Travelling to Bilbao was one of my longest travel days yet, and involving 2 planes, 2 buses, a ferry and a train. I left Hydra at 1:35pm on Sunday – getting into Piraeus at just after 4pm (plenty of time in case my ferry sailing got cancelled, or I got caught up in strikes, protests etc in Athens). I then took the x96 bus (5 euro) an hour to the airport, getting in around 6pm – my flight departure was at 1:35am so suddenly I had massive amounts of time to kill. I couldn’t drop my checked bag off until 11pm so I read, used the free charging stations to charge my phone and had dinner, all accompanied by my luggage trolley like a large Great Dane dog.
My flight got in to Barcelona at 3am (Spain is an hour behind Greece). I really do like Barcelona El Prat airport though – it’s shopping is excellent and its pretty much 24 hrs so I was able to head straight into a cafe when I arrived for a bocadillo (fresh baguette, cut sides rubbed with tomato and filled with jamòn serrano (thinly sliced air-dried ham). Delicioso! My flight to Bilbao got in at 10am, where I took the bus 2 stops and was (for me) unexpectedly greeted by the Guggenheim as we emerged from the tunnel and into the city, transferred onto the metro for 2 stops and then walked (or staggered) into Casco Viejo (old town) where I was staying.
I really like Bilbao. The buildings, architecture, greenery, surrounding hills, interesting shopping, pintxos (Basque tapas) bars; I can mostly make myself understood and the people are super friendly. At the heart of Casco Viejo are las Siete Calles, the seven original streets of medieval Bilbao from the 1400’s, and the street I am staying on is one of these.
Shops in Bilbao open from around 9:30 to 2 or 3pm and then after a siesta closure, reopen from 5-8pm. When I got pintxos for lunch at a couple of bars it was me and the elderly of the neighborhood, (beauty of travelling during the weekday or actually thinking about it, not having work!). When I ventured back out from my apartment to wander around at 5pm, the streets were alive with people shopping, meeting over a drink and pintxos on cafe chairs in the street, browsing boutiques, grocery shopping and just wandering arm in arm. The old town is full of independent and quirky shops and boutiques – and I had forgotten about Spanish shoe shops…
Last night before I fell asleep I could hear people in the apartments around me settle in for the night, conversations wafted up through the windows from the street below me, and restaurant clinks from up the road.
This morning while lying in bed I have heard the roller doors of the cafe at the bottom of my building open, rubbish trucks do their rounds and the thunk of fresh coffee being brewed – always a good reason to get up. You would really be part of your city living like this.
One of architect Frank Gehry’s most famous buildings, the Bilbao Guggenheim museum made of titanium, glass, and limestone is almost more of a draw card in itself than the artworks it houses.
Another famous architect in Bilbao is Santiago Calatrava who has constructed two famous (and locally contentious) landmarks in Bilbao; the Zubizuri bridge (Basque for “white bridge” and the Bilbao airport terminal, nicknamed La Paloma (the Dove) because of its resemblance to a giant bird about to take flight. Both are amazing with grand arcs and interesting uses of space.
However, the locals of Bilbao have had to make costly changes to both designs. Apparently Calatrava is from Valencia, in the south of Spain where it doesn’t rain much. This can be evidenced in his original designs where the airport had the waiting area for arrival passengers in the open (not under cover), and the bridge was constructed with a toughened glass tile floor, which caused all types of slipping injuries when it got damp. It should be mentioned that Bilbao gets a LOT of rain (none since I have been here though, with the temperature staying around 28C).
Tomorrow, I head to San Sebastian, and back to the beach. Or maybe more shopping…