Trans España

Back in early October it was a relief simply to arrive in Spain amid the uncertainty of travel at the peak of Covid. Since then we have appreciated every single day of our “workation” regardless of any local restrictions. We recognise our good fortune.

With a week left on our Costa Brava apartment lease it’s time to plot the trip home to the UK – and things are getting messy. Our inward ferry route via Bilbao has ended for the season and the alternative departure from Santander isn’t a road trip we want to make in one day. To further complicate matters long distance travel within Spain is currently forbidden at the weekend.

In keeping with our current mindset we look to turn this cloud into a silver lining, with a rather wonderful solution. We will travel to San Sebastian on Monday and then make the short hop to Santander the following Saturday. We have ALWAYS wanted to visit San Sebastian…

Booking the ferry was simple enough but accommodation is in short supply and the parking prices are insane. Eventually we fall lucky and find a stellar apartment right in the centre of SS at a good rate. Let’s just not talk about the parking tariff. Fingers in ears – I can’t hear you!

In the days before our departure my only stress is witnessing all of the shopping we are accumulating for our trip home. Where is it all going to fit? I’m doing mental gymnastics through to Monday morning where my former elite level of Tetris accomplishment finally pays off. In one of the greatest achievements of my life I manage to pack everything into the car. The space under the seats is crammed with wine and olive oil. Door pockets are full of chorizo. I’ve filled the narrow space under the boot liner with computer gear. A little crevice beneath even that, where the battery sits, is now stuffed with bags of rice harvested in Pals just up the coast. The rest of our capacious boot and rear space is crammed to the hilt with everything you can imagine and some things you cannot.

Remarkably we leave by 10am as planned following a quick exchange with our landlady who has driven up from Barcelona. The car feels heavy! My thoughts turn to travel psychology. Instead of a depressing 9 hour drive to catch a ferry home we have 7 hour drive to go to an actual holiday destination following the end of our working stay. A serendipitous solution.

It’s a little sad to say goodbye to our sunny home from home but we are onto the next adventure. The forests and foothills of Catalonia roll by in a slow farewell eventually giving way to an undulating agricultural landscape that is greener than the arid plains we crossed on the way in. That’s because we are taking a more northerly route on toll-free roads that run the length of the Pyrenean range.

Road trip!

It has been raining for a while when our route juts off to the North and we begin a gradual ascent into the foothills. Roads become narrower and windier as they carve through an increasingly rocky landscape. We stop to fill our lungs with cold mountain air next to a steeply banked river that looks so fresh and inviting.

Fresh air!

A towering mass of rock looms into view. Two improbably vast stone pillars dwarf a village settlement. They beg to be carved into kingly middle-earth figures from Lord Of The Rings. Any sense of travel fatigue is left behind as each corner unfolds some new rugged beauty

Into the mountain kingdom

I’m forced to check the route as we traverse a river on single lane bridge. There’s a dusting of snow. Can this be right?

Well this is getting fun

Soon the road sides are white and still we continue up hill, stopping briefly to feel the icy flakes on our faces. This is a dream inside a dream!

We weren’t expecting this when we set off

The snow is coming down harder now and is beginning to settle on a road that has seen almost no other traffic in the past 30 minutes. Do not break down here. Do not slide off the road here. Fortunately with 4WD and heated seats there is nothing much to do other than crawl along and enjoy the ride.

OK, this is getting serious

The road eventually turns out onto the beginning of a new looking mountain highway that weaves us west-bound quickly and efficiently, through tunnels and over wooded valleys in a long gradual descent into the heart of Basque country, toward the legendary city of San Sebastian. We emerge into Donostia as it is known here with the sun receding and navigate our way through busy streets into the heart of the Old Town and directly to our underground car park. Thank you Google Maps.

A lift takes us up to street level where we emerge into frenzied gusts of salty wind that blow in off the Atlantic just a stones throw from our base in the old town. The massive crescent bay opens up right in front of us. White surf stands out in the early evening gloom as sea-front lights begin to form an arc around the bay. I want to inject this but there’s a host to meet and a car to unpack.

The world famous bay

It’s a mere 2 minute walk from the bay to our block where we meet Edu who is stylishly mummified beneath a long coat ruffed up scarf and brimmed hat. He leads us up out of the squall to our 4th floor luxury apartment – home for the next 5 nights. There’s a well-rehearsed canter through the formalities with Edu promising some recommendations before disappearing into the night. I make a couple more trips to skim the surface of our packing from the car and then we sit with a drink relishing the warm metropolitan comfort that we have signed up for, and in particular beds that will allow us the first truly restful sleep since our arrival.

With food on the mind (when was it not) we head out for a little exploration in the dark, wrapped up warmly for the first time since setting foot in Spain all those weeks ago.

The cold diagonal rain is a shock to the system after the polite weather of the east coast. It’s not just the weather that is smacking us in the face, it’s the change of pace, from our sleepy backwater bang into the heart of a bustling city. I’m reminded of my first blast of Manhattan back in 2010, exiting from the subway straight into the shadow of the New York Times office and yellow cabs. In this case we are transported into a hive of shoppers holding onto their hats as they navigate the busy streets lined with high class shop front windows, each tastefully decorated for Christmas.

From sunshine to Christmas in one day

An extensive nativity scene sprawls across one of the squares accompanied by piped carol music. No caganer in sight here for we have most definitely exchanged Catalonia for the Basque country. We have become unaccustomed to such crowds of people and it is a battle to keep our distance. Everyone wears masks but I don’t sense anyone thinks it is more than a formality. The restaurant recommendations ping onto our phone from Edu but we have neither the time or energy for further exploration and decide to make a dash to an unnervingly busy supermarket for food and retire to our nest for the evening.

What a surreal day. From autumn in Catalonia through dramatic snow covered wintery foothills of the Pyrenees and into the stormy bay of San Sebastian wearing its festive clothing. Tomorrow a new adventure begins…

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