Thursday, September 4, 2014

Spain Part III: I could move to San Sebastian (if I had a place with windows :P)

Saturday 14 June 2014
Unfortunately for Preston, we had to get up around 7am to catch our train to San Sebastian :P

San Sebastian is located in 'Basque Country', which has an entirely different culture from what we've seen in Catalan Barcelona. Preston and I were excited to see the differences.

We made our way to the metro and back to the train station. Predictably, Preston felt a little rough after only an hour's sleep.

The train ride north was about 5 hours long, but the train was very comfortable and quite empty. We were able to spread out and enjoy the ride. The scenery was just GORGEOUS…little mountain towns, sweeping hills, and white puffy clouds passed by through the windows of the train.

We arrived in San Sebastian and were met by David, the property manager for the AirBnb apartment that we had rented. We walked about a mile from the train station to the apartment. (Preston wasn't too happy about this stroll with our heavy bags).

San Sebastian, or Donostia as its called in Basque, is a bigger city than I realized. The town has old, stone buildings and a wide river sweeping out to sea. Being so close the French border (20km), the influence of French architecture was evident by the style and height (restrictions) of the buildings. David explained to us that San Sebastian had been burned to the ground by British and Portuguese forces during the time of Napoleon and had to be completely rebuilt. 

The apartment wasn’t quite ready, so David treated us to coffee in the square. We came to San Sebastian because we’ve heard from various people that it is a great town….and we came for Preston to surf. Unfortunately, David explained that the wind was blowing in such a way that there were no waves. Womp wa!!

Finally, the apartment was ready. We were greeted by the friendly owner and David left us to settle in.

Oh my gosh. I rented this apartment off of Airbnb…and it was hard to tell from the pictures, but there are NO windows. David had warned me that there were ‘no windows facing the outside’, which I took to mean that the place overlooked a courtyard or something. NOPE!! There were no windows to the outside at all

There was one window and a door that opened to a dim air shaft. The ceilings were low and the only light was florescent. It was AWFUL.

This photo actually makes it look a lot brighter than it was
I’m a person that needs natural light and LOTS of it. I felt like we were staying in a basement or a bomb shelter. The walls seemed to be closing in and every moment spent there made me more depressed!! I didn’t realize how affected I would be by this!! It seemed a shame to be in such a beautiful beach town and cooped up in a dark hole.

Traveling how I would normally travel…it wouldn’t be a big deal and the apartment could just be a place to sleep, but being on the go like we are…it’s nice to have a place to relax. 

Not so here…we spent as much time outside of the apartment as we could. It was soooo depressing. I was tempted to write to David and suggest he change the tagline on Airbnb to say “Looking for the perfect place to ride out the Zombie Apocalypse??” :P

Preston needed sleep and wasn’t feeling well, so he took a nap and I went out to wander the streets for a while. It’s cool and overcast here today. I walked down to the check out the beach (which is only a few blocks away) and got groceries.

The town definitely has an old feel and is overlooked by a hill bearing a statue of Christ. It’s an enchanting place.

Preston got up to go with me for dinner to a cute little bistro. We had delicious hamburgers (from local beef, which is touted as the BEST) with an egg on top!!

We returned early to hang out in the gloomy apartment.

Sunday 15 June 2014
With no natural light, we slept late and woke up in the dreary space.

We went across the street for croissants and coffee and then spent the day at the beach. Far less people speak English here than many of the other places we’ve been, but we are able to get by with our limited Spanish.

We are staying in the ‘new’ part of town called Gros. The beach is right on the edge of all the buildings. It’s a beautiful sprawling beach with light sand and blue green water.

The surf culture is very apparent here, despite the lack of waves. There are dozens of little surf shops. Many young kids still managed to surf the small waves and we watched them for some time.

The weather is perfect-warm, but not too hot. We read all day on our beach blanket surrounded by the city and the sprawling hills.

