San Sebastián, Tiny Gem

San Sebastián isn’t far from Bilbao, the bus ride was probably an hour. Like Bilbao, it’s Basque, with its own impenetrable language and wonderful food. If there’s one thing people in San Sebastián do, it’s eat. Well that and socialize. And go to the beach. It has its own little bay with an island.

San Sebastián

There’s one more thing San Sebastián has. A funicular. Yes, from not knowing what a funicular was to riding two of them in three days. The one in San Sebastián is old and rickety, wooden with openings where the windows should be. It felt like it could fall apart at any moment going up and down the mountain. But the view is definitely worth it. Unlike Bilbao, the ride to the top wouldn’t be affected much by the weather. The only point of interest at the top other than the view is the odd amusement park, closed because it was a weekday.

San Sebastián

And the food. Everyone seems to spend all their time checking out what’s offered in different bars and restaurants. Much food consumed here consists of pinxtos (pronounced peenchos, more or less), Basque tapas. Almost every bar and restaurant sets them out on the counter where customers ask for them, either by the each or as a group. Although they sit out all day, everything is so fresh it never spoils. It’s easy to walk in, look to see if there’s anything that looks good, and then walk out if you want something different. The most interesting one I saw, and tried, was baby eels topped with quail egg.

San Sebastián

One bar away from the tourist areas featured a barmaid wearing a Guns ‘n’ Roses t-shirt. Nice touch, I thought, especially since half her clientele probably had no idea who G’n’R are. The pinxtos here were excellent.

San Sebastián

The Train Station

We walked to the train station to make a reservation for the train to our next stop, San Sebastián, another Basque city. When we got there, people told us the bus was faster and that we should skip the train as it was a local and stopped every five minutes. We did take their advice and had a very comfortable and very social bus ride. Visually, the train station was far more interesting than the bus station.

Seen from a bridge over the tracks, the exit from the train station was a chaotic mess of wires and tracks, reminiscent of scenes from Japan.

Bilbao

That evening we had a final walk through the city. It was easy to walk everywhere in Bilbao despite it being the third largest city in Spain.

Bilbao

The Funicular

I have to admit that although I knew the word funicular, I had no idea what it was until I got to Bilbao. And oddly enough, I was only a few days away from seeing my second funicular. Here is the definition: “a cable railroad, especially one on a mountainside, in which ascending and descending cars are counterbalanced.” In Bilbao, the funicular is an almost vertical train with small attached “cars” that uses a cable to go up and down the mountain. Lots of visitors and tourists on it, but it’s also used by the locals to get to and from the part of town up top.

Bilbao

The Bilbao funicular starts in a tunnel where the riders wait for it to arrive, either up or down the hill. Everyone pays a normal subway fare, it’s not like the cable cars in San Francisco with their jacked-up rate. The tunnel has steps as the funicular is designed to follow the slope, with each car above the one before it. The steps are required to get into the cars.

Bilbao

All the internet sources say to ride the funicular on a sunny day so that the view of the city is clear. We went on a foggy, sometimes rainy day, and the hill the funicular climbs was dripping wet. At the top, the city was almost impossible to see, but the park was dream-like, with trees fading into the fog. The spectacular vista was missing but the atmosphere at the top was perfect. I would recommend a wet day unless you really want that city view.

Bilbao