San Sebastian deserves a post just about food. With 14 Michelin stars in the whole town, there’s no debating that the small city in northern Spain deserves its place among the food capitals of the world. Their staples are “pintxos” – Basque tapas-style small bites. These are available for lunch (1pm-4pm) and dinner (7pm-11pm) and range in price from 1-4 euros. All of the cold pintxos are laid out on the bar for you to look over, or you can buy hot pintxos off of the menu. Almost every bar has them and they are all good. We ate A LOT of pintxos. Here were some of our favorites!!!
Our Couchsurfing hosts where all chefs, so they generously decided to cook us up an amazing Basque-style feast. We spent the whole morning driving around the city picking up the best ingredients and wine. First was a refreshing tomato gazpacho (cold soup), then we had local tomatoes, ried padron peppers with sea salt, bread, “cocochas en salsa verde” (fish throats), and fried “bacalao” (salted cod) in tomato sauce. All sooooo delicious and paired with amazing Rioja (local) wine. I couldn’t have been happier, hanging out in the kitchen learning how to prepare these amazing dishes. This is what Couchsurfing is all about and why we love it so much!
If you like food, DO NOT MISS SAN SEBASTIAN. This was my favorite town EVER for eating. I want to go back; I want to live there. It was that good.
We were so ready for Spain. After struggling with French all we could think about was getting to a place where we understood what was going on again. I fell asleep on the Rideshare from Bordeaux and awoke to hills and green trees and houses with tiled rooftops. We had made it! San Sebastian was small and came out of nowhere, the ocean bright blue and full of surfers. The surf wasn’t good, but it was nice to be in a slightly more familiar setting.
Our Couchsurfing hosts welcomed us into their house but had to run back to work so we relaxed for awhile then headed out to grab some of the famous “pintos”, the Basque word for tapas-style small bites of food. San Sebastian is very famous for its cuisine, having more Michelin stars (14) per capita than any other city in the world. The pintxos are served for lunch (around 1-4pm) and dinner (approx 7-11pm). They cost between 1 and 4 euros each so it can add up if you are stuffing your face like we did. I was in heaven.
After having one of the most amazing eating frenzies of our lives, we needed to burn some calories so we could eat more for dinner. We headed up the trail to Monte Urgull to where an old castle and a large statue of Jesus looked down on the city. The city appeared even more beautiful than we first thought. Two beaches were split in half by the peninsula with the fortress and Jesus sculpture atop it, complemented by a large bay with a pretty little island, and bright blue water that reminded me of the Caribbean. We were ready to find jobs and move in, seriously.
We got a long nap along with everyone else in town (the Spanish do love their “siestas”), then headed out for more pinxtos. I was obsessed. My inner chef kept telling me to eat eat eat until I could eat no more. Did I mention that La Rioja, one of the premier wine regions in the world was right down the road? This meant amazing wine at amazing prices. “How much is rent here?”
Coming soon… All about Basque cuisine.
After wandering through Paris for three days, we caught another Blablacar rideshare to Bordeaux, capital of one of France’s most famous wine regions! The small city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fun university town, and a great place to depart for a wine tour to the surrounding countryside. It also has the longest pedestrian-only street in Europe! The surrounding streets also prohibit cars, so it’s a great place to walk around freely, stopping at any of the myriad shops and bars.
We didn’t end up forking over the cash for an official tour because we had heard there were many opportunities to taste the local offerings at the many wine bars in town. That was true; although we couldn’t find anywhere that actually did small 1-2oz tastings, there were always many local glasses on the menus. The first night in Bordeaux we did a blind tasting of two different reds from nearby and I guessed mine correctly- Cab Sav! It was massive and tannic. Zach’s merlot was also great. The highlight though, was the best cheese board I’ve ever had in my life! We got cream cheese, goat cheese, brie, and camembert. “Oh la la,” indeed! I never truly understood cheese until I went to France. My waistline, however, is not appreciating this newfound understanding. Oh well, Europe is not the place for diets, I keep telling myself.
On our second day in Bordeaux we wandered around a bit more, tasted some more wine, had a wine and cheese picnic, walked through a huge and beautiful park, and made some friends at Grizzly Bar, a Quebecois bar with a delicious hefeweizen on special–Edelweiss from Germany. All in all, the town was very nice and mellow, while still having enough entertainment for two days. Next time I’m sure we’ll explore the surrounding villages more, as we definitely got our palates excited about Bordeaux varietals!
