After leaving the tedious coast road journey speeded up now of course and we completed the final thirty kilometres of the journey in less than half an hour.
As we approached the city I was struck by the fact that it was much bigger than I had been expecting and fairly soon it was much busier than I had imagined as well. As we followed signs to the centre we joined a queue of crawling traffic with snarling engines, red hot clutch plates and frustrated drivers and we made slow progress towards our destination. This seemed strange, we knew it was Mother’s day and this was making everywhere busier than normal but we couldn’t understand how this could have produced so much congestion.
As we nudged our way slowly through the obstructions the car parks all showed full signs and police were moving cars along and we circled the city centre twice looking for a parking spot. I was all for giving up and finding somewhere else to go and I was regretting the decision to drive east this morning when perhaps we should have stayed in Cantabria when we finally found an underground car park with a few remaining vacant spaces and after nearly three hours of driving finally stopped the car.
We were unsure of our position and we were ready for refreshment so we walked around the cathedral square looking for somewhere suitable but almost everywhere was crowded and boisterous and I began to detect a lot of Irish accents in the bars.
Eventually we found a bar with some empty seats and went inside. The bar was a sea of red shirts and I had to jostle myself into position by pushing through the scarlet rugby tops. Now there were French voices alongside the Irish accents and the penny began to drop – somewhere there must be a sporting event and my enquiries revealed that not only was the place busy because of Mother’s Day this was also Rugby Football Heineken Cup semi-final day and Biarritz from France were taking on Munster from Ireland right here in San Sebastián. This was not turning out to be a very well planned day at all!
I still wasn’t quite sure why a Biarritz home fixture was being played in San Sebastián in Northern Spain but I learned later that Biarritz consider themselves to be the Rugby Union representatives of the wider Basque community so often play games in Spain especially for important fixtures when they need a bigger stadium than they have available in France. Aha, a commercial consideration as well!
It was quarter to three and the bar remained packed but having established that kick off was at three-fifteen we were confident that it would soon begin to clear out but at three o’clock it remained just as lively and at five past and at ten past and soon we began to realise that a lot of people hadn’t actually got tickets to the match itself at all and had just visited San Sebastián to be close to the event and to savour the atmosphere.
After a drink we abandoned the noisy bar and the throng of scarlet shirts (both sides play in red!) and went outside to see the city. We made our way to the seafront through streets of tall well maintained buildings with balconies with iron railings and not a washing line or a satellite dish in sight because this is a wealthy resort town with the highest property values in Spain, which is especially popular with holidaymakers from France. This probably helped when San Sebastián was named European Capital of Culture for 2016!
There weren’t many holidaymakers today because it was grey and cold with a sharp wind ripping in from the Atlantic and I really could have done with a hat and scarf. We walked along the beach-front board-walk lined with stylish and expensive hotels, street art, gardens and fountains. The beach was deserted today but it was easy to imagine just how busy this golden crescent of sand might be during the summer because this is the busiest and the most popular of all seaside resorts on the north coast of Spain.
It was too cold to loiter so we walked briskly across the beach and through the old town back to the car and then fearful of getting caught in traffic again at the end of the Rugby match left San Sebastián with the intention of finding somewhere to eat.
We had somewhere in mind but I took the wrong turn and went west instead of east and soon we were too far out of town to think about turning back so we carried on. Leaving the motorway we headed for the coast and drove through a couple of unremarkable places before we arrived at the charming town of Guetaria where, next to fishing trawlers in the harbour there were some promising looking restaurants. Sadly they had closed at three o’clock but there were some pinchos on the bar so we choose some of these and then to our surprise the sun put in its first appearance of the day and we were able to sit outside with a final cerveza before leaving and driving back to Bilbao and the airport.