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Day 3: San Sebastián

Our plan for today was to travel to the coastal town of San Sebastián, approximately 60 miles east of Bilbao near the border with France. We had a choice of whether to travel by train or by bus. Transport websites indicated that the train would take 2.5 hours whereas the bus would take a mere 1.5 hours, so on the face of it it seemed like an easy decision. However, we knew from our experiences on Saturday that the bus terminal was a good 4km trek across the city, while the relevant train station was only a few hundred metres down the road... In the end laziness won the day and we decided to travel by train :)

There are actually a number of train stations in Bilbao, all of which serve different destinations, but the one we wanted was Bilbao-Axturi, which is home to Euskotren services towards San Sebastián. After a leisurely start to the morning we arrived expecting a train at 10.38, but it soon transpired from the limited timetable information that there wasn't actually one scheduled until 11.00. It was fortunate that from studying the guidebook before we left the apartment we were aware that the Basque name for San Sebastián is Donostia, otherwise we might have been under the impression that there were no trains at all; Donostia was the only name given in the train timetable.

Luckily for us the train was at the station 30 minutes ahead of its departure time so we were able to choose a comfortable seat and read. Even better, it was air-conditioned :) I had thought Tim was joking when he said that the train was going to stop at a station every minute, but this turned out to be a pretty accurate description of its activities as we pulled out of the suburbs of Bilbao and headed into the surrounding countryside. It was reminiscent of the train to Varaždin, although perhaps a little less bumpy. Our journey took us through a wooded valley, following the course of a winding river and becoming increasingly busy and noisy until after nearly two hours we arrived at the coastal town of Deba, where most of the noisy people disembarked and we had an amazing view out across the Bay of Biscay for a few minutes until the train turned slightly inland once more and towards San Sebastián.

When we finally arrived around 13.30 our first thought was of lunch and we found a nice pizzeria close to the station. I had a four cheese pizza while Tim ordered a burger and chips which, inexplicably, came with the largest pepper we had ever seen in our lives as an accompaniment. Unfortunately it didn't come out properly in the photo we tried to take!

It was mid-afternoon by the time we set out to properly explore the town. The first thing which caught our attention was an enormous statue of Christ on top of a hill on the far side of the town. We had read in the guidebook that there was a funicular up one of the hills at the end of the beach; the funicular wasn't marked on our map, but as this seemed to be the only hill with a monument on it we figured it must be the one.


We decided to head in that general direction, making a brief detour to stroll along the beach first. Beautifully sandy, the beach was nevertheless only a small strip of land and it was so incredibly busy that we didn't stay long. The view was gorgeous though.



As we got closer and closer to the hill, we failed to see any sort of signs advertising a funicular. Tim stopped to buy a postcard in a shop and took the opportunity to ask the cashier for directions. It turned out that when the guidebook had said the funicular was at the end of the beach it meant right at the opposite end of the beach to where we were. Oh dear. The cashier reassured Tim that we could climb this hill, however, and that it would be "fácil", so we decided to continue our route.

The path started off fairly easily with a few staircases but soon became progressively steeper and steeper. We were reassured by the presence of lots of signposts directing us towards various fortifications. It turns out that this hill, which is called Mount Urgull, was the site of a castle called Mota which was important during the siege of San Sebastián during the Napoleonic wars. Partway up we came across some cannon:


The higher we climbed the more impressive the view became.


Finally we reached the top! We could see right out to sea...


...and back towards the town with its cathedral.



This was the closest we got to the statue. There wasn't any explanation of when it had been erected or why it was there, but it was impressively large.


The walk back down to San Sebastián was an awful lot easier than the walk up had been! It was nearly 5pm by the time we were back at sea level again though, so we just had time for a quick wander around the old town before we needed to head back to the station to start our long train journey back to Bilbao!


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