Archives for posts with tag: San Sebastian

Eli enjoys a kobe beef pintxo

Our visit to Spain was wonderful. Our friends Inge-Marie and Jim and their kids Lucia and Eleanor, who are spending a month in San Sebastian before landing at their year-long sabbatical spot in France, ably led us around the city. The sexy pintxos in San Sebastian were an amusing novelty– many of them quite tasty and pretty. They are like tapas—fancily constructed finger foods, usually atop slices of bread. The restaurants are small boisterous places, where you eat dinner standing among crowds and crawling from one restaurant to the next for each sampling. This style of dining was a stark contrast to the dining in Rome, where meals are so leisurely that a table in a restaurant in yours for the evening once you sit down.

Jim serving himself some special Basque cider.

There were a few meals in Spain that I loved. We went to Bilbao to see our old friend Itziar Laka, whom I had not seen for about 15 years. She found two lovely restaurants that suited all of our desires- including paella (one with black squid ink and another with asparagus and octopus. . .both phenomenal). Back in San Sebastian, we also dined in a casual cider house and were served a simple, exquisite meal by an absolutely charming hostess. The Basque region around San Sebastián has a specialty drink of its own – a tart, vinegary alcoholic cider that is still rather than carbonated. The cider is served right from the barrel’s spout. A glass or pitcher is held at knee level as tap from the barrel is opened a few feet away. The “long pour” allows the liquid to aerate, which releases its aroma and enhances the flavor. Jenny’s favorite was txakoli (pronounced chac-o-lee), a slightly sparkling wine from the Basque country that is aerated by pouring the bottle from high over the server’s head into the waiting glass on the table below.

Nell's version of Motherwell's Iberia.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was an extremely worthwhile venture. The building itself is extraordinary. We also did something that none of us had tried before and hired one of the museum’s guides for a private tour. I asked them to cater the tour to the four children in our group and the guide selected and timed the visit perfectly for them. (On our flight back to Rome, Iberia Airlines was running an art contest for children. Nell drafted a few possible entries, one of which was a reproduction of Robert Motherwell’s “Iberia”—a painting that we had seen at the Guggenheim.)

Walking to camp

Returning to Rome after our Spanish holiday has been fantastic, mostly because we have been enjoying a taste of ordinarily life here—which is quite extraordinary. Our apartment and the sound of Italian feel familiar and comfortable. Eli and Nell are attending a camp at Rome’s Children’s Museum this week. They have been enjoying the activities and, through many gestures and rudimentary Italian, made a few buddies. (We were impressed by how well they handled the novel environment). The kids were impressed that at lunchtime the campers are taken to what Nell described as “a surprisingly nice restaurant with white table clothes and everything” where they are served multi-course lunches. Eli insisted that he could navigate the city well enough to walk to camp alone. So we agreed that he and Nell could venture through the Piazza del Pompolo (and through the traffic heavy Piazale Flaminio!) to camp “on their own” while Jenny and I stayed at least a block behind them. They did a great job and gave each other a hug and high five when they were able to make it to the other side of the busy street intact.

Nell hanging out with a new friend at camp.

Our daily activities this week have been ordinary, but also exciting because they are making us feel like we really live here. And it has been fun to have to be so aware of each step—even running a simple errand requires me to stop and think through how to get somewhere, how to ask for what I want, and how to go about getting things done. Finding a tailor to hem a new pair of trousers was not easy, but the actual transaction was. Finding a hardware store was easy, but it took us a few minutes to realize that light bulbs here are kept behind the counter and need to be requested from the proprietor. We had a new bed for our guest room delivered early in the week, but the delivery guy insisted that he would only bring it in the front door of the building, not up to the top floor, where we live. He was speaking rapidly and kept gesturing in every direction with his hands. So I tried wildly gesticulating a lot, too. The bed certainly wouldn’t fit in our elevator, which is about the size of a phone booth. I lost that battle, but it was fun to let myself go enough to let my hands fly up and down the way Italians do when you are trying to get anything done.

Our meals this week have been phenomenal. We’ve begun to visit the local markets, which are colorful and lively. It is amazing what a rich, varied, and ultra-fresh selection of ingredients the home cook here has access to. Different vendors sell variety of home-made pastas, big bins of every conceivable type of flour and herb, fresh local produce, amazing seafood. . . .The oranges from Sicily are so intensely flavorful that we’ve committed to buying a few each day and having fresh squeezed juice for breakfast each morning. We’ve also found two bakeries that we love—including one in the Campo dei Fiori that is in every guide book, but still filled with locals and well worth waiting on line to get the pizza bianca (also called focaccia) as it comes out of the oven. With our fresh breads and pastas and vegetables and plates of olives and local white wines, we have been enjoying dinner outside on our terrace every night. Helping us along the way has been a local food blogger named Katie Parla, who has become our family’s official patron saint. Her blog can be found here:

While the kids were at camp, Jenny and I headed out to a very understated part of the city to sample what promised to be a special slice of pizza at Pizzarium. I was a bit dubious that it would be worth the schlep. And I couldn’t tell whether or not the address was auspicious or not. The place is located at the Cipro metro stop. The name can’t help but bring back bad memories of the GI distress that Jenny and I got years ago while visiting Morocco. I ended my misery quickly by taking the antibiotic, cipro (Ciprofloxacin), but Jenny didn’t want to take it because she was pregnant with Eli at the time and suffered through months of digestive woes. The pizza shop is on the Via della Meloria. This could be a good sign—Jenny and I met in a university building called Meliora Hall that housed the psychology department. But the name also brings back bad memories of graduate school that cipro can’t cure. Via Meliora proved to be lucky— the pizza at Pizzarium was so amazingly spectacular that it should be in a wholly different category from all other pizzas. The joint is a tiny storefront with no room for diners inside. Rome’s fast food is pizza al taglio (literally “by the cut” or slice), a variety of pizza baked in large rectangular trays, and sold in rectangular slices by weight. Once we selected our pizza, it was warmed and placed on plate-sized wooden slabs that we carried out to the street. The proprietor has kept alive an ancient dough starter that produces the most unusual crust I have ever tasted. And all of the pizzas looked so phenomenal that Jenny and I ordered enough lunch to feed 8 people, just so that we could sample as much as possible. Ordinarily, I’d feel self-conscious sitting on a park bench and moaning as we tried each delectable bite. . .but everyone else holding their pizza was doing the same thing, so we fit right in.


Just so that you know, there are two parts in this blog.

Crazy boat ride atop a mountain overlooking the sea.

First, in San Sebastian, we went to an amusement park. We took a funicular up a hill to get to the amusement park. The amusement park was on top of the hill. First we went on a boat, which went across a stream. It was REALLY high up. Then we went on an awesome roller coaster. When someone says “hi” you put your hands up and yell “hi.”

The wheel on the beach.

Then we got a treat, which our parents called junk food. Then we went on a quick ride our parents thought it was a waste of money. Then we went on trampolines. Finally we went on the awesome roller coaster again. Then we went down the funicular and that was the end of our visit to the amusement park.

Before we went to the amusement park we played on the beach.

Second part.

The "Puppy" statue is made out of living flowers, and you can hear birds living in it!

We went  to Bilbao. We met our friends (Inge-Marie, Jim, Lucia, and Eleanor) at the bus station. We took the bus, which was about an hour ride. I read my Kindle on the bus ride. When we got off we took the tram to the old part of the city. We met an old friend of my Mom and Dad’s there. Her name is Itziar, she took us to a restaurant near her house. I ordered shrimp and garlic and I LOVED it. Eli ordered a special steak. He dropped his plate and BROKE it.

Then we went to the Guggenheim Museum. We saw a statue. It was a giant dog covered with flowers all over it. The name of the sculpture is “Puppy.” It is bigger than an elephant. The artist is Jeff Koons. The artist is criticizing us for not being more creative and also making the sculpture alive and changing because people usually buy art that is cute like little puppies or kittens or bunnies and stuff like that. We went in an exhibit that was a cave made out of tape. It made me feel guilty because there were posters, soda cans, and pages from books. The artist is Thomas Hirschhorn and the art is called “CaveManMan.” Written all over the cave was “1 man = 1 man.” He is trying to tell us that we’re all connected to each other and to the earth.

Eating ice cream treats in the shadow of the Guggenheim Museum.

