Guiri Guest, Jamie is a 31-year old American woman who has been living and working in Madrid since September 2009. Her fate was sealed in 2008 when she met a Spaniard at work in NYC who, after a year together in the States, was able to convince her to pack up her tiny West Village studio and move to Madrid. Working in a large, international finance firm enabled Jamie to transfer to the firm’s Madrid office and she has been navigating the city and culture ever since. One month shy of her one year anniversary of living in Madrid, Raul proposed and they are currently planning their fall 2011 wedding that will take place in NYC.
Living in Madrid has afforded me the ability to explore pockets of Spain that are not typically on the top of the list of most Americans. Although slowly gaining recognition in the States thanks to the annual Film Festival, you would not normally hear San Sebastian mentioned in the same breath as say Madrid, Barcelona, or Seville.
Last spring my fiancée and I had the pleasure of hosting two of our best friends from NYC in Spain for a week. We dedicated part of their visit to San Sebastian and to this day it remains one of the best trips I have taken since moving to Spain.
San Sebastian, located in the north of Spain in Basque Country, is a lovely, small city nestled on the Bay of Biscay and is about a 5 hour drive from Madrid. The city is known for, among other things, pintxos, kalimotxo, and sidra.
Pintxos are small bite-sized appetizers similar to tapas, which are typically served on small slices of bread and displayed atop the bar with small toothpicks in each one. Tradition governs that you cruise the bar, taking any pintxo that catches your eye, and then stacking the corresponding toothpicks on your plate once you are done eating. When you are ready to pay, the bartender simply counts the toothpicks on your plate and charges you accordingly (a price of €1-3 per pintxo is probably about average). San Sebastian has a wealth of such bars concentrated in the city center. Our group enjoyed having wine and a pintxo or two at one place and then moving on to the next until we couldn’t possibly eat another bite.
Afterwards we washed our pintxos down with kalimotxo, a mix of 1 part coca-cola and 1 part red wine with plenty of ice. In other parts of Spain this would be considered a drink more for teenagers, most typically consumed on the streets with supplies from the local alimentación. In San Sebastian, however, this drink is more prevalent and is often a featured special at bars and nightclubs.
The highlight of our trip was undoubtedly the night we went to one of the local sidrerías, or cider houses. The four of us hopped in a caband headed out to Sidrería Petritegi located in the small pueblo of Astigarraga, not far from the city proper. It is a massive restaurant with high ceilings and rows upon rows of picnic-style wooden tables. As is tradition, we each ordered the fixed cider menu for €27.95 per person. It included a starter of tortilla de bacalao (cod omelet), followed by fried cod with peppers, chuletón (a juicy and perfectly seasoned t-bone steak) and dessert (cheese and membrillo, which is a type of dense marmalade). The menu also included unlimited cider, which for us was the main draw. In Spain, cider, or sidra, is a mildly alcoholic drink made from apples. As I have learned since moving to Spain, the flavors of the cider open up when they hit the bottom of your glass. Accordingly, the pouring of cider is somewhat of an art form here and is taken very seriously. This particular restaurant dedicated an entire room to the pouring and consumption of the sidra. In the back of the restaurant was a large, cavernous space filled with huge barrels of cider and a barman that was tasked solely with pouring directly from the barrel. We had to watch a few other patrons to see how it was done, but basically you walk up to the barrel, hold out your glass, step back and hope to get some cider in your glass. Drink (in one sip only), raise your glass, repeat.
I truly cannot say enough good things about San Sebastian. Although what I described above was just the culinary part of our adventure, the city is rich with other sites as well; we were even able to spend an afternoon on the coast of France as it was only about 30 minutes away by car. If you are ever in Spain, I highly recommend a trip to San Sebastian. Buen Viaje!