Thursday Doors – San Sebastian Aquarium, Spain

Continuing with the aquarium theme from yesterday’s Wander, today’s door belongs to the San Sebastian Aquarium. Located at the very end of the old harbour, the Aquarium was built in 1928, when much of the area was redeveloped.

And it has a rather spectacular door, don’t you think?

As well as being a rather wonderful place to watch the sun set…

This is my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – San Sebastian Old Town

It’s Wednesday again, and this week I’m wandering back to Donostia San Sebastian, the beautiful Spanish coastal town I visited this past summer.

Last time I wandered here, I visited the beaches, golden curves of sand deserving of their own blog post. This time, I’m venturing into the Old Town.

While there is evidence to suggest that San Sebastian was at one time part of a Roman territory, the first recorded history of the place is in 1014, when the monastery of San Sebastian was given to the Abbey of Leire. By 1181, the town was officially chartered, though was mostly destroyed by fire in 1489, then again by Napoleonic troops in 1808.

Therefore, most buildings in the Old Town date from the nineteenth century, including the Constitution Square, built in 1817.

The numbers above the windows are from the time when the square was used as a bullring – the numbers corresponded to private boxes from where bullfights could be watched. When a new bullring was built further out of town, the boxes were converted to housing, the numbers kept as a reminder of its past.

There is also an old harbour section, home to several excellent seafood restaurants (we ate at Igedo), as well as the aquarium. While the buildings here may look old, they were actually built in the early 20th century after a section of the old town wall was demolished. In the evening it’s a wonderful place, local teenagers doing somersaults into the clear green water in a bid to impress their friends, families and couples walking and talking, the restaurants buzzing with conversation and the scent of cooking in the air.

After dinner, we joined the crowds wandering along the harbour, stopping outside the aquarium to watch the sun set, colours changing in water and sky. It was completely beautiful, one of those places I’ll always remember visiting, and somewhere I hope to get back to one day.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – San Sebastian Beaches

It’s Wednesday and time for my weekly wander. This week we’re heading to Donostia San Sebastian, in the Basque country region of Spain. Donostia is the Basque name for the city, and is another way of saying San Sebastian – in honour of the dual heritage of the city, both names are used.

I visited earlier this year and fell under its spell straight away. The gorgeous old buildings and curving golden beaches were like a scene from a story – it was hard to believe people were lucky enough to live in such a place.

This is the iconic La Concha beach, the best known of the city’s beaches, voted the second best city beach in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine. A well- deserved award, I think. As you can see, it’s pretty popular – the clear green waves and golden sand make it a wonderful spot to lounge and take photographs during the day.

At night the beach changes, the deckchairs folded away, the entrance to the bay a perfect frame for glorious sunsets.

I sat for a half hour or so on the cool sand, watching the light change across the water, gold to red to violet, hardly able to take in such beauty.  Dark silhouettes danced at the water’s edge, the illuminated statue of Jesus on Monte Urgull seeming to watch over it all.

Day and night, the ornate promenade was full of people, families and couples and young people, all walking, laughing, enjoying the view. There are several small restaurants built into the seawall itself – one of them made excellent pizza, and was a fantastic place to watch the waves and people passing by.

Another city beach in San Sebastian is Zurriola, which is on the other side of Monte Urgull. This beach is wilder, the waves popular with surfers, although it is safe for swimming in parts, the Spanish lifeguards using a flag system similar to that we were used to in Australia. We visited La Zurriola most days – it was less crowded, yet easy to get to with ample parking nearby. I actually got dumped by a wave the first day there, scraping my knee – haven’t done that in years! Oh, and apparently, Zurriola is also somewhere you can hang ten in the buff, should you choose to – one of several beaches in Europe which allow nude surfing! Just remember to apply plenty of sunscreen 😉

When I began writing this Wander, I’d thought I would write a single post about San Sebastian. But, when I began writing about the beaches, they seemed to merit a post of their own. It seems certain that I’ll be wandering back to San Sebastian, both on this blog and (I hope) in real life too.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time 🙂


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Biarritz At Dusk

I recently took a trip to Basque country, visiting San Sebastian in Spain and Biarritz in France. Less than an hour’s drive lies between the two cities, even though they are in different countries. I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday – there is a magic to that stretch of coast and I felt very at home there, for some reason.

