19-21 February 2018
After a day sitting in a cloud listening to the selection of rain falling around us – gentle rain, fast rain, hard and heavy rain – we stopped waiting for it to cease, put on our waterproofs and caught the bus into San Sebastian. It is supposed to be a lovely place, with curving beaches backed by a busy, cosmopolitan and popular resort with the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants outside Japan. On a wet, windy and very grey February day we were not really inspired to explore any further than the covered market and the warmth of the “pinxtos” bars.
First the market which as expected had lots of fish stalls. Nearly all had large platters of cod throats – we had seen Rick Stein talk of them, poor mans food that over time has become a delicacy. We hadn’t seen them anywhere else in Spain but here they were everywhere along with hake throats and cod cheeks. And a surprised looking fish with a lettuce leaf stuffed in it’s mouth!
There were the traditional fruit & veg stalls where we tried to get Seville oranges but were told they don’t sell them here as they are not a regional product. And what has become, the usual butchers and charcuteries doing everything pig, olive & olive oil speciaists, and mounds of pretty cakes still warm so you could smell the sugar and butter as you walked past.
Market done we set out in search of the famous pinxtos bars and didn’t have to look far – the old town is full of them. So different to tapas bars, the sheer array on the long counters is astounding. From small traditional wooden bars to long, trendy marble counters they all had plate after plate of pretty mouthfuls, from the traditional slice of bread topped with a selection of morsels held together with a wooden stick (the pinxtos) to dainty dishes with spoons to scoop out the delicious concoctions inside, and small paper cones attractivelty filled with finger food. And sea urchins, scraped out and their halves re-filled with their flesh mixed with crabmeat, cream and seasoning. Delicious.
Given plates to fill with our selection , we handed those we wanted warmed to the barman for the rather untraditional microwave treatment. Boards on the walls detailed the available hot pinxtos we could order to be made fresh, mainly shellfish and seafood. We had been advised that the thing to do was have a drink and a pinxtos in each, moving on all the time, so we did. We proceeded from one place to another sampling a pinxtos in each and marvelling at the volume and variety on offer.
And we washed them down with a variety of beverages. We tried the local cider, poured from a great height and served in small quantities – just as well as it tasted powerfully strong, but was also refreshing and not sweet. One bar did a fantastic selection of sherries, served chilled in a large wine glass, and everywhere a jug of sangria was waiting to be poured. What a great way to spend a cold, wet afternoon and to say goodbye to Spain.
After nearly a year on the continent we are finally returning to the UK with the van for servicing etc etc and, more importantly, sufficient time to catch up with friends and family. With 14,000 miles and 14 countries under our belt, the ferry back to Blighty beckons with a no doubt bumpy trip across the Bay of Biscay. It feels very odd to be returning and we are not sure our blood is ready for the icy blast of March in England but we do know it will be more than offset by the warmth of catching up with those we haven’t seen for far too long.
We have, though, made the decision to continue our travelling life for now and will be returning to the continent, without a plan, after Easter. We don’t know where but we do know it will be full of surprises and discovery, and that we will continue to enjoy not knowing what’s round the corner. As for the blog, who knows…..