Everything Sounds Prettier In Spanish…..

Well except for when I try to speak it!  But listening to my surroundings could pass off to being a soundtrack to any great movie. The people here are just as beautiful as the language that they speak. One thing I have noticed myself doing here, which is totally the opposite in Seattle, is that I barely listen to my iPod. Even when it’s completely a ghost town out, walking around to complete silence is something that I never would experience in Seattle. It can be quite a beautiful thing. I find that when I listen to music, I tend to block out everything that is going around me because I am in my own world. But that is not where I want to be.


The view from our front terrace.

All around me is a new world. Everything I have became accustomed too in my past 24 years from the people I associate myself with straight down to the way I live my life, I left all that behind the moment I stepped on the airplane. This is my chance to get out of my comfort zone and indulge in a lifestyle that I will never be able to in the States or anywhere else. I can only grow and learn from these experiences and it’s my time to take advantage of this new world around me.

Living in San Sebastian has been quite something. I’m getting near towards the end of my first month here and I feel like that I’m getting close to figuring out my groove.

Let’s start off by my apartment. I live in this great 2 bedroom/2 bathroom flat provided by Sammic and the Basque Stage with fellow Basque Stage Top Chef, Susy Santos. This apartment has exceeded my expectations for living situation, especially in a different country. We have a nice little living room that has a couch, a dining table, and a door to one of our terraces that overlooks the neighborhood of Lasarte. The kitchen is quite spacious and even though very ill equipped, it does a great job of serving its purposes.  Also, I was surprised to see a washing machine in place of where a dishwasher would be in a normal kitchen. Just a washing machine, so that means that we have to hang up all of our clothes to dry.


We live no more than 2 minutes away from the train station that gets to Donostia-San Sebastian in a quick 14 minutes and only a 7 minute train ride to the Lugaritz station where my work, Xarma Jatetxea, is located.


It has been quite easy finding my way around San Sebastian via train and autobus. The only thing that sucks is that they stop running rather early in the night with the latest bus usually being before 11 PM. This has made it pretty difficult for me some nights when we are busy at Xarma, because there is no way I’m leaving until my job is done.  Straight up. Even though this state of mind has resulted in me having to wait for an hour for a taxi in the hail, it wasn’t too bothersome knowing that I put my time in at work.


Hail at 1 in the morning while waiting for a taxi!!

This has been only one of the many challenges that I have had to face since living here. The biggest challenged for me has definitely been communication. I speak very little, if you can even count it, Spanish. I knew what I was getting myself into from the get go, but to my surprise, it hasn’t been TOO difficult communicating with the people here in San Sebastian. I am very lucky that the people here are really nice and actually are very interested in talking to me whenever it seems like I’m a little lost. I’m just grateful for peoples patience and willingness to help figure out what I’m trying to say to them.

With working at the Harvest Vine for the past 3 years, it has helped me out a lot when it comes to speaking about food. Ordering food at restaurants or pintxo bars has come pretty easy to me, luckily. And it definitely has helped out in the kitchen at Xarma. Just knowing the Spanish words for ingredients is a huge help.

But then comes the change in the small details like the way they measure things and even tell time. Nothing comes in pounds or inches. I have had to get use to the fact that I will be measuring things using the metric system.  After 12 o clock comes 13 o clock, military time. Dates are written with the day of the date first them follows the month, i.e. 23/4. Celsius rather than Fahrenheit.  These are just the small things I had to quickly get accustomed to living here.

So this is what it has been like living in San Sebastian for me so far. I’m glad that I’ve been able to get a little more comfortable in this place that I will be calling my home for the next 2 months. I’m really thankful for all the help and friendliness of everyone here who have made this a whole lot easier on myself. It just makes me really excited for all the challenges and adventures that will come with my time here.

Here are some additional things I have noticed about life here in San Sebastian:

-Asians are pretty rare to find here. I have been called “Gangnam Style” or “Psy” a handful amount of times. Specially from kids.


A shirt I happen to find at the H&M.

– Justin is an uncommon name here. Whenever people find out my name is Justin, they almost always say, “Like Justin Beiber!”. So I have dawned the name Justin Bieber with a lot of the people I associate with on a day to day basis.

– There are a lot of families here in San Sebastian. I feel like I see more kids here than any other age group. This makes me wish my family was out here because Tegan would love all of the great parks and things to do here!


– Everyone here skates goofy. Roller blades are still pretty big here. And everyone either bikes or walks around here.

– I have seen some of the coolest graffiti here in the most random places.


