Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb

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aerial views

I’ve flown in and out of Bilbao more than a dozen times, but today the view from the plane window was unlike any I’ve seen before. As we took off at 6:45 this morning, the city was still lit up like night, but the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, dimly lighting the coastline and mountains.

After all this time I’m able to easily identify each part of the city from the plane window based on the bends in the River Nervión. Now on the brink of sunrise, the bends can be seen as outlined by the evenly spaced lamps along the promenade, and I think of the hundreds of miles I’ve run there.

running around river bends in central Bilbao

running around river bends in central Bilbao

I see the blinking lights from the Iberdrola Tower, Bilbao’s lone skyscraper, and I think of the way it’s shiny exterior seems to reflect the sky in a different way every time I see it.

I identify the surrounding beach towns (Algorta, Sopelana, Gorliz…) based on their various unique curvatures of the coastline, and I think of the surf lessons, never-ending beach days with friends and the countless times I’ve sat and watched the sun sink into the water from one of the many perfect perches along the coast.

a fall sunset in Sopelana

an autumn sunset in Sopelana

I see the lights from the Puente Colgante transporter bridge, and I think of my days as a student here when I lived just down the street from the historical bridge, back when even just Getxo felt like a big place to me. I think of how fortunate I was this year to have had the chance to return to this neighborhood for my work.

Puente Colgante

Puente Colgante

I see the mountains that tuck Bilbao into its seaside nest, and I think of the many hiking excursions and the excitement I feel after hiking up a mountain to get a new perspective on the surrounding landscape.

taking a breather after climbing Vizcaya's steepest peak: Monte Anboto

taking a breather after climbing Vizcaya’s steepest peak: Monte Anboto

No matter how much I fly, it never ceases to amaze me how small the whole thing looks from the plane. This tiny-looking little world that once felt so big to me has become the perfect-sized place I’ve been so fortunate to call home for the better part of the last three years.

I didn’t board the plane feeling ready to leave this place today. But I don’t know if I could ever feel that way. A place that becomes so deeply a part of you is a place you will never be able to say goodbye to forever. So although I don’t know when or in what context, I’ll be back, Bilbao.

Hasta la vista.


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Long time, no post! Sorry about that. I hope you’re all enjoying summer and staying relatively cool wherever you are. Europe seems to be completely en fuego lately; I don’t think I’ve stopped sweating since July 1. It has been a fun, busy, very memorable summer thus far. I’ve had a couple awesome visits from friends from back home, attended my second Bilbao BBK Live music festival, enjoyed several beach days and thoroughly enjoyed the company of my “abroad family”: the many amazing friends I have met these past few years.

jammin' to Depeche Mode at BBK Live

jammin’ to Depeche Mode at BBK Live

And the goodbyes have begun. I’ve said goodbye to all but a couple of my private English lesson clients as most of them have headed out on their summer holidays. These people were more than students to me…many of them opened their homes to me, gave me gifts on holidays and invited me to dinners. Many of these people certainly became a part of my aforementioned “abroad family.”

Today I said goodbye to my lovely downtown Bilbao apartment. I can’t believe I’ve been here almost another whole year. This really has become my home, and at the moment I’m not ready to say goodbye.

And I don’t have to…yet. Tomorrow I embark upon a two-week journey through central and eastern Europe. I’m starting in southern Germany, the land of my ancestors, marking my 3rd trip to Germany this year. Then I’ll jet over to Croatia for a few days. I really have no idea what to expect, which I find very exciting. I’ll wrap up with a few days in Venice and just a day in Milan. The only place in Italy I’ve been is Rome, and I wanted to see more of the country on this trip, but if I’ve learned anything in these past few years of Euro-travels, it is to not try to do too much in a short time. I’ll leave the rest of Italy for my next trip.

I’ll be back in Bilbao mid-August just in time for Aste Nagusia, the big yearly summer festival that I’ve never been around to take part in. It will be madness, as you can see in this video from the kickoff to last year’s festival:

Next,  I’ll head west to walk the last 200km of the Camino de Santiago before returning once again to Bilbao to say my goodbyes. I’ll be Stateside in early September.

Again, I hope you’re all enjoying your summer al máximo. Hasta la próxima!


the basque factor

This week, NPR’s All Things Considered did this story on the Basque Country, highlighting the region’s ability to stay economically stable while the rest of Spain suffers unprecedented financial crisis. I encourage you to read (or listen to) the whole story, but I’ll summarize it and make some comments here.

