Today the European adventure continues with Busabout after a week of fun and discovery on the Busabout Iberian Adventure Tour that concluded last night in Madrid. The journey continues on as we jump back on the Busabout blue coach and head north from the capital Madrid to the stunning coastal city of San Sebastian. This potion of the Busabout Hop On Hop Off network also includes an optional drop off/pick up point in Pamplona, famous for the Running of the Bulls festival San Fermín.
So far on this trip we have started the adventure in the Catalonian city of Barcelona and this is where we joined the Hop On Hop Off network to then be taken to Valencia, an optional stop on the journey from Barcelona to Madrid. Stopping in Valencia was a great experience in itself but nothing could prepare you for the experience and the messiness of the world largest food fight, La Tomatina where the Busabout La Tomatina tour is based for three days.
From the festivities of La Tomatina it was then onward to the Capital Madrid and from here the Busabout Iberian Adventure Tour which was a seven day adventure taking in the sights of Seville, Lagos in Portugal, Tangier in Morocco, back to Spain and on to Granada before returning back to Madrid. A great tour for anyone with a short amount of time wanting to experience the culture and fun that Spain, Portugal and Morocco have to offer.
Madrid to San Sebastian via Pamplona – 05 September, 2015
This morning after finishing the amazing Iberian Adventure Tour of Spain and Portugal, we were back on the Busabout coach nice and early for our departure from the U Hostel in Madrid so we can make our way towards San Sebastian. I went to San Sebastian not really expecting much and didn’t really do much research other than finding a really stunning hotel to stay in, so my expectations weren’t very high.
The journey on the coach was a long one today, leaving Madrid at 8:00am and not arriving in San Sebastian until 5:00pm. Along the way we also had to make a stop at the optional drop off point in Pamplona, best known as the town where the annual Running with the Bulls or San Fermín is staged. Not many people got off the coach here and we only picked up a small amount of people, as you cam imagine this time of the year not much else is going on in this sleepy town.
San Sebastian is located in northern Spain near the French border and originally I was looking at only spending one night here and then moving on into France. I then changed the whole trip thinking to spend three nights here instead so we could have a bit of time to relax after the hectic portion of the trip so far. This would have to be one of the best decisions I made as San Sebastian became one of the highlights of the entire trip.
Before arriving in San Sebastian our Busabout guide was organising a night out for those interested in a tapas crawl, taking us to the best tapas restaurants in San Sebastian and meeting outside the drop off point which is the Urban House hostel located in Plaza de Gipuzkoa, one of the main squares in San Sebastian.
When we arrived in San Sebastian the first thing we needed to do was catch a taxi to be taken to our hotel where we would spend the next three nights. For most of the stops along this journey I have either stayed at the Busabout recommended stop or somewhere close to it so we would be able to get to the coach early in the morning without the risk of missing it. This was the first time where we were staying somewhere that wasn’t close to the drop off location and was quite far away, however the journey was worth it.
Throughout this entire trip I have been very budget conscious, however while in San Sebastian this went out the window and we stayed in what is the most expensive accommodation for the trip, staying at very well located four star Mercure San Sebastian Monte Igueldo. While the hotel itself was marketed as a luxury hotel it wasn’t the greatest hotel and you were clearly paying for the view, but it was worth it with our room looking right out to San Sebastian Bay with a view of the city at the far end of the bay. The hotel is also surrounded by an old school amusement park, part of the thrill of staying here and meaning we could go down to the theme park at anytime and not just make a day trip out of it.
The top of the hill is a tourist drawcard in itself, attracting people for the views, the amusement park and for the funicular ride that takes visitors to the summit. There is also a tower located here overlooking the hotel and the entire area, so if the top of Monte Igueldo isn’t enough for you, then you can get even higher for uninterrupted 360 degree views. To cap it off the area was closed down tonight for a concert that was being held outside the hotel in the car park. We thought we could get prime position of the concert from the pool area except for the fact they close the pool at 8:00pm and we were kicked out.
After a long day on the coach it was time to relax and have an early night. The plan for our time in San Sebastian is to do all the exploring tomorrow and then use our final day for a little relaxation by the pool and hopefully have a little fun on some old theme park rides. In the morning I also plan to get up early to try and see what type of sunrise San Sebastian can pull off, and it didn’t disappoint!
San Sebastian – 06 September, 2015
This morning I was up bright and early to capture the stunning sunrise from this vantage point. I was lucky to gain entry this morning to the theme park outside the hotel as it’s usually closed off, however this morning pack up crews were dismantling the stage from last night’s concert so I could walk right on in to capture some amazing shots. After being up early I went back to bed for a short time before getting up again to begin the day by exploring San Sebastian.
As we were up and leaving the hotel early we were unable to catch the funicular down to the bottom of the hill so we needed to walk down which wasn’t so bad, we were just lucky we didn’t have to walk back up. From the bottom of Monte Igueldo we walked along the pristine beach that curves around San Sebastian, finding a small bakery cafe for a touch of breakfast. We could of had breakfast at our hotel, however we would have had to pay extra for that and it wasn’t cheap so we decided to hold off and we would indulge tomorrow morning instead.