– Everyone from the Vine was right. I have seen so many mullets here it’s been amazing.



My First Week Pt. 1

My oh my! So its been more than a full week since I’ve been here and there is so much that I want to share! I’ve found that it is pretty difficult to maintain this blog as I am a very busy person, so please bear with me as I try my hardest to keep all of you guys updated with all things Spain! And since I have so much to say, I’m breaking up this post into 2 parts so you all don’t have to feel like you are reading a novel!

So after my first day, I woke up around 4 PM. No surprise here. I woke up feeling like I got hit by a bus, confuse of what time it really was, and had known I slept alright by the amount of drool that was dried on my face. It wasn’t a pretty site, but I didn’t care because I WAS IN SPAIN!!!

What it looks like when I wake up.

What it looks like when I wake up.

I decided to venture out in Lasarte so that I could get more accustomed to where I will be living for the next 3 months. I found Lasarte to be a very cute and small town just about 6 miles from Donostia-San Sebastian. I ended up being able to walk around majority of the town within an hour or so. I stopped real quick at a pintxo bar called, Gure Etxea, to grab a quick bite to eat. Ended up getting 2 gildas, one with salt-cured anchovies and the other with vinegar-cured anchovies, a jamon bocadillo, and a Txakioli to wash it down. It was a pretty perfect snack to fuel me for the rest of the day.


I decided to go walk around some more and ended up finding this crazy building that overlooked the interstate. It caught my eye because it was tagged from head to toe with really cool looking graffiti. So I ended up walking up the hill to get a closer look.

graffiti building

As I was exploring the unique building, I happen to hear some music coming from the building. This really surprised me because it had looked as if this building was uninhabited, but I guess I was wrong! I noticed this room that had 2 old Spaniards jamming out on bass and electric guitar. They noticed me and actually invited me in. I was a little hesitant first as I could clearly noticed that they didn’t speak a word of English but we were actually able to communicate pretty well through the use of my awesome hand gestures and my broken-ass Spanish. “Cervesa?” one of the men asked me? Usually I wouldn’t accept alcohol, drinks, or any other kind of food from a stranger, especially in a different country. But the can was sealed and I was parched from walking around town so I had to accept! They eventually asked if played instruments and then they handed me the guitar and I played a couple quick riffs. I could tell by their smiles from ear to ear that they were excited to find someone else who loved playing music. It was then that they unveiled something under a couple blankets, a drum set! They set it up and then handed me drum sticks. We then commenced in a good 2 hours of jamming and rocking until the sun went down and the room started growing darker.  I would add the video of us playing music, but in all reality, we really didn’t sound that great. Haha I proceeded to say my thank yous and good-byes then headed home.

My 'bandmates'!

My ‘bandmates’!Look at that Mullet!

The next day, I decided to figure out my commute to restaurant that I will be staging at, Xarma. I definitely want to be prepared and don’t want to look like an idiot and get lost on my first day! I also got a hold of a friend, Antton, who I met through Juan Carlos and Carolin from the Vine. He Spent a couple summers in Seattle and he resides on a farm here in San Sebastian, so it was nice to already have a connection with someone who lives here. I took a 7 minute train to the Lugaritz station and walked to my work. A whole lot easier than I expected, thank goodness!


Antton met me in front of Xarma and then we were off to walk towards San Sebastian. San Sebastian is a 3 mile walk from my work and it happened to be a gorgeous day. We walked around La Concha towards Parte Vieja de San Sebastian, which is the old part of San Sebastian where all the pintxo bars are. Antton took me all around San Sebastian and to some of his favorite spots and he treated me to some pintxos! Thanks Antton!


Out of the bars that he took me too, Bar Txepetxa and La Cuchara were probably my two favorite. Bar Txepetxa is a special little pintxo bar because they specialize in serving anchovies. We ordered Antxoas con creama de centolla, vinegar-cured anchovies with a creamy crab sauce. I could honestly eat 50 of these. This pintxo is still probably one of my favorite bites I’ve had ever since I’ve been in Spain. I’ve been back to Bar Txepetxa 3 times since then, so be ready for a review of this restaurant soon as I plan to eat my way through their whole menu.

bar txepetxa

La Cuchara De San Telmo is a little gem that was recommended by many people (thanks Mara!). This is the kind of restaurant that I wish America had. They serve amazing food, have a beautiful space, and crank out food as fast as you can order. We shared the veal cheeks, octopus, fist-sized scallops wrapped in iberico ham, and the foie gras. I have so much to say about their food and plan to return as much as I can so you all can expect a review from this place as well!


