Two sides of the river, two magnificent beaches

This is the beach on west side of the river in San Sebastian. You really have to be here to appreciate how beautiful this place is. But this 360 panorama gives something of an idea.

Just posting a few photos. maybe a brief description.

View of the eastern beach form around 500 or 600 feet up from observatory point.
One end of huge plaza overlooking beach on western side of river.
Looking back across the street.
View up at the observation point from a distance.
And, oh my gawd, there are Parrot Heads everywhere!

The beautiful, peaceful urbanity of San Sebastian

As I travel here and there, I’ve found that there are places in this world that are nothing like you imagined or hoped for, and there are places that are better than you could have imagined. 

A handful of times now, I’ve arrived in a location and it all was there before me. You walk out of the train station door and it’s “Boom! Dere id iz.” 

San Sabastian in the north of Spain is that kind of place. There’s no need to get to the interesting parts; the interesting parts are right there upon arrival. And more to be found.

I imagined this as a much smaller city, and no where near as developed. But I learn that San Sebastian was no sleepy beach town a century ago when Hemingway wrote of it in The Sun Also Rises. It is a rich and varied urban center that is beautifully laid out, and as charming as cities come. 

Across the river from my hotel in San Sebastian

One reviewer on Trip Advisor called it “a mix of Venice and Florence and Paris.” I’ve only been to Florence, but I get what she was saying. This is a truly marvelous city, a testament to what thoughtful urbanity can be. The most walkable city I’ve ever set foot in, and one of the most beautiful. With so many plazas and cafes and restaurants. And the Atlantic Ocean in all its restless glory.

Walking around this city calms my mind and feeds my soul.

I only booked three nights here- really just two full days- and I feel I shorted myself. I could wander around here exploring for days. Just covering all the paths along the river and the sea is a multi-day experience. 

Adding to the pleasure is the fact that the lodging I booked, the Hotel Terminus, is a part of the train station. You can actually enter the attached hotel’s cafe from the platform. 

Howcoolisthat, I thought as I arrived late Friday night, despite being tired from a five hour-plus train ride, and quite happy to forego a taxi ride. 

And the attached cafe? Like the hotel, obviously, it’s around 100 years old, a classic, with 14 foot ceilings, a great long bar, and tall windows looking out to the trains. Plus a sunny a side patio for folks who don’t want to look at the choo-choos.

As if delicious and inexpensive tapas plates and excellent, cheap Spanish wines weren’t enough. 

People in San Sebastian can stroll, bike, skate board and jog along either side of the River Urema, which empties into the Atlantic about a mile from my hotel.

And they can walk the broad sidewalks of Zurriola Hiribidea to the Plays de Zurriola, a wide curving beach were Hemingway’s alter ego Jake Barnes body surfed nearly a century ago.

It was a hugely popular destination in Hemingway’s time, and is still a popular destination today.

Nowadays surfers ride impressive waves to the shore and young lovers cuddle, little kids frolic and old folks leaning on canes smile out at the sand and sun and blue water, perhaps recalling the days they frolicked or cuddled there.

This morning I joined hundreds- probably thousands- of people strolling along the long walkway above where the river meets the sea. It is a sight to behold. More on that to come in a subsequent post.

America doesn’t know squat about what real class is. We think it’s about what things cost. Europeans appreciate the finer things, but they understand far better than us that everyone is entitled to some good things, and as a part of daily life, not just on special occasions.

The best of their cities, like San Sebastian, exhude that ethos.

Any time you see a well dressed man holding a glass of wine while he stands on the station platform waiting for a train to arrive, you know you’re in a very civilized place. 

Tchau, Portugal

Took the Afurada river ferry across to Porto just after noon and a bus to the far side of Matoschinos (beyond Porto), where I’m relaxing in a cafe for a couple hours before Ubering the short distance to the airport.

Headed to San Sebastian via Madrid on the train. Then on to Lourdes, France for three days, then Barcelona.

I had another post for OTHAFA planned, but my computer touch pad was getting touchy and I couldn’t use it properly until last night.

I’ll post it when I’m in San Sebastian.

A real gem adjacent to Porto and Gaia

It’s just before 4 p.m. Portugal time (10 a.m. in Chicago) on a Friday afternoon. I’m sitting on a patio outside Pedra Furada restaurant, just a stone’s throw, and a short throw at that, from the River Douro. 

Looking to my left I can see the surf pounding the beach on the Atlantic Ocean around a mile away. To my right, less than 1,000 feet distant, is the Arribida Bridge, the first span crossing the Douro from the Atlantic, lesser known than the 138 year old Ponte Luis I a mile or so to the east, but eye catching in its own right.

I am in Furada, an old fishing village that’s part of and yet separate from Vila Nova de Gaia, where I will be staying for my last seven days in Portugal.

Or maybe not. After experiencing just a couple hours here, and my beautiful studio apartment a mere 55 steps away up the street, I’m feeling inclined to alter my plans and return here after my stay in Barcelona. 

Small boats and river tour boats docked in Afurada

As I gaze out over the Douro, the river taxi slips away from its pier and drifts over to the opposite shore, as further in the distance the Porto trolley rolls slowly westward on its rails, like a toy under a Christmas tree.

I’ll spare you more descriptive adjectives and just admit I am enthralled. 

Porto from my restaurant table in Afurada

This is everything I hoped Portugal would be- sun and seafood and wonderful inexpensive wines, the river, the ocean, a relaxed pace of life. And more. Just four or five minutes by bus along the river to downtown Gaia, a 2 euro river taxi from Porto. Restaurants preparing all sorts of seafood taken just this morning from the Atlantic, cooking on open grills on the sidewalk. 

Shrimp, squid, sea bass and cod grilling on the sidewalk

There’s a small mercado three doors away from my front door, two restaurants with outdoor seating looking out at the river, less than 150 feet away.

None of it will ever likely be pictured on postcards, unlike the Porto skyline a mile up river. But it is all magic nonetheless. 

I feel at peace more than at any time since I left Malaga, Spain in mid-January. Maybe more so. And I think to myself, how long would it take to become bored with this place that stands on its own just across the river from Porto and just down the road from downtown Gaia?

The boulevard along the riverfront in Afurada, Portugal

I suspect I may just find out after I’m done visiting Barcelona the first week of March. The beaches of Valencia sound very nice, and I’d planned ten days there to write. I think now that three or four days of sun and sand will suffice.

Wouldn’t want to get bored now, would I?

Full metal graffiti

Odds and ends of a wander through Vila Nova de Gaia

Too sore and tired after yesterday’s loooong wander up and across the Ponte Luis I and down through the beautiful labyrinth of the Ribeira neighborhood in Porto. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So here are a few photos and one video until I feel like writing again.

They’re building and renovating all over the Port cellar district in Vila Nova de Gaia. Had to walk past this crane lifting up loads of stone or pre-fab concrete to the roof of one of three construction sites on the street I walk down and back up every day to my apartment. Gotta say, pretty cool to watch.

A few more photos of my wanders about the waterfront.

A tire repair store
Yes! Cubans! Muy frio!