San Sebastian is along Spain’s north coast, not far at all from the French border. The old town is set beside a headland that separates two beaches, one is a big bay for swimming and boats, the other gets swells into it for surfing. The old town is a maze of narrow alleyways filled with bars, restaurants, and pensions (accommodation). It is packed with locals and tourists and the atmosphere is buzzing each and every night.
We stayed in a pension in the old town. A pension is basically a room in someone’s house that the let out to tourists at cheap rates. They are common all through Spain and Portugal.
San Sebastian is also famous for its food. Apparently it has the highest number of Micheline star restaurants per …. In the world – not that we could afford to eat at them though..! We did, however, pig out on the ‘Pintox’ which is the Basque region’s form of tapas. It is a bit like a bigger version of a canapé that you would get at a wedding. You ask for a plate, load it up with what you want (all the platters on offer are sitting at the bar) and you pay 2 euros on average per Pintox.
Unfortunately the weather was a bit cloudy/showery for beach time while we were there, but we did walk up to the top of the headland for some great views over the city.
Leon’s main draw card is its huge Cathedral, which is, according to the Lonely Planet, one of the most impressive in Europe. This was not the reason for our visit. Leon is halfway between San Sebastian and Santiago De Compostella (our next stop), so to avoid a 10-12 hour train journey we decided to stop here. The cathedral was definitely huge, and the pedestrianized old town was nice, but other than that if we had our time again, we would probably give Leon a miss… The experience was not helped by the fact that Danielle had ‘the worst hamburger of her entire life’ for lunch when we got there, resulting in a ‘hangry’ (hungry/angry) Danielle by dinner time… Lucky we had only booked one night accommodation here!
Santiago De Compostela
We were recommended to come here by some Spaniards we met back in Halong Bay, and we are glad we listened to their advice. There is a great old town in Santiago De Compostela which is surrounded by parks with great views. It is also the finishing point for the El Camino de Santiago walk that runs across the top of Spain.
While we were here we arranged to meet some locals, Ana and Sam, who we met through Couch Surfing (unfortunately they were unable to host us), who took us on a guided tour around the town, followed by dinner at a local restaurant. They ordered traditional dishes for us to try – we learnt a lot about Spain and the culture and the experience made our stay doubly enjoyable and insightful.
See next: Portugal
After making our way down through Portugal, we entered back into Spain, this time in the south. Southern Spain and Sevilla is famous for flamenco dancing, bull fighting, sangria, and being hot!
Sevilla was great fun. The old town is where most of the things to do and see are located and it is really compact. The morning after we arrived, we joined a free walking tour of the city, which turned out to be more of an in-depth history lesson than what we were prepared or keen for…
While in Seville we saw the world’s largest wooden structure (actually not that impressive – didn’t even take a photo), the world’s third largest cathedral, and probably the world’s largest number of horse and carts lined up for tourist rides. We also went into the Alcazar which is a royal residence we joined a tour there which was definitely worth it to learn all about its history.
The highlight however, was dinner at a beautiful restaurant called Ristorante San Marco, (which proudly displays a framed-photo of the owner with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz when they ate here!) After dinner we went to see a flamenco show at an intimate traditional venue/stage. The male and female dancer, guitarist and singer were absolutely incredible – one of the best shows either one of us has ever seen.
See next: Italy