A business trip

So what’s a gal to do when her company wants to send her to Spain? Ask her handsome partner to join her! In my last engineering job, I traveled a decent amount around the continental United States. Every time I’d go somewhere new or exciting, San Diego, CA, Portland, OR, Charleston, SC, I’d want Andrew to join me, but there was always a reason he couldn’t. It was only a short trip, he had to work, we didn’t have the money. But this time, there were no excuses. And besides, I’d been saving up my credit card points for just such an opportunity. Mid-October, Andrew and I left on a thirty-six (36) hour (oh dear, a day and a half!) of travel, to the north of Spain.

San Sebastian

Yes, yes, I was working a Monday to Friday daily grind, but such a fun, new and exciting one! It’s such a pleasure to learn about work and work culture in another country (do you remember when I harped on this in New Zealand?). So even the work was enlightening! Which was great, since we arrived late on Sunday and Monday morning I had to be at the office.

San SebastianMy work was not too far from San Sebastian, a rather larger town on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, which was where we stayed. Right off the water, it’s a rather popular locale for the tourists in the summer, but being autumn, wasn’t too crowded. The north of Spain is right in the heart of Basque country, which (for clarity’s sake, I’ll pull from wikipedia here) is theorized to be the ” least assimilated remnant of the Paleolithic inhabitants of Western Europe to the Indo-European migrations.” Old TownThe Basque region is comprised of an area in the north of Spain, as well as an area of France. The region, and various aspects of the culture, are still rather debated. Some groups are still fighting for the language, region and other cultural and regional practices to be recognized or given autonomy or independence. What does all this mean for me? Well, mostly just that I don’t understand most people. Many, many people speak Basque, not Spanish and signs were in one, the other or both. The Basque language is a tough one. The derivation, or what’s derived from it, is not even remotely understood. While there are many hypotheses as to it’s origin and/or lineage, none of them are similar enough to elicit even a remote consensus. Basically, it’s VERY different from Spanish. At one point, some people were talking in another language and I though they were Asian for a brief moment before I realized, “Nope, that’s just Basque.” Now that’s not to say it sounds anything like Chinese or anything, it’s just so very different to anything I’ve ever heard before and apparently the experts agree.

Yummy pinchxosPinchxo bar optionsSo, I went to work weekdays, and when I got home after a normal work day, there was the classic siesta. Some time in the afternoon where everyone goes home, or for a walk or run or simply relaxes for several hours before a late (very late for me) dinner. Seriously, when 8:30pm is an early dinner, that just wreaks havoc on my digestive system. Ouch! I tried to nap occasionally, but let’s face it, if I’m crawling under the covers at 5:30pm, I’m not waking up til the morning. I’d rest as best I could, then Andrew and I would try to score some early pintxos, the Basque regional word for tapas, or light food bites. Basically, tapas started as a piece of bread or meat on the top of the glass to keep flies out of the sherry between sips. Some bars would then add things on top of the bread to fancy them up, and now it’s just heaps of delectable looking food bites on pieces of bread. Grab a plate, or just point out which looks good and pick a beer, wine, cider, or if it’s not your first (or second or third) a water. It was great fun to “bar hop” and it seems rather normal. Monday through Sunday, the bars were full of pintxos and patrons to consume them.

Many were super tasty! The chorizo was delightful and tasty, but the local ham was just so wonderful and delicious and seemed to go with everything! Most things are rather tasty and savory, but they do not use (m)any spices in Spain. In the Basque region, I think paprika and salt are the ONLY two spices they have. The ONLY two. But alas, there many seafood dishes, some battered, others tossed in mayonnaise or cooked with paprika. Mushrooms were rather common, and ham croquettes. Yum! I’m not sure if they had any healthy pintxos. I mean, occasionally I’d try to find one, but I wasn’t very successful. I liked one dish that had ham and cheese and a slice of fried eggplant on it. Eggplant’s a vegetable, right? Mostly, I just consumed loads of ham, with most places showcasing their ham legs from the ceiling.

Pinchxo bar

BocadilloKalimotxoOne night, I was a bit tired of pintxos, so we tried bocadillos, or sandwiches. This one had a breaded chicken slice, cheese, bacon, tomato, and avocado on some delicious bread! A yummy, yummy sandwich! But more importantly, after chatting with some co-workers back home, there was one drink I needed to try, a kalimotxo. What is this you might ask? Red wine and Coca-Cola. Yes. You read that right. Originally started, most say, to hide the taste of bad wine, it’s a rather popular drink in the Basque country. My take? Not as bad as I was expecting but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to try it. Though, I suppose if your wine was sour…

In addition to tapas, the other traditional Spanish cuisine is a paella (pie-AYE-uh). A rice dish, traditionally made with rabbit or chicken, but is now known more as a seafood dish. We sure had a couple of those! How can you not love a dish with meat or seafood and rice and veggies?! Now, don’t be too alarmed, they aren’t actually using any new spices in this dish, as saffron doesn’t actually add any flavor, just color. Or, now that I’m back in NZ, should I write colour?

Andrew and seafood paella

At work, my company provided lunch. A rather hearty meal, that I suppose may have sustained an average person’s appetite until 9pm. There was often a soup or pasta, meat or fish and some potatoes and/or vegetables. They had yogurt, fruit and salad, and everybody had at least two plates plus some odds and ends. Oh, and a rather decent size piece of bread. And don’t get me wrong, I like bread. Ask my mom, a “white flour = sugar” kinda woman. I love my bread and no one can convince me not to. But, with all that food, I didn’t need any bread. And alas, my co-workers, a handful of them, looked at me quizzically, “What, don’t you like bread?” Well yea, but how many carbs can a 5 foot tall girl eat?! It’s like it’s not actually eating unless there is bread involved. Seriously Spain, chill with the bread!

And can you imagine, all of these things happened on the weekdays/weeknights? It was a fun trip, just wait til I tell you about our weekends! But I think I’m still a little jet-lagged, as that’s all I can muster for now. But seriously, all that food! Not bad, not bad. (Though, a whole-hearted apology to my digestive system.)