It’s not a new concept that there are many ways to learn things. There have been theories around for decades about ‘multiple intelligences’, different ways each of us have of internalising information. I was a very poor history student in high school and university. I would memorise the events and dates and regurgitate them at appropriate times to achieve passing grades. But almost none of it stayed with me in a useful way. I couldn’t understand the relevance. In fact, it wasn’t until the last decade that places and dates and people became more real and relevant for me. As we have traveled, watched some excellent TV programs and movies, and I have occasionally read a tangential volume relating to some aspect of our travels, I have begun to gain some perspective.
In 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, Generalísimo Francisco Franco did a deal with Mussolini and Hitler to bomb the area known as the Basque country. Some say it was in order to eliminate one of the key communication centres for the republican forces, most abhorred the methods. The bombings were controversial since it was a military action against a town of civilians. The town and a disputed number of inhabitants were all but wiped out from the bombings. Afterward Franco was able to move in and take the Basque region, and its people, for Spain. This destruction inspired a number of artists to create pieces, including one of Picasso’s most famous paintings, Guernica.
Fast forward 81 years…
We began our recent trip flying to London then to Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain, and then by car to Donostia-San Sebastián. Our intentions were to recover from the jet-lag-cotton-wool-in-head thing while exploring someplace new. On our way from Australia we were delayed in London because a tyre on the plane needed changing. These things always seem to happen when you are on a tight deadline, or when you’ve just been traveling for 22 hours straight. Still…you want the tyres on the plane to work.
I was seated in the waiting area beside a couple of middle aged American fellows who kindly offered me a newspaper article they had been reading and finished. When we learned the flight had been delayed by at least an hour, they began to chat with me, something I normally don’t encourage when I am a captive audience. But they had been kind in offering me the newspaper article on how birds cope with heat (don’t judge–living in a hot place and being a bird lover it was interesting to me!), so I felt I should be polite. They were on the way to Pamplona and then to San Sebastián and Bilbao. As we swapped ideas for eating places, they gave us one for San Sebastián. It’s hard to know which freely offered tips are ones to follow up on, but in our initial explorations the evening we arrived, we found the place and Flat Tyre Guy’s recommendation did look interesting.
The first morning in Donostia*, we had a fantastic time wandering around the town, stumbling upon the Saturday markets and more importantly, my favourite fruit…fresh figs. Unbelievable as it sounds to those who know my love for fresh figs, I had forgotten it was late summer in Spain, and they might still be available. Having had little breakfast (the hotel only served continental pastries and fruit–bananas and apples–none of which I could eat) I zeroed in on a gentleman selling figs and, ‘dos, por favor’ later, we were looking for a seat on which to sit and enjoy our jammy, purple treasures. Conveniently adjacent to the market was a small square with lovely gardens and mosaic seats. It was the essence of Spain. The figs were as sweet and juicy as any I have eaten and that goes back 45 or so years when I first tasted them in Rome!
Continuing on we decided to re-scout the location of the restaurant the fellow traveler had shared. Most lunch places don’t open or start serving before one o’clock. We relaxed into people watching for a while and then we spied the nearby travel bureau. We found a couple of brochures with local information and tours. Unusual to our experience most of the tours included entry fees into places, but not transport to get there. You were expected to get your own self there! This seemed like extra work that contravened our primary objective for San Sebastián, so we abandoned that idea.
By the time one o’clock arrived we were both pretty hungry. Being first on the scene at opening time meant we got a seat, but normally one would need a booking. The restaurant was small with long shared tables and had a menu that was arranged two ways, two courses and drink for one price, or three courses and drink for another price…we opted for two courses, which was 25.50€ per person. We each ordered a drink, me water and hubby wine, which we assumed was a glass, but which turned out to be a BOTTLE. Fortunately, since I only had the water, I could assist with the bottle of wine! However, the unplanned rosè did not do anything to relieve my cotton-wool-brain!** The food was of a very high standard and so for about $90 Australian we had an amazing meal including very nice rosè! It was a restaurant we would have never found on our own so, ‘Flat Tyre Guy’, wherever you are, thank you for the recommendation for Ristorante Morgan!
After lunch we wondered out into the shaded laneway and up to the nearby public square where we had sat and people watched before lunch. In our absence activities had evolved and a large group had gathered around a small group of musicians.They were singing and swaying en masse to the tunes; some dancing, some with arms around each other’s waists as they sang from small songbooks. This was obviously an activity familiar to them, as were the songs and such was the passion with which they sang, it moved me to tears. It’s not often I spontaneously cry in a foreign country in the middle of a crowd, but once in a while it happens. I’m thinking back at the moment I stepped off the bus in Gallipoli. I dissolved into tears and I don’t even know anyone from that battle. Other people tell me this phenomenon happens when we are in places like Normandy or Gallipoli, where huge numbers of lives are lost. I wonder…
Ok, they might have been jet-lag-cotton-wool-rosè tears, but the emotion was deeply felt. It reminded me what a privilege it is to be able to travel, and that there are countries and people who are willing to share themselves with strangers. We later learned the songs were Basque folk songs. Thank goodness the Basque people and their lovely food and folk songs survived and thrive today. And thank goodness my perspective is forever changed.
*Donostia-San Sebastián is the full name of the city, but Donostia is the Basque name and San Sebastián is the Spanish name.
**cotton-wool-rosè-brain is why I failed to take any photos of the lovely plates of food. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.