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Published: August 20th 2007
The Streets Of San Sebastian
The streets are beautifully manicured here, blended perfectly with reminders of San Sebastian's history.
Yes, my liver has been working overtime, since I landed in Iberia - they sure know how to party here ;-)
As many of you remember from my last entry, my last night in France was very much a wine infested one, and the train the next day would have been unbearable if it wasn't for the beautiful French countryside that occupied my eyes along the way. With green fields and dinky French villages, the French countryside, I think, is the most beautiful. We even passed a couple of castles, including a fantastical one just outside Lourdes.
It's weird how that when crossing the border, you immediately sense a different culture and a different visual setting even though you've only travelled less than a kilometre. The people are different, the language is different and there are four different languages on all the signage.
In San Sebastian, (Donostia in Basque) one of these languages, and the primary language on signage, is Basque.
In Spain, the people from the different regions like the Basque Country, Galicia and Catalonia are fiercely proud of their regional identity and separate laws for each region and in fact even independence from Spain has been sought
From the top of Monte Urgull. Set perfectly between the mountains and the sea, San Sebastian is an awesome holiday destination.
by some of the regions. The Basque are perhaps the most forward in terms of wanting "independence" with the independence terrorist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or "Basque Homeland and Freedom") active until agreeing a cease fire last year.
An example of this regional pride was when I asked a bartender whether the beer I was drinking (Keler - it was pretty average) was from Spain. She then quite emphatically said that it wasn't Spanish, but that it was Basque!
Basque itself, is a very strange language. There are lot's of K's, X's and Z's in the words.
It has no origins or connections to any other languages and it is quite amazing that it has managed to survive so close to it's original form.
It was difficult enough trying to put together whatever little Spanish I managed to remember from my lessons, let alone having to learn a few words in Basque.
The word for "hello" though, is "kaixo!" - which happened to be the name of the hostel we were staying at.
The Kaixo Hospedaje is run by a very cool Spanish Simon Cowell look-a-like called Joan (pronounced "Hoan", although for the first couple of days, some
Tapas In San Sebastian
A brilliant Spanish idea.
of us thought his name was John or Juan). Although it took a while for him to answer the door, he was very helpful and informative in welcoming his guests. Apparently, he sometimes goes drinking with his guests.
The hostel itself was very cool. It is basically a 5-bedroom apartment turned into a hostel, but because there are only 5 bedrooms, it wasn't as crowded or impersonal as some of the bigger hostels - a boutique hostel if you like. The fact that it was an apartment gave the place a real homely feel.
The location of it was excellent as well - right in the thick of it in the old part of San Sebastian where all the tapas bars and nightclubs are, only minutes from the surf beach Playa de la Zurriola, and the calmer, but more popular harbour beach, Playa la Concha.
In any case, we were pretty wasted from the night before and the train journey, so we went to bed early.
The next day, Davies and I decided to have a look around. We went up to the top of the Monte Urgull, an old castle and embattlement built on the top of the
Dancing In The Streets
People gather round the band for a street party in San Sebastian.
hill on the penninsula looking onto the harbour, where we took some spectacular pics. We then took a walk around town and before heading to Playa la Concha.
San Sebastian is very nice place - a mixture of old and new, the streets are clean and pretty, and then there is the charm of the old town, and of course, the beach. It is easy to see why so many people come here to holiday.
One thing I did notice once again though, was the number of elderly. There are just as many in San Sebastian as there are in Genoa - it's really strange. I guess San Sebastian is a nice place to retire. On this evidence however, both Spain and Italy are going to have some population problems in 20 years time.
When we got back to hostel, we got talking to three Australian girls - Sarah, Emma and Bridget - who were also staying in the hostel, and fellow hosteller Joachim, from Germany. Joan then joined in the conversation, and before we knew it, he was taking us all out for tapas.
We started out at a tapas bar just round the corner from us, and
Playa De La Concha
The main beach in San Sebastian.
having not eaten much that day, I was more than ready to sample some delicious Spanish tapas.
The idea of tapas (pintxos in Basque) is fantastic - all this bite sized food is laid out in front of you and you tell the bartenders which ones you want and then they will serve them to you. Among other things I tried cod wrapped in capsicum, salted green beans, tuna and red pepper on bread and the most scrumptious of them all, a shish kebab-like creation with beef and capsicum which was delicious. I also managed to try some rose wine and the local fizzy white wine, "txokali". Very nice. Between the 7 of us, we ate and drank quite a bit and it only cost us 11€ each!
Joan and the barman were also trying to teach the Aussie girls some Spanish and we all laughed at the atrocious and drunken results ;-)
On our way to the next bar we came across a band who were playing Spanish music outside our hostel earlier, this time on another street corner. They had gathered quite a crowd and we were all having a great time singing (well trying to anyway) and
Palace Of Justice
The Palace Of Justice in San Sebastian.
dancing to this Spanish street music. They were actually, pretty good. All part of the great atmoshpere that exists in San Sebastian.
Unfortunately, the "policia" didn't agree as some people were trying to get to sleep, and the band were disbanded, much to the disappointment of the huge crowd.
