Friday, April 9, 2010

Semana Santa - San Sebastian (Day 1 and 2)

Since my time in Spain is quickly winding down, I decided to take advantage of our 10-day Easter vacation to travel and see some parts of Spain that I had not previously seen. So, on Friday, March 26th at 6:00 am I caught a bus from Ubrique to Sevilla, flew from Sevilla to Bilbao (Pais Vasco), and then caught another bus to the beautiful city of San Sebastian (Pais Vasco). I arrived in San Sebastian around 16:30, checked into and dropped off my suitcase at my hostal (which left a lot to be desired - it was absolutely filthy and run by a very unusual/crazy lady), and took off exploring.

My first stop was the tourist office, which was conveniently located 5 minutes from my hostel. I stopped in, asked a few questions, then picked up a map and a "walking tour" guide, and began exploring Old town and Mount Urgull. I passed by "La Bretxa" Market, appropriately named (The Breach) for being the spot where Wellington's English troops penetrated the city during the siege of 1813. From there, I wandered along the narrow enchanted streets, passing tons of local bars, shops, and bakeries until I came to Constitution Sqaure in the heart of Old Town. It is a beautiful square surrounded on all four sides by residential buildings with numbers painted onto every balcony (as a reminder that it was once a bullring). After taking a few pictures, I walked down one of the most famous streets in San Sebastian - Calle 31 de Agosto - the only street in the city that remained standing after it was burnt down in 1813. At the end of Calle 31 de Agosto there is a lovely little plaza and the San Vicente Church (built at the beginning of the 16th century). After admiring the beautiful and oldest church in San Sebastian, I continued on my "tour" and ended up at the Basilica of Santa Maria. Both churches were absolutely stunning, and in the basilica, I had the fortune of entering while the orchestra and choir were rehearsing for Semana Santa services. Quite inspiring.

I left the basillica and meandered to the end of town where there is a steep staircase that leads to the Paseo de los Curas (The Priests' Promenade), where in past centuries the priests of San Sebastian went for a stroll. The route takes you up on a hill (Mount Urgull) that offers a beautiful view of all of San Sebastian. At the top of Mount Urgull is La Mota Castle, a castle dating back to the 12th century. Behind the castle, stands the Sacred Heart monument, a tall statue of Christ with a small chapel overlooking the bay. After spending a couple hours exploring Mount Urgull, I headed back to Old Town.

The narrow streets of Old Town San Sebastian had become full of life. It was about 19:30, or "snack time" for the Spanish. So, I decided to stop in a typical bar and try some "pintxos" (small samples of food, like tapas, typical of Pais Vasco). On my way home, I passed a bakery, and decided to go in and check it out. From living in Granada and Ubrique, I know that each town/region of Spain has typical pastries/sweets, especially around Easter. In Ubrique, we have the "ganote", so I decided to ask what a typical pastry from San Sebastian was, and of course, decided to try it. I got a "pastel de arroz," which is like a little pie (1 inch in diameter) filled with a special cream and sometimes topped with cinnamon, and it was probably the worst thing I could have done. I fell in love with it - and probably bought two "pastel de arroz" a day! :) But hey, I was on vacation!

After my scrumptious dessert, I went back to the hostel, and met my roommates. I was in a room with two Australians who were travelling around Europe for 6 months, and two young American girls who were studying abroad in France. We were all pretty tired from our travels, so we made it an early night.

On Saturday morning, I woke up, grabbed a bit of cereal for breakfast, and went out to explore the rest of San Sebastian. I walked the other two suggested "walking-tour" routes. First I walked through what is known as the romantique area that separates the old town from the new pedestrian district. I passed by the famous Bandstand, Town Hall, the gardens of Alderdi Eder, Gipuzkoa Square, the famous Victoria Eguenia Theater and the huge 5-star Mari Cristina Hotel which has housed celebrities ranging from Mata Hari to John Malkovich... As I continued my tour, I crossed the Santa Catalina Bridge (the oldest bridge in the city). I eventually came to the beautiful neo-gothic style Cathedral of El Buen Pastor. From there, I headed back towards Old Town, and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon walking along the promenade overlooking the famous La Concha beach.

San Sebastian is a beautiful city that, like most of Spain, succeeds in mixing history with modernity. Aside from the rotten hostel, I couldn't have asked for a lovelier two days in San Sebastian! Great sights, pretty good weather, and pleasant people!

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