I’m Tanja, 28 years old from Vienna, Austria. I’ve always traveled a lot and enjoyed exploring new places. Unfortunately having a full time job got in the way of my ‘Wanderlust’. So after five years of working for the same company I decided to take a break for one year to travel around the world and learn something new. Before going to San Sebastian, I’ve already spent 3 months at Linguaschools in Barcelona, where I started my first ever Spanish course.
Why did you decide to learn Spanish and why did you choose to learn the language during a language course abroad?
I was always fascinated with languages. After college I moved to Canada for a while to work there, which not only was a great experience it also helped me so much with improving my English. I’ve always been more of a math person, so I knew that just taking on evening courses in my hometown wouldn’t really do the trick for me. So it had to be a language course abroad.
There are many reasons why I chose Spanish, but mostly because it’s one of three most common languages in the world. I really wanted to learn something that I could use on my travels. Since I am also planning a trip to Latin America after my 6 months in Spain, I didn’t think of any other language.
What was your reason to go to San Sebastian and since when have you been here?
A while back I almost moved to San Sebastian because of a job offer. I have never been there, or heard much about the town before that. In the end I didn’t take the job and forgot all about it. In my 3 months in Barcelona with Linguaschools I had such a great time with the school and the people I’ve met there. So I wanted to stick with the school and looked into other places where Linguaschools offered Spanish courses. San Sebastian was one of them. After doing a bit more research and finding out that they do have a great surf beach there, I was sold on the idea of going to the Basque Country for 5 weeks.
How did you experience the time at the language school?
My first day at school was a bit exhausting since I had just arrived the night before and got horribly lost on my way to the school. It took a while and some locals, but in the end I found it.
The school was a bit different from the one in Barcelona, but I liked my group the moment I walked in the classroom. Most of the time we were about 10 students, which is more or less the maximum. Even though we were that many students, it always felt well balanced.
The only activity I attended was surfing. The school had a pretty sweet deal with the local Surf School. Which I would highly recommend for people who are not staying long enough to get their own board. It was usually 4-5 days a week, depending on the number of students who signed up for it. It doesn’t matter what level you are in and I never had more than 2 other people in my group, which gives the teacher enough time to focus on everyone individually. All in all I really enjoyed the school, made new friends there and really improved my Spanish.
How did you level of Spanish evolve during your stay?
I went from 0 to A2 in my 3 months in Barcelona, so I started with B1 in San Sebastian. When I arrived I was able to have conversations with people about basic things, ask for directions or recite what I did on the weekend. I still struggled a lot with my vocabulary and of course still missed basic grammar.
Now I am able to give my opinion, make suggestions and use sentiments. I also understand way more.
When I arrived in San Sebastian it was almost impossible to understand my roommate, because she spoke so fast, the weekend before I left, during a random conversation about TV Shows, I realised that I have absolutely no problem understanding what she’s saying. This and buying my first book in Spanish made me feel really confident about my progress.
Why should someone visit San Sebastian?
The beach, the food, the people. Not the weather. San Sebastian is not they biggest city, but it has so much to offer. The food for example. It’s no secret that San Sebastian has one of the best chefs in the world. But not only the restaurants, pretty much every Pintxo place knows what they are doing. The people are helpful and friendly and very polite. A thing like cat calling doesn’t exist in San Sebastian. (Which one of my teachers always jokingly said is because the Vascos are too shy, and that’s why they will die alone.)
And the beaches. There’s Playa de Concha, the bigger city beach with calm azul waters and cafes with a beautiful view. And then there is Zurriola (Playa de la Zurriola) the Surfer’s beach, where you will find people in the waters at almost any time of day. It also features the cheesiest sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Which spots are really worth to visit? – in San Sebastian and outside the city
Besides surfing at Zuriolla beach, one of my favourite things to do was walking around through the old town – Parte Vieja. That’s where the history of the city can be discovered. You can still see parts of the Town Wall and walk around at the fishing port. Urgull – the hill is a place you shouldn’t miss out, perfect for sundown – picnics. And then there is Santa Clara Island which I heard amazing things about but unfortunately never went.
Another thing I would highly recommend is a day trip to Biarritz. San Sebastian is really close to the French border and there are buses going almost hourly. One day after school, a classmate and I decided to have coffee in France, so we hopped on a bus and 40 minutes later we arrived in Biarritz. It’s a cute little town with lots of coffee shops and a beautiful beach. If you want to go on a little shopping spree just keep in mind that France is a bit more expensive then the places you find in Spain.
Although I got all confused with having to speak French all of a sudden, I was over the moon being there. While it’s so close it has a whole different vibe to it. Next time I will be heading there I will make sure to bring my surfboard though.
Going east is not the only possibility though. A friend I made at school in Barcelona and I decided to meet up in Bilbao for a prolonged weekend. The bus from San Sebastian to Bilbao takes roughly two and a half hours but there are also trains, which might be a bit faster. Bilbao is great if you have more than one or two days. We spent almost one whole day at the Guggenheim Museum exploring the Jeff Koons & the Basquiat exhibitions. It was probably my first real Museum visit after a long time and since I always admired Basquiat I was very pleased to find his work shown at the same time that I was in the city. Once again the weather was on our side so besides strolling through the city, we spent a huge amount of time picnicking, lounging in the sun and unwinding in the beautiful park areas Bilbao has to offer. Our host for the weekend recommended Casco Viejo (The old part of the city) for going out to eat. Which is not only a good place to eat, but also to do a little shopping.
Which restaurants can you recommend?
“La Madame” was my favourite place to go for brunch on weekends. They also have wonderful food during the week. They mix typical basque ingredients with classic Spanish cuisine as well as international influences. Also who doesn’t like Brunch? Then there is “vegan vegetarian km0” which we often chose after school for their lunch offer. I am not a vegetarian but went to class with a girl who was, and I remember it was always very hard to find places in San Sebastian that would serve vegetarian options.
So we were very happy when we found KM0, not only because it was so close to school but also because it didn’t have the typical basque opening hours. If you are not vegan or vegetarian you will have it pretty easy with good food there. In Party Vieja, for example, are many amazing pinxto bars. Also for the best carrot cake in town go to “Robinson Bar” in Gros.
What are your favorite places to go out in San Sebastian?
Every Thursday there is Pintxo Pote in Gros, which I always enjoyed. The bars in the area open around 6pm and serve pintxos with drinks for a bargain (mostly between 1€ – 2€). In Gros it’s not that much about the food, although I had some really good ones there. It is more about bar hoping and have a few drinks with your friends on a week night. There are also some places that changed Pintxo Pote to Pizza Pote or Burger Pote, which are a lot of fun, but as said it’s not all about the food. While the Pintxo Pote is happening in Gros there is also Gastro Pote at Mercado de San Martin in the Centro of San Sebastian. Every Thursday they transform the market area into a little concert hall surrounded by amazing food and great wine. I am not much of a party person, but I do love food and enjoy drinks with friends. So these Thursdays always been the most fun to me.