I was excited about San Sebastian, which marked the halfway point of our road trip. I was worried the two nights I booked wouldn’t be enough…little did I know I’d end up thinking it was too much.
I didn’t know much about the Basque region of Spain, other than they have their own language, and many of the locals claim ‘Basque’ over ‘Spanish’ as a nationality. I recall there being a Basque separatist movement that made international headlines years back with a string of terrorist attacks. I also heard about the beautiful coastline and the wonderful gastronomy, so maybe any disappointment was my fault due to expecting too much.
I know what people will say…’you went to a coastal town in February, didn’t you expect the weather to suck?’ Maybe, but if a place is truly great then it shouldn’t need weather to make it so. Both of my Croatia trips were done off-season and there was still enough there to make me fall in love. From all I heard about San Sebastian, I figured there would still be things to keep me stimulated. I was wrong, as this reminded me of a typical beach area out of peak tourist season…many attractions and restaurants were closed, and there was a boring vibe throughout the city, as if the attitude was ‘wake me up when the crowds arrive in summer.’ I understand that most locals make their money from tourists, thus why get excited during the slow points of the year…but it seemed like tourism had drowned out whatever culture San Sebastian used to have on its own.
Our only full day we started our city-walk, combating the wind and sprinkles the whole day. San Sebastian wasn’t without its high points, as the architecture was definitely unique relative to other regions in Spain.
The coastal views were nice, even with grey skies…I imagine the beaches aren’t this empty in July. What is that guy writing in the sand? IBI = +P? I actually googled this after I got back. It turns out this same man has been doing this for quite some time. It’s a protest against the ‘IBI’ tax on second homes in San Sebastian…he’s commenting that the tax leads to +P, or increased poverty.
There’s a huge fishing culture here, and we got some nice shots from one of the main piers, including a washed up sea star.
On the topic of sea stars, we decided to visit the well-reviewed aquarium, which was right on the water. My love for aquariums started when I lived in New Orleans, where the ‘Aquarium of the Americas’ wowed me and got me hooked. An aside, this was also the aquarium where in 2002, the walkway over the shark tank collapsed, sending ten people screaming into the water below…seriously, but thankfully no one was hurt. Other aquariums I’ve been to have been hit or miss…I loved the one in Vancouver, thought Monterey’s was overrated, and unexpectedly missed the one in Lisbon due to hanging with the wrong crowd who had different priorities. Forgetting about the price for a moment (14 euros/person…ouch), I thought the San Sebastian aquarium was above average. Due to the fishing history and port nearby, there was a preponderance of piracy centuries ago and the first part of the aquarium focused on that…I finally learned the difference between a pirate and a privateer! There was a giant housing area for sharks, sting rays, eels and other creatures-of-the-sea, though unfortunately aquariums aren’t the best places for pictures due to the reflections off the plastic enclosures. I managed to get some good pics, but only because I took so many…so the overall photo success rate wasn’t that high. I’ve always had a fear of jellyfish, as they seem to be not real…doesn’t the picture I took of them resemble an alien ship unleashing its spawn in an attack on earth?
After the aquarium we did more walking, sampled more local wine, and ate more tapas. I must say at this point I was getting tired of tapas. The vegetarian options were so few, that I ended up always eating either bread with cheese or a Spanish omelette. When possible I just ordered from the menu for more of a selection. For a city set in the Basque region, where food is rumored to be outstanding, I was disappointed with the restaurants in San Sebastian.
I’m saving the worst for last. Our apartment in San Sebastian ended up being nice, but the woman who owned it was crazy. After messing up the upgrade I had paid for weeks before, she told us to, when we left, just lock the keys in the apartment. I confirmed this twice with her over the phone, but then realized that’s probably what she meant since she obviously had extra sets of keys for her apartment, and didn’t leave her only copies with us. Wrong assumption…she texted my friend upset that the keys were locked inside, and said she was charging my credit card for the locksmith fees. Also, just because she was upset, she decided to charge us for another two nights at the apartment! I was able to call my bank immediately, thankfully, and put a stop on the card after $350 of fraudulent charges. This earned her a nasty review online, that will likely and negatively impact her summer business…but deservedly so. I think there are unfortunately people who prey on foreigners, and try to take advantage…it’s a shame they attempt to ruin your trip, but the trick is to not let them.
We left San Sebastian during a torrential downpour…surprise, surprise…and a fitting end to our visit there. Our next stop was Santillana Del Mar – a medieval village – hopefully we’d find some better vibes!