Monday, December 19, 2011

I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams

While I love spending the holiday season learning about how another culture celebrates the day, I do of course miss my own traditions.  For those of you who have never spent a Christmas away from home, maybe you can't relate so much, but for those who have, you will agree that it's all in the details.  Below are some of the things I have been dreaming of, besides a white Christmas.

The Tree:
 - I miss cutting down our own tree and tying it to the roof of the car.
 - I miss decorating it with my sisters, even arguing about who gets to put the star on top.
 - I miss my silly ornaments that I made when I was in elementary school and the special ones my mom bought us each year.
 - Most, I miss the smell of the tree.  I 100% will buy a pine/fir smelling candle when I come home and save it soley for the holidays.
 - I miss lights that TWINKLE.  Mine only flash here and I really miss that slow color changing feature.

 - I miss Christmas light looking - especially that street near Fred Meyer's that decorates like crazy - every house!
 - I miss a house all dolled up with decorations - from lights to knick knacks.
 - I miss all stores being crazy Christmasy, all red and green.
 - I miss my plastic bell that sings Jingle Bells and a variety of other songs in a very tinny melody.  

 - I miss peppermint candies, candy canes (mostly the rainbow kind), warm Starbucks coffee in my gloved hand and Christmas-theme colored candy of every sort.
 - I  miss my family's Christmas dinner of turkey, potatoes, homemade gravy, ham, pies pies and more pies.
 - I miss our annual Christmas family reunion and my Auntie Marilyn's noodles and my cousin Joni's wreath cookies (I admit mine were tasty but nothing like hers!)

 - I miss listening to Christmas music from the day after Thanskgiving in every place possible - on tv, the radio and every store.
 - I also miss everyone else loving and knowing all the words to all the songs.

 - I miss making a list for everyone I want to buy presents for and shopping til I drop to buy them all.
 - I miss wrapping them all pretty, and having a huge selection of wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, etc.
 - I miss sending something like 40 Christmas cards.  Along with that, I miss being able to buy Christmas cards in a box instead of individually like you have to here.
 - I miss being able to make a child's Christmas wishes come true with the Angel Tree.
 - I miss opening presents with my family in our pajamas.
 - I miss my Grammy giving us socks every year for Christmas.

 - I miss Mickey's Christmas Carol, Elf, Frosty, Rudolph,  Santa Clause and A Claymation Christmas.
 - I miss that these movies are on nonstop and you always seem to have a tough decision deciding between which to watch on TV.
 - I miss my mom reading a super old copy of the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.

The people:
 - I miss everyone seeming to be a bit cheerier - from the supermarket to the gas station, every one seems to have a bit of Christmas spirit to share.
 - Most of all I miss the people I normally spend the holiday with.
 - I miss Ugly Christmas Sweater parties with friends, or even being able to find Christmas apparel somewhere.
 - I miss my mom counting down how many more 'get-ups' we have until Santa comes.  Only 5 more!

While these are obviously my personal Christmasy things, I am sure each and every one of you has a similar list that make your Christmas yours.  So if you have these things right now, cherish them!  If you don't, here is a quote that seems to make it better:
 ' From home to home, and heart to heart, from one place to another,
  the warmth and joy of Christmas brings us closer to each other.'  - Emily Matthews

Muxu from across the miles!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spreading the Olentzero Spirit

My local newspaper The Daily News from Longview, WA has been kind enough to spread some Olentzero cheer to my local community by publishing an article I wrote about him.  In the States we don't think much about other possible Santa Claus' but here, Papa Noel practially doesn't exist!  While you have probably read my other blogs below about putting some Basque in your holiday, this article is a concise recap of all that Olentzero is to Euskal Herria.  And as they say in Basque, Eguberri On (Merry Christmas)!

Basque Santa: He brings gifts or coal - but prefers wine to milk and cookies


Saturday, December 17, 2011

You can take the girl out of America...

Each week I meet with my girlfriends and lately we have been doing dinners at home, showing off our cooking skills from our own homes.  We have had a Mexican, Catalan and Madrid dinners so far and this past Friday was my turn.  American food...what is it?  We are such thieves - pizza from Italy, tacos from Mexico, egg rolls from China and more.  So, I did what any American would do in this situation, I made burgers and fries, which both boast names that show how stolen they are.

The word hamburger comes from the people who immigrated to the USA from Hamburg, Germany.  And French fries are called so because they describe the manner in which they are cooked - fried like the French do it.  However, these words are now synonymous with the USA, thanks to McDonald's.

As many have you have probably seen the documentary Super Size Me, some of the following facts might ring a bell.
 - McDonald's feeds more than 46 million people per day - more than the entire population of Spain.
 - McDonald's Happy Meals distribute more toys than Toys R Us.
 - French fries are the most eaten 'vegetable' in America.
With these facts and having the documentary in mind, it helps you realize why foreigners have the idea that Americans eat fast food all the time and are all overweight.  While the movie states that every day 1 in every 4 Americans stops at a fast food joint, I know a lot of people who are quite the opposite, nowadays me included.  So when I decided to make an American burger/fries night, I didn't want it to be disgustinly greasy or anything and bought only the best. 

While I haven't eaten at McDonald's for who knows how long, I did venture into one this past week to prepare for my All-American dinner.  And I will admit to my own guilt...I got some fries, and I will say they were delicious.  Crispy and crunchy with a lot of salt, I know they are horrible for you, but they are also quite tasty.  I'm pretty sure they have already made my butt a bit bigger.  Regardless, in McDonald's I got hooked up with a box for chicken nuggets, a bag for fries and 5 hambuger paper wrappers - all in plan to make my dinner memorable.

I didn't want to just make burgers and fries, I wanted people to get the 'American' feeling I guess, so whipped up a little burger order card that my friends had to fill out so I could make thier burgers personalized.  Then each part of the meal was served with Mickey D's paraphernilia.  First was a small starter salad and the girls could take some breaded chicken from the chicken nuggests box to add to it.  Next were the fries spilling out of the little bag, and last but not least were the burgers, all wrapped up and served with thier tickets.  My friends loved the little details and although I don't really enjoy cooking, everything turned out tasty.  I guess it's in my blood - as an American I have to be able to make a decent cheeseburger, don't I?

While I didn't dabble in American desserts, we did do soemthing quite American afterwards - cookie decorating.  The girls loved it and had a fun time decorating the little gingerbread men, mittens and other shapes, which none of them had done before.  With Christmas tunes in the background and the tree lit, it could have really been mistaken for an American house, minus the fact that we were speaking in Spanish, but I give myself a little pat on the back for having a REAL American dinner!


