San Sebastian stole my heart, as so many warned me it would. Old colorful buildings, families and children happily frolicking about, fresh sea air, white sandy beaches with crystal blue water, all surrounded by lush green rolling hills. The definition of charming. My friend Jelissa and I arrived starving after a 6 hour bus ride from Madrid, and despite the offer from our nice hostel man to join him for a pintxo (Basque country’s version of tapas), we declined and went out in search of real food. We found a pizza place around the corner that did the trick, and while we initially were worried that 11 was too late for dinner, people were still streaming into the restaurant as we were paying the bill two hours later.
The next morning we walked around the riverfront and Parte Vieja in search of a cafe for breakfast. We quickly noticed that everything was written in two languages, Basque and Spanish. Basque looks and sounds absolutely nothing like Spanish, it reminds me more of the writing I saw in Hungary than anything else, although I learned later that Basque has no links to any of the other languages found in Europe, and scholars only have vague theories about where it might have come from.
After a coffee we met up with Cristella and Laura, fresh off the train from Toulouse and bearing gifts of French cheese. We explored the little harbor area, and then climbed up Monte Urgull to get a better view of the giant Jesus watching over all at the top. Afterward we were pretty hungry and unfortunately attempting to dine at prime time, which meant we had to wait for a table. This, in turn, lead to our discovery of the brilliance that is pintxos. The bartender first hands you an empty plate, and from there you can take you pick of any of the little three-or-four-bite creations found on platters covering the entire counter. The most amazing (and dangerous) part is how cheap it all is! For a glass of wine and three tapas it costs only about 9 euros, and that could easily be an entire meal. Of course, we also sat down and ordered off the menu, so we were completely stuffed. After our two lunches we basically rolled ourselves onto Playa de la Concha, and I enjoyed my first real soak in the sun and swim in the ocean since my arrival in September.
That night we attempted a pintxo-crawl, and ultimately, failed. Most people would go into a bar and have a glass of wine, a pintxo, and leave. Our downfall was that we would try a pintxo, love it, and stay to eat three more. The bar we spent the most time in was called Astelana, and it took us needing to unbutton our pants to finally convince us to leave. Here we learned that you can special order pintxos not on the counter, for the same price. Our favorites included the duck pate ravioli, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato wild rice risotto, and some crazy fish sample plate that was spelled something like Txapatali (Txpolli? Ptxatllipi?), it had this sauce on it, and octopus, and yum.
After sleeping in, we started our leisurely Sunday morning at the Bar Goiz-Argi. We were slightly concerned that 11 :30 was too early to be drinking, especially on the Lord’s day, but we decided to follow the examples of everyone else in the packed bars. Here we discovered txakolí, the local sparkling white wine, and gambas a la placha, essentially a shrimp kebab, but covered in the most amazing tangy sauce atop a big piece of white bread to soak it all up. After lunch we headed up the funicular to take in the gorgeous views from the top of Monte Igueldo, and puzzle at the bizarre rides and games in the mini carnival. Cristella and Laura had to take the train back, and since the weather was a bit cloudy Jelissa and I headed to the aquarium, and then relaxed and watched the surfers on Playa Gros. Later we returned to Astelana to get our fill of risotto, and rounded out the weekend with our fourth gelato at this corner shop on the main boulevard that we never saw without a huge line out the door.
San Sebastian is a place I could visit year after year and never tire of it. So, my already more successful friends, please don’t hesitate to buy one of your summer homes there, and invite me whenever you’d like. I have to wake up in four hours to hop on a plane to Copenhagen, tough life, better get to bed. Also, only four more weeks in Madrid! Crazy how time flies.