Our night continued on however, and after a booze run, we met up with the band again who had started playing on the beach. There, we met some French guys, two Polish guys who offered us some of their Polish vodka, and a crazy, drunk local woman.
We walked around drunkenly for awhile looking for another party, before deciding to call it quits and headed back to the hostel - where we bumped into Joan, who we had lost earlier in the night, and he took us all to Be Bop Bar, just round the corner for more partying.
The place was a bit of a weener-fest however, so we called it night a couple of drinks later.
The next day, we just hung out at Playa de la Zurriola.
Apparently, it isn't just French girls who like to leave all out at the beach - the Spanish girls aren't
Bunch Of Randoms We Met On The Beach
Among this lot, are three French guys, Davies, two of the Aussie girls and a crazy local lady.
too shy either.
Unfortunately, this also applies to some of the old men - I swear I saw an Azamat look-a-like here - not nice to look at at all.
I went for a swim, and the water was a little cool - in fact the temperature in San Sebastian was not warm at all, as it hovered around the low twenties during the day and down to about 14-15 degrees at night. Joan said that the summer here has been crap and unseasonal, and went on to blame Bush and the US for climate change ;-)
Our last night in San Sebastian was huge.
With a supermarket convieniently located almost right next to the hostel and with the hostel kitchen available for use, we managed to self-cater and save heaps of money in the process. You can get 1.5L of bottled water for 19c!
But our most successful capture was 1L of sangria for 99c.
Mix it with some cheap white wine, and it's delicious, and will get you boozed in no time.
Joan had told us that there was going to be a huge beach party down at Playa de la Zurriola, so myself, Davies, the 3
The Kaixo Hostel Group
Almost the entire hostel went out for great night. From left: Kiwi (Davies), Aussie (Emma), Kiwi (Me), Aussie (Sarah), Austrian, German (Joachim), Aussie (Bridget), Canadian (Guillerm), German, German, German, Aussie, German.
Aussies, Joachim and an Austrian girl were getting geared up for it in the kitchen. Before we knew it, more and more fellow hostellers entered the kitchen and before we knew it, all but 4 people in the whole hostel were headed for this beach party - 5 Germans, 4 Aussies, 3 French guys, 1 Austrian, 1 Canadian and 2 Kiwis. This was really cool, and could only have really happened at this hostel, since there weren't too many people staying at the hostel and that the common spaces were fairly intimate.
Anyway, when we got to Playa de la Zurriola, there was obviously a mistake as there was no party anywhere in sight. It didn't matter too much however, as we were all fairly boozed by that stage and we all shared our stories and experiences on the way there.
We ended up in the old town and partied, and partied and partied. The group then slowly disintegrated until three of us ended up back at Be Bop Bar at 6.30am - two hours before me and Davies had to catch out train to La Coruna...
And it was a bloody long train journey as well. We were
From the top of the Torre de Hercules.
basically travelling the width of Spain from the northeastern-most corner to the northwestern-most corner - a 13 hour journey in total.
In fact, I have no idea how we managed to catch the train on time - when I boarded the train, I swear I was still drunk!
The first three hours flew by as I slept though it, absolutely sick and exhausted.
For the last 10 hours though, I wasn't so lucky, as I looked out at the hot, dry landscape of rural Spain.
Galicia, the region northwestern region of Spain where we were headed, was actually quite hilly and forested, which was a bit of a contrast.
We finally got into La Coruna about an hour later than scheduled, at 10.30 at night.
Perhaps it was our exhausted state, but we couldn't find the bus line that would take us to our hostel, and the bus line diagrams at the stop outside the train station were confusing. Turns out Lonely Planet had forgotten to tell us that we had to walk a bit to get to the correct stop, and even then, we would not have known where, being our first time in La Coruna!
Torre de Hercules
The oldest functioning lighthouse in the world - or so they say...
got talking to this American guy who is now living here who told us which bus to catch - however, the bus we caught didn't quite take us where we thought we were going. Luckily, there were huge lit-up maps in the square we got off at, and we managed to walk the 1km we needed to to get to the hostel.
Unfortunately for us, we didn't ring the hostel to tell them we were arriving late, and our entire reservation was cancelled. The woman didn't speak English either which meant that it took us a while to figure out what was going on.
The only thing she had was a tiny - and I mean tiny - shoebox single room.
It was really our only option, so we took it, and the lady got a mattress for Davies to put on the floor. The shower was designed for a skinny midget too.
But having a place to sleep was the main thing, and it didn't take long for me to fall asleep ;-)
Lonely Planet describes La Coruna as being a "lively port city" and it certainly is that. With about 245,000 inhabitants the city is big enough
Main Square In La Coruña
The main square - but as you can see the Palacio Municipal is undergoing restoration.
that you can't quite walk it, and therefore have to use the very confusing bus system. The streets were always busy, and the nightlife - which I will get to later on - is awesome.
After a long sleep in the next day, we headed out to explore the city.
La Coruna isn't the most attractive-looking city - the old town is quite nice, but the rest of it is built to live in, rather than to look pretty, and the city's bustling atmosphere is quite surprising given it's relative geographical isolation.
