Some Funny Questions From Visitors to The Basque Country

23 10 2014

It´s been a few years now working as a guide in the Basque Country, and I have to say that 99.99% of my guests have always been very nice and polite. With some of them I´ve made friends and we exchange emails regularly (Hi Barb!) and with some others I´ve had the pleasure to see they return again to this beautiful region. Most of my visitors are foreigners, mainly from English speaking countries (US, Australia, Canada, Britain,…) and sometimes the information they have about our way of life and culture is not very comprehensive. So I´ve received a lot of questions about the Basque Country, and some of them have been very funny:

1- “I do know that marriages in the Basque Country have always been arranged by the parents, but do you still keep this habit? Your marriage was also arranged, young man?”

My answer was: “No madam, it was only until we joined the European Union, then they prohibited this ancient custom, much to our regret”.

2- (On a wine tasting experience, when tasting red wine): “Oh my God, mine is not sweet!!, I must have taken the wrong glass”

3- More on wine tasting in the Rioja region: “Oh, so you don´t offer California wine here?”

4- (asking for a coffee with milk -café con leche- in a cafeteria in San Sebastián): “Do you pasteurize your milk?” And on seeing my puzzled face..”Hum, you may not know what “pasteurizing” means, sorry” . And then she explained it to me.
5- “So this is an anchovie, look Diane, it´s actually a FISH!!!”, on looking at a spectacular anchovie pintxo with a real anchovie on it (he thought of them as that weird thing they put on pizzas.
6- “Do you pay taxes or is everything government owned and paid?”
7- “I can pay with US Dollars everywhere, right?”
8-“Do kids go to school every day?” (a very kind lady, I answered “yes, except on weekends, summer and Christmas….”)
9- “I´d like to see the running of the bulls”…”Yes sir, but that is in Pamplona on July and it´s September”. “Oh, I thought they ran all year round…”

10- “On Mondays (day when many restaurants are closed), you don´t go to work because you can´t eat anywhere, right?”

11- “Why can´t I pay a glass of wine with a VISA?” (most bars in Spain don´t accept credit cards, and you never ever leave your visa to the bartender in case they do…trust is the word). Important to know that a glass of wine in Spain just costs 1.50eur approx…

12- “How come there´re so many kids on the street? Shouldn´t they be home watching TV?”

13- “Wow, a glass of water with no ice on it!! How can you drink it?” (or a Coke, mostly served with just an ice cube or two)

14-  “I can´t eat cheese” “Well, you should have told me earlier, you just had two pieces of Idiazabal sheep cheese” “Wow, that was cheese?? I meant pizza cheese, I didn´t know there was hard cheese!”.

And so many others that make this job a very exciting and interesting one!

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St Ignatius of Loyola, the Basque founder of the Jesuits

17 06 2014

You have surely heard of the Catholic order of the Jesuits, as they are present all over the world. But I´m sure you didn´t know that the founder was born in 1491 in Azpeitia, in the heart of the Basque CountryIñigo de Loyola (born Iñigo, a Basque name, that he changed later to Ignacio), of a noble family, received a good education and soon became a soldier serving the King of Castile. In 1521 he was injured while battling in Pamplona, and retired to heal his wounds to his fortress in the valley of Loiola, near Azpeitia and Azkoitia. During his long recovery he started reading religious books, that made him rethink his whole life. Once recovered, he started a life of sanctity that led him to the foundation of the Jesuit order, probably the most influential in the history of the Catholic church.

The 18th century basilica is located in a beautiful valley, surrounded by a park full of trees and the Urola river that flows through the mountainous scenery. As you can see by the pictures, it´s a magnificent but at the same time a modest building, with a great dome covered in baroque paintings and designs. On its left hand side you can visit the birthplace of San Ignacio de Loyola (a medieval tower) that has been beautifully restored to its original state. You can visit both buildings, the Loiola tower shows most rooms as they originally were on the 16th century.

Right by the Basilica (or Sanctuary) there´s a nice, cozy hotel and some rural lodgings, as well as fine restaurants, in an atmosphere surprisingly tourist free. The valley offers very interesting visits, like the Ferrería de Mirandaola (Ironmongery) in the Iron Valley or the town of Idiazabal, where the world famous Idiazabal sheep cheese is made (also, the Cheese Museum deserves a visit). The Railway Museum in Azpeitia offers the possibility to ride in a steam locomotive train…a great experience for kids!!

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Basque Ferrerías – Ironworks of the Middle Ages and Beyond

24 02 2010

One of the main characteristics of the Basque soil is (was) its rich content in high quality iron. Up to the XVI century, there were around 300 foundries producing iron for all of Europe. Nowadays, it still plays an important role in our present industrial activity. At the very beginning, the foundries were located on top of the mountains and they used the wind as the main force to produce iron, using coal as the source of heat (in an extreme anti-economical way). Soon they found out that it made more sense to have the ironworks by a water stream, and so “modern” foundries were established in many Basque towns.

I´ve been to two of these foundries, that have been recently restored . You can visit them (visits also available in English) in order to see “live” how iron was formerly obtained, the historical reconstruction is very well performed and what you see is probably very close to what it really was. One of them is near Bilbao, in Muskiz (Bizkaia), Ferrería El Pobal, www.elpobal.com (this link will redirect you to another page available in English)- press here for a 4´youtube video of a visitor-. You can also see how they got flour with a water mill. It´s cheap and very interesting, kids find it amusing.

