Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Everyone loves Oreos!

As you all figured out from my last blog, I am not staying in San Sebastian this month, but instead at my boyfriend's house in a small town called Orio. And yes, it's pronounced Oreo hahah but it is more famous for it's fish than the cookies :)

Since it is known for it's fish, you can of cours
e imagine it is a quaint fishing village that sits right where the sea meets the mountains, along a small river that runs along the side of the city. Directly next to the river sits a huge hill, upon which the Old Town is built - still standing from it's 13th century roots. Most impressive is the Saint Nicholas of Bari church, which was built to withstand the uneven ground. With a stone and wooden walkway that runs around the front part of the church and overlooks the streets below, this church is the oldest monument in town and defintiley the heart of the city.

Running on the left side of the church is Kalea Nagusia - Main Street in Basque - whose cobblestones wind up the steep hill that the city sits on. Each home, most built in the 13th and 14th centuries, boasts a sandstone-carved coat of arms over the front door, a flower-decorated balcony and small front doors (more like my-size homes!). While
the streets are full of lively houses, personal favorite is one called Salatxo. This home, only accessible from a picturesque bridge from the church, is one of the oldest homes in the vill
age and to me, certainly the one with the most personality!

The city echoes of its fishing past in every corner, bar and street. From the carvings in buildings of fishing boats, to outdoor grilling restaurants of the day's catch, Orio
is and always has been an important fishing village in the Basque Country. In the past, fish were not the only important catch to Oriotarras (how you call a person from Orio), but also whales! Back in the 14th century, 14 men would climb into a row boat and head out hunting for whales. So important it was to society, that every five years, the locals celebrate the 'Day of the Whale' which commemerates the day the last whale was hunted by Orio's fisherman in 1901.

While whale hunting stopped with time, the 14-man rowboat stuck and is still an important part of the city's pride. Each summer, rowing teams from local fishing towns compete fiercely in 'regattas' or boat races. As you might remember from my bike trip to San Juan, where the pink flag
s flew with pride, Oriotarras happily post up thier yellow flags and wear thier town's colors daily. I have noticed it is quite impossible to walk through the town and not see a yellow t-shirt! These boat races are all the rage during the summer months and rowers turn into mini-celebrities in their towns. It is assumed these regattas came about from the earlier fisherman who were constantly competiting to get into the harbour first to sell their fish. Now, it is merely a sport, but a very important one to say the least.

In 2005, the population of the city was a mere 4,600 people. So, you can imagine how small it is. In fact, I can ride my bike from one side of town to the other in about 5 minutes. And, if I am feeling like a long-distance ride, I go all the way to the small beach, adding about 5 more minutes to the ride. It's so small that on my first day staying here, I saw one of the two people I know in town besides Joseba as I was riding my bike to the grocery store.

While small it is quite charming and I can't help but smile as I ride on the bumpy stone streets to the tiny grocery store and back home, only hearing Basque and dodging little kids playing soccer in the street. I guess it's not a grand vacation city, but for this month, I am more than happy to be an Oriotarra!

Muxu (kiss in Basque - because that's really about all you hear here!)

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