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Monday, 28 May 2012

San Sebastian!!!

Hello from San Sebastian!

We are currently in our new hostel relaxing and making the most of our free wifi after a hectic day. We just bought two Twix bars and some lemon biscuits to nibble on - the lemon in the biscuits clearly counts for one of our five a day so we've got a good diet going. Thankfully, everything has turned out pretty much how we wanted it to today, so that's very good, and we really feel that we are achieving exactly what we wanted to achieve with this trip so far. We have experienced so much already!

This place is AMAZING!! We're both so glad that we decided to come here. Strangely, we also found that it's twinned with Plymouth... although I don't remember seeing a fucking hench sandy beach or a picturesque island in the middle of Plymouth.

I know I've said it before, but you can never be sure what to expect here, and today has certainly proven that. Here is the story...


So we started the day in Madrid (that seems like an eternity ago now) by waking up at 6am so that we could get our 8am train to San Sebastian. In the end I got a grand total of 2 hours sleep, which isn't exactly the ideal preparation for travelling over 220 miles and then walking around for hours on end, but never mind. We managed to leave the hostel promptly and got to Chamartin station at about 7.20am. Sam got a coffee and a churro (fatty) while we waited by the boards for our platform number to show up for our train (we didn't know IT beforehand), and when it did, we both bought some croissants and headed to the platform. Our bags and stuff got x-rayed, and our tickets were checked on the platform rather than on the train, but this generally ran smoothly and we found our seats on the train with ease.

This is the outside and inside of the train:

The train left at 8am on the dot, and within about 10 minutes of the journey Sam was asleep (despite having about 6 hours more sleep than me, the lazy bastard). As I mentioned on the last post, I fail at sleeping on public transport, so I couldn't catch up on my accumulated sleep deficit of 18 hours or something.

However, I'm glad I couldn't get to sleep. Because the train journey was FUCKING INCREDIBLE.

We wanted to see as much of Spain as we could with the little time that we had, so what could be more efficient at doing this than a train journey? How could I go to sleep when this was one of the main opportunities to see what Spain is like?

After leaving Madrid, we entered the countryside and saw small towns and villages clustered on hillsides. One thing I noticed was that there didn't seem to be many houses out their own like in England - everything seemed confined within the edge of the settlements. We then reached the mountains that we saw when we flew into Madrid on Thursday - just to the north of Madrid - and these looked pretty dramatic from the train. And after we came out the other side of these mountains, we reached a relatively flat landscape with lots of villages which we could admire.

This is the point where we started to take photos - because Sam was asleep I couldn't use his iPhone (I tried to take it out of his hands but his grip was too strong, even though he was asleep!), which in this situation was more useful for taking photos out of the train windows than our cameras, but he woke up and we both took a keen interest in what these villages were like. Here are some pictures:

The buildings really were beautiful to look at. It looked like most of these rural settlements hadn't been modernized at all - so many of the buildings looked very old, and you could see in every village the standard church in the centre with houses surrounding it.

Another interesting thing we noticed during the journey was the amount of renewable energy there was - I must have seen 5 or 6 solar farms, and sooooooooooooooo many wind turbines, they were everywhere!

San Sebastian is located in the Basque region of Spain, which is a northern, mountainous area. So we could tell we were getting close when our train started going around the sides of mountains and over rivers - it was stunning, and maybe acted as a kind of precursor to the Glacier Express! Here is a photo:

One thing that was really funny about the journey was the people in front of us. We kept hearing them laughing really loudly, and when I looked to see what they were doing, THEY WERE WATCHING LITTLE BRITAIN ON A LAPTOP WITH SPANISH SUBTITLES. What the fuck??? Amazing!!! Neither of us could believe it. Instead of "I want that one", Andy says "Quiero el eso". LOL.

We arrived in San Sebastian at 1.15pm. Here is San Sebastian station, and below that is a map outlining our journey:

As soon as we walked out of the station, a Spanish woman asked us if we were looking for a hostel, because she could give us directions. She asked me what it was called, and I said "No recuerdo el nombre... es complicado" (I don't remember the's complicated). I still don't remember the fucking name. It's written in the Basque language - a language used equally with Spanish in this part of Spain, but has no relation to it. The best comparison is probably how Welsh is used equally with English in most parts of Wales.

The woman did point us towards a place that had wifi though - it was a nice little bar - and we used this to check the location of our hostel and to look up trains to Córdoba, the next place we're visiting. We decided to book the trains to Córdoba today to ensure we got seats, so after a bit of investigating, we went back to the train station to make our reservation. Again, like in Madrid, it was so much easier than we expected it to be; it seems like they're used to people doing the kind of thing we're doing. Here's a simplified version of my conversation with the train station person:

Me: Necesitamos reservar unos billetes para ir a Córdoba - tenemos unos billetes de InterRail. (We need to reserves tickets for Córdoba - we have InterRail tickets)
Her: ¿Cuál dia? (Which day?)
Me: El veintinueve, por favor (The 29th, please).
Her: Vale. (Ok)

She then took our InterRail tickets, allowed us to choose the time of train and all of the finer details, and then printed out our tickets and gave them back to us with the InterRail ones. Easy as that!

It was pleasing also to see that two people already understood me clearly and I also understood them. It's a nice feeling to know that you can actually communicate with people!!

