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A day trip to San Sebastian

On Saturday we decided to leave Biarritz for the day in search of some sunshine and tapas, just over the border from France into Spain.  You can drive to the centre of San Sebastian in under an hour from Biarritz, so it's a fun day trip to make if you're looking to experience a different culture than that found in the south of France (or practice your Spanish).  Plus it was another 'stamp in the passport' for the now somewhat well travelled Bodhi dog!

We set off after breakfast, and drove through a pretty heavy onslaught of rain, wondering if blue skies would await us in Spain.  It seemed such a novelty to be able to drive to another country, especially in our own van and with the dog.  After a slightly stressful five minutes driving around looking for parking, we found an underground car park with an exit right onto San Sebastian's most famous beach, La Concha.

Although the skies looked significantly moody in the distance, it was worth the drive just to feel sunshine on our skin and take our shoes off to walk on the sand.  A handful of people were already laying out towels on the beach, strolling along the shore or paddling in the sea (but I imagine that this beach gets very busy at the height of the tourist season).

After a walk along the beach, we then walked along to the peninsula to the right of the beach - past the Alderdi Eder Parkea, a beautiful park close to the beach with lots of benches and views over the beach.  It felt just perfect to stroll along in the sunshine, past a man playing the trumpet in the shade of a tamarind tree, with a Belle Epoque carousel gently twirling around.  Behind us was the City Hall - not a landmark in itself but a beautiful old building that used to be the city's Gran Casino.  We also took in the views of the Victoria Eugenia Theatre, which hosts the International Film Festival.

I'm sorry that I don't have any photos to add to the views I'm describing - I was just enjoying strolling along, taking in the sights and being a tourist.  As we rounded the corner to see the beautiful marina (Puerto Deportivo) - with the boats bobbing and the pretty buildings across the harbour - we felt the first drop of rain.  We would have liked to walk along to the Aquarium (though we wouldn't have been able to go in with Bodhi), but we decided to abandon that plan for another day, and head for an early lunch.

We wandered straight into the narrow streets and alleys that make up the Parte Vieja (the old town) in San Sebastian.  A real maze of food and culture, the old town is nestled around several of the major landmarks, such as the Main Square and two beautiful old churches (we walked past the Iglesias De Santa Maria, where there were street performers and people gathered having lunch on the steps - very pretty).  The streets are lined with pintxos bars (a Basque version of tapas) and souvenir shops, and have a real sense of ambience and a great atmosphere. Most of the bars are centred around the Calle de 31 de Agosto and you can spot the best ones by the queues forming outside before they open.  Pintxo bars are easily spotted by their counters, which are loaded with plates of small bites, often on top of slices of baguette (well it is only just over the border from France, after all).

It started to really hammer it down with rain when we were walking around, so we dived into the nearest bar, the Bar Restaurante Munto.  We grabbed a table and eagerly eyed the food displayed along the counter-top.  To try the pintxos, you ask the barman for a plate, load it up with whatever you'd like to try (we found that each item cost around €2 or €3) and then you hand the plate back to the barman who will take away anything that needs heating up.  We had a real spread of items, from goats cheese and honey on a small slice of bread, mozzarella and pesto, sardines, sausages (which were totally delicious) and prawns with a type of sauerkraut.  Of course it had to be washed down with a glass of the house wine - I had white and Tom had red and both were really, really nice.  In total, for about six or seven dishes and two glasses of wine we paid about €19, which is about £14.

Each bar often has a speciality and if you can muster up enough Spanish to ask, then it's good to find out which dishes they recommend.  The one we visited had lots of fish, though the dried ham hanging from the ceiling also meant there were also cured meats on offer.  The barman was friendly and helpful and there were clearly lots of locals in there enjoying a light lunch and a pint of beer.

If it feels like a bit of a minefield (and there really are what felt like hundreds of these little bars), you can go on a walking tour of the Parte Vieja and be guided by the locals and try the specialities in each place (try San Sebastian Pintxos Tours).  I think that's definitely something we would do if we came back, particularly as we loved our Porto food tour so much (what can I say, we love food!)

After leaving the bar, we did some more exploring and strolling around, but it had started to get quite chilly and the rain wasn't showing any sign of stopping, so we decided to go for a last stroll along the beach and then head back to Biarritz.

