San Sebastian

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A few weekends ago, I was faced with the prospect of spending the long weekend on my own in Madrid because I couldn't afford the trip to Brussels with my flatmates. I hate wasted weekends though, so I was quickly on Google, searching for a trip that would cost me less than 150€ all in on short notice. The most obvious choices were clearly Spain and Portugal and, thanks to Ryanair, it's definitely possible to find flights on a small budget to great cities within Spain. Not on a long weekend though, when the prices raise astronomically, so that was out. RENFE train prices were also of a similar cost to my weekly rent so I went to that ultimate of last resorts...the long distance bus routes. Here, a second problem presented itself to me. I've actually been to a LOT of cities in Spain already. More than I thought I had. I'm getting to the point where I'm looking at cities which before I would have said nahhhh to. Mainly anything in the North. Or in Extremadura. So when my friend suggested San Sebastian I kept an open mind - trying to stave off images of the two of us sliding down cobbled streets in the pouring rain being approached by men with mullets and hoop earrings.(We all have our stereotypes and San Sebastian weather is notoriously fickle). 

It's a 6 hour journey from Madrid to San Sebastian by peasant wagon but it was surprisingly comfortable and we even took a half an hour break in Burgos, giving me a chance to sprint to the cathedral for a photo while everyone else was more sensible and went in search of the toilets and peanut m&ms. Arriving in San Sebastian, the centre is just a quick bus ride from the bus station on the no. 26 or 28 which drops you off on Boulevard, the main street. Dumping our bags at the dubiously titled Laganuk "B&B" (not at the top of my recommended list of pensions in San Sebastian but I've heard good things about Urban House) we headed out to eat at Kota 31 on Calle 31 Agosto for some pretty unremarkable burgers but some refreshingly different patatas bravas which weren't giant cubes of oily potato covered in ketchup for once. 

After our dinner we took a little stroll down to the port to look at the twinkly lights of the boats shimmering on the water.

Making our way back to the old town for what we thought would be a quiet drink, we sat down at a non-descript bar an ordered two tintos. Not long after, we were approached by two Basque guys asking us where we were from...yadda yadda. My friend, being slightly more polite and much less suspicious than me, kept the conversation going until I decided they were decent guys and probably weren't trying to chat us up. Not too much anyway. We ended up rolling in at 6am, 4 bars and many more cocktails later (new discovery: vodka diet coke with lemon Kas) after such a fun night getting to know San Sebastian with the locals. Sometimes you have to let your guard down if you want to get the best out of a place. (Although I was, of course, watching the bar with hawk eyes every time it was their round).

The next day, bleary eyed and sleep deprived from being woken up by what sounded like the elephant ballet taking place above our bedroom, I was not so happy with these friendly strangers. Discovering the "breakfast" we had paid for with our room was a packet of stale chocolate magdelenas and instant coffee left out ungraciously for us on the kitchen counter didn't help. Panicked and hungover, we headed to the golden arches for a coffee and a croissant to plan our next move. Simple: make our way (unsteadily) to Playa de las Conchas.

Taking a little moment for a much needed lie down after the arduous walk we were blessed with a little sunshine which made the bright blue water sparkle against the soft yellow sand. San Sebastian is absolutely gorgeous when the sun comes out and feels like a Cornish seaside town in the summer.

After this little lie down we reluctantly walked back to the old town in search of a warm, filling meal (not tapas). We discovered some delicious and reasonably priced Italian food at La Mama Mia and then decided to brave the walk up towards the religious statue (which you can see in the photo above. Yep, all the way up that hill.) The view from here of the bay is actually pretty rubbish to be honest. It's obstructed by trees and I've later been informed we should have walked up the other side. Looking out over the other side, however, with the fierce waves crashing against the rocks you feel miles away from the gentle lulling of the waves on the bay. Hangovers kicking in, we walked back down to the hostel for a little siesta.

One of the main attractions of San Sebastian is its own tapas style: small pintxos, normally served upon bread spread out over the bar like a giant delicious tapas buffet. We knew this, and we wanted to partake. Unfortunately, so did everyone else. So that evening, heading out at the usual Spanish eating time of 9pm, we were already too late; every table, bar stool and centimetre of bar space had a pintxo or an elbow on it and queues were forming. Eating standing up is not really for me so we decided to give up and ended up at a small tapas bar with characteristically unfriendly waiters but tasty tasty croquetas.


Sunday was our last day but luckily we had a late bus so we had time for breakfast and sightseeing.

Unluckily, it was raining. But we had a Plan B! The aquarium: sanctuary of all things watery and a perfect shelter from the water outside. Its 13€ for adults or 9€ if you're naughty like me and flash them an out of date student card from England. Seems a bit steep to me but if it's raining I would definitely recommend it because there aren't many other indoor things to do in San Sebastian We sailed past the fishing exhibition at the beginning and honed in straight on the sea life.


Determined to get out fix, we left the aquarium hurriedly in the direction of the pintxos bars, getting there at 1pm so as to avoid the rush after 2. And we weren't disappointed. The food was laid out so temptingly it was difficult to choose but in the end I plumped for a goats cheese and bacon one, white bait with garlic mayo and some croquetas. I also had a delicious glass of wine that turned out to be 1€...then I wish I'd had more. My whole lunch came to 7.50€ which shocked me as San Sebastian is notoriously pricey. We found this place on Calle Puerto and I'm really annoyed that I can't find a link to it.

San Sebastian surprised me in many ways. Though I'd heard how beautiful it was and how great the food was, it wasn't until we were lying on the beach and the sun came out that I really thought WOW I can see why so many people flock here in the summer. My preconceptions about Basque people were also largely unfounded, everyone we met was friendly and happy to speak Castellano. Did see a few mullets though, unfortunately.

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