I recently spent two and a half weeks on vacation in the Basque Country in Spain. For us Americans, it’s hard to find time outside of the work/life balance to go on a European vacation. Thankfully, my husband is from the Basque Country and that means we can use seeing his family and friends as an excuse to head there once a year! This usually coincides with Christmas and New Year’s vacation, and we make the most of our time off.
Spain is a little different, and that means Christmas is a little different in Spain. It extends through January 6th, which is when the Three Kings, or Wise Men, bring presents to all the children in Spain, as opposed to our Santa Claus who comes on December 24th. And, in the Basque Country, they have another local gift-bearer who traditionally brings children toys on the night of December 24th, named Olentzero. He’s a jolly coal-maker who brings toys to good children, and that’s right, coal to bad children. Some families celebrate both gift-giving traditions, so the children are quite happy, if not a little spoiled!
Speaking of presents, the shopping atmosphere is a lot different in Spain. Shops are smaller, and more specific in what they offer. Clothing shops are more boutique and limited in their style, but there’s a shop for everyone. Want a punk rock look, or a traditional suit? There’s a shop for you, either way. Looking for a new umbrella for dad? They have a shop for that. Just two doors down is a perfume shop, and the next door down is a café serving espresso and freshly made pastries, for when you need to rest your feet from all that shopping and a snack for quieting that hunger that started as soon as you saw the chocolate-filled croissants through the window. Or, maybe it’s time for a glass of delicious Spanish wine and a little pincho (appetizer), like a skewer of chorizo roasted over a fire served on freshly baked, sliced bread. They have fancy pinchos too, like a shrimp salad tartlet, which takes approximately two bites to eat. And, best of all, the wine and appetizer cost you less than $4. You can even go bar-hopping to try the different kinds of pinchos each bar has to offer. Is there any better way to shop?
As you can tell, I spent a lot of my time shopping and eating. My husband and I walked cobblestone streets to meet up with friends and family, explored the local food in the markets, and enjoyed the architecture and beauty of the Old World. The weather was cloudy and cool at times, but never got below freezing. The gray, drizzly days that are typical in winter there were perfect for the siesta(nap) we took every day, a Spanish custom that harkens back to the time when agricultural laborers slept during the hottest parts of the day. The siesta also allows you to stay up later, a helpful thing given dinner is typically at 10 pm. On our last day, we visited an antique weapons museum, admiring the beauty of old armor and ancient swords. I walked away having learned about the battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz, my husband’s hometown, which sent Napoleon’s troops out of Spain for good. I need to read more about that time in history, since I know nearly nothing about Napoleon’s conquest of Spain.
If you’re looking for a great vacation spot, I highly recommend the Basque Country in Spain. The food is amazing, the people are incredibly welcoming, and the sights are awesome. Do you like mountain climbing? They have so many mountains to explore there. Want to go to the beach? San Sebastian has, hands-down, the most beautiful city beach ever. Like history? Historic landmarks and buildings are everywhere. And the food, oh the food! Seafood, fish, steak, cured meats, ham, pastries, chocolate, fresh vegetables, stews… There’s a reason the Basque Country has some of the most impressive and award-winning restaurants in the world. If you can make it there, the jet lag is a small price to pay for all the experiences you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
As they say in Spain… Hasta luego! (See you later!)