Antton then directs me towards my bus home and we part ways. It was real nice to have someone show me around and tell me so much about this beautiful place. I am grateful for the people at work for connecting us and am excited to hang out with him while I am here! Eventually, I’m hoping to stop by his family farm and see all the great cheese and products that they produce.

To be continued……

There Is A Heaven. Believe Me, I’ve Seen It.

So after 3 connecting flights from Seattle through Chicago, Boston, and Madrid, I finally made it into San Sebastian. Surprising, my flying experience wasn’t as brutal as I thought it was going to be. Thank goodness!

I arrived at San Sebastian Airport and was instantly spotted by Andoni, one of the people who help out with the Basque Stage. I grab my luggage and then we were off to see San Sebastian for my first day as a Basque Stage Rising Star!


There is a heaven. Believe me I’ve seen it.


This place is unbelievable. That is basically the best way I can describe San Sebastian. Yeah, it’s been only about a week, but i’m still in disbelieve that I’m actually here. This is the one place I have been wanting to visit ever since I started working at the Vine. And now that i’m actually here, it’s like i’m getting to see this amazing country in High Definition. It’s all so real.

So upon my arrive in the Basque Country, I was ready to just see everything. Without any plan Andoni and I left the airport and made our way to where everything is happening.

I had a real great time with Andoni as he showed me around town. The first place he took me was to one of his favorite pintxo bars called, Borda Berri. He recently just had surgery so he had the pleasure of watching me scarf down couple plates of pintxos and a nice glass of txakoli. I was pretty excited that I was able to understand most of the menu. I surprisingly wasn’t too hungry from being jacked up after a 14 hour flight. So I only started with two pintxos. Andoni recommended the Kebab de Costilla de Cerdo, but they were sold out of the already unfortunately. But that’s alright. It gives me another reason to return and try it later! So I ordered the Pulpo a la plantxa con membrillo (Octopus seared on the plancha with quince paste) and Arroz Bomba con Txipiron-Maiden (Bomba Rice with Calamari). After I put in my order, I order a glass of txakoli while I wait. Andoni fills me in about San Sebastian and I express to him how excited I am to finally be out there. The food then comes and I start indulging into my first bites in Spain.


Both dishes were really great. Seasoning was pretty spot on. The seafood was cooked perfectly. And a lot of surprises in each and every bite. I have never really seen pulpo paired with quince paste but it was delicious. The flavors were perfectly balanced between the creamy potatoes, pimenton oil, alioli, and ever so tender octopus. And each bite that had membrillo was just so new and refreshing that I really think that it is a matched in heaven. It is definitely the best octopus dish I’ve had so far in San Sebastian. The calamari dish was really delicious as well. After the first couple bites, I really felt like that the dish really could have benefited from a nice squeeze of alioli, but then I reached to the bottom of the bowl and there laid a pool of it! I was so happy because it really turned a good dish into a really amazing one.

We then headed out and walked down more streets of the old part of San Sebastian. We stopped in another pintxo bar for one more bite. This time a pintxo with a hake and monkfish mouse with alioli on top of toasted bread. This was extremely delicious as it had a very mild fishy flavor and had a super light and creamy texture. It was like eating a fish rillette cloud.


Andoni then proceeded to show me the more of San Sebastian and took me to the docks that overlook all of La Concha. Luckily, it was a gorgeous day. Apparently, it had rain the majority of the past 3 months so it was nice to get to see everyone out and about. The view was gorgeous and it left me speechless.

Later we met up with my new roomie, Susy Santos, who is the Basque Stage Top Chef winner, as well has the previous Basque Stage Rising Star winner, Clifton Su. They have been here in the Basque Country for the last 3 months and I have been able to read their amazing experiences on their blogs. Sadly, Clifton flew back to his home in Cali the next day, but I was really glad to meet the guy behind the keyboard.


We then headed back to Lasarte-Oria, my new home. We all hung around for a couple hours and then we went out to Lasarte, a bar that is close to our apartment. We all ordered a Calamares con Alioli. This was basically a deep fried calamari sandwhich that is slathered with the famous garlicky alioli. It was huge and so good. Lasarte is definitely a cool place and will be my go to bar whenever I need a quick trip out of my home. We all head home and then it was lights out since Clifton had to head to Bilbao at 4 to catch his flight at 6:30.

This was how my first day went in San Sebastian. It could’t have been more perfect as it was filled with good company, beautiful weather, and some great food and wine. I am ready for the Basque Country and all the adventures that it’ll bring. Til next time…..