Sunday, October 24, 2010

Exte berria (The New House)

Although I have lived in my new apartment for over a month, I am just now getting around to posting the photos for you guys to see, and putting up my new address.  The apartment is great!  I started looking with a friend, after sort of realizing that the past two years I have lived here, I never have lived with a friend.  I was always so happy in Arizona and New York with my roommates and liked being at home.  I hadn't had that feeling since I moved to Spain and decided the best remedy was to move in with people I liked and chose to live with.  That said, I now live with my friend Nerea, from a nearby town.  She moved in and we started looking for a nice roommate for the 3rd bedroom.  After ladies who were 40, Americans who couldn't speak a lick of Spanish (Nerea speaks no English) and a bunch of boys calling, we finally found a nice 26-year old ballet teacher from Barcelona. 
We all get along great and most evenings drink wine and watch TV or do our homework together.  Monste (the Barcelona roommate) and I go to Basque classes together, so we study together a lot!  The house feels like a regular apartment to me now - and finally I feel comfortable being at home, such a relief.

Of the 3 bedrooms, I have the exterior one, with a window that lets in a lot of light.  For the occasion of having a flat with people I like, I went all out and finally  bought new sheets, instead of the hand-me-downs I have been using for two years.  My theory the past two years is that I shouldn't spend money on sheets if I am only going to stay a short time.  But now, I admit it to myself, I plan on being here a long time, so I went ahead and bought some sheets.  It makes it feel much more like it is 'my' room.

The best part of the entire apartment is the living area.  Called an 'American Kitchen' in Spanish, the kitchen, dining room and living room are all one room.  Typical for us to see, this set-up is quite unheard of in Spain, so I am happy we found one. 

Back again in Gros, my neighborhood from before, I feel right back at home - with my favorite grocery store, bakery, paper shop, corner store, bars, etc.  The funniest is that I used to live on San Francisco street and now I do again, just a few blocks up the street from my old apartment.  Here is my new address:

c/ San Francisco 42, 2º-2
20002 Donostia - San Sebastian
Guipuzcoa, España - Spain

Sorry for the long delay, but glad I could finally write a blog about my happy home life!



Saturday, October 16, 2010

Amongst the peaks...Part 3

After being rained out the first day of hiking, we were very much looking forward to the Ruta de Cares - which is a path that follows the River Cares through the deep gorge that the water made thousands of years ago.  One of the most popular hikes in Picos, we were pumped and jumped in the car to race to the starting point.  However, when we put in the starting point (the city Cain) in the GPS, we were sad to find out it was 1.5 hours away, and so begin the drive to the hike.

Although long, the drive was beautiful.  With hillls carpeted in trees, we were lucky enough to be in the park at the exact time that the leaves had started to change.  The result was a gorgeous pallet of harvest oranges, muted greens, rustic browns and sometimes bright reds (that one's always my favorite to see).  Going only about 30 or 40 miles per hour, the curvy road sometimes looked as if it were going to go off the edge but then quickly we would make a sharp turn and continue driving along the steep rocks looking out at the landscape.

We arrived in Cain and laced up our hiking boots (mine, which I bought 3 days before and only cost 14€ woo hoo!).  The hike started with a control house of the hyrdoelectrical project that was created in in the 40s.  Years of geological work made the river but man harnessed the water's power from the river that connects two Spanish provinces (Leon and Asturias).  After passing by the control house we entered a narrrow and low-hanging cave, or more a series of small tunnels.  Thankfully, I am short and didn't worry too much about hitting my head, but it was quite comical to see the tall people crunching down and walking.  With dripping water, I was also lucky to be wearing a hat.  As you will see in most of the photos, I sport a winter hat that Joseba bought when he was trekking in Peru.  I kind of stole it, so now it's mine because I like it so much :)

In the small breaks between the caves, we were able to gaze down in the gorge and were quite surprised at how turquoise blue some areas of water seemed.  To me it looked as if we were on a tropical island hiking instead of hiking between slabs of massive limestone wearing fleeces and hats!  Being the most popular hike in the Peaks, the tunnels were crowded but it gave us an idea of what it might have been like in pre-historic times to take the trek from Cain to Poncebos (our finishing city). 

Emerging from the moist caves, the path became more simple, a medium-size gravel way hugging the wall.  From time to time we could hear a loose rock fall off the path into the Divine Gorge as they call it here.  Don't worry, I didn't go too close to the edge - I left that to Joseba, so he could take some good photos!  Continuing along the path we came in contact with the Goat King of the mountain.  Perched atop a rock that hung out over the gorge, we sat regally on his perch while his goat friends (or maybe his followers) rambled about the path.  Not as scary of an incident as the bull the day before, we allowed ourselves to take a few moments and have a photo shoot of him - and he loved it!  It was if he were posing! 

We kept on, paralleling the man-made canal that operates the hydroelectic powerhouse, and eventually crossed a small bridge that connected the province of Leon into Asturias.  Kind of like crossing state lines, but instead of driving across the border, we stepped across, with a small waterfall to mark the crossing.  From Leon we couldn't see how beautiful the canal we had been walking along had been, but from the other side of the wall in Asturias, we were able to see the arches that followed the route above and with the gaping gorge below, it was a stunning view. 

All tour books say the first hour or so of the hike, starting in Cain, is the most beautiful with its narrow walkways and the tunnels, so since we had passed this part already we were now enjoying the vast openeness of the gorge and from time to time a passing animal or a tree losing its leaves.  More than halfway, we decided to eat lunch and picked a fantastic spot.  Sitting on the poncho, we sat on the edge of the pathway, our feet dangling over the nothingness below.  Sandwiches (turkey, sausage and mozzerela - quite delicious) in hand we peered out at the landscape.  Something that I found somewhat surprising is that many people, as they walked by and saw us eating, said 'buen aprovecho' which means enjoy your meal.  I thought to myself...if I were hiking in the States would I tell someone to enjoy thier meal if I passed them?  Probably not, I would probably just say hello.  A random thought, but it made me smile.  Ohhhh how I adore this country.
After lunch and hiking a bit more, we turned around and did the same hike back, but this time with a different perspective.  Funny thing was that we passed almost the exact same people as when we were walking to Poncebos because walking from Poncebos to Cain and back or Cain to Poncebos and back are both very popular and since it can be done in about 4 hours, a lot of people do it.  We said lots of 'holas' and from time-to-time and 'aupa' (which is sort of like hey in Euskera) when we came across a group of Basques.  Avid outdoorsmen the Basques are, Joseba could not only tell a Basque from a few feet away by thier face and hair, but also by thier clothes.  I guess there are certain clothes brands that Basques wear more than other people, so its a giveaway when you see someone.  Because I went shopping with Joseba at the local sporting goods store and bought similar brands of clothes to his (because he is quite a hiking fan and knows good brands for the sport), I even got some 'Aupa'!  Can you believe it!?

Back in Cain we stopped for a hot coffee and a small break to look over the photos we had just taken.  All stunning!  Luckily the fog from the day before had left and provided us with a quite sunny day, but as we headed home it rolled in again.  We didn't mind much though, since we had just finished a great day of hiking!

The good weather quickly changed bad on Monday and instead of hiking in non-stop rain we took some time to check out Cangas de Onis - the city we were staying in.  Of course we had went to dinner and walked around a bit in town before, but with the rain we focused more on being tourists than hiking. 

Our first experience of the city was 'El Abuelo', a restaurant recommended to us by the clerk in our hotel.  With a Menu of the Day for only 10€, it was a bargain and the clerk told us it was also quite tasty food.  Our first night in Cangas we went to a bar for some Asturian cider and some tapas (as they call them in Spain - you probably are more used to me saying pintxos).  However, the next 3 nights that we were in Cangas we ONLY went to El Abuelo. 

