From Barcelona we hired a car and drove 6 hours North to San Sebastian, or Donostia in the local Basque language. The first couple of hours was really quite boring, with not much other than desert to see. Approaching a typical Spanish fortified town, compressed upon a hilltop for safety against the invader in a vast open space, made a welcome change. We passed through Salinas in about 2 seconds, ok, maybe slightly longer, but it was very short – no surprises there Marz. We called in at Huesca, about halfway, for lunch. It was a nice town and super quiet due to the national public holiday. We were lucky to find a place open, which had excellent tapas, much better than anything we found in Barcelona. Also, people in the cafe didn’t speak much English, but lucky enough the waitress turned out to be Ukrainian, speaking perfect Russian. The second half of the drive, particularly Huesca to Pamplona, was much nicer and should be added to any driving holiday itinerary. We drove along a gorgeous gorge and passed by some beautiful cliffs, over 100m high, which took me back to my rock climbing days. Shortly after we passed by a massive lake with scenic flat rock surrounding hills. The colour of the water looked pure and fresh. I was very tempted to stop at the campsite for an evening, but chose to stick to the plan.
The plan was completed and we were now driving along the system of one way streets, that represents Spanish city planning, toward the city centre of Donostia, with no idea where to go next. We parked illegally in the middle of the street, another typical element of Spanish city planning, just long enough to find an internet cafe, and more positively, that we had been accepted to couch surf with Joritz, a very proud Euskaldunak. The 10km drive to his house in Igeldo on top of the cliffs by the coast is stunning day or night. He lives with his parents, who were away, and his brother in a beautiful big old house set on a few acres. We spent our time there collecting walnuts, mushrooms, picking veggies, feeding their 40 chickens and eating like kings. Joritz and his family had recently opened a bar in town. The tapas and other food he prepared was sensational. On his day off from work we had a feast including an enormous chunk of local steak, blood sausages and, most importantly, local cider.
We spent our days touring the region, which is really beautiful with big hills and a rocky coastline. At times it felt like we were back in Australia, wandering amongst the gum trees. We saw some really nice surfing at Mundaka, which turns out to be a world famous break. One day we drove the opposite direction and found ourselves in France. We spent a very leisurely afternoon strolling along the 3 km beach, admiring the surfers and joking about baguettes and croissants.
Donostia itself is well renowned for its delicious pinxos (tapas), and we certainly weren’t disappointed. We spent an evening wandering the streets, armed with local recommendations. Great success.
It was an early morning departure to watch the sunrise on our 5 hour journey to return the hire car by midday in Madrid. We both were very tired in the evening, but it wasn’t too hard to stay awake with the brilliantly comical jazz performance at a well known restaurant/jazz club just around the corner from our hostel. It included playing a trumpet into a bucket of water. The next day I had to say bon voyage to Dasha for 3 weeks as she set off for Norway on a boat building project. I stayed on in Madrid for another couple of days in search of my next destination. I had a really positive feeling for the city. Although it has a population of 3.2 million, it feels more like a friendly town. I felt perfectly comfortable and was well received asking anyone in the street or on the metro for directions or whatnot. It also doesn’t have the over touristy feeling of Barcelona, nor the constant fear of being pick pocketed. What Madrid does have is an excessive amount of Irish pubs. I think I visited 4 in my 4 nights, being the only places with any action early in the week. One night out with Victoria from Sydney and poor old Bob from England was rather memorable. Bob wandered outside for a cigarette and upon returning went to sit down but totally missed his chair and landed on the deck. He had told me how he never bought cigarettes and only ever borrowed them when people around him were smoking. I wonder what the people around him were smoking that night? The hostel we were all staying at was nice and very cheap, which was good because I had to keep asking for one more nights accommodation when I hadn’t decided where to go. I visited Museo Del Prado with Ali from Israel. It was actually pretty boring. I saw Las Meninas by Velazquez, but I don’t think I would be the only person to say it’s not that exciting. Give me Picasso and his interpretations any day. I finally had a destination and set off for the bus station. After being stuck on the metro for half an hour I missed my bus by only 5 minutes, despite following a local’s advice and exiting early to catch a taxi. The driver obviously needs to work on his Spanish, because I clearly told him I had to hurry. With only one bus per day, I was lucky enough to change my ticket to the next day for only $14. Back to the hostel. Back to an Irish pub.