Traveling Through The Basque Country

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 Traveling Through The Basque Country

“The goal of my life is to tie adventure to my feet, stock memories in my pocket, hold imagination in my palms like fairy dust and sprinkle it on my tales.” Mitali Meelan

The best way to explore the beautiful Basque coastline is by car,  ferry, train and bus. We ride the bus to Hondarribia which is on the Spanish border with France.

It is the first settlement pilgrims will come upon as they follow the Northern Way of the Camino de Santiago from France  on their way to the final destination of Santiago de Compostela.

We walk through the cobblestone streets of the Parte Vieja past medieval stone palaces and traditional Basque wood-beamed houses.

 Later, we take the seven minute ferry ride to Hendaye which is on the French border with Spain.

It is a seaside town.

You know you are on the Basque Coastline when you see huge rocks gushing from the Ocean, a rugged terrain with steep and sharp cliffs and very cold water.

We return for a late lunch in Hondarriba. Throughout Basque Country, pintxo bar chefs strive to outdo one another, and formal pintxo competitions up the ante.

In recent years, Hondarribia bars have competed against San Sebastián’s with favorable results, earning regional and national recognition for their tiny masterpieces.

In fact, demand for quality cuisine at reasonable prices means that some of the best places for are surprisingly low-key. 

 The next day, in a seventeenth century farmhouse,  we see the famous Basque breed floppy eared pigs (Euskal Txerria).  The Basque pigs unlike many of their pink cousins have a good life.

Afterward we had a not light lunch at the farmhouse and got to try some of their delicious cured ham.

I am usually disconnected from the process of where my food comes from.  Being brought up in a supermarket, It is hard to understand that death is part of a process of food production.

  I try now, as best I can to make ethical food choices. It helps to know where the animal comes from and how it was raised.  

 The Wednesday market in the town of Ordizia has been happening for over five hundred years.

The market takes over the town plaza centre which is a Roman or Greek looking Parthenon type structure.

We are lucky to be here on a Wednesday for this  authentic market with a great selection of local produce and products.

The most popular food item that you will find in Ordizia is the Idiazabal cheese, a hard white cheese, strong in flavor and high in acidity, made according to centuries-old family recipes (available in both smoked and un-smoked varieties.)

You can still buy the cheese directly from the shepherds who make it from the milk.

We have a lunch on our last day in Basque country at Komentu Maitea a converted monastery in Gordexola. It is Spanish Independence Day and  the restaurant is filled with local families having a large midday meal.

The food is fresh and delicious.

Nearby is the city of Guernica (Gernika in Basque). We stop at the  Assembly House and the Tree of Gernika. For centuries the Lords of Biscay met under an oak tree in this very spot to discuss the issues of the day, eventually building a more solid shelter (for those wetter days) in the form of The Assembly House.

The tree is one of the best known symbols of freedom for the Basque people.  Gernika was devastated by the Nazi Germany bombings in1937 with unprecedented consequences (made famous by the Picasso painting). Both the Assembly House and the traditional oak survived. This strengthened the tree’s already symbolic value to the Basque people.

The scenery in the Basque country is breathtaking.

The cities are picturesque and the food is  amazing and there will always be some rain – even in the summer. 

I appreciate the efforts of  the  Basque people to protect their culture, identity and language.

It is a wonderful place to visit  especially if you like food. I have to thank to Jim Kane  and Cultural Xplorers for another excellent trip.

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

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Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

“Much will be written and said about the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum in the future; we will simply be able to say that we built it.’   Juan Ramón Pérez, Works Manager for the Guggenheim Museum and Head of Building for the Basque country.

 Humans tend to be fascinated by several sights and places.  We see pictures and videos of those places we want to visit. And then we go.

The Guggenheim is bigger and bolder than I thought it would be. I had a window view and it is as peaceful to me as looking at the sea.

It is one of those rare works of contemporary architecture that dazzle the world with its modern styling and intricate structure. It is located in Northern Spain in the city of Bilbao, an industrial port encircled by the green mountains in Basque Country.  The museum stands right next to the banks of the Nervión River that flows through Bilbao down to the Cantabrian Sea. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao features exhibits and works of artists from all over the world.

