view above San Sebastian

view above San Sebastian, Spain

In Germany, we hopped on any train we wanted, showed them our Eurail Pass, and we were good to go.  It was simple — the way it should be.  It’s not like a Eurail Pass is cheap.  Depending on age, number of countries, and how often you ride, the average cost is probably about $500.

But in France, using a Eurail pass was much less convenient. First, we had to make reservations for the trains in advance, which costs extra.  Then, they only allow so many Eurail Pass travelers per train.  Once that quota has been exceeded, you’ll have to pay the full fare or find a different train by varying your route or time/date of departure.  Finally, once you’ve found a train (meaning it will be leaving really early on a day that no one wants to travel), be prepared to pay a supplemental fee to ride any of the high-speed trains.  It’s the equivalent of trying to book a flight and only being allowed to select a turbo-prop plane.

Needless to say, booking our cross-country journey from Strasbourg, France to San Sebastian, Spain wasn’t easy.  Fortunately, we were assisted by an amazingly helpful person in the Paris train station.  After thirty minutes looking through our options, we were finally able to get tickets using our Eurail pass.  Unfortunately, we ended up with the following itinerary:

1a. Go to bed at 2am after Radiohead
1b. Wake up at 5:30am, run to the train station in Strasbourg
2. Take 6am train to Paris
3. Subway across Paris to alternate train station
4. High-speed train [pay supplement] from Paris to Bordeaux
5. Two-and-a-half hour wait in Bordeaux
6. Regional French train to the border of France and Spain
7. Regional Spanish train from the border to San Sebastian
8. Arrive in San Sebastian at 8pm
9. Thirty minute walk to hostel.

We arrived in San Sebastian a little after 8pm.  It was dark, but the air was a still a warm 70 degrees.  And even though we couldn’t immediately see the ocean, the sound of the crashing waves soothed our tired bodies and minds.

Our favorite pintxos bar, El Fuego Negro.  It's worth researching the places because there are a lot of bars and a lot of variation in quality

Our favorite pintxos bar in San Sebastian, A Fuego Negro.

San Sebastian is about food, beaches, and bars.  In that order.  Famous for its pintxos (essentially the Basque version of tapas), the city is a legitimate epicenter of food tourism.  Pintxos are small, affordable plates of food, typically prepared with high-quality ingredients.

bacalao and quinoa pintxos at El Fuego Negro

bacalao and quinoa pintxos at A Fuego Negro

Although pintxos are available all day, they’re primarily eaten in the evening.  Traditionally, a person stops for a pintxo or two, plus a beer or wine, in each of his or her favorite bars.  The scene unfolds nightly: it’s dinner, drinks, and socializing wrapped into a beautiful three-hour walk home from work.  As the bars fill up, the intermixed crowd of locals and tourists spills into the streets throughout the lively Old Town.

the pintxos scene spilling out into the streets of the Old Town, despite the rain

the pintxos scene moving into the streets of the Old Town, despite the rain

Naturally, it should transform into a cool late-night bar scene, but I wouldn’t know.  Mandy was starting to recover, but having gotten sick after her, I still felt horrible.  Luckily, we were staying in one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever seen.  They had free herbal teas in their kitchen, which I drank continuously.  And although the weather wasn’t great, after a few relaxed days by the ocean, I started to improve.  My head wasn’t pounding quite as hard and I was less congested, so that every breath no longer felt like a struggle.

I begged the pharmacist for some water, opened the pseudo ephedrine, and took them as soon as I'd stepped outside.  I just want to breathe.

No time to waste.  I asked the pharmacist for water, opened the pseudoephedrine, and took the pills as soon as I’d stepped outside.  I just want to breathe.

It didn’t turn out to be our most exciting few days, but I left San Sebastian feeling rejuvenated and ready for more travel-action.  Which is all I wanted.  After you’ve been sick, feeling normal feels so good.

Full Gallery: click to enlarge images:

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