San Sebastián is Mindblowingly Beautiful and If You’re in Spain You Should Go

Picture this: Jessica wearing her cow onesie and laying on her friend’s couch in Vitoria-Gasteiz (small Spanish town near Bilbao), trying to use the bus company Alsa to find a bus back to Barcelona and audibly complaining because Alsa doesn’t like to let people book buses with foreign credit cards.

Fed up with the whole Barcelona bus situation, the aforementioned cow started messing around on the Alsa website and saw that she could instead get a bus to San Sebastián for 7 euros and worry about getting back to Barcelona later, so she bought a ticket for six hours later, and it’s one of her favorite impulsive decisions she’s ever made.

I’ll stop talking in third person now, hello. I spent last weekend in San Sebastián, and it’s easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Like, top 5.

I got to my hostel at 3 a.m., so when I woke up at 1 p.m. the next day, I planned to go out and find groceries and then come back to my hostel to make food and Google what there was to see in San Sebastián, but I ended up going out and coming back six hours later grocery-less because I got distracted by how astonishingly gorgeous everything was and ended up walking almost the whole city.

When I was back in the hostel, I did end up Googling “stuff to see in San Sebastián,” and realized that I had already seen most of it just by walking around. If you’re like me and like to just walk around in a new city with no actual plan, this is a good one to do it in.

I refuse to have one of those blogs that’s like blah blah, I went here and it was pretty, then I went there and it was pretty, and anyway, me saying it’s pretty is going to do nothing to show you how beautiful it really was. Instead, here’s a mini photo-tour through San Sebastián and you can decide for yourself. Scroll your mouse over the pictures to see the captions.

I found this instead of a grocery store
I found this instead of a grocery store

 

I jumped off this
I jumped off of this

 

Looked up and saw this
Looked up and saw this

 

And that
So I climbed up to the top of it, looked out and saw that

 

And also that
And also that
Then I climbed down and went to this beach (Zurriola)
Then I climbed down and went to this beach (Zurriola)

 

To watch this sunset
To watch this sunset

There’s one thing that I didn’t see just from walking around. The only San Sebastián-related Google search I conducted before I left Vitoria-Gasteiz was “San Sebastián beach,” because I’m a sucker for a good beach, and I found all these pictures of the same two islands that kind of looked like turtles, and there’s approximately 1 million pictures of them online, so I decided if I went I would get my own picture of them.

After walking the whole city twice, I had found the islands (they’re at Playa de la Concha, FYI), but the pictures I saw online were taken from up above, and walking along the beach, I couldn’t see any nearby cliffs or anything to scramble up in order to get a better view. Then I looked way up and saw a castle thing on a hill that looked super far away, but like the perfect spot to get my picture from.

Playa de la Concha
Playa de la Concha

Thanks to the super-useful app MAPS.ME, which gives you directions to where you’re trying to go without requiring an Internet connection, which BTW is a godsend to us directionally challenged people (no, MAPS.ME did not pay me to write this post), I figured out that I was about an hour away walking from the castle thing, which I also determined is called Monte Igueldo.

So I started to walk, and eventually found a cable car that I could pay 2 euros and 20 cents to use in order to go up to the top of the mountain, but decided to keep walking instead.

This involved a windy road through a residential area with a bunch of blind turns and no actual sidewalks, and I almost chickened out and took the cable car three times because I was vaguely concerned by the possibility of getting hit by a car.

The third time I started going back to the cable car station I saw a group of people walking towards me speaking in English, so I asked if they were also trying to go to the mountain, and they were! And they were super nice! And we hiked up to the mountain and watched the sunset together! And I finally got my picture!

The islands as seen from Mont Igueldo
The islands as seen from Mont Igueldo

TL;DR:  San Sebastián is breathtakingly gorgeous and if you are anywhere near it you should check it out. With a decent camera. Even though pictures don’t do it any kind of justice.


