Monday, April 01, 2013

Exchange Adventures: San Sebastian!

New life mission: acquire a summer home in San Sebastian, Spain. Preferably one overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen, but one nearby will do just fine too.

San Sebastian is incredible. I totally understand why many say it is their favorite place in Spain. The beaches... the views... the hiking... the river... and the food!!! Oh my gosh the food!!! I have never claimed to be a foodie, but I definitely had some of the best morsels I have ever tasted while in SS.

But let me start with a recap first. We arrived in SS via bus from Bilbao on Saturday afternoon. We made our way to our hotel and then headed to the beach which was only a street away. The boardwalk was packed with families, couples, tourists, vendors, etc... and the city had this lovely lively feel to it.

Our first mission for the city was to eat at Nestor, which our friends (and Trip Advisor) told us had the best steak (i.e. chuletan) they had ever had.  After navigating our way through street after street of packed pinxto bars, and people who were pouring out into the streets, we found the place and got two spots at the bar.  Nestor only sells tomato salad, peppers, and steak, so guess what we ordered.  Obviously I had a lot of tomatoes, but most impressive was that Joe finished his entire two pound steak.  Two thumbs up from Joe.
We ended up spending most of our night here as we were quite happy at the bar.  We also laughed at how the bartenders kept trying to make me think the steak was fish and wanted me to try it.  Yeah, not so much. However, if this was how much fun the rest of our time in SS was going to be, I was pretty darn excited.


Thanks to going to sleep relatively early, I woke up with enough time to go run around the city before Joe woke up. I headed out to the boardwalk, ran along the water around Monte Urgull, back through town along the river, past the cathedral, back to the boardwalk, and around to the other peninsula Monte Igeldo Mendia.  It was a five mile trek but with plenty of stops to take pictures and admire the views.  One of my favorite parts was watching a group of older men play soccer on the beach.

After my run, Joe and I made our way out to get lunch.  We first stopped at a restaurant beachside, but the place was clearly overwhelmed with people and we were worried we wouldn't eat for a long time. So we gave up the views and opted to try more tapas in the Parte Vieja neighborhood.  We went to a somewhat touristy place (we think) first just to get something in our bellies.  Then we went to El Fuego Negro, which became one of my favorites and had been recommended by my classmates.  I got a black and white quinoa salad (made with a cucumber/apple white sauce) and Joe got rabbit and a mini Kobe burger. We each loved what we ate and also loved sitting at the bar and watching everyone work. The bartenders in SS work so hard and are very very good - it was impressive to watch them in action.

Next Joe and I walked to the other side of Monte Urgell and along the Rio Urumea until we got to the Playa de Zurriola beach. We grabbed a table at a small cafe that overlooked the beach and watched the surfers, locals, and happy beach-faring dogs for the next hour.  Since we were in the neighborhood, I somehow convinced Joe to go to Monte Ulia with me in search of the Camino de Santiago trail.  One of the routes goes through SS, so I wanted to hike a bit of it.  (Thanks Taline & Min for the inspiration here!) Even though we had a bit of climb, we were rewarded finding this secluded spot where we sat and watched the ocean and several hikers in the distance.
By about 6pm, we were pretty hungry so we decided to start our true tapas crawl. We went to one unmemorable place before stopping in Taberna Gandarias Jatetxea where I had quite possibly the best tasting thing of my whole life - a small pinxto of bread, oil, green pepper, cod, and carmelized onion. Seriously, I think this might be what heaven tastes like. I was jumping around with happiness, and when I thought we were leaving, Joe had actually bought another one for me! (Related memory: Joe at the bakery in Belem, Portugal.) Happiness.

Best. Pinxto. Ever.
 Our third favorite place was La Vina, known for its cheesecake.  We apparently ordered two servings, but I don't really remember because Joe ate it all so fast! I had a few bites, and it was indeed incredible, but it was Joe doing the happy dance here. 
We again were sitting at the bar, so we got to see one of the bartenders saw - literally- a leg of ham. For me this was like watching a car wreck. I wanted to look away but it was fascinating. Still so glad I do not eat four-legged creatures, or this might have turned me. Lucky for you, I am not going to post all of the pictures here... but here's an idea:
When we realized eating three servings of cheesecake might be overkill, we headed back to El Fuego Negro for wine.  Lastly, we went back to Taberna Gandarias for dinner. Joe had been eyeing the steak all night, so we managed to get a table and enjoy. I had a delicious salad with shrimp on top, and I was happy.  I can't begin to count the number of times I asked Joe if we could bring the chefs back to Austin. (Or move here. Either way would be fine with me.)
One very happy Joe in one of the yummiest cities in the world!


We took Monday pretty easy, starting with a visit to the Cathedral of Buen Pastor, which faced the Church of Santa Maria del Coro which we visited the day before. Then we grabbed a table in a courtyard in Parte Viejo, drank coffee and hot chocolate, and starting planning our Normandy trip.  Joe was very impressed with how laid-back I was in SS.  Every time I said "there's no rush, let's take our time" he did a double take. But SS is the right kind of place to do it.  I definitely would come back here.  (I mean, my summer home will be here so I guess coming back is a given.)

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