The story picks up the night of Friday, March 25 when Lara and I caught a bus from Bilbao to San Sebastián. We made it just in time at our hostel, which was closing its reception at 10:00 pm. I cannot imagine what we would have done if we had decided to take the later bus. The Spaniard at the reception was wonderful though, mapping out for us our dinner options. I had asked Manolo's wife, Blanca, at my internship about her dining recommendations. She is from San Sebastián after all. Looking back, we are indebted to her advice.
Our first stop was the night's biggest hit. It was a jam-packed bar called "La Cuchara de San Telmo." I was tempted to find a spot more calm, but thanks to Lara (used to fighting crowds in Madrid) we got our order in. Little did we know how awe-struck we would be with every bite. I have never tasted food this complex in flavor. We ordered three tapas, thereby breaking the "pintxos" dogma of Basque Country. Lara was in charge of ordering, and wow did she get it right. We had the best goat cheese I have ever tasted, the most succulent and complex piece of veal, and the bar's specialty of Foie. Every bite almost brought us to tears. I will never forget Lara's outpouring of happiness. Afterward, we spent some time trying to find a match, but nothing came close. Besides, it was getting late and we had had a long day.
Queso de Cabra (Goat Cheese)
The next morning we spent the day admiring the vistas of San Sebastián and of course, eating. Nearly the whole trip Lara and I were speaking Spanish. We both feel comfortable in our Spanish voice, and expressing ourselves comes naturally. After a while, it just flows out; we are surrounded by it all the time. First we explored the best Basque market and both purchased the Basque cheese "idiazábal" (raw sheep's milk cheese).
The layout of San Sebastián is unique; it has a "U" shape (see above). On the right side of the "U" is Monte Urgell. On the left is Monte Igueldo. On the bottom of the "U" is La Concha Beach. And between the two mountains is Santa Clara Island. Our first stop was Monte Urgell. The mountain is at the edge of the Old Town. After wrapping around the promenade we climbed up to admire the view. Atop Monte Urgell is a statue of Jesus, making San Sebastián feel like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
We descended to enjoy the city center, the Catedral, and lunch. We went to one of Blanca's favorites: La Espiga. Another incredible experience. Lara ordered "Lomo de Atún Rojo" (Red Tuna Loin) and I order the house specialty: "Morros" (Cow Lips). Both were top quality. The Tuna had such a deep flavor that every bite blew me away. The cow lips were tender and delicious (cows are more prevalent in the North).
"Lomo de Atún Rojo" (Red Tuna Loin)
The sun was peaking through by the time we exited the restaurant. We continued along the La Concha beach and absorbed the amazing landscape. In the middle of the beach is the palace of Maria Cristina (see below), an Austrian who married the Spanish King in 1879. She choose to spend her summers here, right in the middle of the beach. She treated her skin with the bay's "magical water."
Before long we were atop the opposite cliff, Monte Igueldo. We took the "Funicular" this time because of its steepness. We were on top of the world looking over the bay. Lara sipped coffee as we took a break. Then, the sun came out just for us; and we snapped even more photos.
We said goodbye the Basque Country by walking back along the beach. We grabbed a picnic dinner at an artisan bread place and jumped on a bus to Zaragoza for an early plane ride home.
Sunday would be a more harrowing day. I must have picked up a bug along the way; no wonder with the little sleep I was running on. The stomach flu took over (maybe food poisoning). Typical, right? (I was eating strange food). Plenty of bathroom trips in the airport and airplane followed. I returned home completely exhausted. I spent the rest of the day in bed between more trips to the bathroom.
Despite the trauma, it in no way interfered with sightseeing, for which I am so grateful. Thank you to Lara for a tour of Basque Country done right! Plenty of culture and gastronomy. This was something more than tourism.
For pictures of this day, see "País Vasco Day 2 - San Sebastián (3-26)" at https://picasaweb.google.com/bradleywilliams39