Spain Part Two
Basque country is such a unique experience. If you are like me and have never looked into the history of Basque country and its people, I’d recommend it. They are an ancient group, having been around this area of what is now Spain and a little bit of France for thousands of years. Their language is not connected to any other language surrounding them. It’s not influenced by any modern language at all and it’s still in use across the region. Last, but not least, it’s beautiful. No surprise there, but it’s just really worth seeing. Once we were settled in from the road trip, we were excited to start exploring.
Guggenheim in Bilbao - The day after the road trip and after settling into the Bilbao Airbnb, we decided to visit the Guggenheim art museum. This is one of several Guggenheims around the world. I think art is amazing for the sheer fact that I am so bad at any kind of visual art. I’m a creative person, just not visually, so I have always admired art while also not completely understanding it. This experience felt the closest I have ever been to really understanding installations. The Guggenheim itself is a beautiful building. It looks like a white wave almost. Walking by it to get to the entrance, we crossed over a bridge and a pond that poured out mist among several abstract sculptures. My favorite one was the large spider. Each exhibit was very good at walking through the process of the artists. I loved one in particular called Seascapes by Gerhard Richter. These were different images of the sea done to various degrees of realism over the years. They included sketches done early on when the artist was trying to work out his craft and led up to pieces toward the end that looked like legitimate photos of the sea. They were beautiful and if I was a millionaire, I would have one in my house. The whole trip to Guggenheim probably took about four hours. There is so much to look at and explore, but just be aware of that if you do decide to make a visit and explore all of the exhibits.
San Sebastian - The next day, we took a much shorter road trip to San Sebastian. This is a town on the coast that is very close to the French border. Driving in was insanely beautiful because you end up passing right by the beaches. It was also a little frustrating because parking in San Sebastian was absolutely insane. We did discover that we visited on the day of a music festival, so I’m not sure if it’s always like that, but it was overwhelming. We ended up going straight to a restaurant where we had reservations, Eme Be Garotte. Something San Sebastian is famous for is food. There are a ton of michelin-rated restaurants in this very small city. Eme Be Garotte is one of them. Before this, I had never really had an upscale meal experience. I’ve been to a few nice restaurants, but this meal had at least seven courses. Every dish was beautiful, unique and experimental. It was also very tasty. The service was impeccable. One of the things I loved most about Spain is that there seems to be a respect for those in the service industry. At least there is much more of one than in the U.S. This meal especially, but really all meals, were handled with care. It was clear that they wanted us to enjoy everything but also relax, which I very much appreciated. I think my favorite dishes were the steak tartar and the ice cream at the end of the meal. I’m working on an upcoming post of favorite meals of the year that will include some more detail, so stay tuned for that. Every dish gave the art at the Guggenheim a run for its money, though. Unfortunately, I can’t afford a meal like this all the time, but I do hope I’ll be able to prioritize a nice restaurant or two in upcoming trips.
After the meal, we drove into the city again and finally managed to find a parking spot. We decided to walk around for a while and just explore. We ran into the music festival and got a taste of some local artists. The night ended with watching the sunset on the beach with beer. It can’t get much better than that.
Bilbao beach - I had to have at least one real beach day on the trip, so we decided to take a train out to a beach in Bilbao. We got out, dressed into swim suits, and picked up some more beers at a shop next to the beach. This was unlike anything I had ever seen before. To get down to the beach, we had to walk down a ton of steps on the side of a beautiful cliff. People were parachuting off of the cliffs the whole day. The beach itself was sand, but it was surrounded by cliffs and rocks. It was so pretty. I did have a classic American tourist moment when I realized that most beaches in Spain are nude-friendly. Not everyone was nude, but a good amount of people were. It really didn’t phase me at all though. If I hadn’t been so incredibly pale compared to everyone else, who knows? I might have tried it. It was a very hot day, but the water was absolutely freezing. I dipped my toes in and almost decided against going all the way in. But then I thought about how cool it was to have this experience and how I might never have a chance to swim at a Spanish beach again. I had to go for it. The water was take-your-breath-away cold, but it was also refreshing and clean. Lesson learned: try to go for it when you’re on trips like this. The trip had definitely had its ups and downs of busy times, so it was great to relax in such a beautiful place.
Kayaking - This was one of the last things we ended up doing. We had one more day, and just wanted to get a few more experiences in Bilbao under our belts. We found a kayaking rental place on the Nervión river, which runs through the city. The first half was pretty easy because we were going with the tide, but the last half was tough. Andrew and I kept getting frustrated with how slow we were going and decided to do more kayaking at home to improve our form. That has yet to happen, though. This was a great way to see the city. It’s just a different perspective than you get from walking around. It’s active, which made me feel very accomplished, but also a lot of fun. Depending on time of year, I think I’ll look out for kayaking excursions more on future trips.
That’s it for Spain! I had such an amazing time and I’m so excited for the next international trip, London! Please let me know if you have suggestions! Also, I would love to know more about what to do in Spain. I’m sure I missed out on some things and I hope to go back one day!
P.S. - I wanted to throw in a pro tip for anyone traveling in or out of the EU. Our flight out of Spain ended up getting delayed a full day for no real reason, so we were eligible for the $600 under EU Regulation 261/2004. We ended up asking for the money after returning through the American Airlines website and they legally had to give us $600 each. But, it’s not something that they are just going to offer up automatically. So, if your flight in our out of the EU is ever cancelled or delayed for a long time unexpectedly and with no real reason, i.e. weather, etc, look into this for sure! Our flights were around $550 to begin with, so we basically got paid to go to Spain. Score!