The Basque Coast: Day 9

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

When we planned our trip we purposely made the plan to drive the Basque Coast. The drive between San Sebastian and Bilbao was only an hour, but we thought it would be a lot of fun to make a day of it. This way we could see a part of the country that we would have otherwise missed. I couldn’t be more glad that we decided to do this. We chatted about going through the mountains and experiencing a town that Anthony Bourdain went to on his No Reservations: Spain episode. We tried to get a reservation for lunch at Extebarri, but it was already booked for that day.  I was honestly a little sad because I wanted to have that experience, but things always work out how they are meant to.  This time that statement couldn’t have been more real.

We accidentally took the wrong turn on a round-about just outside of San Sebastian and ended up on the road that led straight up the coast. We had not completely anticipated this part of the trip, and looking back I wouldn’t change one thing. To this day I still have no idea the names of towns where we stopped.  Each one was so small, and they were all dispersed amongst bays along the coast that I could not figure it out looking back at the map.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

The moment we realized that we were headed up the coast and taking the long way, we embraced the moment and decided to just enjoy the journey. We became really hungry and decided that our pastry breakfast was not enough to hold us through the road trip so we stopped in a town that seemed to be pretty bustling. We drove through the heart of it and saw so much life happening in the main square.  We figured there had to be food somewhere.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

Once again we were not disappointed by northern Spain, and we found streets full of people pouring glasses of txakoli from high above their heads.  The smell of burning wood under grills covered in freshly caught fish and the hoards of locals simply enjoying the day gave us energy to enjoy. We decided to stop at Iribar Jtatxea and grabbed glasses of txakoli and ordered some grilled prawns to share.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

Truthfully we would have paid anything to have something grilled up right in front of us that had just come from the coast. So, there we stood in the alley with hundreds of locals watching the chef prep and cook our prawns in less than 15 minutes. The smell was amazing, but what was even more amazing was how simple and pure every bit of the process was. Yes, they were amazing, but there was no secret ingredient other than the purest, highest quality, and the freshest ingredients involved. We had fallen for the olive oil in this country, but experiencing it here in this small town some how felt special in a whole new way.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

There we sat in this quaint alley, the sound of guitar picking echoing through a tunnel to the sea only steps away.  The scent of the salted chilled air was all around us. I am not sure there was anything more pure and beautiful than that moment enjoying that food. It felt extremely wonderful, and for the simple price of a few euros it was our’s to enjoy.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

We jumped back in the car after we finished our lunch and wandered a little. We watched surfers catching the waves in each bay as we passed. In some small way we felt apart of this gorgeous country even if it was just for a few moments.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

After 30 minutes or so, we decided to make another small pit stop at the next town we felt looked pretty fun.  Again I am not sure which town we stopped in (our map was not loading) but we nabbed some americanos and cappucinos and sat and enjoyed our little spontaneous journey.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

If anything this trip has taught me a lot about enjoying the simplest of moments. More than anything we have been trying to find peace and contentment with the present. There is nothing like traveling to help teach you that. Americans are pretty terrible at enjoying the process I have learned because we constantly are looking for the final product. I am truly trying to let go and realize it doesn’t all have to happen right now. In fact there is true beauty in accepting the present and breathing it in and letting go of anything else that stands in the way of accepting now.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

There are moments where looking toward the end goal are important, but there must be a balance of it all. At this point in our travels, I felt our experiences were finally starting to sink in to me in a deep way. It may have taken over a week, but this ride along the coast was where I began to feel a change. I was beginning to feel released enough to let myself think and ask the tough things I had wanted to ask myself. Maybe it was all the fresh air away from the cities, or maybe it was simply I had finally begun to feel comfortable in our trip. I am not sure, but this drive began to get me stewing on my thoughts.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

I don’t know if you necessarily have to travel far from home to clear your head, but I think it works for us. I find that many times I cannot remove myself from the everyday when I am home in order to allow myself the time I need to entertain tough questions.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

I was becoming worried that those “ah ha” moments were not going to come.  There in the car driving along one of the most beautiful coasts in the world, I began to feel myself letting go enough to begin the process of discovering what I had come to discover. Whether what I would find within myself while I was here was what I expected or not, the process was beginning, and that felt really good. It just amazes me what travel can do to your soul. The challenges and the discomforts bring about such deep honesty in yourself. Removing all that stands in the way brings you to a pretty real place with yourself.

