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Published: January 1st 2017
Have you ever felt you would love a travel destination even before arriving? It may seem strange and I admit I've visited Spain before, but as soon as I landed in the Basque country this destination fit me like a glove. Friends and colleagues have given the region rave reviews, and I was excited to board a Qatar Airways flight to Paris to commence five wonderful weeks in Europe. I spent Christmas Eve relaxing at my favourite hostel in Paris near Gare du Nord. St Christopher's Inn is a big and impressively run hostel, and features a great bar where I commenced the traditional process of letting my cares from home slowly slip away. The beauty of travel ensures the things that matter at home become less important as each day goes by on the road. I felt like a sponge in that bar, soaking up the atmosphere from other travellers and reprioritising for the month ahead.
And so it begins anew my friends, experiencing the beauty and adventure of travel on this wonderful planet. I've heard so much about San Sebastian lately, and it doesn't take much to pique my interest at the best of times. There's so much
to look forward to being ensconced in the Basque culture and language. Basque is a unique dialect, and does not draw from the Romance languages. Nevertheless, there's plenty of English and Spanish spoken by the locals, and travelling in this part of the world is a breeze. I took a flight from Paris to Biarritz near the border of Spain, and after collecting my baggage lined up diligently for the bus across the border. Everything was going swimmingly, except the bus never arrived. I went back sheepishly to tourist information, and after several phone calls and searching around they informed me the bus was not running on Christmas Day. I had the option of a taxi heist, or a train to the border and then trying my luck with a taxi from the Spanish side. Eventually I decided to cut my losses and booked in to an airport hotel for the night in the knowledge the bus would be running the next day.
The bus ride is less than 50 kilometres, and took just 45 minutes before arriving in the centre of gorgeous San Sebastian. I found my central hostel without a problem, and located in this beautiful building
is one of the best hostels I've had the privilege to stay in. San Sebastian is a compact city and a breeze to get your bearings while wandering around. On the first day I checked out the promenade of La Concha beach, where locals and tourists get out and about. I explored the Old Town to witness first hand the famous pintos bars, as there are over 1000 bars in the city. San Sebastian is a renowned culinary centre, and has more Michelin five star restaurants than any other city in the world. Pintos is similar to tapas, and a unique part of Spanish culture. Pintos bars have all types of delicious dishes on display for the enjoyment of patrons. Going out to a bar in Spain seems to be as much about the food as the drinks, and I feel they've got the balance just right.
On one side of the beach is a steep twenty minute climb to La Mota castle, providing a stunning panorama of the city from the coast. My arrival coincided with a few days of perfect weather, with the views in clear weather out of this world. On the other side is a
funicular ride up to the coastal peak; featuring a theme park, a house of terror, and another castle to climb providing even more spectacular views of the city. San Sebastian is a beautiful city from sea level, but gaining a birds eye view makes for all the more impressive views. I spent the day getting a feel for this gorgeous city, so rich in culture and tradition and a mecca for tourists from around the world. There's also a surf beach just across the bridge, and an unusual sight watching a surfer in his wetsuit running down the centre of a city street so he can get gnarly and rip up a few waves. However, it's part of the joy and appeal of this unique travel destination.
Just an hour on the bus out of San Sebastian is the capital of the Basque country. I've always wanted to visit Bilbao, and in particular the world famous Guggenheim museum. The city is easy to navigate, and without having to ask directions I homed in on a beautiful park, eventually making my way down to the river where the museum is situated. Bilbao is picturesque and elegant, with the Guggenheim probably
the most magnificent building I've seen. The building is set against the river, with the bridge behind the museum a spectacular location for taking photos. The area around the river was derelict before the proposal to fund the museum by the authorities, and this visionary thinking has led to one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. The museum is breathtaking to witness, and an unforgettable travel experience.
The next day I woke up early again to catch a bus to Pamplona. This gorgeous city is just over an hour from San Sebastian, and world famous for the running of the bulls every July. The week long tradition stretches back to medieval times, and was banned several times by the authorities. Finally the powers that be gave in to the seeming recklessness of the young men, who would test their bravery running in front of the bulls through the Old Town and in to the bull ring. In modern times people from all over the world come for this unique tradition, but it's great to visit the beautiful pintos bars and buildings that line the streets of traditional Pamplona. I followed the route of the bulls from
the holding pen, and can't believe young men risk their lives to run in front of these deadly beasts. I'm happy to leave those shenanigans to the young and crazy, simply enjoying a few beers and superb pintos at a central bar amongst friendly staff and local people.
The final destination for my return visit to Spain is Barcelona. The city formed a powerful impression when I visited ten years ago, and I'm thrilled to be back to sample her delights. Of course a repeat visit to La Sagrada Familia is top of the agenda, with work on the Basilica making genuine progress towards completion in the last decade. The authorities are putting on a burst of speed, and it's anticipated the basilica will be complete around 2028. I had to check out Casa Battlo and the bustling La Rambla again, and also raced out to Park Guell as evening fell before the park closed at 9:00pm. The works of the great Antoni Gaudi form part of the heart and soul of Barcelona, and what a privilege it is to spend New Years Eve in one of the world's great cities. Happy New Year to all my readers, basically
all of you should be here now!
Nothing is art if it does not come from nature." Antoni Gaudi
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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