Before taking my first weekend jaunt out of Madrid, I didn’t know all too much about San Sebastián and Bilbao, aside from having previously had an intern when I was working at JLE who came from Bilbao. She spoke like, hello and goodbye in English, and even then I could barely understand her. She spoke with a strange accent and was a low talker, and it was beyond me why we took her on. Maybe because we were intern short-handed and we needed someone to fetch Simon his café or hold down the office when I had to relieve myself for 1 minute. Whatever the reason, that is all I knew of Bilbao. Oh, and that it was supposed to be gorgeous. Which you will see in this tale that that is indeed a true fact of life.
Mama Schaeff visited me for a week before Kristia and I decided to last minute crash Jen and her friend Jules’ trip to Basque Country. Mama left on Thursday afternoon, and that night after my clase de Español, we caught a 12:30am bus headed north to San Sebastián. It was a 6 hour bus ride, which I konked out on most of thanks to the scrumptious neck pillow Jerry gifted me earlier this year. That means we arrived in the wee hours when the sun was still deciding if it wanted to rise or not.
I was quite the physically and mentally exhausted camper, and Kristia was ready to run laps and shit along the river.
I had plans to take a nap on one of the benches like a bum, but that didn’t pan out because eventually I woke up and we found a cozy café to get some coffee pumping through our systems, listen to the supafab throwback soundtrack being bumped, and of course, begin the pinxto (Basque version of tapas) inhalement. You’ll notice the jamon in this photo. Well, I decided that I’d bend my pork consumption rules to try it since it’s all the rage. And yea, it’s pretty bomb, and tastes kind of like my other pork allowance, salami.
When we (read I) were finally alive, we walked through the gorgeous streets to find our hostels in the old town. Though like me before her, Kristia was content with making a local bench her home for a few moments.
After some showers and siestas, we regrouped and met up to satisfy our palates and fill our starving bellies. San Sebastián is known for its pinxtos (pronounced like pinchos), and the bars have gorgeous spreads for the choosing. A rule of thumb when pinxto hopping is to have no more than 2, maybe 3, at each bar, so we really tried to stick to this rule. But, we were totally spoiled by the first establishment we walked into. Ganbara had this ridiculous pinxto made up of goat cheese, sun dried tomato, walnuts and some sort of balsamic heavenly reduction. It was exquisite and we kept returning to the scene of the slaughtering. I don’t even know how many we each had. And we washed these down with a fabulously delicious Vermouth, which has since become my go-to Spanish beverage.
I also found out I have a new obsession with mushrooms, but only the way this place prepares them. My name is Danielle and my favorite pinxto was a tower of shrooms.
After deciding that we needed to be rolled out of there, we headed to Playa de la Concha and took in the views. The views of Jesus flipping us off from high above on the mountain top, the view of the people basquing (topless) on the pier, and the freakin gorgeous ocean. Twas divine.
We were going to hike up to Jesus, or take the funicular trolley up to the castle on the other side of the beach to see the view of all the beaches and lagoon from high above, but as it got darker and we got wanderier (that’s a word now), we decided to play an exhilarating game of catch the 1.50euro teeny tiny water bottle instead.
And took an illegal spin on an artsy merry-go-round before getting scolded off. Note to the wise, you must purchase a ticket. Whoops.
The next day was spent devouring more, but before heading off to Bilbao, we hijacked some bikes, strolled through the gorgeous streets a little while longer, inhaled some more café (or straight up sugar in Jules’ Cuban case) and bought last minute souvenirs (read: Danielle finally bought herself a legit European beret). We of course took one last goat cheese heaven pintxo to the face.
Aside from heading to the airport and flying far far away, my absolute fave mode of transport is via train, and by train we were off to Bilbao, where I could be reminded of my long-lost intern whatshername. Train tickets were around 6 euros and took 1.5 hours to get there. Apparently many locals prefer to take a bus between the cities because the train makes so many stops, but we ended up enjoying the train regardless of the numerous stops.
We got in pretty late and made the amateur mistake of walking through San Francisco, AKA the immigrant area, AKA I have never felt more white and prim and proper and scared in my life. We were all on serious guard of our belongings and each other, and it took us forever to find our hostels and Airbnbs.
The next day we got up bright and early and hit the gorgeous alleys of Bilbao. I was told it was stunning, and it indeed was. The cobblestone streets, the towering Cathedral, the quaint alleyways, and the rolling river through the center set a beautiful scene. We all ended up separating for most of our wander through Bilbao, which was nice and we all got to see whatever we wanted. I found my way into a little flea type market where I took two circles around because I LOVE SAMPLES.
The last part of our jaunt was a far too speedy trip to the Guggenheim of Bilbao. This is a wild museum, and it took Kristia and I a year to get there because I couldn’t resist doing the Freddie (Troop Beverly Hills for the uncultured) riverside.
The museum was designed by Frank Gehry, and holy crap, it is a masterpiece in and of itself. You could be totally satisfied by just gawking at it if you don’t go inside, though the museum is bomb and has so many amazing artists within its walls, so you should venture in. There’s an entire Pop Art exhibit that made me danisqueal.
Then the rain came and that meant it was time for Kristia and I to bounce because we had to work on Monday. We hitched our bus (booked through ALSA bus), and took a ridiculously long 6 hour bus ride back to Madrid. But it was worth it. The north is exquisite and tasty and a place I will definitely be returning to!
Well there you go! Have you been to Basque Country? What was your favorite thing about it? Did you have a favorite pintxo bar? Did you too find yourself wrongfully in the wrong part of Bilbao town? Let me know about it in the comments!