San Sebastian

San Sebastian is billed as having one of Europe’s best city beaches, as well as good food and beautiful buildings so it seemed a fitting place to end our week in Spain. It didn’t take very long to get there from Sos so to kill time before check-in we went to a laundromat and competed with about a dozen other Aussies for a washer and dryer. Who knew this was where all the Aussies were? In fact that was probably what turned us off San Sebastian – it was full of Brits and Aussies. A far cry from Sitges where we felt like we’d discovered somewhere special.

San Sebastian hotels are super expensive so we really had no choice but to splash out and double our accommodation budget for some posh 4-star place which had a leaking shower door and no night stand on one side of the bed. Imagine if we’d paid full price, or even half price for the room. The best thing about it was the view…

Yes, that's a view worth paying for.

The hotel was a bit out of town but to get to the beaches and town we got to walk along a promenade with more fantastic views, so it was all ok. We had our last swim in Spain and then did the best people watching ever, since Spanish people conduct their beach walks in their swimwear. A neverending parade of humanity strolled past our towel (just one, since Toby didn’t bring his) which was fascinating. We’ve decided a beach swim is the best way to end a day on the motorbike.

Looking into town

We’ve also decided Spain (and France, and probably the rest of Europe) is decidedly unconcerned with the cancer epidemic that Australia is so worried about. No hats, no rashies to be seen, not even a T shirt on the beach. None of the tent city look that takes over the south coast in January. Lots of cigarettes and drinking. People who know about such things could let me know what their cancer rates are like, because it seems quite extraordinary. We definitely stuck out like sore thumbs in our hats and I felt like the whitest girl in the world. But in a place like this, you really can’t mind too much…

San Sebastian sunset

Edit, based on my last point, to give a big kudos to the Australian public health educators who have actually succeeded in making smoking and sunbaking appear unhealthy and even dangerous, and verging on socially unacceptable. I’m sure other countries think it’s impossible but after a lot of hard work over decades I think the culture shift has actually happened.

 

Magic Sos

Even though finding stuff on your own is all well & good, more often than not going “off the beaten track” by “leaving the guidebook at home” leads to eating bad Chinese food in a dodgy Paris suburb wondering what all the fuss is about. Or is that just us? In any case sometimes you need Google or Lonely Planet to help avoid days like that. And so it was after Bielsa, when we needed a stop on the way to San Sebastian. Lonely Planet came to the rescue and off to Sos we went.

The kind of thing you find on your way to Sos.

LP reckoned that if Sos were in Tuscany it would be world famous. I think the writer may have been right. Half an hour off the highway via a narrow road in terrible condition, past some sad looking villages, and finally you came around a bend and there it was. Perched on top of a hill like some kind of ramshackle fortress village. It was a magical place, all narrow twisting alleys and breathtaking views and cobblestones and history. Apart from being an incredibly well preserved village it’s got some historical significance too – one half of the Catholic Monarchs, responsible for uniting Spain back in the 16th century, was born here. (See what you learn when you have a Kindle to travel with?? Amazing!!)

Beneath the church. I think there was a crypt you could go into, but it was shut while we were there.

Some kind of fort?

Our hotel was just as magical as the town, a beautifully restored stone house set into the city walls. It was all stone walls and shiny floors and slate bathrooms and gorgeous courtyards. The guy at reception gave us a restaurant recommendation which was well deserved. A storm hit but mostly it was thunder, the loudest I think I’ve ever heard, which made me feel for all the local puppies who must have been quivering in their boots (Spain is full of dogs). All in all it was a brilliant stop.

View from the terrace

Across the rooftops

Looking out from the bed.

How’s the serenity

One of the best things about travelling is when you discover somewhere magical, all on your own – without the advice of Lonely Planet or Tripadvisor or the person who used to sit next to you at work. It doesn’t seem to happen very often but when it does I feel exhilarated, and smug beyond belief.

It happened to us the day we left Sitges to head into the Pyrenees. The plan of attack was to blatantly copy the itinerary of a company that runs BMW motorbike tours in the mountains, since we figured they would know the good roads and places to stay. The first night was listed as la Seu d’Urgell, and when I went online to book a hotel the best I found was a few miles out of town. I didn’t think that would be a problem.

It wasn’t a problem, but ‘a few miles’ actually meant on a different mountain, accessible only via tight, winding road that made you hope you didn’t meet another car coming in front of you. The hotel itself was perfect, the village really was a village and because of the road we didn’t fancy going back to the actual town so we spent the afternoon exploring the village (took 15 minutes) and reading in the courtyard, followed by a perfect dinner in the hotel.

We felt a million miles away, surrounded by a village that hadn’t changed in 50 years (except to get electricity I assume), spoiled by views and welcomed like family by the staff. It was a brilliant stop.

View of the Pyrenees

 

Estamariu from a distance

 

The 10th century church.

we heart sitges

When we decided we didn’t fancy staying in Barcelona but instead wanted to be somewhere nice with less traffic we could get the train from, I turned to Lonely Planet and thought Sitges sounded like the right way to go. And so it was. For anyone with a fondness for beaches, shopping, cocktails bars and gay men from across the globe, this is the place to be. And who doesn’t have a fondness for those? Toby found us a fantastic deal for a beautiful hotel where we holed up for 3 whole nights, to mark the middle of our ride. It was a chance to rest, to do laundry, to not ride the bike. It was marvellous and we didn’t want to leave.

Picture of Sitges on the wall of our hotel room.

I loved this doorway. I think it was a graphic design company.

Everything is better here, even Toby’s hair.

Barcelona

We spent Wednesday in Barcelona, a 45 minute train ride from Sitges. Mostly we just walked, exploring the Barri Gothi, seeing the port, eating good food. We also visited La Sagrada Familia which took our breath away, of course.

34 degrees. Even Natalie looks a bit hot.

In the same laneway as the Picasso Museum (which we missed, because Toby’s more into his Blue and Rose periods…) we stumbled across the Design Hub, which had one exhibition of a socialite’s wardrobe…

and one about the connections between technology and people. Something for each of the Wrights!

Outside La Sagrada Familia.

The amazing brilliant ceiling. Far too ordinary a word.

Hot & shiny.

One of a kind crucifix.

I loved the buildings.