I remember the day; the day I told myself that San Sebastian was a place I had to visit. I had spent years obsessively learning about Spain, despite not having any parental or birth connection to the country. I had learned, over time, that Spain was a regionally-distinct place, but in my mind I never separated San Sebastian from Seville. I was much younger when I was gifted an oddly flamenco-looking dress, first told I looked strangely like a girl who would speak Spanish at home, and enamoured by the sounds of Spanish music. Several years later – at university – I delved deeply into the study of Spanish politics and shattered my pre-conceived notions of Spain. It was around this time that I fell out of love with the study of Spain, but this didn’t stop me from wanting to visit San Sebastian.
As with many, if not most, things that have inspired me growing up, it was a book that started it all. I sat in the coffee shop, not yet 15, with my sister and brother as we started to read through the books we chose for the day. You see, as strange as it sounds, I was an odd case growing up and was defined by two major aspects of my personality – I was the athlete, the one who loved to shine doing something competitive, but I was also the thinker. Sports were my competitive outlet, but I analyzed them almost as much as I played them. Sports were my connection to other people my age, but books were my connection to the world. Books were my inspiration for most things I pursued, and the only way I could satisfy my constant curiosity. It was for this reason – coupled with my big sister’s shared love for books – that we would spend these days browsing books and sharing them.
Needless to say, I usually found too many books that sparked my interest. I had an awful knack for buying books and letting them sit around, but on this day, one book caught my eye. Looking back on it, it was a book that now seems like a surprisingly easy read considering what I would normally pick up, but it was enough for me. The pages told me about a girl – ridiculously similar to me, at the time – and a place where she overcame some of her fears. It wasn’t a book that transformed a character entirely, but allowed that character to shine through time. The girl learned, loved, and came to grips with reality without losing herself in a world very different from her own.
The name of this book is not what’s important to me now, nor was the structure of the words. Stories are what draw me to things – learning experiences, something to relate to. This book, at least at the time, seemed to be about me. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I too needed to live in Spain one day, if only to learn more about myself and what makes me tick.
As I come to the end of my experience here in Spain – with a little under two weeks left to go before I jet off to London – it has only seemed appropriate to visit the city that drew me to Spain at that very unpredictable age. I had been inspired by Barcelona, Valencia, and (unknowingly) Sevilla and Granada as well, but San Sebastian was the city I thought about for years. It’s the city that shaped me, and made me think about who I am and who I’d like to be. While San Sebastian isn’t really the Spain you may think of – with it being in separatist Basque Country and all – it’s a city that embodies the natural beauty of Spain. Each of the major cities I’ve visited thus far has been visually wonderful, but it’s hard to compare any of them to the city of the north. San Sebastian’s mountains, breathtaking bay (that leads into the ocean if you go west), beautiful beaches, surf culture, not-quite-Spain-not-quite-France river vibe, bizarrely awesome language, and history make it a place that’s very hard to define. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a city like this one, and while I can say Valencia has its similarities, San Sebastian stands out.
While I could lay out the details of my trip – where I ate, the name of the sites I saw – the feeling of being in San Sebastian is what matters to me the most. Finally seeing, upon years of wondering, the places I imagined growing up is a hard thing to explain. Now, I know I still have over a week left in Spain, but now I know I can leave satisfied. This school year, with its extreme ups and downs, has taught me an invaluable amount about what I believe in. This year has taught me things about the world – how to successfully budget while traveling, how to deal with legal and living affairs on my own, and how to go about doing things in an entirely different language – but most importantly, it’s taught me about myself. Spain has shown me that there are things I value that I was less prepared to admit before coming here, and has given me a clearer path to the future. San Sebastian merely brought me here, and in my last long-distance trip within Spain, has allowed me to give Spain the salute it deserves.