Saturday, 25 June 2016

San Sebastián: Pintxo Me, I Must Be Dreaming!

San Sebastián, Spain (San Sebastián, España) 
November 2015
From Biarritz we drove into Spain where we had booked a youth hostel for two nights. San Sebastián is only 20 kilometers from the French border, so it wouldn't have been an arduous drive if our SatNav Synthia hadn't led us astray. She took us the long way around to the hostel on the hill, up narrow roads and sharp turns. Once we arrived and checked in, the receptionist informed us that there was a perfectly good two-lane road that would have made the trip a lot easier. Synthia! Again you make me shake my fist at you!
Once night began to fall, we walked down the hill into town to get some tapas for dinner (though here they are called pintxos).
The sun setting over the distant mountains was a glorious sight, and we were glad that we chose accommodation that provided such great views.
We found our way into the old town (Parte Vieja) and referred to our tapas to-do list. The lady we had house sat for in France told us she had been on a walking food tour of San Sebastián, and gave us her cheat sheet so we could find some of the best places. The city is well known for its Basque food culture, and is second only to Kyoto in terms of cities with the highest number of Michelin stars per capita. A foodies' paradise, you could say!


The whole of the old town had a lively Spanish nightlife feel to it, and the bars were crammed full of people eating and drinking.


We got off to a good start at Bar Borda Berri, where we ordered two glasses of Rioja, stewed beef cheek that melted in the mouth and cheese risotto from a no-nonsense bartender. After that our food mission became more difficult, as some of the places on our list didn't seem to exist anymore or were not serving the dishes that were listed as the best ones.
The next success was at Goiz Argi, where the pimentos de padron suggested were no longer on the menu, but we instead tried the nicest mushroom dish we have ever eaten as well as a cheesy meatball that had more cheese than meat. This all washed down well with the white wine they served: Txakoli (Basque sometimes makes me think of the Aztec language).
Full but not too full, we stumbled across a fortuitous gelateria and consumed our dessert while watching a duo of drunk hobos. One seemed to be so drunk he didn't want to move, and cradled his head in his hands. The other tried to help by offering him some Coca Cola. Receiving no response from the hunched figure, he unscrewed the bottle cap and the fizz of gas joined his inquisitive calls of "Hola...? Hola! Hola..."  He eventually gave up on communication and silently watched his friend brood in deep regret over having so many beers (several cans of the stuff were discarded under the park bench).

Thinking we were prepared for the climb back up the hill, we were disappointed when I slowed right down not even halfway up. Combatting this lull in energy, Yannick pretended to be a zombie chasing me (complete with undead groans) until I made it up the hill. The view in complete darkness was almost better than that at sunset if possible, as the city lights cast the most beautiful reflections in the harbour.

The next day we lounged around in the morning and headed into town at midday. It was rather cool to see surfers in wetsuits strolling along a normal city street, amidst commuters in business outifts. The dripping, happy Spaniards could wander 100 meters away from the beach and arrive at their apartment door. Not bad. We too had beaches in mind, and bee-lined straight for the closest one, which was the surf beach (the second was on the opposite side of the old town and was more of a sunbathing beach). We dozed there for a while, not caring that we had no towels and were getting covered in sand.
When the wind picked up all of a sudden, we dusted ourselves off and headed in to get more pintxos for lunch.

Back in the old town we walked into the first tapas bar we saw because it looked nice. Not relying on our handy pintxos reference guide, we winged it (wang it?) and ordered croquettas and chorizo sidras in a bun. Interestingly enough, records show that in the year 1014 there was a monastery in the area devoted to Saint Sebastian that grew apple orchards for cider (sidra). Instead of drinking sidra, we chose two very refreshing glasses of sangria.

Hard to miss, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus is right in the heart of the old town. Of course, it features a statue of Saint Sebastian with arrows stuck in him prominently on the facade. We snapped some photos of it on our way to a bakery for lunchdessert.

Acquiring Basque cakes for the occasion, we took them to the other beach that we had not yet visited. It was so close to the old town! What an amazing city.

We soaked up the sun until an untimely cloud ruined the warmth party.

With a little afternoon still left, we embarked on some minimal effort sightseeing (we were so very full and sleepy from the sun). We saw a statue by a talented artist depicting The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha and his trusty squire Sancho. It seemed that some ruffian had stolen Don's hand.

A boulevard lined with red trees led us up to the cathedral. Pointy pointy! Mopeds were very popular in the city, and residents zipped around the streets, sometimes with three people to a scooter.

On our way back to the hostel we crossed a long bridge and gazed out over the glassy river. I love clear blue skies as much as the next person, but I have to admit that partial cloudiness makes for more interesting views.
Feeling as though we hadn't absorbed as much of San Sebastián as we could have, we inquired at the reception whether we could stay another night. He informed us with dismay that the next day held an annual race event, and that they had been booked out for the last eight months. Apparently around 35,000 people are involved, so accommodation is hard to come by unless you want to be spending the big bucks. As consolation he showed us a video of some Spanish kids doing the haka in which one boy gets super into it and wows the others with his ferocity. It was awesome.

Today's post was almost called: Hurrah for the Tapa, Con Rioja y Playa