Got there went for coffee walked around by the river a little came back showered went out to eat basically a lot of wine. Discovered I like white wine better. Went from classily drinking wine at a restaurant to sitting in a parking lot at a punk concert. Stayed up drinking and dancing all night and wen we left the bar in the morning the sun was rising. Next day slept till 12 then toured a nearby pueblo, walked around the city a bit , are lunch, coffee at a nice place.
I was still riding on a happiness high when I left Bordeaux. I caught a ride with Blablacar and was forced to quickly switch my brain back to Spanish because the driver and her friends were from San Sebastián. I was really surprised that the border between France and Spain was almost unnoticeable! There was a small sign, but even the borders between states are more decorated than the border for the whole country! It was kind of nice, actually, because you can tell that the level of trust between countries in the Schengen area is high.
San Sebastián is without doubt a beautiful city. The city itself has 3 beautiful beaches with clear water and is popular with surfers. It is also known for its food, mostly it’s pinxtos, and has something like more Michelin stars per square foot than any other city in the world. I spent basically two full days there and stayed with another host through couchsurfing.
The city is basically in a U shape with two small mountains on either side and 2/3 of the beaches in the middle. So the first morning I climbed around one of the mountains, which used to be a fort area to defend the city if I remember correctly. The views were pretty stunning. Okay, absolutely stunning. The best thing for me about San Sebastián were definitely the views of the city and the sea. After, I wandered around the old town area, the center of the city, and then at night went to get pinxtos with my host. She also took me to meet her mom (who is pretty old considering my host was in her late 30s). Nevertheless, her mom is full of energy and we went to see her singing in the street with her Basque singing group because it was some festival to some saint.
The next day, I went on a walk with my hosts mother towards the other mountain, than continued on to the top where there is an old amusement park and more great views. Basically just the views since literally everything in the “amusement park” is closed. I puttered around a little more than spent a few hours on the pretty but very crowded beach. That night my host and I went out pinxto hopping again and I left early the following morning. San Sebastián was beautiful, but so many people supposedly fall in love with it, and I thought it was just okay. It also probably made a difference that, while my host was very nice, there wasn’t that great connection like I had with Emilie and Mamo. I can also tell that I am getting a little tired of traveling. In San Sebastián and in Pamplona I was really feeling it. I tried to enjoy the moment but I really just wanted to get to Haro to see leticia and then to start the camino. Anyway, no doubt San Sebastián had some nice views.
The next morning I took Blablacar to Pamplona and the young guy driving sounded EXACTLY like the andaluz in ocho apellidos vascos when he was pretending to have a north of Spain accent. It was hilarious and I immediately texted all of my roommates. (The movie came out this year in Spain. Extremely popular comedy about an andaluz that falls in love with a basque girl and pretends to be from the north to win over her father. It makes fun of the stereotypes of both areas so it might not be worth watching for a non-resident but the movie is great and had to put down the detail so I’ll always remember it).
Pamplona is also a beautiful city, known for it’s running of the bulls during the festival of san fermin that Hemingway wrote about. I had two full days and the city is small so I had time to relax in the hostel a bit and watch a movie, go grocery shopping and cook for a few days instead of eating out. I also saw transcendence because movies are cheap on Wednesdays but it sucks… So oh well.
Pamplona is also famous for it’s fortifications that surround the city and for a park that has wildlife in a moat. Probably the only time I’ll ever get to see peacocks, chicken, turkey, roosters, ducks, swans, and deer all in the same enclosure. Plus it must have been mating season because the peacocks were puffing out their tails which was pretty cool. In Pamplona I explored the city center, went to the museum of Navarre, walked around to look at the old walls, and relaxed a lot. I’m glad that my travel is winding down, I’m honestly ready to start hiking. But I still enjoyed these two cities.
