March 31, April 1
Our next destination was San Sebastian in Spain. We knew we were crossing the border at some point and entering Spain. There were no border checking. We realized that we entered Spain only when the road signs started in Spanish. Both Spain and France use Euros and people can freely move from one country to the other without any restrictions. The distance from Lourdes to San Sebastian is only about 200 km. We decided to start late and visit the fishing town called Hondarribia. This town is well known for its buildings and the beach. It is only 23km from San Sebastian.
We arrived in Hondarribia around lunch time and found an empty parking slot on the road near the beach. The parking ticket machine was in Spanish only and we had difficulty in getting a ticket. A Spanish couple who were behind us to get a ticket for their car helped us to press the correct buttons and get a ticket. Our problem was that at one point the machine is asking us to key in the registration number of the car. We did not understand what the machine was asking us to do and kept on pressing various buttons. The Spanish couple helped us to key in the right information though they did not speak English.
There was no proper beach, just a concrete pavement with many boats anchored in the water. We walked along the pavement and then moved away from the sea to see the buildings. The houses and the apartments had their own architectural designs. The apartments were not high rise modern apartments you find in many parts of the world. The bright coloured small apartment blocks had only two or three floors. They had their unique appearance and merged with the streetscape. Passages between the rows of apartments have been paved with stone bricks.
When you are walking along the passages, suddenly you find a restaurant with outdoor tables among the group of apartments. These apartments and houses are not cheap. I had a peek at one of the real Estate Agents window and found the houses in this village to be very expensive.
We walked back to the beach and had lunch in a small restaurant. I tried one of their seafood plates and found the food to be delicious. I later found that most Spanish restaurants serve fish like Hake, Salmon and Cod.
We arrived in San Sebastian in the late afternoon. Our hotel NH Collection San Sebastian is one of the best hotels in the area. It is a real five star hotel unlike the previous hotels. In Bourges and Bordeaux we stayed in Novotel hotels. They used to be very good hotels. They are not in the same class as NH hotels. I was disappointed with their declining standard. In both Novotel hotels, we were comfortable and had good service, but I found the furniture and carpets both outdated and needed updating.
Our hotel was only a five minute walk to the world famous La Concha beach. We were in no hurry to explore the city. We decided to relax in the hotel room and then go out for dinner to the city centre. In Spain, people take a siesta after lunch.
A siesta (Spanish pronunciation: ˈsjesta ) is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. Such a period of sleep is a common tradition in some countries, particularly those where the weather is warm.
The siesta is historically common throughout the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. It is the traditional daytime sleep of Spain and, through Spanish influence, many Hispanic American countries and the Philippines. Siesta is also common in Southern Italy , where museums, churches and shops close during midday so that proprietors can go home for a long lunch and perhaps a snooze during the day’s hottest hour.
Spanish people, after their siesta, work till late and then start going out for dinner around 9:00PM. We did not want to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. Being in Spain for the first time, we wanted to taste authentic Spanish food. Out of the four of us, only Sue has been to Spain with her husband about twelve years ago. We asked the hotel reception and their advice was to take a taxi and go to the city centre which is full of well known Spanish restaurants. Taxis in San Sebastian are not expensive. Four of us could go in one taxi and it was better than driving to the city and looking for parking space. We went to the city centre in a taxi and walked around to become familiar with the restaurants in the area. There were all types of restaurants including Italian, Japanese and Mediterranean ones. We selected a Spanish restaurant that serves Pintxos.
A pincho or pintxo is a small snack, typically eaten in bars, traditional in northern Spain and especially popular in the Basque country. They are usually eaten in bars or taverns as a small snack while hanging out with friends or relatives; thus, they have a strong socializing component, and in the Basque country they are usually regarded as a cornerstone of local culture and society. They are related to tapas, the main difference being that pinxtos are usually with a skewer or toothpick, often to a piece of bread. They are served in individual portions and always ordered and paid for independently from the drinks. They're called pintxos or pinchos because many of them have a pincho typically a toothpick or a skewer.
The tradition is to select your pintxos and add to your plate from the vast selection laid out on the table, and then pay for them and your drink. Some people sit on bar stools and have them with their drinks. Some take their plates to sit at a table. Four of us managed to find a good table inside the restaurant. We ate pintxos for dinner. Around 9:30, the restaurant was packed and we saw people having their food and drinks standing outside the restaurant.
After dinner, we spent some time going round and buying some sweet stuff from another shop and finally came back to the hotel in a taxi.
We had two days in San Sebastian. On the second day, we got up early and drove to Bilbao which is about one hundred kilometres from San Sebastian. Bilbao is another big city in Spain and has become famous for its Guggenheim museum. We wanted to visit this place and come back to see the attractions in San Sebastian. Guggenheim museum was designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was hailed as a master piece and opened to the public on October 21, 1959, six months after his own death, and was immediately recognized as an architectural landmark. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is arguably the most important building of Wright's late career. A monument to modernism, the unique architecture of the space, this museum continues to attract visitors from all parts of the world and provides a unique forum for the presentation of contemporary art.
There was an exhibition of modern art going on at the time of our visit. We bought tickets and went in. We were not allowed take any photographs inside the museum. The art pieces had very little connection to real world. They were creations of famous modern artists who used unusual methods to create them. Most paintings were created by splashing paint over the canvass arbitrarily.
We did not take time to look at other attractions in Bilbao and drove back to our hotel in San Sebastian after lunch. After a short rest, we decided to walk up to the La Concha beach and then walk along the beach to reach the same area where we found the restaurants. Part of the sandy beach was covered with water due to high tide.
We walked along the paved path quite a distance and then cut across to visit the Cathedral in San Sebastian which is locally known as Plaza del Buen Pastor. It was a fairly long walk.
On the La Concha beach we saw the well known restaurant La Perla. which has been named a Michelin star restaurant in 2007. We walked back to this restaurant and dinner there. We walked back to the hotel fully exhausted to fall into bed.