Tag Archives: beach

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

It’s official—we are back in the United States. Our move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida was our sixth relocation in just under two years. That’s right—we’ve moved six times in the course of 677 days. Five of those moves were between different countries. Two were between different continents and two were with a child less than one-year-old. Whew!

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Sunrise in the front of our apartment building.

We’re getting pretty good at packing and eliminating excess. With each move it gets a little easier to leave behind what isn’t absolutely necessary and buy pretty much just what we need at our next location. We really lucked out in Florida because our corporate apartment came well-stocked with the essentials—like coffee cups and wine glasses. We even have an egg slicer, cheese shaver and several bottle openers. Strangely enough, though, we don’t have a spatula.

It feels weird to be back in the U.S. after nearly two years, but it is nice to have more freedom to get around. Because of where we lived in Monterrey and the fact that I didn’t drive in Mexico, Baby Girl and I were fairly confined to our little neighborhood when Matt was working. Here, however, Matt carpools to work so I have a car several days each week. Plus there’s a lot more for us to do in Florida—even on days we don’t have the car. Baby Girl is taking swim classes, I found a gym called Mommycise that caters to moms and babies and there’s a beach and state park within a five minute walk from our apartment. I keep joking with Matt that it feels like we are on a bit of a vacation because it’s so much easier to get around and communicate with people out and about.

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Strolling the beach with Baby Girl.

That said, we’ll be excited to get back out into the international scene. Traveling—and racking up passport stamps—is pretty addicting. Still, we are taking full advantage of being back in the States for a few months.

On our first weekend in town, we took a water taxi down the Intracoastal Waterway, which operates like a hop-on, hop-off bus. It took us past the waterfront homes of the rich and famous and offered stops for various attractions along the route, including the 15th Street Fisheries and Las Olas Boulevard. We took the water taxi to Las Olas Boulevard and got off to admire the stretch of cute little restaurants and shops that is so quintessentially American. There was an art festival going on, so after stopping for some wine, beer and a light lunch, we strolled past the booths and talked about the types of pieces we’d want for our future home.

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Fort Lauderdale from the water taxi.

That Sunday we planned to go to the beach, but the wind was blowing so hard, we decided to just go for a walk instead. Even just walking along the sidewalk near the beach we were blasted with bits of sand and spray from the crashing waves. Baby girl was tucked safely away in her stroller, but Matt had to hold on tight because the wind kept trying to blow her ride off course. As we walked, we were amused at, but had to admire, the spring breakers who weren’t going to let large waves and chilly wind gusts kill their vibe.

This past weekend we attended the annual Fort Lauderdale St. Patrick’s Day Festival and Parade. The main festivities were at Huizenga Plaza, which sits on the waterfront downtown. Booths hawking Irish-themed food, clothing and, of course, drinks decked the perimeter of the park and a large stage in the center was the focal point of the entertainment. We got there shortly before the parade started, so we grabbed a quick lunch of Irish bangers, cupcakes and beer.

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The parade started at noon and lasted well over an hour. We watched for a while and Baby Girl humored us because she had cold peaches to enjoy, but eventually we all had enough of the sun and went in search of shade and refreshment. We ended up strolling down along the riverfront and admiring all of the boats sailing up and down it.

Sunday we finally made it out to the beach. The weather threatened rain, but it thankfully held off. We were able to try out our new beach tent and relax to the sound of the crashing waves.

Living in Florida, it almost feels like we picked right back up where we left off in Atlanta—except this time we have a baby. As was typical of our former stateside life, our weekend are quickly booking up. Starting in May, pretty much every weekend is booked up until August when we’ll be getting ready for our next adventure. I’ll give you two hints where we are headed: we are studying Mandarin and practicing with chopsticks whenever we get a chance.

Stay tuned for more Florida adventures. If you have any tips for fun, family-friendly things to do here, please leave them in the comments!

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Babymoon in Paradise

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. I can practically hear the clock ticking as I write. Every minute, every day, each passing week we get a little closer to the arrival of our baby girl. On Monday, I officially begin the ninth month of pregnancy. I’ve read the last month can often drag, but so far the third trimester has been flying by.

