Bilbao and Iruñea: these are two of the major Basque cities I visit the final video in my Basque Intensive! series. The film is for you if want a taste of this fascinating part of the world and its rich culture….
As regular readers will know, I’ve been learning the Basque language for several years now. I recently spent a whole month in the Basque Country. It’s a territory which straddles the western end of the Pyrenees and the far south-west of France and the north of Spain).
I threw myself into intensive tuition at the Maizpide residential school at Lazkao (a village about an hour south of Donostia (San Sebastián). At the same time, I was determined to use my time to do more exploring of the Basque Country and its culture. I wanted to meet locals and fellow learners. Without such wider context and engagement, it would be so much harder to continue learning the language.
The timetable was pretty full on at the school (seven hours a day, six days a week). Still, the school arranged trips for Sundays. I had a whole weekend away at the end of the first two weeks (my month was made up of two, two-week courses, one after the other).
With fellow students I visited the nearby town of Beasain with its ancient manor house, foundry and mill (Igartze). We also went to Ordizia for the famous cheese festival.
I spent the middle weekend in the Basque province of Nafarroa (Navarre), staying near the capital, Iruñea (Pamplona), famous for the “running of the bulls”. There was a junior version on in a nearby village when I was there. My friends also drove me into the Urbasa and Aralar mountains, places rich in pagan and Christian Basque mythology.
The Basques seem to have a festival at the drop of a hat. There were three in Lazkao alone during my month. These included Michaelmas and the 50th Anniversary of the local Basque dance group. They’re both in the video. Check out the guy dancing on top of a beer glass wearing a large oblong box as a skirt (it’s supposed to represent a horse). There’s also a guy (erm, that’ll be my) trying to fill his glass from a stream of beer squirting out of a large barrel.
A particular thrill for me was a day trip to the North (that’s to say, the French part of the Basque Country or the Pays Basque). A fellow class member drove me up to Donibane Garazi (St Jean Pied de Port) to attend a traditional “pastorala” play. It was a riot of sound and colour. I hope to spend more time in the three northern provinces on another occasion.
At the end of the trip I had an enjoyable couple of nights back in Bilbao, when I visited the Museum of Fine Arts (less well-known than the Guggenheim but with a splendid permanent collection) and caught up with Maider, who taught our Basque class when she lived in London.
As in the video I made about life inside the school. I’ve once again included short contributions from fellow students who talk in impressive Basque about their motivations for learning and their experiences of the school (with subtitles in English).
I hope you enjoy the film. Maybe it will inspire you to visit the Basque Country. Maybe you’ll want to try out a residential course in your target language. If you’re interested in Basque, check out the many earlier posts on the site (under the Archive tab). I’m still very much learning the language, so stay tuned for future posts, too.