My beloved returned midday on Sunday, feeling somewhat weary after working long days and a couple of evenings. I took him out for lunch to one of our regular haunts where we both ate a light meal. I find when it’s hot and humid, I’m not so hungry. However, it’s important to keep up one’s intake of fluids otherwise it’s easy to become dehydrated. After lunch we sat and listened to some music, it was the last day of the Jazz Festival, most of which my beloved had missed. We then pottered back to our rental flat to watch the final stage of the Tour de France.
The final day of the Tour is a bit of a parade for all bar a handful of sprinters for whom winning the sprint on the Champs Elysees is a blue-riband event. I generally have paper and pencil in hand noting down the names of places we’d like to visit as the television cameras pan past a chateau or two as the peloton heads for its final circuits round Paris. Of course, I’m not the only one, 47% of the television viewing public watch the Tour to see France’s glorious heritage. The footage never disappoints.
Thereafter, we went back out to enjoy the final couple of hours of the Festival, sitting on one of the many park benches in front of the Town Hall. As we wandered back we popped into one of our favourite bars for a nightcap. Well, it would’ve been rude not to.
My beloved was due back from his business trip late on Saturday evening. I was just about to go out, having wrapped up reviewing the day’s stage for VeloVoices, when my phone rang. It was my beloved who had missed his connecting flight from Madrid to San Sebastian due to the late arrival of his inbound flight from Heathrow. He’d be back around midday on Sunday.
While he’s been away I’ve been enjoying the jazz festival. Mornings I head for my morning walk along the beach before going to my favourite breakfast spot, to order an americano y tostada con tomate, the latter comes with olive oil, salt and a raw tomato paste (header photo of my DIY version). It’s delish and has replaced my usual avocado on toast. I sit outside and listen to the band playing in the San Martin market. They don’t appear to be part of the Festival, I think they’ve just jumped on the bandwagon.
Breakfast over, I head to La Brexia market for fresh fruit, salad stuff and olives before wending my way back to the flat, again via the beach. And no, before you ask, the shins still haven’t tanned! Afternoons have been taken up with watching the Tour de France and the European Water Polo Championships.
Most evenings I’ve walked along the seafront, sat on a bench in the park opposite the Town Hall and listened to whoever’s been playing on the stage there. Some evenings I’ve treated myself to a sorbet from my favourite ice cream shop, other times just some water from the Heineken stand – the Jazz Festival is sponsored by Heineken.
If the music hasn’t been to my taste, I’ve continued my pursuit of the best Aperol Spritz in town. When it comes to bars, I look carefully at its clientele. San Sebastián has loads of elderly – as in much older than me – chic ladies, probably widows. They tend to gather in groups in the evening to enjoy a chat and a cocktail or two with a pintxos or two. If there’s plenty of glamorous grannies, I’ll go inside or sit outside. I now have further contenders for the prize and will allow my beloved to have the casting vote, something he rarely enjoys.
Typically when we come to San Sebstian it’s to watch the one-day bike race, La Clasica, and we’ll stay a few days either side of the race. The first time we came, we were able to watch a local race the Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika, then held on the last day of the Tour de France, which was won by neo-pro Gorka Izagirre (2010) riding for Euskatel-Euskadi, he’s since won it a further two times. This edition was won by Rob Power (Mitchelton-Scott), his first professional win. We would probably have gone to watch it had my beloved not high-tailed it to the UK for a few days.
On Thursday I went to the Town Hall to see the presentation of this year’s Clasica San Sebastian. The route is broadly similar to last year’s though there are some tweaks. The race attracts a stellar cast and is usually won by a rider who showed great form in the last week of the Tour. But the big news from today’s presentation was the organisers’ intent to hold a ladies race over a similar course on the same day next year. This is a fantastic move and I would encourage the UCI when it’s looking at the classification of races for the WorldTour to give precedent to one-day races that organise them for both the guys and the gals.
You could be forgiven for thinking that I’ve spent all my time at the beach from the previous photos. I haven’t, I’m just endlessly fascinated by the play of light on water. While my beloved’s been away, I’ve been investigating. Even though we’ve visited San Sebastian every year for the past eight years, there’s always something new to discover.