El Abuelo (grandfather in Spanish) actually exists too - a cute old man with peppered grey hair and black glasses with a blue checkered shirt - just like on his menu.  While the food was delicious and the rice pudding dessert was scrumptous, the thing I liked most was the cider-pouring contraption they had at the restaurant.  Sold in most of the souveiner shops in the town, an old grandpa holds a bottle above his head and when you press the button and put your glass in his other hand, a stream of cider squirts out into your cup!  In this area (as well as in the Basque Country), they pour the cider holding the bottle high above thier head and somehow manage to get it into the cup.  Although we ordered wine at the restaurant I never tired of watching someone press the button - and oddly enough, the grandpa was a spitting image of the cider-pouring man.  It made me wonder if he cut his hair and got glasses just to match his cider machines haha.

On the topic of food we were also lucky enough to be in Cangas de Onis during not one but two food festivals - a cheese festival and a honey festival!  After one day of hiking we passed the large tent that had been set up in the center of town to try some of the famous cheese from this area - queso de cabrales.  Kind of like a blue cheese, it is made with the milk from a morning milking and a night milking of the cows, goats and sheep.  After the curd is formed the cheese is put in a mold and kept at a very hot temperature for a few days.  Next, the cheese is placed in the caves of the area (Asturias is famous for its numerous caves).  With 90% humidity and temperatures from 40º-50º, the cheese is left for two to four months covered with wet maples leaves until it is ready to eat.  A creamy blue-cheese, I was surprised I thought it was good, because I am not the biggest blue cheese fan.  We passed a restaurant and ordered a plate of french fries covered with cabrales cheese and although tasty it was quite heavy, due to the richness of the cheese - but yummy nonetheless.  Besides this famous cheese, there were also various others types of cheese for our testing pleasure.  Free to the public, we even got to participate in the cheese associations ranking table - where we ranked 4 cheeses on thier appearance, aroma, cut, taste, texture, etc.  Such experts we are!  We of course couldn't spend an hour testing cheese without buying any and in the end bought a light creamy cow cheese, a hard dry sheep cheese and a soft and rich goat/sheep cheese mix.  That sure brought an aroma to the car on the drive home!

The honey festival was not as exciting but still gave us a chance to try some homemade honeys and in the end we bought one that was made with eucalyptus for the sore throats we will have once it starts getting chilly here.  Besides giving us a place to gobble down cheese and honey, Cangas de Onis was also a cute little town to walk around in.  Founded in 718 by Pelayo (that Spanish King who won the battle at Covadonga from last blog), Cangas de Onis used to be the capital of the Spanish Kingdom, so as you can imagine it has quite a lot of history.  Before Pelayo, Romans ruled the area and although long gone, thier mark still remains with the famous Roman footbridge that has been rebuilt to reflect how it was in the Middle Ages.  Hanging from the center of the bridge is the Cross of Victory with Roman letters. 

I wish I could say I hiked more on this trip that I ate but I think its opposite.  Between the cheese, honey, tapas and dinners at El Abuelo, we ate quite well.  The hikes were spectacular and we have already decided that we will come back another time, stay on the other side of Picos and do other great hikes.  So...maybe next year you will read another blog about the Picos de Europa!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Amongst the peaks...Part 2

After a spectacular first day with gorgeous sweeping views from the lookout point and the feeling of rushing down the ice cold mountain river, Joseba and I headed off towards the mountain to do some hiking - what Picos de Europa is famous for.  Divided into three areas, we were staying in a town called Cangas de Onis, which is on the west side of the mountain range, so we looked into doing hikes in that area and in the central region.

Our first hike took us up a winding road to the town of Covadonga.  If you remember from the last blog, the entire Picos de Europa National Park started as the Montaña de Covadonga park!  This small town was where we parked and took a bus up a twisting road to the Lakes of Covadonga - Lakes Enol and Ercina.  Known simply as 'The Lakes' in this area, we caught a glimpse of the first (Ercina) from the window as the bus wrapped around 180º corners and slowed down for cows crossing the street.  We were dropped off at the second lake but in the end made our way back to Lago Ercina because we had a gorgeous hike in mind from there.  As we stepped onto the dewey grass, the fog was lowset and we were worried we wouldn't even be able to find the path, let alone follow it.  Quickly though, the fog lifted and we snapped a quick photo of us in our adorable hiking outfits and with the stunning lake background and then headed up the grassy slope towards La Vega de Ario. 
Along the way we passed countless cows with large rectangular bells around thier necks, that eat time they ate rang loudly.  With huge herds of tan-colored cows eating at the same time, while hiking it sounded as if windchimes were echoing through the mountains.  Along with cows, there are also some long-lost herds of sheep and shephards that still roam the Picos, some of the last of thier trade in Spain.  We didn't have the opportunity to meet Mary and her lambs or Little Boy Blue, but did come face-to-face with a bull.  Luckily, sporting purple/black and blue/black, Joseba and I managed not to flash any red in the bull's face and gingerly walked through the pasture, dodging at the same time huge piles of cow poop with scattered rabbit poop in between. 
About an hour into the hike, it started to sprinkle, which didn't bother us one bit.  We threw on the raincoats (and Joseba a poncho so he could carry the backback under it) and kept on trekking.  But, the rain got harder and harder and after taking cover under a large tree for a granola-bar break, we decided it would be smartest if we turned back so our shoes wouldn't get too wet we couldn't use them the next day.  When we were maybe 30 minutes from the starting point, the rain suddenly stopped and the sun decided to grace us with its prescence.  Torn between turning around again or just heading back to Covadonga, we took advantage of the sun with a bunch of photos, and left the Vega de Ario for a different trip.  Looking online at photos now, I see we didn't miss too much and I think we made the right decision to bask in the sun rays while we had them - giving us time to admire the fog creep across the mountain tops, making the lone house that stood there disappear. 
While the rain had stopped and we made it back to the bus stop safely, the fog had quickly rolled in.  While on the bus on the way down, the fog made it almost impossible to see 20 feet in front of the bus.  Luckily, the drivers do this trip a million times a day and know the curves like the backs of thier hands.  Although we only hiked for 2 hours, we took the short bus trip as an excuse to have a little siesta. 

In Covadonga, before going back to the car, we just HAD to see the main attractions - the massive church atop a hill and a small chapel built into a cave hanging mid-air.  This town not only houses two beautiful worshipping places, but also a lot of Spanish history.  In 722, the Christians of Iberia beat the Moors that controlled the area - which started the Reconquista of expeling the Moors from the Iberian pennisula.  A Marian shrine (a shrine to Mary), named Our Lady of Covadonga was said to be hidden in the caves of the mountain, which helped the Christians with thier success.  The story goes that the leader, Pelayo (the first King of Spain), prayed to the shrine to help win the battle and miraculously the Moorish leader fell and his soldiers fleed from the Christian army, standing at the Caves of Covadonga.  Years later in 1877, the Basilica to Saint Mary of Covadonga began to be built to honor this shrine.  With pink limestone, the neo-romantic church stood majestically against the changing-color trees in the background.  With such a breath-taking view, we couldn't believe our luck that as we reached the top of the hill and were almost ready to enter the church, the chimes struck 4 o'clock and not only did we get to awe at the massivness of the place but also were treated to a couple of minutes of bells ringing amongst the peaks.
From the church we could also see the famous Caves that this place is famous for.  In a wall of pure rock, a small cave tunnel leads from one side of the wall to the center, where a huge hole opens up and lets you gaze out at the world below.  This is where Pelayo had the Marian shrine and where his troops held off the Moors.  Set 131 feet above ground, in 718 it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared.  Since this it has been considered sacred and now houses a small chapel and has been named the Sacred Cave.  Below the cave sits a large grotto whose water runs down the hill and makes for a pretty waterfall a few steps below. 
Finally, we headed back to our wooden hotel to warm up and change to street clothes and then headed out to Cangas de Onis for dinner and a walk around town.  Like responsible young adults we didn't stay out late, knowing full well that since we didn't hike too much today that tomorrow we would need to be full force for our next hike - La Ruta de Cares.  More on that to come in the next blog!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Amongst the peaks...Part 1

With a 5-day weekend in front of us, Joseba and I spent the last few weeks desperatley trying to find a great deal to somewhere in Scandanavia to spend the vacation days.  In the end, we didn't find anything there (we will save it for another trip) and decided instead on something much closer to home - the Peaks of Europe (or picos de europa as they are called here).

A National Park site of almost 65,000 hectacres, Picos seemed like a great weekend getaway and so Friday morning we jumped in the car and started the 3-hour journey west towards the Spanish province of Asturias.  This famous Park, the largest not only in Spain but also in Europe, was originally the first National Park in the country.  Starting as a small park area around the Mountain Covadanga in 1918, it only recently (1995) became as big as it is known now.  And, its so named they say because it is the first things sailors see when approaching Spain from the sea. 

We chose to stay in a town called Cangas de Onis, which is quite popular in the area and allowed us access to good trails, as well as neighboring towns and various activities.  Joseba and his researching skills secured us a good hotel deal that came with a kayak ride down the River Sella - one of the rivers that snakes through the gorges of the Picos.  When we arrived to our hotel - La Posade del Monasterio - we were shown to our rustic room.  In a stone building, on the top floor, our room was beautiful with its wooden floors, handmade nighttables and wardrobe alongside a half-stone half-mustard painted walls all under the wooden slanted roof that had a large skylight the let us gaze at the blue sky.  We would have been happy to take a quick siesta but hurried off to paddles ourselves down the river.
In Arriondas, the starting point city of the kayak trip, we suited up - me in a swimsuit and tshirt and Joseba in his wetsuit and a tshirt and grabbed our paddles and headed down to the river.  After a extremely fast explanation of how to row correctly the guy gave us our container with our lunches and we stuffed the camera and cell phone in and bobbed into the water.  Joseba kayaks quite often and so I wasn't quite worried that I had zero experience.  With me in front and Joseba behind, we floated quickly down the river, carefully making sure we were counting the four bridges we needed to pass before the end of our 10 kilometer (6 miles) trip where the guy was waiting for us. 

With the blue sky above (which was slowly getting cloudy), we made no effort to rush and instead took in the gorgeous scenery.  Along the way, Joseba taught me the correct way to row, we stopped for our chorizo sandwiches and tuna empanadas and took some fun photo sessions - one in which Joseba is staning on the kayaking rowing and kind of looks like a Native American rowin a canoe.  Because I'm not yet a kayaking pro, I kept pouring the water after rowing on my left all over my clothes and hair.  By the end of the 3 hour trip my entire left side was soaked and my arms were a bit sore. We rode back to the starting point in a van with the boss who recommended us some good places to go after we showered and dressed to take advantage of the good weather while we still had it.

So, our next stop was the Mirador del Fitu - a viewing area atop a mountain not far from where we kayaked.  From here, we could not only see the stretching mountains but also the ocean and the small villages scattered throughout the valley floor.  With the clouds rolling in, the sun only managed to shine on the peaks of the highest mountains, giving a shadow effect to the rest of the range that was breath-taking.  From one far-off village, we could make out one stone house with a fire going and the smoke rising into the air, colliding with the standing fog. 

With night making its way, we decided to take the winding road back down and along the way were accompanied  by a group of goats crossing the road and a cow eating the grass along the side of the road.  With the next day in mind we ate a hearty dinner and went to bed relatively early so we could be ready for a day of hiking.  Nestled in our wood cabin with the covers pulled tight, we happily went to sleep after a great first day of vacation.

I'm writing this on Tuesday night, and we just arrived today, so I am quite tired, so will only leave you with our first day activities.  More to come on the subsequent adventures soon!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hiking to a party...a Basque pastime!

Sidenote:  This blog was meant to be published about a month ago...but since we didn't have internet yet at my new apartment, I kept forgetting to publish it when I went to internet cafes.  So, while it is outdated, I thought you still might like it.

While you have read of my crazy hikes in the past month, the recent hike Joseba and I did was one with a party as the destination.  You might remember me writing about a mountain named Ernio, where we trekked up to the peak of a mountain half-covered in fog.  Ring a bell?  Well, this weekend we headed back, but not just for the hike, but for a Basque festival atop a mountain!

Each Sunday in the month of September, Basques from all over hike up the mountain and celebrate the fiesta which honors this old pilgrimage route.  Dressed all in hiking clothes, everyone gathers at two buildings on a flat grassy area.  Blessed with a cloudless day, we were able to fully enjoy the day and all it brought - which for any Basque party means food, drink, dance and music.

After the hike up, hungry tummies are happy to eat sandwiches with chorizo (sausage) or bacon (which I thought was kind of an odd sandwich option, but was happy to eat it).  To drink, Basque cider is always on hand, but we opted for the chicken broth drink, which is typical on cold hiking days.  While it was sunny, the brisk mountain breeze called for the warm drink.  As a dessert, I tried roskillos, a Basque cookie that kind of reminded me of a wafter covered with a sweet meringue frosting.  We arrived quite early to try and beat the crow, which was pointless, but after we finished eating, the festive live music started which always prompts anyone who knows a traditional Basque dance to rush towards the dance circle and show off thier toe-tapping moves.  I don't know any dances, but am completely entertained watching.  The moves, while they appear to be easy little hops, are so quick that it looks like the women are running from a scurrying mouse, while hopping, clapping and snapping thier fingers above thier heads while turning around all the the beat of the music, which on this occasion consisted of two singers, a tamborine and an accordian.

While we stayed where the party was happening, a good amount of people climb to the peak.  With a narrow path, the way up and down looks like a constant stream of people, and although we didn't go up, the people we talked with told us it was packed up there!  Atop the mountain, the trek becomes more sacred - with the crosses dotting the peak.  Also, before the last few meters to the top, stands a large steel cross with several metal rings hanging from it.  It is said that if you pass your body through the metal rings, that you will be free of illness for the year to come.  Along with that, besides the spectacular view,those who make it to the top get a small token to remember the trek - three ribbons and a bell pinned together to display on your best hiking shirt.  The ribbons are of course red, green and white - the colors of Euskadi (Basque Country).

Even as we hiked down the mountain back home, I could still make out the music and the occasional hearty laugh of an old Basque man echoing in the wind.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Euskera ikasten dut

After two years, I have finally decided to sign up for...Basque!  Called Euskera by the Basque-speakers, I will start Monday morning and have class this year 3 days a week for 2 hours each day.  I am hoping with that amount of Euskera,  I will leave the class in June being able to say atleast something similar to a sentence. 

With an unknown history, this language isn't similar to any other language in Europe.  Some theories state that Euskera is part of the Dene-Caucasic family - which includes languages like Turkish, Siberian and some languages from Eastern Asia.  Other theories presume that since Basques are mentioned and Euskera words are written in the Roman texts found in Aquitaine that this language existed way before the Middle Ages.  More of a spoken language than a written one, the first book on file written in Euskera only dates back to 1545.  The language has remained alive due to talking...and let me tell you - the Basques can talk your ear off.

While passing down the language is how it has survived, only a mere 750,000 Basque speakers in Basque Country - from a total of 2.5 million inhabitants.  Maybe by the end of year, the number will be 750,001!  haha.  The county where I live, Guipuzcoa, has the highest percentage of bilingual (Spanish and Basque) speakers with 53%. 

The challenge I forsee in trying to be trilingual is the fact that since Euskera existed before any of this Indo-European languages, is that it is completely unrelated.  I mean, with Spanish if I wrote Mi nombre es Amanda you would basically understand that I am saying my name - due the similarity in the Latin roots of both languages.  In Euskera however, My name is Amanda comes out like this Amanda dut izena.  Don't even ask me to pronounce it yet!  But while Latin languages usually have a similar word order, the Basque language is opposite - so that sentence would be Amanda I have name.  Quite difficult, and that's just introducing myself!

