Before Guernica was a Picasso, it was a small town that had the shit bombed out of it by German and Italian planes, authorized by Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Regardless of tactical theories, the raid left at least 1,500 civilians dead and about 900 wounded. Picasso’s piece tries to capture the terror and chaos of the day.
[a tiled wall in Guernica]
It is also the region from which most of the Boise Basques immigrated, giving Idaho the largest population of Basques in the United States. This Idaho connection brought me to Guernica, and I will (fingers crossed) have a link to a published piece about that soon.
It’s not a big tourist destination, but the Peace Museum and natural beauty of the area have definitely upped numbers of visitors.
March 24, 25, 26, 27 (Days 12, 13, 14, 15):
It is an hour bus ride from Bilbao through green hills and snow-capped mountains and past little red-roofed farmhouses and grazing land. We arrived on a Saturday and found the entire populace out walking and communing, leaving no one to man hostels, supermarkets or tourism offices. Luckily the town is small and easy to understand. There are only four hostels in town, and we ended up in what must have been the best (Madariaga Ostatua). It should be listed as a budget hotel – private room with two double beds and a non-shared bathroom; television, balcony. For 35 Euros a night (split between the two of us), we were joyous…especially after stopping in the dark and spooky hostel down the street. The old kindly grandpa man who runs it was extremely helpful but long-winded and hard to understand in his Basque-to-Spanish accent.
We explored the town thoroughly without getting lost and noted the weekend practice of walking down the street and having a small drink with your friends in every little bar you walk by. Mornings are for coffee (or wine) and afternoons and evening are beer, liquor and wine. Still recovering from our last night in Bilbao, we opted to stay in on Saturday night, but all the bars below us belched bellowing Basques onto the street until at least three in the morning.
Sunday we sat on our balcony drinking that lovely Spanish cheaper-than-water wine and observing the lives of the locals. That night we saw our first (of millions of) hanging pig legs with drip cups at the bottom.
Our staring and quiet commenting provoked the barman to slice up a plate of raw (sorry…cured) pig leg scrapings and bread and offer them to us on the house. I don’t eat meat, but in Spain, that explanation tends to provoke furrowed brows and offers of tuna or seafood; so I found the smallest piece I could and chewed, chewed, chewed, chewed, chewed and swallowed. It tasted like how I remember bacon tasting…except raw.
[where pig treats come from]
Monday we headed back to the Bilbao bus station where we switched onto a bus to San Sebastian, which is also in Basque Country. Everyone had talked in exclamation points when recommending this little beach city; and despite heavy rain, we certainly enjoyed ourselves. The architecture of the beach front wasn’t too exciting, but Old Town was gorgeous – tall and crammed together with an ornate church looming up from the base of a big hill and a giant Jesus lording (get it) over everything from the top of the hill.
The hills and snowy mountains made a picturesque backdrop, while the ocean stretched out in the other direction.
At the hostel (David Quinn alai-berri (which is not a reference to Halle Berry but a Basque description of a repurposed property…I checked)), we met a bitching bunch of characters: Phillip (studying in Barcelona) and Anoop (visiting on Spring Break) from New York/New Jersey; Linde and Caolan (in the last week of a long time of Euro travel) from British Columbia; the lovely German girls who offered us couches in Cologne; Jeff, the thrifty Canadian from Toronto (who set a new standard for budget travel) and his Montana girlfriend.
The best character, however, was David Quinn’s mother who was over from Dublin helping him out. She recounted us tales of visiting Florida, but being too frightened to drive on the wrong (right) side of the road, so she ended up taking a 4-hour bicycle ride through the ghetto, singing the hymn of St. Patrick because it was the only one she could remember. I fully intend to take her up on her offer of tea when I make it back to Ireland.
Monday was beautiful, and we explored the beach and city then drank with Phil, Anoop, Linde and Caolan until the bars closed and prevented us from buying more overpriced beer and wine.
Anoop had ended up with a British man’s jacket at some point in his travels, and the pocket contained a series of challenges written on little pieces of paper. On that note, I had my hand kissed by a man at least twice my age by the end of the night. We took the beach route back from Old Town; did some drunken frolicking; and competed in javelin-style stick throwing.
Jesus on the hill let loose a monsoon on Tuesday – probably to punish our extravagence – so we spent a lot of time bonding with new friends in the hostel kitchen. Bless that man, David Quinn. Though we didn’t have a room for that night, he let four of us stick around with our backpacks secured in the spare room because we all had night buses. The place is very small but very much like staying with family or friends. After we had all braved the rain to purchase our bus tickets, Linde, Caolan, Ash and I went shopping where we encountered our first little trolley baskets!
In the hostel kitchen, we cooked the best and most filling collaborative meal any of us had eaten in days: garlic bread; salad with artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes and salad dressing (! – a Spanish rarity); a noodle medley with home-concocted marinera and melted cheese; and, of course, juice box red wine mixed with yellow Fanta, the homeless person/budget backpacker special!
With sated bellies, we exchanged emails, branched off and headed for our different buses. En route to Barcelona, I dreamt of a blow-up horseshoe neck pillow that would keep my bobble head upright on the ever-winding bus route.
Now some fishy findings in Basque country:
(next up…Gaudy Gaudi in Barcelona and, “What are we doing in Valencia?”)