I'd definitely like to head back to San Sebastian again one day when the weather is a bit nicer - I think a day of strolling around in the sunshine, eating pintxos and drinking wine would be pretty special!  PS - This is Bodhi trying to get out of the sea after Tom took him for a paddle to cool off.  He really doesn't like the water!

Have you visited San Sebastian before? What did we miss?

Life is a microwaved croque monsieur

The long curtain that hangs between the patio door and our little room in the B&B in Biarritz is fluttering in the afternoon breeze, the shutters gently rattling again the wall outside.  I keep getting up from my seat to gaze across the gardens and out to the sea in the distance just to look at the vague hint of sunshine breaking through the clouds.  I close my eyes and breathe in the fresh air with gratitude - thankful because it is not raining and today is the first day in the week that we've been on holiday so far that the morning hasn't been marred by showers or biblical downpours.  You'd think we would be outside but Tom is asleep in bed after being quite unwell yesterday (his 30th birthday) and is sleeping it off.  Bodhi dog stares longingly at me from his place half-asleep on the bed, wondering when he'll be taken for a walk.  I have just spent the last five minutes attempting to microwave a pre-packaged Croque Monsieur from the supermarket and I'm now gulping down the lukewarm ham and melted cheese like it's the first thing I've eaten in weeks - spurred on by a mix of boredom and needing something to soak up the bottle of rosé I sank last night.  Last night, last night - running through the streets of Biarritz in sodden sandals, the wind snapping my umbrella and leaving me with no protection from the torrential downpour.  The streets running with rivers of water, the most committed of smokers outside bars, huddling under canopies and watching the smoke waft up towards the turgid rainclouds.  It seems like a distant memory now - the way that alcohol and darkness blurs everything at the edges, and morning comes to renew and wash away.

The point is, I think, that life never really is what you plan it to be.  Life is a half-cooked microwaved croque monsieur when you were anticipating steak frites on the veranda (I think that's the weirdest sentence I've ever written).  Life is an early bedtime on your birthday because you don't feel well.  Life is a pair of sandals drying on the decking, soaked through and dirty.  Life is a week of rain on holiday.  Life is choosing a restaurant, walking for 25 minutes and finding out it is closed.  Sometimes life just feels like a series of things that never quite seem to go to plan.  Being the control freak that I am, I find this hard to digest (like the soggy croque monsieur).  One of the phrases I find myself most often uttering, usually whilst shaking my head and raising my hands in despair is, "Why does nothing ever go right?" or "Why is nothing ever simple?" Of course what I really mean by this is, why do thinks often not go according my plan? Why has the image in my head of how this would go, and what this would look like, not been realised?

I think in a culture of carefully tended and aesthetically created social media profiles, it's easy to strive for - and feel hopeful for - perfection and ease in all areas of your life. I've realised recently that whenever I feel an unhappiness with life it's often due to my inability to control the outcomes in a way that meets my expectations of what it should look like, on both a granular level and a big picture level. And I have high expectations. This holiday for example - I imagined lazing on the beach in Biarritz with a cold cider and a book, or lounging on the pool deck of the B&B, earning a golden tan and a freckled nose. In the evening I would don a floaty dress and wedges and we would sashay down into the town and drink red wine and eat Brie whilst a man on the corner played an accordion and we marvelled at just how wonderful France was and vowed to move here in a heartbeat. The car journeys to each hotel or campsite would be punctuated by stops at the beach and then hopping back into the van with sandy feet, wrapped in towels and eager for the next destination. At campsites we would set up the table outside the van with views of the ocean and drink wine long into the night, waking in the morning for a swim in the pool and long walks along the beach. I count down to these moments for months, I dream of sunburned noses and condensation on bottles of Normandy cider.

