(note: if you’ve not read A holiday dilemma, this might not make much sense…)
San Sebastián is a bloody trek. Looking up flight information from Manchester Airport, the cheapest journey I could make would see me fly Ringway to Gatwick, then transfer to Heathrow, then fly to Madrid, then fly to San Sebastián Airport. That’s three flights and as many train/bus journeys in between.
And, of course, the trip doesn’t end there. No, no, no – that would be much too easy. San Sebastián Airport, as it turns out, isn’t in San Sebastián at all. It’s in an entirely separate place called Hondarribia.
Presumably, I’d have to get another bus.
Now, obviously there are ways to shorten such an expedition; to reduce the number of flights and speed it up a bit. But unfortunately, there are no ways to shorten it enough. It’s too much travel for me. I’m just not willing to make that sort of commitment.
So we looked for somewhere else to go. Somewhere easier to get to, but which still met our needs. Barcelona seemed to fit the bill very nicely, but for some reason my wife didn’t really fancy it.*
Nothing interested me in the rest of Spain, so our thoughts moved across the border and we started thinking about France instead.
“Sod it, why don’t we just sack off the coastal town idea and go to Paris?” my wife said.
“OH HELL YES!” was my reply.
So it’s decided then. In October 2012, for my first trip abroad in eight and a half years, I’m going to the culinary centre of the entire universe. And I cannot wait.
But where else to eat, drink and be merry? If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
*When I say ‘some reason’, I mean ‘no reason’.
The last time I left my beloved England was in February 2004. I spent a week in Russia (3 days in Moscow, 4 in St Petersburg) and it was about as far from a gourmet holiday as you can get.
Almost everything I ate was served with boiled millet, which had all the consistency of runny snot flecked with grit. Borscht (beetroot soup) was thankfully millet free, but once the sour cream’s been mixed in you’re left with a sickly bowl of pink slop akin to a savoury Tubby Custard.
The vodka was cheap and good, the local beer Baltika was even better and the chocolate from the Red October factory was very pleasant. But that was it as far as positives are concerned.
Well, apart from the remarkably slick service at a Moscow McDonald’s.*
Not long after the Russia trip, my passport expired and it came as somewhat of a relief. I dislike airports intensely; travelling I hate even more. Anything that drags me away from Greater Manchester for longer than three days makes me feel ill.
Not having a passport gave me the perfect excuse to never have to go away, and for more than six years I was able to live in a state of total bliss. Then a friend of mine decided they were going to get married in Northern Ireland and I realised the days of my peaceful existence were numbered.**
With a valid passport in my pocket, my long-suffering wife – who hasn’t been abroad since 2003 – was always going to insist we jet off to foreign climes.
And apparently Scotland doesn’t count.
The silver lining, of course, to this rather ominous black cloud of doom is the potential for new gastronomic experiences. I can continue my descent into gout in new and exciting ways, and I can tick a few more items off The List.
You see, the thought of going somewhere different where the food is truly spectacular is almost as thrilling for me as the thought of this wedding being called off and not having to get another passport.***
Overseas restaurants dominate my Restaurant Wishlist. There are places on there that I’m desperate to go to and go to soon, for fear that they’ll no longer exist by the time I finally get around to it. These are restaurants that those in the UK can’t compete with; the ones that look and sound like they can deliver the food of my dreams.
Le Louis XV in Monaco, Ledoyen in Paris, l’Auberge du Vieux Puits in Fontjoncouse, Pic in Valence, Schloss Berg in Perl – these are just are few of the culinary destinations I would like to visit.
But as I might have mentioned, I’m married. And I’ve got about as much chance of getting all my own way on this first trip abroad together as Colonel Gadaffi does of winning Libya’s next election.
So then, the question is, where should we go?
There are a few rules before you start bombarding me with recommendations:
– It can’t be too hot. No matter how nice the food is, it’s not going to be too appealing once it’s covered in the huge chunks of eczema skin that will have fallen off my face.
– It must be by the sea. My wife has this romantic idea of a little fishing village in her mind; somewhere you can sit in a little wooden hut and eat seafood fresh from the boat.
– It mustn’t cost a fortune to get there. Because I don’t like travelling, the thought of wasting lots of money on planes annoys me. I want my money to be spent on having fun, not on being crammed into an aircraft.
– The food must be magnificent. I’d like to be able to go to at least one top class restaurant while I’m there, but as long as it has fabulous bars and markets, I might be willing to compromise.
Right now we’re leaning towards San Sebastián, ‘the culinary capital of Spain’.****
But what would you suggest?
*They had three servers to each till: one to take your order while you queued, one to take your money and one to fetch your grub. It was very impressive, and presumably the result of some sort of government job scheme.
**Technically you don’t need a passport to travel to another part of the UK, but in recent years airport security has apparently been getting awfully funny about the kind of ID you carry and a driving licence isn’t always good enough. Factor in me looking bugger all like the dude on my driving licence these days and it’s clear a new passport is needed.
***Only joking – obviously I don’t want the wedding to be called off. I hear they do excellent fish and chips in Bangor. And I’m already eyeing up Deanes in Belfast.
****Guess which one of us came up with this idea…
You can read the follow-up post to this one below: