Small Town Life in the Basque Country

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As I write my Pros/Cons list, I become less and less clear if I have made the right decision to come here and participate in this program. Before I chose to do it, I read all the blogs and reviews on the program, so I began my journey with my eyes and my mind open. You may have heard of the Auxiliar de Conversación program that I’m currently undertaking. If you haven’t, it involves working in a school or a university as a teaching assistant, helping students all over Spain to learn English. In my case, I am working in a primary school in a small town in the Basque Country. The school has just over eighty students, and the town houses around 600 people.

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My local walking track through the vineyards.

When submitting my preferences, I chose a small town for the raw cultural experience. After a quick Google of Spanish geography, I chose the Basque Country because “it looked nice”. Honestly, I had no idea about its history, its culture, or its language. In a way, I’m so happy that I chose a region with such a rich culture and history. I have learnt so much of the Basque culture just by living here and participating in the school activities. The language, which is unlike any other in the world, is fascinating to listen to, and it’s fun to learn basic words, but I never knew how much it could get in the way of my quest to really learn Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish has improved greatly since being here, but sometimes I feel as though I would have been better off in a region that only speaks Spanish.

After a trip down south to Andalusia, I realised how different the areas really are. I have stopped saying “I live in Spain” and I have started saying “I live in the Basque Country”. It really isn’t Spain at all, and I love it.

When it comes to the Auxiliar program, I have a huge list of pros and cons. I don’t know where to begin. I decided to do the program purely because I’m getting paid to travel. I mean, I love children, and I love getting to know these adorable Basque kids, and it has been amazing to finally put my “Grammar Police” skills to good use, but I know that I’m never going to be a teacher myself. This program was the doorway to Europe for me. Coming from Australia, it’s almost impossible to take a weekend trip to another country unless you have a private jet or are able to teleport. This weekend I am off to London! It’s my first international weekend trip I have taken in my six months being here because I was too afraid to ask for time off work. After the Christmas break, I realised that I would be wasting this opportunity if I didn’t take trips like these, so I planned some long weekends and found that the teachers were completely fine with it. Why didn’t I do this earlier?!

Living in a small town without the convenience of a car has been tricky. I thought about buying one, but for multiple reasons, it didn’t happen. I’ve memorised the local bus timetables and I’ve stopped feeling bad asking people for a lift into the closest city, Logroño. If I were to ever do this program again (which is highly unlikely), I would choose to live in a city like Logroño or Vitoria-Gasteiz that has a good connection to the rest of the country, or better still, somewhere like Bilbao or Santander, with an airport. Despite the inconvenience of living in a small town, I feel like I’ve made the most of my time here. For the first few months I was in a different city every weekend. It meant lots of buses and late Sunday nights, but at least I have seen most of the surrounding areas, unlike a lot of the others doing the program with me. I was lucky enough to have saved a generous amount of dinero before coming here, so I can afford to take these trips despite not getting paid regularly, or on time.

Throughout the week I only work twelve hours at the school, so the rest of the time I feel like I could be in so many better places. It makes me wish I had just saved a little longer and travelled all around Europe instead. However, I have all of this extra time that I don’t have whilst at home studying full-time and working on the side. I have started drawing more, and sometimes I study Spanish. Other times I catch up on Netflix, which I never had back home. I’ve started exercising more as of late to work off some of the pinchos and churros. In this respect, I’ve had so much more spare time to clear my head from four years of university stress, and to work on unleashing some of my creativity that is restricted by uni work.

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The result of my increased creativity. Inspired by La Rioja.

On the other hand, I’m scared that I might actually be going a little insane. I was talking to myself today, and I caught myself saying “You and I both know…”…to myself. This experience has been great for me to “find myself”, as cliché as that might sound. You see, my boyfriend did his Europe trip a couple of years ago, but I was still yet to travel sola. Although it has been incredibly hard for the both of us, it’s something I have to do, and I don’t know when I will have this opportunity again.

I have realised what I really want in life, and what I do not want. I have developed an immense love for Australia that I never had before. I have always loved home, but I never realised how deeply rooted I am in the Australian way of life. I appreciate all of the things I’m learning about other cultures and the way people live in other parts of the world, but in the end, I’ll always be an Aussie, and I’m proud of it.

