San Sebastian – a Basque city

San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque) is on the northern coast of Spain in the Basque country, about 12 miles from France.  

We began a walking tour with a few of the bridges crossing the Urumea River. 

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The very ornate Puente de Maria Cristina

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The simple Puente de Sta. Catalina.  This is the city’s seal, a ship with three masts.

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And the Puente de Zirrola

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The river channels into the ocean on the other side of this bridge.  It can be quite rough here as the mouth of the river is affected by the tides.

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Facing the river, the “Teatro” Victoria Eugenia, built in 1912, was recently renovated and reopened in 2007.

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The Regional Council Headquarters of Gipuzkoa was built in 1885.  The busts along the roof top are popular sailors from this region of Spain.

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The Plaza de Gipuzkoa is a pretty park in front of the government building. 

This is a meteorological pergola. 

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This is a clock-table made of white marmol.

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Next we headed into the old town, Parte Vieja, located on a peninsula between the river and the bay.  Early San Sebastian was easily defended, with the bay, ocean, and river protecting three sides, and a wall across the fourth side.  Most current buildings in old town were rebuilt in the 19th century after the town was demolished in 1813 as English and Portuguese troops fought to push Napoleon out of Spain and Portugal.

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Plaza de la Constitucion, built in 1817, is the Old Town’s main square.  Town Hall, currently the library, was built in 1832. 

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Bull fights used to be held here.  You can see the seat numbering on the balconies.

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The seal of San Sebastian.

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Iglesia de San Vicente, in the heart of old town, is considered the oldest church in the city.  It was built in the early 16th century in the Basque Gothic style.  The towers and portico were added in the 17th century. 

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This modern “pieta” is on an outside wall..

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Most of the streets of the old town are pedestrian only, lined with shops, restaurants and tapas bars.

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This is the oldest building in town.  It escaped fire and war destruction.

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San Sebastian has over 100 Gastronomy Clubs.  They are private clubs where, historically, men would cook for themselves and enjoy a meal with friends.  Instead of entertaining in your home you invite your friends to your club where there is a big kitchen and dining area.  Membership could be inherited from father to son or bought if the candidate got the approval of all the club members.   Many clubs are changing their strict rules and are now accepting women. 

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Santa Maria del Coro (1764) is tucked into the base of Monte Urgull.  It was attached to the city’s fortification walls.

They’ve added some unique modern art.

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Notice the seal of San Sebastian again, the ship with three masts.

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The Grand Casino was built in 1887 and turned into City Hall in 1947.

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This park is located between Alameda de Boulevard and Aldapa Boulevard.  The long planting bed marks where the old city wall was located.

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La Concha Beach forms a lazy horse-shoe around La Concha Bay.

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The island in the middle is Santa Clara.  Monte Igueldo, the high spot behind it, is the west sentry of the opening to the Atlantic Ocean.  Monte Urgull is on the east side.

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There’s a wonderful 2 mile long promenade along the beach.

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In 1845, Queen Isabel II’s doctor recommended she bathe in the sea to treat her skin problems.  She chose San Sebastian because of its fine beach and soon the Spanish nobility and the diplomatic corps opened summer homes here.  The Miramar Palace was built in 1893 and enlarged in 1920.  The residence of the Royal Family is currently the head office of Musikene (Basque Country musical studies).

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Monte Urgull is a large park.  You can walk around the base of the mountain on a paved coastal walkway.

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This piece is called Empty Construction.

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I thought this was an interesting sculpture too.

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It was bathrooms!

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La Mota Castle is on the top of Monte Urgull.

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Back in town, we went to the Museum of San Telmo.  This Basque culture museum is part modern building and part 16th century Dominican convent with cloisters. 

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These varnish on metal paintings were made for this space in 1929 when it was converted into a museum.  The artist was Jose Maria Sert.

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Basque tools and cowbells.

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Bretxa Public Market is a modern shopping complex, with a farmers’ produce market and fish and meat markets.

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The main train station in San Sebastian is the Estacion del Norte.  The canopy covering the platforms was designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame.

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The best part of Spain – Pintxos!

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Our apartment in San Sebastian was in the Centro neighborhood, south of old town.  Cathedral Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) was just down the street.

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A modern grocery store was nearby and it was an easy walk into the old town.

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Views from the apartment…..

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These carillon bells, on the roof across the street, rang several times a day.

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San Sebastian is a lovely city and it was a great place to wrap up our visit to Spain.  

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The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

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On our way across northern Spain we drove through Bilbao, the home of the Guggenheim Museum.  We had several hours to spend exploring this extraordinary contemporary building.

Again, Northern Spain looks a lot like Oregon.

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In my opinion, the modern art (no pictures) plays second fiddle to the building, designed by architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997. 

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This big Puppy, a giant topiary, greets you in the plaza in front of the museum.  Originally intended to be temporary, the community loved it so much that they bought it.  The artist was Jeff Koons.

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The museum is all glass, titanium, limestone and space!  Because of the complexity, the curves in these materials were designed with the aid of computers. 

The stunning atrium (180 feet) is the heart of the building.  There are 20 galleries on three floors.  Most of the exhibits are temporary.  The collection rotates among the three Guggenheim galleries in Bilbao, NY and Venice.

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The building was inspired by silvery fish and evokes wind-filled sails.

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“Tulips” are another piece by Jeff Koons.

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“Tall Tree and the Eye” by Anish Kapoor is 73 reflective spheres.

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This spider, called “Mamam”, is by French artist Louise Bourgeois.  It depicts her mother (a weaver) spinning a delicate web of life. ??? Kind of creepy…..

Yoko Ono has created a piece called a Wish Tree.  It is inspired by the Japanese tradition of hanging prayers from a plant.  This installation alternates between periods when visitors can write down their wishes and when they can whisper them to the tree.  We whispered.

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The museum was built on the bank of the Nervion River in Bilbao.  The museum’s terrace pool incorporates the river into the museum.  It’s a fabulous setting.

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The Guggenheim in Bilbao was more than we expected and we are so glad we made the stop!

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Posted in Bilbao, Spain | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments