Bilbao, Spain : October 2017
The camp site we checked into was high up on a hill overlooking Bilbao. It was more a large parking lot for campers; basic and clean but with a really good view I must admit. I wasn’t mad about the fact that everytime you needed the toilet you had to go to reception to ask for a key. And one toilet amongst 40 camp spots is a little busy most of the time.
Ok moving on from toilet talk, after we’d checked in,headed into town for dinner. We didn’t have time to really sight-see as we have to leave fairly early the next morning. So we had to be content to admire the Guggenheim Museum from our hilltop and save the visit for another time.
Bilbao is the largest town in the semi autonomous province of Basque. Fascinatingly the Basque language bears no relation to any other European language and during Franco’s dictatorship it was virtually stamped out. More recently it is being taught and spoken quite extensively, with most places having a Spanish and Basque name and all direction boards and signage being in both languages. In 1997 the opening of the now iconic Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Bilbao helped transform a little visited industrial port into one of Spain’s must see places.
We headed to the bus stop to take the bus into town. It was an interesting bus ride, as this was the local bus that wound up and down the hills , into a nearby village and deposited us all in the centre of town. It is really so easy for everyone from every suburb to get into the city centre with buses running so regularly. Transport system is great! And cheap.
So last post I had a few readers remarking that I never spoke about food. So you will be pleased to know we went on a pintxos crawl this evening in Bilboa and I have lots to tell you. Pintxos if you remember are bite sized dishes originally pinched with a stick onto a piece of bread. Read here for a recap of San Sebastian or Logróno.
The pintxos scene in Bilboa has relatively recently exploded and Bilbainos consider good pintxos a fundamental part of daily life. The crowds seems to be people after work and rather than fancy decor or high prices they have some more down to earth options.Many also offer a good-value menú del día, but the majority eat the tapas way. One place to get a flavour of what’s on offer or to start a pintxo crawl is Calle Ledesma, however we chose to go to Plaza Nueva , a newer spot where there is a square with outdoor tables all the way down the middle. We took a few minutes finding it, but when we did we were amazed at the crowds, it seems it is Bilbao’s pintxos epicentre
We started off at one in the corner named Gure Toki.…its speciality being grilled foie with an apple and Pedro Ximenez sweet sherry sauce . ( Chris voted as his best pintxos ever) As is usual we found 2 square inches to stand and 1 square inch to put down our drinks and we started eating. By now we are quite good at shouting our orders over everyones heads. We are also getting a little more adventurous. I can’t remember all the dishes we had , but I remember fresh seared tuna served in a tuna tin with fresh chopped onions and peppers and a skewer with prawns in a shot glass of delicious sauce. The food was really tasty and we did end up eating more than we planned. Next place we stopped was a largish space with quite a big bar and seating called La Olla, no one really sits, well maybe Chinese tourists , but its much cooler to stand around. Here we ordered a few more pintxos ,but the highlight of the evening was Chris ordering dessert.
So Chris does not know much Spanish but the one word he does not forget is “postre” (meaning dessert in Spanish). He headed over to the counter and makes eyes at the waitress asking in his best Spanish accent “Postre por favour?” What arrived was a huge plate of deliciousness, Caramelized toast with tangerine ice cream and crunchy orange pieces, topped with a dollop of cream. ( a version of French toast or torrijas) See our pic below of Chris looking very uncool tucking into this huge plate of dessert.
After a really enjoyable evening we headed back on the bus to our camp site, and a good nights sleep. The next morning we were up and about and on the road as soon as we could manage. The plan was to drive along the coast and find a place to eat lunch, preferably a Menu del día of some sorts. We are heading to Irun to drop off the van, so we had decided on a camp spot in Hondarribia just next door.
The drive along the coast was beautiful, and apart from turning into the view spot from the wrong direction and getting a friendly admonishing hoot, we had a relaxing drive. So the problem started with Parsleyspursuits of the perfect place to eat lunch. Village after village passed by with us thinking maybe around the corner might be a better option than the one before. The one time we did decide to stop we could not find parking. We knew one place we could stop, a place called Getaria. We had been there before believe it or not! The last time we visited San Sebastian we had driven to this village to see the famous museum of designer Cristobal Balenciaga. He came from this village and the story is fascinating. Maybe a blog for another day.