Friday, December 16, 2011

The secret family cookie

While not properly celebrating Christmas in the last few years, I decided that as our first year living together, having Christmas, etc, I should start bringing back some traditions so that they will live on and on in our lives.  And when I say celebrating properly, I basically mean doing the things my family does...which to me is proper haha.  This would include listening to Christmas music from the day after Thanksgiving, wrapping presents with care and bows, decorating the tree while feeling jolly, and of course, making cookies. 

Seeing as I had never made sugar cookies before, I have only one idea of them in my head - my cousin Joni's that she brings to every Christmas family reunion.  They are to die for.  She always makes them in the shapes of wreaths and decorates them all cute, and each time you eat one, you just HAVE to have another.  For me, biting into that cookie is like tasting Christmas, and I wanted to bring that feeling to my home.  My in-laws already think I am a bit crazy for all the baking I do, so whats another batch of cookies to throw me overboard?

I got in contact with Joni and GASP found out that the recipe that I had always thought was a highly guarded family secret turned out to be Ms. Betty Crocker herself!  Betty Crocker knows...  Evenmore, she uses the icing from the plastic tubs!  I was at a loss - I have no Betty Crocker cookbook here, nor do Spanish grocery stores selling icing let alone know what it is.  In reconnaissance mode, I got the recipe sent to me for both and set out to make them.  Cookie cutters here are also a long shot, so my friend Cassie sent me adorable ones from the other side of the ocean, so I was all set...or so I thought.

I gathered together all the ingredients and thought you might get a kick of seeing the different packaging of all the stuff.  The only thing I couldn't manage to find was almond flavoring.  I'll get over it, and it was only a half a teaspoon anyways.  Last Sunday afternoon with the carols blaring I got started only to realize when the mass was mixed and ready to roll out that oops I have no rolling pin.  These are things that never used to cross my mind when I wanted to bake something,  but now I need to double check everytime I want to make something!  I tried to fashion one out of the paper towel roll covered with flour but that was quite unsuccessful.  In the end I just kneaded it and then pushed it with my hands, so my cookies turned out a bit lumpy, but tasty I will admit. 

After drying I whipped up some buttercream icing and got to frosting.  When Joseba came home he  couldn't help but laugh.  He had walked in at the exact moment I was putting suspenders on the little gingerbread shaped man I was frosting.  He did admit that he was very cute and even helped me frost a cookie :) 

I've taken them to work and to our family dinner last week and every agrees they are a hit, which I knew would happen - they are delicious, not because of me...mostly because of Betty!  I  highly recommend her cookies to anyone who hasn't made Christmas cookies yet!  Christmas is just around the corner and these will make you feel oh-so-festive.  Tonight some girlfriends are coming over and we are going to do a little decorating party - spreading my Christmas cheer, and I hope you catch it too!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Put a little Basque in your holiday (Part 2)

Now that you know a bit about this coal-mining mean man who I guess is kinda like a Santa Claus too, we move onto the next step of Basqueing up your holiday.  No festive season is complete without jolly tunes, so, here we go.

This song is a mix of the two popular Olenztero songs - Olentzero and Olentzero Big Head.  This is a mix of many singers that aired on EITB, the Basque TV channel here and I think it's quite catchy.  Here you can read along with the lyrics (translated too, thanks to Wikipedia)

Olentzero joan zaigu,              Olentzero has gone
mendira lanera                        to the mountains to work
intentzioarekin                        with the intention
ikatz egitera.                          of making charcoal.
Aditu duenean                        When he heard
Jesus jaio dala                        that Jesus has been born
lasterka etorri da                     he came running
berria ematera.                        to bring news

Horra horra                             There is, there is
gure Olentzero                        our Olentzero
pipa hortzian duela                  with the pipe between his teeth
eserita dago.                           he sits.
Kapoiak ere baitu                    He also has capons
arrautzatxoekin                       with little eggs,
bihar merendatzeko                 to celebrate tomorrow
botila ardoakin                        with a bottle of wine.

Olentzero, buru handia              Olentzero big head
entendimentuz jantzia,              robed in understanding
bart arratsean edan omen du      is said to have drunk last night
bost arroako zahagia.                a wineskin of five arrobas
Bai urde tripa handia!                 Oh big-bellied pig!
trala la la la, trala la lala             Tralaralala, tralaralala.
Bai urde tripa handia!                 Oh big-bellied pig!
trala la la la,la la lala                  Tralaralala, tralaralala.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Put a little Basque in your holiday

As my first Christmas married to a Basque man,  I have a new found interest in the Basque Christmas traditions.  As you might remember from my blogs during previous holiday seasons, the Basques don't really celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus per se, but instead thier own version of him, a coalman named Olentzero.  I knew that Olentzero came down from his home on the mountain at the end of the year to bring kids presents and such, but really had no idea where this whole idea came from and decided to do a little research.  This idea of a jolly, old man can vary greatly from village to village.  Joseba, for example, grew up thinking of Olentzero as a harsh country man who came down from the mountain only bearing one gift - coal - for the bad kids.  With a coal-stained face and normally a drink in his hand a pipe in his mouth, this is also a very accepted image of him.  Below, you will find the tale of Olentzero and how he came to be a Santa Claus like figure here.  It's originally written in Basque (of course) and I found this translated version on, so if some of the wording seems off, I pre-apologize.  Enjoy!

Olentzero: Izena duan guztia omen da (everything that has a name exists)

A long time ago, in the deep forests of the Basque Country, lived a very beautiful fairy. Her hair was golden like the sky and her eyes shone of all fires. Like all the fairies, she took care of people and was always accompanied by amusing small creatures, Prakagorris who helped her in her work.
One day when she was walking across the mountains, she stopped near a fountain to brush her hair. Suddenly, the Prakagorris noticed that something moved inside the bushes.
The fairy continued to brush her curly hair and did not notice the movement in the bushes until the cries of Prakagorris..
"It is a baby " said the older goblin.
"Why did they leave it there?" asked the group of Prakagorris
"I do not know" said the fairy "it is difficult to understand why men are so cruel sometimes."
"From now on” said the fairy to the baby "you will be called Olentzero, because it is wonderful to have found you. And I also give you the gifts of Strength, Courage and Love as a long time as you will live."
The fairy then took the baby and brought it towards an old house on the border of the forest where lived a couple without children. "They will be very, very happy to receive this child and will take good care of him" says the fairy and she left the little boy in front of their door.
Very early the next morning, when the sun just starts to rise, the man came out of the house to go to milk the cows. He was very surprised to see the baby and called his wife: Darling, quickly come to see what I found ".
As the fairy predicted, they were very happy to receive the child. "What luck we have" said the woman who immediately covered the small boy with a warm blanket. They fed him and took him as their son. This is how Olentzero grows up in these beautiful mountains. His parents were very happy and did not worry about his origins as he grew to be a pleasant man, strong and in good health
Olentzero worked hard every day, from sunrise to sundown to help his aging father.
After many happy years, Olentzero’s parents passed on, leaving him alone.
The years passed, his face wrinkled and his hair turned white. Living in solitude made him sad and he realized that he needed to help people in need. He remembered a house in the village where orphans lived on what the passers by gave them. He realized that these children, just like he, were very alone and that he could make them happy.
Olentzero was very intelligent and very gifted with his hands. So he made toys out of wood that he would give to the children when he went to town to sell his harvest. When he had finished these toys, he put them in a large bag, loaded up his donkey and left for the village. He felt very happy that day and his eyes shone of joy.

