Andy ZW

Joined November 2016
  • Day7

    Final Dive

    February 8 in Saint Lucia ⋅ 🌧 10 °C

    Friday morning hit harder than the rest (that 23:30 bed-time yo) and once again I was rushing into the breakfast buffet piling food on a plate to take away whilst the staff there laughed along with me: “Late again?” “Always!” For the first time in the entire trip the dive-bus was actually on time though, and as the guide leader called our room numbers S. and I shovelled food into our mouths as fast as we could - immediately, our guide stopped us. “Guys! No rush! I didn’t realise you were still eating, take ten!” Honestly, the vibe here is so calm, so mellow, and although I know it’s a holiday resort and that’s the experience they’re selling, but I genuinely feel like it’s a way of life here. Everyone thanks you for being patient instead of apologising for being late, they are always laughing, joking, and no matter how busy it gets they exude a collected calmness that really makes you think “why do we take life so seriously back home?”

    Anyway, onto the mini-bus, onto the boat, and into the water. The Pitons dive was, by far, my favourite dive. Although the wreck-dives on the first day had been an experience, I was a little underwhelmed, and didn’t really feel the sublime awe I was hoping for. The Pitons dive however was filled with sea-life, and the waters were clear, something which we hadn’t quite got on this holiday yet. There were strong currents, which I personally enjoyed because I got to cruise along the way. S. got a little panicked and reached out to grab by hand, fearing we would be separated deep at sea (too cute). The second dive was closer to the resort, and it was also fairly lively with schools of fish that surrounded us all - it was très, très cool.

    And just like that, the dive were all over. We took the rest of the day at the hotel to completely relax, and S. patiently dealt with a few emotional tears about not wanting to go back to London. I perked up when he reminded me of the evening’s dinner plans: we were going to Gordon’s at the Sandals Grande and I was very very excited - we had heard good things about this particular restaurant, and it had been hard to get reservations. My oh my were all my hopes confirmed. It was by far the best meal of the entire stay, as well as the most gorgeous location (an open pier overlooking sea with a perfect breeze happily tickling us throughout the evening). If I went back I would definitely book there twice (at least!).

    I was very pleasantly energised after food, a cocktail and two glasses of wine, so when we stumbled into a chocolate party I had no issue bee-lining for the table and stuffing my face with the last five whit-chocolate covered strawberries. Ahhhh they were so delicious, and to this day I feel like chocolate and strawberries are the most genius combination ever: strawberries? health! chocolate? health! Winner-winner all around.
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  • Day6

    Dolphins & Whales

    February 7 in Saint Lucia ⋅ 🌬 8 °C

    After the success of yesterday’s day adventures I felt wildly smug. S. had been worried about over-exerting ourselves on a ‘relaxing’ holiday but he was positively glowing with happiness yesterday, so I felt that whatever happened with the sea-sea-mammals I had achieved holiday goals. With a late start of 08:45 we somehow still managed to be a little short for time - time-keeping and relaxing can be a complicated matter - particularly when I’m involved (late, late, everywhere). However we made it on time! I felt a little wave of anxiety when we saw how full the boat was, but thanks to my CBT training I managed to jot down my worries, assess that they were all completely hypothetical (“what if” worries) and concluded there was literally nothing I could do about any of them (asides from the fact that they were absolutely unimportant). Mental health exercises done, up on the top deck of the boat, we set off to find dolphins and whales - and oh my god did we find them!

    We first stumbled across an entire colony of the squeaky mammals, and the dolphins sped alongside the boat, racing and playfully jumping out in front of it. They were 100% loving the attention and they would swim up ahead and jump high-high-high in the air, do flips, twists, 360º turns. It was incredible. I have never seen that many dolphins together all at once, and that amicable, that friendly, it was great to see them out in the wild, free, and interested in interacting with us curious and gawking humans.

    Next up we went out in search for whales. I felt a little skeptical that we would see any, purely because of the fact that in general whales seem to be a lot shyer than the flashy dolphins. However, in the distance, I saw a little squirt of water go up in the air. It looked like a snorkeler blowing water out of their snorkels, or a small geiger. We all saw it again, and that’s when the captain of the boat pointed out towards it and announced: “That’s a whale’s blow-hole! There’s two of them, a calf and a momma!”

    Oh my god guys. They were definitely shy, but curious, and the little calf wandered over - not too close but close enough to see how much bigger than the dolphins he was, and yet how tiny he eemed. His momma in the distance dove down under, her huger tail flipping u before disappearing under the water. Fun fact: it takes six years for the calves to be able to dive as deep as their mothers - how insane is that?! In the meantime they communicate with their whale calls and such. Animals are incredible.

