San Sebastián, 2024

After Barcelona, we visited San Sebastian. The Basque city is known for its culinary tradition, and we were not disappointed. Every single bar we walked into had delicious wine and pintxos, and all but the fanciest restaurants (of which there are many, but we only visited one) were pretty affordable.

We took a great walking tour, and our guide was a local whose family had lived in the city for generations – his grandpa had actually been the mayor a few decades ago! He took us through the old city, gave us an overview of the history without whitewashing it, and pointed out some of the best spots to eat and drink. He even recommended a few books for me to learn about the fault lines in Spanish identity. One day we rented bikes from that same tour company and rode around the city and into the countryside, both of which had surprisingly good bike infrastructure.

As much as I enjoyed the food, if I could have done things differently, I’d probably spend more time in Barcelona instead due to the relative size of the city and the amount of things to do. But I’m glad we visited San Sebastian. I want to go back to explore more of their food and wine.

It’s fitting that in our first outing we saw a large protest. The Basque Country has a long history of political activism (and unrest), and it was interesting to see it in person from the get-go. This was a youth protest about education budget allocation.

The city is beautiful, and given it’s so small it felt even more walkable than Barcelona.

The screens at this store were glitching, and the setup was too good not to take a picture.

I love that that people from all walks of life end their work days at the same bars eating the same pintxos.

These two had never met a Costa Rican, and did not understand why I’d want to visit San Sebastian.

Culinary tradition goes deep in San Sebastián. According to our tour guide this is the door to one of the oldest culinary societies in the city. They are members-only and have a inheritance-based system to get in.

They insisted on smiling, though I just wanted a picture of them having a conversation under the hams.

These pollarded trees are all over the city, and when paired with flowers, palm trees, and background ocean, they make for a great combo.

We were staying at an Airbnb up in the mountain. The location wasn’t great, because we were one town over in Pasaia, which made it hard to get back and forth to the city. But just behind our place was a great hike up to the top of the mountain, where we could see the ocean. I hiked up here by myself, listening to a podcast.

The hike wasn’t particularly hard, but I don’t know how these two made it there.

Our Airbnb was also a sheep farm.

There’s a patch of flowers marking where the old city wall used to be. I would not have thought about it unless our tour guide had pointed it out, but the architectural style on each side of this line is clearly different once you pay attention.

More views from the top, into the industrial part of the city.

We did a day trip to Rioja. Our guide was great, and we learned a lot about the wine-making tradition in the area, but coming from the Bay Area, where we have Napa and Sonoma, we were a bit underwhelmed with the wineries themselves. The wine was great, though.

The incongruence of beach life and old buildings was one of the things that surprised me most about the city. I had no idea I was going to a surf town.

Culture and language in the Basque Country are notably different from the rest of Spain. The fact that Euskara is a language isolate and that there’s such a strong identity in the region makes it feel like a different country. Perhaps it should be.

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