Basque Coast, Spain: Day 9  |  The Fresh Exchange

As drove into the outskirts of Bilbao, I felt that I was truly beginning the second half of this trip. I felt I had waded through the thick muck to finally get to where I wanted to be on this trip.

Tomorrow I will share about our day in Bilbao and about how we fell in love with Ernesto Neto and the Guggenheim.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

Though the rain that came down our first day in San Sebastian didn’t deter us from exploring the city, we were happy to see that when we woke up the next day it was beautiful and sunny. The city was a completely different place in the sun. The rain left the city streets moody and the water feeling angry, where the sun, as it always does, brought life and vitality to everything around us.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

We woke up and had a few quick bites and then headed out for some exploring. We wandered back in to the Old Town area to see what the streets would be like in the sun. Sure enough it was beautiful, alive, and the light couldn’t have been more perfect. We thought originally we would climb to the top of the hill that we had been to the day before, but instead decided to make our way around the bay to the funicular that would take us up to the highest viewpoint in San Sebastian. We thought since the weather was so amazing it would be the perfect thing to do on such a nice day.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

As we wandered through the streets, we stopped out of 100% curiosity, not hungry, at a pinto bar called Zeruko because of how incredible and crazy their pintxos looked in comparison to some of the others we had seen. We felt we couldn’t miss the chance to grab a couple and give them a try, mostly because we honestly had no idea what we would be eating. To this day I am not sure we still know exactly what we ate. Many of the pieces felt like art to us. With edible gold leafing, stuffed sea urchin shells, and the list goes on and on. It was a wild array of food we heard we would potentially experience in San Sebastian.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

After our snack we wandered down to the water and took in all the weekend life that was happening. There were many families out and about shopping, heading to the beach, riding the carousel, or even simply enjoying a light lunch at a cafe.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

When we got to the water we thought it would be really nice to head down to the beach and wander along the shore before the tide came in. It was nearly 70 degrees and the sun couldn’t feel more amazing. I was so wishing I had been brave enough to wear my sandals so I could easily dip my toes in the icy water that was the perfect shade of turquoise.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

As we walked along the beach toward the other side of the city we felt 100% renewed and ready for the adventure of seeing an awesome view of this city that had quickly won our hearts.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

On the other side of the bay we followed the signs for the funicular, bought our tickets for 3 euros a piece, and jumped on the small tram up the hill. Many of the cities that have a lot of hills have had trams like this or even escalators that make it a little easy to move around. We were excited to give one a try. Wes and ready about taking the tram up in the New York Times 36 hours in San Sebastian and told us this was a must.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

When we got to the top we couldn’t have agreed more with him. The ride was worth every cent of that 3 euros. I am all about finding the highest places in cities and to get a chance to see the enter town from above. This time was no different, but unlike many other cities, San Sebastian had not only a gorgeous city, but an incredible landscape as well. It is the first major town along the northern coast of Spain and is the perfect starting point for a drive along this amazing coast .

