Ugh being sick really sucks, especially when you are so far away from home.  When I was 5, all I had to do to feel better (well it made me feel better anyways) was kick my father out of bed and curl up next to Mommy.  However I’m not so sure this worked in retrospect–Mom got no sleep because she was dealing with a sick child and my father had to deal with sleeping in my too small twin size bed.  And I was usually crying/moaning and got no sleep either.

Luckily I’m not that kind of sick.  However my stomach has not been very happy the past couple of days and it kind of sucks when every I eat, I feel nauseous/get a stomachache and basically feel repulsed by the idea of food.  I’ve been to see the English speaking medico and he gave me  a bunch of drugs so hopefully they cure me of my “intestinal virus.” Who knows what brought about this sickness–all I know is I’m ready to part ways and kiss it goodbye.  Anyways, safe to say I’ve been feeling homesick because I feel sick.

But enough of me and my tales of intestinal woe (and I’m actually feeling better now, even though I was convinced for about 20 minutes I had appendicitis last week.  But that’s a different story).  Obviously the Basque Country is way more interesting.

So early on Friday, March 11th, the NYU headed out to the Basque Country, a region located in northern Spain.  After about 6 hours in the bus, we arrived at our first stop, a town named San Sebastian.  San Sebastian is the capital of the province of Guipuzcoa and one of the Basque Country’s major cities.

Some brief information on the Basque Country: part of the region actually lies across the border in France.  However most of the region is situated in Spain.  The region is divided into 3 provinces: Guipuzcoa, Vizcaya (known as Biscay in English which Bilbao is the capital of) and Alava.  The region of Cantabria borders the region to the west, France and Navarre are to the east, and La Rioja is to the south.  To the north is the Bay of Biscay/the Atlantic Ocean.  The region is very mountainous and also VERY green–most of Spain is very arid and dry.  However northern Spain (especially Galicia) is known for its lush greenery.

And of course one of the things that distinguishes the Basque Country from other regions in Spain is its own language, the Basque language which is co-official with the Spanish language.  However according to polls, only about 30% of the population is actually fluent in Basque–the numbers of speakers in Galicia (where they speak Gallego) and in Catalonia (where they speak Catalan) are much higher.  The language is very strange to hear and to read–it does not resemble Spanish or any of the Romance languages.  Linguists are still scratching their heads when it comes to solving the mystery surrounding this language–no one really knows where it comes from or how to categorize it.

One last thing to touch upon–ETA.  If you are familiar with Spanish politics, you may know that ETA (which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or Basque homeland and freedom in English) is the Basque nationalist/separatist organization often responsible for acts of terrorism around Spain (which usually involves blowing up cars with the intended victim inside).  The group is considered to be a terrorist organization by the Spanish and French government.  It was formed sometime in the 1960s and has been blamed for killing over 800 people.  However over the last decade, ETA has been killing less and less and announced a ceasefire in September 2010 and just this past January.  Of course, ETA has announced cease fires before and then gone back on their word.  Zapatero, the current president, tried to negotiate with ETA (and was heavily criticized by the media for it) but that didn’t work out so well.  Whenever members of ETA appear on TV, they are shown in front of ETA’s logo (a snake wrapped around an axe) and the Basque flag.  They always wear black clothes and berets and wear white sheets over their faces so that the public cannot identify them.  They were originally blamed for the Madrid train bombings in 2004 (which caused a huge controversy, but that’s something else I won’t go into).  It’s one of the darker aspects of the Basque country but that wasn’t the focus of our trip.  And all I have to say about ETA: what they are doing is wrong and they are never going to achieve independence.  It’s never going to work for so many reasons.

Ok back to San Sebastian (known as Donostia in the Basque language).  We arrived just in time for lunch/siesta.  Nicole, Lindsey, Nikki, and I strolled around the little cute streets and ended up finding a bar in San Sebastian’s Plaza Mayor.  The Basque country is famous for serving “pinchos” which is basically like bar finger food, similar to tapas (and seems to be usually served on small loaves of bread).  I can’t remember exactly what I ate but it was good.

After lunch, we walked around some more and found part of San Sebastian’s waterfront.  San Sebastian lies on the coast and has several beaches.  I was overjoyed to be seeing the ocean again–I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.  I’m a little confused by San Sebastian’s geography but this part of the waterfront was shaped like a bay and on either side of the bay’s entrance there were two mountains.  We found the port with all these cute little boats.  Rising to the left of us on one of the peaks was this huge statue of Jesus.  Apparently you can actually go up to the statue and see an incredible view of San Sebastian–however we didn’t have time to do this.

After getting some ice cream, we all met up at the Maria Cristina hotel (where the celebrities stay during the San Sebastian film festival and named for a Spanish queen) for a guided tour with our leaders.  I honestly don’t remember much of what we heard about, but we walked around part of the old city and the waterfront.  The trip’s focus was on architecture so a lot of buildings were pointed out for their different architectural features.  We did stop in front of a church but we didn’t go inside (for once!).  All that you really need to know is that I loved San Sebastian and would love to come back when it’s warmer to veg out at the beach for a few days.  It’s definitely a popular vacation spot in Spain and among French people as well–I heard so many French people in the streets while I walked around!

Before we left, we went to Playa de la Concha/Ondaretta, another beach in San Sebastian along a different part of the waterfront.  We walked along the walkway right next to the beach to go see these abstract sculptures by Eduardo Chillida.  The sculptures are installed at the end of the walkway and some of them are actually protruding out of rocks sitting a few feet into the sea.  They are called the Wind Comb (Peine del Viento) and kind of look like a series of large handcuffs sticking out of rocks.  They do form quite the contrast again the stormy sea (there was a pretty strong current that day and some wind, there were even surfers out in the ocean catching waves…. in the middle of March!).  However people were more entertained by these holes set up in the ground where gusts of air would shoot out as the waves crashed underneath the walkway… hard to explain! But anyways this kind of vacuum would cause the air to shoot out and hit people, making them look like as if they had just walked into a mini tornado.

And then sadly we had to leave San Sebastian… I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to stay the whole weekend and just stare at the sea!

We got back on the bus and arrived in Bilbao an hour later.  We were on our own for dinner so Nicole and I ate some greasy food in a donor kebap place not too far from the hotel.  Unfortunately for me, this would be the start of my stomach troubles.

But I think that’s enough for now… I will cover Bilbao in the next post.


Here are some pictures from San Sebastian (excuse the quality):

street with a church

Plaza Mayor in San Sebastian

Plaza Mayor in San Sebastian

part of the harbor

one of the bays in San Sebastian

cool gazebo in one of the squares

part of Playa de la Concha

path along the beach

El Peine del Viento by Eduardo Chillida

more of San Sebastian scenery with an island in the middle of the bay