Where I Went in 2011

As the year wraps up, I’m looking back on how amazing it’s been, and how lucky I feel to be enjoying these experiences. This year, though I added just one new country to my list, I added many new destinations and explored my adopted country even more thoroughly.

January


I started off 2011 fresh from a Christmas visit in my hometown of Seattle. I rang in the New Year in the gorgeous waterfront pueblo of Lekeitio in Basque Country and made several return trips throughout the year.

I also returned to Sevilla to explore and it grew on me even more.

February


A beach escape to Albuefeira, Portugal for a 3-day weekend convinced me that traveling in the off-season may be the way to go.

March


March was low-key, and I spent it exploring my own backyard; Tarifa, Spain.

April


In April, I returned to Granada, met my favorite Spanish footballer (Fernando Llorente!) and tried out an Arabic Spa for the first time. Sadly, Fernando was not present.

I also celebrated Semana Santa (Easter Week) in the Basque Country, where I dined at my favorite Basque chef’s (Karlos Arguiñano) restaurant in the surfing town of Zarautz.

May


May marked the arrival of feria season in Spain. I went to Jerez de la Frontera for a gorgeous weekend of rebujitos, Andalusian horses, flamenco dresses and more!

June


June-August I severely slacked on blogging as I was busy entertaining visitors throughout the summer months. In June, I took a beautiful train-ride up north to Madrid to meet some friends, went back to Bilbao for a weekend, moved apartments and counted down the days until my family arrived!

Then, I went to Zahara de los Atunes for a weekend of beautiful beaches and al fresco dining.

July


July was a busy, busy, month of traveling all over Spain and France. After getting over a yucky stomach bug, I traveled (still not 100%) to sweltering Sevilla and caught a plane to Paris!

My week in France consisted of seeing the Jardin de Luxembourg, eating all the French pastries I could get my hands on, going to Versailles and soaking up everything Parisian!

Then, I went to Tarifa, Ronda, Marbella, Granada and Nerja before I packed up the car and road-tripped from Andalucía to País Vasco. Along the way I stopped in Consuegra and saw the famous Don Quijote windmills, took a day-trip to Toledo, stopped in Madrid and finally arrived for a week of enjoying Basque culture.

Once in Basque country, I went pintxo-hopping (txikiteo) in Donostia, sight-seeing in Guernica+Bilbao and drove up and down the curvy Costa Vasca until we got to France, making stops in St. Jean de Luz and Bayonne.

On the way back down south, we stopped for a few hours in Salamanca and made it back down to the Costa del Sol.

Phew!

August


August was a bit more relaxed, spent enjoying every minute with my family. We explored Tarifa and Sevilla together, as well as Vejer de la Frontera, a traditional Andalusian pueblo blanco.

September


Back to Basque Country I went, this time to attend my first-ever Basque wedding! It was a fun night filled with lots of food (9 courses!) drinks, and dancing!

October


A car-load of friends and I went to Granada for Halloween weekend, exploring the tea rooms in the Moorish quarter and partying until (almost) sunrise!

November


November was a super exciting month for me as I was heading home(!) to celebrate turning 25 and being there for my first Thanksgiving in 2 years. I spent a week in San Francisco before driving up through Northern Cal and Oregon until Seattle.

December

This month brings trips to Bilbao and Madrid for Christmas and ringing in 2012 respectively.

What a beautiful year it’s been!

Kaixo Lekeitio

It’s no wonder why many Basques like to consider themselves a separate country from Spain. There was no gradual ease into the stark differences; one minute I was flying out of the sunny south, the next, flying beneath a blanket of dark clouds and green rolling hills that break off into jagged coastline hugging the Bay of Biscay.

(The beautiful Bay of Biscay)

There’s little to remind you that you’re technically still in Spain except for the bits and pieces of Spanish intermingling with the x’s and k’s that frequent the Basque language. Nearly everything is in contrast to my more southernly residence: the siesta isn’t observed here, tapas are traded in for the more generously-portioned pintxo, and the beaches that dominate the south are replaced by a landscape so green, you’ll swear you’re in Ireland.

 

 

Spain’s Basque Country is divided into 3 provinces, Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and Araba and can be crossed by car in under 2 hours. It hosts large cities such as San Sebastian and Bilbao, but is mostly composed of small villages, such as Lekeitio.

(La Isla de San Nicolas)

Lekeitio is by far one of the most naturally stunning places I’ve visited. I spent the last weekend of October in Lekeitio for my second time around with friends, and bar-hopping for pintxos and kalimotxos.

(The port of Lekeitio)

Lekeitio is by tradition, a fishing village, but now shares this with the title of being a popular holiday destination for travelers, as its week-long festival in September (“Gansos”) triples the town’s population. It’s best to visit at this time for unbeatable weather, basking (no pun intended!) on golden beaches and the opportunity to see an authentic Basque celebration.

