San Sebastian – Donostia – July 17 and 18

We left Paris on the morning of July 17 and took the TGV down to Bordeaux where we picked up our car — a very nice Puegot with automatic transmission. We drove about three hours south to San Sebastian in Spain.

Our first view of San Sebastian – called Donostia by the Basques – was a nondescript suburb miles away from the famous sweep of beach. I had not yet got my navigation chops together and had failed to record good directions to our hotel. As a result, we left the freeway at the wrong exit and ended up in a welter of streets all with names consisting of 20 letters, most of which were X’s and Z’s. The Euskara language is really strange looking and for us pretty much unpronounceable. We sure didn’t feel we were in Spain! Here are just a few words in Euskara: Abuztuan asteartetik igandera egongo  I have no idea what they mean – I’m just including them to give an idea of what the language looks like. Yikes!

Fortunately, the cell phone I bought in Amsterdam still worked and so I called the hotel and was given the directions I should have figured out in the first place. In no time, we found ourselves heading down towards the beach and then veering left to climb Mount Urguell, one of the two mountains that flank San Sebastian. Our hotel was at the top with an absolutely stunning vista of the Atlantic Ocean and San Sebastian.

View of San Sebastian from our Hotel Room

Thanks to booking.com, our room was very reasonably priced despite being 4-star with a killer view. I have to say that booking.com has been a great companion on this trip. I found their rates are the most reasonable and the site is really easy to use and reliable.

We were pretty tired after our drive from Bordeaux where we picked up the car so we elected to stay in for the evening. The hotel – a Mercure – is built right next to a rather odd amusement park at the top of Mount Urguell. Every so often, a little roller coaster would whip around a fake castle and we’d hear distant screams. A touch surreal to say the least. We had a walk around the hotel to view some of the rides which by 7 pm were closing up. Here we are at the edge of the cliff below the hotel.

Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in San Sebastian, Spain

We ate an over-priced and not that great meal at the restaurant but at least the view was amazing. We should know better than to eat in fancy hotel restaurants. The food is almost always quite poor. But the wine was good. Here’s me relaxing in front of the sunset after dinner.

Enjoying the sunset over San Sebastian

The next morning I woke just before dawn and spent a good twenty minutes out on the balcony snapping shots of the rising sun. I must have taken about 30 shots as the light just kept getting more and more dramatic. Here are just three.

After a quick coffee in the bar (we passed on the overpriced breakfast buffet!), we hopped in the car and drove down the hill to San Sebastian. Traffic was remarkably sedate and we easily found the commercial center and a nice big parking lot. San Sebastian consists of three main areas – the long sweep of beach that was full of frolicking holiday makers, the modern town built on a very easy to navigate grid system, and the old town full of narrow streets and intriguing smells. We did a bit of grocery shopping and had lunch before heading back up the hill for a relaxing afternoon by the pool. Note the tower in the shot below. That’s where the amusement park is. Odd!

We ventured out again around eight for a dinner of pinchos — a San Sebastian must according to various guidebooks and friends. A pincho is a bite-sized tapa or snack. The many little bars in the old town display banks of cold pinchos that you can load on to a plate. You can also order hot pinchos from chalkboards listing the evening specials. The idea is to hop from bar to bar sampling two or three pinchos at each place along with a glass of wine. The prices are amazingly reasonable. At each of the three places we went to we spent only about 10 euros and by the end of the evening were stuffed. It was one of the best eating bargains I’ve ever experienced anywhere. Even more wonderful was the incredible flavors of the various pinchos. Every single one we had was extremely tasty – I can’t remember all the varieties I sampled but you can see in the picture below that we were enjoying ourselves!

Gregg enjoys a pincho in San Sebastian
In one of the bars – not feeling any pain
Evening in San Sebastian

We were definitely impressed with San Sebastian and will return one day for more evenings of bar hopping and pincho eating. We actually found the whole process much more interesting then sitting in one restaurant all evening. It was great fun to squeeze into one of the bars, load a few pinchos onto a plate, grab a glass of local wine, eat standing up amid the crowds, and then saunter off to another place. Everyone seemed in great good humor – lots of families and little kids, even at 11 at night. The San Sebastian people know how to live!

Here’s a good shot of Gregg along the breakwater near the old town of San Sebastian. I rarely get him actually smiling for the camera!

We wound our way back up the hill for a restful night’s sleep in readiness for our next adventure.

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Categories: Spain, Travel

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