My travel weekend started with a wake-up at 4:30, a bike ride to the train station, a bus to the airport, and a flight at 7:00. Luckily, I passed out on the flight. Upon landing, I took the bus and arrived at the center of Bilbao around 9:00 with an hour to kill before the Guggenheim opened at 10:00. Obviously, the first thing on my list of things to do was COFFEE. I wandered up and down a few streets in the city center until I found a Pastelería (Quick Spanish lesson: In Spain, every shop ends in “ría” and the beginning tells you what kind of shop it is. Librería = book store, Frutería = fruit shop, Panadería = bread shop, etc). The desserts looked amazing, but it was pretty early so I decided to go with a standard café con leche. The environment of the pastry shop was so nice and the desserts looked so amazing that I did end up going back the next day for dessert.
Since there is so much of the Guggenheim to admire from the outside, I decided to walk back a little early to wander around. It was here that I started to really appreciate the vast differences between the North and South of Spain. First of all, it was COLD. Well, comparatively much colder than Sevilla’s late October highs of mid-to-high 70s. Also, Bilbao is surrounded by mountains. No matter what direction from which I looked out of the city, I could see a mountain – which I loved. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is that Bilbao is in the País Vasco (Basque Country), which, although not a separate country, is a region of Spain with a very distinct culture and its own language, called “Basque” in English, “Vasco” in Spanish, and “Euskera” in, well, Euskera. Euskera is unlike any language I’ve ever seen or heard of. In fact, it’s unlike any language ever spoken, being one of the oldest languages in the world, even older than Spanish. Euskera is a mystery in that nobody knows it’s exact origin. I found that fascinating! While the language is pretty harsh to look at, listening to it is actually beautiful. Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics to show you what Euskera looks like written, and a beautiful song by a Basque singer that my host in Santander showed me:
Lau teilatu gainian
ilargia erdian eta zu
zure keia eskuetan
putzara batekin… putz!
Neregana etorriko da
ta berriz izango gara
edozein herriko jaixetan.
If nothing else, please listen to the song! It’s so beautiful you will absolutely not regret it. It’s amazing how the language can look so ugly and sound so beautiful.
Anyway, as I was walking along the river around the Guggenheim, I had already decided I was in love with the city. In hindsight, I think it was mostly the excitement of being in a new place, because I literally could not keep the grin off my face. Nothing does that like travel. “Objectively”, though, Bilbao is beautiful. I loved having a break from the old Sevillian buildings to get a glimpse at some skyscrapers and modern architecture. However, the center of Bilbao is far from having a cold-metal industrial look. The river that winds through the city is full of parks along the bank, all having an impressive collection of sculptures. Seriously, this city is full of sculptures! A little after ten, I decided to go into the Guggenheim, which was…. less impressive than the outside. I think that each person’s experience will vary, but since the 2nd and 3rd floor are dedicated to temporary exhibits, I really think it depends on what time you go. It also depends on how much you like modern art (read: how much you are willing to accept that a sculpture of a chair with a pile of dirty clothes on it is “art”). However, I had absolutely no regrets. The architecture and sculptures of the Guggenheim were what made it a million percent worth it.
After the Guggenheim, I walked along the river a little bit, ate the sandwich my host mom made me, then headed to my hostel to find that I was the only one who had booked a bed in my six person room! What luck, I basically paid 15 Euros for a hotel room! After resting a little, I walked back along the river to the Casco Viejo, or old town of Bilbao, which dates to the 1300s. As I mentioned before, maybe being from Sevilla has desensitized me a little bit to old buildings, but I actually liked the industrial part of Bilbao better. After exploring the Casco Viejo, I wandered into a vegan shoe store to ask for dinner recommendations. The sole owner and employee was obviously extremely bored, and told me he could show me around a little if i came back at 8:30. In the mean time, I walked to a park a little way up one of the mountains with an incredible view of Bilbao at night. At this time, a headache was starting to develop, but I tried to ignore it because I (stupidly) didn’t bring any advil.