Sandals Negril Beach Resort & Spa


Baecelona: My Love Letter to the Spanish City That Stole My Heart

When you’re in love, you’ll do anything to be with the object of your affection. You look past their imperfections, you cherish every moment with them, you’ll travel thousands of miles to be with them if you have to.

I fell in love like this in June 2015, and when I still felt the same way almost a year later, I decided it was time to pack my bags and move across the world so I could be with her.

View from the top of Sagrada Familia

Last summer, I stood knee-deep in Barcelona’s crystal blue waters for the first time and snapped a picture of the city-lined oceanfront, which I later Instagrammed with the caption “the sea is warm and the clubs are open and poppin’ until 6 a.m. Pretty sure Barcelona isn’t real and I’m in the middle of a long-ass awesome dream.”

It’s 14 months later, and I’m still having the same dream.

I realized that my favorite places are the ones that aren’t just one thing. Like San Francisco, where I spent the past five years, Barcelona is a bustling city, but also has beaches and other places to go to escape the crowds. Unlike San Francisco, the sea is warm and one can swim in it without a wetsuit.

But it isn’t just the sea and the nightlife that still have me so in love a whole year later. It’s the fact that there are people awake and walking around at any time of day or night, the fact that you can purchase beer for a euro from people walking around the streets selling them (even at 7 in the morning, if you were so inclined), and the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways that all look similar.

It’s the fact that there are always people hanging out around the fountain at Placa Reial, the monthly full moon parties on the beach, the fact that the city has as many posh nightclubs as it does clubs on top of roofs or tucked away in cave-like areas or under restaurants, Antonio Gaudi’s bizarre, colorful architecture and the buildings that have gargoyle statues looming out at you as you walk by. They just don’t have anything like that in California.

My least favorite question I get asked is “you’re from California–why did you move out here?”

My answer is always the same.

“Look where the hell you are,” I say, “Barcelona is incredible.”

I’m nine weeks into having the same dream every night, and I’m nowhere near ready to wake up yet.

Isn’t she beautiful?

Paris Tours


My First 48 Hours of Traveling Alone Were One Big Misadventure–And I Lived to Tell the Tale

As someone who was still prone to getting lost in San Francisco after living there for five years, I got a lot of raised eyebrows when I told people I a) bought a one-way ticket to Colombia to meet up with friends and b) was traveling alone after.

Three weeks before my flight to Cartagena, I took a job in Barcelona, fully aware that that’s nowhere near Colombia, and spent literally an entire day researching the cheapest and most effective way to get there from Cartagena, which turned out to be flying to Panama for a three-hour layover before landing in Madrid and then taking a bus to Barcelona from there. I decided to spend a couple of days in Madrid, because why not.

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After my friends left Cartagena, I checked into a hostel by myself, met a bunch of cool people and ran around the city with them for the night, got to the airport the next morning, and flew to Panama for my layover without any drama.

When I tried to board the plane from Panama to Madrid is when the sh**show started. And yes – that is the best terminology to describe it.

Sh**show Part 1: I almost couldn’t board my plane.

A few minutes before the first boarding group lined up to get on the plane, I noticed I didn’t have a boarding group number, so I went to the front desk to ask them about it. The gentleman working there asked if I had a permanent address in Spain, and when I said no, he told me I couldn’t board the plane to Madrid without some kind of return ticket, and said I had roughly five minutes to do so.

After the mandatory 1-3 minutes of panic, I started trying to buy a ticket to Portugal for mid-August, since it’s close to Spain and therefore cheap to fly to. (Completely ignorant at the time of Schengen Zone rules.) Of course, the second I put my credit card information in and was about to hit submit, the WiFi stopped working.

I refreshed the page a million times and tried to disconnect and reconnect to the WiFi ad nauseam on both my phone and my tablet, and it still wasn’t working. I went to ask the people at the counter if I could possibly use their computer, because I wasn’t sure what else to do, and they basically said “too bad.”

