Wednesday, September 28, 2011

12:30 am train to San Sebastián.

 I first heard about the city of San Sebastián two weeks ago, when some girls in the group mentioned they were planning a trip there. I decided to buy a bus ticket and book a hostel based solely on the fact I knew there's a huge beach there and that the city shares a name with my favorite miniature horse:

(if you don't watch Parks and Rec, I don't know why we are friends. So you should probably start watching it ASAP.)

Kat, Danielle L, and I bought tickets to a 12:30 am night bus, so we wouldn't have to miss class on Thursday. It sounded like a good idea at the time--we can sleep on the bus! we'll get 6 hrs of sleep! we can watch the sun rise over the ocean when we get there!--but it turned out to be pretty freaking brutal, mostly thanks to a group of horribly annoying Americans sitting behind us (stupid Americans!)

Waiting for the metro to take us to the train station. The metro car was filled with girls ready to go out for the nigt; I was wearing yoga pants, sneakers, and glasses
Danielle & Kat after we arrived in 6:30 am
We somehow managed to find the beach without a hitch, but once we got there, my Girl Scouts orienteering skills kicked in and I realized the beach faces north, so we wouldn't be able to watch the sunrise. But the beach was still incredibly beautiful--we didn't realize it at the time, but it was really something special to be there when there was not a single soul in sight.

La Playa Concha
It slowly got brighter...
The harbor and Monte Urgull

At around 8 am, when businesses started to open and the sun was almost all the way up, we went in search of our hostel and some croissants. There was a huge crowd of backpackers outside our hostel (and the website through which we booked our room said check-in wasn't until 10), we wandered around La Parte Vieja (old town) and then took a nap in a plaza before trying our luck at the hostel a little after 9. Once we lugged our bags up an unlit staircase, we found ourselves in a dingy but funky hostel, with walls painted bright purple and teal. Things were looking good until the guy at reception told us our room wouldn't be ready until 1 pm. Since at this point all we wanted to do was take a nap, this was pretty devastating news, but he let us store our bags and use the bathrooms to brush our teeth and change. Then it was back out into the streets to find coffee and explore a bit.

So many scooters here. Dad, you would fit right in!
Buildings along the harbor
Cute old ladies at the open-air market
We decided to walk towards the breakwater and found the location of the film festival, which I'd been seeing on TV every night, so it was cool to see it in person.

"Donostia" is the basque name for the city
Cheesin at the breakwater
Overly excited about the red carpet
Life goal: own an apartment in one of those buildings
Freshly raked beach!
The breakwater. The rocks were covered in graffiti against the ETA, the basque terrorist group
We met a girl from Seattle and she took our picture!
Totally backlit but I promise that's me!
Goin' crazy.
Oh hi, Atlantic Ocean.
I'm a giant cheeseball.
On our search for coffee, we found the hotel where all the guests of the film festival were staying. I was hoping for a sighting of Glenn Close or Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, but instead all we saw was some middle-aged man in whom the paparazzi seemed only mildly interested.

I just want that car.
Puss in Boots!
Manicure for the weekend...I have a problem, guys
We found another red carpet, this time one we could walk on
Back at the outdoor market
Finalllllly found breakfast!
Look how freaking cute this jam jar is!
With caffeine in our veins, we had the energy to walk the Paseo Nuevo, a path along the water. The waves were CRAZY and kept threatening to carry us away...or at least ruin our cameras. My hair, which has been so sad in the incredibly dry, land-locked Madrid, was super excited to be exposed to wet ocean air again and got really curly. I didn't complain.

Danielle & me
Danielle, me, & Kat...taken by a cute family from Palo Alto!
So nautical right now

Me & Kat
Thankfully, 1 pm rolled around before we knew it, and we went back to the hostel...only to be informed we'd be staying in a "different building." We were pretty mad at first, but it turned out to be okay, since the different hostel was only a block and a half away.

Ikea bunk beds, of course.
Our room had windows, but one faced another room and was obviously covered with a curtain, and the other faced out to the staircase. As a result, the room was EXTREMELY stuffy...and as soon as we opened our bags and started hurling clothes everywhere, it was also extremely cramped. We thought it would just be the three of us in a four-bed room, but when we returned later in the afternoon, we discovered we had a roommate: a really nice Australian guy named Jay, who was there to surf.

After breakfast that morning we had gone to the grocery store and picked up some baguettes, a wedge of brie, a pack of jamón serrano, and a carton of grapes, so after a quick nap we snagged a knife from the hostel kitchen and headed to the beach.


Feelin' oh so European.
So. Good. SO GOOOOOOOOD. I think we spent 6 eur total for all this!
La Playa Concha
My first time swimming in the Atlantic!
The water wasn't tropical-feeling, but definitely warmer than the Pacific. There were big waves that day, which had chopped up the seaweed into itty bitty pieces, which not only felt gross to wade through but also fused itself to every strand of my hair. I think I had half a Spanish kelp forest in my hair. I had to shampoo four times when I got back to the hostel to get it all out, and even then, I kept finding tiny pieces.

We took another nap after getting back to the hostel and showering and then met up with the five other girls from the group who were staying at various other hostels. Our initial plan was to get pinxtos (the basque word for tapas), but I couldn't find any that weren't slathered in anchovies, so Kat and I found a restaurant with giant plates of fried eggs, red peppers, and french fries. It was kind of weird to have what I consider breakfast food with a bottle of white wine, but pretty much everything about mealtime in Spain is weird.

Everything here is in Castellano and Basque

After dinner we got ice cream, because ice cream here is like 10000x better than American ice cream, and they have way cooler flavors. I got Kinder Bueno (an amaaazing European candy bar) and mint flavors...which was almost as good as the cinnamon/chocolate-orange combo I got the next night. MMMMMM.

