In 2009, when I was preparing to move to Spain as an au pair, all I knew about the country were a few random facts stored away in my memory from a report I did in college, and maybe some bits and pieces from a high school Spanish class, like, they use vosotros there. I knew that they spoke more languages than just Spanish in certain parts of the country, but I didn’t know where exactly, or what the languages even were.
I’ve been living in Basque Country for awhile now, and I am so happy I’m here! While there are definitely some things I miss about Andalucía, I have felt more at home in Euskadi in a few months then I ever did in the 3 years I spent in Spain’s south. I think every expat has their region in Spain, the place that claimed their heart and is like a second home, and mine is definitely Basque Country. My years in Andalucía were a huge learning experience for me, full of lots of ups and downs, and moving was just what I needed to reignite my love for Spain all over again. From the people, to the natural beauty, to the Basque culture, here’s why I’m absolutely, positively enamored with Euskadi:
Rolling green hills, miles and miles of pristine coastline, snow-capped mountains, lush valleys, lakes, rivers, forests…do you realize how stunning this region is? Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but nobody would dare call Basque Country ugly.
The Lifestyle: El Txikiteo
I’ve already written about El Txikiteo, the Basque tradition of bar-hopping for pintxos and small sips of wine and beer. I love this about the lifestyle here, and that people of legal drinking age to retirement take part. It’s such a defining part of Basque culture, where the cuadrilla (group of friends) gets together, rain or shine, to enjoy each other’s company over fast-paced consumption of food and drink.
The People Walk with a Purpose
Andalucía, I love you, but (the vast majority) of your people walk painfully slow. I don’t expect speed-walkers, but I was constantly stuck behind someone going at a turtle’s pace; conveniently when I had somewhere to be. Blame it on the heat, blame it on the “mañana” attitude, but if you’re in a rush, prepare to be dodging lots of slow-pokes on the street. Meanwhile, here in Basque Country, while you’ll still get the ancianos teetering along the sidewalks, most people walk with a purpose. My kind of people!
The Cheap Public Transportation
Bilbao easily has the best Metro I’ve ever seen; it’s clean, there are minimal weirdos hanging around, and it’s fast and efficient. Basque Country is also really well-connected by buses and trains, and the best part is that it’s cheap–especially if you’re staying within the same province. To cross Bizkaia on Bizkaibus will set you back about 3€.
The Basque Cider House (Sagardotegia)
I am thrilled to be living in a region that celebrates the Basque cider season by cramming lots of hungry people in a cider house, plopping juicy steaks in front of them, and allowing them to fill their glass with cold cider as they please. I went to my first Sagardotegia earlier this year, and can’t wait to repeat this annually.
The Grandpas in Hats
Studies show that there is no higher concentration of grandpas in berets (known here as txapelas) than in Basque Country. I think the abuelitos are just darling in their hats, wouldn’t you agree? My blogging amiga Kaley does!
The Food & Wine
This doesn’t require much explanation: I’m living in what’s arguably the nucleus of haute cuisine. And even if it’s not accompanied by a Michelin star, Basque food and wine is damn good, whether it’s traditional or contemporary. No complaints here!
The Basque Language & Culture
I LOVE that I’m living in a region with such a rich history and culture. It sometimes feels like I’ve moved to a different country rather than just a different part of the same country. I’m discovering new things daily, from local fiestas to Basque folk dancing!
There are so many excellent hikes throughout Basque Country and I’m happily exploring the trails one by one. You can take the girl out of the Pacific Northwest, but you can’t take the Pacific NW out of the girl!
…and What I Hate About Living in Basque Country
I’m going to be honest here. There is really, truly nothing I hate about living in Basque Country. Really! There are a few things I would change if I could, but we can’t have everything, can we? Without further ado:
I knew what I was getting into by moving here, but the incessant rain is slowly getting to me. We’re in mid-June and it’s still raining over here! Even my hometown of Seattle tends to get its act together by this time of the year.
Not Knowing Euskara
Just when I felt like I was getting somewhere with my Spanish, I moved to a place where I’m enveloped in Euskara! While in the big cities, there’s much more Spanish spoken than Basque, where I live, it’s definitely more Basque than Spanish. I’m tempted to start learning the language (I know a whopping 15 words/phrases or so) but they say learning Basque is like learning Japanese…that’s not intimidating at all! Anyway, this is by no means anyone else’s fault but mine.
The People Who Smoke in Bars
Ok, ok, you got me. This one I HATE. I’m really sensitive to cigarette smoke (makes me nauseous and bitchy) and every time I go out, there’s some jerk lighting up inside the bar, like he’s above the law or something. This drives me crazy! I would change this in a heartbeat.
Photo of Cider House via Johnny Hunter and photo of Basque grandpa by a friend.