Monday, April 26, 2010

San Sebastian, Day 1

In the morning I have a good coffee and a raisin pastry at the bar & sandwich place on the corner, before going out to walk along the beach toward the Castle de la Mota on Mont Urgull. On my way, many groups of runners pass me, each dozen or so dressed in club colors. There's a festival on today, and the first event is a nice run up and down and around Mont Urgull. I take a more sustainable pace. I notice the aquarium on the bay is open daily from 10 to 8 - I'll be back for that.
This isn't a castle that royalty lived in; it's a fortress and collection of strongpoints on the large promontory that guards the entrance to the bay. A place of continual conflict here on the frontier of Spain and France. Not much is left of it but a lot of gun emplacements and a few old cannon for show. Inside the building on top there's now a small museum presenting the history of the town and this fortress, in Basque and in Spanish. It looks like the town hasn't grown all that much in the passing centuries.
Outside, most of the hill is covered with trees, hiding the scattered parts of the fortress. As a result, there are plenty of views of town, but none of the castle itself. The top is surmounted with a huge concrete Jesus, blessing the town, his back turned to the Atlantic ocean. From the right angle, you can't see how many fingers he's holding up, and it looks as if he's flipping everyone off. There's nothing but Jesus and warfare up here so I hurry back down to see more of the rugged coast, and end up wandering back into town.
It's heated up over the course of the morning, so I stop at the hotel to change into cooler clothes. As I head back to the waterfront festivities, it promptly clouds over again. Just can't win. There are storytellers, and artists, and every ballerina from age 4 to 24 is lined up along the promenade overlooking the beach. There's music, but the dancers don't seem to be doing anything with it at the moment.

Lunch, when I finally decide where to have it, is Fabulous.
You can't get paella for just one person, but that's not all there is on offer. First: the fish soup. Delicious, but with just a touch of garlic, not the thick garlic mayonnaise they serve with bouillabaise in Marseille. Then squid in black ink sauce. Perfect. Not rubbery, but tender and savory. A glass of the local white is an excellent counterpoint, light and dry, almost bubbly. Oh, no, no dessert thanks. I'm stuffed for the moment, and plan to graze on ice cream or pastry later in the day.
San Sebastian's old town is a treat to wander through, with it's narrow streets overhung by three and four-storey buildings. Much of the decoration is Art Nouveau, though the town is centuries old. The festival continues. People walk by on stilts. Random music blares out, and I come upon show after show in some little square just as they're ending. At 7pm there's a classical concert in the large square that has city hall at the top and the beach down one side. It's an interesting take on classical - two or three pieces are played, but then it's as if they're passing the microphone around the public, and the quality of the singing becomes variable. Much fun is had by all, in any case, and the whole thing wraps up by 8:30.
I think of going into a bar to try the fresh tapas laid out in copious platters everywhere, but they're all quite crowded. I'd like to be able to sit with a beverage, nibble something, and type my notes into my laptop, so instead of a happening bar downtown, I end up in the little place on the corner where I had breakfast. Nobody much is there. Lots of table space. A football match on tv. They have a few platters of miniature sandwiches on the bar, but I get confused with the waitress, who speaks neither English nor French (nor perhaps Spanish, since French is often close enough to get by with Spanish speakers), and she ends up handing me the menu, with all the tapas choices listed on it. Installed at my table, I decide on one, but it turns out to be something that will take 15 minutes to prepare, just for me, and I'm obviously the only person around insisting the cook fire up the stove. I try and try to tell them never mind, but 15 minutes later I have a very tasty and hot wedge of tortilla of my very own. It is really good.
And that's it for the first day. Done typing!


Argent said...

After the day I've had, this was a dream. Thanks for this.

steven said...

oh nanu your life!!! you must stand back and wonder at your good fortune sometimes!!! it's all so beautiful. i very very especially love the photograph of the boats and their reflections. steven

Barry said...

Your description of San Sebastian has really intrigued me and I've just spent half an hour doing Google searches and reading about it on Wikipedia.

I can see how beautiful it is from your photos and envy you.

NanU said...

You're welcome, Argent. Any time I can be of service this way, I'm game!
I do consider the life I lead to be a gift, steven. Enjoy it most every day, at home or away.
And Barry, you may know as much about this place as I do, now. Though I have been reading the signs at all the points of interest.