The first thing I want to say is that it was refreshing to see an article out of the US that actually had a positive spin on the Basque Country. This is unusual. Just the other day, I was reading some articles from US news sources about the regional elections that took place here and in Galicia, another Spanish state, last weekend. Every single article, when mentioning the Basque Country, made some comment about it being a “troubled” or “turbulent” region. I’ve lived here for almost two whole years now and I can tell you that this place is anything but turbulent. Yes, the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA has caused a lot of problems in the past, but this has unfairly given this entire region a bad name, when the reality is that it is a peaceful and progressive place. Furthermore, it’s statistically one of the safest places in all of Europe. Check out this post I wrote in 2010 for more info about what living in the Basque Country is really like.

So as I said, it was really great to see a report out of the US speaking positively about the Basque Country. Other than a brief mentioning of ETA in the opening line, the report was a praise of the Basque Country’s economy and industry. While Spain’s economy is in the dumps, with unemployment at record highs and an seemingly inevitable bailout on the horizon, the Basque Country is doing quite alright.  As the report says, unemployment in the Basque Country is at 12%, which is just above the average of Europe as a whole and less than half Spain’s national unemployment of 25%. Signs of “el crisis” are everywhere in Spain, but much, much less prevalent here.

So how do they do it? How does the Basque Country manage to keep it’s head above water when the rest of Spain can’t? For one, the Basque Country is rich in natural resources like steel and has booming agriculture and manufacturing industries. Bilbao is home to world energy leader Iberdrola which serves 30 million customers in 40 different countries around the world.

The Iberdrola Tower, Bilbao’s only skyscraper

The report also attributes the Basque Country’s financial stability in part to its fiscal autonomy from Madrid. This region has it’s own government and own way of doing things, and although they still have responsibilities to the Spanish government, their way of doing things seems to be working quite well for them. Basque people are known for being hard workers, and this attribute is something they rightfully take a lot of pride in. Most people of Basque heritage don’t really consider themselves to be “Spanish” at all, and though it may seem trivial or silly to outsiders, I can understand why they feel that way. Apart from the obvious historical differences between Spanish and Basque people,  they consider themselves to be different because they really are culturally quite different. These differences, their very “basque-ness”, might just be the factor that has kept the region afloat amidst this economic crisis.

At the end of the article, Basque engineer Aitor Galarza half-jokingly says that the productivity of the Basque people might just be the fact that this region gets an average of 200 days of rain each year so workers have nothing better to do than to stay inside and work. As I sit inside writing a blog post on a Saturday night, the rain pouring hard outside my window, I can’t help but think he might be onto something…

The rain in Spain falls mainly in…Bilbao!

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round 3

I’m about to board a plane to Spain for the THIRD time. I’ve had the most wonderful seven weeks at home visiting friends and family. In fact, these past couple of months have highlighted the importance of supportive and loving family and friends more than ever for me. I’m very, very fortunate. I can’t thank all of you (you know who you are!) for all you’ve done to make my extended visit to the US so great. THANK YOU! Goodbyes are always tough, but I know they’re really just “see you laters.”

I’m very excited and ready to get on the plane today. It will be so great to be back in Bilbao, and this year will be even better than last. I’ve got some exciting new challenges lined up.

I threw together a video of random clips from my past year in Spain. Enjoy!

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Bilbao BBK Live

A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend an awesome music festival called BBK Live. Among the headliners were a couple of my favorite bands: Mumford & Sons and Radiohead. The venue was phenomenal: 3 stages on a huge green space nestled up in the mountains overlooking Bilbao.

I’ve never been to such a big music festival (there were almost 110,000 total attendees at BBK Live this year) but from what I do know about music festivals, I know that this one has a few characteristics that make it quite unique, or namely, quite Spanish.

Even though there was ample camping available on the festival site, many attendees stay in Bilbao city center, so there was a free shuttle bus service running every 5 minutes, day and night, from the center of Bilbao up to the festival site on the mountain. The line for the bus wound around San Mamés, Bilbao Athletic Club’s fútbol stadium, and almost everyone in line seemed to have gotten the “botellón” memo. Spanish, British, French, American or otherwise– a vast majority had with them a bit of kalimotxo or San Miguel to uh…quench their thirst during the wait for the bus ride. Upon arrival at the festival, there was another large botellón gathering just outside the entrance (no outside beverages allowed, per usual). Some call it recklessness, some call it an economically sound reason to take advantage of Spain’s extremely laid back public drinking culture.

pre-bus botellón beer art

Another very Spanish characteristic of the festival was the schedule. The music kicked off around 6pm and didn’t stop until after sunrise the next morning–around 8am. It’s not uncommon to see both the sunset and sunrise on a night out in Spain, and the festival attendees seemed to, at least for the weekend, adopt the Spanish tendency to keep the party going in order to watch one day close and another begin. On that note, after almost a whole year here I still haven’t figured out when/if most Spanish people actually get a full night’s sleep.

