20 September 2011

The Basque Country: San Sebastian

The story is that Isabella II of Spain, whose turbulent reign spanned the middle of the nineteenth century and who suffered from some unknown feminine ailment, was advised by a doctor to seek the healing powers of the cold Atlantic coast in the north.  She chose the Basque city of San Sebastian (Basque:  Donostia), on the Bay of Biscay, just a few miles from the French border.  From that time on, San Sebastian became known as a beachside resort popular among the rich and famous.  Its beach is known as La Concha, or The Seashell, because of its unique covelike shape.  We stopped there on our trip in August because it is reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, rivaling even Nice and Monte Carlo.  (I have been to both of those places.  When I heard that San Sebastian was nicer, I thought:  this I've gotta see.)

La Concha Beach, seen from our hotel-room window.

The beach in San Sebastian is indeed shaped like a seashell.  As in Nice and Monaco, the water is electric blue.  Unlike Nice and Monaco, which have rocky shores that are uncomfortable to lie on, San Sebastian has fine, powdery sand, perfect for sunbathing.  The problem we found, however, was that the beach was packed with people, and the water was, sad to say, filthy.  (I know I already horrified you with the rat story yesterday, so I won't give you details.  Suffice it to say that after the first day, my husband lost any desire to be in the water.)

But the beach wasn't the only attraction in this beautiful resort town.  First of all, we had a great hotel room, overlooking both the city and the beach.

Bobby on the balcony

Me on the balcony

And once we left the hotel, we discovered a fascinating little town.  First of all, we knew the beach was safe because of the enormous, watchful lifeguard, who stood guard over the children and the ships from the top of the hill overlooking the cove.

The food was spectacular.  My children lost no time in finding their beloved baguettes and dividing the spoils amicably.

The favorite baguette was the "x-shaped" one on the lower right shelf.

They pulled it apart on the street like it was a giant wishbone.

There was so much to see and do.  There was a long boardwalk alongside the beach that led up the hills, past the fishing dock, and into the old city.

You could sit on the dock if you got tired during the walk.

There were exotic treats from the sea to sample at the docks.  The very friendly Basque fisherman who served us was astounded at the bravery and adventuring spirit of this little troop of Americans.

Yes, that's right, raw, shell-on shrimp (called quisquillas), eaten head and all, even by my vegetarian daughter.
At night, the old city came to life, with bright lights and delicious tapas (which are called pintxos in Basque).  In short, but for the beach, we could not have had a better time.  Spain was agreeing with us thoroughly, but, believe it or not, the best was yet to come.

We did not eat at McDonald's, but the kids were so amused to find it in this beautiful ancient city that they insisted we take a picture.

Next stop:  Seville, and our twentieth wedding anniversary.

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