The last boarding group was starting to get on the plane, so I tried to board at the other desk. They too said I needed some type of return ticket, and when I said I was trying and the WiFi wasn’t working, they said they couldn’t help me and it must be my phone. (Even though I was trying to connect with two different devices.)

I started going into panic mode, explaining (in Spanish) that I paid for the flight, and I could buy a ticket out of Spain, but needed the WiFi to be working, and they just told me to go away. This is what I get for not getting an international SIM card before leaving the country.

I started thinking that worst case scenario, I would sleep in the airport overnight and just keep trying to get the WiFi to work. However, a flight from South America to Europe isn’t cheap, I knew the airline wouldn’t reimburse me, and I can’t afford to lose the money I’d already spent on the flight, so I was like, hell no, I’m not letting this happen.

I said three or four times (in different phrasing) that I’d buy a ticket but I just needed a WiFi connection, and in the process of doing that, I watched the last person board the plane.

Finally, the woman at the gate called over another employee and had him make a hotspot on his phone for me so I could connect to the WiFi and buy the ticket. He did, I bought it, I thanked them both an embarrassing amount of times, and got my ass on the plane.

The second I buckled myself into the seat, I was like wait, hell yeah, I’m going to Portugal in two months.

TL;DR: Make sure you’re 100% clear on the visa policies to any country you plan to stay in for a long period of time without a visa, and that you have proof of leaving the country before you try to board the plane. Also, it’s probably a good idea to have a phone that works abroad before you go to a different country.

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Sh**show Part 2: I literally walked myself out of Madrid.

After spending nine hours flying through various time zones, I landed in Madrid. When I got out of the two-hour-long customs line, I realized my phone was dead, so I went to ask the people in the tourist information booth how to get to my hostel, and they gave me a map of Madrid and showed me that it took two trains and took about 45 minutes to get there, but that would put me right outside the hostel.

When I got off at the second stop, I found a cheap place to grab food. The super nice guy who worked there let me charge my phone behind the counter while I ate, and when I got it back, I saw that I was actually an hour away walking, which isn’t a big deal, because walking around a new city is the best way to explore it anyway.

So, I started walking, but 15 minutes into it my phone died again, so I took out the map from the airport, but I’m embarrassingly terrible at reading maps, so I started walking in what I thought was the general direction of the hostel. After what must have been 45 minutes, I stopped to look at a metro map to see if taking a train would be easier, but the metro symbols on the map didn’t match the ones on the map I had, and I saw a taxi drive by, so I hailed the taxi and showed the driver the address of where I was trying to go.

He looked at the paper, looked back at me, and said (in Spanish), “this is in Madrid.”

“…Sí…,” I said. Duh, sir.

Pero no estamos en Madrid,” he explained. Turns out I ended up in some random Spanish city. Because of course I did.

It was about a 20 minute car ride to where I was trying to go, and he initially said it would be 40 euros, but seeing my facial expression, he only charged me eight. I got lucky.

TL;DR: If you’re in a new city and awful at directions/general map reading, it would probably be a good idea to have a charged phone when you arrive. Also, I now know that the app MAPS.ME is a freaking godsend. (No, they did not pay me to say that.)

Sh**show Part 3: I confused the time zones.

I finally get to the hostel (Cat’s Hostel), but because I had reserved the hostel bed in America (time zone #1) for when I got to Madrid (time zone #2) after Panama (time zone #3), I had tried to do the math but messed it up, so I was a day late for my reservation. They said they had room at their sister hostel, and I asked how far away it was, thinking that with the luck I’d been having, it would be an hour away by foot, but it was just around the corner (Mad Hostel).

TL;DR: Be super clear on time zones. Check your math. Use the Internet.

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What started out as a series of unfortunate events (book series from 2002 reference intended) ended up as a lovely four days full of lots of new friends. I managed to take the bus from Madrid to Barcelona without incident and have been in Barcelona for a little over a week now.

I’m awful at directions and apparently can’t deal with things like time zones, so if I can travel alone and end up fine (albeit make some stupid mistakes), you can, too.