At three o’clock last Friday afternoon, I called Heather. “I’m almost there,” I said urgently, as the first glimpse of the station came into view around the corner. “I’m on the autobus.” I hung up and peered anxiously out the window. Our bus to San Sebastian left in 15 minutes, and I hadn’t yet reached Estación Delicias, Zaragoza’s train and bus terminal. I had the tickets, folded neatly in a “Travel Box” envelope by the nice woman at the travel agency; the albergue (the Spanish word for “youth hostel”) reservations; and a scrawled map on an index card of the two cities we were headed to, San Sebastian and Bilbao, with points of interest marked at the direction of a well-travelled friend of my host mother’s. I also carried a mental image of the location of the bus stations and albergues in each city.
As the bus pulled up to the station, I wheeled my suitcase to the doors and hit the ground running. I met Heather at the stairs down to the bus station and we headed towards bus number 1, which we thought would be ours. Wrong. At that moment, we heard an announcement: “El autobus con destinación San Sebastian, a la puerta número 34.” We ran to the other end of the station and boarded our bus with 5 minutes to spare.
“Next time we’ll go for the 3:45 bus,” Heather said as we settled into our front-row seats.
The three and a half hours to San Sebastian passed quickly, between chatting, napping, and admiring the green landscape of Basque Country (the País Vasco is the autonomous community where Bilbao and San Sebastian are). Zaragoza is, despite being on a river, essentially located in a desert, so the rolling grass-covered hills of Guipuzcoa (the province in which San Sebastian is located) were a welcome change of scenery, and awoke nostalgia of Deerfield’s lower level.
Upon our arrival, we found a city bus map and figured out which number we needed. We turned around and happened to see our bus stop! Fishing for the right euro change in our pockets, the bus driver asked us where we were headed.
“La parte vieja,” I answered, “the old part.” Our albergue was perfectly located in the center of the city.
“This is the wrong direction,” he said, waving away our fares. “Get off at the next stop and cross the street.”
Ashamed by our false start, we didn’t let it get us down for long. The woman at the front desk of the albergue told us where we could find some great tapas, and then turned us over to another employee who would show us where our room was in a satellite building.
“Jasper will take you there and give you your keys,” the woman said. “He’s completely stoned, but it should be okay.” With this introduction, we followed him across the street and down one block to our building, where we would be sharing a room with four other people.
Although he forgot to give us our keys, we eventually got everything sorted out and met our roommates, four American girls, including one who had studied abroad with SYA six years ago!
Hungry from the long trip, although it was still a bit early by Spanish standards, Heather and I hit the tapas bars. My introduction to the brilliance that is pinxos (the Basque word for tapas) was goat cheese slightly melted on top of a plum reduction, followed by a banana and rum croquette for dessert. Heather’s tomato, stuffed with an ambiguous but delicious filling, looked tempting as well. We then decided to see what a San Sebastian café was like, and washed down our tapas with some coffee.
One of the first things we noticed in the café was the high number of loose dogs plodding amongst the tables. All were well-behaved and nicely kept, but the fact that they were inside the building, and not eating the cakes which were displayed on the counter, astounded us.
After coffee, we decided to hit the beach, despite the fact that it was about midnight. The tide was out, the water was dark and smooth, and the lights from the other side of La Concha, the name of San Sebastian’s main beach, reflected in the mirror-like ocean. The beach was abandoned.
Determined to walk to the other end to see Chillida Leku’s sculpture “El Peine del Viento” (“The Wind’s Comb”), we reloaded our cameras with batteries and set off. At the end, a ladder led to a huge patio, with the sculpture looming out from the cliffs and rock outcroppings. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore was a perfect ending to the perfect first day.