After seven months of wandering through the south of Spain, I’ve finally made a dent in the north. I flew Seville to Santander (Sun-tun-dehr), spent a couple of ‘nothing too exciting’ nights wandering the city (which could be almost any city in Spain), checked out the pretty beaches (too windy to swim) and crammed in as many pintxos as possible into my little mouth.
If you’re in Santander looking for somewhere delicious to have a drink and a tapa, Bodega La Conveniente was my highlight of the Cantabria capital. The staff were fun, boquerones with vinegar and dill were so vinegary and SO GOOD and the waiter gave us a plate of free cheese, I think because my friend spilt red wine on herself, but she does that a lot. The walls are lined with wine bottles and the place is all high ceilings and wooden floors and heavy doors, so I was in my happy place. And I was even happier because there was a dude playing piano upstairs for the guests below.
After all the food, we rolled our way over to San Sebastian.
The first thing everyone probably notices is the greenness of the Basque Country. Fucking stunning. Mountains, rivers, overgrown trees, moss, all that good naturey stuff. But the reason it’s so green is the rain, which evidently happens a lot. Out of 2.5 days in San Sebastian we managed to get half a day of sun and headed straight for the beach. As for the nightlife we went out in the old city on Juan de Bilbao which had a lot of cool little alternative bars with everyone spilling out onto the little street despite the wet weather. Kalimotxos (red wine and cola) are popular, as are cigarettes and umbrellas. Thursday night was busy AZ – San Seb is a uni town.
I recommend the walk up to the Jesús statue. So much green!!
I expected Bilbao to be an industrial eyesore, but it was a really beautiful place with incredible architecture, green mountains bordering the city and low clouds that seem to just hang. My favourite pintxos were around Plaza Nueva, and at night we went out in the centre to Calle Licenciado Poza, started at Bowie Bar which had some thrashy live music and free snacks on the bar, then we made our way through the bars around there. Similar alternative kinda vibe to San Seb. I could see myself living in Bilbao, it’s more than just Guggenheim and pintxos (although pintxos probably make up about 33% of the city).
The Andalusians love to talk about how much more open and friendly they are than people in the north, so I was expecting the Basques to be cold bastards – but they were nothing but lovely – even the bus drivers. Everyone from checkout chicks to the camareros at the pintxo bars joked around with us, so Andalusia, I love you, but I think you’re wrong about this one. Bilbao is a really cool city and at times – maybe with the cold weather and lack of cliché Spain you get in the south, it felt more like Germany than Spain. Sometimes it felt like Scotland. It was so weird being in Spain and not being surrounded by bull images, flamenco, tapas and Cruzcampo. Tourism obviously isn’t as aggressive as in the south, nor is English as widely spoken. It was fantastic.