He traveled an entire morning across the mountains to reach the village. The little children at the village were very happy with the toys he offered to them and Olentzero spent the entire afternoon playing with them and telling them the stories that his father told him when he was young.
The orphans adored Olentzero and after this marvellous day, they did not feel so alone anymore. Since then, Olentzero was very well known in the village. As soon as he arrived, it was surrounded by the children.
This lasted for many a beautiful years but one day, a terrible storm hit the village and the mountains, causing a lot of damage. The strong and cold winds and the thunder frightened and upset the inhabitants, and in particular the children.

One day, when Olentzero returned to the village, he saw lightning striking a house. He ran quickly towards the house and saw terrified children by a window. Without hesitating, he entered the house in flames, protected the children from fire with a blanket and made them leave the blazing inferno, by a window on the second floor. But as he tried to leave, a huge old beam fell from the ceiling and landed on top of him. Olentzero fell with pain and his beautiful and strong heart stopped.
People cried when they saw the house in flames and what had happened. They realized that they could do anything more.
It was then when suddenly a bright light appeared to them coming from the inferno.
Nobody could see what was happening but inside, the fairy who had found Olentzero as a baby, appeared close to him and started to call his name with her soft voice: "Olentzero! Olentzero!".
She said: "Olentzero, you were a good man, loyal and loving. You dedicated your life to the service of others, and you even gave your life to save your neighbor. I do not want that you die. I want that you live forever. From now on, you will make toys and other gifts for the orphans of this village and all the Basque Country."
"And we will help you" shouted the Prakagorris, fluttering around Olentzero. And thus in the middle of each winter, at the end of the year, Olentzero would visit each city of the Basque Country bringing gifts and toys to the children without any family. All the children celebrated the arrival of Olentzero by singing him songs and by spreading his message of love, strength and courage.
Some people do not believe Olentzero existed. But an old Basque proverb states:
“that everything that has a name exists, if we believe it does.”

Friday, December 9, 2011

In with the new

Hello everyone.  Just a quick post to let you know I uploaded some more photos in the Travel Shots tab.  I have been quite behind and will continue to add photos, but in case you want to see photos about one particular country, there they are.

Also, have added a search function on the top right hand corner of the blog.  I realized that soon I will be writing about the Basque Santa Claus, Olentzero, and that it will be the 4th time I have mentioned him.  The past few years I have touched upon who he is and all but this year, spending it in Basque Country will probably flesh him out a bit more, but if you're curious for my other Christmas blogs, you just do a keyword search!  Or about whatever you want - a specific country, a holiday, etc.

As always, thanks for reading and muxu!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An American Trapped in Spain at Christmas

This holiday season marks the 4th outside of the USA and now my second in Basque Country (first two were Belgium and Scotland).  And, this year, since we have our own house and all, I decided to try and bring a little American Christmas spirit to our Basquey house.  I had mentioned to Joseba that I would be decorating the house on Monday, as I had a day off from work and he didn't.  The Basques don't decorate to the nines like we Americans do, so I think he was a bit curious as to what he would come home to.

As I was decorating the house I started to question how I could have went 4 years without sprucing my apartments up for the holidays.  How could it be possible, me the super Christmas lover, to have went so much time without all that Christmas cheer?  And then I got to thinking about other things that I have become accustomed to here that don't phase me much anymore but would give some of you a good laugh if you witnessed me do them.  On the expat website I look at from time to time, I found a list called 'You know you've lived in Spain when...' and here are a few of the funny ones that I known I relate to:
 - You think not giving everyone dos besos (two kisses) when you first see them is rude.
 - You answer your phone by saying 'Si?' - aka 'Yes?'.  None of that 'hello' business here.
 - You don't even consider having a dryer and instead hang your clothes out on the line.
 - You can't imagine eating a meal without bread.  How will the food get to your mouth?!
 - You say goodbye atleast a dozen times before actually leaving anywhere.  This one I can't stand!
 - You know someone named Jesus, María Jesus, María José and Angel.
 - You forget to say please when you ask for something.  It's implied in your tone right?

Eventhough, maybe yes, I am turning into a local, I still can't imagine a Christmas without the following: a tree (numero uno without a doubt), Christmas carols and Christmas sweets.  So, I decided to get back to my roots on Monday and that I did.  I started out with the tree search.  Here cutting down your own Christmas tree is something from 'the American movies' and is not done.  Maybe if you're lucky you can find one at the grocery store, but it's going to be quite mangey, so I did a very disrespectable thing in my home state, I bought a fake one.  And never have I been so delighted to have a plastic, non-fir smelling tree in my home.  Next were lights and balls.  I had this amazing idea when I started travelling to buy a Christmas ornament from each country I had been to so that one day they would decorate my tree and I could tell my kids and grandkids about all my crazy travels when I was young.  Great idea in thought, but all of those ornaments are in a box in the US now and I am here.  So, the China Store (basically a dollar store run by Chinese people) came to the rescue with some simple but pretty red balls and a couple golden stars and random ornaments.  The strangest thing about the Chinese purchases were the lights.  Normally a strand of lights is what you expect when you  buy Christmas lights, but these ones, maybe its a Euro thing or maybe its because they were so cheap, are essentially a circle of lights.  There is no end or beginning and so putting them on the tree was a challenge to say the least.

With the tree 'trimmed' I moved onto the little decorations around the house.  I bought a bit of decorative tree streamers (I don't know what they are called) to sit on our bookshelves and offset the golden pinecones and red and glittery ornament candles I bought.  The Christmas cards that have arrived went up on the door with a ribbon and the poinzetta flower on the dining room table.  My friend Cassie just sent me a box with an adorable advent calendar where you move a little candy-cane up the tree, changing ornaments each day until Christmas, so that is prominently on the wall and Joseba laughs each morning as I switch the candycane's spot.  And with two presents wrapped and sitting until the tree, I decided to move on to the baking part of my Christmas festivities.

