The Basque Country – Hondarribia Blues Festival

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Hondarribia Blues Festival beach 2017

Last weekend was Hondarribia’s Blues Festival. This really could be the last year for it in this location, as we heard that it might be moving to Zarautz for financial reasons.

Hondarribia Blues Festival 2017

 

The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

electric guitarWe were in Hondarribia for the 9th, 10th and 11th Blues Festivals. The festival is held towards the end of July (the date depends on when the Running of the Bulls is happening in Pamplona, as they don’t like to clash) and it is massive. There is a huge stage near the ferry terminal down in the Marina, a smaller stage in Calle San Pedro and a mid-sized one up in the old town in Arma Plaza. It takes days to set up (and pack up) the stages and the concession stands. The organisers bring in bands from all over the world. It must cost a small fortune to put on and they don’t charge anything for you to go to the concerts. It’s insane and a friend of ours has said that it might not continue for too much longer. Hondarribia council seems to have a lot of money, but we can’t see how they can afford to keep paying for this festival without someone else dipping into their pockets to help. Their only sponsor seems to be Carlsberg and there has been resistance from local businesses to cough up any local sponsorship.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.

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pots of parsley, aloe vera and mint. Plants that grow on my north-facing balcony

Reasons to Move to New Zealand

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reasons why it is good to live in New Zealand

  • People will (usually) understand what I’m saying
  • I can have a veggie garden and it is unlikely that someone will steal my rosemary
  • There is a lot less bureaucracy and the tax system doesn’t scare the bejeesus out of me
  • I don’t enjoy listening to my neighbours pee, tunelessly whistle, or play really bad Europop
  • There is easy access to wilderness and you won’t find any paper factories there
  • You can wild camp and have campfires (within reason. Probably not in downtown Christchurch, though these days, who knows?)
  • You can have a charcoal barbeque without people threatening to call the police (this happened to me last night. Oops.)
  • Decent coffee is everywhere except for in the wilderness and then, who cares?
  • You can cook with ingredients that are more exotic than garlic, parsley and paprika
  • South Islanders’ idea of a traffic jam is hilarious. Try being held up for hours (THIS was why we chose not to live in the south east of England)
  • This means you can travel whenever you like. Even on public holidays. In the summer. Without having to get up before dawn

This is an excerpt from my Illustrated Epistle, which goes out in the middle of the month. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a cartoonist (specifically, mine). You can sign up here (and unsubscribe if you don’t like it, or even if you do, though that would be a bit daft, as how many emails do you get that you actually enjoy reading?):

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Hondarribia Basque Cider Day – Sagardo Eguna

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Hondarribia has a cider day in mid July in Guipuzcoa Square

 

 

The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

Around the middle of July, there is a cider festival in Gipúzkoa Square in Hondarribia. For 5 euros, you get a glass that you can fill up as often as you like (though it is bad form to actually fill it – you want to put in a couple of inches at most). The admission price also includes a pincho of either chistorra (like a mild, skinny chorizo), or tortilla (the potato and onion Spanish omelette), though given the amount of cider on offer, it is worth going back to buy more pinchos. The square is surrounded by big barrels of cider, manned by the producers who release streams of it to land in your glass. You need to catch it low, move the glass up and move away as the next person comes in behind you with their glass. Catching the cider low and having it spatter on the glass mixes in air, which improves the flavour. Needless to say, there is an art to the cider pour that we never mastered.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.

The cider day for 2018 will be on Saturday 29th July.

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The Basque Country – Finding Your Way Around Hondarribia

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The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

A rough map of the Hondarribia area

If you are visiting Hondarribia, your first stop should be the super helpful tourist information centre in Arma Plaza at the very top of the old town (or there is another one out towards the boat marina). They speak English very well (or will endure your bad Spanish) and have free maps of the town and information on what is happening. They also sell tickets to things like the Basque sport of Jai Alai. Opening hours are similar to most shops, except they don’t have a siesta break.

Hondarribia is in the region of Gipúzkoa and about 10 miles away from its capital of Donostia-San Sebastian, but happens to host its airport (EAS). It abuts Irun, its more workaday neighbour, which has local and national train stations as well as a myriad of small shops and chain stores.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.

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The Best T-shirts in Hondarribia: Billie & Co

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Billie & Co logoWhen I started posting my Basque Diary illustrations to Instagram, my friend, Edu, said they would make great t-shirts. I agreed, but didn’t have the time to make t-shirts (I’d done so before for my “Frome With a View” exhibition and there is a lot of running around to be done).

So I suggested HE make them. He could keep any profit (and t-shirts are not the road to riches. A bit like cartooning.) as they would be a good way to promote my book. He seized the idea and “Billie & Co.” was born. Edu loves our dog, so named his new venture after him.

We will be at the marina in Hondarribia on Sunday to sell them and the books. I just hope that the weather (drizzle) isn’t as forecast.

