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Favorite Destination of 2014: San Sebastian, Spain

Of all the places I visited this year, one was my clear favorite: San Sebastian, Spain.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was one of those rare cities where I felt I could actually live.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

My family and I spent a few days there, on the tail end of our Spain trip.

I was so glad it worked out that way. San Sebastian definitely closed our vacation on a high note.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian is one of those rare beach towns that feels cosmopolitan.

It has historic buildings, great shops and restaurants, and a river running through it. (It reminded me a bit of Boston and Cambridge.)

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Gorgeous beaches flanked by hills make up its coastline. And the city has an active vibe that I loved: I saw so many surfers, bikers and runners.

Zurriola Beach, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian also has some of the most unique, inventive and delicious food I’ve come across during my travels. The city is Spain’s unofficial pintxos capitol—small bites served in bars, alongside txakoli, an effervescent Basque wine.

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

But more about pintxos in a few.

Hotel Okako, a small boutique, was our home base.

Hotel Okako, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The rooms were tiny, but clean, comfortable and artfully decorated. (That’s my single, below.)

Hotel Okako, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was in an ideal location, just minutes from Zurriola beach and Parte Vieja, the old town.

On our first day, one of Okako’s employees recommended Bodega Donostiarra, a restaurant just a few blocks away.

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We had a delicious lunch that included prawns and rice…

Prawns and rice, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and seafood skewers.

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was a fantastic first meal in San Seb. And so good that we actually went back two days later for more tortilla…

Tortilla, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…blood sausage…

Blood sausage, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and veal ribs.

Veal ribs, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

On our second morning in town, my mom, E and I walked along San Sebastian’s beaches…

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…to the funicular at the edge of town.

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We rode it to the top of the hill…

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and arrived at a bird’s eye view of the city.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

There was also a children’s amusement park that was closed.

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Too bad. I kind of wanted a trip through the Casa del Terror. (Muah ha ha ha.)

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We made sure to have a few hours of beach time, each day.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

One afternoon was warm and sunny—we all took advantage of it, and enjoyed long, post-lunch naps.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

But since it was early October, not every day was bikini weather. Two afternoons were chillier.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

That still worked for me—I didn’t mind bundling up to nap.

Because I needed to rest up for going pintxo bar hopping each night!

It’s hard to capture the essence and allure of pintxos in words. I didn’t really get what was so great until we actually experienced them in San Sebastián.

But I can best describe the scene like this: Imagine a number of bars in one area of town. (In San Seb, they’re mainly in Parte Vieja.) When you walk into each bar, you’re faced with some of the prettiest, most delicious-looking platters of finger food that you’ve ever seen. You can order short glasses of txakoli or beer, and tell the bartender which pieces you want from the platters. Plus, you’ll order one of their hot specialties, which is also about the size of an amuse bouche.

When you’re done eating, you’ll throw your napkins on the floor, then pay your tab. (The amount of crumpled napkins is a good indication of how good the food is.)

Then, you’ll continue from bar to bar, sampling food from each.

We did this all three nights we were in town.

Our favorite pintxo bars included:

Zeruko, a stylish, modern bar with updated takes on pintxos—each plate was so pretty and elegant!

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We tried several pintxos: octopus, blood sausage topped with egg, marinated mushrooms topped with egg.

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Borda Barri looked like a dive bar, but had a surprisingly sophisticated menu: veal cheeks, duck breast, mushroom risotto, sweetbread ravioli.

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Not surprisingly, it was crowded every time we went there. (And it was on our hit list, all three nights.)

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

At Bar Ganbera, the platters of fresh mushrooms beckoned.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We tried them grilled…

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…along with grilled prawns.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We were clearly happy with our selections.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Nestor is known for two things: tortilla and steak. To get a slice of the tortilla, you have to arrive early and put your name on a list. Same with the steak. You have to be there close to when they start serving, to get a seat at the bar or a table outside. We managed the latter.

Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

From our table, we could order txakolis through the window. (Note the pour: Basque bartenders always serve the drink a couple feet above the glass.)

Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We enjoyed each of Nestor’s specialities as they arrived. First the tortilla, which was as delicious as it was hyped up to be.

Tortilla, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The the tomato salad—fresh and delicious with lot of olive oil and flaky salt…

Tomato salad, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…followed by charred peppers…

Peppers, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and then the famous steak, also perfectly cooked and simply seasoned with more of that flaky salt.

Steak, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari Gastroteka, a hopping bar with an innovative menu, had one of my favorite pintxos: a slow cooked egg in a pea puree.

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari was in a prime location, right across from the gorgeous Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus.

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Outside of Parte Vieja, we had amazing pintxos at Bar Bergara.

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I couldn’t get enough of their tortilla or risotto.

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-crawling was some of the most fun I had with my family: Deciding which bars to try, picking out pintxos, savoring the flavor combinations in a setting that’s unlike anything in the States.

Peter, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

M&H, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-hopping, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-hopping, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

(We talked about what the scene would be like if someone transported San Sebastian’s pintxo bars to NYC: crowded. Unbearably crowded and expensive.)

I feel incredibly lucky to have shared that experience, in such an awesome city, with some of my very favorite people. My family doesn’t often take big vacations together, so I’m thrilled that our Spain trip turned out to be so wonderful.

Fam, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I’m looking forward to more memorable journeys in 2015. Here’s to many travels in the new year!

And wishing Mal, my sister, my very best friend and other half, a happy birthday—it’s her big 3-0 today!

