Having finished our camino early, mostly because we allowed extra days for the baby that never got used, we headed to the airport to pick up a rental car. Kepa does better in carseats than trains, and meanwhile there is no direct train route from Galicia to the Basque Country. We left early and drove like a bat out of hell (I should say Mary and and Bri drove, since Todd doesn´t drive stick) to try to get to Bilbo to have plenty of time to see it and eat dinner. Everything went great until, 30 minutes shy of Bilbo, near the Basque border, the car inexplicably broke down on the interstate. It was a very scary spot to sit for an hour plus, and the car company still can´t figure out what went wrong. Eventually they sent a taxi after a local called for us, got us to Bilbo, and gave us a new car. But by that point it was 6 PM and we still had to make it to Gernika. So our time in Bilbo was hurried and no dinner. But we enjoyed walking along the river and seeing the old town. B and T had been to Bilbo before, and we quite like it. It reminds us of Pittsburgh only even better, a city that had been industrial and on its way majorly down well into the 90s, then saved itself and made itself anew in a REALLY cool way. Bilbo manages to be sleek and modern while preserving a sense of the past, modern yet green, and intensely Basque. A great city we hope to spend more time in soon. AFter that we drove to Gernika exhausted.
|The Guggenheim in Bilbo (designed by Frank Gebhry). Love it or hate it, it helped rebuild and reshape Bilbo. We always thought we´d hate it till we saw it. In the end, we love it. Frank Gehry may be overrated, but this structure is not.|
Tuesday June 25, Gernica to Ondorraria
We got up in the morning and went to downtown Gernika and toured the Basque parliament (where women have had a vote since the middle ages), what is left of the oak tree (the ancient seat of Basque government), and many tributes to the tragedy that happened there in 1937. If you don´t know anything about it, google it. Franco asked his friend Hitler to practice carpet bomb his own people, all the while seeking revenge on the Basques who had been on the wrong side of the Spanish Civil War (and who still refused to see themselves as Spanish, maintaining a foreign embassy in Paris and Washington DC until 1945). They bombed on market day killing thousands. Picasso´´s famous painting (named after the town) depictst the tragedy. Afterwards, we headed to the coast and drove half of the coast, seeing Elantzobe(population 450, hanging on cliffs over the Bay of Biscay), lunching in beautiful Leketio, and spending the night in Ondarroa.
|The view down at Elanxtobe. We walked down and back up. After the camino it twasnt a thing.|
|The view up the Basque coast.|
|Kepa enjoys a walk around the sea wall in Lekeitio|
|At the end of the pier in Leketio. Yes, we bought a stroller (in Gernika). Long overdo after 500 miles of carrying a baby on their backs!!!!! Lekeitio is beautiful btw|
Spent most of the day driving to Getaria, failing at an attempt to tour a Txokoli winery, picnicking on a hill island overlooking Getaria, then dropping B and Kepa off at the hotel in San Sebastian, driving to the airport (well up the coast), dropping off the car, and taking a bus back to San Sebastian. But that night we had some Pinxtos and all was well. San Sebastian has more Michelen stars than any city in the world per capita, and I have never eaten so well. Even the cheap pinxtos (Basque versions of tapas, but so so much more....tapas are a bite, pinxtos are a composed plate but small bite) are heavenly. Suffice it to say you can eat well for cheap or for expensive. On night one we went relatively cheap and it still looked like this:
|Quail wings with caramalized veggies.|
|Ravioli stuffed with Duck and Foi Gras with a Balsamic drizzle. 3.50 euros (4 dollars). Wowz.|
Thursday June 27, Donostia-San Sebastian
The same place for more than one day? Kepa says whaaaaaaaat? San Sebastian is, literally, our favorite place in the world. It is what started our Basque obsession-----which we always think we have overromanticized, till we return back to Euskara and realize, no we love it even more than we thought we did. It is just......... Our place. Our culture, our location, our food, our lifestyle. Family friendly without being family obsessive, believers in their ubiquitous saying a little bit often (words to live by btw), and people who take great pleasure in simple things. Also B enjoys practicing her Basque. On this day we took Kepa to the beach, did some baby clothes shopping (European baby clothes are so much nicer than in the States, where we seem obsessed with dressing our children like little adults), and ate dinner at the fisherman´s wharf.
|La Concha. Yep. It is pretty.|
|Kepa happy to be at the beach with his newly purchased bucket, shovel, and watering can set. Or maybe he was simply staring at the topless ladies behind us :)|
Among other things, we went to the Aquarium, which mixes a history of Basque fishing and sea exploration with one of the best sealife exhibits in Europe. Kepa was mesmerized the entire time.
|Kepa checks out a shark. He was wide eyed for 2 hours.|
Saturday June 29, Donostia-San Sebastian
Our final day of relaxation. Walked to one of the two mountains that overlook the mouth of the harbor, and took a funicular up to the cheesie funpark on top. A Donostia tradition for over a century. Walked around the old town, and had our biggest splurge dinner of the trip (to die for). Kepa behaved like a champ. Also stumbled onto a major celebration and parade with Basque dancing and giant Basque figurines......all in honor of St Peter´s day.......really, really ironic considering Kepa is the Basque equivalent to the Castillian Pedro which is.........Peter. Had a really great time in San Sebastian. We think our next vacay (several years and a lot of paying off credit cards away) may be back here. This seemed like a nice taste but coming on the heels of the camino, and with a 14 month old in toe, it really just made us yearn to take an actual vacation here with a slightly older child. This was the perfect way to celebrate one of the best trips of our lives, but also causing us to say more Basque please!
|Kepa on his way up the funicular|
|Kepa and Mary Ann with the basque ponies (they are a special breed, can´t think of the name). The funpark is cheesie, but Kepa had a blast.|
|The view from Mount Igeldo.|
|Some of the figurines from the fiesta.|
My lowlight was having to explain to a woman from Massachussetts what Basque was while at a pinxto bar on Saturday night. I don´t expect most Americans to know or care.......but she is, you know, IN San Sebastian. She was ordering California wine. I,m not kidding. Not in the least. This is a great, great place. And whatever your nationality politics, this is not Spain. It just isn´t,. And if you think they should be part of spain politically, fine. But don´t come here and treat them as a Disney version of Spanish. It just ain´t respectful. If you are in Basqueland drink, or at least try, the Txokoli. The same way you´d try Nappa wine in Nappa.
My highlight was seeing a culture that values fun, relaxation, and family. And seeing Kepa enjoy all of the things those values offer, from good food to park swings, from carousels to the beach. To little old Basque ladies who pinched his cheeks when they found out his name was Kepa. This was a brilliant end to the trip.
Sunday we head back to Madrid then fly out on Monday. Sad to have this over, but it has been the longest (and just about the best) adventures of our lives. And I can´t put a price on the time alone we´ve had with Kepa, away from work and distractions. Viva el Camino.