It’s simultaneously exciting and scary how quickly my pregnancy apps are ticking off days. The apps are really good at reminding you how soon you’ll be trading your pink Michael Kors purse for a diaper bag—as well as providing a daily dose of hormonally charged drama from the women on the message boards. Seriously, it’s better than Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Patience, especially in the face of the unknown, is not one of my strong suits. Yet, I’m feeling pretty calm about these final few weeks. Perhaps the stresses of the past year have done some good, or maybe my busy schedule is blocking most anxieties about the delivery. Either way, I almost feel I’m a bit too Zen for approaching the birth of our first child. Does this mean I’m really unprepared? Am I in for a brutal awakening? Will I be able to handle the pain of childbirth and the pressures of motherhood? Oh there’s my little friend anxiety. I was starting to worry you left me!

Aside from doctors’ appointments and birth prep classes, my daily French class has been keeping me very occupied. I just started my second month (of which I’m only taking two weeks) and this time there are five—count them—five pregnant women in the class. It’s quite possible there’s something in the French water—or perhaps the constant barrage of aphrodisiacs, like chocolate, wine and oysters, encourage une vie d’amour.

Matt suggested we pregnant women should team up and request the class be centered around pregnancy terms—after all, we pretty much outnumber the non-pregnant students in the room. That’s one of the reasons I love that man—always thinking practically.

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Speaking of une vie d’amour, this past weekend Matt and I fled the hustle and bustle of Toulouse for a long weekend at the Côte d’Azur, a.k.a the French Riviera, a.k.a. paradise! Friday after my French class, we ate a quick lunch and then jumped in the car for an almost five-hour drive to Saint-Aygulf–a cute, little town tucked along the Mediterranean Coast almost halfway between its much more renown neighbors, Cannes and Saint-Tropez.

We booked four nights at Cap Riviera, a small, privately owned hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Since it was a late birthday/”babymoon” trip, we splurged a bit and upgraded to the suite, which included a private terrace and garden tub with jets. We could sit on lounge chairs on our deck and just stare at the beautiful, blue waters. There was also a small beach right across the street that seemed to be mostly used by locals and guests of the hotel.

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View from our balcony

The owners of Cap Riviera are a husband and wife team, who are French and Italian respectively. They were wonderful hosts and treated all of the guests more like family than a paycheck. In the mornings, we could enjoy a petite dejeuner (baguette, croissant, pain au chocolate, coffee and orange juice) on the hotel balcony and in the evening we had the option of dining on a delicious range of dishes prepared by the owners while watching the sun set from the same balcony.

Our original plan was to do nothing more than sit on the beach for three days—and on Saturday we achieved that goal. We sat on the small beach, watched the waves crash and listened to music under the cover of a borrowed beach umbrella. It was pretty amazing.

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Velella Velella (or “by-the-wind-sailors”) decorated the shoreline on the small beach.

Sunday, however, the weather dawned on dark and stormy and it wasn’t supposed to let up until 2:00 that afternoon. So, rather than spending the day squirreled away in our room watching French television, we decided to take a drive up to Cannes.

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Instead of taking the highway, we took the scenic route through the mountains lining the coast. Though rainy, the drive was beautiful. The road wound up and around heavily forested hills while steep drops at the edge of the road offered breathtaking views of the valley below.

Eventually we made our way back to civilization and soon found ourselves in the heavily commercialized (think Florida beach town) outskirts of Cannes. As we drove closer to the old city, the chain restaurants and shops gave way to an expansive coastline and turquoise water as far as the eye could see.

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We parked near the port and made our way to a restaurant to grab a bite and wait out the rest of the storm. Sure enough, at 2:00 the clouds cleared and the sun began shining like a spotlight on the town famous for its international film festival. We quickly finished our meal and began walking further into town, admiring the many beautiful yachts and sailboats docked in the port along the way.

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Close to the docks, we discovered a park where locals were coming out of the woodwork to play or watch games of Pétanque (the French version of bocce). We stopped to watch for a moment as I caught my breath from a Braxton Hicks contraction. Some of the guys practicing looked like they were pretty serious. There’s even a small grandstand at one of the courts where fans can watch the games.

Once the contraction stopped, we made our way to the Cannes tourism office, which is tucked neatly near the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. This is the main venue for the Cannes International Film Festival. On the sidewalk outside the building, you can find squares with imprints of celebrity hands in the concrete.

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Main venue for the Cannes International Film Festival.

There were numerous options for things to do in the town, but we opted for a “train ride” which took us through the main streets of the town and up Le Suquet Hill to the Château de la Castre. The views from the hill of the city and surrounding beaches and mountains were stunning. Cannes is quite picturesque, though I’m sure it can be almost a nightmare to visit during the festival or high season.

