Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A new side to Basque Country

The Basque Country in Spain is split into three I could you could say 'counties' just like we have Cowlitz, Clark, etc. I live and work in Guipúzcoa but last weekend Joseba and I headed to the neighboring county, which is called Vizcaya. With a similar coastline, this county boasts Bilbao as their main city. Since I don't have a car I haven't traveled out of the county much, but on this occasion, Joseba took me to a special place on the Vizcayan coast, next to a small town called Bermeo.

After about an hour of windy roads that whip you along the coast and guide you along the jagged cliffs of the Basque coast, we arrived at the parking area and started our walk down to the sea-level, excited to see a beautiful church named San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Not just any church, this spot is famous throughout Basque Country for being a pilgrimage spot. With money donated by Don Íñigo López Señor de Vizcaya, this church was built in 1053. While the age of the church is impressive, what is even more stunning is the fact that is it built atop a huge rock that juts out into the Bay of Biscay and only connects to the mainland with a narrow walkway. To think of the construction in 1053 blows my mind.

Apparently the rock was daunting and was a tough job back then too because the name, Gaztelugatxe, in Basque translates like this: gaztelu = castle and gache = difficult. So I guess it means difficult castle? Others also think that it could me Castle Rock because aitz in Basque means rock. Regardless, the people who constructed this small chapel atop a craggy peninsula named it quite appropriately. And, for any people who live in Castle Rock, WA, now you know what your city is named in Basque!

Originally with a step for each day of the year, now there are only 231 steps to reach the top. It is said that Saint John (San Juan) the Baptist reached the top of the rock and that three of his footprints remain in the rocks. Since then, people have been making the hermitage to this special spot, one step at a time. Since there used to be 365 steps, I kind of wondered where all the extra steps went but after going up about 100 I stopped wishing for more. In its almost 1000 years atop the hill, Gatzelugatxe has seen attacks, storms, fires and wars. One such story that I found quite interesting was that in 1596 the troops of the 14 ship strong La Rochelle fleet climbed the rock and looted the jewels from the church. In the process, they threw the hermit who cared for the church over the cliffs.

In 1808 the state of the church was so bad that talks started of demolishing it. In true Spanish time, the talks lasted almost 80 years and in 1886, the church was torn down and reconstructed, with the original floor plan still intact. What stands now is a reconstruction except for the original facade that still greets those who make it up the steps.

Going along with tradition, we did as the the pilgrims who ascend the rock do and made a wish and then pulled the bell at the entrance of the chapel three times. I'll let you know if it comes true, and then maybe you will be convinced to come for a visit and make your own wish. Not only popular with tourists, many Basque fisherman in the neighboring villages visit the church before heading out to sea, and the chapel is full of offerings from them.

Atop the cliff we took in the stunning views that surround all sides of the church. Blessed with a bright blue sky that seemed to meet the never-ending Atlantic, the stark contrast of the rocky coast and the fresh grass and flowers made for a postcard-perfect view. With the wind at our face we relaxed for some time before the much easier walk down and the windy drive home.

Muxu (Basque for kiss)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Not all good things come to an end...

Well, it's been some time since I have talked about my future plans, and I assume for those of you who don't already know what I am up to, are starting to get curious.

As you remember, I applied for grad school at DePaul University for a Master's of Secondary Education with a focus in teaching Spanish and I was accepted. I applied a few months back still not sure if I really wanted to move back to the States or if I wanted to continue living my dream life here. I wasn't quite sure about much so figured that applying would be smart so that I would have options. The acceptance letter arrived to my Grammy's house and she immediatley called me. She told me I had received an envelope. I was excited because I know that a small envelope means rejection and I figured it would be the easiest way to not have to make a decision. However, she then told me that it was a big envelope, which I knew meant acceptance. My gut reaction at that moment was 'I wish I hadn't been accepted.' Grammy read the congrats letter and sent if off in the mail and since it was only a few days before my Semana Santa trip to Denmark, Sweden, Latvia and Berlin, I decided to not stress myself out yet about life plans.

I did a lot of thinking over the next few days and a lot on the trip and while in Sweden, on the island of Vaxholm, when I was sitting alone on a private dock - just me, the waves and the cold, I decided that I would reject the acceptance and continue living in Spain. I think that as soon as I heard that I was accepted I knew that I wouldn't go back, but such a big decision took some time for me to admit to myself.

