Wednesday, March 14, 2012

El País Vasco, part 1

Bilbao (point B) and San Sebastian (point C) are here in relation to Madrid (point A):
The trip was off to a rough start.

I woke up at 5:45, hopped on the first metro at 6:20, and finally made it to the gate by 7:15 for my 7:55 flight.  And what do you know. They wouldn't let me board.

I thought since it was a domestic flight, a driver's license would suffice, but apparently in Spain, you need a passport....

60 euros poorer, emotionally and physically drained, I made the hour long trek on the metro back to my homestay to get my passport, update this blog, and afterwards, I headed for the airport for the third time that day to finally be on my way to Bilbao.  To enjoy the trip in the fullest, I decided not to think about the 60 euros that I lost and pretend that all of that did not happen.

I knocked out for the 45 minute flight, and I'm pretty sure I did the classic head-bobbing.  I just hope that I didn't rest my head on the person who was sitting next to me.  I refuse to think about it too long.

But the moment I landed in Bilbao's airport, I was so glad I decided to pay that extra 60 euros and come to El País Vasco.

History time! So the Arabs from Northern Africa conquered the majority of Spain a long long time ago, and that's one of the biggest reasons why there is so much Islamic influence in Spain. But, the Arabs were unable to conquer the very Northern part of Spain, and that includes this region called País Vasco or the Basque Country.  Then some Spaniard (forget the name) leads a war to repossess the nation, and drives out the Arabs.  
According to my intercambio, the reason why País Vasco remained untouched was they lived in pocket communities in the mountains.  Therefore, it was nearly impossible to lead a successful attack here. 
Anyways, because of their relative isolation, the Basque people were able to retain their native tongue called Euskara (pronounced oo-se-que-ra), which dates centuries and centuries back.  What's more, this has heightened their regionalism, and extremists have very loudly vocalized their desire to become an independent nation.  Within the past half century, many terrorist attacks have been lead by a terrorist group called ETA (from the Basque Country) against anything "Spanish." So the police, the ministers, etc. Their activity has subdued in recent years, and it is completely safe to travel there. :)

The Basque Country is seriously so beautiful. I was expecting to be disappointed because people kept on saying that Bilbao was ugly and was nothing but an industrial city, but I actually really loved Bilbao! I took a bus from the airport to the center of Bilbao for 1.30€, and throughout that short bus ride, I could not help marvel at how much I liked the region already. Beautiful mountains, goats, sheep, quaint houses mixed with newer buildings.

When I got to the bus stop, I took the subway to the hostel that we were staying at.

If anyone is going to Bilbao, I highly highly recommend this hostel. This was my first hostel experience, and I couldn't have asked for a better first time! It's called "Ganbara" and it's located in the old part of the city. You can walk to most places from the hostel, and it had such a fun vibe to it. Everyone there was chill, all wanting to travel and explore, they gave you free breakfast, you could cook your own meals (the best way to save money), borrow movies, play cards, lo que sea. Very clean, gave you lockers and sheets, and if all the hostels I will be staying at this semester are like that, I would have no complaints.

I wearily stumbled into the hostel, and my sweet friends welcomed me with all the warmth and sympathy I needed. AND they got me chocolate. What could be better? Haha

After relaxing a bit, we decided to walk around a bit, and somehow we found ourselves climbing up an incredible amount of stairs.  At the top, though, we were able to enjoy this wonderful overlook of the entire city, the sun was just beginning to fall, there were dogs fooling around, old couples taking a stroll, a weird man taking a nap, boys playing football, and it was just fantastic.

FUNNY STORY.  After walking on this greenway, we asked a bypassing man to take a picture of the three of us, and we lingered there a little bit after taking the picture to soak everything in. That's when a group of 4 or 5 Spanish high school girls comes up to us very giggly and timidly.  They had a camera in hand and they were nudging the each other to see who would approach us.  So naturally I thought they were going to ask us to take a picture of them, but no, they wanted a picture of us! Hahaha Apparently it was for their school project, and they wanted us to hold a flag while holding a fist in the air.  PUHAHA I thought it was so funny!! For all we could know, we might become the next faces of their regionalism movement. LOL

On our way down, we counted how many steps there were, and I think it was around 335 or 315.  (You would not believe how much effort was required to count every single step!)

Afterwards, we went down to the river where there was a street carnival set up, snapped some artsy pictures, and headed back to the hostel to make ourselves pizza and salad for dinner.  We ate a dinner fit for a (poor) king for only 3€ each! Wahoo! We even watched a movie. :)

We were so exhausted by midnight, all we wanted to do was sleep.  And sleep we did.
And that concludes my first day in País Vasco

[Part 2] Second day in San Sebastian! 


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