Here is the story of my holiday so far.  Biblical, torrential rain every single day.  Rain in Quiberon, rain in Ile De Ré, rain in Biarritz, rain in the Dordogne. My holiday wardrobe has been my raincoat, jeans and trainers. I brought five bikinis and they sit crumpled and buried at the bottom of my bag. My umbrella broke in the wind. Our journeys have involved watching rain stream down the windscreen, the wipers working overdrive. On the one day of beautiful sunshine in Capbreton I sat on the beach with Bodhi watching Tom surf. A woman shouted at Bodhi and swiped at him as he ran past her, and he quickly got too hot and had to come back to the van for shade. We tried to re-book the ferry tickets to come home earlier but we weren't able to. And oh how I have whinged and whined and riled against the sheer unfairness of it all. This wasn't supposed to be what our holiday would be like. But there is no such thing as supposed, is there? If there is a grand plan or a higher being, it probably isn't concerned with whether I get to wear my new ASOS bikini teamed with the perfect red nail varnish I picked up in Sephora.  And so - if life isn't a perfectly curated Instagram feed, if life is, instead, a microwaved Croque Monsieur or a broken umbrella, or a wet holiday, or an injury in the warm up of the football game, then how can I stop being so bloody disappointed and whingey all the time?

Here's a thing - maybe it's enough just to go to France. To experience the world (even in the rain). Maybe the moments that really matter are the messy, unexpected ones that make you grateful and help you grow.  I started writing this blog post a week into our holiday when we were in Biarritz, and I thought I couldn't take another day of rain.  We're now ten days in and I finished writing this in the Notes app as we drove through the pouring rain towards our penultimate stop.  It's gutting, it's disappointing but it's just the way it goes.  France is pretty beautiful even in the rain, and there will be other holidays, other bikinis, other beach days and other opportunities to get a freckled nose.  And that's worth being grateful for.

A Sephora France haul

Sephora France haul

I'm currently in Biarritz in France, and I wish I could say I'm laid on the decking next to the pool where we're staying but unfortunately it has literally been torrentially raining since the moment we got to France (almost a week ago).  I've probably whinged just about enough about the weather on twitter, instagram and snapchat, so I won't spend too much time on here waxing lyrical about how gutted I am, and how this holiday was supposed to be about al fresco drinking of wine and lolling in the sunshine, and not watching Netflix marathons in the van and watching the rain fall outside.... On the plus side we've discovered Peaky Blinders which I'm really enjoying, AND I made Tom detour a few miles off the autoroute towards a Sephora, so yesterday I got to pick up a few things which I thought I'd share here in case anyone else loves Sephora as much as I do...

Sephora Haul Sephora Haul

sephora avocado hand mask, $6 // £4.20 | sephora express dry nail drying spray,  €8.50 // £6.70 | sephora professional nail file {not on website} - similar >> nail buffer block
sephora highlight lowlight face contour duo, $20 // £14  | sephora color hit nail polish in 'dinner for two' {not on website} €3.90 // £3.10 | sephora nail varnish corrector pen {not on sephora US website}, €7.95 // £6.30
sephora bronze powder, $17 // £12 | sephora must have angled liner brush, $14 // £9.90

As you can probably guess from this selection of products, one of the things I decided I might do whilst we're stuck in the B&B is give myself a bit of a manicure, so I bought a nail file, nail varnish and also two products I'm very intrigued about - a corrector pen for tidying up mistakes (I make A LOT of mistakes when doing my nails, Tom always ends up in hysterics at just how terrible I am) and a quick drying spray to stop me waiting 30 seconds, hoping it's dry and then smudging it all over the TV remote.  I already use Seche Vite but I've found that lately my nail varnish is chipping a lot or peeling off, so I thought I'd try something different - I will report back when I've used this as to how effective it is (fingers crossed!)

I also can't wait to try the contouring stick - I was immediately drawn to this as I'm about as good at contouring as I am at painting my nails, so I'm hoping this will make it easy; it gets really good reviews on the Sephora website and there's a few YouTube tutorials on how to use it, so hopefully I can master it as I really envy people who can contour like a boss.

You can order from the Sephora US site and pay £6 shipping if you spend over £75 which I can see myself doing when I get home as there's a few things I have my eye on that they didn't have in the Sephora here (Kat Von D makeup I'm looking at you). No doubt I'll also be going to some French pharmacies whilst we're here so let me know if there's anything you recommend I grab - I already need to get more Caudalie Beauty Elixir and Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse but I'm sure I'll find a reason to treat myself to a few more bits!

Have you shopped at Sephora recently?