The car wound through the hills along a smooth empty Sunday afternoon motorway. In the back, gripping the handle, yet sliding across the leather seat, staring out at the blue sky, bright sun, and hilltops of grey rock and yellowing grass. Here and there, a lone stone house clung to the cliff, a wandering sheep or three grazing the garden. The driver spoke of food, food, and more food. A proud Basque, advertising his home like a verbal billboard.
San Sebastián is a quiet city of sun, sand, food, and a ferocious sea. The towering rocks flanking the bay are battered both jagged and smooth by the relentless waves. The picture perfect promenade shines white with salt and a shimmer of spray. Everywhere, pensioners sit while everyone else runs, cycles, or surfs. Anything to burn the fat of a city built on calories.
As the light fades, the chatter continues inside. A touch back from the harbour, cobbled streets and shear houses arranged in terrace touch the sky. Downstairs, the frantic bar, piled high with pintxos and flooded with tourists, marshalled by staff fluent in every language. Plate and pint balanced on a table's corner, the rounds of bread and sweet, savoury, salty toppings are consumed for a round price. 8 euro, 10 euro, 15 euro - mental arithmetic calculated from an imagined memory and the crumbs.
Lubricated by beer, wine, and cheesecake, the walk home is a stumble. The harbour and bay both black as the sky. The sound of waves crashing against rock and wire against mast the only warnings of the water. The silence is golden. The odd car, the odd bike, the odd jogger. The occasional window glows yellow, the occasional orange tip dances in the dark. Leaves crunch underfoot along the unlit pathways of the park and the calf-straining steps of the hotel stairs.
The next morning is fresh. Sunlight and cloud, rain in bursts. Trainers on, it's a length of the bay, touching opposing sculptures and slipping on the wet paving. A last drink in the church of the glutton and a final dance with the cheesecake. It's back home tomorrow. Back through those winding hills, back to rainswept England and it's mat grey clouds, back carrying memories flooded with the scents of food, wine, and scenery.
Next stop, Scotland.