8:00am – looking towards the Bay of Biscay from the campsite

It was a fantastic experience- well worth the 3-day pass price of just 105€. I’ve thrown together a few clips I took at the concert. They’re not fantastic, as bringing my expensive camera into a rowdy crowd of 100,000+ seemed unwise, but I hope you enjoy nonetheless:

If you’re a Mumford fan like me, check out this vid someone (with a much nicer camera than mine) got of “Little Lion Man.”

If you want to read more about this year’s BBK Live event, check out this great article.

Thanks for reading!

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the streets that sing

One of my favorite things about being in big cities is the presence of street musicians. I love the musical spontaneity that comes with living in or visiting a bustling city. The music that street musicians provide can perfectly complement the atmosphere, lift your mood and inspire you.

The other night, while giving a super quick impromptu tour de Bilbao to some friends, we ran into this terrifically energetic drumming group giving flash performances all over the old quarter of the city. After Googling them later, I found out they’re a Madrid-based group called Hakuna Ma Samba, and their motto is “Elige ser feliz”, or “Choose to be happy,” which they do very well. I dig.

Street performers, or musical buskers (you learned a new word today!), aren’t bound to streets as the only place for their performances. Another common venue for these musicians is on big city subways, like this incredible guitar/violin duo my mom and I came across during our trip to Rome in February:

Some of them play for a living while others play to make extra cash doing something they love. I ran into these guys in downtown Bilbao last fall, and after reading their sign I just had to give them my spare change. For creativity, if nothing else!

Their sign says: "Med students...collecting money for books! Thanks!"

A few weeks ago when I was in Portugal, I stumbled upon this random assembling of couples who heard some music in a plaza stopped to dance…. in the pouring rain!

These performances and spontaneous acts of music and dance are, for me, one of the most beautiful things in life. Music can bring so much joy, and when encountered outside of its traditional environments like concert halls and theaters, it reminds us not to take life so seriously and to experience the beauty in every moment.

Next time you see a street musician, I hope you’ll give them your spare change. It’s the least you can do for them making your day!

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the concept of carnival


[kahr-nuh-vahl] noun.
1. a traveling amusement show, having sideshows, rides, etc.
2. any merrymaking, revelry, or festival, as a program of sports or entertainment: a winter carnival.
3. the season immediately preceding Lent, often observed with merrymaking.
     Up until two years ago, when I came to Europe for the first time, I would have defined “carnival” as something similar to either #1 or #2 above, probably with some added mention of a ferris wheel and cotton candy. I knew nothing of this third definition of “carnival” and its significance in so much of the world.
     Carnival is best-known here as the week before Lent begins when students are free from school, many people are free from work, towns hold lots of special parades, concerts and events, everyone–I mean EVERYone: kids, parents, grandparents, etc.–gets completely decked out in a variety of costumes. To say that the Carnival tradition of craziness has manifested itself nicely in post-dictatorship Spain is an understatement. It seems people here live for this week…or at least that it tides them over until the madness of Spain’s summer fiesta season begins in June.
     When I studied abroad in Spain in 2010, some of my classmates were on top of their research on the topic way beforehand and had already scoped out the best place to spend this week of craziness in mid-February: a week for which we, like most students in Europe, didn’t have class. So a bunch of us headed way south to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital of the Canary Islands. The Carnival festivities there are known to be some of the very best in the world; many say they’re second only to the world-famous Carnival in Rio de Janiero. You can read a lot more about the Las Palmas Carnival festivities (which I highly recommend, btw) in my post about it here.
A snippet of nightlife in Las Palmas during Carnival week:
     This year, I was in Bilbao for the Carnival festivities. I can’t say that they were intense as those that I experienced in Las Palmas, but it needs to be taken into account that Carnival brings forth its own scale of “crazy” to which little else can be compared. If on this already-ultra-crazy scale, Las Palmas was a 10, Bilbao still easily qualifies for a 7. That’s pretty impressive considering the 20-or-so degree difference in temperatures (in Fahrenheit, of course ;)) because the biggest and BAMF-est fiestas on this continent take place almost completely outdoors.
I’ve compiled a few video clips from the Carnival action here in Bilbao:
And a few snapshots as well:

Carnival festivities in Plaza Nueva, Bilbao.

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