Unlike my beloved I adore looking at the architecturla features on some of the older buildings which are mostly built from stone with spectacular wrought iron balconies, porticos and doors. Buildings are constantly being renovated and brough back to life, in most cases only the facade is preserved.
As I walk up and down the rows of streets, I love spotting shops that have been in situ for generations, like the one in my header photo which sells brushes and baskets. Sadly, stores like these are few and far between so I felt I had to do my bit to ensure it survives further generations. I often bring bac token presents from my travels for family and friends. I think these gifts will surprise them.
Most of the shops have cleared their sale stocks and have winter garb in the windows. I’m interested to see what’s in vogue for this winter but can’t summon any interest to buy anything to update my wardrobe while I’m still sweltering.
I did however purchase some hankerchiefs from another long established family-run shop in the old town which sells divine nightwear, tablecloths, cute kiddies clothes and hankerchiefs. I always used to buy my parents some from here. Now I have only myself to spoil, and another dear friend who like me prefers a real hankerchief to a paper one.
Every year I try, and every year I fail to eliminate all my cyclist tan lines. This year, however, not having cycled quite as much, I thought it might be easier. The first to go are always the ones on my face. The line across my forehead and the mark of my chin strap. Next up are my hands. I always wear gloves when I cycle but once the sun starts to shine and I’m out and about, without the bike, my hands quickly tan to the same colour as my lower arms.
My arms progressively lighten as you head toward my shoulders and there’s a definite line where the sleeve of my cycling jersey ends. I never wear sleeveless cycling jerseys. No, scratch that. I never wear sleeveless anything. As it gets warmer, I do lower the zip on my jersey which means I get a v-shaped neckline tan.
I wear very short socks but my feet always tan easily albeit with the readily identifiable “t” from my Birkenstocks. This is much more difficult to eliminate. Since I discovered Birkenstocks a few years ago, I rarely wear anything else all summer long. I have them in pretty much every colour under the sun and some.
Next up is my major problem area, the legs. I have a line from wearing my 3/4 length bib-shorts from Octobet to May compounded in the summer by the line of my cycling shorts, roughly halfway up my thighs. My thighs tan quite readily but my shins do not. In particular, I have a permanent untanned zone from just below my knee. I can confirm that this stripe effect is not a good look.
This holiday, I’ve been wearing knee length tailored shorts exposing my shins to the sun’s rays most days to little avail. I’ve even donned the swimsuit and indulged in some actual sunbathing. My two sister, noted sun worshippers, would be proud of me. Less so probably about the UV50+ sun protection, they never stray into double figures.
While the cat’s away, the mice will play. In my case this means while my beloved was back in the UK on a business trip, I could do exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately for him his absence coincided with the San Sebastian Jazz Festival, where many of the events are free. I took full advantage and it was very pleasant sitting in an adjacent bar, sipping something chilled while listening to some music. Or, as I later discovered, listening while lying in bed with the window open.
My beloved’s absence also coincided with the final exciting days of the Tour de France and the European Water Polo championships from Barcelona. What many of you won’t know is that my beloved is a former water polo player. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in chlorine-scented pools watching him play. I even qualified as a water polo referee, one of a few woment to do so at the time. Strutting round a pool blowing a whistle at will, where my word was law, rather brought out the worst in me!
It’s quite amusing to contrast the physiques of the athletes in the two sports. Typically, in weight terms, 1 water polo player = 2 – 3 cyclysts. Looking at the physiques of the former, I can’t help think it’s not just their mother’s cooking that has built those splendid rippling muscles.
We quickly settled into daily life in San Sebastian. We rose late (for us) and, after a quick cup of coffee, went down to the beach. My beloved swam while I paddled in the shallow waters. I can swim, it’s just that I prefer to walk up and down in the surf. By the time we’re ready for breakfast at one of our many favourite spots, the beach is rapidly starting to fill up. Largely, it must be said, with Spanish families.
I enjoy the Spanish equivalent of avocado on toast. That’s toast, olive oil and tomatoes. My beloved meanwhile is working his way through the delicious looking pastries. At the end of the holiday, he’ll opine on his favourite and sadly I’ll have to take his word for it.