Billie & Co modelling Billie & Co t-shirts
Billie & Co modelling Billie & Co t-shirts

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The Basque Country – The Eve of St John the Baptist Day is Bonfire Madness

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The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

Bonfire Madness


On the 23rd June, as the sun sets, the townspeople light masses of bonfires around the town and on the beaches in celebration of St John’s Eve (the day of St John the Baptist being on the 24th). It is another example of a Christian festival being a little bit pagan, as the date falls around the solstice. It is customary to write down the things that are bothering you in your life and throw them into the fire so that they will be consumed. Worth a try.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
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How Do You Create an Author Platform?

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Author of a book standing on her author platform

It used to be more straightforward getting noticed. If you had a great book and you could get it in front of an editor at a publisher, they would be likely to publish it. They would send it to be reviewed in a few key magazines and newspapers and people would see those reviews and decide (hopefully) to read it. Now you can’t get published unless you have a good “author platform” (lots of followers, or reviews on Amazon). Even if you are published, reviews in the press matter a lot less than reviews on Amazon. The world has changed and I wonder what, if anything, will be able to take on the mighty Amazon.

This is an excerpt from my Illustrated Epistle, which goes out in the middle of the month. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a cartoonist (specifically, mine). You can sign up here (and unsubscribe if you don’t like it, or even if you do, though that would be a bit daft, as how many emails do you get that you actually enjoy reading?).

And yes, a newsletter is one way to build your author platform, so please help me add another plank and sign up!

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View from Hendaye of Hondarribia, Basque Country, Spain

The Basque Country – One of the Best Places to Learn Spanish

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The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.

Lots of Brits go to Spain for the better weather. No one goes to the Basque Country for the weather. It is a land of pointy green hills, dotted with caseríos (traditional Basque smallholdings) and beautiful valleys pocked with ugly factories. The coast is ruggedly gorgeous, with forests and sheep pasture falling into sloping layers of schist rock. But, as in the UK, the lush beauty of the countryside comes from the fact that it rains a lot at any time of year, though especially in the winter.

The reason we went to the Basque Country was to learn Spanish. It is a bi-lingual region. Many people speak Basque as their first language, but others living there don’t speak much Basque at all. Sometimes this is because of the legacy of Franco (who banned the teaching and speaking of Basque). Other times it is because of people moving into the area from other parts of Spain. The upshot is that nearly everyone speaks Spanish. Unlike in the Spanish towns more popular with English tourists, very few people speak more than a few words of English. They are more likely to speak French because of being on the border with France. This made it the perfect place for us to practice our Spanish with native speakers.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
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Pinchos – The Basque Version of Spanish Tapas

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Pinchos (or pintxos) are like Spanish tapas, but better. The Basque Country is the best place in the Iberian penninsula to eat and pinchos take tapas to another level. There is healthy rivalry between places to put out the best pinchos on the bar and no more so than when there is a competition, as there has been this week in Hondarribia.

We failed (twice) to find the competition pincho (appropriately labelled “Delicacies of the Clown”) from Danonzat and Enbata was all out at the end of the Medieval Festival weekend. But Bar Larra had a fantastic duck in puff pastry pincho and Sardara’s “Egaluze” was lovely, even if we couldn’t identify everything in it (there was salt cod, we are pretty sure). But, the best pincho by far was from Bar Ondarribi. “Hornazo de Rabo” came under a glass filled with smoke. That was then used for beer, which was matched perfectly with the pincho. As befitting something medieval, you had to eat it with your fingers and it was truly “para chuparse los dedos”, or “finger-licking good”.

 

More on pinchos from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon:

Pinchos (Pintxos in Basque) – The Basque Tapas


Tapas are a feature of bars everywhere in Spain. In some places (like Leon, and Granada), tapas come free with your drinks. Often (though not always) the drinks are more expensive to cover the cost of the tapas. In the Basque Country, you don’t get a free pincho, but you do get a choice and the choice is incredible.

Pinchos on the bar are usually very good value, between 1.50 and 2.50 euros. They range from the “Gilda” (spicy pickled guindilla peppers with olives and a marinated anchovy) to pulpo (octopus) with smoked salmon and caramelised onions.

You usually pay more for pinchos that are cooked to order, but these can be good value too, as you often get something more substantial than a morsel of food on top of a piece of bread. The bar, Ardoka does things like fried artichokes with jamón, or entrecôte with green peppers.

A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia cover with borderYou can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.

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A Basque Diary - Living in Hondarribia by Alex Hallatt cover larger

A Basque Diary is Available in Print on the Amazon Store

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I’ve published a fair few books now, but you never know how they are going to look until you get a copy for real, as digital proofs are never the same. I was concerned that the colour might work out very differently for A Basque Diary, my account of living in Hondarribia. The real books arrived today and I’m delighted with the print quality. Createspace did a great job.

These books are larger (8.25 inches square) than the 6.5 inch square books I’ve had printed through Ingram Spark. I ordered proofs on 29th May and they still haven’t arrived – Spanish Post operates at a glacial pace…

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