Whoops. This post was supposed to come out BEFORE Durango, but oh well!
We arrived in Bermeo after our hike, showered, got a pizza and then watched TV until past midnight. We were tired but not too tired to watch a portly man argue and fight with every school cafeteria across Spain demanding more fresh food on the menu. I highly recommend it.
We didn’t explore the city this night because that TV show was critical Spanish practice so we saved our exploration for the next day.
Bermeo, it turns out, is a very cute medieval fishing town.
I can’t really offer many words here. It’s wildly different architecture from what we’re used to in Andalucia (white villages) or Mallorca. It was like the first time we had been to Europe – taking pictures of “normal” houses because we had never seen anything like it. The colors were great. And the medieval style with enclosed balconies jutting out wherever an owner had wanted one over the years. This ended up making some homes hang over the road or jut into the neighboring building.
We took a train back down to Bilbao. We had been there two days before just to fly in. But it made far more sense doing it this way as we would be heading down to Durango later (and because hotels had been cheaper for these days).
Bilbao was once a sad little shipping town (people say) that I’m sure was as nice as Bermeo. Now, though, the only thing anyone cares about is the Guggenheim Museum. And Bilbao is a perfect example of what’s called the “Guggenheim effect”. The Guggenheim effect is basically throwing power-words around like “urban regeneration” “imbued with cultural purpose” and “Frank Gehry.” Once you start using those terms, the city and people just magically convert from drab to hip. Bilbao used to be gray and dirty (according to this article) and now it’s a harmonious integrated clean cultural urban place. Bilbao was certainly cool. It had very nice architecture, and the only furniture stores were selling hyper modern pieces of furniture and everything in general was quite hip. Maybe too hip for us. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt too old for something. Everyone was posh and dressed funky. They ate their small pintxos and drank their small beers and looked so hip doing it. It gave us quite a complex for a moment. So we headed straight to the mall for better duds.
We knew before we even arrived that we weren’t going to see the Guggenheim. Modern art is not our cup of tea. We had wanted to go to Bilbao because it’s often the only thing on the map on northern Spain. It’s an empty space on the map and we figured Bilbao must have at least some cool stuff, since it’s the largest city in the region. So we went in with open minds to see whatever we could see.
Later we went out for our first pintxos. Pintxos are like tapas. Tapas are small snacks that come with drinks. In Andalucia they are free with a drink. Here, they are 2-10 Euros and are much smaller and often much fishy-er. The name comes from the skewer stabbed through the food to hold it all together. They’re very cute all lined up in bars.
The most typical pintxo that you can probably make at home would be the Pintxo de Queso de Cabra. To make it, start with a slice of french bread. Then place a slice of Jamon (prosciutto will work) on top of that, top it with a slice of goat cheese, then add some caramelized onions, and finally drizzle some balsamic vinegar over that. The pièce de résistance is a simple walnut, sometimes a cashew.
As nice as pintxos are, they are a pain in the ass to order. The restaurant staff will lay out all of the pintxos on the bar, and if you want one you have to ask for it. But of course there is no way of knowing what the name is, or even what it is made out of, unless you’ve already had it. So inevitably you just end up pointing. Then you get it, you eat it, and if you want another you repeat the process. You pay at the end, and more often than not the waiter has forgotten what you ordered, so you have to list it out (and maybe point some more). For one beer, one glass of local white wine, and 4 pintxos we paid (on average) €20 ($23). That’s not terrible, but a bit much for what basically constitutes a snack.
And they really are supposed to be between-meal snacks, and you are supposed to travel from restaurant to restaurant trying different kinds of pintxos. But each restaurant has 15 or so different varieties, and once you’ve found a comfortable spot you might be hesitant to roll the dice at another restaurant. We would choose a quiet bar and try at least 4 different pintxos before leaving.
Whilst walking around we found ourselves in the immigrant side of town, we first noticed this when the Basque flags disappeared and the Colombian and Peruvian flags showed up. We had found Little Latin America! These are less common in Spain than you would think, so of course we had to go grocery shopping. We ended up buying some Colombian stew spices, and two “koolaid” drinks – one guava flavored and one purple corn.
To finish the night we bought some Idiazabal (Basque sheep cheese) and some Txakoli (Basque white wine) and enjoyed them in our dimly lit hotel room watching the discovery channel in Spanish.
We had originally planned this trip with the intention of avoiding larger cities and tourist traps. Bilbao certainly falls into both of these categories, but it had been fine all the same. But if would pale in comparison to our next destination…Durango.