(Playa Karraspio)

Head down to the port for waterfront pintxos bars. There is etiquette here to be followed, so pay attention to those around you and you’ll find quickly that it is based on an honor system—you simply stand at the bar, taking as many pintxos as you want to eat, and tell the bartender at the end of the meal how many you ate. It is also typical to throw your napkins and toothpicks on the floor, so don’t be shocked if you see a littered ground, and don’t turn your nose up at it either! I highly recommend ordering a glass of Basque txakoli wine; crisp and refreshing, it complements most any pintxo perfectly.

lekeitio basque country

(Wildly colorful Lekeitio city center + port)

The most famous monument of Lekeitio is The Basilica Assumption of Santa Maria of Lekeitio. This Basilica dates back to the 15th century and is acclaimed for its Late Basque Gothic architectural style.

(The 15th Century Basilica in Lekeitio)

There’s no shortage of things to do in Lekeitio, regardless of the season. This is a town with a lot of character, and certainly off of the tourist track the majority of the year. Stroll around the port during the day and up through the winding streets at night and you will find children playing in the streets and ducking in and out of bars where their parents are sipping drinks and sampling pintxos. It’s a lifestyle to be admired, people are out of their homes, adults able to be adults, and children, children, but together in the same place. Here in the Basque Country, the family ties are clear, the people are reserved, yet warm and its delights are appreciated not only by sight but by taste too.

(A view of Lekeitio from the hillside.)

Have you ever visited the Basque Coast?

A Year In: Reflections of Living Abroad

This Tuesday, Columbus Day coincidentally, will mark one year since I packed my bags and headed to a country where I didn’t know a soul, didn’t know the language and was completely unaware of how the experience was going to change my life. Rewind to a year ago, I had been a college graduate since the start of the new year in 2009 and after job-searching for nearly 8 months was completely burnt-out. I felt conflicted: getting a good job in the field I had spent the last 4 years interning and learning every minute detail of was what I felt i was ‘supposed’ to do, but if I was being really honest with myself, my heart wasn’t in to it.

Graduation Day, 09’

A year before, in 2008, I had taken a life-changing trip to Europe that awakened a passion for travel in me that I previously didn’t know existed, but really was in my blood the entire time. I have my family to thank for that: my Mom was a huge supporter of me studying abroad after living in Florence for a year during her college years, my Dad, a native of Mexico, has inspired me being an expat living in the States for 25+ years, my Grandma was from Australia and lived the expat life in the States for the majority of her life, my brothers and their girlfriends pitched in together and helped me create a travel fund for my graduation present and my aunt Kathy has been traveling for as long as I can remember and spent an unforgettable 2 weeks with me during my first trip abroad.

Exploring Ireland with the best travel partner: Aunt Kathy.

Europe presented to me a land of intrigue: ancient history, diverse cultures, historic architecture; essentially the antitheses of home. Not to say that I don’t love my hometown of Seattle, I absolutely do, and throughout my travels I’m still convinced it is one of the most naturally stunning places I’ve seen. However, living in the same place my whole life, with the exception of a brief stint in a state that leaves little to be desired (Missouri), I was itching to get out and continue seeing the world after absolutely being bit by the travel bug the first time around. Every time I submitted a job application or inquired about job opportunities at one of the many PR firms I interned at, and was told some variation of “we’d love to have you, but this hiring freeze…” I breathed a sigh of relief. I remember feeling that if I found a job I would be signing my life away, and that if I didn’t make travel a priority now while nothing was tying me down, that it would only become more difficult to achieve in a world of deadlines and limited vacation days.

One of my first photos in Europe; officially bit by the travel bug.

I still remember the look on my parent’s faces as I sat them down in the living room and told them I was making plans to move to Spain “just for a year, to learn Spanish and wait out the bad economy.” Hesitant at first, they slowly accepted that I was serious about making this dream a reality, and before I knew it we were in the airport saying tearful goodbyes. Now, plans have changed and I find myself living in Spain for my second year as this country has captured my heart in more ways than one. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make, though I miss my friends and family dearly, I still wasn’t willing to give up travel and experiences I couldn’t have back home. I feel so blessed to have an opportunity like this to step far outside my comfort zone and be immersed in a new country and culture. I’ve seen countless sunsets on the Mediterranean, seen the works of Picasso and Gaudi in their home land, struggled to adapt to the Andaluz accent, met some amazing people, siesta-ed, fiesta-ed and all in all have come to appreciate a culture and its people in a way that a quick vacation never would have allowed me to.

One of Spain’s, ahem, Basque Country’s beautiful towns; Lekeitio.

Living on my own, on the other side of the world and learning and living in a new language has built a confidence that remaining in the States couldn’t have afforded me. Many days I have to consciously push myself out of my comfort-zone to communicate and not take it to heart when I get laughed at for having a Mexican, or worse, American accent, usually I’m known as the ‘guiri’ or ‘gringa’ and often I find myself shaking my head at the round-about way things seem to be done here. But, I respect it. Everyday is a bit of a beautiful struggle, and though some days are more trying than others, this experience is something that will stay with me forever.

Camp Nou in Barcelona.

So, Happy 1 year Anniversary to my expat life and christineinspain.net :) Thanks to everyone who has supported my journey by reading and commenting, it means a lot to me.