Friday, June 19, 2009
San Sebastián and Barcelona: el finál
San Sebastián is a gorgeous place. Calm, pristine beaches right in the heart of the city, next to hundred-year-old buildings. It didn't hurt that the weather for our stay was brilliantly sunny and unseasonably warm. Rob, Dunja, Paul and I arrived by train Tuesday evening and joined Dunja's awesome parents for a late dinner. After shutting down our beach cafe, we migrated to a bar, Va Bene, near the hotel. There was beer, wine, and a whole lot of patxaran. Though I only partook of the latter two, I still found it ... more of a challenge than usual to get back to the hotel room. It's a night I'll always remember fondly. If fuzzily.
Wednesday, Paul and I explored San Sebastián. After a late night of drinking and general debauchery, why not hike up a small mountain at 9:00 a.m.? That was our hangover remedy, anyway. Monte Urgull has a lot to take in: castle, big Jesus statue, fortifications, even a small English cemetery. After getting our fill of mountain views and walking around the Parte Vieja, we headed back toward Playa de la Concha. We had vague intentions of walking around the bay to the ubiquitously photographed Peine de los Vientos sculpture, but got sidetracked along the way and never made it. Next time. We did walk over to Kursaal later on, and enjoyed an amazing lunch at the Martin Berasategui gastropub. We had just enough time afterward for a dip in the Bay of Biscay (I waded; Paul went the full nine yards) before meeting up with Dunja and Rob, Bea and Juan for preshow drinks and pintxos ... back at Kursaal.
There was a major ticket snafu on the part of the concert promoters and venue for San Sebastián, resulting in our worst seats of the trip by far. Luckily, our friends fared much better thanks to Bea's debate skills. Dunja kindly gave us her spare set of tickets, moving us up ten rows to row 19 (!). The sightlines were good, though, and what I remember best about the San Sebastián show is the band playing I'll Fight. Yay! Afterward we met Dunja's parents again for one last night on the town. No Va Bene this time, though. Lesson learned.
Thursday Paul and I took a bus to Bilbao and flew to Barcelona. Friday would be our day to wander, but Thursday night was the last concert of the trip. Our crazy cab driver (who read to us from an English phrase book's haircut chapter while stuck in traffic) dropped us off at Hotel Jazz. From there we decided to walk the 3 km to the Auditori. We had plenty of time, and stopped in the adjacent bar/coffee shop for a drink. This is where Paul was recognized by Ana and Xavi, the Barcelona couple who runs the Spanish Wilcoclub website. Ha! Before I knew quite what was happening, chairs were being commandeered from nearby tables and we found ourselves meeting family members, a local promoter, the man responsible for a big Spanish music magazine (who also spotted the bbop, so to speak) and being invited out to dinner the next night by Xavi and Ana. My memory of the concert is somewhat overshadowed by the bustle surrounding it, but I know we had fun. It was Mike's birthday, and a cake appeared onstage during the encore break. The show was unusual in containing only a single song from the new record. The crowd was more subdued than we were used to; one of our new friends later said a Barcelona crowd was more of a "European" crowd than a "Spanish" crowd. They were attentive and appreciative, and Barcelona was a nice city to end our string of shows.
Friday was Antoni Gaudí day. As proclaimed by me. The various Gaudí buildings were what I most wanted to see in Barcelona. Over the course of the day we toured La Sagrada Familia and Casa Milá (La Pedrera), and saw Casa Battló, Palau Güell, and another Gaudí church. And some Gaudí street lamps. After seeing all of this, I have to say, Gaudí was freakin' insane. I loved every bit of it.
Besides the modernist architecture tour, we managed to squeeze in a little more of what Barcelona had to offer. We walked along Passeig de Gràcia and brunched at a Paul bakery (the first opened outside France.) We wandered around Barrí Gotic, stopping at an outdoor flea market in front of the cathedral. We rambled down La Rambla, past the buskers and birds for sale. I got carried away and bought a kilo of cherries at La Boqueria. They were so cheap!
That evening, Xavi and Ana escorted us to their neighborhood, where they treated us to a wonderful four-hour dinner of traditional Catalán dishes and nonstop conversation. I had my first snails, guys! By the time we took the metro back to Universitat and stumbled into our hotel, it was only two hours before I had to leave for the airport. Attempting sleep was futile. A surreal cab ride down La Rambla (absolutely hopping even at 3:30 a.m.), flight to Amsterdam, flight to Philly, flight to Chicago, and drive to Wisconsin later, I was at home by Saturday evening.
Spain and Portugal were full of beautiful, vibrant cities, and we saw some great music there. But what stands out just as clearly - maybe even more clearly - is the warmth, generosity, and hospitality of the friends we met, old and new. As Bea said, good friends are the most beautiful part of every city. The more I travel, the more I know she's right.