Nancy, thank you for your kind comments on the blog. I appreciate it.
The Symphony docked on time at 8:00 am at the Getxo port on the Bay of Biscay. Today I will be the tour guide for another day and I am hoping my mother will be a willing participant again. Crystal is providing a shuttle service to Bilbao located about 20km south and a half hour drive away. The ship will be docked until 12:00 Midnight. I am glad we do not have to worry about missing the ship today.
Camera battery charged and euros in hand, we were ready to roll again at 9:00 am. I purchased bus tickets online a couple months ago for the trip to San Sebastian. The Alsa website worked great except it was hard to figure out how to do the payment. My credit card kept being declined. However, I finally noticed a Paypal link on the left side of the page and then the purchase was quite easy.
We arrived in Bilbao around 9:30 am. The bus to San Sebastian did not depart until 11:20 am so after arriving on the shuttle we had some time to admire the views of Bilbao from the riverfront.
Bilbao is the ninth largest city in Spain with a population of approx 351,000. It is the largest city in the Basque Country, an autonomous region across northern Spain and France.
The Basque have their own language called Euskera and all Basque are also fluent in Spanish. The ETA, who are Basque separatists, recently declared a truce and now the area is quite safe. Pamplona, where Hemingway famously lived and gained inspiration for his novels is also part of the Basque Country.
There are similarities between the southern Basque area of Spain and the northern Basque area of France. For instance, Basque women still rule the roost in both enclaves.
Bilbao is known for its "starchitecture" and Frank O. Gehry's design of the Guggenheim museum. It is locally referred to as "the Googen" and is quite impressive. When the Guggenheim opened in 1997 it is credited with revitalizing the city. Apparently in the years before the museum Bilbao only received 25,000 foreign visitors a year. In 2011 the number of foreign visitors to the Guggenheim alone was a staggering 954,000!
The Guggenheim Museum
|Guggenheim Museum Bilbao|
|Side view of Guggenheim along the river|
|Facing the river from the Guggenheim|
The Puppy was created for an exhibit in Germany and was subsequently shipped to Sydney, Australia in 1995. It was purchased by the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation and installed for the Guggenheim's opening in Bilbao. Jeff Koons also has a tulip sculpture in front of the museum.
|The Puppy in a stock photo without the scaffolding|
In February 2012 architect Cesar Pelli's Iberdrola Tower (Iberdrola Dorrea in Basque) was inaugurated by King Juan Carlos. With 40 floors it is the tallest building in the Basque country and the city of Bilbao. During our drive to the bus station we also passed the Alhondriga, a multipurpose building designed by Philip Starck. It has a cinema, shops, restaurant and showrooms.
|Iberdrola Tower by Cesar Pelli|
|View out the taxi roof "window" of Bilbao|
|Driving out of the Bilbao city center|
|Our beautiful Supra bus|
The haze finally cleared and we could view the beautiful Basque countryside. We were very high up and at times could view the Pyrenees in the distance.
|Near Constitution Square. Many buildings are in the Belle Epoque style.|
According to their tourism site, San Sebastian is considered a small town of 183,000 inhabitants. Started as a fishing village, invaded by Napoleon's troops and almost destroyed in 1813 by the Portuguese. It was ultimately chosen by Queen Isabel II as the Royal Family's summer residence. San Sebastian became a favorite destination for the well to do in the late 1800's. With majestic buildings, stellar food and a beautiful coast line that tradition continues to this day.
We took a taxi from the bus station to Parte Vieja (old part) which has buildings from the 1800's. There used to walls around the city but they were destroyed about two hundred years ago. Since the end of Franco's dictatorship many bars and restaurants have opened in this part of town.
|Alley in Parte Vieja|
|Outdoor Fish Market|
We spent some time studying the items on the counter as if we were about to take a final exam. The owners were very patient with our limited language ability and explained what some of the items were but did not speak much English. As we could not identify everything we just had to guess.
|Good thing we came hungry!|
|The top one is cheese. Rest look very interesting.|
|Foie with a sweet pineapple filling|
|Sea Urchin on the left, Egg and beef on top and langostine on right|
|An amazing selection|
|The top one is baked brie, the green one is blood sausage with pistachio|
It was a challenge to decide what items to try first. We started off with some "safe" choices and then became a little more adventurous. We each had eight different items including dessert. The owners somehow miraculously kept track of the number of items we selected.
|Tin of sardines|
|Grilled shrimp and Foie Gras on toast with gold wafer|
|My favorite! Grilled artichoke and baked scallop.|
|Mushroom and custard. Ham and artichoke.|
|This was an egg but also mixed with other items.|
|These are two my mother had. Sea urchin and Foie biscuit.|
|Dessert. The egg is actually a very yummy mango!|
We needed to walk off lunch so we did some window shopping and strolled along the shore. There is a hop on hop off bus but it has an irregular schedule. So we headed toward the beach. My mother was getting a little antsy so I had to minimize our exploration. Way down the street I could see the Buen Pastor Cathedral with its tapered spire inspired by medieval churches of Germany and France. However, she was not interested in walking there.