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Finally!

hudson river

This morning, I rode the bus for an hour to get to Mal’s place, north of the city. She and Peter have an awesome apartment right near the Hudson—which has a large, private roof deck that overlooks the water.

Today was the first warm, gorgeous weekend in months. I’d come dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, but within a few minutes in the sunshine, I’d stripped down to my t-shirt and changed into shorts.

Mal and I (and later, Peter) spent the day chatting, snacking on fruit and borekas, and just enjoying being outside after a long, chilly winter. As someone who lives for hot weather, I was thrilled to be slathered in sunscreen, sweating through my clothing. But most of all, I was so happy to be spending such a gorgeous day with two of my favorite people.

On my way back into the city, I texted Mal, “Best day of the year!” It really felt like it. And it’s amazing how the little things in life can make you so happy.

Happy Mother’s Day!

meme and e at the met

My mom is awesome, as I’ve mentioned multiple times! And though the list of reasons why could fill many blog posts, this Mother’s Day, I’m thanking my mom for one thing in particular: instilling in me my love of ballet. Besides Mallory, of course, I think that’s one of the best gifts she’s ever given me.

My mom always had an affinity for dance, especially ballet. She signed me up for classes practically as soon as I could walk, and took me to see ballet performances, both nearby in Queens and “in the city” (as I called Manhattan, when I was a kid). Over the years, she always encouraged me to continue (or, at times, restart!) my own dancing, and has never missed a single one of my performances. Even today, she’s my dance buddy who I can always count on to watch any show with me.

From those first classes and performances, my mom has given me something invaluable that’s lasted my entire life: the passion for a hobby I truly love—one that brings so much joy to my life. So thank you, mom, for that!

Happy Mother’s Day! ❤

(Photo: my mom and E last Mother’s Day, at Lincoln Center, pre-NYCB performance)

Happy Birthday, Mal!!!

heather and mal

Happy birthday to my best friend in the whole world! From sending me daily cat pictures, to giving me sage advice on any problem I may have (no matter how big or small), to being the most awesome travel companion and dinner party/game night host, I couldn’t ask for a more amazing sister.

Have a wonderful day and a fantastic year, Mal! I love!! ❤

Thankful

Is it just me, or did Thanksgiving fly by?

Though the last few days were fleeting, they were filled with so many moments that reminded me how much I have to be grateful for. I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family—and ate a ton of delicious food. And last night, my parents and I attended a benefit dinner for the family of two Hurricane Sandy victims in Staten Island. Though the occasion was sad, the event garnered a great turnout; it was truly wonderful and uplifting to see how many people came together to offer their support.

But the biggest highlight, for me, was dancing in another showcase at Ailey. This time, we performed the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” from the Nutcracker—my favorite number from the ballet and a piece I’ve always wanted to dance. I’m not in holiday mode yet, but the piece was the perfect way to kick off the season. And I was thrilled—and appreciative—that so many of my friends and family came out to watch. That, alone, made my Thanksgiving! (Thank you all! <3)

The “Waltz of the Snowflakes” never gets old—I’m surprisingly not sick of it, despite hearing it hundreds of times over the past few weeks. So I’m kicking off the holidays here, too, with a clip of the Royal Ballet performing it. (Just a tad better than we did. ;)) I’m always amused at their blonde wigs!

How was your holiday? I hope you have lots to be grateful for, as well!

A Big Welcome Back to NYC!

ace hotel chalk art

About a year and a half ago, Mal and Peter moved to Maryland from NYC. I went from living and spending time with them every day to wondering what my life would be like with my two favorite people so far away. (Coincidentally, my best friend left for a six-month work trip abroad right at the same time. It felt like all my loved ones were fleeing New York at once!)

But clearly, I survived–and I feel like I became a lot more self-sufficient, too. I moved into my own apartment and found that–surprise!–I actually love living alone. I started taking more ballet classes, reconnecting with other friends, taking myself out to dinner, running, writing this blog and, as of late, going to Spanish lessons. And, of course, I made lots and lots of trips down to see Mal and Peter, especially during the summer.

And while I’ve realized that I can more than just deal with them not being in NYC, no one is happier than I am that they’re returning. I’m looking forward to weekend BBQs at their new place, late dinners out with the two of them and girly manicure and shopping trips with Mal. I’m so excited that whenever I want to see the two people who know me best, I can just hop on the train–and not take a 6-hour bus ride!

Welcome back, Mal and Peter! NY–and I–are thrilled to have you here again!

(Photo by Dana Tanamachi via Sadie and Dasie)

So Thrilled

salar de uyuni

I am beyond happy. I just found out that my two favorite people are officially moving back to New York in a few weeks!

I definitely enjoyed/reaped the benefits of Mal and Peter’s time in Maryland: having beach weekends at my “summer share,” grilling, eating lots of blue crabs. And as much as I’ll miss that, I’m elated that they’ll only be a short Metro-North ride away, as opposed to a torturous six-hour Greyhound trip.

Now that summer officially starts this weekend (summer Fridays = the beginning of the season, in my book), I’m planning to make as many weekend trips to their place as I can, before it’s time to help them pack and haul everything up north. And as for next year? I suppose we’ll have to find an actual summer share closer to NYC.

Yesterday I also found out that one of my best friends is moving to London in September. And while I’m sad about that, I’m also looking forward to meeting up with her in different European cities for weekend jaunts and vacations. New opportunities to travel are always the biggest silver linings to loved ones leaving town!

(Photo: Mal and me at the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia)