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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How To Eat Pintxos Like A Local in the Basque Country

23 06 2014

Given the increasing number of tourists (don´t worry, the Basque Country is still a heaven for those that feel comfortable far from the madding crowds) that come to this gourmet´s paradise in search of the best pintxos in the world, please find below a few suggestions on how to eat pintxos like a local. Having experienced and seen lots of guests on my pintxos tours at a loss when faced with a counter full of these delicacies, I feel this post as a must for those that want to do it right:

1) Peek into the bar and take a look at its counter. If you don´t like what´s shown there, just look for another bar. There´re plenty.Barra Irrintzi 1

2) Yes, I know that in your native country you don´t have as many bars as we do here, and you tend to spend your time and money in just one for the whole evening. No, we don´t do it that way. We visit as many bars as possible.

3) We like to have ONE pintxo per bar, maximum TWO, and ONE drink.Ham and tomato on bread

4) We don´t have pintxos meals or anything of the kind. It´s an appetizer and not a meal. It´s meant to dilute the amount of alcohol in blood and facilitate conversation while standing close to the counter.

5) STANDING, we have them standing, we don´t sit down for pintxos. Please. Stand. Talk. Enjoy. But don´t seat.

6) Never, ever, accept the plate handed by the waiter. We locals just grab them with our hand from the counter. Or order them from the list on the wall to have them made on order.

7) We pay based on an honour system, that is, we tell the waiter how many we´ve had and he believes us. We don´t lie, ever. The toothpick thing (counting toothpicks as a proof of how many pintxos you´ve had) is nowadays an urban legend.

8) ALL pintxos are good, all taste great. Ibérico ham is good for your health and great for your heart and arteries. And yes, those fresh looking things are real anchovies, not that thing you have on pizza.Pintxos

9) There´s no such thing as “pintxos bars”. 99% of bars offer pintxos, all bars are “pintxos bars”.

10) Order a “zurito” (a third of a glass of beer), a “rioja” (a glass of red wine), a “blanco” (white wine) or a “cider” (natural cider, not fizzy). Ignore Coke or any other sweet drinks, they are not meant for pintxos.

11) Enjoy the atmosphere, ask the waiter about the pintxos, talk to strangers, throw napkins on the floor (YES!!!), pay on leaving, try different things, get a bit tipsy, enjoy this wonderful pintxos culture…pintxos counter





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.