While in the States we found BlaBlaCar.com, a ride-sharing website that seemed popular in Europe. We tried it in California but no one seemed to use it. The train from London to Paris was almost 100 euros each so we were happy to find a rideshare that was only 70 euros for the both of us. We met up with our driver at 6am and two French girls and a guy joined us in the van. It was early so no one really talked, but our driver buzzed through the busy London streets with ease and we soon found ourselves in the British countryside, flat land with trees and small villages with farms of corn and sheep. I soon fell asleep and before I knew it we were at the white cliffs of Dover waiting in line for the ferry to France.
Once on the boat everyone woke up and started talking. Kindred spirits, we talked about our plans and they taught us some last-minute French. We were soon out in the English Channel and before we knew it the hour-and-a-half trip was over and we were docking on the shores of mainland Europe.
The French countryside reminded us of Ohio with its flat, never ending corn fields. We both fell asleep again and soon were on the edge of Paris in terrible traffic. Our driver dropped us off a few blocks from where we would spend the night CouchSurfing and since our host was not home until nighttime we stopped at one of the many cafes for our first wine and cheese of the trip.
Paris was so different than what we were used to. Everyone sits outside on chairs that all face the street. The locals can spend an hour drinking an espresso and chain smoking. Sitting down and having this relaxing lunch time is a very important part of their day. After work, everyone is walking home with a baguette or two; the bread is amazing here.
The next day, despite having all day passes for the Metro, we ending up doing a whole lot of walking. I can’t remember ever seeing so many famous things in one day. Drum roll…
Yes, the French can be a little grumpy – especially when your French is as bad as ours. But they grow on you and we soon figured out how to properly order food and drinks at the restaurants. The city was like nothing we’ve seen before. Old and grimy in parts, but full of flavor and overflowing with history. We were able to see a lot in our three days but hopefully we will be able to return someday to continue our explorations!!!
Day two in London was much more comfortable and fun after a good night’s rest. We kept commenting on how cool it was to feel so foreign in a country that still speaks our language! Crossing streets, as expected, was dangerous. We kept looking the wrong direction and almost getting run over. Thankfully, we figured out the train system a little better and spent the day jetting all around, seeing some of the most famous sights first. We also got super lucky with beautiful weather in this usually rainy metropolis.
Our hosts suggested we check out Camden, a more trendy, hipster-ish neighborhood in north London. It was great! We got to see an old lock on the little river pushing boats through, check out an awesome crafts and food market, and found craft beer!
After only stuffing our faces a little bit on the best falafel I’ve ever had, we were off to Brixton, all the way in south London. It’s a more ethnic neighborhood with a little bit of seediness and a cool up-and-coming food scene. We checked out some pubs and then headed to Brixton Village Market. This awesome little warehouse holds over 100 different tiny restaurants, each with around 12 seats each, serving different cuisines from around the world. Apparently you only have to sign up for a six-month lease to open up here, which makes it a great avenue for those without a ton of cash to get started. What a cool idea! I wanted to eat everything! But we settled on sharing a Pakistani “thali”, or sampling plate, from Elephant, which was wonderful! You can also BYOB to these restaurants, so we grabbed a couple cervezas from the Colombian shop next door.
Sufficiently stuffed, we headed back home to rest before our onward journey. We both agreed that London was much cooler than we expected. We were not at all excited about British food, but you can get any kind of food from anywhere in the world in London! It’s such a multi-cultural city, which we really loved. We’ll be back someday!
The journey from New York to London wasn’t super long, but wasn’t super comfortable either. Neither of us slept and Zach celebrated our arrival by beginning to throw up repeatedly about an hour before landing. After we landed, we conveniently found out that our second (because our original had already canceled) Couchsurfing host had to cancel on us! Great. So off to a hostel we went, navigating several confusing forms of public transit, Zach dragging all the way. Thankfully he perked up once we arrived at Restup Hostel UK but we couldn’t check in until 3pm so we stowed our stuff and started walking. Fortuitous, because as soon as we found some WiFi we had another host offer from someone we met through this very blog! Hooray! Now we just had to kill the next 10 hours before we could show up at Tom’s house.
Luckily Zach made a miraculous recovery and we were able to enjoy a great walking day along the Thames River, taking in the skyline, a glimpse of the London Eye, the Old Globe…
(very exciting for me, as a former theater nerd)
the London Bridge,
(very unimpressive considering we’ve seen the original London Bridge where it now stands in Lake Havasu City, AZ. It’s true.)
a classic British pub with warm and flat cask ale,
the amazing Borough Market which we just stumbled upon,
and the Tower Bridge with a view of the Tower of London.
After all this rambling, we got to meet up with our wonderful hosts in Earlsfield, southwest London, for some awesome hard ciders and conversation at their local pub. They are moving to Colombia soon and that’s why they had been reading our old blog entries. Although not official Couchsurfers, they definitely had the spirit, and hopefully we were good enough guests to convert them!
Phew, what an exhausting but awesome first day!