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Vamos a la playa

Vamos a la playa!!! When I found out I would be going to San Sebastián I immediately thought of the cheesy 2000s song of that name. Googling the city came up with countless images of its pristine sandy beach stretching more than 3 kilometres. It looked so stunning I almost didn’t care that we were going in the middle of winter.  

Vamos a la playa were the only 4 words of Spanish I knew and they turned out to be useless once I arrived and realised that San Sebastián is part of Basque Country. They speak a completely different language from Spanish and the locals are proud of it!  

Apart from its beach, I heard that it was a city famous for its culture, nightlife and cuisine and boy did it deliver.

We walked the famous beach every day to get from our apartment to the city centre. 

Monte Urgull and Castillo de la Mota in the distance

Whilst it was stunning, the 2.5 km of wind and rain pulling you back as you’re trying to walk home at 5 am in the morning from the club was not so great. Despite the title of this blog, only one of us seven students braved the cold conditions for a winter swim. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Visiting during off peak season meant we had a chance to properly experience the city like locals and appreciate its charm free from the swathes of tourists that descend in summer. 

We attended TECNUN University de Navarra for a 2 week intensive program about machine learning and data analytics facilitated through Python. The first week we had classes at the university and the second week we were taken on 4 company visits (CAF, Orbea, IKOR & Danobat) where we could see how these technologies were used in industries. These visits were definitely my favourite parts and it was fascinating and exciting to understand how these processes were undertaken. Throughout these 2 weeks, the university also organised a bunch of different cultural activities for us. Whether it was visiting Saint Jean de Luc, a mere 30 minute drive to travel into the south of France, or visiting a cidery where you could catch your cider from barrels, to visiting the Guggenheim, there was never a dull moment. Except for Sundays. A note to future students: on Sunday the majority of places except pinchos bars and bakeries are closed, even grocery stores.

Visit to Hondarribia, Basque town

Also a note to future students undertaking this course in winter: bring gum boots. It rained for a large section of our stay but the few days where the sun shone out were extra special. Although the beach that spans the coast is definitely the statement of the city, the winding side streets, classic architecture and amazing lookout also add to its vast beauty. A definite highlight was climbing to the top of Monte Urgull, the hill that towers over the city, and visiting the 12m statue of Jesus on the top known as the Castillo de la Mota.

The most memorable part of the trip was being lucky enough to witness the city’s annual drumming festival that happened to fall in the middle of our stay. It was 24 hours of drumming starting at midnight on Saturday where everyone gathers in the city plaza to watch an endless parade of people dressed in cook and soldier uniforms, young and old, drumming along with a marching band around the city. This festival is so significant that it is declared a public holiday and it was probably the coolest thing I experienced on the trip.

The crowds during the Tamborrada drum festival

I had a great experience during the program and can’t recommend it enough. I will leave you with the only words I managed to learn in Basque:

Eskerrik asko San Sebastián!

Valentina Antonatos

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