The glittering titanium museum is designed by Frank Gehry, an award-winning Canadian-American architect. When he was chosen by Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation as the architect, Thomas Krens, its director, asked him to design the museum extraordinarily. Gehry surely exceeded their expectations. The construction took place from 1993 to September, 1997. On October 18, 1997, the former of King of Spain, King Juan Carlos I, inaugurated the museum. When it was first introduced, the design awed the critics as well as the public. After its immediate and immense success, many similar buildings popped up all around the world.

 Gehry is known for a number of renowned architectural designs including Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.

One might say that the artistic contents and exhibits of the museum are not as impressive as the structure of the building itself. To be honest, it would not be wrong. People from all over the globe  pay a visit to the museum to witness the avant-garde structure that they have heard so much about. It is on the Northern route of the Camino de Santiago and the pilgrims usually make a stop at the museum.

There are no photos allowed  inside the museum.  This is good because it give me a chance to enjoy the works in a more relax and peaceful way instead of busily taking pictures.  Sometimes I do wonder why I need to take so many photos and whether  I miss anything by doing this.

The urban building is covered in glass, titanium, and limestone. The exterior structure feature random curves and hurls that catch and throw the lights while the interior is built around a huge, lighted atrium offering picturesque views of Bilbao’s river banks and the mountainous greenery of the Basque country.

The building spans an area of 32,500-square-meters (350,000 sq. ft.) The exhibition area has nineteen galleries. 

You will be surprised to know that the museum was built on a strict time limit and budget.  Gehry said he ensured that he had an accurate estimate of the budget, and that no political and business interests interfered with the project. Furthermore, he used his own software, Digital Project, to create detailed computer visualizations and teamed up with the individual building trades to cut down the costs.

Immediately after opening, the museum became a popular tourist attraction.  The taxes collected from the hotels, restaurants, shops and transport itself has more than paid for the building cost.

The  “Bilbao effect” refers to how the museum transformed the city.   This is amazing because before the museum, Bilbao was just a faded industrial town.

My trip to Spain and Portugal started in Bilbao – a bucket list place for me.  It was a more expensive trip than usual and I struggled with the decision to do it. But I believe that you should invest in your life for the things you love. I have no regret for this decision. Life should be spontaneous and without too much thought. Just go. The memories will be worth it.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ten Things That I Want To Do In Spain This Time

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Ten Things That I Want To Do In Spain this Time

“There is no nightlife in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not nightlife. That is delaying the day.” Ernest Hemingway

1.Most of us have at least a short list of places we want to see before we die.. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is one of my places. I used to walk my dog near Frank Gehry’s house – on purpose. I’ve still never seen him. Modern art, pinxtos  Frank Gehry and the Basque region in one place sounds perfect.

2. Visit Guernica at the Reina Sofia and  the Velazquez and Goya paintings at the Prado I grew up with the Guernica by Picasso at the Museum of Modern Art. It was the painting that helped me to make some kind of sense of war – or at least understand that grown-ups didn’t understand it either. I often went to visit it. When I left NY in 1980, the Guernica went back to Spain and now resides in the Reina Sofia.  Seeing favorite paintings are like visiting old friends.  There is no art that touches me more than Goya’s Black Paintings. The dark, twisted, painful scenes have stayed with me, long after I left the museum,. 

3, Have some gazpacho and hot chocolate and churros (at San Gines) in Madrid.

4. The Camino de Santiago  is a medieval pilgrimage route ending in Santiago de Compostela in the northwest region of Spain. It is a bucket list thing for me to do the walk. Taking one, two, or five weeks (depending on where you start walking) to walk across the beautiful and diverse landscapes of northern Spain is a transformative experience and a great immersion into Spain as well. Since we will be nearby, we will try to walk a few of days of it. 

5. Eat at some Michelin restaurants in San Sebastián. San Sebastián purportedly is the city with the most Michelin starred restaurants per capita globally. The highly recommended Michelin starred restaurants in and around San Sebastián include Arzak,  Mugaritz, Martin Berasategui, Asador Etxebarri, and Akelarre.

6. Sample pinxtos in San Sebastián and Bilbao. Pintxos are Basque-style tapas known for being extra creative and delicious.

