I just got to spend six weeks in Spain. Six weeks in my beloved Espana. And now we’ve just arrived in Paris, staying for the next month. A MONTH IN PARIS. I feel like I’m dreaming. Seriously just hit me with a shoe already and wake me up. This couldn’t be any better. After our farming stint in the mountains of Mallorca, we went to San Sebastián, in Basque Country in the north of Spain, where we spent most of last week. I’ve always wanted to go — it was up there on my list with Morocco and Russia (that’s hopefully in July) — plus Anthony wanted to learn to surf, and SS has plenty of that. It was incredible. I always find food to love most places we go, but in SS, the FOOD IS the reason to go. The reason to wake up in the morning (literally I woke up excited for the food to come that night). The ocean and three big beaches and beautiful city are nice too. But it really is all about the food. Specifically the pintxos, which are their Spanish nouvelle version of tapas. I was skeptical about everyone’s rave reviews at first. I am a purist and that applies especially to my food. I like the tried and true, stand-the-test-of-time tapas, and don’t need a twist or imaginative spin put on them because they are so good exactly how they are muchas gracias. I don’t even know what the hell nouvelle means and I didn’t want any in my food. But I realize now that is complete crap and I’m an idiot. As a general rule I try not to pass judgment on something until I’ve experienced it myself. For some reason I voided that rule when planning for SS (again, I blame my militant passion for all things Spanish) and it came back to kick me in the ass. Because the food. Is. Amazing. You start the night out at a pintxos bar. Stand at the bar, have a glass of wine and a pintxo. Go to the next place. Stand at the bar, maybe a glass of txakoli, a sparkling white wine that’s poured from up high, and another pintxo. Next place, perhaps a cidre (like our cider beer but not as heavy or sweet) and, yes, another pintxo. And so on. Or forget the drinks and just eat — the spaniards often just have a soda or juice with their food. We went out a couple of nights with a few Spanish friends from Anthony’s surf class and only a couple had alcohol. Every pintxo is different, and every one looked like art. One night we skipped the pintxos and instead started off at La Vina with a couple of glasses of wine & txakoli and a slice of cheesecake (it’s our vacation we’ll eat cheesecake first if we want to). They are muy famoso for their cheesecake and we quickly understood why. It’s like a light, airy cloud of cheese-ness in a pie crust. We both agreed it was the next best thing to his mom’s, which is I am not kidding you the best in the entire world. When we first started dating, Teresa made one for me and I swear that is why we are married today. But I digress. After the cheesecake we went for dinner at Bar Nestor, known for its steak. It took us a minute to figure out the system — these places are always crowded and usually you just make your way to and find some room for yourself at the bar. At Nestor, though, one of the three men working behind the bar notices you, adds you to his mental waiting list, and as soon as someone leaves and your turn is up, he calls you over. I don’t know how he keeps track because people are packed inside the narrow little place and spilling into the streets, but it works. After ordering drinks, you have an option of exactly three things to order, and most people order all of them: steak (he shows you two pieces, you choose one and he weighs it behind the bar), a tomato salad and grilled peppers. Of course we got the holy trinity. And it was one of the five best meals of my entire life. It was my favorite meal of this entire trip so far. Yes Anthony ate steak and yes he was fighting me for the last piece. It was cooked to perfection (they don’t ask, it just comes out pretty close to rare and you can eat it right away or let it cook a little longer on the hot pan on which it’s served) and I can’t stop thinking about it. Coupled with a few glasses of ribera del duero, it was heaven. I wanted to go back but there are so many places para comer and only so much time people. Our last night we went to La Cuchara, a place we’d tried to go to all week but was always closed. We ordered a slew of pintxos, rather than our normal one and done. Veal cheeks, pulpo (octopus), gambas (shrimp), squid ink risotto, langoustine… More glasses of ribera. Back to La Vina for more cheesecake (we each got our own slice this time) and then to Zeruko, one of the most nouvelle cuisine-y places of them all. More pintxos of course — prawn on shredded crab meat bruschetta topped with deviled egg, I can’t remember what else because I keep thinking about that one — then I ordered their piece de resistance, the passion fruit dessert. Check out the photo below to understand this, but there is an order in which you eat it. First you pop the passion fruit bubble thing in your mouth — it’s like eating a giant bubble of passion fruit. Next the passion fruit cake bite, which is feather-light, followed by the passion fruit whipped cream (are you seeing the pattern) and finally, at the end, you eat that little dandelion-center looking thing that they call an electric flower. I bit down on it, waiting to get some kind of electric shock in my face and fall off the chair. Instead nothing happened. It was bitter, is all, and then… This slow gradual creep of flavor for a minute or two turned into an all-out rush of tart, then sour, then back to tart, a little sweet, and then some passion fruit gets in there and then whatthehellisthat and whatthehellisnext and it was crazy how a full 7 minutes after I bit down on this thing, new flavors were surfacing. We had to order another one so Anthony could experience it for himself and stop taking pictures of the weird faces I was making.
