Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What I love about San Sebastian, Spain...

The other day as we were leaving from JFK the baggage handler looked at our luggage tags and said, "Where´s San Sebastian?  Never heard of it."  We told him it was in the north of Spain and he just shook his head, surprised that we were flying to a place he´d never known existed - and moving bags was what he did all day long.

We weren´t surprised really.  While this is our third trip to SS (as we call it), there isn´t much to do.  There are no must-see tourist attractions and the only museum, Bilbao, is an hours drive away.  We have yet to go there.  Nor have we ventured to Pamplona, Rioja, or Bordeaux.  All a short commute from the city.  Really there isn´t much to do except when the sun is out, which thankfully it is today.  And then you walk with your lover, your friends, your dog, along the sea, and greet other people who are doing the same.  You might wander down near the acquarium and have a lunch of fresh caught hake and some local white wine in an unmarked bottle.

And on a rainy day there´s really nothing to do except hang out in the pinxo (Basque for tapas) places with the locals as they munch on seafood nibbles and olives and fried calamari and potato omelettes.  Sipping the local txacoli wine that is a green wine poured from high above the glass or the beer that always flows from the tap.

Men in blue berets, lifelong friends, still find things to laugh over, and children run in and out, and dogs find ways of slinking in out of the rain.  After a beer, we might go to a cafe and sit, stirring our cafe con leche in its ceramic cup.  It seems odd - not to have seen styrofoam in days.   Not to see everyone staring into their smartphones or plugged into their music.  It is odd to hear the constant din of people talking to one another, elderly parents walking with their children, young familes wandering about, women with hair all dyed some maroon color that isn´t found in nature chatting with the girl who gives them their croissant.

We have taken the twenty minute bus ride to San Pedro where we once stayed, and fell in love with this place and its people.  This is also by the way the little villages that Victor Hugo fell in love with long ago when he went to stay with his mistress in SS.  Out for a stroll one day he stumbled upon San Pedro and San Juan.  And then he stayed for as long as he could. We´ve walked along the sea, then taken the little 60 cent ferry to San Juan, another small basque village where we have done exactly the same thing.  But that´s about as far as we´ve gotten so far on this trip.

We do plan to go to Bilbao on Friday unless it doesn´t rain and then we´ll probably just go to the beach.  At the beaches at about three in the afternoon you see well dressed men and women, walk to the sand, put down a towel, take off the business suits and dresses, to reveal the bathing suits they wear beneath.  They will jump into the sea.  Or just sunbathe for an hour.  Then get dressed and go back to work.

The other day in a pinxos bar (Atari - highly recommended) we met an American couple from Manhattan.  They´d been there two days and asked us how long we´ve been.  We told them we´d be staying two weeks and that this was our thirty visit to SS.  Third?  They looked surprised.  So what do you do when you´re here, they asked us.  And Larry and I looked at one another.  Why, we do....this.

Let´s be fair to ourselves.  We did make a dinner reservation at a renowned restaurant in Hondarrabia  and we are going to spend a few days in Nice with friends.  But some days we don´t venture past the little garden out back with its lemon tree, full of ripening lemons.  Some days we don´t feel guilty if we stay in bed until noon.

Have we become sloths?  Or is this just the way we prefer to see this world.  From the inside looking out.  When we come to SS, we are traveling.  We are living here.  So what can we tell people who ask why we keep coming back and what there is to do while we´re here?

We say that because there is nothing to do we don´t feel guilty doing just that.  And we find we are very busy, talking, sipping, strolling.  La dolce fa niente is alive and well in this city we´ve come to love.  Yesterday, for example, after lunch we took a nap on a dock.  Along with about a hundred other people.  Really I cannot account for the days though they seem to be flying by.  


  1. Mary,

    I own all of your books. You are a fantastic travel writer. Three ago, I toured Spain and we stopped in San Sebastain for an afternoon.

    Adelina Axelrod

    1. Adelina, thank you so much for this. I really appreciate it. I love San Sebastian. It is one of my favorite places. And I am grateful for your support. best, Mary

  2. Can't wait until I can make it to San Sebastian!

  3. Cacinda!!! How are you? I´m heading to Liguria to see Nicola and Paola again!!! I think of our lovely conference a lot. best to you. Mary