I wish I had pictures of it, but while the girls and I were figuring out what we wanted to do for the night, we suddenly heard the opening chords of blink-182's "All The Small Things." It seemed to be coming from one of the main plazas so we literally sprinted there to discover a cover band playing outside of a restaurant. Even though the singer sang with such a heavy Spanish accent it was almost impossible to tell what he was saying, it was comforting to dance like crazy to some good 'ol American rock favorites--Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Strokes, etc. There is TONS of American/British music here--almost every bar, store, and restaurant you go into, actually--but it's mostly just pop (I hear "Rolling in the Deep" at least three times a day), so this was a welcome departure from the norm.

I ended up calling it a night early because I was still exhausted from the night before, and ended up getting 9 hours of sleep! It was a blessed miracle. I woke up to a foggy morning (also a welcome departure from the norm, as it's been extremely sunny and hot every single day in Madrid) and headed to the hostel kitchen to get some breakfast. A sign next to the breakfast table promised Nutella, but there was none, which was quite devastating. They did, however, have peach jam, which is my new obsession, so all wasn't quite lost.

After breakfast, it was time for more adventuring! Kat, Danielle, and I decided to climb Monte Urgull, which has a giant statue of Jesus on top of it, which reminded me of the famous statue in Rio de Janiero.

We walked by this cafe on the way to the mountain...what a weird place for a wedding day breakfast

The foggy harbor and Monte Igueldo in the distance

Me & Danielle
Kat & me

Halfway up the mountain, we came across an English cemetery. Since San Sebastián was an important naval port, it was the site of a lot of battles. During the Peninsular War of 1813, England sent troops to help aid their southern neighbors. To honor those who lost their lives, Spain constructed this cemetery on the beautifully mossy ocean-facing side of Monte Urgull.

Tomb of the unknown soldier--I love how the divots in the rock look like footprints
There was a cool tunnel
[photo cred: Kat]
Cheeseball pt 20398
Finally made it to the top!
There is SO much graffiti in Spain
La Corazón de Jesus
Not pictured: the cell tower on his back. Wish I was kidding...

Solo shots are so awkward.

After climbing back down the mountain, Kat and I went out for some retail therapy (it was a long hike, okay?!) and another bread-and-brie lunch. Then it was time for a quick nap before heading across the city to watch the sunset from the top of Monte Igueldo.

I had missed being near a beach SO MUCH

Rad tunnel
The funicular station
It's a long and steep hike to the top of the mountain, so we elected to take the funicular. I had absolutely no idea what a funicular was, but apparently it's kind of a train that goes up and down steep hills. The more you know...

Me & Danielle in the funicular
Goin' uppp!
The funicular was not quite as fun as my favorite non-conventional form of transportation, the Getty tram, but the view from its destination was arguably better.


Just. Look. At. That. Freakin. Sunset.
Danielle, Danielle, me, and Aubrey

Danielle, Aubrey, me, Kat, and Stacy being pensive
The top of the mountain was a kind of run-down but cute amusement park...just to milk the most money as possible out of tourists. We decided to go on la montaña suiza (literally, "the swiss mountain"--aka, a roller coaster). It cost a whopping 2 euros and was on a crumbling stone track. The cars had no seatbelts, lap belts, or even doors, so we thought it would just be a slow little jaunt around the mountain. But no--that thing had HILLS. And DROPS. I recorded a video for part of it so I might post it later but my screams would probably rupture your eardrums.

Crazy excited...or maybe just crazy
Best damn view I've ever had from a rollercoaster
After taking the funicular back down the mountain, we stopped to sit on the beach for a bit, because I firmly stand by the belief that there are few things prettier than a beach at night.

After the beach, we went to find dinner and got super excited when we came across a "Mexican" place.  Unfortunately, the food was unbelievably disgusting. The restaurant was really dark, which I am thankful for, because I'm pretty sure my nachos had insects in them. I don't wanna talk about it anymore...

On Sunday we woke up early to pack, eat breakfast, and get out of the hostel and onto THE BEACH! Actually, only Kat and I went to the beach, because the rest of the girls were loco and decided to go eat pasta. As much as I love pasta...beaches are better.

I had to be careful taking pictures because there were topless old ladies everywhere

Kat reading some really obscure Spanish novel
I'm happiest when my feet are sandy

One thing I really love about Spain is how active the senior citizens are. There was one group of old ladies near Kat and I who all had on adorable bathing suits and stylish sunglasses, lounging in the sun while wearing red lipstick and gold bracelets. Later, they all got in the water and played catch with a Toy Story ball. Definitely not something you'd see in the US. People just enjoy life more and for longer here.

Our bus was at 4 and we were running a tiny bit late, but not so late that we didn't have time to eat...HAMBURGERS. Yeaahhh, that's right. We found a café with American license plates and Norman Rockwell posters on the wall and I ordered myself a damn hamburger, ketchup, pickles, white-bread-bun and all. I don't even eat hamburgers in the US but a taste of something so quintessentially US of A was just what I needed before a seven hour bus ride back to Madrid.

It was a beautiful, relaxing weekend, and San Sebastián is maybe the most gorgeous place I've been in my life. I'm so happy I decided to listen to my host mom when she said, "No te pierdas San Sebastián--sería una pena" (Don't miss S.S.--it would be a shame if you did!" This place wasn't on my travel itinerary when I got to Spain--I mean, I didn't even know it existed. I guess a spur-of-the-moment bus ticket purchase to a place you know nothing about can pay off big time. So far, this whole "more adventurous" thing is treating me pretty damn well :)

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