Donosti: Which Continues W and R’s Excellent Adventure (with Gin&Tonics, Urinals, and Neglected Artists)

Exhausted and hungry from all that climbing and getting lost, Miss R and I moved on to Donosti (San Sebastián) worried about what kind of lodgings we had impulse-reserved (and prepaid), since there was almost no available information on this Casa Nicolasa anywhere on the internet. But the pictures looked good, and I’d had a hunch, and we lucked out incredibly with this pensión. Although it translates to “guest house,” a pensión is normally the kind of accomodation where I would never be caught dead (think shared bathrooms and no a/c). However, Donosti is quite expensive, and every affordable hotel I ever found before is on a secondary beach (Ondarreta) a twenty to thirty-minute walk from the Old Town (Parte Vieja) and La Contxa beach. And Miss R and I wanted separate rooms, so for US$138 each (expensive for a pensión but definitely not for Donosti) we had gorgeous brand new chambers (they opened fifteen days earlier) right in the Parte Vieja with every amenity of at least a three-star and many four-star hotels–down to the large beds (well, two twins together), rainfall shower, blow dryer, minibar with free water/juices/soda, and such.


And I was happy!


Priority #2 was nourishment. I’ve mentioned pintxos before but should probably explain for the uninitiated that it’s basically bar-hopping for wine and tiny tapas (customarily montaditos, “mounted” on a slice of bread). Also known as txikiteo, it’s very common in Euskadi. But while tourists tend to do it at night (as we did) and stuff themselves in at least three or four places (as we did), Basques generally go to one or two places midday, approaching it as a sort of amuse-bouche, and then have lunch somewhere else.

I’ve lost the complete list of places where we stopped and what we ate, but it was more or less what is recommended here. Of special note was Bar Zeruko because of their haute cuisine approach, which includes a famous pintxo named lobster rose (rosa de bogavante)–pictured below–served on a little glass of liquid nitrogen (that you are dutifully instructed not to drink).


That was pretty cool, but my favorite was the mango foie spherification, delectable although it also sounds dangerous.

And so pintxos were had, and txakoli was poured (for me; fine Riojas for Miss R), and I WAS HAPPY.


No less pleasant is the friendly banter from everyone on the scene. (As yet another aside, I have to gossip somewhere–& might as well be here given that dreamboat fellow diner behind me, with whom I had nothing particularly to do–that I have been informed the Spanish term for Cute Boy Toy is bollycao. Which is just AWESOME for all sorts of etymological reasons that I might explain once I study the topic in more detail.) But back to the subject of banter, it is really my perception that something nice about Donosti is that all those touristy things we did are also done by locals. At least there seemed to be plenty of them talking to us the whole time.

Another has-nothing-to-do-with-anything aside is how impressed both Miss R and I were while walking through the old town and the port that night

CallePinchos            Puertobotes

with the latest in public bathroom technology, which we had never seen:


Yes, that is a bright red urinal right smack in the middle of everything. I was gracious enough to take my photograph while it was free (although it got plenty of use). One of the many advantages of being male in this day and age, I guess. And sure as hell one of the great uses of scientific development.

It wouldn’t be an evening out in Donosti–we heard–if it did not end with gin&tonics (which Spaniards are unnaturally mad about) at Atari Gastroteka. I don’t often drink cocktails, but this place had an enormous selection of specialty gins, and dozens if not hundreds of g&t versions, so it was the thing to do. Mine was infused with strawberries and juniper; Miss R’s with lemon and ginger. Delicious and almost charmingly… humanoid:

GinTonics      IglesiaGinTonics

This all takes place right in front of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Choir because, as you already know, in Spain religion and drinking are closely intertwined.

The following morning we (inevitably) woke up late and lingered lazily over coffee at Café Santana, where I think the breakfasts are fabulous. I ordered a chorizo omelet bocadillo that was so tasty I had seconds–something I never-never-well-ok-rarely allow myself.

A stroll down the stately Paseo de la Contxa at high tide (which disguises the fact of how popular an urban beach it is–and how packed with The People it can get)


always makes you feel like you should be wearing a corset and a parasol, although those would have been cumbersome come lunchtime at the Restaurante Igeldo, one of the fish eateries on the pier. Where Miss R polished off a beautiful grilled monkfish, and I concentrated on txipirones,


these divine baby squid I can’t stop eating (better this than my usual obsession with txistorra).

Last (well, next to last) but not least was the mandatory visit to Eduardo Chillida’s 1950s-60s El Peine del Viento (the Wind’s Comb),


a most unoriginal experience that is nevertheless always enjoyable, if more for the dazzling setting than for the sculptures themselves. But their history and architecture (not to mention the difficulties of their placement on those rocks), intelligently told here by the artist’s son, are utterly fascinating. And it really is breathtaking to be there. Makes you feel sorry for the Jorge Oteiza sculpture (“Empty Construction“) on the opposite point of La Contxa that hardly anybody ever goes to see.

So: that was W and R’s Excellent Adventure in Donosti. And I was happy!!!



Curious post-data: I write the city’s euskera name as Donosti, because it’s what I’ve always heard my Basque friends call it. However, it is actually Donostia. Why do they shorten the name? We asked numerous random people. They don’t know why, though they all do. A mystery I might yet solve… (Could it be they just don’t want it to sound like hostia?)

About WRF

New York-based Spanish Cultural Studies professor and academic author venturing (nervously) into new forms of writing: travel and food-logue, cultural commentary, pseudophilosophical speculation, opinion, reminiscence, prophecy, examination of conscience.
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7 Responses to Donosti: Which Continues W and R’s Excellent Adventure (with Gin&Tonics, Urinals, and Neglected Artists)

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