    Needless to say S. and I were very, very content by the end of this boat-trip, and as we pulled back into the docks five hours later we happily went on to ‘relax’. We had a dinner reservation at a different resort’s restaurant called La Toc (La Toc restaurant in La Toc Resort in the town of La Toc. Seriously). We’d got to La Toc Resort very early, and so we’d been plying ourselves with cocktails. S., ever the adventurer, tried a different cocktail every time. I, however, had discovered the cocktail of my dreams (to the odd surprise off the bar-staff who all agreed they wouldn’t go near it). The Sangrita. Part Margarita, part Bloody Mary it was what dreams are made of, and a nice sharp, sour taste after the endless flow of sweet cocktails we’d been having up to this point. We both reached a happy tipsy point as we watched a country show by a man with the deepest and most beautiful voice I ever heard, and it has to be said: the atmosphere at the Sandals La Toc is lively, lively, lively. The age demographic expands down to a lot more people in their late 20s as opposed the the Halcyon where I think we’re the youngest by 15 odd years. Even the older groups however were energetic, dancing to the country music, laughing, drinking, chatting. Although I love our quiet little corner of the resort group (and the La Toc is huge you need a shuttle to get to certain more ‘exclusive’ parts of the accommodation) the La TOc definitely has a better evening atmosphere, and I’m glad we came out early for little drink, a little bougie and, finally, a little food.

    My oh my guys, this restaurant was yum. Very formal as far as resort dining goes, but even still the waters and waitresses were friendly, kind and when S. couldn’t decide between two starters they straight up said “ have both - you’re on holiday! You’re having both.” Honestly, it was so fabulous. We ate, had wine (obviously) and when we’d finished eating all our intentions of going to the bar area of the resort were shattered as S. and I both were struggling to keep our eyes open. We did have a wonder, and the bar areas did look super lively and fun, but we chose to have a little explore, look at the absolutely clear night sky (there is zero light pollution here it is incredible). We wowed at how different the bog-dipper looked from the Caribbean, found the North Star, sat by the fire-pits and listened to the ocean for a little while, right up until our shuttle back home was read.

    We were in bed by 23:30 - latest time to date. We are wild, wild party animals.
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  • Day4

    Dive Number Two

    February 5 in Saint Lucia ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    I want to start today by saying how incredibly good our sushi dinner was last night. When it comes to all-inclusive I wasn’t surprised that the dinner-menus consisted of a set starter-main-desert option, which although not necessarily stingy, wasn’t quite the restaurant experience I usually enjoy. Not so with the sushi place. Soy had a generous menu of sushi, sashimi, rolls, nigiri, specialties, soups and salads, and a sake-based menu - all of which were unlimited. As an absolute sushi-freak who has to curb her enthusiasm because man sushi is expensive in London, I was absolutely on-board with the situation. Add to it the you saw the chef prepare your dishes in front of you and the two or three sake-cocktails I ordered, and last night was a good night let me tell you.

    Anyway! Tuesday morning brought us back to the meeting-point for our second dive-trip of the holiday. S. was a little less anxious about time seeing as the day before despite the 7:50 meeting time the dive-bus didn’t get to s up until 8:30. So breakfast today was a lot more leisurely. We had more delicious cold porridge which had nuts and peeled mandarin slices in it, a stuffed omelette from the egg-bar (oh yes) and about three different smoothie options because, well, because they were there. It was good.

    At the boat docks the cheerful and grandfatherly captain Mickey recognised us and greeted us with an “Andrea!” and I felt immediately warm and happy. I don’t know exactly what it is about this man, but he feels like the group carer, the feel-good take-it-easy man who god forbid you hurt any of the people he cares about (John Wick anybody?).

    The dives were good. We did the Anse La Ray Wall and the Honeymoon Reef. They were both good, and we saw a few sea-critters. I do have to be honest: I think I was spoilt when CM and I went to Mexico, because we saw sea-turtles and little mental rays almost every single day. Although here the exotic sea-life didn’t seem quite as common though, what I did notice is a lot more colour to the reefs. Purples and yellows and greens, glowing with a strength that seems unreal for an underwater life-form (a coral is, in fact, an animal). We also saw two lobsters snuggled up together, and later on the boat S. excitedly (and adorably) told me that lobsters are immortal - apparently their cells regenerate at a rate faster than they decay, so they do not naturally age. “this is why,” S. tells me, eyes shiny with happiness like the romantic he is, “for lobsters, mating for life is really mating for life.”

