We had our hearts set on going to Basque country, so we decided to rent a car—more freedom to explore San Sebastian to the north, Guernica to the west and France to the east.
We determined it would take 4 + hours to get to our fabulous beach setting, with the Pyrenees mountains as a backdrop on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Visions of iconic little beach villages dotting the shoreline danced in our heads. And it’s off season, so we thought that we would have the place to ourselves.
First of all, you must have an International Driver’s License.
Secondly, unless you want to pay a fortune, you must be able to drive a standard shift.
I can’t. Ellioto can.
Third, get a GPS.
I wish that we had! (We didn’t know that I could download Google maps to use offline—until the trip back to Madrid. It was helpful–but didn’t keep us from getting lost.)
Remember when road maps were offered at the car `rental offices?
Not any more!
In Spain, people do not navigate by route numbers much. No one knows which routes are what. And street signs quaintly displayed as decorative tiles on the side of some of the buildings, are very hard to see—especially at night. And you may remember that I’ve discussed the number of round-abouts this country has—now I get it—it’s because so many streets converge at once! You have to circle a few times to get your bearings and find the right one. It can be stressful—a test for good-natured traveling, for sure.
How to negotiate their toll booths? We seemed to choose the right ones and they do take credit cards, FYI.
The route we took went due north—with mountain terrain between Madrid and Biscay Bay. Not winding, but certainly high enough to have snow and freezing rain, the land is pretty barren except for a few villages– but never fear, McDonalds and Burger King have gone before us—and when you need a restroom, they are a welcome sight!
Getting to the hotel was not easy—in fact, it was cra-zy because San Sebastian is a full-fledged city with many twists and turns, 1-way streets and nothing is in English–in fact, many things are in Basque rather than Spanish–or both.
We finally called the hotel to hone us in. “Just come down the Avenue marked “do not enter” (!)”, she said, “it’s ok—everyone does it–you’ll find us at the end. …then we’ll explain how to find the parking garage a few blocks away.” !
And the view was indeed remarkable.
The location could not be beat–once we got there– (except for having to drive and park, that is) we were happy to find that we were bordering the quaint walls of the Old Town—and I love Old Towns!
The funicular, creeping up Igueldo Mountain, was one of the steepest I’ve ever ridden. At the top is a theme park dating back to 1912, but it is closed during the winter months. It’s all about the view!