So after this, we headed to our hostel. It was very easy to find - luckily in the HostelWorld website they had taken a picture of the sign so we knew what it looked like - so there were no problems on this front. We were greeted by a very friendly Spanish man who asked if either of us spoke Spanish - I said I did, so he spoke primarily with me, but was also happy to try and speak with Sam. God know's why anyone would want to do that though.

He was very helpful. He showed us our room, the toilets and the bathrooms, gave us a map of the city with all the main attractions indicated, and when we asked him about laundry facilities he said that we can both wash and tumble dry our clothes! Why can't everyone be as nice as the people are here?!

Our room is very nice - it has a balcony that looks over one of the main streets in the old town!!!! Check out these pictures:

The view from the balcony:

The balcony itself:

Our bunkbed:

The narrow staircase up to the hostel:

So after settling in at the hostel, we decided that we were going to visit some of the interesting areas of the Old Town (the part of San Sebastian where we are staying), and then walk all the way across the bay to the far headland, which we knew you could climb, that gives you a great view over the whole of the city.

Firstly, we visited the Plaza Mayor:

There were some people dancing to Spanish music in one of the bars!

We then walked around one of the churches:

And saw some other interesting buildings too:

And then finally visited the other famous church in the region. It was incredible, both inside and out.

I saw a mother and her child praying by the altar... it was an amazing moment. Some violins and an organ were playing too; it all added to the special atmosphere of the place.

Before we headed off on a walk along the bay, we quickly went back to the hostel to put some sun cream on (was a very good idea in hindsight... some people on the beach looked extremely red). And then we walked. There is too much to explain in words, so I will do it in pictures instead. The order of them shows us moving along the bay.

It is probably the most beautiful bay I have ever seen. The barrier island in between the two headlands is quite a rare coastal feature, and that adds to the attraction of the place. Me and Sam are so glad we came here!

Once the got to the other side of the bay, me and San decided to split up. I wanted to climb to the top of the headland to see the view over the whole of the bay, but Sam felt too tired (hang on a minute, I wqs the one who had two hours sleep!) so he said he'd hang around on the beach and do a bit of paddling.

So I set off up this fucking great hill, having already walked some ridiculous distance just to get to the bottom.

Here are my photos as I made my way up the hill:

Although I'd managed to get some really good photos and I'd walked for a long time, I still wasn't at the top of the headland. As I approached the top, however, I saw as I turned a corner a sign saying that it costs 1,90 euros to enter. I didn't have this, but as there was a gate to stop cars passing, I thought that maybe only car passengers would have to pay. When I asked a Spanish man who was working at this gate if it costs for people who are walking, he replied in an angry tone "Si. Es OBLIGATORIO".


Wait a minute.



WELL FUCK YOU THEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ok rant over.

But seriously that put me in such a bad mood. I suppose it was lucky I had to walk the fucking 2 miles or whatever back down the road so that I had time for my anger to wear off.

I met up with Sam. He'd had better luck - he joined one of the volleyball games on the beach and met a few people.

We were both very hungry at this point though... we'd both only had a croissant, an apple, a tiny bit of bread and a few biscuits up until this point (apart from Sam's chorro this morning). We started hunting for restaurants. We found a reasonably-priced one on the seafront, however it took 15 minutes before anyone even noticed we were there, and when they did talk to us they said that they were going to stop serving food soon. Thanks for that guys.

Eventually we found a small place on the corner of a street which had some tables outside. I had gammon, egg and chips and Sam had a burger with bacon, egg and cheese (so healthy), and the whole meal altogether only came to roughly 22 euros. This is the kind of prices we should be paying more often to save money...and not only that it was a good meal.

Ironically, we had money problems with the cheapest meal. Sam tried to pay with our card, but the machine wouldn't accept it and we didn't have enough cash. So I ran to the nearest ATM (which was ages away from the restaurant) to try and withdraw some cash.

Transaction not completed.


So I ran, panting, back to the restaurant, and told Sam what had happened. We were both really worried at this point: if we couldn't use the card, our source of money for the whole trip was no longer available. Quite a serious issue, I think you'll agree.

We tried the chip and pin machine again but it didn't work. But then, Sam thought of setting the machine in Pounds Sterling (there was the option for this and for Euros), and then the cost of the meal would be taken in pounds according to the current conversion rate.

It worked.

*breathes heavy sigh of relief*

After this, we went back to the ATM I went to, but it still wouldn't let us withdraw cash. However, an English-speaking woman nearby indicated that it didn't work for her either, so we tried another ATM.

It worked.

First money problem = solved.

After this, we just wanted to get back to the hostel, but not before we bought some snacks that we could eat in the hostel to make up for the previous lack of food. We got these amazing lemon-flavoured biscuits that are pretty damn addictive, and two Twix bars. I ate my Twix an hour ago so that I would have the energy to finish this blog post... I honestly don't know how my body hasn't just shut down completely because I feel like a zombie at the moment. Luckily we don't need to get up early tomorrow so I might actually get a reasonable amount of sleep for the first time!!!

I realise that this blog post has been mainly pictures and description... I hope that's ok, I would try and make it even more entertaining for you but I don't think my brain can cope. I've tried my best. Being a tourist is tough.

We've got a big day planned tomorrow... we're going to explore the other headland of the bay, have lots of fun on the beach and see some more of the architecture that San Sebastian has to offer.

So you can hear about that tomorrow from a slightly more conscious version of myself!

Until then, adiós.

Jack - 28/5/12 - 02:46 in San Sebastian, 01:46 in the UK

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