I saw a lot of different places while I was away, including two locations used for Dragonstone in Game of Thrones (I blogged about them here and here), so will be writing a few Wednesday Wanders about the various locales. This week, I’m wandering to Biarritz, and the beautiful main beach at dusk. We spent a lot of time walking along here, both day and night, as it was the direct route into the town centre. With the beautiful view, the combination of rocks and sea and sky coupled with Art Deco architecture, it was a pleasure every time.

One of the buildings along the seafront at Biarritz is the Casino. Built in the 1920s, it was opened only a few weeks before the Stock Market crash that marked the end of the glittering art Deco era. It is a beautiful reminder of that decadent time, nonetheless, and a survivor – plans to knock it down in the 90s were thankfully scuppered, and the building restored and designated a historical monument. Nowadays it contains a pool, restaurants and a casino, and was full of people every time we passed by.

The walk along the beach also passes this lovely islet, connected by a stone bridge to the mainland. It seemed like something out of a fairy tale (so I loved it, obviously). There was also a lovely church, as well as the old fishing village, which I’ll write about in more detail soon.

But for now, let us look at the gold and violet sky, the shimmer of ocean against dark sand, the clean lines of the Art Deco building, the warm lights of the coastline against the dusk sky. It is a supremely romantic coastline, with a warmth in the air that filled me with joy.

I can’t wait to go back one day.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

A Monday Meander – Dragonstone Part 2

As promised, this is the second part of my Game of Thrones location visit, this time to the spectacular San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, on the coast of Spain.

San Juan de Gatzelugatxe is actually the name of the small hermitage located on the islet, a sanctuary dedicated to Saint John and dating back to the 10th century. The name of the islet, Gatzelugatxe, comes from the Basque language and translates roughly to mean ‘craggy fort,’ very appropriate.

The islet is joined to the mainland via a manmade walkway, which twists and turns up the rugged rock face to reach the monastery. There are two ways to reach the walkway – the first is a steep narrow trail, very rough underfoot, only wide enough for two people to pass. It starts at a restaurant perched high on the cliff, with excellent views over the small bay.

As we descended the kilometre or so to the walkway, the people coming uphill the other way looked completely wiped out, sweating and short of breath in the muggy weather. We found it easier going heading down, but our thighs still ached due to the steep and rocky nature of the path. It can be done in sandals (I did it), but I’d recommend runners and comfortable clothing.

As we descended we could hear the bell at the hermitage ringing. The tradition goes that if you ring the bell three times and make a wish, it will come true. Seeing the faces of the people coming uphill, I joked to hubby that perhaps they were wishing they didn’t have to make the climb back up again!

We reached the walkway quite quickly and paused, both to catch our breath and to take in the glorious views. The islet isn’t far along the coast from Zumaia and the spectacular rock formations of Itzurun Beach, so the landscape is quite similar.

With the mist looming low on the nearby hilltops, waves rushing, it wasn’t hard to feel transported to another time and place. The walkway and bridge have both been used in Game of Thrones as the entrance pathway to Dragonstone – it is on these stairs that Jon Snow ducks to the ground after seeing a dragon for the first time.

I saw no dragons, but it doesn’t mean the place is without magic. Aside from the beautiful scenery and wish-granting magic of the bell, there is also a statue of a saint sunk deep into the waters of the small bay. Tuna boats, before they head across the ocean to fish, all come here to circle the statue three times and ask for a blessing on their voyage and catch.

So, did I make a wish? Well, after the walk down, we decided that going all the way to the top wasn’t really for us. And, as we stood on the stairs, I wondered how on earth they’d got a film crew, equipment and actors in costume down the precipitous narrow path we’d just taken.

