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Published: November 18th 2012
Bilbao is just 2 hours away by bus and, with a long weekend to enjoy, we decided to return to the city and see some more of it. Much to our annoyance, the weather got gradually worse as we got further from Pamplona and closer to our destination!
We had booked a room at the Ibis Bilbao Central
as it was only a few Euros more expensive than staying in a hostel. Our first challenge was getting out of the bus station though. That was more hassle than we had imagined as there are no signposts or even a proper map that we could see. As you would expect, we went the wrong way first, but soon realised that it couldn't be the right way, and before long we were trudging our way along a "slippery when wet" pavement trying to avoid getting splashed by passing traffic.
The hotel was nice, but the massive and overly comfortable bed made sleep difficult. Funny isn't it, how being too comfortable can leave you restless!! A room not overlooking the street would have been better though because it seems, on a long weekend, everyone in Bilbao is out in the bars and restaurants, kids
in tow, and the little ones have to play outside!
On checking in we were given a map and the receptionist put a big X through one part of town telling us in Spanish that we shouldn't go there. Talk about a red rag to a bull! Guess where we went as we ventured out into the rain. San Francisco Street is full of small "ethnic" shops and restaurants but for a well travelled adventurer it's not as imposing as the hotel may think. We even found a Moroccan restaurant which was packed. We had a sandwich which was a bit boring considering the falafel, couscous and other delights on offer, but we vowed to return for a tajine or something similarly exotic. Sadly, when we returned (most evenings) the restaurant wasn't open. We were probably too early. At night though, it did feel pretty "edgy" and we saw a lot more visible police - both cars and men - and we could feel some eyes watching us at times!
The weather was really the winner all weekend though. Luckily on the Friday the sun came out and we went to the coast at Getxo, but this blog
is about Bilbao and you can read about that in the previous entry.
Exploring the city in the rain isn't a great deal of fun but the Guggenheim
was on our agenda anyway. Outside it's certainly a strange building and inside it's a maze of twisted chrome and glass. On the balcony is a bizarre bunch of colourful tulips allowing for some strange self-portrait opportunities (see the panoramic image at the top of the blog) but that work of art really is a highlight. Unless you are seriously into modern art, don't expect to spend much more than an hour or so inside. It was just a bit too odd for us. The best artwork was the tiling in the toilets! Still, at least now we've been and we can say we have "done" the Guggenheim. the cafe is highly recommended though, and not badly priced at all.
The city by night is magical, and a riverside stroll is a must - even in the rain. We were particularly taken by some of the old buidings illuminated in the dark. The Zubizuri bridge is a fabulous example of modern architecture to compliment the traditional buildings all around Bilbao.
During the day it's also worth walking along Rekalde Zumarkalea, just down from the Carlton Hotel, to see the glass fronted modernity of what we think is either a bank or a utility company office.
We didn't really do much more because of the weather. Yes, we ate quite a lot of pintxos and drank our fair share of beer and wine, but you know us well enough by now and would expect nothing less! We will be back, but probably not too soon and no doubt not until the spring and hopefully some better weather!!
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