Coasting Towards the Future

I began today just as I have begun every day here in San Sebastián, with a light breakfast consisting of fruit, toast, and coffee. For me, this is a refreshing change from the significantly heavier breakfasts of eggs, bacon, and pancakes that are common in the United States. After we ate, it was off to our daily Spanish class at Lacunza, where we hone our Spanish amongst peers from all around the world. In addition to myself and two other UMass Lowell students, my class consists of several students from a variety of countries such as France, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia. Going into this trip, I had only anticipated learning Spanish, and perhaps a few words of Basque, the local language unique to the Basque Country. Much to the pleasure of our group, the friends we have made at Lacunza have taken it upon themselves to teach us a variety of phrases and common sayings in their own languages. Simply by its nature, Lacunza is a source of cultural interaction that enriches our studies, both of Spain and of the world as a whole. 

During our morning break, I was surprised to learn that our schedule for the week had been rearranged; while I had anticipated that my assigned activity would occur on Thursday, it had been moved up to today, which with a high squarely in the 90s turned out to be hottest day of our trip thus far. After we finished with Spanish class for the day, we found a restaurant where we sat and enjoyed our lunch of bocadillos despite the sweltering heat. Once finished, half of the group chose to go to the beach in an attempt to escape the heat, while the rest of us elected to explore some of the shops that San Sebastián has to offer. Walking the streets here is a very different experience than at home. The city as a whole is significantly more friendly to pedestrians and bikers than in the United States, and as a result there are fewer cars and the use of many streets is reserved for bikers and pedestrians. However, unlike in Boston where jaywalking is a misdemeanor most people don’t think about before committing, here in San Sebastián you ought to wait for the light to signal you to walk. My group was reminded of this first hand, as we were crossing the street but had to pause as the women ahead of us stopped to let some bikers pass, and a car came flying around the corner with no sign of slowing down as it approached. After a good laugh about our ‘near death experience’, we found a cafe in which we could spend our free time until the day’s excursion: a trip to the Combs of the Wind and to the top of Mount Igueldo via the funicular. 

The funicular that carries passengers up and down Mount Igueldo

The Combs of the Wind is a series of sculptures by the Basque artist Eduardo Chillida. The Combs serve to welcome the wind as it enters the city, and consists of three twisted iron structures anchored in the rocks. The use of iron is designed to be an interaction of the art with nature, as the iron will oxidize with its exposure to the wind and the water over time. The interaction of humans with nature is evident throughout Basque culture. The city both surrounds and is surrounded by mountains, and the interplay between the two is a beauty all in itself. Whenever bare rock is exposed, such as when clearing land for a highway, the Spanish cover the exposed mountainside with fencing to catalyze the regrowth of greenery. The transition between the comparably hectic city and the luscious countryside is seamless. As beautiful as the representation of the interplay between man and nature is, the three sculptures also represent the past, the present, and the future. Closest to the city is the past, the most warped and twisted of the three. Next comes the present, where one must choose whether to focus solely on the past or to turn towards the more promising future, which takes the form of the most open sculpture of the three. The future lies closest to the ocean, and is the first to welcome new winds the city. Comparably, in life we must look out to the future when welcoming change. The Combs make for both a beautiful site, and a meaningful location to contemplate ones place in the world.

The Combs of the Wind. The three statues represent the past(right), the present(not pictured), and the future(left)

After the Combs, we headed towards the funicular to travel up Mount Igueldo. The walk included brief distractions, from sights as mundane as a variety of dogs to those as unusual as a man who, barehanded, caught a squid in the ocean. The funicular ride served as a reminder of just how hot the day was, and was a source of fear to those afraid of heights. However, once we reached the top of Igueldo we were greeted by a pleasant breeze and gorgeous views of the entire bay; from Mount Urgull to Ondarreta, from Santa Clara Island to La Concha, and everything in between. The breathtaking views were accompanied by the allure of one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, el Parque de Atracciones . Although small, the park boasts simple, man-run attractions that offer some breathtaking view in addition to the thrill. The rollercoaster travels briefly over the sea, right on the edge of the mountain, which allows for a breathtaking view of the ocean. While extremely brief, the ride provides just enough thrill to be exciting.

The view of San Sebastián from Mount Igueldo

Much like the rollercoaster pushes the edge of the mountain, I hope to continue to push myself to extend my comfort zone while I’m here in San Sebastián. Nowhere else will I be able to walk into any bar, cafe, or supermarket and find freshly made orange juice as well as coffee and alcohol, learn a new language alongside people from around the world, or ride a rollercoaster on top of mountain and be able to sit on the beach in under an hour. Here in San Sebastián, we are not just studying one culture and one language, we are studying the interaction of people who hail from numerous countries around the world. While our time here may seem as brief as the roller coaster ride, our time in San Sebastián is significantly more thrilling. From beautiful views to cultural experiences, San Sebastián has so much to offer, and I, a first time traveler, have so much to learn.

The Montaña Suiza, the rollercoaster at the top of Mount Igueldo