San Sebastián, Spain Part III

While eating pintxos, someone told me that there’s a four-mile stretch of the Camino de Santiago that you can hike from San Sebastián to Pasaia (or Pasajes).  Many posts suggest that it’s easy to find the beginning.  Give yourself a break if you get lost–we did, and so did a couple we met at a nearby restaurant who had temporarily given up on the idea of finding the start.  Spain-holiday has pretty good instructions on finding the beginning–once you see the stairs below, you’ll know you’re nearing the path.  If you’re in need of some exercise, which after eating non stop, you may be craving, I definitely recommend this hike.

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© Sarah Milstein 2018

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San Sebastián, Spain Part II

Google map of

As indicated in the annotated Google map above, there are four beaches in San Sebastián: (1) Ondarreta, (2) La Concha, (3) Zurriola, and (4) Isla Santa Clara.  (The pink hearts on the map denote my favorite pintxos bars and spots for coffee that I mentioned in Part I.)  You can walk the entire length of La Concha and Ondarreta in about 30 minutes, and Zurriola on the other side of the city, is even shorter.  The day we walked along Zurriola, it was drizzling and the ocean was brimming with surfers.

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I explored La Concha and Ondarreta on our last day in San Sebastián.  Unfortunately, right as I settled into the perfect spot in the sand, I had to leave for the airport.  All the more reason to return!

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La Concha (top four photos); Ondarreta (bottom photo).

© Sarah Milstein 2018

San Sebastián, Spain Part I

Before about a month ago, I thought I only knew one person who had been to San Sebastián and I don’t recall him ever saying anything memorable about it.  However, once we started planning this trip, people started coming out of the woodwork to rave about how it has the best food.  They weren’t kidding.  The New York Times 36 Hours in San Sebastian is essentially a menu of which pintxos to order in each bar in the old city.  (An over simplification, but pintxos are similar to tapas.)  If you’re someone like me who gets full quickly, but wants to try everything, this is your city.  If you’re someone who doesn’t get full quickly, this is also your city: the pintxos are plentiful and cheap.

I cannot say enough good things about San Sebastián, which within about 10 minutes of arriving, I already knew it was my new favorite city.  Not only does this city have epic food, it has old world charm and bridges that reminded me of Paris and Prague, modern art exhibitions, gorgeous beaches, and amazing hiking and surfing.  My only complaint is that I had to leave.

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Stay.  We stayed at the One Shot Tabakalera House, which is steps away from the bus station and in a converted tobacco factory, which now houses various art and cultural exhibitions, and several places to eat and drink.  The hotel was a bit of a walk to the pintxos bars, but frankly, I think it was necessary to walk off food between meals.

Eat.  My favorite part about pintxos is you can try a ton of things—they’re relatively cheap (often under 4€ each) and small, although many are very rich—so pace yourself! At Bar Txepetxa, I loved the anchovies with bell peppers and the toothpick with green beans and an anchovy.  I even went back a second night in a row—this coming from someone who doesn’t usually like anchovies (they weren’t so potent and salty as the ones I’ve had before).  At Borda Berri, the crispy roasted octopus was the best I’ve had (and even though not on the menu, they didn’t miss a beat when I ordered it).  The creamy, almost soupy risotto, was delicious as was the slow cooked beef cheeks (carillera de ternera al vino tinto).  People lined up at La Viña for the tarta de queso, which was similar to, but in my opinion, better than cheesecake.  I also loved their albondigas.  At Bar Nestor, we ate tomatoes and peppers, but they’re known for their tortilla, which you apparently have to arrive early for, and they were also serving the largest pieces of meat I’d ever seen.  At La Cuchara de San Telmo, I tried the foie con compota de manzana, and made friends who let me try their blood sausage, pig ear, and an “ugly” tomato.  While everything was good, I think it was too rich for my taste.

I also drank a lot of great coffee.  My favorites were at Sakona (which also had great toasts), Old Town, and Taba.

I took so many photos on our hike to Pasaia, Playa de La Zurriola (the surfer’s beach), and Playa de Ondarreta that I will post these separately.

© Sarah Milstein 2018

 

Bilbao, Spain

From San Sebastián, I took an hour-and-a-half bus ride to Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim Museum.  The bus dropped us off near San Mamés Stadium (below), and I walked to the museum so I could see a bit of the city while I was there.

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The Guggenheim did not disappoint.  The Frank Gehry building is incredible, as were the monumental sculptures surrounding it.  Jeff Koons’ Puppy stands guard in the front of the museum, while his Tulips take root in the back.

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As I already wrote on my Instagram, no photos were allowed in any of the exhibits, so I sat on the floor drawing them.  I was most moved by the work of artist Joana Vasconcelos who transformed objects into other, oversized ones.  For instance, “Red Independent Heart” is made of red plastic forks, spoons, and knives.  “The Bride” was made of OB tampons strung on cotton thread into a chandelier like object, “Marilyn,” which was a pair of high heeled shoes, was made of steel pots, pans, and lids.  The two most powerful pieces for me were “Call Center” and “Burka.”  “Call Center” assembled antique black phones ringing in different patterns, often sounding like the gun that they formed. “Burka” was a mannequin head wearing a burka and draped in other fabrics.  Every so often, the head was lifted on a crane, the fabric flowing beneath her like a dress, and then she was dropped without warning, causing a startling boom.  The first time I heard her fall, I almost yelled.  The next time she fell, a group of kids walking by, all jumped in unison.  Click here to see photos of her work, which is on display at the Guggenheim through November 11, 2018.

© Sarah Milstein 2018

Costa Brava, Spain

I often go to places and ask friends who live there or who’ve been for recommendations, but often forget to take note of places I find most memorable or that I’d recommend.  My friend Sukanya and I just spent two weeks in Spain, visiting Barcelona, San Sebastián, Bilbao, Seville, and Costa Brava.  Between The New York Times 36 Hours series and recommendations from several friends, we had plenty to keep us busy.  We went to Costa Brava last, having missed the memo that summer ended the week before, but I’m still happy we were able to spend a few days there, even if it was cool and raining half the time.

We stayed at Hotel Aigua Blava in Begur, on the coastline of Costa Brava.  This was the view from our hotel.  Not terrible.  Also their daily breakfast buffet was amazing.

View from Hotel Aigua Blava

The hotel was near numerous beaches, which when you search on Instagram, are usually covered with people.  I was able to walk to all of the beaches below from our hotel, passing people who appeared to be serious hikers (or at least who had walking sticks and better shoes than me), traversing rocks, and trekking up and down stairs, through tunnels, and often convinced I was heading in the wrong direction, but happily found my way to each.

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Just to the north, through a tunnel and down a serious set of stairs, you will hit Plaja Fonda.

A little to the south are Playa de En Malaret (below), Playa Cala Smiroli (middle), and through yet another tunnel, Playa Cala Aiguablava (bottom).

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The weather report invariably, and often inaccurately, predicted rain, so we decided to explore the town of Begur one day.  What remains of the castle at the top of the town provides 360 views, and the walk there was beautiful.  Also, if you can, get a drink or eat a meal at the adorable Hotel Aiguaclara while in town.

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© Sarah Milstein 2018