Day 12, Trip to San Sebastian
Tuesday, August 9th
We got up bright and early and ate the breakfast the hotel was kind enough to prepare for us and leave at the bar in the lobby. Lots of coffee which was great. We drove in the early morning sun back to Sevilla, and returned the car to the airport with no issues. We got through security very quickly which left us a lot of time at the airport, but at least they had free wifi and eventually we were able to find kinder eggs for Genevieve so all was good. We boarded our plane to Bilbao, and on the plane with us were four very good looking young men all together and I assumed they must be models. We arrived in Bilbao to find the incomprehensible Basque language, Euskara, everywhere. Uh oh. We weren’t going to be able to fake our way through this one, apparently there are no known relatives of this language as it’s descended from Neolithic times so no “latin roots” were going to help us here. We found our way to the bus to San Sebastian, loaded up our stuff and were on our way. It started to rain en route unfortunately. Once we got to San Sebastian, we had to walk, in the rain, to the apartment rental office, which was about 15 minutes away (seems longer when you’re dragging luggage). We got the keys to the apartment, and all instructions, and then had to walk back the way we came and another 15 minutes to the apartment. This was frustrating, as all of the other rental companies met us at the apartment which obviously is tremendously more convenient. Minus two points for People Rentals. Our apartment was really well located though with a view of a nice park, which kind of made up for it, even though the architectural style of the bathrooms can only be described as “early prison” (and considering Genevieve’s room was basically a cell, fitting). We settled in, and then Charlotte and I went out to explore the Zurriola beach with careful directions from Mark, considering both of us have a propensity to always go the wrong way. The beach was really nice and a balm for all of the earlier travails. And it was there that we discovered that the good-looking men on the airplane were likely not models but the regular Spanish lifeguards and surfers. So many good looking people, young ones for Charlotte and older ones for me. Sorry Mark, not many women on this beach! We returned to the apartment and we set out for dinner. It was our first experience with Pintxos, the kind of tapas they serve in Basque country. So many things to choose from. A very nice Spanish guy helped us out (how do they go from the men in their 20s and 30s on the beach to the stout fellows you see hanging out in bars?) by telling us how to order and what was good. Very yummy and so fast and easy. And so off to bed!
Day 13, San Sebastian
Wednesday, August 10th
Today we got up bright and early and were victorious in our quest for a bakery that opened in time for us to have breakfast. Well, Charlotte and I were victorious anyway, Mark and Genevieve preferred to sleep. It was a gorgeous day, with no trace of rain, so we went on a walk to the top of the Urgull hill and see the fort and statue there. Very beautiful and we got lots of photos and enjoyed the museum up there too. But we were starting to get hungry so we descended the hill into the old town and found lots of bars serving pintxos, with more fancy displays than on our side of town. We helped ourselves to a nice quick lunch and then walked along the La Concha beach.
Next we met up with our cheese tour through Basque Cooltours at the bus station. On the tour was our family and a couple of 30 something women from Boston. We took the van through the hills to the farm, where we got to see the sheep dog in action which was very impressive. I felt bad for the sheep though, look at their posture, “don’t look at me”.
After the sheep we got to go into the cheesemaking area where the cheesemaker explained all that they do. They make the traditional cheese, Idiazabal, as well as this pre-cheese yogurt stuff that is very popular in Basque country called “junket”. They also make a cheese that can’t be labeled Idiazabal as it isn’t aged the right way (because they ran out of space to age cheese correctly) but it tastes very similar and it’s what they sell to the locals at the farmer’s market. After we got to make some junket and see how the other cheeses are made, we went into the main room for a cheese and wine buffet. Yummy! It was a great tour and I highly recommend it.
We took the van back to the train station and returned to our apartment for some rest before we went back out to dinner, and then out to the Zurriola beach for some evening fun.
Day 14, San Sebastian, Cider House
Thursday, August 11th
Today we had reservations at the Petritegi Cider House. We were supposed to meet the bus in this square with a lot of transportation options. We did finally find the bus and we were the only people on it. We arrived for our tour and there was nobody in the whole place. Our guide arrived and explained how cider is made and then we got to go into the cider barrel area and see how you open up the barrel and get your cider. Then we got to have a chorizo sausage cooked in cider and a cup of cider, very good. They tried to talk us into staying for lunch but it would have been so much of a big deal and very heavy on the meat so we declined. I can see how this would be a very fun thing to do if you had a big group or it was cider season. Unlimited cider and more food than you could possibly eat combined with rowdy people would make for a memorable time! We took a cab back to the city and headed to La Concha beach for some beach time. We rented a sunshade spot and then went out swimming to the platform. It was a lot of fun but unlike the Spanish people we are very fair and so had to hide from the sun quite a bit. But we are glad we had our European beach experience.
We headed back to the apartment, past all the things they were setting up for La Semana Grande and it finally dawned on me that the festival started this Saturday. And that we were going to still be in San Sebastian. And that maybe renting a car and driving to the towns around San Sebastian was a really really bad idea as we’d never be able to find parking upon our return. So after a wee bit of panic we cancelled that car rental, and because the Budget car rental place wouldn’t be open on Monday when we needed the car to get to Barcelona, rented a new car from Sixt after we determined there were no train tickets to be had. This was one time I really wished I hadn’t been so busy right before the trip and I could have done a wee bit more research. With that all sorted, we went out for a light dinner in the area near our apartment.
Day 15, San Sebastian Food Tour
Friday, August 12th
Today we had a scheduled pintxos food tour by San Sebastian Food that started at 12:30. We first started out by finally getting to go to the shoe store nearby that Mark had been eyeing for days — it was only open from 10 – 12:30 and 3:30 to 5:30. Once we were there we saw how they stayed in business with those limited hours – they were packed! Mark and I each got a pair of shoes and then we walked around looking for more shopping but didn’t really find anything compelling. We returned to the apartment to get Genevieve who was ready to go but hadn’t eaten breakfast. Yipes! To say she was in a bad mood is an understatement. We went to join our tour, us and an older couple from Australia. Our first stop was our tour guide’s favorite, Borda Berri, and wow, not kidding, it was amazing. Of all the great restaurants and food we tried on our trip, this one stands out. We started out with the gazpacho, then moved to the risotto, then onto what would have been octopus but because we don’t eat that we got scallops I think? Anyway, the first two specialties were truly amazing. We went to three more bars and all were really good. I highly recommend this tour, he explained the protocol (napkins on the floor not on the tables) as well as what to eat and a bit of the basque culture. We were so full at the end that it was all we could do to roll back to our apartment. In the park outside they’d set up with kid things and this little circus where we got to see the act again and again from our apartment windows on the hour. Fortunately it was quite cute! The guy was throwing up this thing and catching it and then on the third time it would hit him on the head and knock him out and his assistant would freak out. The kids watching loved it.
After a few hours Charlotte and I got restless so we went out to enjoy the sunset on Zurriola beach.
Day 16, St. Jean de Luz
Saturday, August 13th
We decided to head into French Basque country to see if it was any different than Spanish Basque. We headed to the train station but found out it was the wrong train station so we went to the right one and got our tickets to the french border, where we changed trains to one that we had no ticket for but the train station director said just go, as we’d miss the train entirely if we waited in line to buy the ticket. The conductor never came so we never paid, whoops. Once we got to St. Jean de Luz, we immediately bought our return tickets so the same problem wouldn’t happen again. We walked to the town center and it was cute and definitely different than San Sebastian. For one thing everything was in French and Basque so we really couldn’t understand a thing. And for another the architecture was almost Germanic. After a lunch of crepes (we were in France after all) we walked to the end of the town for a view, which was nice. Then we walked back and went to the main plaza and into the church there which was gearing up for a wedding. But we got in before the wedding started and are glad we did. It almost looked like a giant ship inside, very fascinating. Then we hung out in the square and had an apertif while we waited until it was time to catch our train back.
Once back in San Sebastian we stumbled right into a parade of the “giants and the big heads” for the start of la Semana Grande. We followed it, enjoying the crowds and the music and occasionally getting whacked by the pig bladders the big heads carried, until they got to City Hall and did the cannon thing to start the festival. Charlotte had a bit of a freakout because it was so so crowded but we made it out. After the beginning ceremony was done we headed to Borda Berri which was just opening up. As we were waiting we saw our Australian friends from the food tour. They had wanted to go back too but couldn’t wait until 7:00. As we were in the restaurant eating we saw a rio-style dance group. Then we returned to the apartment, and Mark and Charlotte were too tired to go out but Genevieve and I headed out to see the first fireworks competition from France. These fireworks were truly outstanding, even though I stupidly picked a spot where the view was obstructed by a building. Still, a fun experience.
Day 17, Bilbao and the Gugenheim
Sunday, August 14th
After checking with the Sixt car rental office to make sure our car would really and truly be ready the next day, we left on the bus for Bilbao to see the Gugenheim. Once at the bus station we took the tram to the Gugenheim stop, and then went to the museum. We waited in the line to get in while the girls enjoyed the free wifi. Once we got close we asked the attendant if the tickets we had from Adobe would work and sure enough, we got to go right in and wouldn’t have had to wait in any lines at all. Oh well. We enjoyed the remarkable lobby and went to enjoy the exhibits. The “Matter of Time” was pretty interesting (artist from SF inspired by shipyards) and once we got to the temporary exhibits we were moved? disturbed? by Louise Bourgeoisie’s exhibit. But mostly we felt like we really don’t get modern art! The city center of Bilbao was deader than dead on a Sunday but we did find an open Mexican restaurant and we had a nice lunch, then we headed back to the bus station through a nice park. In general, though, Bilbao seems like the San Jose of Spain. A nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there.
Once back, we headed to the apartment where Mark and Genevieve were content to stay but Charlotte and I got restless so we went out to the beach for a final sunset there, then to a pintxos bar for a final San Sebastian meal. We got Genevieve and headed back to the Old Town on the other side of the building that blocked our view the night before, only to have our view blocked this time by a street sign! At least that was easy to move around in order to see better. And then back to the apartment and to bed.