The story of how Noemi became a private tour guide

A private tour guide from USA to Germany and back to the Basque Country

Being the daughter of a professional Jai Alai player – a traditional Basque sport, did you see it on Miami Vice?- we followed our dad through the States. Growing up as an American in a Basque community. No wonder none of my friends wanted to sleep over, we had anchovies and lentils for dinner! Well, that has shaped me and given me so many good memories and the weirdest stories. Oh, let’s not forget my Jennifer Lopez accent.

My adventure goes on, and after moving back to Mutriku – the most charming little fishing village on the Basque coast, you can tell I am Basque, we are so proud!- life takes me to Munich, Germany. After many beers and sausages, my German actually gets pretty good – 10 years does that!- but like a true Basque I returned, like elephants, who at a certain age direct themselves to a known place.

Read more…

We care about you!

Because we are your local friends…

…and we love to see our friends visiting the Basque Country are having a good time. As this group of Australian travellers. They no doubt are enjoying their visit to a family-owned winery in Getaria, a stunning coastal town, home of Txakoli, a special wine made from a grape variety that only grows in its hills. And we are charmed to share good times with friends from all over the world, because we care about you!

What a beautiful memory for our Instagram!


On Sustainability and Tourism (II)

Sustainable Tourism. The Triple Bottom Line.

We, Basques, are proud ambassadors of our natural environment, cultural and historic heritage. We love to preserve them and to show them to our visitors. It’s in our genes! If we are so lucky to know about them with a born storyteller like Noemi, then,  wow! the experience gets truly authentic. And that’s when we feel that connection with people around the world. You share your treasures, you feel other people appreciate them and they share a part of their mirroring treasures with you!

The Basque Country is a destination truly committed to sustainability, driven by administrations, but inherent to people as well.

Nowadays, society is beginning to look at businesses’ results beyond financial results (money, money), and the triple bottom line, including social and environmental results, is now the reference to look at in all economic sectors. In tourism, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a major player defining the global baseline standards for sustainable travel and tourism.

We have to commit to this mission, advancing from words to specific actions; hosting and fostering best practices as recycling and environmentally preserving the places we visit. But we can take a step further. For example, proactively redirect touristic flows to points of interest outside the mainstream. This would help to a better preservation and less damage to the most renown places with a bigger saturation.

Again, as we said at the end of the former post, sustainability is in our hands, and, when we’re talking about sustainability in tourism, we are all part of this endeavour, administrations, businesses and tourists.

On Sustainability and Tourism (I)

Truth to Power.

It’s been a really hot June this year. The Basque weather is usually warm enough to enjoy the beach but this year temperatures have raised to new records. This may seem as good news, the sunshine always is, but I’m a bit dizzy about climate change and its consequences to our wellbeing, especially in these times when some people refer to it as unproven science
As Neil deGrasse Tyson wisely says on this matter:

“established scientific truth is still true whether or not you choose to believe it”.

We, Basques, are really proud of our commitment to the fight against climate change and sustainability. We teach our children how to act properly and how to protect our environment; we love nature, our mountains, our coastline, we reuse, we recycle; we have the best ambassadors of seasonal food; and we support green renewable energies, mature technologies such as windpower, and the ones that are just starting to be an alternative, such as wave energy. We have the first commercial multiturbine wave energy power plant in Mutriku, where developers can test their devices to make this alternative a feasible real possibility, and you can sneak into it with a guided visit!

Everyone can take action towards sustainability with many little things, but the challenge now is to spread the message. That’s why we are really excited listening to this moving song, Truth to Power, from OneRepublic, while we wait for the release of An Inconvinient Sequel, Al Gore and his team’s new documentary film. #BeInconvenient.

Sustainability is in our hands, and denial just delays the solution.

Taste a Basque Cheesecake for Shavuot this time!

A worshipped Basque Cheesecake.

There is one story that tells that Jewish people ate diary for the first time the same day when Moses was given the Torah at the top of Mount Sinai. So it’s now a tradition to eat cheesecake on Shavuot.

A friend of mine told me once that she had been to a tavern in San Sebastian where the walls were literally covered with cheesecakes… She was shocked! Every “donostiarra” knows where this place is…

In San Sebastian we have the famous “La Viñacheesecake, served in this tavern at the foot of Mount Urgull, where cheesecake is worshipped. And yes! We, Basques, are really proud of our food (Urgull comes etymologically from the word “pride” in French language, orgueil). Now, this cheesecake is a must, we love to end our tours tasting it. And it has international ambassadors too… Thanks, Dani!

