Recently I flew home from a 24-day solo trip to Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Seville, and Lisbon again. If you like, you can start from the beginning here.
I can't see much of the countryside this morning; at seven am the fog has not yet lifted. There was a short period at the beginning of the trip where we were zipping through mountain tunnels and POP - we'd emerge and there'd be this small cluster of houses perched on the side of the hill like so many mountain goats and then POP - we'd be back in the blackness of the tunnelpass. This happened two or three times in quick succession, and it reminded me of changing slides on a Viewmaster: click, mountain, click, black. I suppose that's dating myself.
There's no better word for it: San Sebastian is lovely. It's on water, it's small (130,000), it has buildings that would be at home on any street in Paris, but you can walk across the city in an hour. I spent what I call the 'dead hours' - between 4 - 8pm, when I'm too tired to keep walking but it's much too early to eat (the restaurants are in fact closed) - in my bright little room overlooking Plaza de la Constitucion. The helpful historical plaque tells me that bullfights were once held in the square, and the balconies that ring it would be sold as prime viewing places. Their numbers are still there, though probably touched up regularly for the tourists. Mine is 116. I opened my shutters and sat barefoot on the tile, face upturned to recharge in the sun.
Napping was a terrible idea. I dragged myself out of bed at 9pm and very unwillingly got dressed for dinner. But my mood was brightened considerably by the delicious pintxos I picked, and the txacoli too, a sort of citrus-y light sparkling wine that they pour, holding the bottle at head height and let fall through the air into the glass.
This morning I stuck my feet into the Bay of Biscay (oh, cold!). I also saw the aquarium and loved that scuba-men and -women were busy vacuuming the tanks. Scuba men have chores, too, apparently. Then I clambered up Monte Urgell to the castle and the giant statue of Christ at the top. Being so close to the ocean is truly marvelous and I often feel like I could just stare at the waves for hours. I could see myself coming here for a length of time to draw and paint. Places like Barcelona or Paris have almost too many distractions, but here I don't think there would be. Just the water, sand, and endless amounts of finger food. (Perfect!)
Well I had a bit of a magical evening.
At first, far away, I heard loud, rhythmic booms echoing around the stones, and so of course I started walking towards the noise.
The men of the town (and a very small number of women) were out in the nooks and crannies of the town, practicing their drumming for the Festival of San Sebastian. A man holding a curved sword stood in the centre of the ring and conducted the drummers with specific cues: downward thrust = BOOM, sword held sideways = rat-a-tat-tat. The next group I found was inside the gates of a church, and these folks had the brass and woodwind band with them. Middle-aged men as well as boys no older than eight were keeping perfect time. I was sad to know that I was missing the festival itself, but this was an unexpected and delightful behind-the-scenes peek.
Oh, then - deciding I had had enough pintxos for one day - I walked into an empty restaurant and had a truly wonderful meal. I have no idea why this restaurant wasn't packed - the goat cheese, honey & pine nut salad plus the tenderest lamb and these bread squares soaked in sweet milk and caramelized...oh, oh, oh, Yes.
Tonight - stuffed and happy. Tomorrow - off to Bilbao!
Playa de la Concha at night