Tuesday, July 28, 2015

18 hours in Bilbao -- My last bites in Spain

After travelling for more than two weeks,  I usually start to feel the tug of home.  But on 
this recent trip to Spain, I lost track of time and didn't even realise I had  been away for a month. 
So much for homesickness!

Before I could say holler another "Hola!" it was time to leave.  We had to travel to Bilbao where we would take our flight home.  There are PESA and ALSA express buses from San Sebastian to Bilbao that take the trip in just one hour.

We arrived mid-day in Bilbao and wasted no time in trying to see as much as we could of our last destination in Spain.  Looking back, I  should have  arranged to stay another night or two but you know what they say --  hindsight is always 20/20.

Our hotel was right along the banks of the Rio Nervion.  A very convenient place for exploring the city.  Care for a river cruise?  Bilboats offer quick tours for visitors.

There's also the ever reliable hop-on-hop-off  Turistikoa bus,  perfect for those with little time
to spare.

We rushed off to Gran Via where all the shops are.  The restaurants are located on the side streets behind the main avenue.  We found Restaurante Nicolas right in the centre of town.   An outdoor table gave us a good view of the week-end lunch time crowd.  Relaxing and people watching are 
best enjoyed with a glass of  txakoli -- salud!

And of course, I just had to have another glass of txakoli to accompany the scrumptious appetisers -- spicy and juicy chistorras,  small cured sausages popular in the Basque country and a plate of golden crisp - creamy croquetas.

Jay enjoyed his solomillo which came with a side of mushrooms, pequillo peppers and 
thick cut fries.  

We had put off shopping for any delicacies until Bilbao. A trip to El Corte Ingles' Club de Gourmet satisfied all my pasalubong needs. 

Late afternoon, we took on the recommendation of the hotel concierge to visit the Basilica de
Begoña, high up in the hills above the city.  He recommended that we walk up, assuring us that 
it was just 2 kilometres but of course, lazy tourists that we were, we took the bus.

I was glad we visited the Basilica. Mainly Gothic in style, this beautiful church overlooking the 
city is dedicated to the Virgen de Begoña, patron of the province of Biscay.  The Basilica sits on 
a site where the Virgin appeared in a vision and is highly venerated by the people of this region.

The interiors are lovely and simple.  There is a wooden floor that follows a slight but perceptible 
and visible incline.  We were lucky to have attended evening mass at the Basilica - a wonderful blessing on our last night in Spain.

For dinner, we decided to stay in our hotel and sample the restaurant.  Barcelo Bilbao has a 
modern and sleek dining room,  functional but not without charm and cheer.

Txakoli, one for the road -- with ensalada mixta.

The hotel menu offered carrilleras de vaca so I had a chance to enjoy it one last time.
Three pieces of beef cheeks in a very pleasing gravy with grilled aubergines on the side,
it was tender, tasty and bursting with umami flavour.

We also ordered chipirones en su tinta or small squid cooked in its own ink.  It's too dark to
see from this photo but the taste was as intense as the black sauce.

I had a wonderful time in Spain -- the Camino, travelling through Madrid and the northern
part of the country was a marvellous and memorable experience.   Finally, after all the tapas,
pintxos, cervezas and txakolis I had indulged in,  this little piggie was ready to go whee! 
whee! whee! all the way home!
Muchas gracias, (ex) Mother Spain!  Until we meet again ... hasta la vista!

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