Have Bag, Will Travel
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Tag Archives: Basque Country
To be fair to Wales and to set the record straight, it isn’t the only place that we have visited where it has rained a lot…
Ten points for each country that you can identify in the pictures!
The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited. Eleventh in the competition (and this one surprised me, I confess) was the beach of La Concha in the Basque city of San Sebastián in Northern Spain.
We visited San Sebastián on a cold day in May and after leaving the tedious coast road from Bilbao speeded up and completed the final thirty kilometres of the journey in less than half an hour. As we approached the city I was struck by the fact that it was much bigger than I had been expecting and fairly soon it was much busier than I had imagined as well.
As we followed signs to the centre we joined a queue of crawling traffic with snarling engines, red hot clutch plates and frustrated drivers and we made slow progress towards our destination. This seemed strange, we knew it was Mother’s day and this was making everywhere busier than normal but we couldn’t understand how this could have produced so much congestion.
As we nudged our way slowly through the obstructions the car parks all showed full signs and police were moving cars along and we circled the city centre twice looking for a parking spot. I was all for giving up and finding somewhere else to go and I was regretting the decision to drive east this morning when perhaps we should have stayed in Cantabria or gone to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao when we finally found an underground car park with a few remaining vacant spaces and after nearly three hours of driving finally stopped the car.
We were unsure of our position and we were ready for refreshment so we walked around the cathedral square looking for somewhere suitable but almost everywhere was crowded and boisterous and I began to detect a lot of Irish accents in the bars. Eventually we found a bar with some empty seats and went inside. The room was a sea of red shirts and I had to jostle myself into position by pushing through the scarlet rugby tops that were pushing against the bar as though part of a set-scrum..
Now there were French voices alongside the Irish accents and the penny began to drop – somewhere there must be a sporting event and my enquiries revealed that not only was the place busy because of Mother’s Day this was also Rugby Football Heineken Cup semi-final day and Biarritz from France were taking on Munster from Ireland right here in San Sebastián. This was not turning out to be a very well planned day at all!
Biarritz Rugby Shirt in Basque Colours
I still wasn’t quite sure why a Biarritz home fixture was being played in San Sebastián in Northern Spain but I learned later that Biarritz consider themselves to be the Rugby Union representatives of the wider Basque community so often play games in Spain especially for important fixtures when they need a bigger stadium than they have available in France, but I suspect there is an economic driver in there somewhere as well.
It was quarter to three and the bar remained packed but having established that kick off was at three-fifteen we were confident that it would soon begin to clear out but at three o’clock it remained just as lively and at five past and at ten past and soon we began to realise that a lot of people hadn’t actually got tickets to the match itself at all and had just visited San Sebastián to be close to the event and to savour the atmosphere.
After a drink we abandoned the noisy bar and the throng of scarlet shirts (both sides play in red!) and went outside to see the city. We made our way to the seafront through streets of tall, elegant well maintained buildings with balconies with elaborate iron railings and not a washing line or a satellite dish in sight to spoil the view because this is a wealthy resort town with the highest property values in Spain, which is especially popular with holidaymakers from France.
There weren’t many holidaymakers today because it was grey and cold with a sharp wind ripping in from the Atlantic and I really could have done with a hat and scarf. We walked along the beachfront boardwalk lined with stylish and expensive hotels, street art, gardens and fountains. The beach was deserted today but it was easy to imagine just how busy this golden crescent of sand might be during the summer because this is the busiest and the most popular of all seaside resorts on the north coast of Spain.
It was too cold to loiter so we walked briskly across the beach and through the old town back to the car and then fearful of getting caught in traffic again at the end of the Rugby match left San Sebastián with the intention of finding somewhere to eat.
And that as they say is it because I cannot post about number twelve in the list of Twelve Treasures of Spain because I have not visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
The journey speeded up now of course and we completed the final thirty kilometres of the journey in less than half an hour. As we approached the city I was struck by the fact that it was much bigger than I had been expecting and fairly soon it was much busier than I had imagined as well. As we followed signs to the centre we joined a queue of crawling traffic with snarling engines, red hot clutch plates and frustrated drivers and we made slow progress towards our destination.
“The racial pride of this mysterious people has always revolved around the sacred oak of Guernica, beneath whose branches the laws of the Basques were promulgated and the Kings of Spain swore to respect their privileges” – Jan Morris
Guernica was bombed at the invitation of General Franco and the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War because the Basque Country was a stronghold of the Republicans and because it was a symbol of Basque nationalism. It was of no real strategic military importance but Franco wanted to end the war in the north as quickly as possible and to do so he needed to take Bilbao and this act of aggression demonstrated his power.
Cantabria is part of Green Spain, the name given to the strip of land between the Bay of Biscay and the Cantabrian Mountains and it is so called because it has particularly lush vegetation, due to a wet and moderate oceanic climate that is strongly influenced by Atlantic weather systems that get trapped by the mountains and turn to rain. It is a place of complete contrast to the dustiest and driest parts of Spain in the arid South-East where most Northern European visitors head for the beaches and the sun-loungers of the concrete and tarmac strip.
Castro Urdiales is a busy resort in high summer but on a day in late April it was unhurried and relaxed with only a few visitors sauntering along the promenade. We had parked at the beach end of the town which meant there was quite a long walk to reach the harbour further to the west and this took us past the yacht club and elegant balconied sea front buildings all overlooking the wide sheltered harbour where a variety of boats were resting on the muddy sea bed at low tide.