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

After arriving in the old theme park we decided it would be a lot of fun to climb a little higher and get up to the top of a tower to get the full effect. We made our way up and were blown away by the view around us in every angle. San Sebastian was unbelievable in every way to us whether wandering the streets and nabbing pintxos at various bars or hiking the many hills and mountains around it. There was so much this city offered.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

Once we felt we had gotten the view we were hoping for we headed back down to the city, grabbed a quick coffee and snack and then shopped for a while. We learned that Zara and Mango are must-dos here as they offer unique things to the country they originate in. Sure enough I saw and nabbed a piece or two I had not seen in the US catalog.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

We ended the day by heading back to Bodega Donasterria as we were craving the experience and that fresh tuna and anchovy sandwich again. Not to mention we couldn’t say no to the super cheap Txakoli they just poured way to easily there.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 8  |  The Fresh Exchange

We felt really sad thinking this would be our last full day in San Sebastian, but felt excited for our next day driving the coast of northern Spain on our way to our next stop, Bilbao.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

Our first night in San Sebastian may have been the best night of our trip thus far. After a night in Barcelona we felt pretty icky and needed a pick-me-up.  Goodness were we glad after our gorgeous drive in to San Sebastian that we found Bodega Donostiarra in the heart of the city. We were greeted with a smile, shown around the menu, and then told about Txokoli.  We were made to feel like locals. Oh my…it was a perfect night to say the least.  When we woke the next morning we all were not about to let the wind and rain beat us out of seeing this new city.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

We bundled up in our rain coats, warmest layers, and boots and took a 20 minute walk from our apartment into the city for breakfast at Hogar Dulce Hogar. We chose an apartment just outside of the city because San Sebastian is pretty small, but also pretty pricey.  To save a little we decided a little extra walking meant that we could buy a few extra pintxos (Basque’s word for Tapas).  We didn’t feel guilty because, after all, we would be getting 40 extra miles of walking everyday.  Truthfully we never were bothered by the walk, and it honestly was very cool to get a view of the city this way.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

We arrived early enough, to see the town’s morning routine. The vendors were out even with the chill in the air. There was fresh food everywhere on the street. A fresh scent of the ocean left you realizing you were but blocks from a surfer’s paradise. The sweet scent took over the air of the town and I had no complaints especially after the smell of the city that we had become accustom to in Madrid, Seville, and Barcelona.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

The people here were friendlier than any the people we encountered in the other cities. They were very open and willing to help. There was a true love for life in this city that was very contagious.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

Before the weather worsened and before we got a good cup of coffee, we were determined to see the water, so we took the extra block to wander over to the shoreline.  We felt instantly at home as we watched brave surfers take the waves head on that the storm was bringing in.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

After breakfast, Wes and Linda decided to wander around the city.  We opted to stay in and work for a while. The weather got pretty rough and it ended up being the perfect day for some extra work.  Once the storm broke we headed out to explore Old Town and to let our feet guide us through the city.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

The city is split by a river and there are gorgeous bridges that connect each peninsula. It is absolutely magical. The town felt somewhere between parts of Paris mixed with classical Spanish decor. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

As we wandered over the bridge, we entered into the hippest area of San Sebastian that is known for the multitude of winding streets, pintxo bars, and the ever flowing streams of Txokoli (simply put this is a white wine with an over 12% alcohol level. They pour it high above the glass to release oxygen into the drink which brings out the flavor. It is very cheap, and I highly suggest nabbing a glass or bottle with friends). The design and type was very interesting throughout the city. All of the pintxo bars had a very distinct type to them that felt like something out of the Flinstones, but every once and a while you would catch some really amazing type that seemed to break the traditional mold.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

The rainy days, which were a large part of the beginning of our trip, made me really glad for a few items I packed in my bag such as my backpack from Everlane that kept our laptops, cameras, and other equipment dry.  My waxed jacket (this one I am wearing will release in the Fall..see similar) from Bridge and Burn has seriously been the only way I have been able to get through the crazy weather…FOR REAL! This coat has been my daily wear nearly everyday we have been in Spain. If you need a new versatile coat for life or travel check out their coats because I am in love with mine. Also my Madewell biker boots have been great for wandering the cities.  Even in the rain they have kept my feet warm and dry and have gained quite the well-traveled patina in the process. These are all things I feel so lucky to have with me especially during a day like this one in San Sebastian.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

