|Despite the fact we studied Spanish for some time before we left home, arriving in the Basque Country on the north coast of Spain threw us for a loop as it is totally bi-lingual (Spanish and Euskera). Euskera bears no resemblance to any other European language yet it is spoken by about half a million French and Spanish. For example, restaurant is restaurante in Spanish and jetetxea in Euskera. Not only are all signs bi-lingual, most towns have both a Basque and a Spanish name (e.g. San Sebastian is also known as Donostia!). It made driving interesting!
You hear so much about the development on the Costa del Sol in the south, we just expected the same in the north - but we were more than pleasantly surprised. The area is very mountainous so the coast road winds up and down and around the peaks and through forests. We would cross one range of mountains and then descend into a spectacular city (San Sebastian, Ondarroa, Lekeitio, Santander) full of brightly coloured apartment buildings, the port filled with fishing boats, beautiful surfing beaches with waves crashing into the shore - all of them preserving the old town including squares full of old men in berets (debating Basque independence?).
We picked up our friend Antonette at the airport in Bilboa as she had flown in to do the Pilgrim's Walk from Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostella with us (more on that later). We think she brought Vancouver with her as after 5 months of summer-like weather, the rain started the day Hurricane Antonette arrived and is still with us two weeks later! Rather than stay in Bilboa where she had a hotel booked, we suggested she stay in a very small hotel outside Sopelana - about an hour out of Bilbao while we stayed at the campsite nearby. After half an hour on the bus to Bilbao from the airport and an hour on the Metro out to Sopelana, the skies opened and by the time we arrived it was raining as hard as it ever rains in Vancouver in November. As we alit, the thunder and lightening began and then all the lights in the village went out. There was not a taxi to be found so we walked the 20 minutes to the hotel dragging her suitcase, in the dark and rain, arriving soaked to the skin at 10:30 p.m. But behind every (rain) cloud is a silver lining: she woke up at Alxabirabil Beach, a very popular surfing beach with miles of sand and pounding surf.