And there were so many other places to try and we just simply ran out of nights. And stomachs. Thankfully there are a ton of hiking trails around the city to work off some of the food. One of the days we trekked east along the cliffs above the ocean, joining up briefly on the same path as the Camino de Santiago. We walked 3 hours to a small fishing village divided into two by the ocean that could only be crossed by a midget fishing boat-ferry. It was one of my favorite things we did. And Anthony surfed every day. So we spent five days in heaven, hiking in the mornings, surfing in the afternoons (I read and became the resident photog on the beach) and going out for pintxos at night. Even our hotel was perfect. We found Pension Aia a block from the beach, with cute rooms, a kitchen and individual bathrooms that everyone shared. Again my preconceived notion of this had me dreading the shared bathroom part. Then we arrived and the pension was so cute, the bathrooms so nice and we never had to wait for one — I would go back in a heartbeat. We actually extended our stay once we got there (I love this traveling for a year thing) and would have stayed longer but the hotel was booked up. So at the end of our time in lovely San Sebastian, we took a bus one hour east and crossed the border, waving adios to my Espana and starting our time in France. We stayed in Biarritz for a night, at Hotel Les Alizes next to the beach — a sweet but pricey resort town on the ocean, small enough that you can walk everywhere. Surfing in Europe was born here, and along with San Sebastián, it’s said to be the best place on the continent to surf. We watched a competition and A tried to rent a board to no avail — the tide was high (thank you Blondie) in early afternoon and they won’t rent until it’s low again later in the evening. Rocks line the surfers’ beach and the possibility of bashing your board into one is too high. So we spent the afternoon on the beach, found a bar with live music, watched the sunset, had some dinner and the next morning, grabbed a 5-hour train to Paris, my love, my dream, my favorite city in the world IN WHICH I DON’T LIVE (New York is always number one, calm down Lori Barzvi), and we are staying here for the month of June. Ahhhh. My only goal now is to work on my French and enjoy the hell out of the city. And hopefully Anthony loves it as much as I do. He seems to be on board with me when it comes to Spain. He knew going in that it’s my favorite country in the world and it can do no wrong in my eyes, and I think he now gets why. So hopefully the whole Paris-is-magic thing will rub off on him too. It was actually his idea to stay here for a full month, and I wasn’t complaining (and then I counted my lucky stars and mentally thanked my mother-in-law for that first cheesecake which made me want to marry him way back in the beginning). So let’s do this. Enjoy the photo shoot below from San Sebastián and Biarritz. And wish us bon chance.
Where we stayed in San Sebastian:
Pension Aia (one of our favorite places we’ve stayed)
Where we ate & drank in SS that we really liked:
Bar Nestor (one of my top 5 meals of the entire trip)
La Vina (for the cheesecake)
La Cuchara (pintxos)
Where we stayed in Biarritz:
Hotel Les Alizes