Ticking away: festivities and flights

For various pleasant and unpleasant reasons it has been a while since my last post. December and January were filled with cultural celebrations, trips home and professional and personal challenges. I feel like I went for one long ride on the Monte Igueldo rollercoaster. Because these moments were pretty pivotal, I don’t necessarily want to ignore them here in favour of keeping in real time so this blog is going to be one long recap for the events I want to share. If it’s disjointed I apologise but life is disjointed so deal with it.

In Donostia, we waited impatiently  for the Christmas lights to appear as our hometowns lit up one by one. The weather was warm and it was hard to drill up any kind of festive feeling. We attempted to curb that by visiting Bayonne for the day in early December. Bayonne was an extremely festive location and despite my crippling hangover and omnipresent fear, I manage to get into the swing of things and enjoy the Christmas market, my phenomenal lunch and the beautiful cathedral. During the rest of December, I became lazy about Christmas present shopping and bought limited edition orange and cinnamon hand cream. It seemed like it would never be time to go home for Christmas. We had a lovely meal in the very fancy NiNeu by the Kursaal and ingested too many gin and tonics.

Plaza Easo, Amara

On December 21st, Donostia irrupted into Santo Tomás celebrations, essentially a sausage festival which was formerly the day when the people from the farmhouses of the province would travel to Donostia to pay their yearly rent but is now an excuse to dress in traditional peasant clothes, drink cider and eat txistorra. I saw Engraxi, the prize pig in Plaza de la Constitución and though I had to work that day, I managed to head out again later that evening which turned out to be absolute chaos. Donostia had by that time melted into madness and everyone was hammered and fighting. It was completely out of character for this relatively sedate city. There was smashed glass everywhere and urine and cider were flowing down the streets of Parte Vieja. A local guy who was showing us around kept assuring us brightly that it was “not typical” but we eventually called it a day after I unintentionally walked into a fight at the foyer of a bar and got bopped in the mouth. Luckily our friends have a balcony with a view of the old town so we grabbed our last drink there before heading to the kebab place for a mixto.

Abruptly like the slamming of a book, the time was nigh. Friends began to head home one by one and uneasiness descended upon our apartment. Everyone says that it’s lovely to go home for Christmas but all I could see ahead of me was eight hours of travel into the unknown to arrive back where I started, trying to restart contact with people I had admittedly neglected and been neglected by. When I arrived in Dublin I went for a fitful nap before going to meet some friends and I woke up breathing heavily. Convinced that my time in San Sebastian had been the dream. All the progress I had made this year, swept away. Being home was wonderful in the sense that nothing had changed and it was and is reassuring to know that my family home is a solid unit that will be waiting for me whenever I want to visit. And so will those friends who have always been there and will continue to be despite the distance.

After filling myself with Irish bread,tea and Tayto, I returned home to Donostia via Bordeaux, a rather tiring journey but an interesting one as I am taking a trip there to meet Claire, my bestie since birth at the end of February. It felt strange to be back, like I’d never left but things had changed for everyone over Christmas and although this wasn’t always for the best, it was lovely to have a catch up and find out what I had missed. I immediately fell back into my life here and work began and new deadlines arranged themselves sullenly on my calendar and I struggled to settle back into my routine. I have always hated January and I welcome February 1st with a sigh of relief.

A huge highlight of weird January was Tamborrada- Dia de San Sebastian on January 20th which was essentially like a massive, noisy new year celebration. In summary, it is 24 hours of non-stop drumming by people dressed as soldiers and chefs. It developed from the locals mocking stationed soldiers using buckets and cutlery as drums in the 1800s and grew by incorporating the sociedades later on that century. There are conflicting reports that it is also to dispel drought. A group of us headed into Plaza de la Constitución for midnight on the Tuesday night and looked on in bemusement as the square irrupted into song and dance as the flag of San Sebastian was raised and the drumming began. The choreography was unknown to us but the sentiment was infectious. We joined in, half-chanting the songs and following the movements of those around us. When the plaza got too much we headed to the steps of the Santa Maria church and watched as troupe after troupe of musicians paraded by. Catherine and I got carried away by the passion and tried to teach a bunch of Basques, British and Lithuanians the Irish national anthem.

The hours went by and  eventually we were led to a gastronomic society by our Basque friend and his crew. These are invitation-only except on San Sebastian day and their members make up a lot of the Tamborrada drumming groups. We descended the stairs into a brown paper covered space to dance and bought beers from beautiful men dressed as chefs. It was five a.m. and I was impressed by the repeated playing of Bailando by Enrique Iglesias and the bowls of jellies being passed around. Eventually myself and Corinne, who unfortunately work outside of San Sebastian and weren’t off work, had to call it a night and head home for a few precious hours sleep before heading to Renteria. Work was a little bit of a struggle that day but nobody suspected me of being in a less-than-ideal state except one clever FCE teen.

“Orla did you go out for Tamborrada?”


“When did you get home?”

It’s been an up and down month but Tamborrada was a perfect solidification of the reasons I love this city. It surprises you consistently and with fervour. It can’t handle its liquor and it’s a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to moving towards new experiences here and I’m anticipating some visitors once the flights to Dublin resume.




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