Friday, July 23, 2010

Basque Country by bike

A few weeks back, Joseba surprised me with...a bike! I have wanted a bike for a pretty long time and had mentioned it and then ta-daaaa there it was! It's retro and looks like it is straight out of 1970 and probably is, considering he spent an entire Saturday fixing it up so it is usable, and I love it. With the weather finally sunny here, I make it a point to ride my bike everywhere!
Last weekend, my friend Miles who had just bought a bike the day before, decided to take a bike adventure and take advantage of the gorgeous sunny day. After smothering on the sunscreen (I don't want to get tanner and Miles is quite pale) we brought our new loves onto the train and waited for a short 10 minutes until we arrived in Errenteria, a town nearby San Sebastián. The plan was to ride in the bicycle lane from there back to Donostia - a short 6 miles.
Hot off the train we jumped on the bikes and coasted through the Old Town of Errenteria - a town I pass every day I go to work, but have never gotten off the bus and bothered to see. With our bikes we swiftly passed through the town. My bike came with a rusty bell that has four Irish hearts on it, and it came in quite handy on the narrow cobblestone streets where people were casually passing with ice creams in hand - enjoying the sunny day in a different way. Since it's rusty, it kinda gets stuck and makes an odd sound, but I can't complain - it's an unconditional love I have for this bike.
We managed to find the bike lanes but couldn't figure out which direction we should go, so got took a few wrong turns before we got on the right track to our first stop - Lezo, another small town on the way. An old and small village right next to the Port of Pasaia, the main port in the area, this town built itself up as a port town and still serves as a maritime town. The main port, dating back to the 16th century, was accessible from many points of the city and roads of the Old Part still lead towards the water. Miles and I, sandwiches packed in our bags, sat down in Goiko Plaza to order some pop and take a break. Situated right next to the main church in town and at the end of Calle Nagusia (Main Street in Basque), all of the bar's tables were full and it seemed that maybe the majority of the small town were at this bar. After I downed my orange soda and Miles his Coke, we decided we couldn't waste the sun and bounced down another cobblestone street out of Lezo. While I love my bike, I will note that the seat is not so comfortable - and even less comfortable on cobblestone streets! I guess I will have to get used to it, seeing as Donostia is filled with these kinds of streets too.

Back in the bike lane we sped through Pasaia towards the port. The town of Pasaia is made up of 3 main neighborhoods - one that has a view of the port from a long stretch of land, and then a neighbhorhood on each side of the mouth of the river - San Pedro and San Juan. While both are nice, San Juan trumps San Pedro in beauty. Set across the river and easiestly accessible by a small ferry boat that takes you across the river, it's a scene out of a travel book. These two neighborhoods have been at odds since 1805 when the government stated they should join together to increase the land area of San Juan. They continued managing their own governments with thier own mayors and activities. Only in 1898 did they decide to govern together - but to me, San Juan is still better - *wth a small strip of flat land between the mountains and the water, steep houses, one on top of the other, line the narrow but long neighborhood.

We left our bikes on the San Pedro side of the river and paid our 70 cents and headed straight for the main square. From the river it's easy to see the main square and the houses that line it. A huge open space in an otherwise crowded area, the homes that face the water all scream BASQUE! With the typical architecture of old town apartments here and the ubiquitious flower boxes, it is one of the most beautiful Basque country scenes I've come across. Not only is it a stunning town, but one with a lot of heart. We are currently in rowing season and each town has its own rowing team who they are oh so very proud of, and to go along with the team, a specific color flag. San Juan's color is pink and there is no way you couldn't know. From flags hanging from balconies to old men wearing hot pink shirts, everyone in San Juan wants to show you some San Juan pride!

Because the town isn't so wide, there is really only one street and it runs right along the water. While we were meandering on the street, I found it particularly fun to look in each bar that sat on the water and peer out their windows to the river below. Some of the best restaurants in town are in these little places - so as you eat a delectable fish, you can possibly seem some jumping right outside the window!

Towards the end of the town we found ourselves an invitation we just couldn't pass up. Still full from the sandwiches, we saw a table on it's own private patio facing the water, with two chairs. I asked the bartender if we could sit at it, thinking he would surely say no. He said, you can't eat there, so I followed up that response by asking if we could drink there, to which he smiled and said of course! Where CAN'T you drink in Spain?! So, we ordered a refreshing beer with lemon mix and stretched our legs out and took in the view - the green of the steep mountain contrasting with the jags of gray rocks and the almost turquoise blue of the water splashing against it. Or if you're not a guppie fan, you can always look out at the water and imagine back to the days that the powerful Basque men built fleets of sturdy fishing boats or ships for the Spanish Armada in this very port.

Next stop on our walking (no longer biking) route was a small beach. I didn't even know this beach existed until we came upon it, and from the pathway above we knew we just had to go down and test out the clear water. Although rocky, the water felt amazing. It did get a bit awkward when an old man snorkeling swam past us and completely looked at my boobs underwater and kept swimming by, like maybe we hadn't noticed. Miles and I dissolved into giggles and then made our way back to the beach to dry off. Past the beach the path got a bit more off-road and took us to the edge of Basque Country - where it meets the ocean. With a small lighthouse on the watchout, the sea was vast and the breeze brushed us in the face as we took in the view.

At this point the beer with lemon (cerveza con limón) was coming back to haunt me (Why didn't I just go to the bathroom in the water next to the creepy snorkeler?!) and we headed back to the main part of town for a bathroom stop and get our bikes and head home. The hill that was so fun to coast down when we entered Pasaia turned out to be a devil to bike up and when we finally were cruising down towards the Zurriola beach in San Sebastián my legs were happy. We arrived back home at 7pm and enjoying a nice nap on the beach in a still perfectly sunny day.

Normally, I spend my Sundays relaxing or meeting with friends at the beach or something normal like that, but this bike ride made me think I should always make Sunday a funday! As you might have noticed, I haven't done much travelling outside of the country this summer, but am finding great ways to entertain myself here in Basque Country and I hope that although I don't have any exotic stories coming through the blog, you still enjoy hearing about my summer days!


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