Pais Vasco II: beach fun

Every time I’ve gone to the beach recently, I’ve had a blast. An easy but awesomely good time. San Sebastian was no exception. It also marks my introduction to Rugby and La Copa del Mundo 2007!

I stay at a tiny hostel which was basically a relocated Irish dude named David’s home. It is legit and set up well, it’s just his house and he runs it. He moved to SS five years ago.

There were 4 twin beds in the room (yay – not a bunk bed in sight!) I hung with my 3 roommates and random others the next 2 days. In the bed on the left….sweet Katie who is from the US, a recent grad living and working in London, trying to figure out her next move as she has a soon-to-expire student visa. To the right…2 guys from Denmark – old friends on vacation – Anders & Chris who were there to party. Both spoke perfect English plus Chris speaks Porteguese. I love how so many Europeans are multi-lingual.

I arrived about 7pm and plans were being laid to watch the New Zealand-France rugby quarter-final match at an Irish pub down the road. Even David’s 80 year old aunt was excited! Of course I joined right in and went on to learn quite a bit about rugby. Later that night we partied on the beach a bit – they have an elevated boardwalk that runs the length of the beach. Underneath the boardwalk they have clubs that open all night and the partiers spill out on the beach. I’m not into the clubs so I just enjoyed hanging on the beach. I think there were some late-night swimmers but I found the water too chilly for anything but my feet!

SS is a pretty 2 kilometer shell-shaped beach with 2 small “mountains” on each side of the harbor exit. The next morning, Katie and I went for a hike up the one on the right. We had a really rough start after running into a gravely injured kitten. It was traumatic and all I’ll say is that a nice British gentleman carried that kitten on the hill with his bare hands, following a local I’d flagged down and explained we needed a vet who would work on a Sunday.

After that incident had passed, we walked to the top to have a photo op and seek out some reputedly awesome homemade sangria. We found it and had a great afternoon talking and drinking sangria in the sun. We both got a little sunburned! Photos to come. By the way, they were playing Tom Waits 😉

That night, we headed to watch the Argentina-Scotland(?) match. I was the only person pulling for Argentina – I always route for the team from the Americas. We watched it standing in small bar with locals munching tapas. It was seriously perfect.

The tapas in SS are pretty cool. They are called pinchos(sp?) and look like fancy crostini or sushi. The displays are so pretty and fun to look at for a food lover like me 😉 Bars compete for your attention by making awesome dispalys.

Huh, I just noticed that I abbreviated San Seb as SS. And SS are the first letters in Sparkle Search. I’ve been thinking it’s pretty safe to say I have my sparkle back – therefore I shortened the name of my blog to Operation SS. I’m sure the SS will eventually mean something else too, but that is to figure out later! I digress…

I ate A LOT of tapas in SS. Another great thing about them is they are cheap! That night we had probably 5 small beers or glasses of wine each, plus tapas until we were full for 15€ a person. Hello Paris??? Your basic glass of wine in Spain was so cheap and I totally didn’t appreciate it at the time. I mean, I didn’t really realize how affordable it is to eat and drink well there.

There’s not much more to write on SS, although I feel like I had a grand adventure…apparently doing nothing! Seriously, with nothing really to do or see, just eating and drinking and being at the beach always makes the mind relax in a certain way…few choices, less stress. It was a great respite before moving on to Paris, which is what I did the next day.

Pais Vasco I: Bilbao for the afternoon

I originally planned to meet Paige in Paris via Barcelona. But along the way, lots of people told me I should go to San Sebastian. So I did. And I’m glad.

The cheapest way to get there from Barcelona was taking a flight into Bilbao. So I decided to see the Guggenheim for the day then take a one hour bus ride on to San Sebastian. Bilbao is experiencing a cultural transformation. Former industrial areas seem to now be stylish tourist spots and they played opera in the tram! I’m not saying there is a lot to see in the town but I think its worth a stop on a longer trip. It was also the first time on my trip I’d seen green, misty mountains in the distance – for me that’s the landscape that makes my heart feel at home.

The Guggenheim was re-doing the exhibits, so all but the first floor was closed, which was actually fine with me. I got to see a couple of big exhibits and then admire the building (the real draw) up close.

I had extra time so I went to the Basque museum. Bilbao is the capital of the region known as Basque Country, which straddles both sides of the France-Spain border. They have their own language and every sign was in both Spanish and Basque (Etrusxxx…forget name…looks nothing like any other language – see it above the Spanish in the picture) plus often French and English. The Basque people want an autonomous state, and a portion of the population supports ETA, who I believe have now broken their cease-fire. I was looking for more information on the Basque viewpoint and was surprised to find the museum was exclusively about the preserving the lifestyle of the Basque peoples. It was very telling to see how extensively they documented the lifestyle…it was basically a natural/living history museum. The people were either fishermen or shepards, depending on their personal geography. I learned quite a bit about the region so it was worthwhile.

I caught the tram back to the bus station, took my bags out of storage and hopped on the bus for a lively ride to San Sebastian.