Our first port of call was the Torre de Hercules, the world's oldest functioning lighthouse - or so the locals claim. The original lighthouse was built here by the Romans, but became derelict over the centuries before the current lighthouse was built in the 18th century. The claustrophobic climb up the tower gives you some good views over the city and along the northern Galician coast.
We then took a old classic tram along the beach to the Estadio Riazor, home of the famous local football team, Deportivo La Coruna. Those of you that follow Champions League football will know that in the last 10 years, Deportivo have
Calle De La Franja
One of the main streets in the old quarter of La Coruna, it is packed with restaurants, which in turn were packed with people.
been a fairly strong team - winning La Liga in 2000 which sandwiched two runners-up positions, as well as decent runs in the Champions League, including a famous 4-0 win against AC Milan. They also played a couple of exciting ties against Manchester United, when Deportivo's ex-midfielder Aldo Duscher famously broke David Beckham's foot just weeks before the 2002 World Cup.
The outside of the stadium though, did not match the excitement that has happened inside the stadium however, as all the walls are littered with graffiti.
After grabbing a bite outside the stadium, we then chilled at the La Coruna's excellent and very long city beach for a while. A bit too cold to swim however, with the weather being much like it was in San Sebastian.
That night, we went for a walk around the old quarter of La Coruna - which was absolutely packed with people. Most of these people would've been locals too, as not many people have indeed even heard of La Coruna let alone visited it. In fact, if it wasn't for Deportivo, I don't think I would have heard of it. Anyway, the small pedestrian alleys are packed with bars and restaurants and
Spicy boiled octopus seasoned with paprika, rock salt, garlic, and olive oil - the local Galician specialty.
most of them were full. There was also some sort of event taking place at the port, which is just a couple of blocks from the old town, which may have explained the abundance of people.
We sat down at one of the restaurants to try the local dish - "pulpos gallegos" - spicy boiled octopus seasoned with paprika, rock salt, garlic and olive oil. The first couple of bites were delicious - but it was very fishy tasting, and very salty, so you couldn't really eat too much of it - not that it stopped me of course. Davies reckons he probably wouldn't eat it again, but I think I would.
We hadn't planned to go out that night - as we were still reeling from our two huge consecutive nights out in San Sebastian - but the atmosphere around the place was electric. There were people of all ages out having a great time - the oldies were entertained by a Queen tribute band with a scarily-accurate Brian May look-a-like, while the young'uns were packing the bars and pubs and were spilling out onto the streets and squares. So we fed off the energy of the crowd and
The locals are out in force to watch...a Queen tribute band...
decided to make a night of it.
Earlier in the evening I had read a poster advertising "Milk Bar", a place that plays "indie-rock-pop" music. On the poster were the album covers of all the music they played, which included The Cure, Interpol, Bloc Party, The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand, Le Tigre, Kings Of Leon etc. - sounded like my kinda place. So we popped in for a couple of Estrella Galicias - Galicia's version of Estrella Damm - which tastes very much like Export Dry. The music was good though and soon the place was packed with local indie scenesters. Scenesters here are pretty much like scenesters back home, but not as scenester - if that makes any sense.
The fact that the place was called "Milk" meant that all their specialist cocktails contained milk - not that we knew that before we ordered two Grand Lebowskis - kahlua, vodka and milk. It wasn't too bad though, just like iced coffee really.
Then suddenly my eyes and nose started to sting, and then I noticed everyone else was the same as everyone fled the club - someone had released some tear gas in there! In fact I think it was
Making Friends In La Coruña
The new friends I made in La Coruña. From left; myself, Manuel, Dani and Patricio.
perhaps a fire extinguisher, but it was certainly a first for me!
It was too much for Davies, as he headed home just as I started chatting to a couple of local students, Dani and Manuel, who introduced me to their other friends, Pedro and Patricio. Their English was good enough and my Spanish was just good enough so that we could communicate in Spanglish. I found that the drunker I got, the more my Spanish came back to me!
They do actually have their own dialect of Spanish here - Galician - but Spanish of course is understood.
Pedro was what Manuel called "an independalist", someone who wanted Galicia to be independent from Spain. I don't think his views were that extreme though - it seems the Galicians aren't as "independalist" as the Basques.
The guys were also Deportivo fans - Manuel has a season ticket at the Riazor. They couldn't believe how much I knew about Deportivo - when I started rolling off every Deportivo player I knew, they were gobsmacked ;-) We were actually able to have a fairly decent conversation about football.
Anyway, we a had great time as we jumped up and down together to
Celebrity Spotting III
This one is for real - while out in La Coruña I bumped into a footballer, Deportivo's hard-tackling Canadian midfielder, Julian De Guzman.
the tunes of Muse, The Smiths, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and some local Spanish indie band of which I knew none of the words ;-)
A great night out to conclude my time in Galicia. I got back to the hostel at 6am - again.
Anyway, the next destination is Porto, Portugal - where I will have to change language yet again, just as my Spanish was on the improve (in my mind anyway) - so stay tuned for my next entry. Hopefully my liver will get a bit of a rest here...
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