So the thing was that we both had this romantic view of stopping in Getaria and siting down at the bustling harbour that we remembered last time.
( Chris: Me? not so many romantic thoughts) The sun was shining, we were hungry…….eh STOP. As we get out of the car and walk towards the first restaurant , Chris remembers why he is not so mad about a menu del día in Getaria. The restaurants are on the waterfront at the harbour and they are very touristy and very overpriced. It all comes back to him that last time we visited we had the same issue and we ended up in a lovely little unassuming place down at the end of the pier( which was lovely I remember) but sadly when we walked to it, it was closed for that day (of course). I had done some research on good places to try but both of them also happened to be closed! So back we went to have another look for a booodget friendly option. Chris is getting a black cloud over his head and I am losing my appetite. Anyway I don’t want to make us sound like miseries and we did choose a spot eventually. It was touristy and it was overpriced with my Menu del día at a whopping price of €25 plus tax. We knew we were being ripped off , and when we saw the Spanish couples next to us haggling for a cheaper option we knew we were not the only ones that thought so, BUT we did play the system well with only one of us having the del Día, and we shared the starter and the dessert. Look the fish was lovely and the people watching was the best, but Chris has decided he is not really a fan of Getaria. Pity cos I could totally work at that museum.
Stomach full, wallet empty we climb back in ScootR and drive off to find the camp site. We need to get checked in and we plan to give the van a big clean, but more frightening than that is the thought of once again packing what came out of 2 suitcases back into those 2 suitcases. Something that never quite works out as you plan. The camp site we found easily, but the price was quite high for a fairly non descript looking place. Wifi was terrible or actually non existent, but when we had parked and settled Chris decides that to make our last night special he is going to take us across the river to France for dinner. Hondarribia where we were staying is literally across the river from Hendaye in France.
The ultimate in Chris’s life would be to add another country into his itinerary. He is well known for taking me on holiday and doing 5 countries in 4 days…so I am used to his little idiosyncrasy and I am quite happy to be taken to France on the ferry for dinner. Chris opened up his iPad to start making the plans and I start to put on lipstick and heels AND THEN I hear OH F#@K!
Let Chris tell you the story…Chris: Today is the 24 October and as per plan we are going to clean the van and pack everything up in preparation for our handing back of the van on the morning of the 25th. A quick supper across the border was a great little treat to end our perfect trip. . . Imagine my horror when I start scanning my emails to find an urgent message enquiring as to our whereabouts and why had we not returned the van that morning. Panic, clammy palms and disbelief all at the same time. There must be a mistake, I would never do anything so stupid. . . After checking the paperwork, confident that they had messed up; I had to admit that ‘holiday brain’ had got the better of me. Tried to phone the office, tried to phone the after hours emergency number with no success; now I have visions of the police waiting on the quayside to arrest us as we attempt to escape to France. Bang went our international dinner. Good thing was. . . Early the next morning ( Spanish early being 9:15) when we got hold of the rental office they were quite relaxed and being the end of the tourist season hadn’t rented the van out again. We returned our beloved ScootR with a lump in our throats, paid for the extra day and found a taxi to Irun.
Our story ends in Irun where we took the bus from Irun station to Bilbao Airport. A lovely air-conditioned €8 trip to the station in Bilbao(with free wifi), and then we jumped off and then on again for a marvellous €1.65 bus ride to the airport. The entire transit with suitcases and all was seamless and easy, nothing we could have achieved in South Africa that’s for sure. What a fitting end for the boodget
Those of you living in SA know we are home now in beautiful Cape Town, just in time to enjoy the summer season all over again. We loved every minute of this journey and we loved sharing it with you, but this is not the end…we have so many Parsleys Pursuits to still discover .
So keep on watching for updates and you never know we might allow you to come along again on the next one!
Adios, no Hasta Luuuuuego!