We returned to our dungeon to get ready for dinner. Again,San Sebastian is in Basque Country-a culture that has fiercely maintained its traditions. One of these traditions is the eating of tapas or pintxos, as they are called here.

The local way to eat dinner out is to go to a bar…have a drink and try one or two of the pintxos. The pintxos are set out on the bar top and you choose what you like. When you are done with your pintxos and drinks, you pay and move on to the next spot to repeat. The whole process is based on the honor system.  Some places have toothpicks in each pintxo to make for easy counting at the end. 

Typically in one evening, people go to four or five places. As one local explained…all the walking helps to balance all the eating and drinking. :P

The pintxos were good, but many appeared to have been sitting out for a while. That’s something I’ve definitely noticed here that is different from America. Food is often left out at room temperature and uncovered. I wonder what they do with all the leftovers. Do they throw them away or let them sit out for another day?

We started at a small pub down by the beach. We had a glass of tinto (red wine) and some small sandwich pintxos.

From there, we walked to a swanky bar with views of the sunset on the ocean. A big screen was playing the World Cup, so we ended up camping out there to enjoy more tinto and pintxos.

Goodbye Sun


After enjoying the beautiful sunset and an exciting game, we headed home under the stars.

Monday 16 June 2014
We woke up late again in our dismal cave and set out for more croissants and coffee.

This morning, we decided to head across the river to the old part of town and hike up the hill to Cristo.

Our walk took us along the base of the hill where Cristo presides over the town. The pathway curved along the waterfront. It was just beautiful-the water was brilliant and blue. The waves crashed below us along the rocky shore. Tons of 
people were out and about-walking, jogging, playing with their dogs.

On the other side of the hill, we began our ascent up to the statue. The whole area was a park full of History and hiking trails. We found ourselves in a cool, peaceful forest as we climbed. It was such a lovely place.

We came upon an old castle and had fun exploring the stairwells, terraces, and passageways. We could see out over the whole town-from the old to the new. The old part of the city has a wide horseshoe shaped beach with turquoise water.

We made our way down, walked through town, and spent the rest of the afternoon on the beautiful beach near our apartment.

For dinner, we crossed the river into the old town. We walked around exploring the area.

I was amazed to find that at high tide…the giant sweeping crescent beach was all but gone.

Where the beach was

We had steaks for dinner at the recommendation of the waiter. As I mentioned before, the hills around San Sebastian are used for agriculture and the local beef is supposed to be top notch.

We walked some more to put off returning to the gloomy apartment.

Tuesday 17 June 2014
Today we had our coffee and croissants and strolled back across the river in search of the local train station that we’ll need tomorrow. We came into a different train station, but in order to return to Paris…we need to take the commuter train to the French border.

We found the station easily enough, but decided the walk was too long for our heavy bags. We walked back through the busy shopping district.

I just LOVE San Sebastian. More than anywhere else we’ve been…I can imagine myself living here. The city has everything-the beach, the city, European culture, tons of stores and people. It’s perfect.

I studied Spanish in school, and while I still don’t speak or understand it well, I find it much less intimidating. The people here seem to speak more slowly than in Central and South America. The French are so…I dunno, but they definitely make you work for it. I found the Spanish more easy going and friendly. Less pressure or something.

We spent the afternoon, again, at the beach. Many of the places we've been in Europe have had women going topless on the beaches. It's actually really cool and not at all a big deal. It seems natural and relaxed. There's less worry about checking your top to make sure nothing came out while playing the waves, etc. In San Sebastian, I finally joined in and it was amazing and freeing. I wish America was less sexually focused on breasts. 

For dinner, we went out for more pintxos and tinto. At the last stop, we met a friendly local woman and had a good time trying to talk to her in broken English and Spanish.

Goodbye Beautiful San Sebastian
Tomorrow we return again to Paris. I’ll be sad to leave San Sebastian, but glad to be out of this apartment!! :P

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