After the tour, we grabbed some chairs on the boardwalk along the beach and sat for a while watching the waves and passersby. I really wanted ice cream (it seemed like everyone was walking by us with frozen treats), but Matt made me wait until after dinner. Lucky for him we found a little shop called Niva that served absolutely delicious gelato. He lived to see another day.

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Monday dawned on much sunnier, but the winds were whipping. We decided to try our luck with another short road trip—this time to Saint-Tropez. About 45 minutes west of our hotel, we once again took the scenic route along the coast and were able to admire the many beautiful, though perhaps lesser-known, beach towns (like Sainte-Maxime) on the way to Saint-Tropez.

We weren’t sure what to expect in Saint-Tropez, but discovered a cute, little medieval town featuring a plentitude of high-end, designer shops and enough yachts in the port to transport a small army. The beauty of the mountains and water in this area make it easy to see why the French Riviera is a vacationer’s paradise—and why the rich and famous flock to its coasts.

We decided to start our day with a harbor cruise which took us out in the bay and past the homes of many celebrities who built homes here. Though extremely windy, the boat ride was surprisingly smooth and quite enjoyable.

Following the cruise, we grabbed a quick bite in town and headed towards Pampelonne Beach, which is supposed to be “the spot” to go if you are in Saint-Tropez. Club 55, a restaurant at one end of the beach, is frequented by celebrities, but there are many public areas where, at least at this time of the year, it is easy to thrown down a blanket and claim a spot for the afternoon.

Unfortunately the wind was whipping and sending blasts of sand in our face every few minutes and the water was still too cold to take a dip in (though the gem-like color of it begged me to). While I appreciated the thought of a free microdermabrasion, it eventually got a bit much and we decided to head back to our hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon listening to music and watching the water from our private deck.

As with all good things, eventually they must come to an end. Tuesday morning we packed up early and headed back to Toulouse. We were sad to say goodbye to the Côte d’Azur, but we have some exciting times coming up. The break was a perfect way to bid adieu to our party of two and prepare for sleepless, but rewarding nights ahead.

A Taste of Barcelona

It’s been a whirlwind week and a half and, because of that, I’ve fallen a bit behind on my blogging. Let me start at the beginning—two weekends ago. Matt was supposed to work that weekend, so we didn’t really make any plans. Friday night, however, he came home with great news—he was off for the next two days and Monday was his day to work the late shift, so we had a bit of extra time on the backend.

We decided it would be great to have one last beach weekend and researched where we might go. We settled on Narbonne (a town off the Mediterranean coast in south France), but when we woke up on Saturday, a different idea popped into our heads: Barcelona.

View of Barcelona from our trip in 2013.
View of Barcelona from our trip in 2013.

We first went to Barcelona in 2013. It was the departure point for our Mediterranean cruise and we booked an extra night there on the backend of the trip to explore. Barcelona is a very large and beautiful city and we immediately fell in love with it. Unfortunately one day isn’t nearly enough to see everything, so we promised we would go back someday.

Enjoying a soccer game at Camp Nou in 2013.
Enjoying a soccer game at Camp Nou in 2013.

Well, someday turned out to be that Saturday. We did some quick last minute planning and booked both a hotel and a food tour, then packed our bags and headed south to Spain.

We were fortunate on our drive and didn’t hit any traffic, so we made it to the city in about four hours. Our initial plan was to walk from our hotel to Sagrada Família and tour the inside as we didn’t have a chance to last time. So after checking in at the H10 Universitat (and downing a quick “welcome” glass of Cava), we made our way to the basilica—sweating profusely in the late August heat.


That plan turned out to be not so well thought through. By the time we got there, most of the tickets were sold out and the only ones left were too late (our food tour was booked for later that evening). So we hopped the train down to the beach to regroup over a cocktail and snack. The combination of the sand and surf, plus the adult beverage helped cool us down and think more clearly and we opted to book tickets for Sagrada Família for the next day.

We still had a food tour ahead of us, so after the cocktails we headed back to our hotel to clean up. We’d read there was a rooftop bar at the H10 Universitat, so we headed up there for one more quick cocktail before heading out to meet our tour group.

We booked our tapas tour through the Food Lover Tour, which came highly recommended on TripAdvisor. Our pintxos tour in San Sebastian set a high bar, so we hoped this one wouldn’t disappoint.