We started to walk around the town without a plan in place, mainly winging it as to what we would see and do. It was quiet around as it was only about 9:00am, however there were crowds starting to build near the beach with people all dressed up in different colours supporting a team. We didn’t quite understand what was going on and thought maybe there was some sort of marathon going on or something. We headed towards Monte Urgull which is a hill on the opposite side of the bay from where we are staying. It features a small fortress at the summit with a giant statue of Jesus on top of that.
As we approached the entrance to the park surrounding the hill, we were stopped and were told we needed to pay for entry today because of the race that was going on. I huffed and puffed about having to pay saying that I didn’t come all the way across from the other side of the world to watch a running race and just want to go and look at the statue. The security guard hesitated and told us that if he let everyone in no one would pay, then reluctantly he let us through without having to pay. It wasn’t until we started to climb higher that we realised that it wasn’t a running race but a rowing race and people were supporting their regions. Turns out that this race is a really big deal in San Sebastian and is held annually called Kontxako Bandera. Now that we scored free entry we took advantage of watching a little bit of the action.
You could really grasp how passionate the people of San Sebastian are about this rowing regatta. Thousands of people flocked to the beach and up the hill of Monte Urgull to gain the best vantage point with people even occupying the small island in the centre of the bay to cheer on their team. Once the race was over most of the people flocked to the streets to celebrate with every bar and restaurant at full capacity.
We made our way back to our hotel to have a relaxing time by the pool by catching the funicular back up to the top which drops us off right in front of out hotel and is quite cheap to catch with a return ticket costing €3.15 or €1.75 for a one way ticket. On return I checked out the old style amusement park and climbed to the top of the tower located above the hotel which gives you impressive 360 degree views of San Sebastian. Being at the summit of Monte Igueldo is already high enough, but being able to go up even higher in the tower, it’s even more impressive.
We happened to run into a couple of people who were on our Busabout Iberian Adventure tour of Spain and Portugal, we invited them into our hotel and sat by the pool for a drink before deciding to go out and give the amusement park a go. While I’m not exactly a rides person and the rides here are quite old, I decided to give them a go and the first thing we did was jump on the dodgem cars. We certainly got our money’s worth with this cheap ride with it lasting more than 10 minutes, given that the park wasn’t that busy they must have just let it keep going while it looked like we were all having a ball.
The type of ride that is a big no no for me is any sort of roller-coaster, let’s face it I’m a big wuss. But I thought what the hell I should go on the old style roller-coaster that circles the park and it was quite fun. It only really had one big dip and I didn’t enjoy that but it was pretty cool as a once off and has impressive views as we raced around the circuit. The final ride we went on was just a slow boat ride that goes in a large oval shaped circuit in front of the hotel. It cruises around giving you a great view of the bay and goes through a tunnel at the end which has a weird pirate treasure chest theme.
After having a bit of fun on a few rides we caught the funicular down and walked back into the town to grab some dinner from a small restaurant where we could watch all the craziness that was going on in the streets. We then left everyone and headed back to the hotel so we could get back in time for the last funicular back up the hill. We just made it on time otherwise it would have been a long walk back to the summit.
Today was a big day of exploring San Sebastian, having fun and catching up with some fellow travelers. The goal for tomorrow it to sit by the pool and have a quiet day taking advantage of our stunning location and its facilities.
San Sebastian – 07 September, 2015
This morning we were able to sleep in which I didn’t do to begin with because I wanted some more great sunrise shots but it was straight back to bed after that with no early starts catching the coach this morning, until tomorrow morning of course. We decided we would have breakfast in our hotel the Mercure San Sebastian Monte Igueldo and basically have a lazy day by the pool. The pool area opened at 10:00am and we were the first ones in having the entire place to ourselves for the first hour and I took it upon myself to sit at the bar and pass the time by drinking some lovely sangria. Those who say sitting at the bar with a view by the pool drinking sangria alone is sad well then I say call me a sad man because it was great!
Not in too much of a hurry we decided to have lunch by the pool where they would serve basic food such as burgers and chips at inflated hotel prices, but we didn’t care as this was our day to relax before we got back into the swing of travelling on the Busabout network. Later on in the day we caught the funicular down to try and decide what we would do for dinner which turned out to be a really hard decision. Thinking our hotel was too classy for us and expensive we didn’t want to eat there and not finding a suitable restaurant close enough we just grabbed something from the supermarket and went back to the hotel.
It was a bit of a pity given San Sebastian is known to be one of the best parts of Spain where you can experience tapas. Although don’t make the mistake of calling them tapas in San Sebastian as locally they are known as pinchos.
After a pretty non eventful day we prepared for our departure tomorrow which requires us to get a taxi to take us to the pick up point outside the Urban House hostel. Tomorrow the coach departs San Sebastian at 8:00am for what is probably the longest trip of the whole Busabout network to Paris arriving at 9:30pm. With this in mind we’re not making this journey and stopping at the second optional stop along the way in the small city of Tours across the border in France, getting in at a more reasonable time of 5:00pm.
PICK UP/DROP OFF POINT
Plaza de Guipúzcoa, 2, 20004 San Sebastian, Spain
+34 943 428 154