When you travel to Spain in August, it’s probably best to remember that all of Europe goes on vacation in August. When you hear that Spaniards like to vacation on the beach and you are also planning to spend some time on the beach, it’s probably best to make housing arrangements significantly in advance instead of thinking you’ll “wing it” and “figure it out when you get there.” The phrase “let’s just drive up and surely there will be something available” shouldn’t cross your mind, let alone make it into reality.
In addition to these practical matters, you should also keep track of the Pope who apparently thinks August is the perfect month to visit sunny Spain and rolls in accompanied by 12 million screaming fans, miles of blocked off roads and snarled traffic extending into France.
But let’s say you ignore all this sage advice because you like to be spontaneous and because you aren’t Catholic and because you don’t want to plan your vacation so much as just experience it. So, you wake up on a Saturday, get in your car in Madrid and muscle your way through Pope-tastic traffic to get out of town (whereupon you realize you might have forgotten your GPS charger at the hotel so you muscle you way back into town, park on the sidewalk, toss your former hotel room and search through all the wadded up sheets only to discover your GPS charger in your backpack. In the car. Where you put it this morning.)
Then you drive north into Basque country and it’s beautiful. Van Gogh worthy fields of sunflowers
Charming villages with red tile roofs tucked into the mountains
Toros standing sentinel on the hills
And a 5 hour journey takes 8 hours because you stop every 10 minutes to take pictures and say “It’s so lovely/charming/amazing out here! I love Spain!”
You’re enthusiastic. I’ll give you that.
At 7:30pm you arrive in Guernica (Pop: 2,223. Hotels: 1) and the hotel is full. Sorry! Try Bilbao.
At 8:30pm you arrive in Bilbao (Pop: 33,455. Hotels: 2 bazillion. Number of Tourists: 4 bazillion. Parking availability: LOL!). You try three hotels and they’re all full (esta al completo!). They try to tell you that the entire town is full but you’re American and you know that a tourist town that size must have hotels ranging from the Ritz to little old ladies renting out their bedrooms and there’s probably something available. However, your Spanish has deserted you after 10 hours in the car and Spain Spanish is even harder to understand and when you throw in a Basque accent it’s nigh on impossible. They say try Mungia and you gnash your teeth and walk the mile back to your car.
This might be a good time for you to calm down because the night is far from over.
You arrive in Mungia at 9:30pm (Pop: 1300. Hotels: 1? Number of hotel signs pointing up uninhabited roads where you start to hear the music from Deliverance: 3). Hotel is full. Sorry! Advice about another place? Oooh, I don’t know. Saturdays are terrible (muy malo) and it’s August, don’t you know. Maybe try Barrakaldo?
At 10pm on the way to Barrakaldo, you see a sign for the airport and Corey says “Don’t they have hotels near the airport?” He’s smart, which is why you brought him along. You drive towards the airport and see a 12 story Holiday Inn Express, which looks like a big glittery American made heaven. Except, it’s also full. Sorry!
The desk clerk says there’s only one other hotel in the area. He gives you the phone number and the woman speaks English! However, she says her hotel is also full. She suggests the Holiday Inn, and you tell her you speaking to her from a car parked on the sidewalk of the Holiday Inn because it’s so full there are no parking spaces.
You look at the car and wonder what it would be like to sleep in it.
Then she says, how about the Seminario? Turns out maybe there isn’t just one hotel in the area, which you suspected all along. She gives you the number and you call it and even though the clerk doesn’t speak English he says he has a room! Then he gives you directions to his hotel that you don’t understand so you have to call the English speaking hotel lady back so she can give you directions to someone else’s hotel, which she does (the Spanish are so lovely/charming/helpful!).
You arrive at the Seminario at 11pm, check-in takes 45 minutes because that’s just how they do it here in Spain but the bar is still open and the sweet little senorita bartender will sneak into the kitchen and make you a sandwich if you ask nicely.
It’s been a 13 hour day. Have a drink. Have a sandwich. Then say to yourself “Where am I staying tomorrow night?”
So if you are still in Basque country, look for the Town of Sesm – they say that is where my Father’s family is from and why my grandparents were both Spanish and French and my father and his siblings only spoke Castillian Spanish.. Vaya con dios.
I wil look for that town. We’re in Pamplona now but we’ll be driving to Barcelona tomorrow so we’ll go all the way across the northern section of Spain. I’ll let you know what I find :)
Great post. And great photos! This makes a much better memory/story than checking into the hotel you’d reserved through Expedia three weeks ago = )
True! And stories are why I travel…
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