September 17, 2004 (afternoon)
First bits first - Am alive, well, sitting in a netcafe/cafe/bar in Melide, our first stop in A Coruña. Have been away for almost a week and to say that this trip has been amazing would be a massive understatement.
Last Sunday arrived in Bilbao. The airport looks like a smaller and emptier version of Dulles with the same concrete swoop and swirl.
Made it through picked up bags and customs without incident - lines were long in the non-EU line but after spending over an hour just to get through internal security at Heathrow it seemed a breeze. Signs were in English as well as Basque and Spanish but it still took two information desk assistants, some awkward question phrasing and half an hour for me to find a bathroom to change in, a cash machine, and the bus into town.
(Was struck - and still am - with the lack of English spoken here. Some signs have English and occasionally occasionally you'll here it but most people will soldier through Spanish with you no matter what. I've had people know I was from the US, offer me printed information in English and still converse with me in my still stilted present-tense-only Spanish. And everyone tells us that we speak good Castilian - I guess its not as awkward as it sometimes feels. Or it is a nation of flatterers.)
Got into the city at about 2 - bus ride was about 20 minutes through country/suburbs. It's all pretty standard highway, but the entry into the city is fantastic - you come out of a tunnel and there it is before you with the Guggenheim exploding on the left and the rest of the city unfolding in front in a mad combination of nineteenth-century and modern architecture to the front and the right.
Had about 5 hours before I had to meet SS the SS and Thali. On the plane I'd checked the guidebook but most of the museums closed by 2 so I spent a while walking around the city (relatively clean and beautiful beautiful with what looked like 19th century stone architecture, lots of parks, and a river running through it all) and writing while sitting in the park.
When I got tired of lazing around the park I got some coffee at one of the museum bars (a cafe solo - those things are fierce). Ordering the cafe was a bit of a stress. Was sooo nervous that I would say something ridiculous or improper and I rehearsed my sentence ("una taza de cafe, por favor") about a million times before I said it. Made it through the transaction, including asking if I could sit at a table instead of at the bar, without incident. This all made me feel a little better.
Around 5 I went to the Guggenheim Bilbao, where I was supposed to meet SS the SS and Thali.
It is beautiful.
The pictures of the outside only give you a hint - the interior (where we couldn't take photos) is just as lyrical with soft curves of hard stone and light streaming in from everywhere. The audio tour said that it was all constructed using computer models, the pieces cut by robots but despite the heavy technology used to build it the place feels absolutely organic.
Luckily the coat check staff didn't balk at the size of my bag and I started in at the museum. There was a Rothko exhibit there which thrilled me, as well as a pop art exhibit with some Lichtensteins, Warhols, etc. But even with the phenomenal art really the building is what was most extraordinary - long after I'd looked through the exhibits I sat in the main hall with a book and read bathed by the late afternoon Bilbao sunlight off the nearby river. Freaking phenomenal.
At 7, met up with SS the SS and Thali at the information desk and we headed back via tram to our pensione in the Casco Viejo quarter. Two double beds with a sink in the room and bathrooms down the hall. Talked a little, unpacked minimally, checked the guidebook, then headed out then to find some dinner.
The Casco Viejo is even quainter than the main part of Bilbao - imagine some Disneyland-esque French Quarter looking place with old buildings, wrought iron, quiet streets. Then again the quiet could have been because it was late.
First we decided to figure travel arrangements for the next day. We saw on the map that there were a couple of train stations so we went to each to find out travel etc times. The FEVE station across the river had a nice woman at the desk but she told us that we needed the national RENFE service instead. We found the station on the map but couldn't seem to locate it on the street. Thali asked a nice man who seemed really perplexed by our question, especially when he pointed to the building directly behind us and said that was the (clearly labeled) RENFE station. Whoops.
Got up to the desks which were closed but saw that the one train a day to Sarria (where we were planning on picking up the pilgrim route) left at 9:15. Couldn't buy our tickets until the next day but we figured out what time we had to get there and settled out to go find some food. We couldn't find the restaurants mentioned in the guide but did see the Cathedral de Santiago there in the city.
After looking at a ton of places we finally grabbed a menu del dia dinner with plenty of rioja wine at a taverna with a lot of x, q, and z´s in the name (the more of those the more Basque a place is, it seems). We'd forgotten to bring the phrasebook with us and the waiter wasn't really interested in explaining the selections so we just picked something that sounded reasonable and concentrated on drinking the wine.
Next morning we headed off to Sarria - and I´m almost out of time. Will write later. Much love!
all text, images (except those noted) copyright 2002-2010 Moryma Aydelott.