Day 14: Biarritz – San Sebastian. 52km.

Photograph of Sarah standing next to a sign saying 'Espagne' on a bridge.

We made it to Spain. 826km. Cue all manor of hilarity at the border whilst one of us remains in France and the other in Spain.

‘It feels like we’re countries apart’.

‘You and I speak different languages’.

‘Men are from Spain; women are from France’.

And so on until tedium set in.

I’ve always wondered about people who live on either side of a border. Some people must have next door neighbours who speak different languages to them and have a different postman. That must be so weird.

It rained solidly all morning. This is my third visit to Northern Spain and each time it has pissed it down. Touristically, they call this region ‘Green Spain’, which is of course a euphemism for ‘pisses it down’.

After the baking hot, colourful palette of Southern France, Northern Spain wasn’t tempting us in. The landscape is deciduous, verdant and mountainous. It is hard work and, in this weather, not even rewarded with vast Pyrenean vistas. The ups are long but the payoffs on the downs worth it. We get up to 53km/hr today which is a bit hairy on a fully loaded bike on a wet road, but it’s got to be done.

Photograph of rainy bridge which marks the border between France and Spain at Irun.

 

We managed to get in to San Sebastian with no problems despite web-based cycle forum concerns about the route and arrived to a wet city in the middle of its annual La Semana Grande festival week. We were expecting a soggy afternoon wandering around in the gloom.

Photograph of rainy, crowded street in San Sebastian Old Town, Basque Country, Spain.

 

Things don’t always turn out like they seem. A couple of hours after the above shot was taken, we took this one.

Photograph of Sarah laughing on the promenade at Biarritz, France.

The sun came out, people swam in the sea and we fell in love with San Sebastian.

Photograph of cloudy skies over Biarritz beach, France.

Photograph of Old Town San Sebastian.

Photograph of beachfront San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain.

 

 

 

Set around a huge sandy bay, La Concha, the city has an old town with a reputation for pintxos (big tapas mostly on bread) and a strong Basque feel to the place. You get a sense that these people know how to have a good time and a good fight for a cause. There are more dreadlocks per sq.km here than I’ve seen for many a year. Only a few hours cycle from Biarritz, but a different atmosphere completely.

Tonight’s intrepidity takes on the purchase of pintxos. With careful observation of the ‘deal’ prior to making my move, I boldly manage to pertain two plates of pintxos and wine in two different bars. I am now Queen of all things Spain. Keith just doesn’t do this kind of stuff. He isn’t brave and struggles with languages (even English). He would just go without. I hate to be beaten by a bocadillo (sandwich). The food is excellent, home-cooked and delicious. Mostly we’re not entirely sure what it is. We’re just glad it’s not another sodding cheese and ham sandwich.

Photograph of Keith in a bar in San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain, eating pinxos and drinking copa vino blanco.

 

Keith, of course, has no compunction about sharing the spoils of my hunting expedition, although I usually have to taste it first and declare it ‘free of gunk’. ‘Gunk’ being mayonnaise, vinegar, relish, ketchup, etc. My beloved is an (autistic) princess with a few specific food preferences. It’s fine; he’s my wing-man and coach who sits in my corner and waits for me to return from the fray of the big world out there. He looks after me in many other ways and I get to eat more, so we have no complaints. The atmosphere is friendly and helpful towards our obvious foreignness. All ages are out, from families to older people. Many people seem to know each other. It feels nice.

Photograph of churros in a brown paper bag and chocolate sauce in a plastic cup on a wall overlooking San Sebastian beach and sea.

Pudding is churros y chocolat on the beach at 10pm. We have failed to shift into Spanish meal time and are eating dessert before most people have consulted the menu for dinner. It’s just too late to be eating; we can’t cope with it. This is the only thing worth eating which makes my eyes hurt (it’s a sugar thing, I have). We had two plates of tapas, four glasses of wine, a bag of churros and two hot chocolates for €40. We have feasted. Full bellies and very tired.

Not time for bed though. As part of La Semana Grande which features a week long day and night programme of free music on stages across the city, raft races across the bay and all sorts of other stuff, there is an International Fireworks competition. Each night, a competitor from a different country puts on a firework display and at the end of the week someone is awarded the Golden Conch. All prestigious stuff, apparently. Literally thousands of people line the streets at 10.45pm each night to watch these displays. It’s good natured, no hassle, no grief.

Photograph of fireworks in a dark sky, San Sebastian International Firework Festival.

 

I know it’s a rubbish photo. We only have a mobile phone to upload from (and write with – hence typos). It was pretty impressive. We have no idea how one judges a fireworks competition. It all seems quite random with not much of a plot, but marvellous all the same. Again, as in Biarritz, I found the stimuli overwhelming and felt totally drained and exhausted from a few hours in a busy place.

Photograph of the beach in San Sebastian at night with lights from buildings in the background.

 

San Sebastian has been a big and pleasant surprise on this trip. We weren’t even sure whether to bother stopping here. We’ve had such an incredibly happy day. It is a fabulous place and one we will definitely return to, although probably not during La Semana Grande next time unless I bring my headphones/ear defenders. Brilliant, but there’s only so much fun a sensorily sensitive girl can take.

2 thoughts on “Day 14: Biarritz – San Sebastian. 52km.

  1. You are writing this with only a mobile phone ? That’s impressive. I can only manage a sentence or two at most !

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