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Basque Country

April 16-18
Edited and done May 19

Dear Friends and Families,

d130415_02_ToS_Seb.jpg d130415_04_firstHills.jpgAfter our three-day stay at Melissa's in the Dordogne, we headed to Spain.  Most of the four-hour drive was over flat plains with only spindly pine trees to mark the distance.  Eventually, however, we started to see the shapes of the Pyrenees, the natural border between France and Spain.  We later learned that the locals really do not say "Spain" however, only "The Basque Country", so we will follow local custom.

San Sebastian
Our first stop was a single overnight in San Sebastian, a charming seaside town.  We settled into the Pension Edorta in the heart of the old center and searched out the necessities: food and wine.  In the evening, in Basque country, this means "pintxos" (pronounced "pinch-os").  These small snacks would be called tapas elsewhere and we fell prey to their calories right away.

We walked off a few of the calories looking at the two in-town surfing beaches and admiring the Belle Epoch buildings.  For old building folks like us, the structures were fascinating and many were beautifully restored.  (There were also some "projects" waiting for fools like us.)

Simple hotel room at the Pension Edorta and pinxtos at a nearby bar.  followed the next day by a light breakfast, including churros and chocolate.
San Sebastian is defined by the beaches and harbors
San Sebastian is also filled with wonderful old architecture and we worked in a church to prove we were in Europe.  Cute French school group singing on church steps - more or less.

The drive from San Sebastian ran through the hills above The Bay of Biscay.  The navigator said it would be  a bit over an hour, but as we approached downtown Bilbao, we managed a single mis-turn that added a big swing to the west and an extra 20 minutes.  Bilbao is not easy to drive into! 

We found the parking lot, several blocks from the Hotel Bilbao Jardines where we were staying.  It is a small 2-star hotel in the heart of the old city, Casco Viejo, and we spent the rest of the evening wandering around the tiny streets, surrounded by more wonderful Belle Epoch buildings. Fortunately, we worked up enough of an appetite to sample wine, pinxtos, and a sweet.  I think we like Bilbao.


Much of what we like is just to wander among the old buildings and watch the active street life

I suppose a church is a necessity.
This is the market, the largest indoor market in Europe.  We will visit more on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday morning I managed to get up before the sun and see the city from the twilight streets and from above, via the S. Ignacio Acensor.

Later, we walked over to the Guggenheim Museum, our main goal in Bilbao.  Frank Gehry's limestone, glass, and titanium-skinned building is unlike anything we have ever seen.  Inside, we managed only a small part of the displays since we were getting tired and grumpy.  A very nice lunch helped, but we still had to make it back to the hotel.  By then, we had each walked over 12,000 steps, too much for us old timers.
Walk over - a few old buildings, but mostly new.

On Thursday, we initially had just two goals: the (Fish) Market and the Basque Museum.  Thoughts of getting to the market at 8 o'clock opening were delayed by a slow, simple breakfast at the hotel, not a German-style full buffet, but enough for sure.

The Mercado de la Ribero (River Market) started as the 19th century wholesale fish market for Bilbao, but it has been restored and converted to a neighborhood market, reportedly the largest in Europe (?) with meat, fruits, vegetables and many, many fish stands.  I swear the iced fish were still alive, they were so clear-eyed.  A fun place for photos and I'm sure we would shop here if we could.



d130418_20_Museum.jpgd130418_22_Bizcaya.jpgThe Euskal Museo, the Basque Museum, was interesting, I think.  The old building had three floors of very nice displays of Basque life and tradition, but very little information in a language we could understand. The displays of folk dances were particularly bright and lively and reminded us of European folk dances from Ireland to Hungary. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed inside so you will need to visit yourself to see Basque traditional garb and decorations.

d130418_30_lunch.jpgThe next stop had to be lunch.  The lunch "hour" runs from about 1:30 to 3 or 4 pm and most of the shops are closed in this interval.  We chose the Prada a Tope, just around the corner from our hotel, and chose the daily menu for 16 euros for three courses and a half-bottle of wine (each).  It's no wonder people go from lunch to a small nap.

After our own rest, Marianne suggested we go out to visit the Bizkaia Zubia or Transporter Bridge.  The 120-year-old structure moves cars and people by a sort of suspended ferry, or horizontal elevator.  Both the bridge-ride and the metro-ride out and back were fun and seemed to give a view of normal Bilbao life. 
We have to remark on how nice the metro was, as clean and orderly as any we have ever see: no graffiti, no stains, essentially no dirt even.  It made us remark about how clean Bilbao is overall, at least where we have been.

That was the end of our Bilbao stay, except for Friday morning's drive out.  We'll see how that goes.

Stay tuned.

John and Marianne


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