Ah, San Sebastian! The beaches are pristine, the water is clear, and the mountains are green. I spent a very relaxing few days here recovering from my operatic adventure. I cruised on the ocean. I sat on the beach. I read my book. I ate lots of pintxos. The only sightseeing I did (on a rainy day) was visit the Museo San Telmo. It has very cool architecture—a daring, modern add-on to an old convent. It was also hosting an exhibit about the Italian filmmaker Pasolini. Among (many) other accomplishments, he directed Maria Callas is her only non-singing film role!
Combs of the Winds
Combs of the Winds
People fishing on Santa Clara Island
The proprietor ensured me that carousels are for adults, too
After getting through a frantic week of opera rehearsals and performances in Burgos (blog post coming soon), I rewarded myself with a trip to San Sebastian. This resort city on the northern coast of Spain is famous not only for its beautiful beaches but also for its excellent food at all levels, from pintxos (Basque tapas) to Michelin-starred restaurants. I splurged last night by getting the tasting menu at Bodegón Alejandro, a place I’d seen recommended in both the Michelin guide and the New York Times when I was planning this trip. It was definitely worth it.
The restaurant lies underground, down an unobtrusive staircase on a busy street of San Sebastian’s Old Town. It doesn’t look like much, with bare wood tables, plain decor, and a rather kitschy city view mural on the wall. But any doubts about my restaurant choice disappeared with the amuse-bouche—a shot of cold asparagus soup with paper-thin slices of crispy bread. The salty creaminess of the soup went perfectly with the crunchy, fire-blackened toast.
The first course of the tasting was also a definite hit. For this odd take on lasagna, cold marinated anchovies formed the pasta and vegetable ratatouille served as the filling. I love anchovies, and these were the freshest and tastiest I’ve had. The wine for the course, an organic local Txakoli Bengoetxe, was a new variety to me. It was smooth with a little tang, reminiscent of my favorite white (Greco di Tufo) and a good match for the dish. Continue reading Restaurant review: Bodegón Alejandro→
After five days in Budapest, I find it hard to decide what I most associate with it. It’s different from almost any other major city I’ve visited. Part of the problem is that the city is big—Buda and Pest are each rather sprawling, so put them together, and you have a lot of city. But it’s a lot of awesome city. The architecture is varied, though in bad repair. The Jewish community is vibrant. The food is delicious and cheap. The nightlife revolves around super-hipster bars in crumbling old buildings. The flea markets are a dream come true. So I guess I’ll just give up any hope of putting this in a logical order, and instead try to talk about everything.
Beautiful buildings and views
Budapest is gorgeous, and the two halves are gorgeous in different ways. Buda is full of hills, with the white Matthias Church (with a very colorful roof) and the surrounding Fisherman’s Bastion sitting atop one of them. Pest is flat, but it has St. Stephen’s Basilica, the extraordinarily intricate Parliament building, and City Park (with a castle). Of course, both sides have lovely views of the Danube, and the famous chain bridge connects them.
Even the less photo-worthy areas are fascinating. Pest features a wide range of architectural styles, with neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance banks and churches mixed in with Art Nouveau villas. (There are all the ugly Soviet-era buildings, too, but you can try to ignore them.) Many are in desperate need of repair, but I suppose that’s the natural consequence of your government being broke. Continue reading Budapest, city of everything→
I grew up in a wonderful house run by two adorable cats. But last year in Cambridge and this year in Munich, I’ve been catless. It’s becoming difficult to live this way, so I did what any sensible Münchner would do: I visited Katzentempel.
As the name implies, this is a cats’ temple. Its feline owners have allowed some large tables and chairs in deference to their human guests, but that seems to be an afterthought. Large studio portraits of the cats-in-residence serve as decoration, along with other cat-themed artwork. Tunnels, cardboard boxes, and elevated walkways line the walls. Cat figurines and mugs sit on shelves as souvenirs for purchase. And of course cats wander to and fro, jumping onto counters, chairs, and laps—sometimes allowing visitors to pet them, but often simply posing gracefully and accepting distant admiration.
The cats’ people can cook (reasonably priced) human food pretty well, too: my freshly baked bread with hummus and jam was delicious, as was the rhubarb nectar I ordered to drink. But let’s be honest: Who cares? The chance to indulge in cat worship is the main reason to visit Katzentempel. It’s also conveniently near the university, so I’ll definitely be back the next time my current catlessness becomes too burdensome.
When I signed up for a year of watching Regietheater productions of plays and operas, I knew I’d be using the word ‘challenging’ a lot. Trying to get inside the heads of German opera directors is no easy task. What I didn’t expect was that ‘challenging’ would also describe my culinary experiences, but that’s the best word for a dinner at Blindekuh (‘blind cow’) in Zürich. ‘Dining in the dark’ restaurants, where you eat your meal in total darkness, with the assistance of blind or partially sighted servers, have caught on across the world. But Blindekuh, run by the Blind-Liecht charity, is where it all started.