Wanderung 14

The Plane to Spain replaced by the Bounding Main!

April-May 2007

Day 23: Tuesday May 8, 2007, Donastia or San Sebastian, Spain

Noon Position: 43 degrees 19.275' N latitude, 002 degrees 00.540' W longitude (Donastia/St. Sebastian, Spain)


Although the sky was hazy when we awoke, the layer of overcast was thin with a few patches of blue already showing through, so we bet on the weather improving during the day and headed to the city of Donastia (Basque)-St. Sebastian (Spanish) 11 kilometers East of us. That's about as far East as we could go without entering France in the area of Biarritz, and we thought we would leave that area until some other time. Our plan to find parking in the university area and then walk to the beach backfired completely, however, as the university was chock-a-block with cars and motor scooters parked legally, illegally, and even double parked on the narrow streets. I watched with astonishment as a young woman simply stopped her car in the lane of traffic just beside me, slowly opened her car door and got out, and then calmly locked the car door and strolled off across the street, with her car blocking one of the two lanes of a one way street. We circled around trying to find a LEGAL parking area but failed utterly. Giving up in frustration we decided to try our luck parking right beside the beach and, sure enough, there were plenty of spaces available on the side streets near the beach.

Having seen pictures in the Chillida Museum of his set of three sculptures called the "Wind Comb" at the end of the beach, our first goal was to see that. We walked to the West end of the beachfront promenade and found the three steel structures jutting out into the ocean from the rocks on the promontory. I liked the sculpture a lot and it really did seem to fit the wild, windy nature of that promontory.


Today we went into San Sebastian or Donastia to give it its Basque name. I wanted to see the "Wind Comb", the big sculptures by Chillida about which we had read yesterday. We had a good map of Donastia and easily found our way into town. But the promised parking garage was as elusive as the tourist info kiosk had been in Huesca. We drove once around a block through narrow one-way streets without finding it. So we decided to just go on to the beach and there on a side street we found a fine parking space.

We parked and walked to the western end of the promenade where the sculptures were: three enormous steel sculptures one set into a stone way out, a second on a stone somewhat closer and the third at the very edge of the promenade. Waves were breaking all around the sculpture and so the views were ever-changing. I was just impressed by the genius who had imagined the whole concept and then created this enormous figment of his imagination. From this end of the promenade you could look back to the beaches of San Sebastion and know why the inlet was called La Concha.


We curled back to the foot of the hill on the West side of the bay to take the funicular railway up the hill. Frommer's guide had mentioned a great view of the town and the beach from the top of the hill, and we found exactly that. Actually, we found rather more than that because there is a complete little amusement park plus a hotel situated on top of that hill complete with a house of horrors, bumper cars, a roller coaster, and a Tunnel of Love kind of boat ride. All the rides looked like something out of the 1920s and they were definitely more suitable for children than teenagers or serious thrill seekers. It looked like they were just getting all the stuff out of storage and functioning again so that they could open the amusement park in a week or two and catch the summer tourist rush.

But the main attraction was the view, which was really grand, and we paid 4 Euros to climb up the castle-like tower for an even better view. I was all right climbing the stairs to the top until I was winding my way up the final little turret and saw cracks in the wall where the turret joined the tower. You have to understand; cracks and I just don't get along. When I was young I once found a crack at the base of my handlebars on my Harley-Davidson motorcycle. I foolishly ignored it and suddenly one bright afternoon the handlebars cracked off in my hands and I had absolutely no control as my motorcycle crashed over into a parking lot. Very unpleasant! When I was older I became a pilot, and I learned to just hate cracks in airplanes. Airplanes are mostly thin aluminum and cracks are very bad things because they almost inevitably grow and then finally and often rather suddenly a piece of aluminum comes off. Now it is true that some pieces are more important than others (wings and tail come instantly to mind) but an airplane really doesn't fly well even when nonessential pieces start coming off. Hence, I am super-sensitive to cracks. Hence, I really didn't like seeing a crack between my turret and the main part of the tower. I stared at the crack for a minute or two, making sure it wasn't getting bigger with my extra 200 pounds pulling the turret off the tower, while Monika bounded gaily ahead of me to the observation platform on top. Sometimes ignorance is really bliss! Finally I forced myself to walk quite gingerly up the final few stairs above the crack and was rewarded by the best view one can get short of having a pair of wings (or a powered parachute!)

The bay at St. Sebastion/Donastia is long, crescent-shaped, and protected by a small island that lies in the mouth of the bay. Waves were breaking against the island and the headlands, but the surf inside the bay on the beach itself was much milder than at the unsheltered beach at nearby Zarautz. Since it was around noon when we were on the tower, the beach was rather deserted and there were no surfers trying to catch a wave the way they usually were at Zarautz. In the far distance I think we could even see the final mountains of the Pyrenees on the French side of the border, but they were rather lost in the bluish haze in the distance.


After having seen "Wind Comb" we decided to heed another of Frommer's recommendations: the funicular up to the top of Mount Igeldo. And it was worth it. The view from the top was spectacular. The sky was blue, the sun was out, and La Concha had blue water and a white beach. You could see why people liked to come here. The bay is sheltered by two islands, so there is hardly any surf. Nice for bathing, bad for surfing, so no wonder all the surfers go to Zarautz.

What intrigued us most was, that right there on top was a little kids amusement park: bumper cars, carousel, water slides, boat rides in a lake, and what looked like a small boat ride around the top. It was still closed but looked like they were getting ready to open the following weekend. The man was testing the boats for pond worthiness.

On top of the mountain was a former lighthouse tower that was open to the public (for a fee). We climbed the stairs and were intrigued by the old pictures and implements on the wall. Up the stairs to the very top, where we were rewarded by yet another beautiful view of the bay, the islands, the beach, and the city, but also of the rugged coast to the west explaining why there is no coast road between San Sebastian and Zarautz.




Taking the funicular back down the mountain, we decided to walk around the beach down at the water line. Monika took off her shoes, socks, and lower legs of the zip-off pants so that she could wade in light surf. She reported the water was cold. I kept my shoes and socks on (weak arches!) and walked about 10 feet higher on the beach than she did so that the waves wouldn't wash over my shoes. Monika had fun getting wet and I had fun staying dry, so I guess we were something like Jack Spratt and his wife. (I would be the one eating no fat, Jack.)

Along the way we passed an old Kur Salon (i.e., "bathing spa") that was just above the high water mark at the edge of the promenade. We also passed a young guy playing an accordion over on the sidewalk, clearly hoping for donations from passers-by. When he saw us marching up with our matching red Volksmarching caps on, he immediately changed his tune and struck up a rousing chorus of "Rosemunde". We were walking faster than anyone else on the beach (although we are actually slow compared to most Germans) and I expect he thought we were Germans and was hoping some good ol' down home polka music would extract a donation. I almost gave him something for making the effort, which to me is quite different from straight out begging. Donastia/St. Sebastian certainly did have Germans and I also heard some male teenagers speaking American English, which was the first time I had heard my native tongue in well over a week.


Back at the beach we looked for lunch and stopped at a bakery. We bought two what looked like meat pies and started eating. They were, however, not filled with meat, but some kind of fish. So I proceeeded to carefully scrape out the filling and eat the crust which was quite tasty. But I gave the filling to Bob. To get at least a little protein for me, we split a Jamon and Tomato sandwich, which turned out to be smoked bacon. The fat could easily be separated, so we both enjoyed that one.

Thus fortified we decided to walk the length of the beach. I took off my socks and shoes and enjoyed walking in the water which was quite cold. I was again surprised by the relative absence of shells; stones yes, shells no. At the end of the beach the water was lapping around the stairs of the marina. A perfect way of getting out without sandy feet!


At the far side of the beach we rejoined the beachfront promenade in front of an old, fancy building, which we think is the local parliament or area council building. A small park adjoined the parliament building and there I found the first bandstand that I have ever seen that was decorated with huge panels of stained glass. I thought it looked quite nice, especially with the sun shining brightly through it. Stained glass often doesn't look like much until you have a bright light streaming through it, but then it looks absolutely brilliant.

We walked back around the beach on the beachfront promenade, and we noticed that the beach had a lot more people on it now that the sun had been out a couple of hours and things were warming up. A few hardy folks were trying to swim, but mostly the beach was populated with kids playing in the sand and sunbathers. Despite the cool temperatures of about 19 degrees Celsius, I noticed a lot of topless sunbathers but most of them were old grizzled guys with hairy chests! Of course, some weren't. The views out across the bay were magnificent!


Bob went back to the previous stairs and we met at a carousel in front of a grandiose city hall that used to be a casino. A little farther down the main drag was a beautiful bandstand ringed with stained glass. Great for photography.

A mercado a little bit further on was really a shopping mall rather than the open farmers market as in Valencia. And to top it off, it had a McDonalds! "Enough already" we thought and hurried back to our car and home. Once there we had problems getting in, since our key cards were set for two days rather than three. But that was easily fixed. After we had rested we had a rather skimpy evening meal, cheese on Zwiebac


Returning to the car, we sank gratefully into the seats, drove back to Zarautz, and settled back into our comfortable little room with a view for an afternoon of working on our journals, processing pictures, checking email, and reading. Although Donastia/St. Sebastian was by far the bigger city with 183,000 inhabitants compared to the 22,000 residents of Zarautz, had a more sheltered beach to swim in, and was much ritzier, I much preferred Zarautz. Zarautz had a longer, more exposed beach with different things going on like surfing, outdoor table tennis, juggling classes, and so forth. Zarautz is also a small enough city to be eminently walkable and the city fathers have even set up a set of walking loops that allow people like us to get our daily exercise. I also liked the little "Plaza of Music" back behind our pension where they had groups perform on the weekends, and I liked the other plazas in the middle of the city where mothers pushed their baby carriages and older children played and rode their bicycles. So given a choice I would definitely come back to Zarautz.

As the sun set that evening, we made one last foray over to the beachfront promenade. We watched the packs of surfers all trying to ride the waves, and they were more successful because the surf was much heavier than it had been before. Monika had a beer and some French Fries while I tried to get a decent shot of the surfers, and then we just walked along the promenade in the balmy evening air. But after taking pictures of the sunset around 9 p.m., we returned to our room and settled in for the night.


A couple hours later, I was again peckish and we wanted to take some sunset pictures, so we went to the promenade. Surf was up, tide almost in, and there were lots of surfers. We stopped at one of the sidewalk cafes where I had a beer and an order of French Fries, while Bob tried to take pictures of the surfers gliding through the setting sun. Very satisfying for both of us.

Copyright 2007 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt
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