San Sebastián is a relatively small city, it´s one of the things I most like about it. It has all the facilities, infrastructure and cultural offering of city life in a manageable size. You can walk from one end to the other in under an hour. And you never lose sight of the mountains on the horizon. But you still have cinemas, theatres, museums, shopping centres and bars and restaurants obviously.
And you don’t have a lot of the downsides of big city living. It takes me 12 minutes by car to get to work in the morning for example. Except for Saturday night or on key festive dates traffic is never a problem. Whenever I go to Madrid, London or cities of comparable size I get overwhelmed by the amount of billboards and advertising that are thrown at you. Here you´re pretty much limited to bus stop posters. San Sebastián always seems stress free and relaxed.
The centre of San Sebastian revolves around El Centro, Parte Vieja and Gros. If you´re visiting you’ll probably not move beyond these areas unless your hotel is in Amara or El Antiguo. And those that live here with generally congregate in these areas. It´s hard to not bump into someone you know when out and about. And you pretty much know all the bars and restaurants, even thought you may never have crossed their threshold. So it´s always a surprise to get taken or discover something new. And that´s happened a couple of times recently.
My boss invited me to a photography class he had taken at Ivasfot (the Basque Institute of Photography) last week and we went for some pintxos before going in. As I always prefer being student to teacher, especially amongst natives, I told him to surprise me. As always
for him, no probs. Hidden in the lower floor of La Bretxa shopping centre, between the stalls of fruit, vegetables and meat, you´ll find Bar Azkena. A cracker of a pintxo bar. It´s nothing more than a market stand with high tables and stools. But the offering is a feast for the eyes and the menu has loads of interesting titbits to try. And it´s a surprisingly agreeable spot to try a few bites to eat. We placed ourselves in the hands of the waiter. We have three minutes, and we´ll eat whatever you give us. Carrillera followed by Pulpo (Beefcheecks then Octopus). Great stuff. I´ll be back when I´ve more time.
Another discovery was thanks to Pintxolari’s pintxo blog (recommended, you can read it here). I read one of his posts at the beginning of December about foie where he lists some of his favourite foie pintxos. Now I´m a fan of foie generally and agree with all his choices, except Aralar, where I refuse to eat (Why?>>>). But he listed one in Iombi, a bar in Gipuzkoa´s Square I´ve had coffee in many times but have never really thought of as a pintxo bar. It has a relatively limited, half hearted menu of pintxos and I thought it wouldn´t be up to much. Wrong! Their star pintxo is called Iombi, foie served in a spoon with currants and quail´s egg. An absolute sensation and one of the finest foie pintxos in Donostia. Thanks Pintxolari! I’ve since had two more.
Here´s hoping to many more discoveries like these. And here´s hoping I´m more often student than teacher. Of course, whatever I find, I will share with you all.