The Never Ending Travel Day
As journeys go, this would be up there with one of the worst.
It was my first experience of a sleeper train, and I’d managed to bag a cabin to myself, so was fortunate enough to have a private and reasonably comfortable ride. Boarding in time for the 9.25pm departure, I had a quick bite on board for dinner before settling in for the night. As I was crossing from Lisbon, Portugal to Miranda de Ebro, Spain I was crossing time zones. I set my alarm for 7.30am to give me plenty of time to wake up, enjoy the view, repack and get sorted for the 8.45am arrival at Miranda de Ebro where I had a changeover. The plan seemed like a good one.
I was already nervous about this journey as I’d never slept on a train before, but I’m all up for new experiences and that’s exactly what this trip was meant to be about! Unfortunately the train steward got me confused with a different room, so after a bad night’s sleep I had a wake up call at 5am for a stop that wasn’t mine. After falling back to sleep safe in the knowledge that I had an alarm set, I woke to another knock at the door. This was actually for my stop, but I was confused why my alarm hadn’t gone off. Turns out we’d crossed time zones but my phone hadn’t updated the time zone, so the alarm would have been too late. And we were early getting to the station. I had a mad rush to get up and ready so I wouldn’t miss my stop, and jumped off in dreary Miranda de Ebro.
With the early arrival of my train and the epic layover, I had a few hours to kill in a small Spanish town in the early morning. I had resigned myself to just finding a corner of the tiny train station, a few episodes of something I’d downloaded from Netflix and waiting it out. I’m good at waiting.
The security guard had other ideas, and while he had good intentions he was starting to bug me checking if I was ok every fifteen minutes and telling me about a coffee shop just a couple of streets away. I hadn’t slept well, I hadn’t had a shower, I don’t drink coffee in the morning – I know, what a weirdo! – and he didn’t speak English so my tired brain was working overtime trying to converse with him. I eventually gave in and went to the coffee shop, getting strange looks from the locals who probably don’t see many backpackers in there.
Eventually I was back on the train, with a short journey to Bilbao followed by an hour bus ride to Bermeo, the small seaside town I’d be spending the weekend in. I wasn’t sure where my stop was, so as soon as I spotted on Google maps that I was in the town I jumped off and walked the rest of the way to the centre where my AirBnB was.
I’d been messed around a little by the AirBnB owner, and this was part of the reason why I’d been nervous coming here. I waited in a small bar for her to say yes I could check in, and treated myself to some pintxos. Thankfully it was all ok in the end, I checked in to an amazing apartment in the centre of town and finally had a shower and washed my hair after the delightful surprise in Lisbon!
Come evening, I was absolutely shattered. That was a journey I hadn’t enjoyed, but not wanting to write the day off I met a friend who I had come to visit. He gave me a tour of Bermeo – it’s really small – and a bit of history about the town and the Basque region before we went to the best spot for coffee overlooking a rainbow and the Atlantic Ocean.
There was a festival on for the weekend, so we wandered back down to the town centre to see if we could find his girlfriend who was participating in the festivities. One of my favourite things about towns this small is how everyone knows each other, and we stopped many times to chat to people on the way. As the rain started to get heavier and I struggled with tiredness, we decided to call it quits for tonight and meet early next morning for a day of sightseeing.
Touring the Villages
Waking up, the rain was still going strong and I was dubious about how well my Toms and umbrella would hold up in the wet and windy weather. I met my friend and his girlfriend, and having spotted how underprepared I was for the region, they presented me with a pair of proper shoes and raincoat. It’s these little acts of kindness that really make me smile and I settled in for a day of sightseeing.
En route to the now famous San Juan de Gaztelugatxe we stopped off to check out some panoramic views of the area and at a lighthouse that I imagine would have amazing views of the Bay of Biscay on a clear day. Instead, we just got battered by the wind and rain before giving up and getting back in the car. Arriving at Gaztelugatxe, we were lucky with a break in the weather. It had temporarily stopped raining, but there weren’t many people venturing out on the walk to the church on top of the island.
Only dedicated fans of Game of Thrones would recognise the island as that of Dragonstone as the church that actually tops the island is CGI’ed into the castle Daenerys Targaryen plots her war from in series seven. I didn’t even notice until we were halfway into the 241 step climb and my friend gave me a quick heads up that this is a GoT filming location. Once we made it to the top we had a quick look around – really quick, it’s just a small courtyard – and rang the bell of the church three times for luck. Hey, anything for a bit of extra luck, right?
Making our way back to the car, I was so thankful to sit down as it’s quite an uphill trek and not the most fun in drizzly rain. Making a note that I’d come back here when it’s sunny, we set off to visit the small villages the other side of Bermeo. It’s so fun to have a tour with local people, see what it’s like where they work and what they get up to in their spare time.
After exploring the landscape, we stopped at a beachside cafe for some pintxos before seeing the local hiking spots – from the car, it was still chucking it down – before heading back to visit the local town hall that housed an old tree that had been gifted. It’s a big symbol of the region and the Basque people, and it’s things like this that I wouldn’t have seen had I been exploring on my own.
By this point the rain was getting to us, and try as we might, we had to admit defeat as we were soaked. Opting to spend the rest of the afternoon in a local bar, we settled in to the warmth with a coffee, snacks and a few games of table football. This was one of my favourite Spain experiences, hanging out in a bar with the locals, just chilling out. We even bumped into my AirBnB owner, who my friends know and who felt the need to check with them whether I’d been bringing many men back to the apartment. Ha!
Heading back to the apartment in the evening, I was so happy to have had such a good day, even with the rain pouring. After a shower to warm me up and a bit of dinner, I turned in for an early evening. The plan for tomorrow was to go to Bilbao to watch my friends girlfriend compete in a dance competition, and as someone who is often late I planned to get up extra early to make sure I would be ready on time!
< Lisbon | #16 | Bilbao >