|Buen Pastor Cathedral|
|The tree on the left is from South Africa and does well with the salt air.|
|Gentleman feeding the swans|
|Plaque in the Park|
We walked along the promenade and the beach. San Sebastian has three beaches: La Concha, Ondarreta and Zurriola. During the summer from June to September you can rent parasols, sunshades and tents. While there are a few people on the beach today it is too early in the season.
|La Concha (Beach) through the haze|
|La Concha Promenade|
|Apartment buildings with beach views|
We had a little time for shopping but most of the stores were now closed. I decided to walk up to the La Perla Thalaso Sport which has a thalassotherapy pool circuit. My mother was not thrilled with the idea. However, as the shops were closed there were not many other options. The cost for both of us was 65 euros including the bathing caps (we brought our swimsuits). You can relax in the seawater pool or do the circuit which takes one hour. La Perla also has an outside cafe with a terrace and views of the bay.
We changed into our swimsuits, put our clothes in a locker and then attempted to enter the pool area. This required going through a shower placed in between the doorway leading to the pools. I thought we were supposed to throw our towels down a chute that would open. However, after walking through the shower partition, the glass on the other side did not open. With the help of another patron I realized that you throw the towel OVER the top. This nice lady helped me pull the towel from under the partition. It felt like a scene from "I Love Lucy" or perhaps 'The Simpson's" if Marge and Lisa went to the thalossotherapy spa. We succeeded in pulling the towel from underneath the glass. With the final tug I landed on my butt. It was quite funny.
We entered the first pool which was quite large and very warm. You are supposed to do a sort of obstacle course swimming down the rows. I made it down two of them. There is a sign indicating how long to stay in (10 minutes). There were jets which sort of created a current. It was fun to swim. My mother just enjoyed the jets.
The numbering system appeared to be off as the next pool was number 3 (six in total). We seemed to be progressing well until we needed to head downstairs to a glowing neon pool. This one turned out to be cold and had bicycles in it you could use. No thanks. We skipped this one but in order to get back had to exit through a double shower system. My mother bravely went first. She yelled back to me, "hot, hot and then cold, cold". We must have been quite the spectacle.
My mother still was not won over by the thalassotherapy experience. She enjoyed it more in Rome, Budapest and Montecatini. However, I think it was a good choice today as the hot water and jets improved her circulation since she walked much better after leaving the spa.
Next I wanted to see the Maria Cristina hotel which I thought was nearby. I had a map and found out it was located just down the street, about a 7 minute walk. What seemed to be a recurring theme today occurred when we approached the hotel to find it closed and encased in scaffolding. Although initially disappointed, this is actually a good thing. I had previously read reviews of the hotel being in serious need of a refurbishment. Although I was not aware the hotel closed 8 months ago for renovations and would open again in July on its 100th anniversary. I am looking forward to coming back and hopefully staying overnight.
|Maria Cristina Hotel under renovation|
It was now time to start heading back to the bus station. We went to a cafe to have a beverage while they called us a taxi. The taxi got us to the bus station a little earlier than expected so we went next door to the Silken Amara hotel and had another drink. The San Sebastian bus station is even more basic than the one in Bilbao. There is no roof, just two sides for the buses to pull up. The hotel was nice, though nothing like the Maria Cristina.
The bus was due to depart at 6:55 pm and would arrive in Bilbao at 8:30 pm. The drive back is a little longer and will take 1 hour and 35 minutes. This bus is not the special "supra" one but I could still select the seats in advance and it was comfortable. The bus departed right on time and was quite full. There was a very rowdy group of people drinking beer and making lots of noise.
|Heading back to Bilbao through the Basque Country|
At one point we made what seemed liked a detour to a little town. Apparently we had to pick up a woman who was standing by a desolate street corner. We made our way back to the main highway and soon after I noticed we could see the water which was a good sign.
It was great that it was still light out and even better when we reached the ship about 20 minutes later. The taxi fare turned out to be 24 euros but that is a long way from the 50 estimated by Crystal.
We went directly tour room and it felt great to be "home". I requested room service menus from Sajna and placed our order. I also thanked her for the extra duvet and the synthetic goose down style pillows I received yesterday. The bed is now very comfortable!
Our dinner order arrived about 30 minutes later. It was fun having dinner in bed while watching TV.
The Symphony departed as scheduled for our next port of St. Jean de Luz, France. It is only a short 45 minute sail away. Guessing we could drift there if the currents cooperated at 1 knot.