Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Slowing Down in Palma de Mallorca

I've come to realize that there is a significant difference between a trip and a vacation. A trip is what I generally associate with travel: immersing yourself in new cultures, exploring, sightseeing, getting to know locals and tasting their traditional cuisine. A vacation, on the other hand, is the very antithesis of this: devouring books on the beach, indulging on the occasional poolside cocktail, and adhering to a strict schedule of sunbathing, napping and swimming. Assuming that these are the definitions we are prescribing to, I had been taking at least two trips per month for the past two years, but I hadn't taken a real vacation since 2011.

Although travel is my greatest passion and pleasure, I'm still very much an introvert. Every so often, I crave a break from the chaos and overstimulation that come along with constant travel. However, I rarely allow myself to take these breaks considering how many cities in Europe I'm dying to explore. It's hard for me to justify a lazy beach getaway when I could be spending that limited time (and money) traipsing through a bustling capital or charming countryside village.

Last spring I found myself getting positively burnt out. With little recovery time in between trips, I felt physically exhausted and emotionally drained. The pressure of balancing teaching, travel, blogging and friend-time (while also trying to figure out my life plan) absolutely sucked me dry. I needed to recharge my batteries, and a lazy beach vacation sounded like just the cure. So when my mom came to visit me in June, we fled to Palma de Mallorca for a desperately needed escape.

I checked myself into that resort with no intention of every leaving the hotel except for the occasional meal. I slept in every morning, had multiple mimosas at brunch, spent my days reading books on the beach and my nights finishing books in my cozy bathrobe. I had to be coerced into sightseeing. I half-heartedly researched where to find gluten-free traditional Majorcan dishes, and then I gave up entirely. I failed to immerse myself. I went against every travel value that I thought I had... and it felt awesome.

I know it sounds somewhat blasphemous for a "travel blogger" to endorse taking a break from travel, but doing so allowed me to stay sane. Caught up in the unrealistic ideals of "seeing as much as possible", I was denying myself of the leisure that I truly craved. The introvert in me begged for a break from travel's perpetual overstimulation. In order to reenergize, I had to take a breather and just sit still for a while.

Taking a real vacation (and a rather shameless break from my usual travel norms) taught me the value of balance. I had been trying to keep up with a pace that simply doesn't come natural to me, and I needed to learn how to incorporate down time abroad.

That said, I don't think I could ever be fulfilled by exclusively traveling in this manner. (I mean, I love chocolate cake, but I wouldn't want to eat chocolate cake for every meal, you know?) I still crave authenticity and adventure when I travel, but it doesn't make sense to confine myself to one specific travel style when I know too much can easily drain me. Now that I understand my needs better, I realize that a little R&R can go a long way. 

My only celebrated excuse to leave the beach: fresh burrata and mango gazpacho from Ombu

Ombu's "osmotized" pineapple with coconut cream - aka the best dessert I've had in Spain

I know I won't always have the sufficient time or funds to indulge on holidays like this very often, but now that I remember the value of true vacation, I plan on being better about listening to my needs and letting go. As it turns out, relaxation is not by any means overrated. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is San Sebastián My New Favorite City in Spain?

Is San Sebastián My New Favorite City in Spain? | adelanteblog.com

Aside from Madrid, Seville has always been my top contender for the title of "my favorite city in Spain". With colorful traditions, striking architecture and delectable tapas, I thought no other Spanish city could compete with the Andalusian capital. That is, until I ventured to Basque Country.

San Sebastián (known as Donostia by the Basques) completely blew me away with its spectacular scenery, friendly locals and phenomenal gastronomy. I had always heard of how magical Basque Country was, but I had to experience it for myself to truly believe it. Despite the long journey and seemingly unpredictable weather, I immediately knew I was hooked.

Once a getaway for royals and Europe's elite, this sparkling pearl on the Bay of Biscay has elegantly preserved its Belle Epoque charms and timeless majesty. From the narrow streets lined with pintxo bars in the Parte Vieja (Old Town) to the shimmering expanses of Playa de la Concha, San Sebastián's enchantments are nothing short of sublime.

I could devote the rest of this post to San Sebastián's incredible gastronomy, but I already did that. So I'll leave it at this: Spain's king of cuisine is highly exalted for a reason. San Sebastián's divine array of pintxos, which are tapas held together with toothpicks or skewers, make bar hopping in the Parte Vieja a mouthwatering feast for the senses.

If you're a foodie keen on sightseeing through your tastebuds, Basque Country is a destination that's not to be missed. Of all of the cities I've eaten my way through, San Sebastián takes home the gold medal for the most memorable dining experience.

Fermin Calbeton Kalea, one of the main streets for pintxos hopping

Colorful pintxos at Zeruko

If San Sebastián isn't on your bucket list, I recommend adding it to the top immediately. San Sebastián effortlessly enraptured me with its unassuming beauty and elegance, and I can't imagine fully experiencing Spain without getting to know Basque Country's most precious gem.

Since Seville still holds such a special place in my heart, I think it's fair to say that Seville and San Sebastián are tied for my favorite city in Spain. 

My San Sebastián Picks:
Most unique pintxos: Zeruko
Best bet for gluten-free pintxos: Taberna Gandarías
Most memorable experience: A food tour with San Sebastián Food
Favorite activity (besides eating): Strolling along Playa de la Concha
Best Views: Monte Igeldo and Monte Urgull

Have you ever experienced the magic of San Sebastián?
What's your favorite place in Spain?