Our bus to Bilbao left at 11:15, so between showers, talking with our roommates and the people we’d met the night before around the breakfast table, and buying some fruit and a pastry to augment the albergue’s morning offerings, we didn’t have too much extra time to get to the station. Our roommates were also headed to Bilbao, and happened to even be on the same bus, so we didn’t have to find our way back to the station alone.
The first segment of the trip wound through a few small towns, keeping to the coastline, which led to incredible views but also slight carsickness from the winding track. In one small town, the bus came to a stop, and didn’t start moving again. Looking out the windows as best we could, we saw a sea of runners in the street in front of us. We had come across a couple’s marathon, which besides being an amusing idea of a romantic activity was also set up on a loop. As the last stragglers passed in front of the bus, the leaders of the race rounded the corner. Taking his only opportunity and probably aggravating a few of the volunteers waving fluorescent flags to control traffic, the bus driver sped forward, and we barely got out of the way in time for the fastest couple to run past the back window and lap the pair bringing up the rear.
Our albergue was one metro stop away from the bus station, in a rather industrial and frankly ugly part of Bilbao. Nervous about our two nights in this gray city, we were much relived to find the albergue a quirky lively place, recently opened in July. The rooms and bathrooms were clean and comfortable, and the kitchen was a bit more user-friendly than that in San Sebastian, along with being equipped with bottomless tea and coffee. Rather than numbers, the hostel rooms were identified by funny little drawings framed on their doors which corresponded to pictures on the keys. Our first night was spent in the 8-bed goat room, and the next day we moved to the 6-bed frog room. The goat had enormous eyes and spindly curling horns and the frog was a balloon with huge eyes and itty-bitty legs. We laughed that we were thankful we didn’t get the scull-with-worms-coming-out-of-its-eyes room. Confused but amused by the strange décor, which also included pleasant witches and Halloween-like cats, I later learned in art class looking at a Goya painting which shared the name of the hostel, “Akelarre”, that akelarre means “gathering of witches” in Basque. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in class as it all made sense.
After sliding our things under my bottom bunk and getting advice about where to eat lunch, we headed off to the old part of the city to explore. Right across the river we spotted an appetizing café, “Cafeve”, where I had the most delicious tortilla de patata sandwich I’ve had yet in Spain – a fresh hot tortilla with caramelized red peppers between a toasted baguette. (Although no tortilla could ever be as good as my host mother’s, of course.) We then found our way to the Guggenheim.
The Guggenheim is, in a word, unbelievable. Although its architecture is incredibly modern and sleek, it manages to fit right in to the fabric of the industrial city. The smooth titanium tiles go surprisingly well with the glass and concrete office and industrial buildings as well as the 19th century university buildings across the river and the old churches nestled between large stores.
The collection of works inside the building keeps in line with its impressive exterior.
On the second floor was a great exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture.
A three-story “sculpture” by Jenny Holzer ribbons its way through the open interior. I think the photographs will describe it better than my words.
Our hunger reawakened, we headed back to the Old Neighborhood to test out the tapas. My first selection was a cute little slice of cheese, which I think was brie, atop a slice of baguette and topped with half a walnut. Heather’s deep-fried stuffed pepper looked incredibly good as well. We then passed a churro stand and couldn’t resist the novelties it offered. I asked for a churro filled with chocolate mousse and covered with chocolate sprinkles, which we planned to share. Heather took one bite and said, “We’re getting another one.” Instead of more of the same, I opted for a chocolate-covered churro. Incredibly delicious! Looking to warm up a bit, we popped into a café, where I tried a toothpick spearing an assortment of pickled vegetables while Heather enjoyed a café con leche.
We took the metro back to our albergue, where we met the people we’d be sharing a room with that night. Three German girls, who weren’t in our room, and a British man from Oxford and an American guy from South Dakota who was studying abroad in Oxford for the year (the two hadn’t met until that day), were sitting around a table drinking tea, and we joined them. The Dutch guy who co-ran the albergue told us we had to move outside so he could sweep at 11:30, and when he finished cleaning he joined us in the doorstep where we talked until a bit past one a.m. The end of our first day in Bilbao…and we had already started the second.