So, Happy Shavuot! …and whether or not you’re celebrating it, don’t miss the opportunity to taste this delight!!!

Arts & Artisans

Artists, creatives and inventors

One of the features that share artists, inventors and creative people in general, is the passion they pour over their creations. They share a piece of their soul with them and let them almost come alive.

Either a chef’s gastronomic creations, a wine producer applying new techniques to achieve a different author wine or the piece of wood that enhances the experience in a 5* hotel. If you are so lucky to have the chance to hear these artists talk about their creations, you can spot this passion. They are talking about “their little children” after all.

And they definitely are! 

For the rest of us, that enjoy with their artworks, they are a source of beauty and wellness, that we can just admire or, taking one step beyond, we can get involved and let this passion touch our soul.

That’s what we love of our experiences. We can feel this passion during a cooking class when the chef is showing step by step not only the cooking process for a traditional Basque dish but the love for the seasonal product during the shopping walk through the market before the cooking class. Or just listening to a txakoli vineyard owner explaining the techniques he’s introducing to produce a special wine.  Or maybe a wood artist showing his creations, from an awesome table in the shape of a book, to a series of wooden pictures portraying love, to a simple piece of wood, and explaining us their meaning.

We are so thankful they are sharing their passion with us!


Why do we travel? (Part II)

Travel creativity and sharing are another pieces of the puzzle

I wrote some days ago about learning pleasure and why we travel.

Recently, I’ve been to a TEDx event nearby, where I participated in a splendid workshop by British designer Ned Hoste to help trace and build your own creative tree. I shared this time with my teenage daughter and we met there some other restless travel-lovers (Hi Aitor!)

So, during the workshop, we travelled through some questions as “What do you love to create?” and “Where do you get your ideas?” Those are two fundamental questions that define each one of us. And then, another question: “What inspires you?” Here, the first things that came to my mind were books, music, plain observation and … Boom! Travel creativity!!! Of course, we get inspired by travelling! Because when we travel we go out of our comfort zone and we are able to feel, taste and see through other cultural filters, through other people’s eyes. 

Coming back to Ned’s workshop he told a personal story about being watching a picture by Van Gogh and suddenly being conscious about the fact that he was standing right in the same place where the painter had been while creating his work. That’s exactly what I mean.

And then another question touched me: we are bound to share our creations with others. If we don’t, they never really come to life.

So, OK! Learning is a pleasure. But we cannot leave it there… the picture wouldn’t be complete if we don’t use all this knowledge to create something new…and share it! That’s why we love to share our stories, better by a good meal, as we Basques like!


A Basque food or a wild species from the Basque Highlands

Have you heard about wild mondeju?

Probably not…
Mondeju is a quite slippery strange creature that lives in some remote spots of the Basque Highlands. There is a black wild mondeju family in the vicinity of Ataun; and a white wild mondeju lineage teeming by Zaldibia, being this last one the most famous and abundant. In October, during the Santa Fe Festival in Zaldibia, there is a recognized mondejus contest where the nicest specimens are rewarded.
White mondejus love eggs and they use to steal them from neighbouring henhouses to eat them until they’re filled up.

Some zoologists think wild mondejus could be some ancestors of wild haggis (Haggis Scoticus), the scots species whose left legs are of different size than the right ones. This odd feature allows them to run faster through sloped lands, as the one in the Scottish – and Basque- Highlands. Thus, mondejus would have arrived from the Basque Country thousands of years ago with the Basque ancestors that travelled north during the glaciation and that reached the British Isles.

Some other sources affirm that mondejus are just a special type of sausage typical from Zaldibia. A savoury ancient recipe from Basque farmhouses where sheep were sacrificed just days before pigs were. The ingredients for mondeju would be onions, leeks, salt and species mixed up with sheep pluck.

But this extreme has not been yet confirmed. You can help to prove this weird theory by visiting the Basque Highlands and asking the local people!

Mugalari, a Basque local insider

Some people have the power to make you feel good with their talk

A few days ago I went to see Juan Perro in concert, in a small theatre in a town near Bilbao. He’s a well-known spanish musician and a referent to a whole generation of people in Spain. In his concerts, he’s sitting in a plain chair with his guitar plugged to the amplifiers. He just has to open his mouth and let that strength of voice out to bring the audience to a standstill, paralyzed, just listening to him, no matter if he’s singing or chatting about Chuck Berry or even Gongora (a classical Spanish poet!) between one song and the next one. His stories are such that you even think of reading classical poetry when you arrive home later. Absolutely true! His tour is named “El Viaje” – The journey, in Spanish.

