7 Quick Takes: San Sebastián With Kids

It has been another crazy week. There has been a lot of controversy on my Facebook feed as of late, and I even went so far as to write an entire post in response to what I have been reading.

Then I just wasn’t sure if it was the right tone, so I decided to throw it into my drafts folder and pull it out when I’ve had more time to think about it.

Any who,  I’ve decided to keep it light this week and post something very non-controversial.  It just seems like the perfect time for it.

How about 7 Quick Takes on San Sebastián with kids?

Before I begin, though, I have to say that anytime you travel anywhere with family, be  prepared to makes some sacrifices.  That’s my first word of advice.

You may have noticed that traveling is a passion that I share with John.  It’s the reason why we have chairs that look like this in our house:

Every year we ask ourselves, do we fix this chair or take a family trip? Family trips always win out.

It’s also the reason why three days out of the year our power goes out, and we need to live like pioneers of old.

Just last year, we asked ourselves, do we finally get a generator — or do we go to Fatima for the 100th Anniversary?  Yep, Fatima won out.  And wouldn’t you know it, we soon spent three days heating our house by fire and dreaming of days of old.

Gotta say, it was worth the sacrifice.

I share that because any time I write about our travels, I want to make it clear that we are a family on a relatively tight budget.  Our choice to travel means we make some other sacrifices throughout the year.

Once we’ve make the decision to travel anywhere, I peruse the internet for travel posts written by moms and dads who are crazy enough to take their kids to far off places.  I book early to get the best deals and find places that will help to keep within our budget.

It must be said that traveling with six kids isn’t always easy, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Family adventures also don’t require trips across oceans or to far off places — it just requires you and your kids and a destination — so don’t be afraid to take the plunge.

San Sebastian was one of the places that had very few family posts — so I figured I’d share our tips for visiting San Sebastián with kids.  Maybe somebody out there is trying to decide about their own travels.  I hope this post gives you some good ideas you can adapt to your own family adventures.


Go For a Few Hikes

Tiring our kids out is the name of the game when you’re traveling.  The more walking we can do, the better.  When traveling to San Sebastián there are two amazing places that I would recommend for a family hike.

First, I would recommend that you hike up to the old fort overlooking the main beach of San Sebastián.  It has really lovely views overlooking the city.

It also has a huge statue of Jesus, reminiscent of Rio, which seems to be keeping watch over the city.  Would that we all had statues like this one overlooking our own towns and villages.

Nice views up top
Don’t forget to say “hi” to Jesus when you make it to the top.

This easy hike is great way to blow off some steam and get your kids ready to sit still in a restaurant.  I highly recommend.

The second hike I would recommend is much longer, but absolutely amazing.  It follows the ancient pilgrim route of the Camino de Santiago.  I wrote all about our experience here.

This was hands-down one of the best hikes I’ve ever gone on with my kids and none of us will soon forget it.  In fact, it has made us all dream of the day we can return and hopefully finish the Camino as a family.

Looking out over the beauty that surrounded us — it was restorative.
Beautiful views
One day, we’ll be back to finish the Camino.


Make Some Friends

Who says homeschoolers don’t know how to make friends?

Our first friend in San Sebastián.

Okay, we actually made a few more friends than just Pinocchio.  Although the people of San Sebastian weren’t as quick to open their hearts to outsiders as — say, the Italians were — once they had a little time to get to know us, they quickly overwhelmed us with their kindness and enthusiasm.

Honestly, as an introvert, I can respect their reserved approach to outsiders.

Another great way to make friends with locals is by visiting the supermarkets.  In order to keep our food budget down, we usually try to eat two meals in — and that means we spent a good bit of time in a tiny little supermarket in the middle of town.

After a few days, the owners knew us by sight (we’re kind of hard to miss) and we developed a nice little rapport with them.  I can appreciate the allure of living in a little city and spending time with the locals on a regular basis.  Maybe one day.

Beyond making new friends, one of the big positives of traveling as a family is the ways that I have seen my kids grow closer to each other.  These are the moments that I try to remember, and I pray that my kids remember them as well.

Just in case they don’t remember them, I always love it when I can capture a moment like this one.

This little picture here just might be the number one reason we’ve made the choice to travel as a family.


Nestle in Between the Pyrenees and the Atlantic Ocean

San Sebastián is nestled in between the Atlantic and the Pyrenees — an ideallic setting in many ways.  The temperature was more temperate and the climate made for some of the best food in Spain.  It was also very easy city to navigate, owing to the fact that it suffered a devastating fire years ago, and a new city plan was established at the time.

You have mountains and clean city streets and lovely beaches to explore. It has a lot to offer.

Views of the foothills of Pyrenees.
The Old Church of Mary of the Chorus looks down to the new Basilica established in more recent years.
Apparently everybody had the same idea.:(
Zurriola beach was a lot less crowded and a great place to watch the surfers hit the waves.


Really Good Food

The Basque people really pride themselves on their local wines, their beef and the freshest seafood available.

It is a tradition to go from Pintxos bar to Pintxos bar and sample the various pintxos (the Basque version of Spanish Tapas). The  creativity and deliciousness of these little pintxos is most definitely an experience you should not miss.  The tradition is to have a glass of wine and some Pintxos, and then off to the next bar to do it all over again.

When we first arrived, we chose a cute little spot to eat in.  The owner of the restaurant told us we were likely to have a problem finding a seat for eight people in most of the restaurants in town.

Fortunately for us, we managed to squish our family of eight into seating for 4 on various occasions, so it all worked out in the end.  If you’re a big family, just be willing to get really close to each other, and you’ll be just fine.

Be prepared for people to stare at you, but stares quickly turned to smiles.  All in all, I’d say eating out is a must to really experience what this city has to offer.

Amazingly fresh and delicious seafood.
Pintxos (Basque version of Spanish Tapas) was the perfect size for a 5 year old.  For a few bucks they were satisfied.
So many Pintxos Bars, so little time.
Their famous wine, Txakoli, super crisp and delicious. The owner of the supermarket told us we must try it — it was really lovely.
That Iberian Ham was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  It is only made in Northern Spain and Portugal.  Try it.


Instill Peace Among Nations

There was a place we visited a few times, and it was for one reason:  their absolutely amazing cheesecake.  Their cheesecake was unlike any other cheesecake I’ve ever tasted: so light, so creamy, and so delicious.  If you make it to San Sebastian, you just go to Bar Viña and try their cheesecake.  It was amazing.

Finding the Bar-Restaurante La Viña for the first time, close to St. Vincent’s Church.

The first day that we went there, the barmen seemed a little annoyed with us.  There we were fulfilling every stereo type of the loud Americans, and you could feel their dissaproval.

The fact that we stuffed our family of eight around a table for four didn’t necessarily help either — I’m guessing we seemed a bit barbaric to them.  Honestly, I don’t blame them.

But then we came back a second day, and a funny thing happened.  We sat ourselves around a table for four and laughed and enjoyed our usual 4 servings of cheesecake (every serving had two pieces!).

We were still the same loud family — that’s not going to change.  🙁 But as we were leaving, I walked up to the barman to complement him on the cheesecake.  I thanked them in my broken Spanish, and then I began to leave.

All of a sudden, the barman asked me to wait outside.  In a few minutes, the owner of the Bar Viña, his name was Santiago,  came outside, thanked me for my kind words, and presented me a DVD of all of his recipes — including the cheesecake!

That, in a nutshell, is my experience of the Basque people — slow to warm up, but so kind and loving once you give them a chance.

Who would have thought this cheesecake would instill peace between nations…

You know, that’s a great reminder to be willing to give people a second chance, especially when first impressions aren’t the best.  Both of us were a bit suspicious of the other and a simple gesture of courtesy changed everything.  Kind of beautiful, when you think about it.


Experience the Beautiful Faith of the Basque People

There weren’t many people at mass during the week, but the churches were packed on Sunday.  I recommend you visit the old churches that survived the famous fire in Old Town, San Sebastián.

The Church of Mary of the Chorus (with the St. Sebastian statue in front) and St. Vincents are really worth a visit.  They are beautiful old churches and their sacred art is uniquely Basque in its feel.

I always love going to a quiet daily Mass — and there are many throughout the day in San Sebastián — so don’t miss those opportunities to get to know the “locals” and other Catholics from around the world.

Honestly, whenever I begin to feel even a little homesick or weary, some time spent in a local Church makes me feel at home again.  It’s my secret to feeling at home wherever you are in the world.

St. Vincent’s
Unique Basque feel to their religious art.
In so many ways, this little church helped restore hope to my heart.
Getting ready for a wedding.
So many weddings in San Sebastián


Saying Goodbye

Well, all good things must come to an end.  The number one reason why we chose to visit San Sebastián was to walk a piece of the Camino de Santiago.

Honestly, I would say our experience of that little strip of the Camino alone made it well worth a visit.  Beyond that, though, there is so much to see and do in this city.  It comes alive at night with street performers and families and crowds of people from around the world.

All in all, I would say it was a great place to spend a few days.  We are most definitely grateful for our time in San Sebastián, Spain.

And the sun set on our last day in San Sebastián

Have a great weekend.

Linking up with Kelly.

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2 thoughts on “7 Quick Takes: San Sebastián With Kids

  1. After going to Ireland enough times you realize many Irish people love the basque region. There is a reason the Irish get along so well with the Basque people, love of food, good drink, deep routed independent spirits and a bit of a fierceness in the people. I hope one day to visit. You make a good case why one should! See you next week, love Megan

    1. Megan, especially around the Camino, it was uncanny how much it reminded me of Ireland. Also you’ll find similar coloring in a lot of people from this region as well. Perhaps it’s true that some of our relatives were the dark Irish that had Spanish roots. Hmm… Looking forward to next week!

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