Crossing the border
September 29, 2007, 11:38 am
Filed under: europe, events, festivals, spain, travel

In case you haven’t guessed, I like France a lot. My French is at a level that with a bit of immersion I improve consistently, so I enjoy using it. Hence I was sad when we crossed the border into Spain. I was back to square one again, with a smattering of knowledge that falls short whenever trying to have a conversation with anyone. I will be here for a month, so hopefully I’ll look back on this and think “gosh I’ve come a long way”.

At least I was crossing into somewhere nice and, spiteful as it sounds, where other people have language problems too. Crossing from Biarritz to San Sebastian took us in the heart of Basque country. The Basque have their own language that’s about as similar to Spanish as Welsh is to English. It seems to have a lot of x’s. To give you an idea of how different they are, the town we arrived in, called San Sebastian in Spanish (and therefore English and French), is actually called Donostia by the locals. We were lucky enough to be passing through during the Donostia Zinemaldia (that is, the San Sebastian Film Festival).

We knew this was around the time we would be there, so on arrival Ian asked our taxi driver in broken Spanish whether the film festival was still on. He responded in an incomprehensible Basque accent, but also thrust the newspaper towards us and pointed at the picture of Demi Moore posing on the local red carpet. In case we didn’t get it, we then passed a colossal sign advertising the festival.

Though I do think planning your travel is overrated, in some circumstances, such as during festivals, I recommend it. We had booked our hostel (which was too crappy to merit naming here). It would have been clever to book tickets to something during the festival, but we hadn’t. So there were tickets left only to one English-language production. It was about 5 euros each so we thought ‘what the hell’, festivals are about not being able to base your decision on reviews anyway because you’re the first to see it. So we went and saw ‘Berlin’, which is a doco about Lou Reed’s final concert. It sounded like it could be cool, but we walked out after 20 minutes. Lou Reed may be a great musician, but calling it a doco was exaggerating. Someone had basically just filmed the concert and called it a doco. After four songs we were bored and left.

Emerging from the theatre I saw there were clearly a lot of other people doing things besides attending the festival, because the narrow, high-walled streets were packed. It was about 10pm and of course in Spain on a Saturday night, this is early. Kids were running amok, playing street hockey and elastics (a blast from the past for me). We wandered amongst the bars, having cervazas and tinto de veranos and of course tapas. They have some freaky tapas there. There were some awesome bruschetta (excuse my Italian) with jamón (cured ham) and pimientos (peppers) and excellent squid. I was intrigued by a bruschetta that appeared to be covered in fried worms. We asked the barman what they were and he said they were from the sea. I wasn’t game. Eating jamón while looking at the festy pig leg it came from hanging from the ceiling is adventurous enough for me. Maybe another time, once I’m more adapted to Spanish cuisine.


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