The other one is located in Legazpi, Gipuzkoa, where there formerly were 7 foundries. This one is Ferrería Mirandaola, on this link (not the best of webs, but it´s in English too), located in the middle of a beautiful park where you can enjoy the incredible landscape surrounding it.





Two days in Bilbao without a car-The Basics

8 02 2010

Right, you´ve come to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim. A city you´d never thought in your “to visit” list, but the museum is a “must-see” and you´ve read very good reports about the area. So you arrive at our new (small and convenient) airport, take a taxi to your hotel on the city centre (20 Euros, aprox.) or the bus (1,50, I think). There you are, 10AM and the full morning to see the museum.

Good, you´ve spent 4 hours inside it and you´re now hungry. I´d go to the Old Town (Casco Viejo) to have a drink and a couple of pintxos. You can either take the tram that leaves you in front of the Arriaga theatre in 5 minutes or walk along the promenade by the river. You´re now in the Plaza Nueva, if it´s nice sit outside and enjoy your drink. It´s 14:30, time to have lunch. I´d suggest to have a “menú del día”, where for 11-12 euros per person you will have a first, a second, a dessert, bread and wine or water. There´s a wide choice all over Bilbao, but as you´re in the Old Town I´d suggest Jardines Street or El Perro Street, and any of its restaurants. I particularly like Harrobia, in El Perro, www.harrobia.com.

16:00 and you´re feeling tired. You may take a nap in your hotel, and by six or so you may want to walk the Gran Vía and parallel streets, full of shops and interesting buildings. Or you may want to explore the Old Town, the cathedral and the 7 original streets of Bilbao, as well as take some pictures of the Arriaga theatre and the riverfront.

20:00 and you notice that there are lots of people on the streets, hanging around and socializing while having a drink. You may want to enter in Café Iruña, http://www.cafesdebilbao.net/cafes/caf_iru.php, serving drinks and food since 1903, together with its “brothers” Café La Granja and Café Boulevard (soon to re-open), and order a glass of wine (1,60 euros per glass) or a “zurito”, half a glass of beer. Next, at Ledesma st, you will find many other interesting bars, such as the Artajo or Taurino.

I´d go on a pintxos crawl for dinner on Bilbao city center, there will be people until 09:00PM or so. If tired, you may want to go back to your hotel. If not, you can walk to Licenciado Poza street where you will find more people and more bars open. I assume you´re not going clubbing tonight…correct?

Next morning, take the funicular train to Artxanda and enjoy the spectacular views of Bilbao, the Guggenheim, the mountains and the sea from above. http://www.bilbao.net/funicularArtxanda/jsp/home.jsp?idioma=9&color=rojo& Then, after all the pictures and maybe some exploring of the area, get down to town again and get the metro to Areeta-Las Arenas. From there you have a 5 minute walk to El Puente Colgante, the hanging bridge, a Unesco World Heritage Monument, one of a kind, over a 100 years old and running 365/24, as a public service. You may want to climb to the top for stunning views of Bilbao stuary and the beaches. www.puente-colgante.com. Walk then all the way to Ereaga beach and enjoy a meal at Tamarises restaurant or at the cozy fishing port of Algorta (google “puerto viejo algorta” for images).

From there you can take the elevator to Algorta city centre and then the metro back to Bilbao. Once in Bilbao, step off at Indautxu station and look for García Rivero street, and enter in El Huevo Frito, for great pintxos and a zurito. Or in the Okela, for more elaborate ones.

It´s getting late and you haven´t visited the Museum of Fine Arts, second to El Prado in importance in Spain. Well, maybe for next visit…

This itinerary is based on a medium budget, for those of you without a car and short of time. Of course, there are many alternatives, but this one may be a good option if you want to make the most of Bilbao in just a day and a half.





The Best Rolls-Royce Museum, in the Basque Country??

26 11 2009

You´d never thought that the biggest and most important Rolls Royce collection in the world would be located in a little visited area of one of the provinces of the Basque Country. 75 unique cars, 43 of them Rolls Royce and then Lamborghini, Ferrari, Hispano-Suiza, Bentley…, all kept in perfect working condition in a beautiful tower castle in a lust green valley just 35 kms west of Bilbao. For detailed info and pictures, www.torreloizaga.com, unfortunately only in Spanish, but Google offers a free and decent translation service… Sadly, its owner, founder and keeper (he was the ticket seller, also) died recently, so there´s some degree of uncertainty about the future of this museum. I was there last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Kids are welcome, you can take as many pictures as you want and the fortress and gardens are perfect for a bit of relax.

Not far, in the Karrantza (or Carranza) valley, there are XIX century balnearies, the Pozalagua caves (one of the biggest in the world), El Carpín Zoo and Adventure Park (perfect for kids)…in an unspoilt environment, tourist-free. A good web page is www.karrantza.com, luckily also in English. I also like to go to this area to enjoy “alubiadas” in a restaurant, consisting of slow cooked beans with black pudding, chorizo, bacon…as much as you can eat, followed by a huge grilled (rare, as we like it over here) T-bone steak…all for about 25 euros per person, wine included (one of them, www.enkartur.net/servicio-restaurante-la-bodeguilla-sopuerta-40.html, in Sopuerta).

I can´t help to think that if this museum were located in, say, the UK or the US, it would be a much visited attraction and known worldwide by car lovers. But for some reason it seems we want to hide these little gems to our visitors.