Howdy, howdy fuckin partners! I’m half-juiced on fermented Spanish grapes and ever-so-eager to catch you up on my recent Euro travels…
[Over the river and up the hill in Bilbao, Basque Country.]
March 22 (Day 11):
Bilbao was a nice introduction to Basque Country (between Spain and France). We had a private double room in our hostel (Hostal Don Claudio) with comfortable beds, free wireless and helpful staff for roughly $25(US) each per night. The bathroom was the first I had encountered with two sides of sliding glass doors where you have to soap yourself up to slip through the door crack and where leg-shaving seemed exceptionally laughable.
First off, we well-rested backpackers shot across a couple streets for phenomenal pizza and beer. When we went to pay, however, the drama began. I paid the bill, got change and placed the proper percentage back up on the counter. “What’s this?” grey-headed barkeep asked. “The tip,” said I in perfect (mexican) Spanish. Next I know, barkeep is ringing a huge noisy bell on the wall behind the bar; I don’t know if I have just bought a round for the whole bar; my Spanyolo skills are failing under pressure; and we flee.
Back at the hostel, I asked the kind woman about tipping customs in Spain. She said it’s rare at best and a friend’s friend who worked in a New York city hotel said Spaniards in the U.S. are notorious anti-tippers. I guess the barful of old Basque men were trying their damndest to insure we never tipped again. Huh.
Though far from the city center, this hostel was right around the corner from the metro stop. Given our metro-slaying super skillz, we were downtown in eight shakes. Cuidado for the amateurs though. They say “mind the gap” in London, but they mean it in Bilbao.
The Abando end-of-the-line stop in town had a phenomenal stained-glass window, and all the people and guidebooks who talked like Bilbao only has the Guggenheim going for it are crazy people. Even through the torrential downpour of monsoon spring, it is an obviously attractive city with statues and plazas and a river walk and green hills nestling everything together.
The Guggenheim was also cool.
There is a huge dog outside made of cement and flowers and a giant spider on the river side.
I’m not super keen on art museums, but modern art is more palatable, and I especially liked the permanent displays (namely the constantly running LED light boards and a “making of” a huge NYC skyline). The staff encourages you to carry your valuables (like digital cameras) but then warn you to take “not even one picture” while inside. This, of course, seemed like a good challenge, so here is one picture from inside a huge interactive steel display and one among bathroom tiles.
Off-season tourism means a lot of construction, so in exchange for reduced fares (5 Euros), March tourists were disallowed entrance to the 2nd floor (three floors total). The first floor was interesting; the third floor made me tired with interminable Escher-esque maze creations paintings and sketches and metal work by Palazuelo. My very favorite display was the view around a half barricade on the second floor, watching an artist negotiate with the construction workers setting up his monumental display….each seeming to think the other was kind of ridiculous. Artist v. Artisan.
The history of modern art covered a long hallway, and though it featured very few female artists, I noticed The Guerrilla Girls (!) were the only art collective mentioned.
That night we hit the grocery store for our usual crusty baguettes and alcohol, and I was delighted to see the frighteningly low prices of Spanish wine which I have found to be consistently comparable to if not cheaper than bottled water prices.
Dinner and drinks down…
looking like this…
and smelling every bit hobo wino, we ventured across the street from Hostal Don Claudio. In the daytime, there is a sort of half-indoor/outdoor market with specialty shops. In the nighttime, a few tiny bars (and they’re almost all tiny in Spain) stay open. We drank small beers, and some Basque boys (Spanish as a second language) involved me in a foosball game, apparently oblivious to my extreme inebriation and soccer/football ignorance. My first match was my last, but these cats invited us to an equally small dance club across the street where cheap wine mixed with cheap beer mixed with cheap shots (absinth mixed with something sweet?).
Having finally slipped out of Basque grasps, we made our way up to our room, and I tucked my smoky-clothed self between fresh sheets.
Saturday morning rang in with a ferocious reminder of the true cost of half-Euro wine prices. With two weeks of hungover traveling under the waist-buckle of our backpacks, however, the pro packers locked, loaded and headed to Guernica….