This week, we got back into city life at Bilbao. Think the Guggenheim, pintxos (little ‘bites’), txakoli (the local table wine) and the general ‘buzz’ of a thriving Spanish city.
Here’s what we got up to this week in Bilbao (and surrounds)…
Where We Went
We had an apartment right in the centre of the city. We loved being in the midst of the shops, the bars and the action, but there’s always a trade-off, and in this case, we missed being in ‘nature’ and having an outdoor area like we did in our ‘mountain river house’ in the Picos.
A few favourite things about Bilbao…
We visited the Guggenheim Museum one morning. After dropping the girls off at the art workshop, we got to explore the Jeff Koons exhibition plus a couple of others. I can’t say I totally understood all of the art, but I really enjoyed the video installation by Shahzia Sikander. Plus, it was nice to get some ‘couple time’ (something we haven’t had since arriving in Europe).
Every morning, Anthony and I took turns to go out for our walk. It was something special to be going for a morning walk right past the Guggenheim. Then, afterwards, I loved going for a kid-free coffee and jamon sandwich for breakfast while I caught up on emails.
One afternoon, I got a leave pass to go out on my own so I went up the funicular to the top of Artxanda where I could see right across the city. So beautiful to get a birds eye view and have some time to chill out and read my book.
And of course… the pintxos! We had a few nights out at the pintxos bars and although Chloe made it very well known to all of us that she DOES NOT LIKE PINTXOS (yes, CAPS = shouting), Anthony and I enjoyed them very much. (Actually, in the end Chloe did decide she liked pintxos when she realised that a little tuna roll was a pintxo.)
Bilbao Street Art
[Anthony] On my morning walks, I seemed to discover more and more outstanding street art. On the first morning as I was running down near the docks, I was thinking where could I find graffiti in Bilbao and then almost immediately I see a few pieces next to building site. I think that is cool and I keep running and then wow the next road is covered and then it was off down the alleyways to discover lots of cool pieces. So it ended up being a walk, run, tour of Bilbao and a street art tour. I love multi-tasking.
We were on our way to Sunday lunch in a seaside town, north-east of Bilbao, but it was getting late and the family were getting ‘hangry’, so I randomly picked something off Tripadvisor and ended up at Restaurant Remenetxe. Wow! The restaurant was set in a traditional casario (old house) with beautiful Basque décor inside (baskets, corn cobs and garlic hanging from the roof). The food was amazing and the girls were pretty well-behaved. The wine guy gave us a good recommendation, too, for visiting a local txakoli winery the next day. Overall, we love these random picks (when they actually work) – it beats all that anticipation and expectation of spending hours trying to choose a place, but being disappointed when it doesn’t make the grade. This one was very special.
The next day, we returned to the area, this time to visit the winery that the sommeilier has recommended – Bodega Borreja. It was a beautiful location, perched up on a hill and surrounded by vineyards and a protected natural ‘biosfera’ area. We were shown around the winery and then tasted the txakoli (an acidic white wine that goes very well with most types of food) along with some cheese. These weren’t teeny-tiny pours either… more like glasses… with top-ups. Nice!
Elantxobe is a fishing village, stacked up on a steep cliff face with only stairways linking the houses together. It had a special bus turning mechanism, too, where the bus would drive onto a platform and it’d spin around, instead of doing a U-turn. Fancy! Well I had to look after the girls at the park, Anthony got to get out and explore and discover the crazy kids jumping of the port walls of about 5 metres high with perfect diving styles.
In 1937, Gernika was bombed by the Germans, on the orders of the then Spanish dictator, Franco. Imagine that… your own leader calling over his mates in Germany to come and bomb his own people. Ridiculous! After trying to tell the girls this story, they then went into a 30 minute conversation…Chloe “imagine if you blow up the cows…ha ha”, Zara “imagine if you blew up the street sign…ha ha”, Chloe “imagine if…” so on and so on. I guess they didn’t really understand the significance of this terrible event.
Now, 80 years later, it’s a regular town with a market where all the local abuelas sell their produce (two giant zucchinis for €1 anyone?), a few plazas and of course, pintxos bars. We had a look around then had a rather tense lunch, where the girls played in the park and wouldn’t respond (pretty normal really) and then when we had wrapped up lunch, they come trotting over and said “we are ready for lunch now.” Well that didn’t go down too well.
We visited a number of beaches along the coast to the east of Bilbao. The water was a lot warmer than it was around Galicia and we really enjoyed splashing around in the waves. We couldn’t keep Chloe out of the water, while Zara enjoyed playing on the sand or sunbaking.
After our tense lunch in Gernika, the water was a welcome relief here as Anthony had some alone time on the paddleboard where he struggled in the surf but loved the peaceful and serene tidal river. Chloe spent about three minutes on the beach and 3 hours in the water!
[Anthony] With Brigit making the family some money, we drove 20 minutes to this beautiful spot and then spent an hour trying to find a parking spot. After the girls promised to walk down the steep hill to the beach, I parked a kilometre away and hoped for the best. And for once they were angels and played beautifully on the beach and in the water and I enjoyed some reading time. And the bubble gum Calipos got them back up the hill, but did manage to send them slightly crazy later when we were looking for a restaurant for about 2 hours.
A stunning beach full of stunning sights. We didn’t know where to look as there were daggling bits everywhere between groups of families, a bit strange really. A great beach where Chloe and Anthony had heaps of fun in the surf, but was spoilt a little bit with one of the biggest girl sand fights as Zara come off second best. Not a happy little girl.
What We Learned
Always book the restaurant, especially at night. One night, we didn’t eat until about 10pm because we were going from restaurant to restaurant trying to get a table. That really sucked. Talk about hungry. And totally tired and over it. Luckily, Anthony had the foresight to book a table the next night at Nido. Simple, local food done incredibly well. Helped us remember that eating can be fun!!
It’s OK to have rest days at home. In fact, it’s a good idea. Anthony likes to be out and about and struggles to be inside for more than a few waking hours. But on one of the days, the girls just wanted to play lego all day inside. It wasn’t too bad – they were in a much better mood later on and it meant Anthony could catch up on the AFL and whatever else! (This was the afternoon I got my leave pass and headed out to explore Bilbao.)
Time on your own is essential. I love, love, loved having those little breakfasts out on my own. Sure, it was only about 20 minutes, but there was something really liberating about just being me, on my own, in a Spanish bar drinking coffee and eating jamon. I always came back feeling really pumped and really balanced.
The girls love the floor. Not really something we learned, but just want to mention that they seem to end on the ground everywhere we go, wineries, restaurants, shops, the street, the information centre. Off in their own little world, they think it is totally normal to be rolling around in each other’s arms pretending to be babies accompanied by the ‘beautiful’ pretend baby noise!
Chloe conquers the monkey bars. Bilbao is full of great playgrounds for kids. Chloe and Zara where in heaven. Every park we go past, Zara likes to say “Park, can we go there next time?” Even as we are driving past at 130 km/h and it is 200km from our next destination. Anyway, Chloe has been trying to do the monkey bars since she was about 3 years old. 3 years on, the determination paid off…as she stretched her little arms and swung her way to victory!
Next week, we head over the border to France, near Bordeaux. Plus, it’s Chloe’s Frenchy birthday!