Our starting point was Casa Milà (also known as “La Pedrera” which means the stone quarry). This building was constructed between 1906 and 1912 by Antoni Gaudi. In typical Gaudi style, the building was designed in a unique and fantastical fashion that would likely be approved by Willy Wonka himself. It is an UNESCO Cultural World Heritage site and you can read about its interesting history on the building’s website.


Our tour guide, Josh, was friendly, funny and very knowledgeable about the city. As we walked he told us stories and explained why the city was designed the way it was. We were visiting bars in the Eixample district of Barcelona. This area was built with wide avenues, large blocks and buildings that conform to a grid pattern.

Our first stop was for seafood tapas at La Bodegueta Provença. We were taken to a long table in the back, where we were poured glasses of white Catalan wine and dined on small plates of anchovies, octopus and fish cakes.

IMG_3335The food was good though, admittedly, the combination of heat and my love/hate relationship with seafood meant I was happy to let everyone around me enjoy the extras.


Towards the end of the first stop, the wine and less empty bellies meant everyone was starting to open up. We learned that in our group, we had three expat couples, one couple from Texas and two guys from Russia. It ended up being a fun little group.

After the seafood was done, we made our way to Colmado—a bar specializing in its own, homemade vermut (a.k.a. vermouth). This bar was cozy (like one we’d be a regular at on Friday nights) and we sat around barrels that had been converted into tables.


Now if you’ve never had vermut (or perhaps didn’t realize you sipped it in your Manhattan), it’s an aromatized wine. Sugar, herbs, roots, flowers and spices are added to give it additional flavor, but the alcohol content is still the same as wine. We enjoyed Colmado’s vermut (which you can only buy there) over ice with a slice of lemon. It was almost like sipping on Christmas.

IMG_3352The food there was equally warm and comforting. We enjoyed roasted artichokes (which are supposed to help your liver counteract alcohol), Manchego cheese, two types of sausages and a thick and hearty meat stew with thick chunks of carrot and potato.


After this food and two rounds of vermut, the group was really starting to warm up and it was time to head to one of the top tapas restaurants in Barcelona—La Taverna del Clinic.

IMG_3355The atmosphere here was much more posh and refined and the service was impeccable. We were sat at a long table in the middle of the front of the restaurant and immediately were poured healthy glasses of a Spanish red wine.

Soon, course after course of food was brought to our table, starting with Spanish ham and tomato bread and moving on to their version of patatas bravas (which are mind blowingly good—and have won major awards), toast with sausage and quail eggs, octopus, pasta, fish with lentils and a beautiful sorbet dessert.


The wine cave at this restaurant was beautiful and stacked floor to ceiling (the ceiling towering at least ten feet above me) with bottles of wine. I was one of the lucky three who got to sneak a peek at this and the restaurant’s pristine kitchen.

IMG_3365Well, after our third meal we were all happily stuffed and ready to make our way back to the hotel to collapse in a food coma, but not before we picked up bottles of vermut to take to France with us. So we said our goodbyes to the rest of the group and Josh walked the few remaining of us back to Colmado where Matt and I stocked up on a couple bottles of their spiced wine.

As I mentioned, the tour in San Sebastian set the bar really high, but this food tour was extremely well done and, if you find yourself in Barcelona, I recommend giving it a try. We did make it to Sagrada Família the next day, but I’ll let you digest the story and photos from this post and save the basilica for a different day.

Port Leucate Through Rosé Colored Glasses

Yesterday I made a joke with a woman in a flower shop—in French. It was such a victorious feeling to be able to make the shop owner laugh in her own language. It wasn’t anything very complicated. When she asked if the plant we were buying was everything we needed, I looked around and joked, “Je voudrais tout!” (I want everything). She laughed and nodded saying it was possible, while Matt shook his head vehemently—no!! I settled for just this one pretty Pink Quill.

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After two months in France, we are starting to really feel at home (we even have our residency cards now and purchased year passes for the city bikes—VélÔToulouse), but nearly every day we still pinch ourselves about the fact that we’ve already spent two months in Europe.

This past week, Matt’s work hours have really picked up, so we aren’t sure when we’ll get to take our next adventure, but we were able to visit the beach again before he got busy.