Then we noticed the road going back up. 😀

It made for an easier ascent, though it took a while. But much easier than we had thought. And I got to visit Dragonstone with my two favourite people. So perhaps my wish was granted, after all.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Wednesday Wander – Dragonstone, Part 1

I’ve recently been away, doing a spot of wandering in Basque country. I am a big Game of Thrones fan and so, when I found out that two of the locations used for the show were not too far from where I was staying, I decided to take a look (and dragged the family along with me).

If you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, don’t worry! These locations are spectacular in their own right, and interesting even without their link to the most popular show in the world.

So, this week I am wandering to Dragonstone, otherwise known as Itzurun Beach, Zumaia. (Yes, I did go to the second location as well, but that will be in another post). Located on the rugged north coast of Spain, Itzurun Beach is notable for its spectacular geological formations, as it is part of the longest continuous rock strata in the world. The beautiful layered rock formations are known as ‘flysch’ cliffs, and are completely spectacular.

Zumaia is a lovely town, the streets lined with lowrise apartments. There is also an ancient fortified church, part of the original monastery that founded the town in the 1200s. Itzurun beach is a short walk from the town centre, along a walkway shaded by trees and a stone archway.

As you reach the steps leading down to the beach (also used in the show), you are greeted by a statue of two lions… or are they dragons?

The beach itself is no secret – the day was hot and sunny day when we visited and it was packed, the restaurant overlooking the water heaving with diners, the sand covered in towels and blankets and sunbathers. I tried my best to get shots without people in them, but it was difficult at times.

However, Game of Thrones fans will definitely recognise the cliff face and cave entrance, as well as this interior shot of the cave where they filmed Jon and Danaerys walking back to the light after visiting the Dragonglass mines. The iconic shape of the cliffs that surround Dragonstone itself are there too, though with a hotel at the top instead of a castle of stone.

And so what was it like to wander in the footsteps of the Targaryens? The rocks were beautiful, the layers of colour and rippling shapes like nothing I’ve seen. A young woman in a long black dress with flowing silver grey hair posed at the entrance to one cave, counterpoint to the many bikini-clad beach goers. Nearby a small child screamed, and I heard the flap of fabric as a towel was shaken out… or was it wings? Overhead sea birds soared, the waves crashing on the ancient stones, wind blowing cooler from the North as the tide came in.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the cliffs and cave entrance

We spent a couple of hours there, playing in the waves, wandering around the rock formations and lying in the sun. As we left, we headed up the stark grey steps used as the entrance to Dragonstone on the show and I could see why the location was so appealing, so much that they needed to create the magic of Dragonstone already in place.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!

(And next time won’t be too far away – I’m hoping to post about San Juan de Gatzelugtxe, otherwise known as the second location for Dragonstone, before the end of the week.)


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Unpacking

I’m back 🙂

Been back a few days now, not quite a week. The suitcases are up in the loft, and I’m gradually emerging from under the approximately 7923 emails and 278 loads of washing (it’s amazing how much a family can fit into three medium sized suitcases).

It’s nice to be home, as it always is, the house welcoming, although I miss the sunny skies and sea of the Basque country – my home is too far from the ocean for my liking these days. I’ve travelled a bit in my life, as you may have noticed, and you would think, therefore, that I would be a dab hand at packing. The kind of person who can throw in a few key pieces and have enough outfits for three weeks and any occasion. Sadly, that’s not the case. Although I’m better at it than I was, I still somehow manage to pack several items I don’t need at all, while leaving other items I do need at home. Invariably I open my case at the other end and wonder what I was thinking when I packed, my carefully chosen outfits all seeming completely wrong, what seemed like a sensible amount of things at home somehow multiplying into far too much for the time I’m away.

However, I’m a dab hand at unpacking. Pull, sort and dispose of, either into the laundry basket or back into the cupboard. As for the rest of it, the memories of cliff bound beaches, misty coastlines and turreted houses, that will take a little longer to unpack. There are photos to download and definitely a few Wednesday Wanders to write. I did get to Dragonstone, visiting both locations used in Season Seven, and they were absolutely spectacular. I ate and drank and enjoyed time with family, danced in blue waves and wandered cobbled streets. It was fab.

So forgive me if I take a little while to get back into the swing of things again. It’s lovely to be home 🙂