As we brushed our teeth in the albergue bathroom designated by a bat with miniscule wings and equilaterally-triangular fangs, we assigned ourselves missions: for me, a black sweater, and for Heather, a black oxford. The center of Bilbao – walk to the Guggenheim and take a right – is filled with shops. After browsing a few others, Heather found the perfect shirt in H&M, and while there we were of course distracted by the jewelry. A lovely necklace called my name, and the fact that it would go wonderfully with a black sweater only increased the urgency of my task. Luckily, a great 10 euro sweater welcomed me in Zara.
In Bilbao, we also discovered probably the best store that Spain has given to the world: Kukuxumusu, a funky little shop whose name means “Kiss of the Flea” in Basque. I couldn’t resist a few postcards.
As shopping always works up a bit of an appetite, Heather and I headed for a vegetarian place I’d heard about. However, it turned out to be a buffet, and the Chinese/Thai restaurant next door called our attention. “Old Shanghai” had surprisingly authentic Asian food at a good price too, and we were extremely happy to break out of the Spanish sameness for a meal.
We headed back to the hostel for a siesta and some chocolate, also hoping to run into our new friends again. Somehow the rest of the afternoon slipped away and we found ourselves at the hour for tapas again.
My first tapa this night was a slice of baguette – the ever-useful base – along with thin, almost transparent, slices of apple, thick slices of cheese, and a bit of tart jam sandwiched throughout. It was truly a work of art, and, needless to say, delicious as well. The food of the Basque country was thoroughly Spanish, but of a completely different sort: flavorful, playful, exciting. I must admit that I haven’t yet explored “El Tubo”, the tapa bar rich section of Zaragoza, although my host mother did bring me to one restaurant which served a single tapa: a stack of mushrooms grilled in olive oil and lemon juice, of course atop a slice of baguette.
The fruit and cheese tower was followed up with a piece of baguette topped with a scoop of diced tomato salsa y caramelized peppers – colorful and refreshing. At our third stop, I chose the only vegetarian option – a long toothpick spearing grilled mushrooms with ample garlic. The skewer was good, but the next one was great: a goat cheese croquette, which is a deep-friend ball of pureed potatoes for body and goat cheese. Since most croquettes tend to have the ever-present ham in them, I was incredibly excited to find a vegetarian one, and its taste lived up to my high expectations.
Of course, now that we had discovered the churro place, we absolutely had to return for a dessert.
Checking our watches to make sure it was an acceptable hour – that is, that it wasn’t too early! – we directed our course towards the albergue, walking back along the river which winds its way through Bilbao and, since the construction of the Guggenheim, is lined with an attractive sidewalk and ample street musicians.
Once again, we all stayed up talking until well past midnight. In a late-night whim, the Dutch hostel-keeper, the British guy, Heather, and I decided to walk to the Guggenheim, since it is so beautiful at night. We ended up going to bed after 3 a.m…but since our bus didn’t leave until afternoon the next day, we could afford to sleep in a bit.