Port Leucate, a little seaside town situated on the Mediterranean near the Corbières mountain range, was our first trip to the eastern coast of France since we’ve arrived. Traveling to Port Leucate took us past the lush fields of sunflowers in the Haute-Garonne to the vineyard-filled, desert-like valleys near the mountains. It should have taken us about two hours to get there, but we hit a lot of traffic on the way (probably from others who had the same weekend beach plans as us), so it took about an hour longer than planned.

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When we got to Port Leucate, we drove through the small port town until we found our hotel, Hotel des 2 Golfs. It was one of the last-available rooms we could find as we only realized we could go about a day before we left. The hotel was rated two stars and definitely showed its age inside, but the woman who checked us in was very sweet and our room smelled of bleach when we went in, so at least we could assume it had been cleaned.

We quickly dropped off our suitcase and donned our swimsuits so we could head out to the beach. Our host had kindly given us directions (go straight until you hit the wine shop and then turn left), but road wasn’t exactly straight and we ended up at an intersection staring confusedly at a map. We played the typical lost tourists until a kind gentleman from the north of France took pity on us and let us tag along with his family on their walk down a beautiful, flower-lined path to the beach.

IMG_9514The gentleman and his family were very friendly and we attempted small talk through a comical mishmash of French and English. Though neither group spoke the other’s language perfectly, we did have a nice conversation until we reached the wine shop and they pointed us on to beach.

Once we said our “au revoirs,” Matt and I headed for the sand and surf. We were surprised to find that the sand was very pebbly and gritty—a bit hard to walk on. The beach was busy, but fortunately not very crowded so we were able to get a great spot very close to the water and could look out to see the sailboats in the distance. We laid out our colorful blanket (purchased at Casa for just 8€—bam!!) and sat listening to the crash of the waves and drinking lemonade for a bit. We daydreamed about our future home with its vineyards and gardens and basked in the gentle breeze that danced through the air.

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Finally we decided it was time to take a dip in the Mediterranean and we walked delicately over the corse sand. The edge of the beach dropped a bit before hitting the water which we soon discovered was a bit chilly–though not nearly as cold as the water in San Sebastian. We giggled and held onto each other as the strong waves crashed against our legs and stomachs, threatening to duck us with the gently tugging current. The water was surprisingly clear and we could see all the way down to where our feet were sinking into the rough sand. Neither of us were brave enough to go all the way in, so after we were wet enough we awkwardly scrambled up the slippery slope back to our towels.

I forgot to bring the extra sunscreen, so after a couple of hours covered head-to-toe with our towels and extra clothes (we burn VERY easily), we decided to head back to town for dinner. We showered (in our tub that had neither door nor shower curtain) and dressed and headed out for a cocktail, opting to stop at a restaurant with a patio overlooking the gorgeous port. We sat for a while watching people and admiring the sailboats and small yachts in the port while we sipped the house white wine.

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The sun (and probably a low consumption of water that day) must have made the wine hit us because soon we were giggling and on the hunt for more.

Along the way to Port Leuctat, we drove through field after field of vineyards, so we decided we needed to pick up a couple of bottles to bring home. We stopped at Vignobles Cap Leucate and bought a local red (which the woman helping us kindly let us sample—probably just because she was impressed with my French) and white.

By this time, we knew we needed to grab some dinner so we walked along the boardwalk until we found a place serving tapas and pizza. We decided to start with a meat plate and bread with tomato spread and cheese. We split a carafe of rose and noshed on a delicious pizza.


Full and ready for adventure, we decided to stroll down the rest of the boardwalk. It was lined with small restaurants, ice cream shops and places to buy souvenirs. Local vendors had set up tables along the waterfront and were now hawking their glowing toys and shiny jewelry.

We found one of those claw games and Matt tried to win me a Minion toy for a euro. I guess he and everyone else playing must have been off their games because no one won anything (this is me with my shocked face).

To make up for the disappointment, we decided to go for ice cream. Nothing like a frozen treat to drown your sorrows over not winning a cheap toy. Fortunately, I knew just where to go: Le Palais Des Glaces! I’d been stalking eyeing this ice cream shop which appeared to have at least 40 different flavors and promised chantilly (an amazing French whipped cream) on top of the scoops.

All of the flavors looked so good that it was very distressing to pick, but I finally settled on two flavors and made sure to top it off with chantilly. But wait—there’s more! Into my big waffle cone, they tucked a little sugar cone brimming with hot fudge. Best. Ice Cream Shop. Ever. I’d probably return to Port Leucate again just to eat there. If you ask Matt, he’d probably tell you I’m not even joking.


