My City Picks: Things to do in San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian

I pride myself on my organization when travelling.  I usually buy the books, read the tips, and download the maps prior to arriving in any new city or country.  However, when I spent five days in San Sebastian, Spain as part of a three-week backpacking trip, I went in a little more “blind” than usual.  Having done little besides look up pictures of the beach, I stepped out of the car in San Sebastian with few plans or expectations.  Fortunately, not having a laundry list of things to see and do made for a creative stay.  We were able to wander  as we pleased (San Sebastian is totally walkable), finding things to do along the way.  We hit most of the popular spots, and I’ve summarized my list of to-do’s in this charming coastal town.


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Monte Urgull

San Sebastian sits on a little bay, and one side of the bay’s crest ends in Monte Urgull, a hikable hill with amazing views.  The paths circulate the hill in gentle slopes, so the hike to the top isn’t too rigorous and can be done fairly quickly (about an hour), depending on how many detours you take.  At the top, you’ll find a  small museum, religious statue, and breathtaking views of the whole bay.  There is also a little library tucked in the hill, which prompted my friend and I to wonder if the workers have to hike up to work each day!

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Buen Pastor Cathedral

One of the central spots in San Sebastian’s bustling “old district” is Buen Pastor Cathedral, the top of which extends high into the sunny sky.  The building itself is impressive from the outside, and the little plaza on which it sits is a fun place to people watch while enjoying gelato from a nearby shop.


San Sebastian 6Playa de la Concha

Easily the most popular attraction, the central beach (La Concha Beach) is clean and fun.  We actually didn’t spend too much time lounging here, though I would have willingly spent several days sunning and people watching had we been staying in San Sebastian for longer.  The crest-shaped beach is the perfect length for a morning walk, if that floats your boat.  On some summer nights, the beach plays host to an international fireworks competition.  We thoroughly enjoyed wandering down to the sand each evening to stake out a spot for that night’s show.  Afterward, I highly recommend making your way to an ice cream shop (the name of which I sadly cannot find) on the western side of the bay, where I enjoyed the best dark chocolate ice cream of my life.  Not. Kidding.  Walk about a block or two southwest on Matia Kalea.  The shop will be on your right.


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 Pasteleria Oiartzun

This busy pastry/gelato shop dishes out some delectable sweets!  Stop here for an indulgent breakfast, quick snack, dessert, or all of the above.  Expect to wait for a seat if you’re looking to leisurely enjoy your treats.  The place gets crowded during peak months.

Find Oiartzun’s website here.



Spring Forward; My City Picks: Summer in Madison, WI


Today’s warmth has me eager for the consistent sunny weather that is soon to come!  Being able to sit outside, drive with the windows down, grill vegetables (without freezing), and wear dresses (sans tights!) are aspects of spring and summer that become ritual come July, but in these first few weeks of sun, they seem like true miracles.  We melt, and I love it.

As we gear up summer, I look forward to some of my favorite seasonal activities in Madison, Wisconsin.  My summer picks are listed below.


My City Picks: Summer in Madison, WI

Dane County Farmers Market on the Square**–Head to the Capitol Square on Saturday mornings for a huge selection of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, plants, jams, honey, meats, pasta, cheeses, and more.  My favorites?  Healthy scones from Chris & Lori’s Bakehouse, fresh local pasta from RP Pasta, any organic greens, and basil.  Lots and lots of basil.

Eating outside at Café Porta Alba–Enjoy one of their delicious, authentic Neopolitan pizzas at an outdoor table after shopping the stores at Hilldale Mall.  For dessert, head up to the rooftop patio at Sundance 608 restaurant across the street.


My regular order at Café Porta Alba: insalate emiliana followed by pizza marinara with added basil and parmagiano shavings.

Concerts on the Square–Another activity on Captiol Square, the weekly outdoor concerts happen on Wednesday evenings from June through July.  Pack food (anything goes, but some folks get pretty elaborate!) and arrive early to lay a blanket down, as the seemingly spacious lawns fill quickly with picnickers.

**For a post-market breakfast, grab a table at the bustling Marigold Kitchen on Pinckney Street.  Their rosemary potatoes are to die for.


Happy Easter.  And Happy Spring.




My City Picks: Casual Eats in Rome, Italy


I spent one month in Rome, where I ate a lot of authentic Italian food.  And some not-so-authentic “Italian” food.  Of the countless restaurants and cafes I visited, those that I recommend are included in this first of (hopefully many) “My City Picks” posts.


Located just steps away from Rome’s Cipro metro stop, this tiny (but nice) pizza nook doesn’t appear like anything special from the outside.  It has no tables, and patrons eat standing at the restaurant’s outdoor wooden counter or sitting on a nearby bench.  Inside, though, you’ll find a unique array of creative pizza variations on a long counter, waiting to be sliced up at your request.  I tried three different vegetarian variations (a simple but delicious marinara and herb, a surprising pumpkin, cauliflower, & herb combo, and a goat cheese, onion, & green bean slice).  Each kind was a taste of food heaven.  Make the metro journey and be adventurous with your pizza order.  You’ll thank me. ImageImage


My friends and I joke that we will simply never be cool enough for Panella.  This upmarket bakery/café/gourmet food store specializes in delectable pastries, creamy lattes, and making young Americans feel intimidated.  It is loud and full of bustling Italians all morning and afternoon, but the atmosphere was cool enough and the food tasty (and pretty) enough to entice us to return again and again.  And again.  Most items are priced by weight, so expect to end up paying more than you had hoped for that simple piece of veggie flatbread.  If the weather is nice, sit outside and pretend to be a chic local, as we tried (and miserably failed) to do.



Touristy?  Yes.  Worth it anyway?  Absolutely.  This famous gelateria near the Pantheon scoops up my favorite gelato in Rome.  I made about five or six stops here during my four-week stay and would’ve made more had my hotel been closer.  The array of flavors may appear overwhelming, but I’m sure everything is delicious, as I never heard anything but rave reviews of Giolitti’s flavors.  My favorite combination was dark chocolate and hazelnut.  When you order your flavors, watch out for the amusing worker who tries to hand you your cone through the glass.  You’ll find yourself slamming your hand into the transparent barrier in an eager effort to grab your frozen treat.  I fell for it once and won’t do it again.  You’ve been warned.

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