Pintxos Cooking Class in San Sebastian When Eyjafjallajökull Erupted

In February 2010, my sister from the States, Joy,  was scheduled to go to Spain from April 15-23 for a culinary trip. But her intended travel companion whose husband got confined to the ICU had to suddenly cancel.  The hotels had all been paid and the itinerary set including a pintxos class with Chef Josetxo Lizarreta in the vibrant foodie coastal city of San Sebastián.   Joy asked me if I could go in her friend’s place.  I discussed this with the beloved and he gave me his blessing.  Thank You, Lord!

April came and I headed for the US to travel with Joy. Just almost as soon as I arrived, seismic activity in Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, which started at the end of 2009 entered a second phase of eruption on April 14, creating a massive ash cloud which resulted in the closure of most European airports and the record highest number of flight cancellations since WWII.  Some airports in Spain, including Barcelona, got closed during that time period but praise God, not at the exact time we flew.  By April 15, Joy and I arrived in Barcelona.

She and I share our love for food, kitchen, and travel.  I was so happy she already had a list of places to go and food to try.  All I had to do was come along.

Here is our travelogue:

Barcelona: Introduction to Gaudi architecture and Tapas…

Boqueria Market

Museo de la Xocolata and stopping by bakeries along the way

Cafe de L’Opera La Rambla (was so full that we had to settle for an al fresco table curiously situated at the center island of the boulevard) and Palau de la Musica:

Desigual Trixi Ride home.


Lunch at Restaurant 7 Portes (as recommended by Diane Kane) famous for their Canneloni and Paella. They also sold  their own Paella Recipe Book.

Guitar Concert held at a church with Late Dinner nearby after.

Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia:

My Best Meal in Spain this trip:  Alkimia (a hike from Sagrada Familia)

Park Guell, UNESCO World Heritage Site under “Works of Antoni Gaudí.”

park guell tree
Tree climbing like old times.

As the news of the Icelandic volcano raged on and European airport closures were getting enumerated one by one, praise God we were able to fly from Barcelona to San Sebastian.  This beautiful coastal city (sometimes called Donostia) is at times informally referred to as Europe’s Foodie Capital, The World’s Greatest City For Foodies, Greatest Foodie Capital on the Planet.

We met up with Gabriella Ranelli (Spanish food expert who has filmed food and travel programs for BBC, PBS, Aljazeera, and on Spanish and Basque television) at Mercado de la Brexta for a quick Old Town market tour to visit different vendors and to mark which food bars we would visit when those opened by night.

A few lessons on Jamon Iberico:

Then on to the cooking studio in Parte Vieja with Chef Josetxo Lizarreta all ready to teach us how to make pintxos (pronounced “pinchos” with a short o), a small snack typically eaten in bars.  Pintxo’s root word is “pinchar (to pierce) as originally with a cocktail stick.

While Chef  got ready to teach us how to make pintxos, a passing choir came by and the people in the neighborhood started to sing along…

Soon, accordionists came to play lively music and an impromptu dance fiesta broke out.

Back to class…

Chef on Spanish Tortilla:

An anchovy/olive pintxo:

That night, Joy and I visited the food bars that Gabriella recommended. I loved Borda Berri and Ganbarra the best.  The green garnish is apple flavored syrup.

Our stunning view of La Concha Beach at Night:

Boat Ride:

After several days together 24/7, Joy and I decided to do independent free time as she loves to walk and I love to ride! But by afternoon, many of our photos covered the same landmarks! She’s amazing at walking!

3 Michelin Star Dinner at Akelarre

Then safe flight passage to MADRID:

Toledo, an easy train ride away from Madrid from this beautiful train station…


… known as the “Imperial City” is a World Heritage Site by UNESCO “for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage and historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures.”  Awesome, isn’t it?

Meetup with Beth Ezpeleta-Suarez, Joy’s high school classmate, and her very cute and darling daughter, Bianca..


Stopping to smell the roses:


Royal Palace, Chocolatería San Ginés (for the best hot chocolate), Plaza Mayor


Flamenco Night

Joy got a bout of bad stomach flu. She is usually very, very energetic and I was so sad to see her weak. Not knowing how this would turn out, I prayed so hard for Joy’s healing that she would not need to be confined in a hospital or at least not until we got back to the US if need be.

Meanwhile, the news coverage on the airport closures all over Europe continued as the ash cloud from Eyjafjallajökull worsened.  Travelers from Switzerland who wanted to go to France were starting to drive their way… for example as there was no indication of when the situation would subside.  More airports were closing each day.  We didn’t continue with the remaining cities on our itinerary but praise God, a doctor came to give Joy intravenous medication, the medicine efficiently got rid of the bug, she got well enough to take the flight home, and the Lord gave us that little window of time to travel out of Madrid to California via Florida.

Looking back at how much fun we had and all the things we were able to do while the biggest travel disruption since WWII went on, I couldn’t help but be so very grateful for God’s grace to protect us as we went our way.  I believe every day that we are able to go about our business, He is protecting us even from things we are unaware of.  Sometimes when He allows us to go through disasters, it sharpens our radar for Him and makes us know and appreciate Him even more. Thank You, Lord!

Here are my favorite psalms to pray for protection:


Psalm 91
14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 121
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.



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