Bilbao / Basque Country

We had planned it this way, knowing the transition from England to Spain would create a cultureshock but only when you experience it, you really feel it. We got off the boat, always a bit confusing where to go with people giving directions that may or may not be coherent with the former, but felt it right away: it’s hot here different from England. Oscar figured it out well beforehand, otherwise we would have thought we were wrong: we cycled more than 7 km through a real port area. Sheds and containers everywhere. It is the only way not to leave the port by motorway. And then, right at the end, we encounter a barrier. We slow down a bit, no one seems to be present in the customs house. Then the barrier goes up. That’s fine, otherwise we might have felt illegal.

Suddenly we are face to face with a flying ferry. At the bottom is a typical Spanish coffee place where we allow ourselves a break to let the transition sink in. On the bar stools on the terrace we get in contact with a young lady from Nieuwegein who has walked part of the camino. Lots of hills and therefore tough. She has breakfast here with a wedge of tortilla, tea and juice. Not a bad way to start the day.

Across the road we hit a super smooth cycle route to the campsite (on the beach 10km out of town) which has a sign saying it is full but not for us. Here we get the first sign that it’s party time in Bilbao and therefore the advice to find a spot on the small tent field. Even without that advice, we would definitely have chosen that. This is by far the nicest spot on this otherwise very urban campsite. As we were expecting many others, we carefully considered the minimum distance to the tarp with mat at the back of the field. In hindsight this turned out not to be necessary; we were apparently the only/last ones who dared to ask for a spot on this overcrowded campsite. Too bad for the lady and the miniscule dog who lived under the tarp and also found the camino tough.
We decide to hold on to our ‘tempo dulu’ for a while and have lunch with the leftovers of all the goodies we bought for the crossing before we take the metro into town. On the way to the station, we encounter a group of fluteplayers who play their flute with their left hand while playing a drum with their right, and a van belonging to a UCI Continental women’s team.

On the way back, it turns out there is a real cycling tour going on; everything is cordoned off and after a while 7 cyclists m/v pass by with as many support cars.
In town, we seek out the old quarter. The famous Mercato de Ribiera is closed – because it is Saturday or because of the festival? The accompanying foodmarket is open, though. We notice here that people in groups, with or without the same shirts and/or scarves, sit together and have tapas. We have a drink and enjoy all the bustle around us.

Because of the festival, everyone wears a special scarf.
Nationalist sentiments are definitely still there!

Mercato de Ribeiro (left).

We go in search of the Basilica de Begoña. We first stumble upon the Iglesia de los Santos Juanos but we weren’t looking for that. It turns out to be quite a walk (uphill and it’s quite hot) and then we find a closed door: on workdays, Sundays and public holidays, the basilica reopens at 5pm. Today is Saturday. What to do?
We are tired and decide to wait on a bench for a while. Oscar reads a book, Tessel falls asleep and then at 4.45pm a mother with baby in a christening gown and a grandfather with an empty pram come running up the hill. A little later, a group of family members arrive. Fortunately, the clock soon strikes 5 pm and the door promptly opens. The family is given a place in the side aisle near the baptistery while mother goes with the priest (to exchange some personal details? – grandpa walks up and down the aisl with the baby in the pram). For us, there appears to be a nice tour to download. Nice considering that without that explanation, the interior is pleasant but not overwhelming. The tour ends with a place to light a candle to Signora de Begoña to whom the, week-long festival is dedicated. We ask Signora de Begoña to watch over our loved ones in NL and then begin the walk down which fortunately turns out to be much easier and shorter than the way up.

Back in Sopela on the way to the campsite, we do some shopping at the supermarket. It’s always a treat to visit a supermarket in a new country. Even as we enter, it smells of fresh fish; Oscar doesn’t flinch. He even pleads for anchovies through the beetroot salad (he suffers from his low blood pressure and thus needs salt). Otherwise, lots of delicious fruit and vegetables and everything else we are looking for.
Back at the campsite, we enjoy the long evening. It stays light and warm for a long time and the crickets and a very thin crescent moon complete the scene.
On Sunday, we go to the Guggenheim. What a building! Even without all the art, it would have been worth a visit. At the same time, Tessel is confronted with the methods of her architectural peers when, while listening to a story about a great work of art, she thinks she totally recognizes the philosophy of the building😂🤣😂. Maybe it’s a good thing she abandoned design as a profession.

And also a sloop rowing race; we assume also because of the party.

We decide after all the strolling around town the past 2 days that our knees do deserve an extra day of rest. Super nice that the neighbours who had that shady spot leave in the morning. With help from our English neighbour with whom we get into a nice conversation, we lift the tent to the higher terrace and nestle under the fig tree with a book. In the afternoon, we take a dip in the waves of the Gulf of Biscay. I think we could get used to this country.

Below once again the route we have travelled so far, with an enlargement of England.

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