A quote came to my mind that really set it straight for me: The dream of the person you wish to be is a waste of the person that you are. Here I am, halfway across the world, but happier than ever. I am very content with every aspect of my life and thinking about changing it kind of breaks my heart. I love my job (here is a photo of me, Erika and Sean on the last day of class - we are all coming back again next year), learning Spanish (and a picture of me and the girls of our Spanish class and our teacher Elena on our last day of class) and the people that surround me. Why try to fix something that isn't broken?

Also, I feel most people, in the end, regret more the things that they DIDN'T do instead of the things that they did that didn't turn out the way they had hoped. I thought that I would rather be a person who lived her dream in Spain rather than a Spanish teacher who was constantly thinking about the life she could have had if she had stayed in Spain. Who knows, maybe one day I will move back to the USA and regret having living here so long, but at least I can say I did it and smile at that fact.

Well, the letter arrived after I returned from the travels, and as it turns out I can defer the enrollment from Fall 2010 to Summer 2011, and this is what I will do. I made the decision thinking I couldn't defer it, so this is sort of just a back-up plan that if come next year I do a 180º and want to leave this life, I have an out. However, I don't really see that happening. But, just in case.

So, that is my life update. It's quite a big decision, but one that I feel secure and very happy with. With that said...if anyone was planning on visiting, you now have more time to save your pennies because I will be here for some time!


Friday, June 18, 2010

Add it to the list...

Well, as most of you know, I was quite the picky eater before I moved to Spain. In the last year and a half I have probably tried more food that I wouldn't have ever thought of trying in the 23 years before I moved here! From reindeer meat (in Germany), sheep stomach stuffed with intestines (in Scotland) and octopus (here in Basque Country). The past few weeks have given me the chance to add a few more odd foods to the list.

Morcilla - this is a typical Spanish 'tapa' or as we call it here 'pintxo'. I've always heard about it but have never had the guts to try it. And guts is exactly what you need because the main ingredient is...drumroll please...pig's blood. It becomes eatable when they mix in onions, rice and other spices. Final opinion? Quite tasty actually, unless you think about what you're eating.

Txipirones en su tinta - now this one is just yucky. Translated it means 'squid in their own ink' and when you think about squid ink what color comes to mind? BLACK. I think we normally shy away from food that doesn't look tasty but this dish definitley is not pleasing to the eye whatsoever. Cuts of squid are placed on a plate and covered with a thick, dark sauce. Not appealing at all, this is a food that is very popular in Basque Country and something I have heard about since I arrived but have never thought to try. The other day my friend Miles and I decided to work up the courage to try it. Besides from turning your teeth an ugly color before you wash it down with some wine, it was actually tasty. I think if I had eaten it before seeing it I would have liked it even more, but now since I have tried it once, if I order it again I will know that scary as it looks, its actually a yummy pintxo.

Rape - Yes. I ordered a 'rape', which in all senses felt completely wrong. In Spanish it is pronounced rap-eh but still, reading it, it seems like the most incorrect thing to ask for. This delicious fish is actually an Angler fish in English and somehow the translation is just off the wall. I haven't ever ordered this because it's not served in too many places but for an end-of-year dinner, us teachers went out to dinner and it was on the menu. I decided that since I am in such a food testing mood lately that I might as well go crazy and ordered one. An easy fish to eat, I would for sure order another rape, but would prefer to just order an Angler fish haha.

Well, those are the latest additions to the odd food list. Hopefully it inspires you to go eat something weird this weekend!

Besos (with black teeth from the txipirones en su tinta)!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Living the Dream

Well, one of my life dreams came true today...I was published in a newspaper! That's right folks, one of these very blogs that you have read before, appeared in The Daily News - my hometown newspaper.

My dream job would be to be a writer who gets paid to travel around the world, but I don't think in this economy that is likely to happen. However, it is quite exciting for me to have my words in print. I have always wanted to be a journalist, even thought about majoring in it and did some writing for my college newspaper, and have always had a goal to see my name on a byline of a story in a real newspaper, and finally it has happened. I can't stop smiling :)

For those of you who don't get The Daily News, here is the link to my story.I thought it would be a big suprise to everyone when they opened their Sunday newspaper, but The Daily News spoiled it and printed a 'coming this weekend' thing with my photo. So, the secret was out, but it is still just as exciting to me. Thanks to everyone who has read the blog. I love writing and love it even more that you guys out there enjoy reading my stuff. Hopefully, I can get more stuff published in the future!