Ever since I got off the plane in Bilbao I have had this beautiful picture of what Spain should be in my mind. I have never been outside of the country before, and so I was expecting an immediate culture shock the second I stepped off the plane and into the airport. However I felt oddly comfortable in the airport setting, and even so our first short day in Bilbao and San Sebastian. When traveling away from the airport I was a bit shocked at the lack of scenery, or at least the difference from what I was expecting. There were still stunning mountains and rolling hills, but it reminded me very much of the rural hills and ranches I saw when visiting northeast California.
The closer we got to San Sebastian the more intense the landscape became. It was beginning to look more like the picture in my mind, but not quite. What truly shocked me was all the amazing houses built into the rolling hills. When we arrived in San Sebastian the first day, I did not get to see a lot of the city as my host family is very far away from the main city and the area appears a little more industrial. Just based on all the research, reading, and even basic google searches I was expecting a slam in the face of beauty the second I got there, and I was afraid that I had made the place beautiful in my mind, filling it with expectations of phony photos and over the top descriptions.
However upon our excellent tour of the city, I was ecstatic at how wrong I was. This beautiful place in my mind was real! And it is even better than I could have ever imagined. The beaches stunning, with their golden sands and clear water, all I wanted to do was go join everyone else on that beach and sunbathe and swim. The amount of people in the water was another shock, although it made sense since the water is so much warmer. I have never seen that many people on a beach in New England, and certainly never that many people in the water. Another part that truly struck my eye was the rolling mountains over the horizons. They look absolutely remarkable and the cliffs along the edges of the water as well are breathtaking. My family and I very much enjoy hiking and often trip in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont for waterfalls, and waterside views, but nothing, not even the waterside views in part of California compare to this place. But the part that truly struck me, and really landed my mindset into the fact that I was in an exquisite country in Europe was the architecture. The buildings in the old part of San Sebastian were exquisitely built. Every brick seemed to hold a purpose for structure and beauty. Every building was so massive and the streets and alleys were thin and tall. Every single church, the squares, the buildings with bullet holes on them; they all were full of not only beauty, but years and years of history.
Our tour guide spoke of the fact that San Sebastian is in charge of the majority of tourism in the Basque Country and I understand why the area attracts so many locals as well as tourists now. The city is so easy to navigate, accessible and full of immediate cultural immersion. Just walking the streets I was able to get an idea of what the Basque people are trying to preserve as a culture and it is truly a remarkable place to which I hope they do not give into the expenses of tourism and keep this city as accessible to the people of the world as possible. Everyone deserves to witness this breathtaking place!
So, is San Sebastian all that I hoped it would be? No, it is so much more than I could have ever imagined, and it was only my first day in this gorgeous city! I feel as though I am already beginning to understand why these places are held so meaningful to the Basque people. The natural and seemingly ageless beauty they get to experience in their culture and everyday life is amazing. I am more than excited to explore the beautiful city and learn as much as I can about the culture and history of San Sebastian, as well as improve the little Spanish I know. I am very confident in my ability to learn while being immersed in this city and can say with more confidence that I plan to spend every moment trying to gain knowledge and experiences from this trip.