We ate our ice cream overlooking the water and watching a loan jelly fish float around schools of sardines darting thorough the salty water. All around us, young families strolled and children played and we soaked in the peace and beauty of a perfect summer evening in France.

Later that night we trudged back to the hotel room which we knew would be stifling as the air conditioner seemed to drop no lower in temperature than “hot and sticky.” The only room left when we booked was a four-person room with a double bed and bunk beds and the AC was positioned directly above the bunk beds and blocking the air flow. We decided to create an air-luge with the mattress on the top bunk and angled it down so the air would flow directly on to the double bed (keep that for your next stuffy hotel hack!). It worked! It may not have been that cool, but at least we had air flowing.

Sunday morning dawned on early and sweaty, but at least we had croissants and pain au chocolat ahead of us. The breakfast provided at the hotel wasn’t bad. We downed hot coffee and baked goodies before heading out for a quick peek at the market set up every Sunday in Port Leucate.

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The Sunday market was pretty impressive. If you are looking for a good, open-air market in France this is definitely one of the biggest and most varied I’ve seen (at least in the south of France). Stall after stall provided everything you ever needed (dresses, cheese, fresh paella and, yes, even mattresses) and everything you didn’t know you wanted (mini statues from Africa and incense burners in the shape of a little man who blew the smoke out of his mouth).

With an adventure to Carcassone still ahead of us, we convinced ourselves to just look and not buy (even though there was some very tempting chocolate and sausage) and, after a quick turn around the market, we hopped in the car and set our sights on the walled city. Don’t worry, Port Leucate–we’ll be back.

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Sun, Sand and San Sebastián 

The weekend before last we discovered a gorgeous haven in Spain that we will most definitely visit again: San Sebastián (or Donostia).

This Basque city that lies on the cost of the Bay of Biscay (just 12 miles from the French border) was our (desperately needed) R&R stop on the way back to Toulouse from Pamplona. It was the first time we’ve been to the beach this summer and we really couldn’t have picked a lovelier spot.

We left Pamplona mid-morning on Sunday and arrived in San Sebastián just over an hour later. The beautiful drive between the cities took us through stunning mountains overlooking valleys dotted with farmland and lovely Spanish-style homes.

Our first impressions of San Sebastián were of old, but beautiful city buildings crowned with red, Spanish tile roofs. Then we drove around a corner and, bam! There was the skyline of a gorgeous little seaside city tucked perfectly between the mountains and Atlantic Ocean.

We drove through the narrow streets scanning for our hotel, the Pensión Gárate and, after circling the block about a half-dozen times, we finally discovered it was on the second floor of the building we kept passing. Thankfully there were two of us in the car or else we would never have found it without running into something!

Though a bit hard to find initially and though the Pensión Gárate doesn’t have its own parking garage, this quaint hotel was clean, comfortable and very close to both the beach and old town. Our room wasn’t ready when we first arrived, but by the time we parked and returned with our luggage, we could were able to get into our room, change and make a beeline to the beach.

The sun was out and a gentle breeze danced through the air. Temperatures were perfect (upper 70s/low 80s) meaning even I, with my fair, sensitive skin, could handle sitting on the beach without an umbrella or tent.

The beach was busy, but not so crowded that we couldn’t find a comfortable spot with great views of the bay. We got a couple of drinks (Brugal and diet coke for me–a throwback to our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic) and just sat soaking in the sun and beautiful scenery.

After recharging for a bit, we headed back to our hotel to dress for the highlight of our evening: a Pintxos (pronounced peen-shows) tour. Pintxos are the equivalent to tapas and are served in numerous taverns throughout San Sebastián.

We booked our tour through San Sebastián Food, a highly rated company that specializes in food tours. In addition to being a beautiful, seaside town San Sebastián is a culinary capital of the world with, according to the San Sebastián Food website, more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else on the planet. One tour with them and you’ll see why the food here is much acclaimed.

The tour was scheduled to begin from the famous Hotel Maria Cristina, which was only about a ten minute walk from where we were staying. This luxury hotel opened in 1912 and has become the choice hotel of the stars attending the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Stroll across the marble floors and you are likely walking in the footsteps of Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Mick Jagger and now, Becky Beloin.

Along the way to the hotel, we soaked in the sights of the town and beautiful river running through it.

