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Europe: Bigger Than We Think

October 17th, 2017 · No Comments · Spain, tourism, Travel

Americans tend to think of Europe as a small place. Physically small. Especially when compared to North America, let alone Asia.

And Europe is fairly compact. Especially the western half of it. From Ireland to, say, the borders of the former Soviet Union.

But, and it’s big but … Europe is not dinky. If you are thinking of France (four-fifths the size of Texas), Spain (three-fourths the size of Texas), Germany 85 percent the size of California), Poland (three-quarters the size of Cali) … Europe is not to be conquered in a morning’s drive. Unless you’re talking about the Benelux countries, maybe.

Which explains our falling asleep-at-the-wheel fatigue after driving the 530 kilometers from southeast France to southwest France and over the border into Spain’s Basque Country and, specifically, to San Sebastian.

We have been to Spain repeatedly this year. Which is not as silly as it sounds (OK, aside from the repeated trips to Barcelona, where the staff at the Sagrada Familia seems to think I’m stalking them) because Spain is a fairly big place and because it has a different culture every hundred miles or so. (See: Catalonia.)

This time, we went to the most picturesque part of Basque Country, the bit of northeast Spain that is home to one of Europe’s proudest and most mysterious small ethnic groups.

San Sebastian may not be a great place to visit, but it looks like a great place to live, if you can get one of the apartments down on the flat part of the town. Overlooking the several long stretches of tidal sea water.

It is a town of 200,000 or so which has several big, clean, sandy (not rocky) beaches, a tidy town, public transportation (well, tons of buses) and a culinary scene of renown (pintxos, anyone?).

As a tourist, it was not clear what I might want to do after one solid day looking at the Old Town and the beaches, buying some stuff, considering the funicular and three big batches of pintxos at two dinners and a lunch, spanning three neighborhoods and the “well-known” to “local neighborhoody” places.

The town is a bit difficult to navigate because a significant segment of the population does not seem interested in speaking English or, especially, Spanish, nor is it interested in regularly posting signs in languages other than their language, and it leads to difficulties for tourists. Also, the hospitality industry in the city is not known for being hospitable.

It is not a particularly expensive place, but San Sebastian (which the locals call Donostia) also is more expensive than most of the rest of Spain.

But it is worth seeing, as are more parts of Spain and the Iberian Peninsula, which we will be checking out in the coming days.



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