Friday, June 29, 2018

Up Mount Urgull to the Castle and Donostia Museum in San Sebastian

Our first morning in San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque), we rise and look out our hotel window at the great views of the promenade, the Bay of Biscay, and the great beaches of Playa de la Concha to the right and Playa de Ondarreta to the left.

 View from our room

We walk through Old Town toward Mount Urgull, a hill with a small castle, fortifications, and cannons dating back to the 12th century and providing a strategic vantage point from which to protect the bay and the town.  The castle has changed hands between the Spanish, the French, and the English several times over the years, starting with its capture by the French in 1719.

 Streets of Old Town

Exiting the other side of Old Town, we start up the hill and get a great perspective of the town from above and of the district of Gros on the other side, with a great surfing beach.

 Views of San Sebastian and the Bay of Biscay

 Looking the other way toward the district of Gros

On top, we walk through the castle and fortifications and enjoy the great views from the top of the fortress.

 Up the paths to the top

 Cannons in place

More great views

The summit is crowned by the Castillo de la Mota fortress, built in the 12th century.  In the fortress is a great small museum, Casa de la Historia de Urgull, with models, displays, and audiovisual presentations depicting the over-800-year history of the Donostian people.  From the top of the fortress, we access the base of the Cristo de la Mota statue overlooking the city, 12 meters (39 feet) high and visible from four miles (6.4 km) at sea.

 History of San Sebastian

Cristo de la Mota, overlooking the city

Descending from the fortress, we pass the English Cemetery, containing the bodies of English volunteers who fought for the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War of 1833 to 1840 between the followers of Infante Carlos María Isidro of Borbón and the supporters of the Regent Queen María Cristina de Borbón.

 English cemetery

Descending further, we reach the Paseo Nuevo path around the point and walk back around to town, past more great views, statues, the aquarium, the naval museum, and old port buildings.

 Back around the base of Mount Urgull

Into the old port

Builidings of the old port

Fishing boats

Entrance into Old Town from the port

Our trek over and around Mount Urgull covered the northern part of the Bay of Biscay.  Now, time for the southern side.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Arriving in San Sebastian, Spain

We take the Euskotren from Bilbao to San Sebastian, a beautiful, several-hour meandering ride through the mountains and along the coast.  San Sebastian is on the Bay of Biscay, 20 km (12 miles) from the French Border, and is renowned for its cuisine, with a large number of Michelin-starred restaurants and great food everywhere.  San Sebastian is also known as Donostia, the Basque name for the city.

 Train to San Sebastian

From the San Sebastian train station (where we had great pintxos a few days ago in transit to Bilbao), we walk to the Bay of Biscay and the fabulous beach, Playa de la Concha, check into our hotel, Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterraoverlooking the water, and head over to the nearby Old Town, passing the city hall and plaza.

 First views of Playa de la Concha on the Bay of Biscay

 City hall and plaza

Entering the streets of Old Town

Old Town is full of bars and restaurants featuring pintxos and we pop into one for a few bites.  We first choose a ham sandwich, shrimp with bacon, shrimp on a baguette, and pepper/anchovy/ham.  We then go back for octopus and a tuna sandwich.

 Stop for pintxos, chef/artists at work, Iberian hams in the back

Wandering through the streets of Old Town, we hear music  and head toward the sounds where we find a group outside one of the bars playing, singing, and dancing.  We stop to listen, have a beer, and start talking with the group.  The accordion player is an English teacher and he and his friends come into town every now and then for a bar-crawl with accordion.

 Accordion music in the distance, up close

We move on with them to another bar and they call us "San Francisco" and buy us each a beer as they make music, we all talk, and we all dance in the street.

The people in the group are passionate about their Basque heritage and we talk for quite a while about the relationship of the Basque people with Spain and their desire to be separate from the rest of the country.

 Next stop

The good sounds draw us into another adventure, we make new friends, and have a great evening.
Soon, the group breaks up and some head home to prepare for work the next day, while others continue on their pintxos crawl.  We peer in to the bar where we all ended up, see some great pintxos, and have a few more:  sausage and cassoulet with eggplant.

 Sausage, cassoulet

We wind up our first day in San Sebastian with a walk along the promenade back to our hotel.

 Bay of Biscay at night

Our hotel on the promenade of Playa de la Concha