When you listen to him you have that feeling, just as when you’re among friends, and there is one of them that has that quality that makes everybody else listen to him for hours without even notice…

So, he reminded me of my friend Mikel “Mugalari”, a Basque local insider, because he has that very quality too. He’s a truly Bilbao insider, there are no secrets for him there. When you walk through Bilbao with Mikel telling you those stories, you just keep listening to them and time goes by so quickly. And he knows about every little hidden tavern where they have the best pintxos in town. Or where to find the oldest and coolest restaurant in the Old Quarter…

Now that Bilbao is attracting attention from all over the world, here there are some starters to begin with, but if you really want to be a border crosser – a mugalari in Basque language – and going a bit further, just like a Basque local insider, you’d better call Mikel!


3 things money can’t buy…

…and 3 weird facts that tell how we, Basques are.

Yes, I know… This cliché about certain things in life that you can’t just exchange for money, things money can’t buy…

I like to think our real currency is not money anyway, but the time we spend earning it, so, eventually, we pay with our time. The thing is that it is true that there are some really important things that we can’t buy: Think of family and good memories, those moments of satisfaction and contentment, moments of happiness shared with the loved ones, to begin with, but there are many other things money can’t buy, like the air we breathe or…

1.Feel among friends (easy when there are Basques involved).

It’s only some months ago that Iceland abolished a law from the 17th century that allowed to kill Basque people legally!!! Yes, we sent some institutional representatives to the ceremony and solve it with a hug (literally)… and all this time we have welcomed Icelanders all the same, such an incredible hosts we are!

2.Have a good health.

We are proud to be healthy people. So, there is a popular saying for the young and healthy: “Chicarrón del norte“.  Shush… One of our not-so-secret secrets is our food and the way we live and worship it.

And we like to share all this health! We have one of the highest numbers of blood and organ donors in the world.

3.Taste for the authentic.

Mother nature has blessed us with stunning mountains and a wonderful coast. We are attached to tradition and folklore. And again, simplicity, nobility, honorability, honesty and authenticity get together when people rally to watch pelota -ball game- and to gamble on it. However, mixing up honorability with gambling is quite a high bet, don’t you think?

Ha! We like that!

Why do we travel (or should I say just “move”)?

Travel experiences and why we love them

I’ve always thought I’m a restless person, learning new “things” – whatever they are – has been kind of my gasoline, and I’m pretty sure this is the case for many, learning something new is a basic ingredient in everybody’s fuel formula, it’s just proportions that changes.

But we don’t learn just one way, I mean the “traditional” way, with books, practice and hard work, but there is another awesome and powerful mechanism for learning: through experiences and interaction, a more primitive way, may be – was this need of “food for thought”, to discover something new, what made the first human beings to leave Africa and begin the big travel to colonize the world after all?

In some way, a restless person is one that is always moving – from an idea to another, from a place to another…

Life is experience, and those experiences we have, lead us to interact with others and to connect with them. Did you know that interaction with friends & family (and pets!) is the major source of happiness for more than 30% of the people? Sure! For social interaction is one of the fundamental human needs!

Connection is why we’re here – Brené Brown.

And what are we doing when we’re travelling but learning new things about new places, interacting with new cultures and people? Think of it! Why do we feel so happy when we travel? It’s not only because we are momentarily out of our duties, although this helps too, I suppose, but because we feel the pleasure of the new learnings, the interaction with new people and we load all of it in ourselves as the memories we keep of our travels.

And that’s why I think that we love travel, or should I just say that’s why I think that we move?


Bilbao, a city of great gastronomy and fine arts

The Bilbao Effect and why the National Endowment for the Arts is so important

We think today of Bilbao as a modern cosmopolite city full of art, artists and new proposals where the traditions mingled smoothly with the avant-garde. We are so proud of our Guggi, but we love our Bellas Artes Museum too!

During the past 20 years, Bilbao has experimented a spectacular transformation from an industrial grey city to a modern cosmopolite one, where the cornerstone has been precisely a Museum. I still remember the days when huge cargo boats downloaded the goods containers just at the same spot where Guggenheim Museum is today.

Art has been the spark to begin this wonderful change and many people are coming to us to know why. When they arrive here they discover our great gastronomy as well, what else!

But all this has not been by chance. Institutions have put a high bet and a great investment on it.

Now, we are sorry to hear about the recent efforts to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in the US, that would have disastrous consequences for the arts and for the communities across the nation. Funding for the arts is quite simply the lifeblood of our culture!

In this spirit, Thomas P. Campbell, director of The Met, has written an op-ed for New York Times that we would like to share.

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