Bilbao Travel Blog› entry 32 of 43 › view all entries
Woo hoo, I am back in the sun. Remember damp and wet Santiago?
Well on the 26th July, Juan and I departed Santiago in the little Citröen to head East. We had viewed the weather map in the paper and decided to head to the little suns rather than clouds with rain spurting out; as much as I loved Santiago, all good things often come to an end. The big plan was to take a couple of days driving through Asturia and Castilla y Léon and then I would make my way to the North coast to visit Santander, Bilbao and San Sebastian with my friend from Melbourne, Gillian.
The first stop was to be the city of Ponferrada, famous for it´s ancient fortress and well known to those who have read Paulo Coelho´s novel, ´The Pilgrimage´.
On the way, we stopped off at a UNESCO World Heritage site called Las Médulas. It was one of the most important gold mines of the Roman Empire. As you drive through the undulating countryside, you are suddenly confronted with spiky golden (and barren) hills that look like the dentist has had a really good go with the drill on a row of teeth.
The spectacular landscape resulted from a mining technique called Ruina Montium (77AD).
To get the required amount of water to the Médulas, over 100km of aqueducts were constructed from the rivers - this act has been described as ´beyond the feat of giants´! Looking at what remains of the hills, I can understand why.
Luckily our arrival at the site was 6.00pm,so we were treated to a spectacular show of soft afternoon sun on the remaining peaks; creating wonderful light and shadows in ochre and aubergine.
As we continued towards Ponferrada, we noticed the road sign to Carcabelos, another small Camino de Santiago village (Camino Frances). Ten minutes later and we were wandering through the leafy village plaza and cheerily accosted by a very friendly local gerntleman. He invited us to the local Bodega, this one a larger affair than Dominics. It contained 8 giant wooden wine barrels; unfortunately no longer in use but the lingering musty smell of fermentation was evidence enough.
The next day saw us heading further Northeast towards Valladolid (a very difficult word for me to say in Castillano). Our very cute hotel was situated on the main pedestrian plaza, and as we meanandered along we heard music in the park next door. It was one of the biggest municipal parks I have ever seen and once inside, it would be easy to get lost.
Following the sound of live music, we entered one of the larger plazas and were enthralled to see that it was absolutely packed with elderly couples dancing arm in arm. I could not say whether it is a regular occurrence or a special event but they were dressed for the occasion and if a male partner was not available, the girls paired up anyway. Did we join in? Sure!
Valladolid was a complete surprise; the city architecture was newer than most other cities I have visited and many of the central buildings looked to be built in the early to late 1800´s.
This is in the form of a bar which serves a limited variety of food and drink which is handed over the bustling counter at the speed of light. Each thing on the menu comes in full or half size and drinks are either soft, wine or beer. The main ingredient is either calamari or mussels and you can have them in a bocadillo (roll) or on a plate, topped with mayonnaise or salad. The only other food on offer is the delicious hand cut patatas bravas (fried potatoes) also smothered in mayonnaise and chili sauce.
It was a very funny experience as I have never seen the Spanish do anything fast since I have been here. Thank heavens Starbucks is not here and there are only a handful of McDonalds, almost exclusively visited by lazy foreigners.
It was another warm evening - balmy at about 27C - so we headed back to the lovely Hotel Lasa (complete with Buddha) for a shower. What a surprise to find that the hotel and many other buildings in the block were totally devoid of water! When we left in the morning, it still had not been restored so I think the hotel would have a few refunds on their hands. It made me think of the dire straights that Melbourne is currently in and I wondered whether rain had now returned to our little dry state in the South of Australia, or has this climate left us forever.
It was my turn now to head off on my own and I took the bus to Santander on the North coast of Spain for a night. I really do not have a lot to say as it was again damp and overcast so I walked a little and tried to catch up on some elusive sleep. The next day I took another bus to Bilbao and as we neared this pretty town, the clouds cleared away and I have been blessed with lovely sun ever since. Gilian has joined me and we are having a ball wandering the old laneways and playing in the beautiful shops. What a change from my life on the road. It is still taking a while to readjust and every time I pass a pilgrim in the street, I call out ´buen Camino´(a small part of me wants to join them).
My main reason for coming here though is to see the Guggenheim museum. I have waited 20 years to finally get here and every day now I have walked around it in awa. I head to the entrance and stare up at the 50 metre puppy covered in live summer flowers. If you get the chance to google, have a look as it is really such an unusual piece of art. Tomorrow morning we will be at the front door at 10.00am to finally take our visit. I am champing at the bit.
There is a bank holiday tomorrow so most shops are shut and we have saved the museum for then. The building itself is breathtaking, as is most of Bilbao. The centre of the city is a homogenous mix of ancient and modern art. Both coexist without treading on each others toes and it is almost like being in two cities at once.
We have found some lovely local-flavour bars on the edge of the old town and will head back tonight for more delicious seafood and sidre. The drinks in the Basque country (Basco) are served in large glass tumblers and the barmen pour wine and sidre from a great height until the bottom third of the glass is full. It is quite a performance and worth having a second glass just to see it twice! I will find it difficult to leave here as I have adopted Bilbao as my favourite city of the North - but it cannot replace Salamanca!
So with perhaps another climate change in store for me and a definite change in attitude, I will leave you to whatever climate I find you in right now.