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Spain 2010 – Day 5: San Sebastian

Bienvenidos to my 5th full day in Spain! Today we are touring the wonderful city of San Sebastian. This city is right on the coast and is well known for its beaches and its Basque culture. Naturally, I didn’t spend ANY time on the beaches or hanging out with Basque folk. Nevertheless, there were quite a few interesting sights to take in, so tune in and let’s see what San Sebastian has to offer!

As I mentioned in the previous post, San Sebastian is the host to an annual film festival. This year, Julia Roberts was being honored along with a number of famous Spanish artists in the film business. We arrived in San Sebastian on the final day of the festival and our tour the next day occurred as everyone was cleaning up after the grand fiesta.

As I walked around in the main part of town in the morning, I definitely got the sensation of a city recovering from a major hangover. The crowds were light, local folk took extra promptings to respond, and the telltale signs of a grand party could be seen at every turn (advertisements, video walls of acceptance speeches, red carpets that were yet to be rolled up, wide-eyed camera-men, etc.).

A statue I saw near the beach in San Sebastian The mouth of the river Urumea flowing out to sea

Nevertheless, we proceeded as if it were any other normal tourist day. First of all, we headed to the old district by the sea which, coincidentally, was the location of the film festival. I got to see beautiful modern buildings, exhausted camera-men cleaning up their equipment, and beach-goers wondering nearly aloud where everyone else was.

This is the building where major parts of the film festival were held. Its exterior is glass and the building is purposefully shaped at an odd angle. It can be lit up quite brilliantly at night. Victoria Eugenia Theater, which is one of the theaters where the festival was held. The festival finished up yesterday, but you can still see where the red carpet was.

We didn’t dawdle too much as there wasn’t much to see. The festivities had already transpired the evening before while we were tucked neatly into our 4-star hotel bedroom beds. The sights were still quite captivating as made our way from the beach area (read: theater district) towards the market.

I must say that San Sebastian had a wonderful market. Markets that feature fish mongers (or Pescadores) are normally quite stinky but these markets are high-end and we could walk amongst the fish, meat, and vegetables with a spring in our step and a welcome curiosity about the products available for sale.

A view of an open-air market in San Sebastian. Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads! Eat them up, yum! One of the vegetable shops we saw in the large market in San Sebastian One of the fish shops in the big market in San Sebastian Squid!

After visiting the market, we headed towards the old region of San Sebastian. This is an older quarter of the town that has a very heavy Basque influence. We stopped at the church of St. Vincent.

San Vincente church in San Sebastian. I bet the longest part of any index on a Spanish map is the part that begins with "san" "Pieta" by Jorge Oteiza José Ramón Anda hanging outside San Vincente church in San Sebastian

Here are a couple of views from inside the church.

One of the rose windows in San Vincente church The altar in San Vincente church

Next, we headed even deeper into Basque territory and happened upon a sports arena. Basque Pelota (or handball) is a very popular sport in the region. We stopped for a quick sit in a local arena and I spied a 13th century building that was still in use as an apartment complex (I also spied a local woman breast-feeding her baby in full view of our tour group, but I’ll spare you the images and details… he he he).

An old 13th century structure that still stands in the Basque region of San Sebastian. I wonder how much the rent is... A Basque pelota or "handball" court in San Sebastian. This is a popular sport in the region that doesn't have much traction elsewhere.

Next we headed up Mount Urguall which isn’t really a mountain, but it is a pretty pronounced hill. Originally, Napoleon used it as the site for a fortification to defend his conquests in Spain. Now it is a popular site for nature walks as it affords wonderful views of San Sebastian beaches as well as a chance to visit the giant statue of Jesus erected there in 1950.

A moth I spied while walking up Mount Urgull. Despite it's clipped wing, I still found it rather striking. A ship in the bay of San Sebastian flying the Basque flag. An island in the bay of San Sebastian. What would it be like to live on this island, so close to the city yet so cut off?

Here are some pictures of the old fort wall and the statue of Jesus. I love the antennae mounted upon Jesus’ back. He brings a message of peace… and a message from your local advertisers.

The remaining walls of the fort on Mount Urgull left from the Napoleonic era. A giant statue of Jesus built on Mount Urgull (really just a big hill). He was built in 1950. I'm sure the radio or television antennas were added shortly thereafter. Another picture of Jesus on Mount Urgull. Here you can really see his "modernization." It looks like he's giving a thumbs up, doesn't it? Mom posing in a lookout on Mount Urgull

From there it was back down the hill and off to find a nice restaurant for lunch. I managed to get my first taste of Paella which is a Spanish rice dish served flaming hot off the stove with a mix of shellfish. Unfortunately, I was so hungry I devoured it before I thought to take a picture of it.

For dinner we were on our own. San Sebastian is known for its quality 4 and 5 star restaurants, and with the festival in town, you can imagine how hard it might be to get a table in town. Instead, we opted for wine, cheese, meat, and veggies (jarred white asparagus and olives) that we purchased in the market and shared for dinner in the hotel room instead. Other tourists went out and spent up to 200 Euros per person on dinner. We had a grand old time for 25 Euros total. I guess money isn’t everything!

Tomorrow we head to Bilbao to check out the very unique Guggenheim museum. Do tune in!

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