I am planning on making sugar cookies to decorate all holiday-like next weekend but just couldn't let this day pass without some delicious smell coming from the oven, so decided on banana muffins with a touch of Christmas colored sprinkles to top them off (thanks again Cassie!).

When Joseba came home he immediatley smelled the muffins a-baking and was also quite shocked to see the tree.  Turns out, he, knowing my affinity for Christmas, had just bought one at a shop next door.  What a sweetheart.  He added some of the ornaments he'd bought to the already decorated tree and then we enjoyed a muffin to ring in the holiday season.

So, no matter how long I stay here, my Christmas is always going to maintain quite a bit of Americanness.  Heck, who knows, maybe next year I'll even try my luck at a gingerbread house!  I hope all of your Decembers are off to a jolly start too. 


Holiday Uncelebrated

Today, after waking up at 10am and sipping coffee on the couch for awhile, I was quite happy that today was a holiday and I didn't have to go to work.  However, with this national Constitution Day, there will be no parades or celebrations in Basque Country.  Basically, people just shut down because it is a national holiday, but in Basque Country the day really doesn't signify much.  To understand why people wouldn't want to celebrate a day that the Spanish Constitution declared the country a democracy, only in 1978, we need to take a look much further back.

As most of you know, Basque Country would like it's independance back.  Being a community long before the country Spain even existed, the Basques enjoyed thier freedom and ruled thier lands with fueros, a sort of self-governing set of laws.  These laws were respected and worked for the Basques while they were part of the Kindgom of Navarre (the Kingdom they were part of before being joined with Spain).  However, in the early 19th century, liberalism came to Spain and started creating problems between the country and Euskal Herria (Basque Country in Euskera).  Some Basques accepted the changes and figured they could cooperate with the new Spanish ways, whereas other Basques staunchly wanted to maintain a distance and have thier language, race and culture distinguished from the Spanish.  With the Civil War brewing the latter group formed the Basque National Party and joined forces with many other groups (Catalunya Nationalists, Socialists, Anarchists, etc) to fight against the military who didn't agree with sovereignty for the Basque Country.  The Civil War soon brought about Franco as a dictator and hope for a free Basque Country was squandered even more.  Supported by a few countries (USA included), Franco reigned over Spain for many years and in tried to create national homogenity.  From this we have the idea of bullfighting and flamenco dancing as very Spanish, while in fact they are only practiced in certain parts of the country.  Basque language and culture, obviously drastically different from the Spanish mold were banned under Franco.  From this supression grew the group ETA, which I am sure you have heard about in the news (more on that in a different blog - its a heavy subject).

After Franco's time the country became a democracy, but as you can expect after so many years of bad treatment, the Basques weren't so keen on swallowing all that Spain offered them.  The current Constitution lists Basque Country as an autonomous community, which is more or less like a state for us.  Within thier own automous community, the Basques have the right to control thier own schools, universities, health care, social services, urban and rural development and culture.  They are also granted the right to have thier own police force (Ertzaintza).  That aside, the Basques would like to be able to determine thier own relationship with Spain - basically they want the right to decide thier own independance.  For hundreds of years, the Basques lived alongside or in the Kingdoms that eventually became Spain, and during all of that time thier own fueros were respected along with the right to succeed if they chose to do so.  The current Constitutuion does not honor this right and for that reason and more, it isn't so highly celebrated here.  When it was being voted in, the Basque National Party urged people to abstain from voting.  With more than 50% of the residents abstaining from voting in Euskal Herria, they Basques don't feel tied to a Constitution that doesn't take into account thier input nor that they never endorsed.

So, while I have the day off, here it is not really a day for streamers and music.  I'm not one to complain for a sofa day though, gives me a little time to write to you guys.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Say what?

Working with kids, I am suprisingly learning things that you don't technically learn when you learn a new language.  From nursery rhymes to baby talk, what I find most funny is the difference in how the animal sounds are from our country to thiers.  Just jumping across the pond, dogs speak another language and cats spell thier meows differently.  It got me to thinking about how different people's onomatopoeias (the grammatical word for sound effects) around the world are.  And today I am going to share some of the most common ones that make me laugh on a daily basis. 

Let's start with animals, as these ones I know by heart.  To us, a dog can saw bow-wow or ruff ruff, but in Spain he says gaua gaua.  His best friend the kitty cat talks to us with a meow and while spelled differently here, the feline language doesn't change too much between the countries - here it is miau.  Birds though, maybe because of thier migratory patterns, change thier calls drastically between the two lands.  A robin or a bluebird might tweet whereas here they only pio pio.  On the topic of feathered friends comes a favorite of mine - the rooster who as every American knows says cock a doodle doo no?  Here, they squak out a quiquiriqui.  If you showed me that and didn't give me the hint that it was an animal sound, I wouldn't have the slightest idea of what you were talking about.  A few more funny ones I think you might like to try and pronounce are:
 - An American cows says moo much like a Spanish one that says muu (an easy one to start)
 - A crow caws in the States whereas in Spain it cuas
 - An American frog ribbits but in Spain he croacs, which I guess an American frog can do too (croak).  Regardless, in both countries, if you kiss it, it WILL turn into a prince (príncipe in Spanish)
 - Both Spanish and American pigs lived on Old MacDonald's farm when they said oinc and oink.

But once we get off animal sounds, we can also start to think about the hundreds of other onomatopoeias that we use on a daily basis to describe things happening around us.  If someone comes to your door they knock knock but here they toc toc.  If you're driving down the road and make a bonehead move, someone might honk thier horn at you - giving off a beep beep sound (and maybe even give you the finger), but here you just get a pip pip.  If your offense is bad enough the cops might come after you and put thier sirens on to the tune of a wee-woo but here the policía speed around blaring a nino-nino.  I don't know which is better...probably neither.

Besides every day sounds, actions as well strike different chords in our different languages.  Your baby crying says wahhhh  but our neighbor's baby says buááá.  While residents of both countries like food in the States we say yum yum and here it is ñam ñam.  I imagine a mother-in-law would be offended if you said yum  here haha!  The best though, and used by me on a daily basis in messages to my friends is the laughing sound.  If I email an American friend I'd type hahaha or hehehe but here my friends type me jajajaja or jejejeje.  If I'm lazy one day, you might get the wrong laugh in a message from me.  I pre-apologize. 