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Take me home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Music and Craft-Beer Guide to País Vasco

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Long story short, I moved to País Vasco in October of last year. I’ve been living in a town of 600 people in the Basque province of Álava. I’ve learnt some words in the local tongue (Basque, or ‘euskera’) and I have discovered some places to get my music and craft-beer fix that I’d love to share with you.

Logroño

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El Dorado, Logroño

I’ll start with Logroño, even though it´s technically not in País Vasco. It’s my closest city so I’ve spent the most time here. The first bar that caught my eye was El Dorado on Calle Portales. I heard Bob Dylan playing and I was won over by the decent craft-beer selection. The music alternates between jazz, rock, and the classics, like Dylan and Springsteen.

Just last week I came across Café Odeon. They were cranking Guns ‘n’ Roses, and their four craft-beer fridges definitely caught my eye. The staff here are super friendly, too. I sat between a Bob Dylan poster and a Led Zeppelin one, and I noticed an electric guitar hanging from the ceiling. It’s close to El Dorado, so you’ve got time to try both before heading to Thursday night Pinchato on Calle Laurel.

As for concerts, I’ve never been to any around here as I can’t get home afterwards, however I’ve heard great things about Biribay Jazz Club.

Vitoria-Gasteiz

Vitoria (Gasteiz in Basque) has a cool punk-rock feel about it. The medieval city is full of Basque men with rats’ tails and hoop earrings, and the great music that comes with Basque culture. The first place I’d recommend is El Parral, a vegetarian restaurant by day, and a great little music venue by night. With frequent free gigs that range from traditional Basque folk bands, to rock, to ‘power pop-rock’ (whatever that means!), it’s a music paradise. Get in early if you want a good spot.

For bigger gigs, including international acts, check out Jimmy Jazz Gasteiz, the local spot for all your rock and metal needs (among other genres).

While you’re in town, grab a great coffee with a sweet treat at Fresa y Chocolate. The staff here are great, and it’s perfect for relaxing while waiting for the bus! If you like enjoying a nice vermouth with your pintxos, don’t miss Dazz.

Bilbao

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Penguin Bar, Bilbao

Even after three visits, I still haven’t accomplished all of the things on my Bilbao list, (partly due to everything in Europe closing on a Sunday). The first place I must mention is Penguin Bar. With 16 craft-beer taps, it’s definitely worth a visit. Head in after lunch if you like your beers quiet, or go after dark for a bustling local vibe. Morrocotuda was a nice stop for a beer from their decent selection, but Penguin still has my vote. There are a few on my list that I haven’t had a chance to check out yet, but let me know if you have! La Catedral de Cerveza, a craft-beer store, and  Bihotz, which looks like a fantastic spot for beer and coffee.

I would love to get out to Laugar Brewery one day. It’s not in Bilbao, but they have brewery visits available if you can get there (bookings required). A bus would take a little under an hour from Bilbao.

The only concert venue I’ve experienced in Bilbao so far is Santana 27, and it didn’t disappoint. They have so many bars so you won’t have to worry about a line, and the lockers located throughout the venue are much easier than the traditional cloak-room.

If you like cupcakes, you have to go to Mami Lou Cupcake, a cosy Belgian bakery by the river. Without a doubt, the best cupcake I’ve ever had! The coffee was not half-bad either, and they do have a few nice Belgian beers available.

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Mami Lou Cupcake, Bilbao

Donostia-San Sebastián

Before we head into San Sebastián, I want to stop about a 20 minute train ride away, at Basqueland Brewing Project. This one is on my to-do list, and they offer brewery visits (bookings required). Another local brewery, about 35 minutes by train from the city, is Bidassoa Basque Brewery.

Now, heading into the centre, I recommend checking out the quirky neighbourhood of Gros. Here you’ll find Kañabikaña, a craft-beer shop where you can purchase beers from one of their 18 taps to take home. Just around the corner you’ll see Mala Gissona Beer House, stocking their own beers as well as a great selection of national and international beers. Their burgers are fantastic, too! If you get sick of beer, check out Holly Burger for a nice selection of interesting gins which have been flavoured in-house.

For amazing coffee and breakfast, don’t go past Sakona Coffee Roasters.

Feel free to comment your music and craft-beer findings!

Cheers!

Monet

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Kañabikaña, San Sebastián