Where the river meets the ocean.
#SanSebastianSelfie

I really should have taken photos inside the hotel as it was quite opulent and stunning, but I was more worried about making a quick bathroom break and meeting up with a couple of friends who also came down from Toulouse for the weekend and were going on the same tour. I know, I need to get my priorities in order.

Once she had our group together our guide, Ane, who was born and raised in San Sebastián (and best friends with the woman who checked us in at our hotel–small world!), headed us out to find our dinner.

Along the way she gave us interesting glimpses into the history and culture of the city, including the meaning behind this statue of a drummer. I know it’s hard to see, but he is wearing a chef’s hat. He represents the parades held during the “Tamborrada,” a festival held every year on Saint Sebastian Day (January 20). On this day people dress as cooks and soldiers and march around the city–many of them drumming. It’s a 24-hour celebration that also coincides with the beginning of Carnival, so I’m sure it’s quite a jovial experience.

This is the Brecha Market which was once a massive produce, meat and fish market. Today, it has been renovated into a modern shopping and entertainment center, but there are still many open-air markets at which to shop for fresh food and locally made products throughout the city on various days.

Our stroll took us through the heart of Old Town which was starting to fill up with hungry locals and tourists looking for Pintxos.


Finally we came to our first Pintxos stop, Goiz Argi–and not a moment too soon! I was getting really hungry and thirsty!

Pintxos for miles (or at least to the end of the bar)!

We started off with a cool glass of Gewurztraminer wine which was lightly sweet and paired perfectly with our bites from this bar.

First up: Padron Peppers and Guindillas. These salty, spicy peppers were simple but absolutely delicious. I couldn’t help but have more than one…or two…okay, I ate a bunch of them, but politely gave the rest of the folks in our tour the first right of refusal.

 The peppers were followed by brocheta de gambas (prawns) that were perfectly cooked and had a slightly spicy pepper topping.

Finally we had Mari Juli, which was salmon, green pepper and anchovy. I don’t eat much seafood (yet–Matt is working on that), but I thought this Pintxo was delicious. It was salty and tasted of the ocean, but not in an overly fishy kind of way.

Before we moved to the next bar, we got a little cultural lesson. In Pintxos bars, it is customary to throw your napkins on the floor. A bar cluttered with napkins is a sign that you’re in for a treat (and not in the “your bathroom is your best friend for the next 24 hours” kind of way).

Next stop: Urola. Here we sipped on Txakoli, a lightly sparkling, local white wine, and dined on buttery scallops in a creamy white sauce and green beans with pine nuts, a potato sauce and a flaky, white fish. Again, I absolutely loved the seafood here.

After our first two stops, we took a quick detour through Constitution Square, which used to be a bullfighting ring. The apartments surrounding the square still have numbers marking the location of each of the bullring boxes. The only fighting that goes on here today, though, is to buy or rent one of the apartments in this trendy area of Old Town.

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All that walking, of course, rejuvenated our appetites, which is good because at Bernardo Etxea, our next stop, we noshed on big plates of octopus, crab and Iberian ham. We quenched out thirst from this salty food with glasses of Cava Villarnau, a delightful sparkling white wine.


No tour would be complete without swinging by the church named in honor of the city’s namesake: Saint Sebastian. St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes because of his physical endurance. This seems appropriate for a city that has endured being besieged and burned down several times.

The church was next to Atari, our next stop and one of the hottest bars in town right now. There we cracked open bottles of Rioja, a dry red wine, and dug into a rich and tender veal cheek and foie a la plancha with a perfect, golden crust.


Our bellies were getting full and our heads were getting lighter, but we still had two more bars to go!

Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures at our next stop, Gandarias. We had a delicious Solomillo (sirloin steak) and Revuelto de Hongos (mushrooms). I passed on the mushrooms since I’m not a fan and was already pretty full, but the steak was so tasty we had to go back for more after the tour. We paired these treats with Beronia Graciano, another red wine. We also tried some of the local cider.

Our final stop was at La Vina for cheesecake and sherry. Though rather eggy and quite different from cheesecakes I’m used to in the U.S., this was a delicious desert and perfect end to an amazing tour.

Okay, the formal part of the tour was over, but we had such great tour mates that we all decided to keep the night going. A couple of hours and a few more bottles of wine later and Matt and I found our way back to our hotel, but not without stopping for ice cream and enjoying this beautiful view of the bay.