San Sebastián: Day 23, 24
Having mentioned a bit of San Sebastián in my previous post, it’s only fitting I provide an update regarding the first stretch of our Spanish voyage. After meeting Nicole at Bordeaux station, we hopped on the train to the most sun-kissed, playa-blessed leg of our trip thus far, to a city where the surf life prevails, foodies rejoice and the gelato comes cheap and in the biggest portions possible.
’Tis a good life after all.
We spent the first evening navigating the neighbourhood, walking by the Parte Vieja (the Old City equivalent of San Sebastián), exploring the pier, admiring the sunset and concluding the day with our first round of ice-cream. The most exquisite thing about San Sebastián would probably be its colours: in the daytime the sea comes in the brightest shade of blue, whilst in the nighttime it becomes a deep indigo; the sky follows the same course of hues, turning violet when the clock strikes ten. It was nice to be out and about, as San Sebastián — being a young city — seems to stay awake until god-knows-when. This was especially true at our hostel, which verified all stereotypes about San Sebastián with a) its surf theme, b) its abundance of surfing clientele (i.e. surfer dudes in the most non-ironic way possible) and c) the fact that it was buzzing with life close to midnight. With ten people to a room, getting to sleep was a veritable fiesta of fun.
The next morning, we got up
bright and early in time for the free breakfast at 10AM (my inner middle-aged woman gasped in shock) and got ready for our first full day in the city. To begin, we decided to hike Monte Igueldo, on the top of which is an amusement park offering panoramic views of the entire city. As it was a Sunday, the two beaches on the way to the mountain — Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta — were absolutely packed with people, many of whom were walking around half-naked. We passed by a clothing market, had a peek at the cheeses and pastries being sold at the local farmers’ market, narrowly skirted a series of cyclists and finally wound our way up Monte Igueldo, stumbling upon sneak-peeks of beautiful blue every few meters. It was interesting to notice that the hike up to Monte Igueldo (which actually passed by a residential area) seemed to be an exact carbon copy of every hike ever in Hong Kong, particularly the ones that involve prime real estate (e.g. Repulse Bay and The Peak). It’s a small world after all.
At the top of the mountain, we encountered the most welcoming tourist trap in the form of an amusement park that seemed to be based on a single goal: to squeeze as many profit-making things on top of Monte Igueldo without running the risk of collapsing the entire mountain. With eagle exhibitions, beer vendors, bumper cars, a hotel, boat rides and even a toboggan (!), it was a wonder to see how much a panoramic view is actually worth. We got some good photos in the end, and thankfully they were free.
After our long walk, our starving selves tended to our stomachs with some pintxos (the Basque version of Spain’s famous tapas) at a bar in the Parte Vieja. As expected, the food was absolutely divine… which made us antsy with excitement for the pintxos crawl we had planned for the evening.
But before then, of course we had to hit the beach. For two hours we lounged on Zurriola Beach, otherwise known as the ‘surfing beach’, where we were one step closer to becoming absolute surfer dudes complete with our CIS hats (duuuuude!) and Joseph’s bro-tank tan (brotan?). We had a lot of competition however, as there was a plethora of individuals who embraced the surf life much more than we did. A gold star for effort, I guess.
At eight in the evening, we hit the Parte Vieja again to begin what would become the longest dinner of our lives. First we hit the Borda Berri bar, famous for their made-to-order pintxos. For twenty minutes we waited as three members of staff attended to a horde of hungry pintxos crawlers, who shouted out, received and paid for their orders in a most chaotic sequence of events. After forty minutes we finally received our orders — a tomato and tuna dish for me, duck and ravioli for Nicole and Joseph, and three glasses of cold Sangria — and toasted our first success of the evening. Paying for our pintxos took three times the length of time it took for us to actually consume them, but whilst waiting we got a chance to talk to a friendly Englishman on holiday with his family. Oh the friends you make commiserating over mutual waiting times!
After our long stint at Borda Berri, we hopped from bar to bar to take a good look at the pintxos on offer. The variety was astounding: fishes, cheeses, meats and breads were all shown off in their gastronomic glory, made only more delicious by the pace at which they were being whipped off their stands. But the act of ogling at deliciousness comes with incredible exhaustion, which is why, at one very modern looking pintxos bar, the three of us decided to finish off our meal (which had, by now, lasted a good two and a half hours) with our last pintxos of the day — and our last in San Sebastián.
The next day, Nicole and I hit what we dubbed the ‘Jesus Mountain’ (actually called Monte Urgull) for the Jesus statue visible from most points in the city. An hour of meandering through the maze of ‘Jesus Mountain’ yielded an interesting glimpse into the turbulent history of San Sebastián, which, given its controversial location right between Spain and France, has seen more conflict than most cities. Given that knowledge, and having seen the photographs of a war-torn San Sebastián in the museum beside Jesus’ statue, looking over the entire city came with an entirely different sense of awe. To think this bustling, young city had been rebuilt and rehabilitated over and over again…
Upon our descent, we met up with Joseph to grab lunch at a local sandwich and salad shop recommended to us by our hostel receptionist. As we ate sandwiches by the sea it was unfortunate that our faces almost melted, but eventually we cooled off with an hour long bike ride around the coast, during which we discovered a lovely garden beside the Palacio Miramar. Meanwhile, Joseph decided to amp up his surf-life aesthetic by renting a longboard like a regular bro.
The rest of the day was casual, as expected. We hung out at the beach for a while, went back to our hostel to shower, and came back out to have a supermarket picnic on the promenade by the sea. I introduced Nicole to my awesome 2.5€ combination of chickpeas, lentils and tomato sauce, which tasted even better overlooking the beach.
The hostel was a little quieter upon our return, given that everyone else had gone out. By midnight we had packed up and gotten ready to leave for our next journey to Córdoba, the world of cobblestoned streets and quietude much needed after the hustle and bustle of SS.