and Ramon even ate its eyes ☺, calamari, culas on a salad, bread, wine and Zacapa rum. We basically ate and drank from 9 pm to 2 am. During our weeklong stay, Ramon cooked langostinos, ceviche and fresh cheesburgers with blue cheese, cheese fondue with mushrooms and shrimp. On Tuesday, I cooked Guatemalan frijolitos (black beans) which we ate with queso fresco and cream (nata). Giovanni and Ramon were in heaven ☺ Today we took a picturesque walk to a small city named Getaria along the Mar Cantabrico and took a photo with the statue of the first man who sailed around the world.
I must admit that I had my hesitations about pais vasco. When I came to San Sebastian at the age of 19 (in 2001), the strongest memories I have are signs in support of ETA and racist remarks that were made towards my Asian co-travelers. I remembered the beauty of the city and the delicious seafood, but my negative sentiments overpowered my appreciation of the city. This time things were different. It is so important to return to cities you had mixed feelings about or even didn’t like the first time because the experience and memories are so subjective. This time I was mesmerized by the beauty and cleanliness of San Sebastian. They actually clean the algae on the beach with a special truck so the beach is more enjoyable! There is no trash in the streets even though it is a big city. And the combination of beach, the historic center of the town with the cathedral, and the green mountainous background make for perfect scenery! No wonder it is the most expensive city in Spain.
Words in Basque that I learned:
Caixo – hello
Aur – bye
Es – no
Vai – yes
Mooshu – kiss!
Osasuna – cheers ☺