Just Emkaying: The one with Bilbao - Spanish Escape Part 3

Dec 26, 2016

The one with Bilbao - Spanish Escape Part 3

This is a part of a series on my travels to Spain. Read the previous post here.
Scenic Bilbao!
It's hard to top Barcelona. I mean it really, really is hard to top great music, food and the feel good factor that comes with a beautiful city that is so free, passionate and yet welcoming of the millions that come there every year. Not to mention that this continues while the internal conflict on autonomy continues. Of course at the end of the day, it is a tourist heaven and commercialised, but honestly, 4 days is hardly justice to Barcelona. But as a backpacker, time is the most expensive commodity you have, so you soak and smile, and keep moving!

But Bilbao just took awesome to a whole new level! 

I got a bus out of Barcelona to Bilbao, which was about 5 hours ride. The buses are highly comfortable, equipped with Wifi which took care of my immediate planning. I had downloaded all the Google city maps for the locations I was going to, and an update now and then was worthwhile.

Seated next to me on the left was a super nice Granny. While she did not speak to me was most welcoming and helped me navigate what came across as quite a complicated chair! It's always the small things that make you smile, and such was another instance when a guy noted my confusion in finding my seat and pointed out the seat number at the bottom. (unlike on the top of seats or bunks like we are used to) This guy turned out to be one of the top fishermen in Europe. He was returning from a competition where he and his brother had just won silver. The best thing was that we were both conversing in what onlookers would describe as broken sign language with vigorous head nodding, and my exceptionally fluent Spanish (which consists of three words - Si / Vale / gracias). For some reason, I kept breaking into an Arabic accent every now and then.

Strangely, I've never had an Arabic accent. 

Bilbao is the complete opposite of Barcelona. Brilliant cool weather, lots of bright sun, Wide open spaces with very few people and hills all around. The breeze keeps whooshing in your face, and people are the most generous with their smiles and curiosity. There are three must do's in Bilbao. The first, is to take in the whole city with a stroll. You will see beautiful contrasts between the old cultural architecture and the new world, accompanied by amazing murals and street art.

The second must do, is to visit the stunning Gugenheim museum of modern art, glittering in Titanium, steel and glass on the banks of River Nervion. It is known to house one of the best pieces of contemporary and modern art and often houses specific exhibitions by leading artists. I was fascinated by the work that is displayed here, more from a curiosity and an aesthetic sense. I hardly understand art abut find some forms of expression interesting, and hence I was lucky to witness some brilliant exhibitions in the work of Louis Bourgeois "the Cells" and Andy Warhol's "shadows". A word of caution though, the museum is quite expensive, and at 30 Euros it blew a big hole in my daily budget! But if you are going in, do take the audio guide that explains the various pieces of art.

Finally, and probably the most gratifying is to take the Funicular up the neighbouring hill to get an most amazing view of the city of Bilbao. It's about 2 euros, and a 8 minute vertical climb. Grab a beer, blanket and chill on the parks at the top! (First image of this post!)

I also had the most Ah-maz-ing Tapas in Bilbao, the best in all of Spain!!! Cafe Iruna is quite a popular place with old world charm, those classic bar tables and it is next to a park so the outdoor seating is great too. Outdoor seating is quite the norm in all of Spain, and the weather in Bilbao makes it quite enticing to sit out. A seasoned American couple helped me order and pick out the right food. If you choose to sit out, you pay first. If you choose to sit in, you can pay later.

And please, don't drink anything except Beer or wine. Oh and here's another myth that I will break - Sangria is not the common drink in Spain, in the manner that we know it. If you ask for Sangria, what you essentially get is wine with a bit of soda and fruit punch. (which is delish too!). And that Tapas at this place are to literally DIE for. Like I'd happily take a fat and meat induced coma at this place. Any - freaking - day.

In parting, I would encourage you, on your travels to any place in Europe to make use of the free walking tours. Quite the simple concept - they offer you a guided tour by a local around certain famous sections of the city, stuff that you won't see if you go "organised" touring. At the end of the trip you tip as you deemed fit. There is no minimum amount.

My guide Irati and fellow traveller Freide! 
If you are ever in Bilbao, please do reach out to Irati here. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and also knows a lot of the local history of the Basque county, so you're bound to have a great time!

Coming shortly - Madrid!


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