To complicate matters more, the Euskera I will learn is called Euskera Batua (meaning United Basque) - which is what is taught in the Basque language schools and is a general teaching of the language because each town and province speaks Euskera a little differently.  For example, the Basque I will learn is very proper and clean, whereas the Basque Joseba speaks is more 'worn in' and is spoken the same by everyone in Orio and the surrouding area.  A quick example - to say goodnight, I will learn ondo lo egin in class.  But I have already learned this phrase from Joseba, who taught me how they say it there - ondoloin.  So you can see, they cut out letters, don't pronounce everything, etc.  I have already warned him, that when I am practicing he MUST practice the one I am learning, otherwise I will screw it up even more!  He is tickled pink that I am even attempting to learn and promises to practice the Euskera Batua with me.  

Funny thing is that I will learn this clean, proper Basque and a lot of native Basque speakers, who grew up speaking Euskera, can't speak the Euskera I will learn.  Bahhhhh!  How will I survive?!  For example, my roommate, Nerea, has been speaking Euskera since she could speak (she told me learning Spanish was a big struggle for her).  However, although she has tried, she hasn't been able to pass the Euskera Batua Exam that is given in Basque Country for the language certificate that states you speak proper Euskera.  If someone speaking Euskera for 23 years can't pass, I imagine I will have to study a lot to be able to pass it someday.  The Batua was only created in 1968, when the Basques realized they needed to somehow standardize thier dialects.  Before this time, if you bought a book in my county, a person from a neighboring county probably couldn't even read it because the Basque would have been so different.  Now, books published in Basque are printed in Euskera Batua.  Same with the Basque news channels, radio, etc. 

I already know it is a long road ahead of me, to learn what is considered to be one of the four most difficult languages in the world (I think that list also includes Finnish, Gaelic and Hungarian), but I am very excited to start.  I plan to stay here for a long time, and while everyone speaks Spanish fine, I would like to show some respect to the Basque Country by attempting to speak thier historic language. 

But, while I'm looking forward to learning, I'm also quite nervous!  It's a completely foreign idea to me and I have my fingers crossed that I get a class with nice people - because not only am I learning Basque, but still perfecting my Spanish!  I think the maximum number of students per class is 8 at the euskaltegi where I signed up - so I assume it will be quite an intimate learning haven.  Euskaltegi means Basque language center.  The name of mine is called Hitzez - which I recently found out means 'For words'.  Hitz means word and ez and the end of a word means for.  Similar to German in a sense, to make a sentence more complex or a verb more descriptive, they add letters to the end.  For example house is exte.  If you want to say 'the house' you have to add and 'a' so it comes out as extea.  Please, send me your best wishes for this, because I think I will need quite a bit of positive thinking to weather this language!

Anyways, wanted to update everyone on what's new in my life recently.  School has started, and this year I actually have a private adult student starting English from scratch and a group of middle-age ladies starting English from scratch too.  Since I will be starting a new language from zero also, I think it will not only be a good experience for learning but also hopefully help me see how to teach an old dog new tricks. 

Just so you can maybe have an idea, here are some words/phrases that I will probably learn the first week in Basque.  Give them a try and see how you like them!

I'm Amanda - Ni Amanda naiz (pronounced knee amanda nice)
Yes - Bai (pronounced bye) and No - Ez (pronounced 'S')
Please - mesedez (kind of like Mercedes) and Thank You - Eskerrik asko (sound it out)
1- bat   2- bi  3 - hiru   4- lau   5- bost  6-sei  7- zazpi  8- zortzi  9- bederatzi  10- hamar
January - Urtarrila     June - Ekaina  
Monday - Astelehena   Wednesdsay - Asteazkena

Yea...a little preview of my mornings to come!  Well, at least by the end of the week, I can truly say Euskera ikasten dut, which means I'm studying Euskera! I will keep you posted on the progress.  If I attend 85% of the classes (which of course I will - if I am paying for something you better bet I'm going!) and pass the final exam for level 1, get this...the Basque government will actually GIVE me money for learning!  Along with wanting to learn it anyways, its quite a good incentive. 

Muxu! (this is kiss in Basque, which I have known for a long time...what an expert I am!)