My Dad showed us a painting by Mark Rothko. It is one of his favorite artists. Eli’s favorite exhibit was by Richard Serra. I can’t remember the name of the exhibit. You can walk through the statue. It is really cool. Our tour guide’s name was Maria.

After the museum, we played on a playground next to the museum. We got ice cream treats. I spilled on my white shirt. My dad tried to wash it off in a fountain. Then I went running around the fountain.

Playground with a view.

We went to dinner then we rode the bus home. I read my Kindle all the way back.


At the Madrid Airport (Eli Pollak, photo credit)

My dad was really excited to see the Madrid airport, where we stopped on our way to San Sebastian. It is a great airport. The airport is painted different bright colors, from yellow to orange to red to green to blue, to help you find your gate. Plus the ceiling is made of wavy bamboo. The airport won an award for architecture and is really cool.

View from the top of the hill above our apartment.

When we arrived in San Sebastian we went to our apartment, which is on a big hill. We can see the ocean and beach from our window. There is a pool on the roof. Even though the water is freezing, it does have a great view. There is a secret path from our apartment to the beach.

The bike paths in San Sebastian are huge. They take them really seriously and you have to be careful about not walking onto the bike path. There are a lot of bikes here.

Many many hours spent on the various "wheels" around the city, with kids speaking Basque, Spanish, and French.

They have REALLY cool playgrounds here. We went to one yesterday with our friends Lucia and Eleanor. There is a circle that goes around like a merry-go-round but it is tilted. You have to stay standing or sitting as other kids run on it or push it. It is huge. Maybe twelve kids can stand on it at one time.

Greeting the octopus.

We went to an aquarium. It was the best aquarium I’ve ever been to. There were ships from olden times and a huge whale skeleton. There was a tunnel that I really liked. You have glass around you and the fish and sharks are swimming all around you. There was a kind of shark called txuri and another called kontxita. And sting rays. And there was a petting zoo where you can touch fish and an octopus.

Nell, Lucia, Eleanor and I have climbed on a lot of stuff. There are a lot of things to climb on here. At 11 o’clock last night after dinner, along the Atlantic ocean, we played ghosts in the graveyard. It was pretty hard to see people in the dark.

Heading out to dinner with our friends.

The olive oil here is amazing. Like the best you have ever had. And gelato here is just as good as in Italy. I had mandarin orange.


Sunset view from our Rome apartment (Via del Babuino)

When we planned our summer, we worried that it might be very hot and congested in Romes. The first 4 days here, we were surprised by how gorgeous and balmy the weather was. We figured that the fabled heat of this city had been exaggerated. Each day was just perfect. Then the mercury climbed, and for the past 4 days it’s been really intense! The shade is fine (mostly), but in the sun, it’s hard to breathe. The locals walk down only the shady side of the street. What that means is that even in the most congested areas, the sidewalks are totally empty on the sunny side. Nobody wants to venture into the sunshine.

That’s meant a very Mediterranean schedule for us. Sleeping later than we’d ever sleep at home (even Early Riser Eli), heading out while it’s not too hot, and retreating to our apartment after lunch for a few hours inside. Then when the sun goes down a bit, at around 5 or 6, the city comes alive again. When we went to toss the football after dinner in Piazza del Popolo last night at around 9 PM, there were big crowds of people strolling the Corso (the main drag), with lots of kids up and about.

So we planned several summer trips to more temperate climates. Today we are flying to San Sebastian, on the Basque Coast of Spain, to meet our dear friends from graduate school, Inge-Marie and Jim, and their kids Lucia and Ella. They are spending the summer in San Sebastian, followed by the academic year in Provence. Here’s a link to their sabbatical blog:

They told us to pack sweaters, as it is chilly there in the evenings. Between the beach and the evening chill, it will be a fun change. We will be there for 5 days, and hope to enjoy a lot of great seafood and pinxtos (tapas, Basque style). Our Italian teacher told us to try not to listen to Spanish, as it will just confuse our Italian (buono vs. bueno, etc.), since the languages overlap so much. Maybe we’ll just use Basque instead, which will interfere less with Italian. If only we could! But learning one new language right now is enough.

I’m also really looking forward to coming back to Rome, but not just because I love the city. I’ve found that I never really feel like I’m living someplace until I leave and return.


Sunset view from our Rome apartment (Pincio Gardens and French Academy)