I´m moving…

30 03 2010
It´s been a long time since my last entry on this blog, mainly for professional reasons but also because I´ve been contacted by the Basque Broadcasting Corporation (yes, it does sound like the BBC!!), that is, www.eitb.com, and they´ve proposed to publish this blog under their web dominion. I´ve accepted, and the new blog will be published together with a series of other interesting blogs in English language (http://www.eitb.com/en, at the bottom of page) most aspects of Basque life (gastronomy, sports, culture, tourism,…). The new address is http://www.blogseitb.us/basquetourism/, I hope you will continue visiting this blog and sending your comments or questions. Some of the entries will be new but I will also publish old ones, for the newcomers.

Of course, I will maintain my independent (but non-objective and clearly biased) point of view. Hope you like the new blog!!





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.





Bizkaia Dubidubi

23 02 2010

http://tinyurl.com/bizkaiadubidubi

For those Basques from Bizkaia living abroad, a dancing video with some of the landmarks of their homeland (I was going to say landmarks and landscapes of their homeland to make them homesick”, which is a very musical alliteration…), including also the industrial and ugly ones (but that have made this land prosperous and full of vitality).

You can see seconds of the Painted Forest, the Guggenheim, the refinery of Petronor, the funicular train to Artxanda, the bridges, the Ribera market, Bilbao from the above, the cross at the Gorbea mountain,…





Carnival time in the Basque Country

22 02 2010

This was a land of pagans in the old times, and was christianized late compared to other territories. It´s also a very mountainous land and full of (formerly) isolated valleys – one of the reasons for the seven varieties of Basque language in such a tiny territory -. Thus, there are a wide variety of rituals specific to one area only, even one town, that make this country so attractive and misterious in many ways.

One of the rituals most celebrated (as in many places around the world) is Carnival (Inauteria or Aratuste, in Basque). There are some traditional and very picturesque ones, like those celebrated in Tolosa, Lesaka, Mundaka, Ituren and Zubieta (video of the carnival at Ituren) or those in Lantz (Navarre), accompanied by a variety of mythological characters (Ziripot, Miel-Otxin, Markitos, etc) . www.tu.tv/videos/carnaval-de-lantz-baile for a sample of the carnival at Lantz.

Many other towns celebrate their pagan rituals during carnival time, but I wanted to show you those above as quite peculiar and very linked to our land.





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.





Some Places I Like As a Local In Bilbao-and where you probably wouldn´t go if not told

27 01 2010

As it happens in every city in the world, there´s an area that is visited by tourism, leaving apart other places that may be as interesting. With the arrival of tourism (the Guggenheim effect), the bars in the Old Town have risen prices and quality is…well, very good, but not quite the same.

What follows is a shortlist of places I like in Bilbao (ordered as they come to my mind), that you normally will not visit as a tourist (and at very fair prices):

1) Bar EME, http://www.baremebilbao.com,  absolutely the best sandwiches in the whole world (and I´m not exaggerating), locals flock in to buy them, you can have them at the bar or to take away, it´s amazing how many hundreds of them they sell every day. Made with a special bread and a secret sauce, they are a treat. At 2,20 euros each, a bargain!!

2) La tabernilla de Pozas (the small tavern), in Licenciado Poza street (known as “Pozas”), you´d never enter here because it doesn´t even have a name outside. There are no bars like this anymore. Wine in barrels or drunk in “porrón”, it´s popular to have (non peeled) peanuts and wonderful tuna sandwiches (real ones with good chunks of fish and real crusty bread), an ageless counter, unaltered premises for ages,…, and the legend says that the two brothers behind the counter haven´t talked to each other for years..

3) Melilla y Fez, in Iturribide street (Old Town), just entering the street on your left hand side, a huge variety of potato omelette (Spanish omelettes) served in big portions at very good prices.

4) Bar Estoril, in Plaza Campuzano (center), the best long drinks in your life, together with wonderful omelette pintxos.

5) Bar Rio Oja, in El Perro street, the best cazuelitas (tapas), Old Town.

6) Azak restaurant, in Pablo Alzola st, in the Basurto district, you can have selection of Iberic specialties and cheese for as less as 14 euros…and so big you´ll need to have another bottle of their extensive (and cheap) wine list. A rarity in this district. Huge selection of meals, appetizers and beers.

7) Taberna Taurina, in Ledesma (center), small but authentic with dozens of pictures of bulls and bullfighters.

8) Mina restaurant, in the Old Town. A bit pricey, but worth every cent spent at it.

More to follow, there are still many places worth visiting in Bilbao…





The blog of blogs about the Basque Country: buber.net

26 01 2010

Blas Pedro Urberuaga, a son of Basque shepherds that emigrated to Idaho (USA), started his web www.buber.net, the most complete and comprehensive on the internet about the Basque Country. It covers all aspects of Basque life and you can find there information on almost any Basque issue.

He´s so popular that the annual prize for the best Basque webs is named “Buber Sariak” or Buber Prizes, an event that is widely popular among those dedicated to the internet world.

If you want to have a deeper knowledge of who we are, what´s going on, our history, landmarks, etc…, www.buber.net is the best web. And then, this one, of course…:):)





11 Must-Sees in the Basque Country

21 01 2010

The routes below are, in my opinion, those places that you should visit when coming to visit this so unknown country. Most are easily accessible on public transport and, except in high season, you shouldn´t worry too much about crowds.

1) DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIÁN, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (in the world?), views from Igeldo mountain, pintxos in the Old Town, Chillida-Leku open air museum (www.museochillidaleku.com), the picturesque fishing town of Hondarribia.

2) ZARAUTZ, GETARIA (wonderful promenade almost touching the sea linking both towns), grilled fish at any of the restaurants in Getaria, ZUMAIA and its beautiful church, LEKEITIO, its port, its island and the incredible retable inside its church.

3) ARANTZAZU Sanctuary (www.arantzazu.org) and OÑATI and its University(www.oinati.org).

4) SAINT JEAN DE LUZ, BIARRITZ, BAYONNE-BAIONA, in the French Basque Country (also Petit Bayonne, on the other side of the river), great chocolates and gateau basque, apart from picturesque villages.

5) BILBAO, Guggenheim Museum (this was obvious!), Old Town, Funicular train to Artxanda for spectacular views of the city.

6) HANGING BRIDGE (Puente Colgante) of Portugalete, a Unesco World Heritage Monument, unique in the world, over 110 years old and running 24 hours a day.

7) VITORIA, Old Quarter (jewish) and a visit to the spectacular restoration of its Old Cathedral (Ken Follets based its novel The Pillars of the Earth on this cathedral, so they made him a statue!)

8) ATXONDO valley, where silence can be heard, spectacular place with the mountains and sheep in the background. And several wonderful restaurants.

9) URDAIBAI Biosphere Reserve and the beaches of Laga, Laida, the town of Busturia, Mundaka (surfers´ paradise), the sea estuary, the caves of Santimamiñe and the PAINTED FOREST OF OMA. Also the steep fishing town of Elantxobe.

10) The walled towns of LAGUARDIA and LABASTIDA and the wine region of Rioja Alavesa. Not to miss the guided visits to the wine cellars underneath the town.

11) The POZALAGUA caves, in the Karrantza valley, a spectacular combination of rare stalactites and stalagmites, now specially prepared for visits with kids, http://www.karrantza.com/?seccion=cuevas3&idioma=es.

You will not find massive tourism or tourist traps at any of these places, and if you plan your visit in advance you will get a very good idea of this beautiful country.





Txoko and Batzoki-II

19 01 2010

So you arrive into the Basque Country and notice that, unlike your country of origin, there are bars. Many bars, as in the rest of Spain (although our level of alcoholism is not higher to that of your country, paradoxically). Bars in Spain and in the Basque Country are places to socialize, to meet, to talk, to enjoy a small drink and a “pintxo” or “tapa”, but not to get drunk (at least, not their main target)…well, you already know this. So you enter in a bar, and find that there´s a lot of Basque memorabilia on it: flags, pictures of people in Basque berets and of traditional Basque sports, Basque symbols everywhere…welcome, you´re now in a “batzoki”, roughly translated, “the place to meet”. Batzokis belong to the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EAJ) and are everywhere…there´s one per town over 1000 people, at least. They serve as places where members of this party (over 100 years old and in power for 30 years, just until last year) like to have a drink and hold meetings. They are bars in the strictest sense of the word: entrance is public and you get the same as in every other bar. Famed for their excellent food, pintxos and low prices (not so low now), they are very popular, even among those that do not hold the same political views.

The new strategy of the PNV regarding batzokis is to modernize them with a mixture of traditional and very modern interior arquitecture, to offer excellent menus at very good prices and to win every pintxo contest held in the Basque Country. And a familiar atmosphere too.

The extreme left nationalist parties also have their “Herriko Tabernas” or “People´s Taverns”, much more radical in looks and many of them clearly supporting ETA violence (many are being closed now under the new laws that have ilegalize these parties). The socialist party has their “Casa del Pueblo”, “People´s Home”, also a bar but not as popular as batzokis.





Txoko and Batzoki – so popular, so Basque (I)

13 01 2010

Right, here we have two words that define a very important part of a Basque traditional way of life…

A “txoko” (meaning “corner”) is a gastronomic society,(food is our religion here, remember?) mainly for men. Basque men (not all, but many) love to cook, and they also love to be in company of other men (the consequence of a society traditionally dominated by women). So they like to meet in “txokoak”, that is, a place where they meet for cooking, play cards and sing and talk and…It goes like this: a group of friends buy the premises (usually at street level), found a society, then register a name for it, and then they pay a monthly fee to keep it running. In a txoko you will find an industrial kitchen, a tv, several tables, a fridge, a coffee machine, cards and games, drinks…There´s a list where the members write down the day they want to have the txoko for a dinner or a meal with their friends (guests are welcome, if invited by a member). That day, the member cooks for all and beverages drank are noted down for a later payment. There´s an official accounting but the golden rule is respect and trust. The second golden rule is “no talk on politics or religion”, that is, friendship above all.

A meal in a txoko starts hours before, as the cook wants to make the best meal ever. Money is not important, as neither is time.

Women used to be banned from this meetings. Now, while they still are a “refuge” for members, women enter in txokos as everybody else. But it´s men who cook…