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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Thirty-Six Hours In Madrid

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Thirty-Six Hours In Madrid

“I love thee as I love all that we have fought for. I love thee as I love liberty and dignity and the rights of all men to work and not be hungry. I love thee as I love Madrid that we have defended and as I love all my comrades that have died.” Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Check into Hotel Urso – a boutique hotel in the center of Madrid in the trendy Chueca district.

Have dinner at Media Racion – the delicious restaurant at the hotel.

Breakfast  -Urso’s continental breakfast in the  lobby bar did not disappoint. I had toast with tomato and oil, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee – not a bad way to start my first day in Spain.

Street Art Tour of Madrid . It is always my favorite thing to do in a city (more later.)

Lunch at the Reina Sofia

Visit Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia. The visually stunning Guernica is the favorite painting of my childhood from the  Museum Of Modern Art in New York.  It was returned to Spain in 1980 when I moved to California. At first glance, the painting looks like chaos – all hard lines, blunt angles, and cartoonish scenes of animals and people. But when you look at the details, you begin to see more. Here’s a woman, grieving for the child in her arms. There’s a fallen man, his broken sword lying beside him. The painting depicts the bombing of Guernica (in Basque Spain) during the Spanish Civil War. The Guernica takes up nearly an entire wall of the museum, and at eleven feet tall and nearly twenty-seven feet wide, it is simply massive – especially to a child. The painting always has the same emotional effect on me. I visited the city of Gernika (Basque spelling) in the Basque region on this trip. It was a peaceful quiet city and of course was nothing like the painting. But it was strangely poetic to be standing there. 

Visit the Spanish Paintings at the Prado. No museum in the world comes close to matching the Prado’s collection of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. Velazquez spent most of his life in Madrid as a court painter and is considered the greatest Spanish painter of all time. Las Meninas is one of the great Spanish paintings. There are eighty works by Velazquez in the Prado. There are over nine hundred paintings by Goya there as well.

Follow his trajectory from his early portraits, light and full of life, through to the dark intensity of his final works.There’s nothing quite like the Black Paintings. Painted directly on the walls of his house in the outskirts of Madrid towards the end of Goya’s life, they reveal the inner life of an artist disillusioned by politics and society, losing his health (and possibly his mind), and confronting his own death. These are dark, twisted scenes which stay with you long after you leave the museum.

Churros and Chocolate at San Gines  One of the great customs in Madrid for either breakfast or afternoon is a sweet pick me up. It’s the smell of the  intoxicating blend of hot oil, fried dough, and melted chocolate that lures everyone in. Hot chocolate in Spain bears little resemblance to its counterpart in America. Spanish chocolate is designed for dipping, so it has the consistency of something  like a warm, soft pudding. Those long, sugary sticks of dough sold at Disneyland or  Costco bear little resemblance to the authentic Spanish article. Churros must be eaten fresh from the fryer, are almost more savory than sweet, and are considerably shorter than their American imitations.

The spa at Hotel Urso uses the Natura Bisse Spanish products that I use at home. I am eager to try some treatments and spend the evening having a decadent facial, massage and body treatment. I take advantage of the steam and whirlpool facilities. It is an excellent experience to unwind and get rid of the jet lag.

In the morning, I leave for Bilbao – after I eat my new favorite tomato and olive oil on toast .

Fly safe,

JAZ