Sitting in my Spanish class at Lacunza yesterday morning, my leg jiggled wildly as I
watched the minutes pass leisurely in the way days expire here in San Sebastián. My mind struggled to focus on the lesson unfolding before me in addition to the piles of pintxos that awaited me in the bars throughout La Parte Vieja. My stomach growled and I thought of the almuerzo my host mother handed me this morning, sitting uneaten in my bag in order to preserve every square inch of space in my stomach for the incredible food experience my peers and I were about to embark upon. When the bell finally resonated through the halls I practically jumped from my seat in my rush to make my way towards the lobby, where our small group was set to leave from. We left the building consumed in lively chatter and began to make our way towards the old town, our minds open and our stomachs empty.
We started our pintxo tasting tour, which was led by our professor Julian Zabalbeascoa, at a bar called Haizea, that serves Gilda―the supposed first pintxo ever created―composed of an olive, pickled guindilla peppers, and salted anchovies. Most of our group cringed at the description of this infamous bite sized morsel. Despite our initial reaction to the Gilda the plate Julian brought us emptied rapidly, and our first pintxo was chased down by glasses of cool Txakoli wine.The drinks were poured an entire arms length away from each glass, and the purpose of this seemingly messy action is to give the alcohol aeration, allowing the liquid to bubble delicately as it is drunk. For many members of our group this mouthful was hard to swallow, something new and foreign and nerve wracking, but everyone embraced this new experience with appreciation.
Following our first real taste of San Sebastián at Haizea, Julian led us through more of La Parte Vieja. For the following three hours, we bounced from bar to bar, eating pintxos until we thought it impossible to eat another bite. While joking about gaining weight as a result of the incredible food in the city the day before, we adopted a new nickname for our full stomachs―pintxo pouches, and did we ever fill them up during our tour. We ate everything in sight: croissant topped with bacalao (salted cod), tartlets filled with spider crab, sliced eggplant on toasted bread that was piled high with fried onions and peppers. Our stomachs rumbled no longer, and some of us even groaned when he announced we still had more stops to go. We
discussed the city as we walked, listening as our instructor described the best places to get certain dishes, the culture of pintxo bars, and the history of the surrounding area. We stopped on more than one occasion to pet dogs as we made our way, struggling to politely ask in broken Spanish (which many of us need to practice desperately during the three short weeks we have here). Our afternoon was filled with endless joy, trying so many new things in quick succession; all the while taking in the unlimited sights, sounds, and sabores t hat San Sebastián has to offer.
The final stop on our tour was the one we had all been patiently awaiting―La Viña. Reviewed by travel writers and news sites alike, this restaurant is home to the “world’s best cheesecake”, which is made using only a handful of ingredients. This concoction called gazta tarta is carmelized to perfection and lacks a crust, but with the creamy texture inside and mouthwatering taste, this desert hardly needs one. We all sat outside on the ground eating our final treat, reflecting on the afternoon, and as our time together in this moment began to pass, someone in the group kicked over my espresso. At home I would have been annoyed or horrified by the mess, but on San Sebastián time, it mattered little. I just quietly appreciated the fact that it didn’t burn anyone or soak my pants. And pondering on that moment made me realize the sense of appreciation this trip has filled me with, a feeling I know my peers are experiencing as well. At times during the day I was overwhelmed by it: appreciation towards my host family, for the new friends I have made, for the incredible food I am surrounded by, towards myself for stepping out of my comfort zone. I know this affection for every experience I have will only continue and grow throughout my time in the city; an affection I will take home with me at the end of my three weeks here. And how lucky I am to be reminded of this in San Sebastián, of how simple it is to give thanks, of how easy it is to spin anything into a positive. No need to cry over spilled café con leche, right?