Upon hearing most of these, you wouldn't give them a second thought, but when you see them they kind of take your head for a spin.  But this is nothing new.  The word itself, onomatopoeia, can be traced back to the same word in Greek.  Onoma (name) + poeiía (maker) - was the original compound word, giving us the clue that even Zues might have exclaimed that his thunderbolts crashed.  Gaining more and more use, onomatopoeias became very prevalent in American culture with thier usage in comic books and advertising.  From the BAMs and BOOMs of action figures to the 'plop plop fizz fizz' of the Alka-Seltzer campaign, I bet you use them on a daily basis without even noticing!

Probably the most important sound effect though and quite similar all over the world is the sound of a kiss.  To us, muak is the sound and here it is almost the same muac.  This is almost the same as the Arabic (mwa), German (muah),  Indonesian (muahh) or Persian (mua) versions.  Our other onomatopoeia for a kiss is smooch which goes along well with the Dutch (smak), French (smack), Norwegian (smask), and Portuguese (smac) expressions. 

So with that in mind,
Muxu! (or muak, smooch, muac and more)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Don't be a square

Something that I find particularly strange about the Basque culture is the existence of things called 'kuadrillas' (quad-ree-uhs).  A kuadrilla is a group of friends who formed this circle in elementary school.  Normally this same group sticks together through thick and thin all thier lives and are very close.  Essentially a glorified clique, every Basque person belongs to one - be it a big kuadrilla or small.  Most Basques do practically everything with thier kuadrilla- dinners, trips, holidays, beach days, etc - and they are basically a huge group of best friends.

It's a great concept...if you are in a one.  If not, they make it quite difficult to enter.  It's sort of like the exclusivity of a sororiety or fraternity but without the hazing and pledging.  Say for example, you go to a bar alone.  In Berlin or New York or Tempe or Longview, someone would probably talk to you and you could even leave the bar having made a new friend.  Here that is almost unspeakable.  The kuadrilla keeps to themselves and normally aren't too intersted in looking for new members.  They are content with thier group and that's enough.   

Being Joseba's wife, I am automatically accepted into this kuadrilla but it's not my own.  Not having my elementary school friends here puts me at a disadvantage for starting up my own kuadrilla but alas, I am part of a newly formed one.  My 'foreign' friends and I decided that we too deserve a kuadrilla!  My new group is composed of Emma (the girl who was with me during my wedding, from Madrid in gray), Brenda (her close friend that lives here, from Mexico in blue) and Montse (my old roomie and bff, from Barcelona in green).  While two come from Spain, we are all still considered outsiders here and have no kuadrilla and happily pronounced ourselves one.  We do dinner every week (very kuadrillaish), and are already planning our Carnival outfits (no kuadrilla goes out without a group costume).

Forming a kuadrilla at this age seems to make more sense than when you are 5.  Imagine your intersts change from 5 to 25...then what do you do?  Nothing.  Switching kuadrillas is not something that is done.  Making friends with other people who share your intersts outside of the group is doable but usually something most kuadrilla members frown upon.  Can you believe that?  It's like a jealous girlfriend or something!

It makes it seem like on the whole Basques are very closed, and I will admit some are.  But the others are incredible.  Some of Joseba's friends are so outgoing and friendly and have accepted me as a friend right away.  Other Basques I have meet through classes or other friends are equally as open to meeting new people as me, which is refreshing.  The concept of the kuadrilla makes sense if you think back to the past of the Basque Country - a hilly land with many small towns spread through the mountains and along the coast.  Without transportation the distance between one town and another could take days, so people became very close to those who surrounded them.  This idea continued on into the present, and it is neat to see how well the Basques preserve thier history.  

Really our kuadrilla is just a great excuse for us to get together on a weekly basis and catch up during our girl's nights.  Here are our first photos as a group!  More photos will surely come with time.  Maybe we will even participate in Kuadrilla Eguna - Kuadrilla Day.  Yes, it is true, there is a day set aside to celebrate your group of friends, which I don't think is a half bad idea!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday is the new Thursday

With another Thanksgiving upon me, I told Joseba I would like to put together a little Thanksgiving dinner for our first one together. Nothing extravegant like Grammy does but some of the Turkey Day goodies - turkey of course, potatoes and gravy, veggies, a pie of some sort and of course the all important wishbone (that my Grammy sent me last year after I missed the holiday yet again).

Seeing as you can't buy a WHOLE turkey here (well that's a lie, you CAN but you have to order it one month in advance from your butcher - no joke), we decided to just get some turkey breasts to get our gobble on.  Potatoes and gravy (packets from home) were a shoe in and veggies are available all over, so that was no problem either.  The big decision was what to bake...and in the end I decided a carrot cake would be fitting.  Joseba isn't one for super sweet apple pies and we can't buy pumpkin pie mix here, so I have always love carrot cake and have never tried to make it so I thought I'd make our first Thanksgiving memorable.  In the end, my first 'Acción de Gracias' as it is called here, was more special than I could have imagined, because of the fact that it truly was an 'Acción de Gracias' in Spanish and all.

Every Tuesday we have a dinner at my mother-in-laws to get the family together.  She always makes delicious food and we chat away and catch up on the week.  As is customary, Joseba came and picked me up from the train station and we drove to her house.  On the way he asked a few questions about what last minute things he needed to buy at the store for Thursday's festivites as well as how to make gravy - could he use a fork?  I, having always made the Thanksgiving gravy with a whisk, told him that it was forbidden to make it with some piece of silverware.  He kept prodding about the fork business and so finally I told him I GUESS it was possible but that for years I have done it one way and that's how I planned to make it at home.  We walked in his mother's house and to the kitchen where pots were bubbling and the table was set.  Because she always has a million things cooking (she really spoils us on Tuesdays) I didn't think twice about what was on the menu for the evening, until Joseba said 'Happy Thanksgiving'.  At that point, I got a bit of a confused look on my face to which Joseba said 'I didn't bring the whisk, so I hope you can learn to make gravy with a fork' and I started to laugh and surprise surprise cry.  Between tears I managed the sentence 'como siempre' ('like always' in Spanish) and everyone started laughing.  I cried at Christmas last year, I cried at the sum it up, I'm a soft-hearted girl.

So we sat down and pour glasses of wine to toast to Thanksgiving and I told them all how thankful I was for them and for making me feel at home celebrating my holiday.  The cups clinked and then the eating business got underway.  First was a delicious tortellini salad topped with ham, next some cous cous with plums, cheese and tomoatoes.  I would like note that there was even some cheeddar cheese -  my fave!  It's hard to come by here, but there it was in all it's glory which let me explain my obsession for Tillamook cheese to everyone.  The potatoes and gravy were accompanied by a Joseba-version of turkey dinner - a 9x13 inch Pyrex filled with veggies and turkey cooked in white wine.  Stuffed to the brim after all this food, no one could even think about dessert but I explained that that's how we knew it was close to a real Thanksgiving - you are always super full but always manage to squeeze some dessert in.  While we had an American dinner we had a tasty Basque dessert - a traditional one at that - roscone de reyes.  A donut-shaped pastry, it might remind you of a fruit-cake because it is filled with figs, quinces, cherries or other dried fruit.  These particular ones were mini and had been sliced in half and filled with custard and whipped cream and boy were they delectable.  We will have them again at Christmas...looking forward to it already.

At a table lacking a big bird, cranberry sauce, rolls, pumpkin pie, sweet potates and gravy made by turkey fat, I can honestly say it was one of the most memorable Thanksgivings I think I will ever have.  To be surrounded by such loving people who were concerned with making me feel at home here and close to home at the same time was very special, hence the crying.  Be it Basque family or American family and friends, I am SO thankful for all of the amazing people in my life.  And as you all sit down to a Thursday 2pm dinner followed by football, remember I was thinking about you on my Tuesdsay 9pm alternative Thanksgiving dinner - more grateful than ever. 


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Drop-dead gorgeous?

The other day I did something I've been thinking about doing since we moved to the Egia neighborhood - I went to the cemetary at the top of the hill.  Reason being, it's been sunny for an endless amount of days and quite warm too, and since it is mid-November I know this summerish weather isn't going to last much longer, so if I wanted to see the cemetary in sunlight, my days were numbered.

Named Polloe, the cemetary has been open for 133 years and is the biggest in Donostia.  We drive past it every day and the massive stone crosses peep out from the fenced cemetary, cold stone against the blue sky, which has always made me curious to visit.  From my first step through the massive iron gates, I could easily say that it is the most beautiful cemetary I have ever been to.  Here in Spain (also Italy, Portugal and some other European countries), the gravesites are spectacular.  So strikingly different from a US resting place, I thought I would share a bit with you about the whole process of death here - from the actual passing to these massive graves, so you can see how this tradition changes so drastically between countries.
Upon death, the local police need to be identified, unless the person died in a hospital, in which case it is done by the staff there.  The police notify the forensic judge who comes to the location of the passing and authorizes the removal of the body.  An autopsy is only needed if there is foul play.  The person's doctor must also be notified to issue the death certificate.  Once the papework from the police is signed, you immediatley become tied to a local Funeral Director and begin planning the funeral - which normally takes place a mere 24 hours after the person's final exit.

The Funeral Home can quickly walk you through the options, which include:  viewings/funerals, gravestones, flowers/wreaths, paperwork and documentation, cremation or burial, obituaries and vehicles for family members.  Normally people contact the funeral home within one hour of passing to get this set up as fast as possible.  There are also cases when the family has pre-paid the funeral services.  On average, a Spanish funeral costs around 2,500€ ($3,300).

From the moment of the death, the body is kept at the funeral home and the family is by thier side - every moment until the service.  The service is normally held at a church and the whole world comes.  If it was someone from your small village that you barely knew, if it was your friend's boyfriend's grandfather, if it was someone who worked in your office, you go.  The services are normally packed and then after the family and close friends while only close family is invited to pass by the coffin and give thier last goodbyes.  After this step, the coffin leaves the church and everyone stays inside as it exits.  Directly after, condolences are given to the family.  Being such a big event, it is stressed that you don't linger with the family but instead give a few heartfelt words, a hug and move on.  However, you are not supposed to leave until the hearse and the relatives have left.

The family accompanies their loved one to the cemetary and there the coffin isn't lowered into the ground, but instead into a niche area on their family's plot.  These niches can be rented for X number of years and when the rental period is up, the bodies are moved to a common grave.  Also unlike home, more than one person is buried in one spot.  I saw gravestones with atleast 10 people in the same 'grave' niche area.  It's sort of like an apartment for dead people, with monthly/yearly rent and all.  The headstones are decorated with either the person's favorite flower or flowers in his favorite color.  The national death flowers are yellor or white chrysanthemums.  Soon after a funeral banquet will take place - at a close relative's home or even the deceased himself.  People normally bring a dish each - some sort of comfort food.

The deceased's resting place becomes thier new residence - and not only because that is where they will remain for years to come, but also because of the Spanish's cemetaries.  After the 19th century, the boom of the borgeouis city life transferred to the cemetaries too - in the sense of layout.  This particular (Polloe) and many other cemetaries in Spain are laid out in a large city style way - wide avenues (with the most important graves) and smaller 'roads' connecting them.  At the entrance of the cemetary are the biggest and best headstones and as you continue along they get less and less adorned and extravagant.  Some families don't have a headstone for thier loves ones, but instead an entire vault - some of which you see here.  Some almost the size of a small chapel, each has a little sitting area where family members can sit and give thier respects inside thier family's tomb.  The ones in this cemetary were decorated with elaborate carvings, stained glass windows and marble.  They are amazing and although mostly of the vaults/crypts were decorated with gothic touches, the fact that I was there are sunset was not scary at all.  It was amazing.

Most of the graves had flowers on them, even some maybe left over from November 1st - here celebrated as All Saint's Day.  A National holdiay, it is similar to our Memorial Day, but is for anyone who has passed.  Traditionally, families get together and go to the gravesites of thier loved ones to adorn them with flowers.  This year on this date we were coming back from the Pyrenees and as we passed the cemetary we saw the parking lot overflowing with flower vendors probably making a killing on bouquets and wreaths.  

Maybe creepy at midnight, this cemetary as sunset was astounding.  It's very interesting to see how different cultures care for thier deceased.  With these ornate headstones you can see that passed relatives still hold an important role in the famliy here.  While I have never attended a funeral or visited a known person's grave (and hopefully won't any time soon), I still find beauty in the rows and rows of tombstones.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A blog so good you want to eat it ;)

Recently, Joseba and I received a very special box - one that contained a touching present.  A cookbook.  But not just any cookbook - no siree - a personalized cookbook from many family members, sharing thier favorite recipes with Joseba and I as we start our journey as a married couple.

After a bit of a hassle to just get the box (wrong post office, wrong hours, etc), we finally brought it home and anxiously opened it.  Carefully wrapped with beautiful twine and topped off with small flowers, the box itself smelled delicious and that should have given us a clue as to what was to come.  First was a gorgeous set of silver measuring spoons - each adorably engraved with flowers, hearts and a little dragonfly.Each spoon has a different flower but all are equally cute. I unwrapped the present and saw the cover of a cookbook with words in Italian - formaggi, ravioli, pere, etc.  With Tuscan colors the watercolor painting on the front of the book is a beautiful Italian table bursting with tasty treats.  And then I opened the book...and immediately started crying.

I saw hand-written recipes from my great-auntie Shirl, my Grammy, my cousins Vicki and Jacki and of course my cousin, Cathy.  At first, Joseba didn't understand what it was nor why I was crying.  Only after he really took a good look at the book and the individual recipe cards (each person with a different set), did he realize how special the present was.  From soups and salads to desserts and seafood, the book is filled with amazing recipes from special women in my family.  Some I have tried - Cathy's Spinach & Roasted Potato Salad.  Some I enjoyed growing up - Grammy's Ginger Snaps.  Some come highly recommened by Cathy's little notes on the other people's cards - Auntie Shirl's Chicken Wings.  And some I have never tried but make my mouth water just reading the note cards - Vicki's Thai Chicken Wraps and Jacki's Honey Mustard Chicken.  We have recipes for days and also more recipe cards for us to add our own favorites to the book.

Joseba was pretty shocked at the gift.  The amount of work and love that went into it sort of blew his mind.  These types of gifts aren't really given much here, so he was very surprised to see how much planning and care went into this little book.  Not having ever been to the USA or having dated an American, I was happy to show him how an American family is, at its best.  A very heart-felt present, I can't truly express how much it means to me.  Being away from home for so so long, this present made my family feel like they were almost here.  Maybe it was recipes I grew up with, or seeing everyone's handwriting, I don't know, but I couldn't control the tears as they got in the way of my eyes as I tried to read each and every recipe.

On that note, I thought I would share a little recipe with you all that is very common in our home - the Spanish omelette.  It's quite simple (a bit time consuming) and very tasty.  When made correctly it comes out like a round 1/2 inch thick 'cake' of fried potatoes, onions and eggs.  Filling and yummy, we make it for dinner, for going to the mountain (a little tortilla sandwich), for the beach (easy to put in tupperware) and sometimes we even eat it at a bar (it's ubiquitous).  And, to try and make it seem more authentic, I'll throw in the Basque version too, because we just learned how to do recipes last week.  So here goes:

Spanish Omelette (Tortila)
Ingredients (Osagariak)
 - 1 cup virgen olive oil (edalontzi 1 olio)
 - 4 potatoes - peeled and diced (4 patata - zurituta eta kubotxotan)
 - pinch of salt (pixkat gatz)
 - 1 onion thinly sliced (tipula 1 - xerratuta)
 - 4 large eggs (4 arrautza handi)

Preperation (Prestaketa)
In a 9-inch skillet, cook potatoes and onions slowly until tender.  Do not fry!  After cooking, drain potatoes and onions of thier oil and add the 4 eggs (already beaten and salted to taste) to the pan.  Let the mixture sit for a few minutes without putting it on the stove.  Lower the stove to medium-high heat and start cooking the mixture.  Shake the pan to prevent sticking (very important).  When the potatoes start to brown, put a place on top of the pan and flip the pan.  Transfer the mixture back to the pan with the uncooked side down.  Brown the other side.  Normally served in pie-shaped servings with a bit of bread.  Enjoy!

Zartaginean, patatak eta tipula sukaldu sumar daudenean arte.  Ez frijitu!  Sukalduaren ondoren nahasturari olio kendu eta arrautzak (moldatu eta gatzekin) gehitu zartaginera.  Nahastura utzi batzuk minutuak sutegian gabe.  Tenperatura gutxitu medium-gora eta hasi nahastura sukaldu.  Zartagina irabaiki patataks ez eranstea (oso garrantzitsua).  Patatak beltzarandu dutenean, platera bat zartaginaren gainean ipini eta zartagina bestealdea itzuli.  Nahastura zartaginera aldatu.  Sukaldu beste alde.  Normalean, zerbizatzen du pasteleko itxtura eta ogirekin.  Gozatu eta on egin!

While it's not as amazing as your own cookbook with special family recipes, I hope that one day you try it out - its quite tasty.  Here you can find it with everything mixed in- ham, sausage, mushrooms, you name it.  There is a bar by my house that even puts cheese and toppings on it like a pizza.  I added some pics from a long time ago (me my first month here and my friend making us lunch two years ago) so you can 1) see what it looks like (or what it should look like) and how to do the all-important flip!  

The main thing is that I want to do share something from my table with you - albeit from across the ocean.  Another thank you to those who took the time and heart to send us such a special gift that we will cherish for years to come and have already started adding to!


Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Poetry of the Pyrenees (Part 2)

After an amazing start to our weekend (and a long 7 hour hike), we decided to take it a bit easy on Sunday with a short climb - only 4 hours up and back.  Our destination?  Mount Oroel - the namesake for our lovely hotel in Jaca.  Thanks to the time change, our bodies were all confused and tired from the night before and somehow we woke up at 7am and decided to take advantage of our before-alarm-clock awakening and head out to hopefully get some sun before it clouded up in the afternoon.

The winding road out of town and up half of the mountain was shrouded in fog which hovered over the trees making thier fall colors barely visible.  The hike started at a lookout point that had a restaurant/café that the Tourist Office handout said was 'practically always open'.  Well, when we arrived at like 8am, it wasn't open.  Just saying.  We snapped a few shots of the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance in case it was cloudy by time we reached the top and headed up.

A rather boring hike - a zigzagging path that slowly inclined and didn't provide much in the way of picturesque scenery, we were happy that our morning start time had made us one of the few groups on the mountain at that hour.  Since it is quite an easy hike, it is frequented by lots of tourists, families, picnic groups and such in the afternoon, all of which we kind of wanted to avoid.  Although the 2 hour climb wasn't incredible, the view when we reached the topped was worth it...and did measure up to the Tourist Office's description.  Lucky enough to have a high-cloudy day, we could see miles and miles of Pyrenees and in between fog batches, little mountain villages in the valley.  Against the blue sky the view was priceless and we took some personal time each to take it in.  Having never seen the Pyrenees before this trip, I was elated to be able to see the majestic peaks in full panorama form.  We even tried to capture the feeling of vast grandness with a panoramic shot, but as anyone who's ever been to a wide open space like this knows, a photo just can't translate the chills you get in the moment.

With growling tummies, the time difference made itself glaringly obvious again as we munched on our sanwiches for a 10:30am 'lunch'.  Practically alone at the top, we passed tons of people on our descent and were pleased with our early start - like we had had the peak to ourselves, even if just for an instant.

Two hikes under our belt and freshly showered, we decided to head out and see the town of Jaca.  Known as a town for 'white sports' (do we call skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc that or is that a direct translation from my Spanish??)  the town was everything you would hope for from a quaint ski village - steep roofs, beautiful woodwork, cobblestone streets boasting glamourous winter clothes shops, bakeries with fresh pastry smells wafting out the front doors and of course beautiful people in athletic clothes (but we decided half of them probably hadn't even gone hiking haha).  With a citadel from the 16th century, a medieval church that includes scaling towers, and lots of little bars with new pintxos to try, we were happy campers wandering around the little town until we puttered out and turned in early.

The next morning we set off on our final hike of the trip - a big one - and headed to France to start it off.  We found a small parking lot on the map and headed across the border and laced up our hiking shoes (new ones for me - thanks to Joseba's nice birthday present to me!) to march onto Ibón de Estanés (Estanes Lake).  Joseba showed off his rather good high-school French when he reaffirmed with another hiker that we were on the correct path to the Lake.  Flea fly flew flaw flou it sounded like to me, but in fact yes we were going in the right direction.  The two hours we walked until we reached the lake were stunning - again fall colors at thier best, and this time with the peaks right alongside us as we walked.  And again, we didn't see a soul until we reached the Lake, which glimmered in the sun and was surrounded by the peaks on one side, low-lying grass-covered hills to the other and a green valley to the front.

From there our map got a bit tricky.  It told us to go a direction we couldn't find any markers for.  Learning from our mistakes on the first hike (remember...huffing and puffing Amanda), we wandered around searching for markers and even asked a few fellow people, none of which had the slightest clue.  Our goal was to do a loop so we could make it back to the car without re-tracing what we had just done and see something new at the same time.  When we finally found some markers that seemed like they went towards the mountains we wanted to head to, we ran into a Spanish couple who we asked for advice.  To our surprise, they knew the whole area by heart!

Turns out our trail that we had taken to arrive to the Lake wasn't listed on our map, so we had arrived at a totally different point and that's why we had had trouble finding the marks to continue...because there weren't any!  Regardless, they told us that rocky mountainside path we were crossing them on led to a beautiful valley full of wild Pyrenees sarrios frolicking about and that it'd be worth our while to continue on and then backtrack later to the car.  Seeing as they seemed like pros, we took thier advice and began a strenuous climb up a rocky path which later fed into a long narrow valley.  We continued following the markers until we came to another jagged hill to climb and after we reached the top, stepped into a massive valley.

Surrounded by peaks peaks and more peaks, we figured out that the large valley curved around about a mile in and that fog was billowing from the bend.  Intrigued, we headed there to try and catch a view of these special sarrios charging down the rocks.  Sarrios are a special type of goat-antelope animal that are native to European mountains.  Into the fog and out the other side, the wind blew hard in our faces but we kept on.  About an hour of walking and with still no glimpse of this animal that we were starting to question if even existed, we chomped down a chicken empanada to give us strength for our turn-around and hike back out of this brutal valley.

The rocks in the valley were so strange - like layers upon layers of thin sheets of rocks turned upwards so that you could see the edges.  It made the walk back bearable and as we came out of the windy bend we were again impressed by the massive valley and it's small exit that opened to a rugged cliff.  After passing a dead vulture (no worries, they don't eat thier own kind) we disappointedly starting heading back down the steep rugged rock only to see a sarrio!  And then another and another!  Rushing down the jagged cliffs into the valley!  Our winding path finally got us down to the valley and when we headed back the way we came we glanced up and saw what we had missed on the way in.  Because of the way the rocks were situated, a big group of sarrios were chasing after each other and charging down the rocks!  THIS was the Valley of the Sarrios - we realized.  So, where the heck had we been?!  We took out the map and realized that since we didn't see the sarrios the first time around we had accidentally ventured into a completely different valley and that we had went about 3 miles out of the way.  Whoops.  Well, that's why we never saw those sarrios in that valley - we weren't in thier spot!  Kind of laughing to ourselves we finally had the chance to admire these daring animals during play time but after the unexpected detour were careful to watch the clock.  What had been planned as a 6 hour hike was quickly turning into a full-day one.

Crossing through the valley again and back down the rocky mountainside past the Lake and speed-walking down the foresty path to the car, we made it with still lots of daylight (our major fear).  At the start of the hike, when we had stopped worrying about time and arriving, we noted the little river we had crossed over early that morning and decided our feet deserved a cool-down, of the freezing river type.  We stripped off our hiking boots and socks to let our feet breath a bit of fresh Pyrenee air before we dipped them in the stream.  Talk about cold!  Joseba proceeded to stand up in the water and wince, to which of course I laughed.  Not pleased by my mocking, he dared me to walk across the whole stream without showing any pain on my face.  I accepted and failed miserably.

I easily made it across the stream - it was only about 10 steps - but the sheer temperature of it made it impossible not to clench your teeth.  Joseba snapped some pics while I did it and then decided he wanted some pics of himself doing the same, but I refused to cross the river again to come get the camera, so the poor boy crossed it twice!  Using the sports setting, I managed to get every frame of his walk and boy was he cocky - acting like it didn't hurt at all!  But his last pictures show the pain in his face!  Ha!  An unusual way to end a hike, we made our feet even happier when we sat down in the car and headed back for our last Jaca night.

For our last night we decided to go all out and try a few nice pintxo bars and a very romantic restaurant that Joseba's co-worker who has a vacation home in Jaca recommended us.  The first pintxo bar was really a vinoteca - a wine bar.  While we are lucky to have Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines (the best wine regions in Spain) all the time, we decided to go out on a limb and try some local wine from the Aragon area to accompany our Spanish cheeses.  Later, we tried a very local pintxo bar where I ordered a toast with a smorgasboard of cheeses and Joseba a toast with an incredibly light foie - both utterly delectable.  For dinner we ordered from the set menu and were delighted with each plate.  We decided to repeat the Aragon wine we had ordered early on in the night and that was our doom.  Quickly after dinner we realized our pintxo + wine + pintxo + wine + diner +  wine + wine equation equalled tired and tipsy us!  A night that we had planned to paint the town turned into a 1am bedtime haha.

We headed back the next morning in the rain - shocked that we had lucked out with the weather.  Besides the 20 minutes of mist we had on our first day, we had perfect weather for a whole 4-day weekend and the exact day that we were leaving it decided to pour buckets!  As we pulled out of town and headed home, I watched the fall colors through the wet window, remembering all the beautiful scenes I had the chance to see this beautiful trip.