After breakfast, we’ll stop by the market to pick up a few things for lunch or dinner. I love using the area’s bountiful produce to whip up a cold soup, tartine or salad. Some days, generally weather dependent, we may eat out at lunchtime. If not, we may stop for another coffee before ambling back to the flat for lunch.
If we’ve eaten lunch out, we may opt for a siesta. If not, we may just put our feet up and read for a bit or maybe check on the progress of friends riding in the Tour de France. Later we’ll go for another stroll on the wide, sandy beach and then wend our way to one of the town’s many watering holes. We’ve already identified those that serve great Aperol Spritzs. One generally just hits the spot. We may have a pintxos or two to accompany our drink, depending on whether we had lunch out.
We generally walk back along the beach boadwalk watching the sun disappear beneath the silvery waves. We’re not the only ones, sunset attracts a crowd. We amble back to our flat, maybe stopping for a nightcap along the way. Tomorrow’s another day.
The agency which manages the apartment we’re staying in closes on Sunday so we had to collect the keys from a dispenser with a code. Unfortunately, the screen of the dispenser required you to be at least six feet tall and I couldn’t successfully input the code for the keys. Luckily my beloved met the height requirement and successful input the code. The key ring dropped out. Sadly there were no keys attached to the ring!
We called the mobile number on the agency’s window and it was answered by the uberhelpful Diego who said he’d be with us shortly. And, he was. The flat was literally round the corner from the agency so Diego was able to explain the problem with the prized car parking space. It’s teeny, tiny. I’d be hard pressed to get the Smart in there. I suggested it might have been a good idea to include that information on the booking.com site!
The agency have agreed to pay for the cost of us parking our car in the nearby car park at €30,00 per day. The apartment is in a lovely location, less than 100m stroll from the beach. It’s well-appointed, particularly the kitchen. Of course my first task was to wash all of my beloved’s clothes. Yes, he’d worn everything though some of it only for a couple of hours. For those first few days, the flat resembled a Chinese laundry.
While we know San Sebastian well, our first move was to do a detailed reconnaissance of the neighbourhood to suss out the best bars, coffee shops etc. Everything we need is within a block or two, including a great bike hire place. I’m now looking forward to a few days on my own, while my beloved flies back to UK, to check out all my favourite places.
I’m in heaven for the next two weeks. We’ve rented an apartment with car parking overlooking the main beach in San Sebastian. It’ll be an opportunity to plunder the markets and whip up a few meals, as well as visiting all of our (many) favourite bars and restaurants.
Of course, no sooner than we’ve arrived, my beloved will be heading back to London for four days to attend a meeting of research boffins. This is a statement of fact rather than a complaint. I’ll be more than happy pottering around one of my favourite places on my own. I have lots planned, including attending a presentation of La Clasica. This is a race held on the Saturday after the conclusion of the Tour de France and is typically won by a rider exiting the Tour in fine fettle.
It’s one of my proud boasts that I’ve ridden the entire route of La Clasica, just not all of it on the same day! If (some of) the boys are lucky, I might just whip up a few batches of cakes for the race finish. Tasty treats are always welcome after many hours in the saddle.
A complete change of landscape as we’re in Rioja country. We’ve not spent much time here in the past, just the occasional foray to watch either a stage start or finish in the Tour of the Basque Country cycle race. In particular, we’ve never had time to appreciate and learn more about the region’s many wines.
The place I had booked was utterly lovely, in one of Spain’s prettiest villages which overlooked acres of vineyards, bodegas and a few wildlife wetland refuges. We arrived in time for lunch which didn’t disappoint. It augured well for the rest of the week-end.
There are around 200 different vineyards in Rioja but we were never going to fit them all in over a week-end, though we could at least make a modest attempt. Many of the Bodegas in the town offered tutorials and tastings for a few euros. We were happy to accept. It could best be described as a bar crawl around the town where we discovered much to our surprise (not) that we pretty much like all Rioja has to offer!
Of course, no bar crawl in Spain is complete without tapas or, as we’re in the Basque country, pinxtos. We’ve found a bar which serves quite possibly the best tortilla either of us has ever eaten. Tomorrow we’ll head to our final destination, San Sebastian, for a two week stay in an apartment overlooking La Concha beach – sheer heaven.