Sunday, 23 March 2008

San Sebastián and All the Dinners We Did Not Have

Last Wednesday the weather in San Sebastian (Donostia) was far from ideal but we did our best to explore the city. At a fast pace we walked along the clean quays of the river Urumea, admired the fancy Kursaal concert hall , entered into the Old Part (Parte Vieja), looked at the numbered balconies in the square Plaza de la Constitución (a reminder of the time when it was still being used to host bull fights) and then went down to the bay la Concha. To keep our children happy we made a long stop at the playground in front of one of the houses of the Basque government, but after that we needed to take refuge indoors.

The Basques are famous for their food - promoted throughout the world through chefs Arzak and Berasategui and others - so it is easy to find attractive restaurants. Or, that is, as long as you do not bring children as energetic as ours.

A funny consequence of our preference for loud places where we do not risk disturbing the other guests too much, was that it made us enter into a café for ETA sympathisers. From the alley, I got the impression that it was a normal music pub, but inside I found myself ordering coffee under an idol portrait of Iñaki de Juana Chaos. I guess that the other guests thought us ignorant not to understand where we had ended up, but we decided to stay. Our children simply needed to warm up a bit before we continued our walking tour through the windy streets.

On anther occasion, in the medieval town Hondarribia (north-east of San Sebastián), we tried our luck at the stylish place Sebastián, but the waitress who welcomed me when I stepped in, decided to double check with the manager when she saw our oldest son and all of a sudden the reservation list was full. I do not have anything against restaurants which have it as their policy not to accept small children – in all honesty, I doubt that my wife and I would have been able to enjoy a meal in this restaurant’s quiet, classic atmosphere with our children around – but I would have preferred to be told so, rather than to receive a poor excuse.

Fortunately, one of the highlights of Basque cuisine are pintxos (finger food on a toothpick) and they are served up in bars where small children disappear in the general noise. Therefore, we did not miss out on culinary experiences, we just did not manage to have any of the extraordinary dinners which so many other tourists to the Basque country talk about.

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