At 8:30, I returned to the store and the owner took me on a little tour of the Casco Viejo and explained some of the monuments – churches, old fountains, street signs, etc. We ended up at a place with VEGGIE BURGERS! I missed those! However, the whole time my headache was building. As we sat down to eat, I found out this guy was pretty eccentric. Obviously I don’t consider veganism in and of itself eccentric, but this guy was also strongly against modern medicine (as I found out when I asked if he had ibuprofen), thinks 911 is a conspiracy theory, etc. I still think he was a pretty cool guy, but this whole time my headache had been getting worse and worse. Also, as I found out later, one of the symptoms of a migraine is difficulty processing speech, so as the night went on it became more and more difficult to speak and understand him, which I thought was just my Spanish getting worse but was actually a warning. So as I was feeling shittier and shittier I kept trying to be polite, which was getting more difficult as the night went on. I took the metro back to my hostel shortly after I managed to ditch the guy, and by the time I entered my room, I had a full blown migraine. Because of this, my Halloween included: Bed at 11:30, waking up every few hours in pain, the inner battle of deciding if getting up to vomit would make me feel better or worse, etc. Happy Halloween!
The next day I decided to take it a little bit easy because I was still headachy and all the pharmacies were closed due to a national holiday. I woke up a little later than I had planned, filled myself up on hostel breakfast, checked out and walked to the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. As far as the artwork goes, this was way more my style. They had an impressive collection spanning from prehistory to modern art that appealed to me way more than the modern at at the Guggenheim. Since I had explored the Casco Viejo the day before, I decided to walk through the more modern city center. My bus was at 5:00, so I had plenty of time to wander. The combination of a slight drizzle and the national holiday made it so the streets were almost deserted, which was a little bizarre. I ended up at the Alhondiga – a really cool cultural space with three floors of library books, an exhibition area, a small store, a few cafes, and a gym. They also have film showings and community events. If I lived in Bilbao, I would definitely come here a lot. Every community should have this awesome of a space. By this time, it was about time to find the bus station and hop on my bus to Santander.
Although they are in different autonomous communities, Santander and Bilbao are less than an hour and a half away from each other by bus. I arrived at Santander at 6:30. In Santander, I had my first experience with CouchSurfing! For those who are unfamiliar, it is a safe website where you can meet people from the areas you are traveling to and “surf” on their couch, i.e. Stay for free. While my budget appreciates that immensely, the point of the organization is to broaden horizons by allowing travelers to meet a wide variety of people, learn about the culture of the places they are visiting through the eyes of a local, and make a global network of friends. I met my host, Ibai, went to drop my stuff off and shower (woo!), and then went with Ibai to an Indian restaurant – I had looked up vegetarian places and found it to be pretty much the only restaurant in Santander with a vegetarian menu. Also I missed Indian food. It was Ibai’s first time eating Indian food ever! I’m glad I could offer up some new experiences too. After, Ibai showed me the downtown area of Santander by night. The interesting thing about Santander is that it doesn’t have an old town because there was a terrible fire in the 1940s that burnt down almost everything. Because of this, almost every building in Santander is new. After this, I was pretty tired, so we went back to Ibai’s piso and I went to sleep pretty early.
Saturday, I really got to experience the advantages of Couchsurfing. Ibai showed me a small park by the beach. The views were AMAZING. The beach in Santander was so different than beaches in Florida, with cliffs and wild waves. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I don’t know that I would have even known this place existed without help from a local. After, we walked to the faro (lighthouse), back through a pueblo then down by the more touristy beachy areas of Santander to the peninsula de Magdalena. It was a beautiful park/wildlife space with small “zoo”- (penguins and seals) lots of beautiful trees, and the Palacio de la Magdalena – which used to be a summer home for the royal family. I wanted to go in, but they only open it to guided tours three times a day, and the next one wasn’t for another four hours. So, we walked down along the beach. I wanted to walk through the center of Santander more, but Ibai understandably didn’t, so he went home and I stayed in the center. The whole afternoon it was pouring and basically kept raining all day so I just wandered around, spent some time in a pastelería with free WIFI, went to the cathedral and a mercado. Walking around with blisters and wet feet in a storm isn’t exactly my idea of a perfect afternoon. However, overall I had a great time in Santander, although I’m happy I didn’t spend more time there. I could see going for a week with family during beach season but otherwise one day was good enough. That night I just took it easy, talking with my host, and went to bed pretty early again to make my flight in the morning.
Overall, I had a pretty great weekend! I got to see two drastically different cities, met some interesting people, and got to experience the ever-amazing joy (although with plenty of highs and lows) of travel. Check facebook for some pictures!