San Sebastian day 2

Saturday 15 June 2013

We walked to a nearby café for breakfast and then checked out the local bookshop. There were three shelves of books in English but alas not the Hemingway novel we were searching for. The next stop was the aquarium in the marina we had visited the day before. Aquariums can be fairly dismal places, but this one had been recommended by several trustworthy sources including our excellent hosts who ran the pensión.

One notable feature of the aquarium is that it is not just an aquarium; it is a museum concerned with the maritime history of San Sebastian and the coastal area around it. You pass through the museum before you reach the aquarium, and it is well worth attending to the audioguide and the signage on the exhibits, which is in Basque, Spanish and English.

The model ships were amazing: we tried to photograph some of them for Captain Cornish, but few of the photos turned out because of the reflections created by the glass cases in which the models were displayed. There was some very interesting social history including displays about the women who sold anchovies on the shores of the city, the surf racing boats, and the whaling industry. The latter two institutions are also part of Australia’s history as well, so it was interesting to see them portrayed in a different cultural and historical context.

The aquarium tanks themselves are impressive, especially the big central tank which towers above and below the viewers. You can walk through a glass tube and observe many of the inhabitants at close quarters. The star attractions are two large bull sharks whose gaping maws pass inches above one’s head. We admired the eagle rays, which we often see when we are snorkelling back home in Australia, and the eels that move like ribbons of quicksilver. The eels reminded us of our daughter Clare, in whom their very name induces involuntary paroxysms of horror. Yes, Clare, there were moray eels. One of them was practically invisible until you realised that a head the size of a horse was staring out of a dark crevice only inches from your face. But the eyes were not big and soft like a horse’s; they were small and beady like a satanic tapeworm. Oh Clare, the eyes! And can you imagine the size of the rest of it? And imagine if the glass wasn’t there—your face would be carpaccio in seconds. Eeuw!

But seriously, Susan and I spent hours trying to photograph some of the exhibits. This was no easy task, as flash photography was forbidden. And the fish refused to be still even when we asked them nicely.

The very last exhibit in the aquarium is stunning: the tank is not much bigger than a shoebox, and the contents look like a series of tiny, translucent gossamer sacks tied to a frame with delicate, pale curlicues. And then you realise that’s exactly what it is. On closer inspection, you can observe inside each sack a miniscule dogfish embryo the size of your iris, swooshing around, waiting to be hatched into the world.

But there were eels, too, Clare. Oh god, the eels!

After watching fish all morning, we felt compelled to go and eat some, so we returned to La Cuchara de San de San Telmo for lunch. It was busy, but much less crowded than the night before. Then we went on to another place in the plaza for more pintxos. Afterwards, I had to retire to the pensión for a siesta. I think am falling into the rhythm of life here.

For our afternoon outing, we decided to ascend the steep hill on the point north of the old city. At the end of a steep climb there lies an old castle with spectacular views of San Sebastian and surrounds. On the way down, we stopped at the English cemetery, which is largely a moss-covered ruin. Susie had a field day with her digital SLR. I think we have about 600 photos of San Sebastian, which explains why this blog is an image-free zone. How could we possibly choose one photo to illustrate it?

On our way back to the pensión, we dropped into the supermarket for supplies. After Susie had a short siesta, we went out to two more pintxo bars in the late evening, and then retreated to our balcony, where we sipped some vino tinto and watched the die-hards get drunker and drunker on the kalea below.

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