Living Like a Local in Santander

A tree-lined avenue in Santander

A tree-lined avenue in Santander

I’m getting tired of hostels. There, I said it. The shared bathrooms, the stinky dorm rooms, those ubiquitous snorers. Though all hostels are certainly not created equal, I’m more of a boutique hotel kind-of-girl–I could easily be persuaded to be a Four Seasons kind-of-girl, but alas, my pocketbook wouldn’t agree!

After a great experience booking a shabby chic apartment when I traveled to Paris, I discovered that renting an apartment while you’re traveling may be the best option of them all. Nothing beats the ability to live where the locals do, save a few bucks by cooking out of your own kitchen and have the peace and quiet of not sharing your space with a bunch of drunken Aussies/Germans/Americans/Fill in the Blank.

So, when Wimdu asked me to try out their vacation rental website, I booked a room in Santander about as central as you can get: right behind the town hall. Booking a hotel in downtown Santander would have been hard to find for the same price. Though I didn’t spend much time in the apartment itself, it met all of my basic needs: budget-friendly, centrally located, secure, clean.

Wimdu.com's homepage

Wimdu.com’s homepage

What I Loved About Using Wimdu:

Wimdu’s website has a huge variety of properties available: I found not only apartments, but villas, cottages, farmhouses, boats and more. Since Wimdu seems to be just picking up in popularity in Spain, there weren’t too many properties to choose from that fit my needs, and while I really wanted an entire apartment, I opted to book a room in a large apartment. While not my preference, for a quick weekend getaway it worked out just fine.

Another thing I loved about Wimdu is its slick, user-friendly interface. Within minutes, you can set up a free account and start browsing for properties to rent across the world. You can easily narrow down your perfect place by neighborhood, amenities (like pet-friendly/hot-tub/WiFi, etc.) and check out the apartment’s surroundings on a map. When you’ve narrowed down your choice, your request will then be sent to your host, who can accept or reject it. You’ll also be able to message your host (before or after booking) with any questions you have.

What to Keep in Mind

Every property is different, and different hosts will have different rules. Some require a deposit in addition to what you pay to Wimdu, others don’t. Before booking, be sure you read the rules completely and follow them during your stay.

Wimdu verifies the hosts and handle all monetary transactions (excluding a deposit, if requested by the host.)

Users are encouraged to leave reviews of their experience. Though I had my doubts about renting out a room from a stranger, I read fellow traveler’s reviews and felt much more at ease. I’d recommend booking a place with positive reviews, so you know what to expect.

Would I Use Wimdu Again?

In a word, yes–but with some exceptions. I wouldn’t book a private room again as I really prefer not sharing my space. But with so many tempting properties out there, and more everyday as the site expands, I’m sure I’ll be looking to Wimdu again in the near-future for accommodation.

Would you be open to booking a vacation rental?

While Wimdu graciously hosted me, all opinions expressed here are my own.

 

10 Things You May Not Know About Basques and Basque Country

My move from Andalucía to País Vasco has been a complete 180. Not only did I trade in year-round sunshine for chilly, wet weather, but I went from a place that speaks a heavily accented form of Spanish (Andalú) to a region where many don’t even speak Spanish (they speak Basque)! Since I’ve visited Basque Country before, I was prepared for the differences–and have only become more enamored with the Basque history and culture; there’s really nothing quite like it!

Here are some things I’ve learned as a result of my time in Basque Country:

  1. The Basque language is Euskara and it is the oldest European language. Along with Spanish, it is the co-official language of Basque Country and Navarre. It’s unrelated to any other language in the world–known as a language isolate and is traced back to a language spoken 20,000 years ago in Europe. Euskara is now seeing a huge revival after it was outlawed by Franco during his dictatorship.
  2. Basques have their own version of Santa Claus, called Olentzero; a giant Basque wearing a txapela (beret) on his head bearing gifts on Christmas Day. Families leave him wine instead of milk and cookies and he doesn’t live in the north pole; but rather the mountains of Basque Country.
  3. Basque Country is both French and Spanish, and neither at the same time. Though this is a politically charged topic, many Basques identify more with being Basque than with being Spanish (or French.) The Basque people are really their own people, as DNA analysis projects have proven their genetic makeup to have different traits than their non-Basque neighbors. Basque Country includes three provinces in Spain and two in France, while many consider Navarre a part of Euskadi as well (though other disagree.)
  4. All traffic signs (and many more including signs in the grocery store, restaurants, etc.) are in both Spanish and Euskara. More often than not, Euskara is listed first.
  5. Basque has it’s own typeface; seen on restaurant signs, shops, hotels and more around the region.
  6. Athletic Bilbao, the first division football (soccer) team reigning from the Vizcayan capital doesn’t allow non-Basques to play on its team. Also, the team has never been relegated to second division. In Spain’s first division, the top three bottom teams are sent to play in second division, while the top three teams of second division are moved up. They hold this title with only F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid.
  7. According to Food & Wine: “Statistics show that the Basques spend more than twice as much of their disposable income on food as we do in the United States, and they probably spend a greater percentage of their time on cooking and eating too.” I certainly believe that–this is  a region united as much by Basque pride as it is by gastronomy.
  8. A txoko is a Basque cooking society–a member’s only club where, traditionally only men, gather together to cook, sing, socialize and experiment with food. These days, women are allowed to enter, but depending on the society, they may or may not be welcome in the kitchen. Txokos were especially popular during Franco’s dictatorship when they became the only place where Basques could speak Euskara without fear of being prosecuted.
  9. Guernica, a town in Vizcaya, was bombed by German and Italian fighter pilots during the Spanish Civil War–who were given the “ok” from Franco. The point? To demoralize the Basque people, who opposed the Nationalist forces. The former Basque capital was bombed for over three hours, on a market day, when surrounding villages would come to sell their products–on a day Franco knew the most people, mostly women and children, would be in town.
  10. Basque cuisine is regarded by many to be one of the best in the world. It focuses on fresh, local products that are in season and rather than use elaborate spices to mask the flavors, they utilize techniques to draw out the flavors of the food. San Sebastián, is a Basque city with some of the most Michelin stars worldwide, thanks to inventive chefs like Arzak.

What’s your favorite fact from this list?

How To Eat Like a Spaniard

It takes awhile to assimilate into a new country’s eating habits and not make a fool out of yourself at the dining table. I still remember during my first few months in Spain, my host mom not-so-subtly telling me a story about how a high-ranking official from North America came to rub elbows with other politicians here in Spain. This person apparently sat down at the table and ate the whole meal with their hand resting comfortably in their lap; as we tend to do in that part of the world. She went on to say how this person made such a bad impression on their hosts and how they couldn’t believe how rude they had been. She said all of this as I looked down at my hand, resting in my lap too. “So, I’ve been practicing bad table manners all of this time?” I asked, already knowing the answer. Lesson learned: When in Spain, rest both of your wrists on the table (no elbows!) while eating. Keeping one in your lap is considered rude.

spanish-wine-pouring

Wine: a lunch necessity.

But, keeping your hands visible during a meal around the table is just the tip of the iceberg in the realm of learning how to eat like a Spaniard. Here is what you need to know to eat like a Spaniard:

Become a liquid gold lover. Olive oil consumption in Spain is currently around  810 grams per Spaniard per month (there are 47 million inhabitants in Spain!) That’s a little under one liter per person per month! It will be tossed in salads, dribbled in cold soups, soaked up with bread and more–but don’t worry, olive oil is good for you.  Source.

a-spanish-table-setting

Bread and olives: essential on the Spanish table.

Little to no snacking. Outside of La Merienda, which is the dedicated snack time of the day, (anywhere between 5 and 7 pm,) you won’t see a lot of snacking going on. Okay, well there are those things called tapas, but most just end up making a meal out of those. Coming from the U.S. where we have a food culture aimed at getting us to give in to our snack cravings, this was a bit hard to adjust to. I’m more of a several-small-meals-throughout-the-day-person anyway, but I try to stick to the Spanish way of things.

Be adventurous. Spain is the land where no part of the animal goes to waste. Squid cooked in their own ink? Ok! Cow’s tongue? Why not! Open your mind and try at least a taste of everything that’s offered to you. While braised pork/beef cheek (known as carrillada) didn’t sound too appetizing to me at first, I tried it and loved it so much that it ended up becoming one of my favorite Spanish dishes!

jamon-iberico

The best table will have jamón!

Make bread the other cutlery. It’s rare to see a bread plate on a Spanish table because the bread is used as another utensil entirely. Use it push things onto your fork, sop up olive oil and sauces (but not soup!), but mainly do this in a Spanish home. It’s not quite as proper to do in a restaurant, though that’s not to say you won’t see a lot of people doing it anyway.

spanish-beer-and-wine

Spanish beer and wine

Pace yourself. Here, the big meal of the day is at lunchtime, anywhere from about 1:30 to 3 o’clock. A typical lunch will include a 1st course (usually a stew, beans, etc.) followed by a 2nd course of meat or fish, topped off by dessert, and later, coffee/liqueurs. For the uninitiated, this is a lot of food to take in during a time of the day you’re more used to eating a sandwich–so be sure you’re keeping up with the rest of the table!

spanish-cafe-con-leche

A café con leche

Stick around for sobremesa. A huge part of a Spanish meal is the conversation that goes along with it. Sobremesa is the time after the meal that is spent talking, long after the plates have been cleared and is one of my favorite Spanish words. Expect to stick around the table for a while–up to several hours, chatting about everything under the sun.

Know where to put your olive pits. If you’re provided a plate or bowl for your pits, put them there; otherwise, leave them on the edge of your plate–not on the table!

How do you eat like a Spaniard?