After nabbing a few pintxos at a traditional bar in Old Town, we saw an amazing staircase that went up the hill so we thought why not take it up.  This is how we travel. Whenever we see a cool street that feels “right”, we take it. Sure enough as we wandered up we found the trail that takes you to an amazing view of the city.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

We wandered up the hill over the harbor and then around to a gorgeous view of the bay. Even in the cold and drizzle the churning water below was gorgeous and refreshing to see.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

Honestly we could have hung out up there forever, watching the water crash against the rocks of the island. The small white lighthouse flickered its light in the waning daylight, and we simply took time to enjoy the view as long as we could without getting a cold.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

There is no way that any camera could take in the view and experience of this landscape. The smell alone could never be expressed through a photo.  It could only be experienced if you were to stand on that perch and take in the decadent aromas of the air for yourself. Oh the scent of fresh rain, the ocean, and lush trees. It was like heaven.

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

San Sebastian, Spain: Day 7  |  The Fresh Exchange

One thing is for sure, San Sebastian is a true treasure. This city may be one of my favorites in Spain so far. I love the big cities for other reasons, but San Sebastian stole my heart that first full day. I felt alive, renewed, and as if life truly felt clear again. It was the moment in our trip I was waiting for. I never expected it would be this small coastal town that would have brought me to where I needed to be. It still shocks me, but there, even in the chilly rain and blowing sea mist, I felt that I could see clearly again.

 

 

From Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive: Day 6

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

When we were planning our trip we wanted to find a way to see the landscape of Spain as much as possible. Though we knew we needed to take some planes and trains we thought if there was a point where we could rent a car, we should do it. After some research and a quick chat with our friend from Seville, Hayley, we decided it would be a great choice to pick one up in Barcelona and drive it to San Sebastian. This way, we would get to drive it along the Northern Coast of Spain until we drop it off in Bilbao before heading to Portugal (because of the pricey tolls, it costs a lot of money to drive a car in Portugal, as we learned from Hayley).

So that morning we got up, left our gorgeous apartment in Barcelona and headed north through Zaragoza and Pamplona. I love road trips because you get to see a side of a place you would never see otherwise. Sure enough this road trip did not disappoint.

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

The landscape outside of Barcelona felt much like parts of Southern California, where everything was very arid and full of agave plants and cacti. We saw tons of rabbits scattering through the low grasses. It was really quite beautiful.

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

Just after we made our way through Zaragoza the landscape began to change from arid plains to more lush farmlands. Not too long after that we began to climb through the Southern Pyrenees Mountains. I knew that the drive would be full of hills, but did not expect there to be snow-capped mountains and for the landscape to look so similar to what I would expect in Ireland or the Northern UK.

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

The tiny towns and the hills covered in sheep were gorgeous. The rain began to come down lightly and we all instantly felt this relaxation that, honestly, only the mountains can bring.

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

I highly suggest nabbing a car in Barcelona or maybe even Madrid to drive north. You will hit tolls, but it will still be cheaper than the train, even after the gas. The drive is beautiful and so easy. We put the directions on our iPad and only got a little lost when we arrived in San Sebastian, but thankfully people were kind enough to help us find our way.

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

All I know is that after over a week in enjoying the fast paced life of the cities, it felt amazing to see the rolling green hills and snow covered mountains, and to experience the slowness of the farm life in the mountains of Spain. We quickly also saw the influence of the French culture in the architecture as we entered the Basque region. The language changed to Basque and we were anxious to experience the new region.

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

It made us very excited to land in San Sebastian and to discover a whole new city. We knew anything set amongst these mountains must be something amazing. Sure enough we were right.

Barcelona to San Sebastian Drive in Spain  |  The Fresh Exchange

The next few days I will share about our experiences in San Sebastian, driving the northern coast of the Basque region, and how we fell in love with Bilbao in a way we never expected. So much more to come!