Around the same time last year, we went to Northern Spain, somewhat skirting the coast of the Bay of Biscay for a week. We flew into Bilbao, took a bus to San Sebastián and spent most of our time there, then another bus to Santander, before returning to Bilbao to see the city for two days then flew back to London. This post has photos from Bilbao so I’m obviously going backwards — it was a bit easier to sort out the photos this way!
Bilbao is the biggest city of the Basque Country, or Euskal Herria in Basque. The Basque Region includes three provinces in France (Northern Basque) and three/four in Spain (Southern Basque — someone correct me, please, as to whether Navarre is definitely in Basque?).
When you hear of Bilbao, is the Guggenheim Museum the first thing you of? I wouldn’t blame you because that’s what came to my mind too. It’s the most architecturally imposing building in the centre of the city, and its very modern design rises quite singularly from the other buildings around it.
It costs 13€ to enter (general admission) and have a look around. The special exhibit that time was Andy Warhol’s Shadows, and all the 142 canvases were on display.
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The building was not your typical one with its four corners, and it was interesting that most of its sides and curves were utilised by different artists to showcase their brand of modern art.
Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of contemporary art. I’ve tried, and I just can’t get on board with it. The hubs and I are more into the classical type, and it was a shame that we did not closely research what to do there because we found — or stumbled upon — the Museo de Bellas Artes after traipsing about the Guggenheim! We couldn’t spend any more time in another museum because we originally planned to walk the streets of Casco Viejo, known as the old part of the city.
I didn’t get to take any photos when we were there because I was too conscious of not looking too much like a tourist in the area who was depending on Google Maps to guide us through the old, narrow streets. It somewhat reminded me of a less busy version of Quiapo in Manila, which, if you’ve walked its streets, is nice and atmospheric in local terms, but not the place where you loiter about leisurely.
We walked back towards the city centre and I managed to take a few random photos (see above). The weather was not very cooperative when were there, but it miraculously managed to hold up throughout most of the only full day we had. It was gloriously sunny when we set out in the morning and had Guggenheim as our first stop, rained while we were having lunch at a corner Japanese restaurant (if you were wondering why we were having Japanese food while in Spain, I was already completely pintxo’d out after Donostia!), then was bright again after the downpour.
After walking about that afternoon, we got caught in a downpour on the way back to the hotel. We had one umbrella between the two of us, but the rain was insane. It was so miserable that evening; I can’t even remember where we had dinner because it was most likely chosen out of convenience. It was disappointing if we compared it to the dinner we had the previous night, which involved paella at La Baracca. The lighting in the restaurant was terrible (those yellow-orange lights don’t go well with yellow-orange paella!) so no photos, sorry!
Okay fine, have one. It was good paella, although between you and me, I think I’ll hazard saying I’ve had better.
It was a bit sunny when we had arrived in Bilbao via bus from Santander, and walking from the station to the boutique hotel just across the Estuary of Bilbao via the Zubizuri was no trouble. It’s always nice to see the streets of a city anyhow.
Quite pretty, eh?
|Walking across this bridge is nice when sunny, and my thoughts were running along the lines of ‘life is good’, ‘so lucky it’s been sunny for the whole trip!’, and ‘I’m walking on sunshine…woah!’…you get the idea.
It only lasted for a day.
If you’re as lucky (hah!) as we were, you’d have torrential rain with a bit of wind, making the rain fall horizontally and getting you wet everywhere as it changes directions. We had planned to go and see the Museo de Bellas Artes on the morning of our last day in Bilbao before our scheduled flight back to London, but it was impossible. The rain did not let up at all, and we had to give up the notion of doing anything else but making our way to the airport.
After checking out, we killed time and spent most of our morning in sheltered in a cafe around the corner from the hotel where we a nice brunch while reading a book. Our flight wasn’t until late afternoon, so we had a lot of time! I was not reading the book in the photo because I was in the middle of another book — but I am very eager to read about the history of this region which is proud and bold in wanting to retain their identity and culture.
Now you might ask — Gemma, did you visit anything bookish on this leg of the trip? Surely a big city like Bilbao would have a library and a bookshop!
Oh darling, of course, I did! I didn’t do much in the way of researching prior to this trip in terms of libraries or bookshops to see, and we had very limited time, so I only got to see one. Also, we’ve been walking everywhere since San Sebastián, so my feet were just knackered at this point.
Cámara was near La Baracca where we had planned to have dinner, so we passed by the bookshop on our way. Almost directly across from it is Joker, a graphic novel/comic bookshop and I cannot for the life of me remember why I didn’t check that out either. Huh.
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I don’t know about you, but I thought those ‘doorknobs’ are brilliant. I wanted to sit on that reading corner too, but I didn’t think it would be polite to sit there while reading a book you bought with you instead of paying for their custom.
It is obviously predominantly Spanish texts, but they also handle international books and subscriptions. They have been in business for at least 65 years1, and it comes on the top of Google search (my quick research method) so I reckon it’s well-beloved.
There was someone behind the counter but I wanted to take a sneaky shot of their wine bar, which you can see on the above picture towards the right! This place looks like the predominant local bookshop, and I can guess they hold various events here. I wondered if you could have a glass whilst sitting on their front couch and reading a book, but I’ve lost mastery of the Spanish language from lack of practice so left it all to my imagination.
Let’s have a chat!
Have you been to Bilbao? What did you love most about it? What did I miss seeing? If you haven’t been to, is it on your list of places to visit?
Stay tuned and check back for future posts for the Santander and San Sebastián parts of the trip!