The Walk Up Monte Urgull To the Jesus Statue

It was another beautiful day in San Sebastian on Tuesday July 10th. After our classes, Professor Zabalbeascoa walked us, well, some of us ran, up the Monte Urgull mountain, where one of the most well known tourist attractions lie. The famous Jesus statue at the top of the mountain sits at the heart of the Basque city of San Sebastián, Spain.

Walking up the mountain was a breathtaking experience. Overlooking the harbor and the beach (Playa de La Concha) was a view that I’m sure many of us have never experienced before. San Sebastián is known to have a rich history and walking up the mountain has allowed us to witness some of the beautiful architecture that has been maintained from the civil war. A few noticeable points along the walk were the different paths that people took to get up the mountain. Some paths were faster than others, which I believe heightens the walk because everyone can have a different experience. Even if we wanted to walk up it again, we would have a different experience and view from before. I also was impressed that half way up the mountain there is an outdoor seating area and a bar that allows people to take a break, relax, and have a more enjoyable experience.

When we reached the top area, there was a museum-like entrance that allowed people to learn about the history of the statue as well as the history of Spain and San Sebastián. However, when we reached the very top of the statue, there were very few words to express our thoughts. Instead, we mostly just took in the amazing view and captured those moments with pictures. After taking several group photos, we began our descent and found a nice spot with a gorgeous view to hold our class discussion about San Sebastián’s history and an analysis on the book “The Sun Also Rises”, by the famous author, Earnest Hemingway. We discussed how and why Hemingway portrays the main character, Jake, the way he does. What really brought the book together for me in relation to our trip was how Jake felt visiting La Playa de La Concha after participating in the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, which is another part of Spain just over an hour away from San Sebastián.

It has always been common for people to take a bus or drive over to San Sebastián after running from death. This week especially is most significant because The Running of the Bulls only takes place once a year, and this year it happened to fall on the exact week that we are visiting. Moving back to the story, laying on the beach for Jake, he felt a completely new state of inner peace because all throughout the book, he had been struggling with an inner conflict with himself. I believe that the reason his mindset had changed in the book was because he had just seen death in the face with Romero and now he feels at ease, or at least much calmer.

Only being here for four days now, I personally feel more at peace here learning about the Spanish and Basque culture along with the Spanish language, than if I was studying it back at home. Laying on the beach, watching the beautiful teal waves during the day and meeting so many new people from all over the world at night has given me an entirely new perspective on the world. Thus, when Hemingway talks about Jake visiting San Sebastián and how it made him feel, I feel like I can personally relate to him.

Even though we still have class in the summer, learning about San Sebastián and its vast history has been an incredible experience for me so far, and we still have a full two and a half weeks left to explore learn. I have no problem sitting and listening for over an hour about the Spanish culture here because it doesn’t even feel like I am in class, but rather just having fun, having new experiences with great people, and learning about the culture.

Once our class time has ended, around 8 o’clock, we started to descend all the way back down the mountain for some final glimpse of the wonderful views on the mountain. So far, I have made lasting memories and have had a journey that I will never forget. Walking down the mountain with my friends was very fun for me and very peaceful.

Arriving and Walking Tour

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.


A group of Honors College students stand outside Euskal Billera, one of the oldest cooking societies in the city of San Sebastian.Follow students as they take learning outside the classroom and are exposed to structured situations and experiences through a Humanities lens in San Sebastian, Spain  from July 8 – 28, 2018.

Chosen as the 2016 European Capital of Culture, San Sebastian offers students the best of both worlds: a modern Europe-an city with an Old Quarter that preserves its rich legacy of history and culture.

Students will be immersed in the culture of San Sebastian through field trips and excursions, on-site lectures, an examination of Spanish history, politics, culture, geography, cuisine, literature, cinema, sport, and art.

You can also read blogs from previous trips to San Sebastian listed below or from other destinations across the globe UMass Lowell students travel to.

Previous and Current San Sebastian Study Abroad Trip Blogs: