s a n • s e b a s t i á n


 In November 2015, I ran my third marathon in San Sebastian, Spain, in 4hrs and 20 minutes. I ate a very unconventional meal the night before, this is my memory of how it happened.


Once I saw the ocean, a second sense of urgency overtook. The race exhibition was my only opportunity to pick up my number (DORSAL). It was closing soon. The good people of San Sebastian's tourist office directed me to Anoeta Stadium. The permanent home of Real Sociedad soccer team was transformed to the marathon's temporary runner's carnival. I followed the blue swag bags around the stadium and after a few false starts had my pack. The goods included my chip, number, bag, commemorative poster, powerade shots and my favorite inclusion to the race pack: a juicebox of broth (CALDO). 

By this time I was legitimately starving to death. Accidentally taking the local train meant no cafeteria car. I didn't think to pack a lunch. I was looking forward to eating in San Sebastian, home to some of the best food in the world. I hadn't eaten a thing, however. As I passed the little sandwiches on the concession stand counter (PINTXOs) I wondered if they too were out there for the runners. Then I learned everywhere food was laid out like this.

When I left the stadium, I tortured my twisting stomach a bit longer by looking for some NYTimes-endorsed type of cafe to appeal to my kitschy sentiments. Giving up, I settled on a bar right by the stadium with food. I could tell by the dead pigs hanging from the ceiling (JAMON IBERICO). The man working behind the counter must have been some sort of Catholic saint. Sensing my desperation, he skipped all charades and spoke to me in a universal Spanish; "You're hungry", he said "eat this". 

It was a delicious combination of fish, egg, and mayonnaise on a baguette that had been sitting on the bar counter indefinitely (PINTXOS). I went back for more. I wasn't sure when I would pay for anything but I was happy just to take my backpack off and eat finally. I asked to use the phone to call my Airbnb host and my friend pointed to a posted WiFi (pronounced WEE-FEE) password. This place was truly alright. I took a receipt for my six-euro feast and stashed it. I wanted to remember the name in case I came back. 



s a n • s e b a s t i a n

The 7-hour local train to San Sebastian is a trip.  It is the train to Irun. About an hour outside of Donostia, the arid red clay courts of Spain turn to a lush, mountainous green.

When the moment came to jump into this scenery from the train platform, I forgot the weight of all my possessions stuffed into a tiny backpack. The setting sun gave me a familiar sense of urgency to get to the beach before the ocean's forms were covered in darkness. I stepped furiously in any direction, until, realizing my error, I overcame my shyness to ask in a painful accent, "Donde esta la playa Zurriola?".

San Sebastian follows a beautiful design around the coastline. There are three beaches. Two are placid, swimming shores separated by a wall, and the last, Zurriola, the surfing beach, lies on the other side of a  river and is exposed to rough ocean. Flanking Zurriola is the Gros neighborhood, a culture of its own within the Basque city, filled with surf shops and sunburnt pagans, both local and not. 

A black wetsuit zipped past me with a shortboard stowed on one side of his bicycle, and I felt relief. After thousands of miles, I must be in the right place.



m a d r i d

When faced with a trade-off, my first thought it how can I have it all anyway? It turns out, there are absolutely cases where you can't. When I chose to marathon on vacation, this meant I could only spend 12 jetlagged and bleary-eyed hours in Madrid before heading to the starting line. Madrid! If I retained anything from my K-12 education about the world, I knew Madrid was the capital of Spain and that Pablo Picasso painted Guernica.

Unfortunately, my stumble around the city only crossed the most obvious of monuments- here's a  run through of what I found before falling into an exhausted slumber while the light still shined through my hotel blinds.



PARQUE DE AVENIDAS (metro stop and neighborhood)
PLAZA DE TOROS DE LAS VENTAS (metro stop and bullfighting ring)
BANCO DE ESPANA (metro stop and central bank)

MADRID ATOCHA TRAIN STATION (bigger, high speed trains)

I planned a full half day of sights for Madrid, which, the city certainly merits, however, exhaustion set it and I let myself aimlessly wander in the delight of a new place. The metro system in Madrid is very easy, similar to New York and Barcelona, and many of the top tourist attractions double up as metro stops. A lazy way to knock out some "must-sees" is to see all the places with their own subway stop! Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, the colossal bullfighting arena in Madrid and quintessential Spanish monument inspired this move. It was actually the one of closest metro stops to my hotel and an accidental destination for my short time in Madrid. For my half day in Barcelona, I found Sagrada Famillia this way. I knew precious little about Gaudi until I got there, but one of my favorite moments was ascending the subway escalator on my tired marathon legs to see the delightful and grandiose four towers of the cathedral slowly come into view!