bilbao, spain

Way back, oh, I don't know, three or four months ago I got the dates for our orientation (beginning of September) for work/school and combined with the date of our visa appointment (beginning of August) in LA, just didn't think we would make it to orientation.  It was all going to be a close shave, I knew that.  School started a week or so later, and ever since I knew we were coming back to Spain, I'd set aside that week (ahem, assuming we made it for orientation) for what I called a "beach vacation."  Well, one thing turned into another and before long I wasn't feeling so hopeful that we were going to be going on any sort of vacation at all, let all alone be in Spain at that point, so I didn't plan anything.  

You know the story, though, our visas came in good time, we made it to orientation, and the week before we left for Spain we pulled together a trip - although a bit different than anything we'd done before.

The day after orientation wrapped up we took a train from Madrid to Bilbao, spent the rest of the day and the next morning there, and then rented a car and drove it through Basque country in Spain and into France, up to Bayonne and Biarritz, and then made our way back to Bilbao via the coast, stopping in Spanish coastal towns like San Sebastian and Zarautz.  

Renting a car in Spain made us nervous, excited, scared, and okay, petrified, but I was committed to this, and also, 1) six days is too long to spend in Bilbao, we HAD to get out of town! 2) Danny was driving not me so if things went badly I could just blame him and finally 3) our credit card seemed to have good insurance and it was only a Smart car.  How much can those things really be worth?

So in Bilbao we began.  I got us directions to the wrong apartment but thankfully our bags were small (they had to fit in the itty bitty Smart car, remember?) so it wasn't toooo much of a hassle, right Danny? ;)

Airbnb located and bags dropped off, and we discovered that we hadn't really picked a place in that central of a location after all.  Oh well.  This trip our limit for Airbnbs was €60 a night, and thus in some of the bigger cities that meant we had to be a bit out of the center.  

We got walking, from our place to the Guggenheim, one of Spain's most iconic museums.  It was a big of a trek, but a most enjoyable one as it meant we were able to get a feel for the city, and much of it was along the Nervión River as well.  

The Guggenheim is full of modern and contemporary art and if you've been around these parts for any time at all you could probably guess...not really our thing.  But because we know ourselves not at all, we went in anyway.  The guy at the counter insisted on giving us the student price even though we explained that I was the only one that met the age requirement for it (no complaints though!!!) and I think we stretched out our visit to last an hour - but if we wanted we could've seen everything in 15 minutes flat.  We are professional modern art lookers.  As usual, I will include a few photos of the modern, ahem, art, so that everyone can understand why our look around was so quick.  Hands down the best item was the massive puppy out front made of flowers.  

After the museum, we walked back the along the river to the Funicular de Artxanda.  I don't know if this is a top-rated thing to do in Bilbao (I don't think so - I found it by chance, buried in a guidebook somewhere), but it was one of my favorite things we did.  It's quite cheap, €0.95 each way, and the views at the top are really nice.

We weren't up there all that long - it's mostly just a viewpoint - and came down to keep walking back along the river for some dinner (pinchos for D, smoothie and veggies + goat cheese on a square of bread for me...although as you can see in the photo below I shared my treat with Danny and if my memory and his face in the photo serves us well, it was delightful.

Saturday morning we started at the Mercado de la Ribera where I thought we could find some breakfast (aka pastries, who are we kidding) but I will show you what we found:

Just to get started, though.

Welcome to Spain.  I have a bunch of other photos feat. hearts, intestines, bowels, chickens, rabbits, fish, and many other critters of the sea and land (and their parts), but I'm just sharing the very best (worst?) ones today.  Needless to say, we didn't find any pastries.  

We walked to the Plaza Nueva since we were pretty close, and while we were heading back to the place we'd had some dinner the night before to find some pastries once and for all, I saw a tempting looking place for breakfast.  It turned out to have fantastic croissants and donuts, which we ate on a bench outside the cathedral.  

It was one of the gorgeous September days, that, looking back now all bundled up in our apartment in chilly Madrid, I'm kind-of-sort-of wanting to relive right about now - and blue skies too!  Can't beat it.  

We also had a few pinchos for lunch.  And by few I mean I might have had a bite when I realized I wasn't a big fan/there was meat lurking in mine (never surprising in Spain!) and let Danny take over.  He was a fan though.  

Our final stop in Bilbao was the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao.  It was a last minute addition, but a temporary hyperrealist exhibition drew us in, and I think we were glad we visited.  In any case, we found it more interesting than the Guggenheim (believe it or not).  

Some of the museum's 'ordinary' fare (Basque, Spanish, and European art is its specialty)...

We were just around the corner from the car rental place, so we grabbed some bread and jelly to go with the peanut butter we'd bought from Madrid (we're no fools - we know peanut butter is hard to find anywhere is Spain, so when we can find it, we buy it and bring it everywhere!), drove back for our bags at the Airbnb, and set off!  We'd be back in Bilbao on Wednesday to return the car and take the train back to Madrid.

Our time in Bilbao was relatively brief, but I think we saw the highlights.  I really liked it, and in fact, when asked by one of my students this fall what my favorite city in Spain is, I thought about it, told him that's a hard thing to choose, and said Bilbao.  Something about it stuck with me, whether it was the river, the beautiful weather we had, the tasty food, or just the overall feel, I just really enjoyed our time.  Much of northern Spain is green and beautiful, and Bilbao was our first taste of that, which I got a glimpse of from the top of the funicular.  I think another town may be in the running already for my favorite town, but Bilbao's still up there...there's just something about it!