    When we got back to the hotel, we finally, for the first day, relaxed. We lounged on a canopy bed for most of the afternoon, and I rediscovered the fact that I am no good at relaxing. I was fidgety, and felt like I simply did not understand how to relax. “Do we just sit here and stare into space?” I asked S., slightly frustrated that this didn’t come naturally to me. “Just relax Andy, look at the sea and the trees, just chill.” I tried doing that for a little while but to no avail. “Literally, just stare into space?” S. gave me a look loaded with murderous intent, and suggested i take my magazine and entertain myself if I was incapable of relaxing on a relaxing holiday. Finally, I could relax! Sitting on a canopy bed, palm trees above us, sea in front of us, art magazine on my lap - that I could get behind (although I have requested we go paddle-boarding and kayaking the next time we have a whole free afternoon ahead of us. S. had little choice but to agree).

    That evening we were going to Kimono, a tapanyaki restaurant (think Benihana in the UK) and it was delicious, portions were generous, and sake was rife. After that another tub-champagne-office routine to round up the night, before crawling into bed and dozing off the latest we had done yet: 22:30. Goals.
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  • Day3

    Dives, sun burns and bloody towels

    February 4 in Saint Lucia ⋅ 🌧 27 °C

    The morning started well - S. and I had left our blinds and windows open and we woke up very nicely arena 7am with the sun, the blue skies, the birds chirping, and the ocean a stones throw away. I managed to faff for long enough to throw off S’s strict “breakfast y 7:30am schedule” and so we had to shovel a bowl of something which looked like cold porridge but my oh my was it a delicious concoction of fruit, nuts and creaminess. Then off to our very first dive of the holiday! The calm and collective people that we both are, neither S nor I had any qualms about the situation (haha yeah right). The drive to the dive-site was, as tends to be, a bit of a “trust the fact your driver isn’t died yet” situation, and we got to our destination with a body full of adrenaline and joie de vivre at the simple fact of having got there alive (I am being a little bit dramatic - it was a little nerve-wracking but nothing like that hell-ride in Naples. Ugh, Naples).

    When we got there my hear did sink a little bit, since they only had short wet-suits, and I feared for my propensity to hypothermia. Not wanting to make a big deal out of it, however, and thinking that mind over matter was a real thing (it most certainly is not) I picked up the smallest size I could find and shuffled onto the boat with a matching tiny BDS.

    The boat ride was pleasant, and the gentle-people working are always kind, funny and have a constant air of amusement at the things their visitor’s get up to. The other people on the boat were cool, and despite my anti-social tendencies they were a nice-kinda chatty. There were also two britons on board which were too tanned to be Britons and I firmly believe they were international spies.

    The dives themselves: The Vicky-B and Lesleen M as well as South Beach. What is there to say? S. and I were both a little (very) nervous before jumping into the water, but as soon as we went under we realised that there was little to it that we hadn’t done before. In a Quarry. In Wales. At 10 degrees celcius. Compared to that the dives here were a dream, with clear and warm waters, coral reefs, fish, eels, an absolutely photogenic model-puffer fish, and a couple fo chubby squid.

    Predictably though, by the end of the first I was shivering, and despite the hour-long surface break and the scorching sun I was loath to get back in for the second dive. I managed, because mind over matter, but boy oh boy was I cold. I got out shivering to the point that our dive masters and boat captains ushered me to the roof deck and assured me they’d take care of disassembling my gear.

    The boat journey back was relaxed, and I happily sung the Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune as we sped past mountains of lush greenery and the Caribbean ocean all around.

    Back at the hotel Samwise and I had that desorbitantly expensive massage booked, so we decided to take it abysmally easy until our booking and have some lunch, followed by some pool-side time on shaded loungers - something I usually refuse to do (why the hell would you sit by the pool when you have a private beach right next to it?!) but to be honest the sea was a little sillty, and the thought of having a constant stream of cocktails sent to our loungers was very appealing. And so, by the pool we went. In about three minutes my shins, which had been exposed to the only strip of sunlight on my lounger, were glowing red, and I ushered Sam to a more protected set of loungers - with a view to the mountains rather than the sea - but a much safer option in regards to avoiding my knees becoming the glowing red Rudolphs of the resort.

    The night ahead promises more balcony and champagne soaks, fire-breathers, fire-limbo, Caribbean dances, and a sushi dinner to boot. Excitement is rife.
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  • Day1

    Ready for Lift-Off

    February 2 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 3 °C

    04:00 hours. Or, more accurately, 4:30am. S. and I, in mutually suspicious good moods, shuffle into the icy darkness, ice-cube tray in hand filled with freshly squeezed orange juice from the night before, tea-flasks cradled under our arms.

    The car drive was quiet asides from my orange juice cube slurping, and we were both in surprisingly fabulous moods for 5am on a Saturday. It could have been out Philipps Wake-Up light. Could have been the fact we were heading to the Caribbean. Who knows?

    The whole process was smooth as was the flight. Picking airlines that have some semblance of ethics and humanity really does make a difference, and even in economy we were pampered with very frequent tea-carts, drinks, and little snacks as well as a main meal - which, to be perfectly honest, was pretty alright.

    I was also schooled in not being a judgemental dick when the woman in front of me put her seat back, and I gave Sam the death glare and mouthed the words “what a bitc-“ right before she turned round, exclaimed a little “oh!” and put her seat back up only to turn back around to apologise to me and to say how she was sorry about taking up the little space I had. Like I said: schooled.

    After a strong movie selection (Slaughterhouse Rulez, Bad Times at El Royale , KKK- not really a comedy tbh) we landed and were greeted by the blast of hot air and humidity that I was so looking forward to. In minutes my long-sleeved pyjama top was absolutely drenched in sweat and I felt like a small ball of unsophistication as we were taken to the Sandals Airport Lounge and boarded on our little car to the hotel.

    So, as I said, I have not done the all-inclusive life before, and I am used to pretty much taking care of myself. This is not possible in a Sandals Resort as the staff is at your side the second you look mildly confused (this happened often with me, I made good friends in my time there). At one point they had to actively explain to S. and I that this service is literally what we were paying for, and that as holiday-makers we should really try and relax. When we tried to make dinner reservations and they were mostly fully booked, and it just wasn’t working out with our plans. All our concierge said was: “I have your calendar on the system. I know the restaurants you want to go to. Just leave it with me.” In under an hour she had found spots for each of the restaurants that were previously fully-booked, and she extended to us a little hand-written calendar of what we had booked for the week. I have never been so amazed and felt so taken care of on holiday ever before. And always so kind, always so friendly. I was very, very happy that evening.

    One thing to take into consideration though? Make sure your phones don’t “automatically” update their time to blooming “US” time. This is what happened to us, and after a very needed nap, we dragged ourselves out of bed to make our 20:30 reservations. Turns out? We got there an hour late. This wasn’t an issue as we literally turned right back around and crawled, exhausted, back into bed. Worth saying: check the time with the locals, guys, and remember: your phone is not always right.
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  • Day0

    Homeward Bound

    June 18, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    As usual farewells are painful for me, and I like to keep them short and sweet. We obviously had breakfast at Cafe Alabama for the last time, and I bid a silent and heartbroken adieu to my holiday love affair. Since it was a rainy day GC and I popped into the Museo de San Telmo which had a Greek Mythos art-display on loan from the Museum del Prado over in Madrid. Tickets were, as everything in San Seb. seems to be, very affordable, and the museum itself was a gorgeous building which we wondered around in up until we had to leave for out flights.

    On our return trip GC took a bus back to Bilbao, but I was flying to Barcelona so had booked a flight straight from San Sebastian Airport, a 20-minute bus ride from the centre. Word of advice? Not worth it.

    The flight, operated by Vueling, was delayed by over three-three-hours for mechanical failures. This quickly became an anxiety-trigger, exacerbated when we were told we might have to be put-up overnight as the flight might not leave at all: I thanked my lucky stars i had a couple of go-to CBT exercises to help calm myself down. Throughout, we were told, in no uncertain terms, that the fault was with the airline and we were entitled to compensation. However, when in Barcelona and attempting to claim-back the compensation due, Vueling replied that San Sebastian Airport is known for its tricky weather conditions and difficult-to-navigate air-traffic, and that delays from this airport are commonplace. Therefore, they stated, no compensation was due. They made no reference to the fact their staff at the airport had revealed to us that the fault was a mechanical one with the airplane (and so as per EU laws the responsibility of compensation was theirs). I did not pursue the matter because I have better things to do with my time, but from now on I am determined to avoid them as often as I can: there is nothing that makes me angrier than corporations taking advantage of their own customers when trying to claim where claim is due. (FYI: a month later my mum came to visit me in London with Vueling, and on picking up her checked-in brand-new-suitcase she noticed it was completely damaged. Vueling refused to even address any manner of compensation).

    Despite the downer of a flight back, the holiday itself was absolutely fabulous, and although not reliable for temperature and weather (it is the north of Spain after all) I heartily recommend it. I can’t wait to take S over there and go absolutely foodie-mental.
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  • Day0

    Kayaking and Frostbite

    June 18, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Our fourth day in San Seb. It was the coldest of the lot, and this is the day we decided we would go kayaking. We had a little paddle to the Isla de Santa Clara which would have been beautiful and lovely other than for the fact that the kayak-mooring area was a swim away from the island, and with only our bikinis to shield us from the grey skies and icy winds I have to say I didn’t fancy staying on the island for long. We swam, we saw, we swam back to the kayak, and the fact I am still alive and lost no extremity to frostbite is a testament to how far I have come in my battle with cold-management.

    Back on the beach, towel wrapped around me, shivers rattling my bones, GC pointed to Monte Igueldo, another little spot we’d been recommended, and being obsessed with mountains and anything potentially panoramic, I was all for it. We got on the little tram (a very affordable €8 return) and up we clattered to a small theme-park atop the mountain. By theme park think closer to a fair, small rides which look like they’re about to fall apart but hold strong year after year. Haunted houses, tiny roller-coasters, bumper-cars, and a gorgeous place to wander, observe, and enjoy.

    The absolute piece de resistance on this mountain though was the Marriot Hotel. I know, I know, it’s not a name that is instantly associated with that bougie lifestyle. But the bar at this place? Floor to ceiling. Glass. Walls. And all around? Endless, endless ocean, blue, and beautiful, and nothing else. The image of the place is absolutely seared into my mind, it is the epitome of the reading room I dream to have some day. Not the huge lounge with the lounge-chairs and the bar (although, why not) but the open-views, where be it day or night, summer or winter, I can curl up in a chair with a book, look up, and see nothing but an endless expanse of ocean and an infinite horizon. That’s the dream.

    Dinner that night was another hit. Txubillo, a Basque-Japanese fusion restaurant, absolutely blew my mind and it will definitely be a place I return to when (when!) I come back to San Seb. Again, the venue is small, and it did get loud (although we happened to be there on a night were there were two 10-person-parties having a fabulous but loud night). Still we didn’t struggle to hear each other, and the food was delicious. It wasn’t the cheapest we’d had, but it was hardly expensive either, and it was definitely, definitely, worth it. The portions were also a little smaller, but the quality was absolutely spectacular, and despite the waitress and owner being the only two people there there (I died) they were always flawlessly polite, friendly and helpful. Guys, I really can’t praise this place enough.

    And off to bed we went, because like every night we had over-indulged in food, and although not uncomfortable, the drowsiness that comes after food alongside the comfort of our beds drew us back to the hostel, and into slumber-land.
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  • Day0

    Surf's Up

    June 18, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Surfing day was upon us, and as is customary the stars aligned and GC had to bail on our adventure. The sickness took her, but the one-to-one classes where non-refundable, so off we went for my solo lesson (after breakfast at Cafe Alabama obviously).

    I will be brief in terms of my surfing lesson. Having only had two teachers in my life, I have little basis for comparison, but I will say that my experience in Portugal was far, far better, even though back then we took a group-class. The instructor here, albeit being a one-to-one class, and albeit keeping tabs on me, gave me little pointers on improving my form, or any pointers at all. He did push my limits harder, which was good, but I think it went a bit far. That and the fact that the waves in San Sebastian were fairly incessant and brutal made for an intense two hours. When wiping out, the waves seemed to keep crashing above my head, and I would struggle to resurface for air. One moment stands out; after a brief glide over a wave, I lost my balance and fell into the water. Almost as soon as I popped back up for air another wave smashed into me, and the current underwater battered my body and I lost my sense of where was up. My instincts kicked in (I do pride myself in them) and I remembered my most sacred of under-water rules: if you lose your sense of up or down, blow some bubbles out and follow them up-up-up. I opened my eyes, and saw bubbles all around as the series of waves continued to crash over me and thrash me around. I was also terrified the board would swing round and hit me on the head, so I kept pushing it away from me, expending even more air and energy. Although I never feared for my life (there were life-guards every 10m spread across the beach) I remember thinking: “Gonna run out of air pretty soon. Might pass out. That’s gonna suck.” I held my breath until I felt my lungs were burning, pulled myself onto my board - at the time the only way I felt I could keep afloat - and paddled as hard as I could, breath rasping in the back of my throat, back to shore. Slowing my heart-rate was hard, as was catching my breath, and I had to wave the instructor over and ask him for a break. The adrenaline was coursing through my body, and I felt shaky, upset, and in the classic vein of an anxious-perfectionist person, convinced that it was all my fault and that I was a terrible student.

    I got back in the water almost straight away, even if I didn’t go out quite as deep. I will also definitely surf again. But that experience has stuck with me, and so I’ve picked up a couple more rules for moments like these. If the series of waves after you wipe out is overwhelming you, lie your belly flat on the surf board and let them take you to shore. It might seem like the waves are going to crash over you and wipe-you out again, but trust me when I say they will guide you to the safety of land. As much as this seems obvious now when I was underwater all I could think about was getting onto the board and paddling against the waves and towards the deeper ocean, where I could see people sitting on surfboards on calm, flat water.

    I guess what I learned from the lesson in San Sebastian was that, at the end of the day, you’re pretty much alone in the water, and you need to be safe. Even close to shore waves (and the currents they create) are powerful so knowing your limits is important, as is adhering to them. This is the reason I feel I was disappointed in my instructor: he did not seem to cater the class to my level at all, and although I appreciate being pushed, when your student is struggling to keep her head above water and has a bit of a scare, it’s your job to take things down a notch, rather than explaining why “panicking less” next time would be better (something about oxygen consumption in the brain), followed by “right, let’s get back at it, shall we?”

    After a lounge in the sun to settle my nerves, GC and I went on another little hiking adventure: Urgull Mendina. A little hill which was accessible and only required a couple hours out of the day for the most casual walkers of us all. Having the open ocean all around was absolutely blissful to me, topped by a small bar part-way up where it's worth having a sit-sit-down and a cold drink. It was dreamy: ocean all around, warm breeze in my hair, sun setting on the horizon… My soul restoration was complete.

    Dinner that evening was at Simiri. We ordered the most mouth-watering risotto I have ever tasted, and these little fish-croquets which were perfectly fried and perfectly tasty. I’d recommend the place as more of a tapas-based casual dinner as the sit-down area was small and more of a stools-and-tables vibe rather than a traditional sit-down restaurant vibe. Still absolutely enjoyable, still absolutely fun, still absolutely delicious. Since GC was still feeling a little unwell, I honourably and selflessly ate her substantial leftovers at dinner, and I have to say I did not feel fabulous at all (no regrets though).

    We had a beautiful wander along the beach which was lit-up and speckled with people enjoying the warm water (it was unnaturally warm) and to my absolute surprise, as we noticed throughout our stay in San Seb, everyone exhibited absolute respect for their surroundings and the people around them. This place is an absolute gem guys, and I plan on being back. A lot.
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  • Day0

    G's Day of Birth

    June 17, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    The main reason GC and I had ventured to San Sebastian was the firmly established tradition of GC refusing to spend a single one of her birthday’s in the UK. I can’t say I find the idea a bad one (although that endorsement means very little coming from me since I’ll use the anniversary of eating a dorito chip as a reason to travel). Anyway, today was that day, and GC had decided to, without any form of wandering, turn off all forms of alarms. We ended up sleeping in far far longer than I would have liked to: I’m a “have-to-do-everything-see-everything-eat-everything” kind of travelling companion, and although I do try and dilute this a little when travelling with calmer friends, it still niggles me to waste the day away. However, it was GC’s birthday, and so today was about making sure she was happy. First on the list? I had looked up a brunch place called Cafe Alabama. Bowls of coconut yoghurt topped with fruit and sprinkled with chia seeds and all other sorts of things I vaguely know exist but never really eat. Guys, it sounds so pretentious, but it is definitely not. It’s two absolutely down-to-earth guys running the place, and the cafe itself is unassuming, very quaint, and pleasant to sit at. They had an absolutely incredible breakfast deal which, once again, made me question the business plans of the food industry in the area, and it was quality that far, far, exceeded what we paid. I had four or five other breakfast spots listed on my phone for the rest of our stay. We did not go to a single other breakfast place, and I do not hesitate to knight Cafe Alabama my one-and-only breakfast spot for whenever I might be back in San Sebastian.

    We then followed onto one of the recommendations we’d got from our friendly local guides: Pasaia. A little town which was very local, quieter and less touristy - and only took a half hour walk to get to. I have to say… We were underwhelmed. The town was very, very quiet. The streets were empty, shops and restaurants shut, and, to be perfectly honest, I did not feel we were welcome at all. We picked up our pace a little, and got to a little dock-area, with beautiful views across the sea and a breeze to go with them. Here is where it got good: I saw what looked like a little coastal path, and (immediately) decided it had to be done. A group of tourists who were walking down it told us cheerfully that it was an easy hour or so walk which took you along the coastal cliffs all the way back to San Sebastian - it could not have been more perfect. A look in my eyes which I assume GC found impossible to say no to had us making our way up the mountain stone-steps and onto an absolute stunner of a walk. I would do this walk over and over again if the weather was right, and with the sun blazing and blue-steeped skies above us it was an absolute dream.

    Taking endless photographs along the way as GC powered on ahead (on what mission, I do not know) I was surprised when she suddenly jerked to a stop. She turned to me, panic all over her face, and gestured at me to run.

    “Why?”
    “Just do it!!”

    Being well versed in all horror, thriller and action-tropes, I was not about to get into a debate about whether or not I should run only to be interrupted mid-sassy-sentence by a rabid werewolf/crazy axe-person/murderous spirit. So, as GC sprinted off ahead, I tucked my camera under my arm and sprinted on behind her.

    Once a safe distance from the threat, GC stopped, gasping for breath because she is horribly unfit, and me, also gasping for breath because I absolutely hate running of any kind.

    “What was that?!”
    GC looked at me, serious.

    “There were two naked men. I have no idea what they were doing, but it looked super dodgy.”

    I looked at her quizzically, because two men banging is by no means something to be afraid of. If they were taken up with overwhelming passion after the beautiful coastal walk, heck, go for it, have a fab time. GC, however, shook her head, and implied there was a ritualistic murder occurring, with bodies that she hadn’t seen but knew were there, and that we could have been the next victims. I shrugged. Maybe. I was still very much of the belief that those two men were very much just enjoying each other, and when nothing appeared in the papers (or should I say my google searches) for the rest of the week I made sure GC knew she was absolutely mental.

    We were having dinner in the eastern part of Don Ostia, and a little pre-dinner explore revealed a quieter part of town. Our chosen restaurant that night, Tedone, was another win. A sustainable, eco-orientated, vegan-friendly restaurant: small, cosy, with a modest seasonal menu to match its sustainability ethics. It felt very pleasant to be sat comfortably on an outside table without feeling like we were swimming in and out of a thousand and one conversations, so if you want a bit of peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle, come here. And if not, come here anyway, because it’s amazing. I had a fish that was absolutely out of this world (I don’t know if I’ve been starved of fresh sea-food so I’m just revelling in it all, but boy oh boy). It flaked like butter, was coated in the freshest olive-oil I have had in a while, and I would have had it twice over had I not known it would make me sick. Still, I considered it. For desert we had a date elsewhere: La Viña, which boasted the best cheesecake in all of San Sebastian. Content and with full bellies we shuffled off to try it out.

    If Tedone was a peaceful water-lily pond, La Viña was a NYC stock-market floor. It was rammed, so it you want to visit, be prepared. Bar-service was speedy and friendly though, so GC and I soon had cheesecake in hand. It was good, but it felt more like a cheesecake-flan fusion rather than the NY-cheesecake that’s so popular in London. Still worth a try though, and despite it being so busy, the atmosphere, as ever in Sab Seb, was happy, friendly and absolutely comfortable to be amongst.
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  • Day0

    The Goopy Ice-Scream

    June 16, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Another Monday, another plane to catch. GC and I compromised about the time we wanted to get into the airport, since, as usual, I am the only mad-person amongst my friends who enjoys the thrill of pulling up to my gate half-hour before departure. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and it has caused me stress, tears, many sprints across the airport, and one missed flight. Yet somehow, I can’t help myself if I’m travelling alone. So under the watchful eye of my travel companion we arrived with the recommended two hours to spare, and got on the flight stress-free.

    Now, from London there are no direct flights to San Sebastian, so we had decided to catch a flight to Bilbao, and take a leisurely hour-and-a-bit-ish coach into San Sebastian (€17 for a one-way ticket). The coach-journey was a beaut, but busy. If you’re a bit of a nervous traveller, or just have a bit of an aversion to strangers like I do, it’s worth getting onto the coach earlier rather than later. They sit in the station for a while, so it’s just a matter of hopping on and grabbing seats with your travelling partners. If it’s busy you can always wait for the next one; a half hour isn’t much if you’d be more comfortable next to someone you know, and it is a lengthy ride so definitely something to consider. So I stared out the window at views which made me want to visit every inch of the north of Spain and hike my way around each mountain-top. Filled with lush green expanses, it had the aura of a tropical rainforest: it wasn’t the Spain I’m used to, and I absolutely loved it.

    We pulled in at San Seb bus station, and trundled on over to our hostel. I was nervous. I was very nervous. I am very much a person who likes cleanliness and privacy, and ‘hostel’ is not a word that brings those to mind. GC assured me that she’d done her research, we had a private room, and the reviews were all great. Nevertheless the word had baited my anxiety, and I could feel it shifting about, ready to pounce. Turns out, I had zero reason to worry.

    Pension Ibai is a place I would definitely recommend. Slap-bang in the middle of town, its location could literally not be more central. The only downside to this is potentially the noise, but it’s towards the edge of the tiny San Sebastian heart, so although it’s not going to be chirping grasshoppers and the soft sea-breeze, it’s not a deal-breaker - and take this from someone who is a very light, very anxious sleeper. In terms of cleanliness? Absolutely spotless. I have literally showered in friends’ places which have caused me much more ew-factor. It essentially felt much more like a bed & breakfast (minus the breakfast) and we were both very happy with choices made.

    Next on our list was food: we were absolutely starving. A little wander seemed to suggest that most pintos bars in the area seemed to have a basic-fee of €2.50 per pinxo. Ideal. The wander also revealed that it was foodie-madness all day every day over here, and so it was rammed wherever we went. I have to say though, although I did get a little worked up, it wasn’t a horribly unpleasant kinda busy, like when you are pressed against you third sweaty armpit on the Victoria line at 7:30am. Everyone was chipper, chatting, enjoying food and wine, and I cannot emphasise enough how much this atmosphere permeates the entire the area. Even the youths (I seem to have become a judgemental 50 year-old real quick) were polite, seemed happy and content, and were never, not once, intimidating. As a woman, let me tell you that this is unusual - particularly at night - so this was a massive plus on the San Sebastian excellence list.
    We settled on a place called Atari, and as we waited for a table to free up a group of locals anointed themselves our tour-guides and began a friendly yet heated discussion amongst themselves about what the best order to do things would be for us. They were kind, and funny, but GC and I were both fading fast due to hunger and were glad when a waitress gestured us over to our table. GC and I exchanged a relieved glance, fully recognising the anti-social tendencies in each other which, coupled with a growing hunger, made us two potential psychopaths in a very crowded place.

    Fed, watered, and posing less of a risk to the locals around us, GC and I did a little exploring. We headed to a promising ice-cream stall with popsicles which looked fresh, fruity and delicious. The disappointment was real. Whether it was the heat (it wasn’t) or the wind (I genuinely almost flew away) the ice-lollies started to melt into a goop-slobber-like substance that was absolutely out of control what with the hurricane around us. As it splattered onto out faces, our hair, and GC’s very white knitted jumper, we binned them just half-way through and and discussed in lengthy fascination what the contents of the ice-cream goop might have been.

    Dinner. Dinner guys. I could go on, and on, and on about dinner, and I will name the restaurant, albeit reluctantly, because I just don’t want it to get any busier. Gandarias. We had booked a table that morning, and it wasn’t until the end of the holiday that we realised how lucky we’d been to get a spot on such short-notice. Gandarias is popular. And for an absolutely good reason. The food, and I do not say this lightly, was spectacular. I have had a lot of food, in a lot of places. I’m not a picky eater, but I am jealous with my praise: Gandarias gets it all. It is not flashy and the wait staff is genuinely friendly. When I was torn about what wine to get, they suggested I get a bottle since it was much more cost-effective. When I said I wouldn’t be able to finish it (GC is not a wine drinker) he looked at me, with friendly surprise at how easy to solve my problem was, and said: “pues te la llevas a casa!” (“Just take it home!”). How absolutely chill is that? How completely and utterly unpretentious. I loved it.

    In terms of food GC and I shared one of the best salads I have ever had, and I tend to find salads boring, over-dressed and generally a chore to eat. This one had warm seafood scattered over it, this beautiful balsamic glaze in perfect proportion to the food, not too many leaves and oh the most delicious tomatoes ever. We devoured it in minutes, and as we were mulling over whether to straight-up order another, the clams arrived. Another mouth-watering dish, although very rich. We greedily soaked up the leftover sauce with bread - not something I usually feel like doing, but boy-oh-boy was it delicious. For the pièce de resistance GC and I had both got this monster-steak with the best fries I have ever had (and I don’t usually like fries either) and it was perfectly under-cooked, perfectly juicy, and everything I could ever hope for in a steak. I can’t remember the desert, to be honest, I’m not even sure we had any (although that seems highly unlikely). To top it all, the price-tag? Wildly reasonable, to the point I don’t understand how they make a profit. It was so affordable that GC and I went to bed absolutely ecstatic knowing we could have meals of that caliber every night, and not have our accounts dip dangerously into the dreaded red numbers.
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