My mom and I traveled through the Basque Country last January, and while she contributed to my blog with a guest post, I realized I never gave a break-down of everything we saw and did in Bilbao. So without futher ado…
bilbao basics. Bilbao is located in the Basque Country in Northern Spain. The País Vasco is it’s own autonomous region within Spain, with its own flag, language (Euskera – comprised mostly of k’s, x’s, and t’s) and culture. Like Catalonians, Basques view themselves as separate from Spain and much of their food and lifestyle suggest this. The most well-known places in the Basque Country are Bilbao and San Sebastian.
logistics. We decided to take the bus from Madrid to Bilbao, mostly for economic reasons (the train is only slightly faster but more expensive). We hopped over to the bus station at Avenida de America for our 4pm departure, and parked in Bilbao at 8:45. We stayed at a small but totally fine hotel – Hotel Bilbao Jardines in the city’s old quarter.
the guggenheim. The main tourst attraction in Bilbao is the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum. Bilbao isn’t the most attractive city, so Bilbao wanted a reason for tourists to come, and the visually stunning Guggenheim was born. While the work inside isn’t anything spectacular, it’s worth it to see this structure, as well as some of the kooky Jeff Koons work adorning the outside of the building as well.
michelin stars. Possible the best meal I ate during my whole 9 months in Spain was in the Guggenheim Museum’s restaurant, Bistro Guggenheim. It’s led by “superchef” Josean Martínez Alija and is billed as “nueva cocina vasca” or “Basque nouvelle cuisine.” If you go to Bilbao, you must eat here. We ordered the multi-course menú del día:
becoming basque. While we weren’t busy being bewildered by the signs in Euskera, we wandered the narrow alleys, crossed the numerous bridges going over Bilbao’s river, and escaped the cloudy January weather at a coffee shop we discovered – Coffee Break in the Plaza Nueva. It goes without saying that we consumed a ton of pintxos – the Basque Country’s take on tapas. Pintxos are essentially a small piece of bread with some sort of meat or vegetable concoction thrown on top, held together by a toothpick. At the end, you count up the number of toothpicks left on your plate and the server will tell you what you owe! Fun fact: the “tx” in “pintxo” is a “ch” sound, so it’s pronounced peen-cho. Not that hard after all!
Stay tuned for my overview of our time in San Sebastian…
Have any of you been to Bilbao? Do you have any recommendations or things you disliked?