7. Walk through the Albaicin and Sacromonte areas of Granada. There are many neighborhoods in Andalusia where time seems to have stood still. Sacromonte is the original Gypsy quarter of Granada. High up on the hillside above Albaicín, many locals still live in dappled white caves carved out of the rock. The Albaicin is a  squashed-together network of winding cobbled streets, whitewashed old houses and jasmine-scented squares perches on the hillside on the other side of the Darro River from the Alhambra.

8.  Watch flamenco and listen to Spanish guitar in Granada. Flamenco in Spain is a fascinating tradition. It’s everywhere you look in Madrid. Flamenco is a constant presence and the souvenir shops are all selling polka-dot dresses and castanets. The dance started in Granada and the best shows are here. 

9. I have been to the old hammam in Istanbul  (baths) so I know how great they can be. Hammam Al Andalus is built over the old Arab Baths in Granada and I am booking my appointment before I go.

10. Eat tapas in Granada and Madrid. Small in size but full in flavor, there is a huge variety of tapas to try in Spain. The small bites give you chance to try many different kinds without feeling stuffed.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Working On My Bucket List

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 Working On My Bucket List
 “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a plane ticket.” unknown Truthfully, anywhere in the world that I have not been before is a bucket list place for me. Life is short and we have to remember to live it to the fullest. Sometimes I visit places that should have been on my list but I did not know till I got there. Most of them come from books I have read throughout my life. I want to experience a place in the way an author has. My list makes me stop and think of what I want to experience in this lifetime. Having a bucket list gives you hope. There are places on the list I may never go to but the goal of a bucket list is to never finish it. The best lists are constantly changing. So, start writing. Machu Picchu, Peru  Moia, Easter Island, Chile Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain  – soon Camino De Santiago, Basque region, France and Spain – soon Canary Islands, Spain Faroe Islands Grand Canyon, USA Angor Wat, Siem Reap,  Cambodia Ferry from Gibraltar to Morocco (which i think doesn’t go anymore)  Auschwitz, Poland Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey Pizza in Sicily and Naples, Italy The Algarve in Portugal Church of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain Greenland Punta Del Este,Uruguay Bahia, Brazil Medellin, Colombia Ushuaia, Argentina Tigers Nest Temple, Bhutan Taj Mahal, India Terracotta Army, Xian, China Faukland Islands Boulder Beach, Capetown, South Africa Gorillas, Rwanda Viet Nam Borneo Sri Lanka, Nepal. Ethiopia Fly safe. JAZ  

Travel Things That You Will Probably Do Only Once In Your Lifetime

Travel Things that You Will Probably Do Only Do Once In A Lifetime.

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

There are many things I would like to do again in my lifetime, go back to Croatia and Turkey, spend more time in the Amazon, eat street food in Thailand and sushi at Tsukiji etc. Then there are things that I know I will only do once. (Croatia)

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Climb to the top of the Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument , etc. Any monument that you climb is a “one and done” for me. (Washington)

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Shop at Harrods in London or Ginza Mitsukoshi in Tokyo. The largest department store in the world is a one time visit – especially for the food areas. i can’t focus enough to buy anything. There are better places to be in these cities. (Tokyo)

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Climb to the top of some big mountain like Kilamanjaro, Everest or the Matterhorn. If you are capable of doing this, it is great for your quadriceps but words like summit and base camp are frightening to me. (Kilamanjaro)

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Visit the coffee shops in Amsterdam. If that is where you are spending all your time in Amsterdam, you have a problem.

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See the Aurora Borealis.

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Walk the Camino de Santiago.

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Take a gondola ride in Venice. I had every intention of doing this but after getting woken up every morning to gondoliers singing Volare, I felt like i had done it and took a boat instead.

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Visit the Grand Canyon – still have not done this

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Walk the Great Wall of China.

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Visit the Acropolis, Stonehenge, the Colosseum, Ephesus, Delphi, the Moabs or other famous ruins. They stay the same just a bit older.

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Go to Oktoberfest in Munich, Carnaval In Rio, Running With the Bulls In Pamplona, La Tomatina in Spain, Kumbh Mela in India ,Burning Man in Nevada, Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico, Chinese New Year in China and the International Balloon Festival in New Mexico.

I still have a lot to do.

Fly Safe,
JAZ