Monday 17 June 2013
After we bid farewell to our hosts at the Pensión Amaiur in San Sebastian, we caught a taxi to the bus station and boarded the 9:10 a.m. ALSA bus service to Bilbao. And then at the Bus station in Bilbao we switched to the metro for a few stops, and walked into old city.
As with many other Spanish cities, cars have been largely banished from the “old city” in Bilbao. This makes it a much more pleasant environment for human beings. Maybe one day the urban planners back home in Sydney will see the light.
We settled into a comfortable but rather Spartan room in the Hotel Jardines. Susie renewed her quest for the perfect summer sandals but again came home empty-handed. I bought a bottle of wine from an excellent wine and cheese shop across the road. The proprietor was very helpful, and explained some of the local jargon to me. I tried to purchase a pen knife with a corkscrew from a kitchen wares shop, but it turned out to be faulty. And so my leaky Spanish had to deal with a new genre: returning faulty goods and negotiating an exchange. Luckily the woman behind the counter was very accommodating, and one of her other customers was able to translate the finer points that I missed.
The highlight of our first day in Bilbao was undoubtedly the food. We went out searching for pintxos in La Plaza Nueva, which must have seemed new once upon a time in a city that has seen fit to preserve many buildings from the 14th Century. (The plaza was in fact a few hundred years old.) We had the good fortune to select a bar called Gure Toki. Susie asked the bartender to recommend a wine, and he poured her a glass of txacoli which she enjoyed immensely even though a rather haughty bartender in San Sebastian had warned us off it. We then ordered two different pintxos—Costilla del vacca con algas, and Carpaccio de avestruz. The former was an unlikely combination of what I call “molten” beef and seaweed. In theory, these foods do not go together, but the test of pintxos is always empirical: if your mouth says they do combine well, then the case is closed. Susie rated the pintxos in Gure Toki higher than those we had sampled in San Sebastian.
See what I mean? Just when you think you have experienced the best that Spain has to offer, Spain trumps itself. Dios mío!
We briefly met an English couple in the bar who were visiting Bilbao for the long weekend. We were filled instantly with envy. Newcastle (north of Sydney) or Bateman’s Bay (south of Sydney) is about as far as we would venture for a long weekend. We needed 15 years’ long service leave and our life savings to get as far as Bilbao. Fancy being able to swan over from England for a few days!
We ate our main meal in a restaurant close to the hotel. Susie ordered seafood and I ordered a pork dish, and we washed these down with a really excellent bottle of dry white wine. By the end of the meal, Susie was blissing out.
San Sebastian is a hard act to follow, but Bilbao was rising to the challenge.