After leaving Porto, we headed to our next stop, Bilbao, Spain. This transit involved an airplane trip into Spain, because there were foreboding mountains in the way, hindering easy train travel. Unfortunately, there were no direct flights on the day we wanted to travel. So, it was necessary to take a train to Lisbon, to get the flight to Bilbao. We had been using Uber very successfully, in Porto, to get around [it was very inexpensive], so we decided to take it to the train station, from our hotel. The train station was only a 5 minute drive away. We might have walked it, but rolling the luggage that far wasn’t practical and it was all uphill. We went out, on the morning of our departure, to summon the Uber. There was a huge traffic jam outside and the Uber was reporting about 20 minutes just to reach us and then an equal amount of time to get to the station! PANIC! We didn’t have enough time before our train departed. So, we tried to wave down a taxi that was driving by, but he already had a fare. We were stuck and, as the minutes counted down, started to think about a change in our travel plans. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the cab driver that we had waved at previously showed up! He had dropped his passengers around the corner and came back to see if we were still looking for a ride. Brilliant! It kind of makes one wonder if there really are “Guardian Angels” lurking about.
While walking around in the Lisbon airport, we saw a number of young men carrying around these giant padded surfboard bags. Some of them were also rolling two pieces of luggage, as well. I sure hope they weren’t planning to “carry on” those surf boards. Carol later read that Portugal is one of the top 10 world locations for big wave surfing.
Our flight from Lisbon was on a Spanish carrier called Vueling. As we boarded the aircraft we discovered that Spain still requires passengers, of all modes of transportation, to wear protective masks. They handed them out to anyone without one, as they boarded. That was a pleasant surprise to us. Up until now, we have been lone mask wearers on all our transit. On exiting the airplane, they made everyone sit down while 5 rows at a time got up and walked out. Interestingly, as we walked off the airplane and onto a crowded stand-up bus to the terminal, almost all of the people took off their masks. As I write this, on a TGV fast train in France, on the way to Paris, towards the end of our trip, there is a woman across the aisle coughing and blowing her nose and taking medication. And we are the only passengers wearing masks. We have stayed healthy so far on this trip [fingers tightly crossed]. As I recheck the fit on my KN95 mask, I’m hoping to not needing help from that “Guardian Angel” again. After everything we all have been through, the past 2.5 years with the pandemic, I’m surprised that people still have not learned how to protect themselves and their neighbors from spreading sickness to each other. Maybe I’m expecting too much from the human race?
Bilbao is a delightful city, set around what looks like a river. However, we learned that it is not a river at all, but an estuary, instead. There is not enough fresh water flowing through the waterway to be a river, so the ocean backs up its salt water into it and the level raises and lowers twice a day with the tides. At low tide it is almost empty. Because of this there isn’t much boating activity on this “river.”
Our first morning we woke up to a rain squall in the area. As we headed out to find some breakfast, we quickly learned that our small “travel” umbrellas were no match for it. We ended up soaking wet. Believe it or not, we, Seattleites, are not used to this kind of hard rain! However, that extra coating of waterproofing on the shoes and travel clothes that dry out very quickly, did their jobs. By mid-morning the sun came out and we were ready for the free walking tour.
The Historical District here is a teardrop shape hugging up to the [not a] river. Our hotel is right in the middle and the area is restricted to pedestrians only. The lack of noisy cars was a bonus, but there were plenty of “revelers” celebrating a fiesta to some famous saint to keep the noise level high until late in the evening. We probably should have just gone out and joined them. There was a long history of the iron industry here and the factories, set on the banks of the estuary, were responsible for a lot of pollution in the area. Those factories have long since moved away and the area is enjoying a Renaissance of tourism in recent years.
One of their interesting customs, or maybe it’s a sporting competition, is “Stone Lifting.” They gather nationwide and see who can lift the heaviest rock, and how many times they can lift a 100 kilogram [220 pounds] stone until they are exhausted. The record holder could lift a 260 Kg [573 pounds] stone and pick up a 100 kg stone 1700 times in a row. There is a photo of him in the picture gallery.
One of the famous Guggenheim museums is here, in Bilbao. It was designed by Frank Gehry, the famous architect who also designed the original “Experience Music Project” in Seattle. The building is quite an amazing structure. It is too hard to describe. I have a few pictures of it in the photo gallery. The art collection was kind of lacking, in my opinion, but, seeing the building itself, is worth the price of admission.
One day while in Bilbao, we took an excursion out to the famous “San Juan de Gaztelugatxe”, a 10th century island hermitage dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It was made famous by the HBO series “Game of Thrones” as “Dragonstone.” To get there, you start at the top of a very steep cobblestone path, at about 650 feet above the ocean. You walk down to the water and then start up the stairs to the old church, at Dragonstone. The stairs climb up about 200 feet of elevation, in 241 steps. So far, so good. The view on top, over the ocean and land, is very nice. We only had an hour and a half to complete the round trip journey, so we had to head back to the bus. Down the 241 steps and then…….. up the steep cobblestone path, back to 650 feet, over about .6 miles. This part was grueling, but we made it back before the bus left. By the time that day ended we had logged almost 19,000 steps, over almost 8 miles and climbed 48 flights of stairs. We have been really giving our walking shoes a workout on this trip. Check out the picture gallery for some interesting photos of the path to the hermitage.
The food in this Basque region of Spain is mostly what you might expect, very good. Our favorite large plate of Padrone peppers, baked with olive oil and salted, was there. They also have Paella, but with a twist. Instead of rice, sometimes it’s made with small “elbow” pasta. I think I like it better. Their version of Tapas, called Pintxos, are very tasty, but almost all of them come on top of a thick slab of bread. Too much bread can stop up the biological plumbing. We had to leave some of it uneaten. There is also a favorite bakery treat here called the Carolina. It is a pastry crust filled with a swirling dose of meringue, that looks like a tall soft serve ice cream cone and pasted with chocolate and egg yoke on the sides. I have some pix in the photo gallery, if you would care to have a look. The food may be somewhat familiar, but the language is very different. I studied Spanish a bit in high school and college, but this Basque form of Spanish is unrecognizable to me.
This pretty much ends the “new” part of our current travel adventure. From Bilbao we head into southern France, to visit with friends, renting a house there and then to Paris for a few days just hanging around. I won’t be writing about France on this trip. We’re not really doing anything adventurous there this time. However, this evening we were having dinner with a Parisian friend, at a cafe, outside, near the street. While we were sitting there, the Prime Minister of France came walking down the tiny street with her security detail. She stopped about 10 feet away, to chat with folks on the sidewalk. I rarely get near high up government officials like this, however, we did once, in the Bahamas, get within arms length of QUEEN Elizabeth and Prince Phillip [rest their souls] during their Commonwealth visit.
We’re headed home in a few days. Hope to connect with you all next time.
Carol has just published her blog for Bilbao. You can see it at:
Later………………. your favorite travelers, Tom and Carol
PS: We are finding this time, as well as on our trip to Italy last spring, that you need very little cash any more, when traveling in Europe. I have been using my Apple Watch to pay for almost everything, using Apple Pay [there are other forms of electronic payment, as well]. All the vendors have the same portable wireless payment terminal that accepts Apple Pay along with contactless “tap” credit cards. Some of them are comically amazed when they see me flash my watch at the terminal and the receipt starts to flow out. I think I used my credit card once in my entire three weeks here. Get connected before your next trip to Europe. You won’t regret it.