Days Sixteen & Seventeen: Bilbao
After a quick and dirty bus trip through the rain & countryside, I got myself to Bilbao. It's not a beautiful city in the typical sense, and it's interesting how there's quite a mix of modern buildings in amongst the old. My hotel is also in an area that doesn't inspire me with confidence: A walk down the street took me through groups of young guys just standing around next to groups of policemen just standing around. Hm.
The old part of the city, however, is great, and I've actually had more interesting tapas here than in San Sebastian. Now, maybe I just didn't know where to go back there, but here at Berton, Cafe Bar Bilbao, and most of the places in Plaza Nueva have been interesting mixes of flavours, and very, very delicious.
I made it to the Guggenheim today, and it's actually smaller than I had imagined. The facade is just as amazing as I had hoped; the architecture in and out is fascinating. They have three good floors of exhibits that are far-reaching: a special exhibit of Dutch painting from the 1600s, contemporary photography, and selections from the Guggenheim collection which include paintings from the 50s and 60s (Rothko, Rauschenberg, Warhol, etc.). Just enough to see without feeling overtired, or bored, but just enough to justify the entry price.
But oh! The Guggenheim restaurant amazed me. I was lucky to get one of the last seats for their lunch bistro set menu, and it was by far the best 19 Euros I've spent: eggplant like I've never tasted eggplant, cod balls (descriptive, not anatomical) in some tomato or red pepper sauce, and orange creme caramel with some kind of orange foam. And I love the practice of opening the bottle of wine and just leaving it on the table. I'm trying not to abuse that privilege.
So, after floating out of that restaurant I moseyed over to the Museo des Belles Artes (free!) and saw some really fantastic Spanish painting from the 17th c. and later. Also an exhibit of Rouault - whom I had never heard of - but his colours, his fascination with pierrots and his Miserere series were all really eye-catching.
After the art galleries I headed back into the old part of town, and to my complete surprise I got good at ordering pintxos! It all started to make sense. My transactional Spanish didn't make the servers cringe or look at me sideways and blink. Although it might have been healthier for me when I was inept, as I wolfed down more pintxos than I should have, and went to bed dreaming of things only an over-full stomach can conjure.