I barely saw Madrid. When I got off at Plaza del Sol I found myself in the middle of a huge crowd. Roller bladers were performing stunts by jumping over people laid down in a row. Many others just hanging out or passing by. On my short walk to the hostel I passed busy restaurants and bars. I thought the whole of Madrid is this great pulsing mass of people. But it turned out I just happened to be in the right neighborhood.

After leaving my things at the hostel I went off into the night. I made a big rectangle (about one hour walk) sticking to the main streets, passing by the Bank of Spain building lit up like a flag, Retiro Park and heading back on Goya street. I barely saw anyone but there were lots of cars on the very wide avenues. I later learned the popular bar areas like Chueca were inside the rectangle I made, on smaller streets. So the lively part of Madrid is rather compact.

I stayed most of the next day inside my hostel. My plans of cooking rather than going out were dashed as this hostel did not have a kitchen. Apparently a lot of hostels in Madrid don’t. I find that in general small cities have better hostels. Although this was also a very cheap one, converted from a cheap hotel (they just stuffed bunk beds into the rooms).

My next stop was San Sebastian. I first heard of this place from an article about its restaurants. The city a little difficult to get to. The bus from Madrid took eight hours. I fall asleep on buses and trains so I am not sure when the scenery changed but probably about a half hour out everything suddenly went lush green and hilly. We went through countless tunnels. It was somewhat like driving from Ohio into West Virginia. The north of Spain has a much wetter climate than the rest of the country.

Surf beach. Jesus statue on top of the hill on the right.

San Sebastian has a small footprint but it is dense. It’s a town with money. The hostel I was staying at was really just a big apartment. The owner told me the government doesn’t encourage backpacking because that kind of tourist doesn’t spend enough. They are aiming for people who dine out in fine restaurants of which there are many in town. Real estate is expensive.

Old Port neighborhood in San Sebastian.

The town is squeezed in between the ocean and steep hills. There are several fantastic beaches. There are trees everywhere and as if that wasn’t enough they also have many parks. The bike infrastructure is fantastic. It’s really a great town in every way but of course you have to pay for it.

I never did get to go and sample the famous tapas or pintxos. I could not find anyone to go with at the hostel and did not want to go alone.

View of San Sebastian from the stairs to the fortress.

I did a couple walks. There’s a big fortress guarding the access to the town from the ocean. It was started in the late Middle Age and had several additions since then. There are many cannon on its ramparts from the earliest examples to sophisticated late 19th century models. At the top of the fortress is a giant statue of Jesus facing the town. The fortress is between two beaches. The one in the east is a surfer beach. The one on the west is a family beach that is itself split into two parts by a rock outcropping. Above those rocks is a mansion in a layered mix of architectural styles. I spent some time basking in the sun on its giant lawn. There was a faint atonal music from a cello and a piano drifting out of the top windows giving an air of refinement and strangeness to the scene. I oould not see inside or find a way in. It was as if a reclusive heir and his butler were taking their evening entertainment.

Panorama of the western part of San Sebastian from the fortress.

Another walk took me along a trail, up and down the hills, through the woods. The seagulls squawked far below. I did not know where it would take me and after rounding the corner was surprised to see a long inlet leading to a town. I guess one could even call it a fjord.

I think there was more to see in San Sebastian that I just didn’t have time for. You could easily fill a week there relaxing on the beach, dining and enjoying the mountains and the forests.

Inlet to San Pedro.

One Month Report

Somewhere during my stay in Sevilla I hit the one month mark. Amazingly I stayed very close to my projected budget of $50 a day. I think staying in Morocco really helped bring the costs down.

Useful kit:

Not useful:

Plan failed: to practice Spanish
Great success: climbing a mountain