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Bilbao: the alternative way

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View Basque Country on Sajeh's travel map.

I have the feeling that it's been a while since the last post. Let me assure you that I have a perfectly valid explanation for my absence these days: I spent the weekend in Bilbao, as I expected in the previous post. A great weekend, being able to discover the city in an alternative way that led me off the beaten tourist track.

As I mentioned previously, I’d found someone on Couchsurfing that invited me to stay the weekend at his place and discover the city. Mikel Irastorza is a Biology student at the University of the Basque Country and shares an apartment in central Bilbao, not too far from the Guggenheim museum. After my internship at Eitb on Friday evening, I had arranged to meet him at the Deusto metro stop, from where we went to his flat. It was great to meet someone out of nowhere and share experiences and stories, more so because he had also gone on an Erasmus exchange last year (to the Czech Republic) and he was – like me – a huge Bruce Springsteen fan!

He had invited some friends (Beñat and Maialen) over for dinner so we went shopping for groceries and he made us a nice meal. I must say, it’s possible that I was just very lucky, but if everyone here is as hospitable as Mikel, I have to revise my cynicism on people in general. I got my own room, didn’t have to pay for any food – although I insisted multiple times – and he actually spent his whole weekend showing me around.
I know it may sound strange for some people that I’ve spent all this time in the company of complete strangers and actually fully trusting them, but I recommend you all to try it! It opens so many new perspectives.

On Friday, when his friends left (who were lovely people as well), we took a late night walk through Bilbao. A big city is just so interesting at night; seeing the Guggenheim seemed like a whole new experience in the dark and with the spotlights on it. We crossed a bridge to the other side of the river, meanwhile seeing many architectural highlights. We ended up at an abandoned playground where we stayed for a while; these are unexpected things that I really love to do.
Sitting there, we were briefly joined by two middle-age Basque and Argentinean women that also tried to climb the spider webs, quite hilarious.

Guggenheim at night
Mikel at the bridge while crossing the Nervión river
Playgrounds are fun at night!

Art and coincidences
I had a great sleep that night, it was the first time in over a month that I slept in a room by myself (not that Niké is in any way a bad roommate, don’t worry! I was just enjoying the change). The next morning when I woke up, the cereals, milk and orange juice were already awaiting me – seriously, the hospitality is unbelievable! I actually got laughed at a bit by my host because I bought Solan de Cabras, a brand of water that is apparently considered to be a bit posh! Anyway, the atmosphere was good, because in a very short time of knowing each other, we got along quite well.

Mikel went to the Guggenheim with me around noon. Crazy but true, when walking up there, I bumped into Tiina (the Erasmus student from Finland) and her boyfriend Sami, while I had no idea that they were in Bilbao. Some coincidence in a city of over 300.000 people! We arranged to meet later that afternoon.
I had already been to the Guggenheim but I was hoping that there would be a new exposition; unfortunately there wasn’t. Anyway, walking around in there is always worth my time, and even Mikel – who is not such an art lover – did not bore himself to death, which kind of relieved me!

Mikel walking through Richard Serra's work at the Guggenheim
Beñat and a great dog!

True tales of San Francisco

Afterwards we went for some lunch and met up with Beñat and Maialen again. Mikel wanted to show me the old part of town, which is always more interesting than the modern and store chain-invaded new parts of a city. We crossed the river again, I called Tiina and Sami and all six of us went for some lunch and drinks (soja-burgers, hurray!).
Then we – without Beñat and Maialen who went home for a while – went to the San Francisco district of Bilbao, with high anticipations on my part. I knew it was an alternative neighbourhood that is primarily known to be a bit marginal and dangerous, but it are often these areas that hide the greatest treasures of a city.
And right I was. Arriving through Bilbao La Vieja, we passed lovely riverside houses in all kinds of colours, the most original tattoo shop I’ve ever seen – decorated as an abstract ghost house, I kid you not – and the area is home to a bunch of small art galleries.

Tiina and Sami
Riverside at Bilbao La Vieja

Ok, walking a bit further into San Francisco you notice more crooked buildings and every few meters people ask you if you want to buy drugs, but other than that I have not felt unsafe there. Of course, I wouldn’t go strolling around on my own at night, but then again, I don’t do that very often in any part of a big city. Mikel showed us the dorm room that he used to stay in, which was quite funny and supposedly provided him with some major flashbacks.
Everywhere you look you see façades covered in colourful artwork and many small bars each decorated according to the country it represents. A bit further, in Calle Dos de Mayo, we stumbled upon Anti-Librería, an amazing bookshop filled with rare books on art, music, design, cinema and so on. Next to that, a second hand vintage shop, narrow and dark but with unique stuff piling out everywhere! I was lucky not to have a lot of money on me, because I’m sure I would’ve spent it all.

Anti-Librería, lovely bookshop!

Belgium represented
Tiina and Sami returned home after that, while Mikel and I went to the supermarket to buy some food – he had planned on making tortilla de patatas himself – and we stacked up on Belgian beers. My treat, since Mikel took such good care of me!
Beñat and Maialen joined us for dinner again and Morten, the Danish Erasmus student that also studies at Mondragón University, was planning on passing by later.
We had to wait for the last one for a long time – Beñat and Maialen had even gone home by then – but when he arrived, him, Mikel and me chatted into the night until 4 o'clock, accompanied by our cherished Belgian beers.

Morten and Delirium
Mikel and Duvel

Bilbao's outskirts
Next day, Mikel, Beñat, Maialen and I took the metro to the suburbs of Bilbao. We walked around Getxo and Portugalete, having to cross the river on a platform that was held up by steel cables. It’s an area where – according to Mikel – not a lot of non-locals come, but I really liked it there. When you go towards the coast, you end up at a harbour (the biggest port of this region) and a small beach where we saw some sand sculptures.
Other than walking, eating some Chinese food and having a few coffees, we didn’t do much – it was a Sunday, go figure – but it was a very peaceful day and perfect to end a more than successful weekend. In the evening Morten and I took the bus back home. I’ll start reporting from there on in the next post, because this one is turning out to be the size of a novel and I should really stop typing.

Platform and bridge that connect Getxo and Portugalete
Maialen and Beñat
Getxo beach

Good thing is, Mikel told me I could stay in Bilbao whenever I wanted, as long as he was at the apartment. A great offer and since I really enjoyed his company, I’ll probably take him up on that! I can’t thank him enough for what a wonderful weekend I've had!

That’s it for now (I’d be surprised if you haven’t fallen asleep already).

Gero arte!

Posted by Sajeh 02:59 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad

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