Blundering about in Bilbao

June 30th (Saturday)

After the craziness that was the Haro Wine Battle, Kitty and I enjoyed a well-deserved sleep, then got up early to get ready and pack up camp.  Since we were only about an hour’s drive away, we decided to avoid the motorway and avoid some of the tolls.  One thing we’ve discovered about driving through France and Spain is that they really like their toll highways, and avoiding these on some of our longer treks can add a couple hours!  This time around it only added about ten minutes, so it was no question to save a couple Euro.

Photo from a moving vehicle, showing hills of forest off in the distance
Some of the fantastic scenery we passed through on our way to Bilbao

Are we ever glad we did!  The mountains gave our car a bit of a run for its money (poor Tessa!), but driving through them was gorgeous, and the scenery was great to see.  Scattered throughout the valleys as well were tiny Spanish towns, most probably no bigger than a couple thousand people.  We stopped in one called Ubide, tucked away beside the main road, that had a church, a couple restaurants, and a handful of houses.  We marvelled at the quiet and the setting for only a little while before continuing on, but apparently it’s claim to fame is to have been on the Camino for a prominent historical figure.  I would have loved to known more, but that was the extent of the information I could glean with what limited Spanish I could understand on the monument.

Photo of an information signpost in Ubide, describing the history of the town
If anyone knows what this says, feel free to fill me in!

We eventually came to Bilbao shortly after noon, and after some issues finding parking (apparently on-site parking was an additional charge not included in our hostel booking — bah!), we got checked in and settled at the hostel we were staying.  We took the afternoon to wander into the city centre and experienced a roller coaster of reactions to this new place.  At first, we were almost disappointed — the area was a hodge-podge of buildings, some new, some old, almost all of them feeling out of place with their neighbouring structures.  Once we got into the city centre however, that feeling dissipated, and we were pleased to find some older style architecture living alongside newer buildings in ways that didn’t clash.

Photo of a city street with a rainbow banner stretched across the throughfare
One of the many narrow streets in Bilbao city centre, with pride flags still displayed.

Finding ourselves in the artsier area, Kitty and I stopped for a small bite to eat and got to chat with the bartender for a while.  We had just missed the city’s Pride festival which was unfortunately held the same day as the wine battle, but we were pleased to hear that there were events going on around the city in the coming week as part of a cultural celebration.  Some performances, circus acts, and even art and theatre shows!  From the bar we went down the street and stopped at a cafe for hands down the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my life.  I mean, seriously — it was like literal chocolate melted in a cup, so thick that it had to be eaten with a spoon rather than drank.  Heaven in a cup!

Photo of a cup of hot chocolate, shown with a spoon dripping the viscous liquid
Seriously, don’t try to drink it – just spoon it into your mouth. Heavenly!

After the heavenly hot chocolate, we made our way to the plaza where we had seen information regarding an English speakers meetup.  Unsure of who would actually be there, we skulked about and listened for any sizeable group that may have been speaking English — we eventually found the group we were looking for, and were welcomed warmly!  Some people were local to Bilbao but others, like us, were simply visiting the city.  Over the course of the evening, we shared many drinks, pintxos, and stories with friendly strangers.  Highlights included a Basque fellow who gave us a history of Basque country in a nutshell, and a lovely gay couple from Texas who were looking to move to Bilbao.  We eventually made our way back to the hostel shortly past midnight, and crawled into bed slightly tipsy, and full of food and new experiences!

July 1st-4th (Sunday through Wednesday)

Our remaining days in Bilbao were actually rather uneventful — our Sunday was used to catch up with family, emails, and so on.  Biggest surprise was the storm and hail that rolled in early afternoon!  Monday was a day for work, and then we used the evening to hang out with Kitty’s friend who had just arrived in Bilbao to stay a few months.  Tuesday was another workday, and afterwards one of the guys staying in the hostel invited us out to watch the football.  None of us actually cared about the outcome, but with the World Cup going on, the atmosphere about the town was generally good and it was a fun game to watch over a pint!

Photo of storming weather, with hailstones visible on the ground
Hailstones the size of sugar cubes — in July! Crazy!

Wednesday we had planned to head into town again to take advantage of the cultural celebrations that were supposedly going on … and we woke up to rain and thunderstorms!  We chilled instead, catching up on TV shows and other media in our backlog.  I’m very glad we got the chance to wander around the city our first day here, as we were due to move on from Bilbao the next day.  As much as we enjoyed the centre of town, I don’t think either of us particularly felt any attachment to Bilbao, so there wasn’t much effort made to explore beyond that.  We’ll see how we feel at the places we stop next, I suppose!

That’s all for this update — I feel like this stop was a bit of a let-down, but that’s the way travel goes sometimes!  Some bonus photos below, but if you want to hear about the next stops feel free to hit that subscribe button in the sidebar, or follow me on Twitter for more of my antics!

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