We woke up in Spain’s Basque region in the port city of Bilbao. The weather gods smiled on us again today with temps 10-15 degrees warmer than predicted. We packed for cooler temperatures, but that was a small price to pay for the beautiful day. On top of that we all agreed that this was our favorite stop so far.
Our first stop for the day: the old fishing village of Castro Urdiales (think anchovies and tuna) with it’s beautiful harbor lined with tall buildings boasting floor after floor of wooden balconies facing the water. Like everywhere we have been in Spain, the town was spotlessly clean with trash receptacles plentiful, small beautiful green spaces, stone buildings galore, roads paved with huge slabs of rock, and bike paths. Our guide pointed out a public space where pictures and mini-biographies of the recently deceased are posted along with details on the upcoming services in their memory. In small communities people know one another by face, she explained, but not always by name, so the pictures are very important.
We toured the centuries-old stone church that sits on the highpoint of the harbor. It is unique in that there is nothing colorful or eye catching other than the stain glass windows and buttresses which somehow work together to make its simplicity and location overlooking the ocean the attraction. Within yards of this church is a fortress dating to the 1200s that was converted to a lighthouse after French pirates were no longer a threat.
A ride through the beautiful city of Bilbao, a small city surrounded by hills, with stops to visit the Old Quarter and New Plaza completed our tour. It was a real powerhouse of a city in its day with mansions built with wealth from the ironworks lining the route from the pier into the city center. Once iron was no longer king and other industries failed or moved away, the city fell on hard times, but boy has it made a magnificent comeback. A lovely riverwalk, beautifully manicured and colorful traffic circles, and well-maintained buildings make it welcoming. A huge contributor to the city’s reinvention is the draw of the gleaming (as in stainless steel) and otherworldly Guggenheim Art Museum. It’s a modern architectural landmark, a stylized ode to the city’s shipbuilding past, and now an emblem of the city. It is built right on the Nervión River in what used to be a derelict and highly polluted area that has been totally brought back to life since the museum’s 1997 opening. Welcoming visitors to the museum is a 40 feet tall puppy covered in 38,000 plants. Talk about making an impression.
Our guide shared two fun facts on the way back to the ship. First she explained that there are two religions in the area: Catholicism and soccer. The large stadium is commonly referred to as the cathedral as a matter of fact. Second she pointed out the general direction of the limestone mountains where some 6,500 caves can be found. Some have provided protection for paintings for somewhere between 14,000 and 36,000 years!
Our lovely day ended just in time for a quick snack before cleaning up for the evening.
Dinner: We finished the last two Tribe of Mentors questions while we enjoyed another four course plus amuse bouche plus sorbet dinner. My veal chop was the size of Wyoming inspiring Hettie to comment that she has never seen me eat that much red meat.
Entertainment: Shamrock Tenors, Northern Ireland’s premier folk and traditional vocal group. Cyd would have died and thought she was in heaven with their frisky drinking songs, Irish ditties, and ballads. It’s my favorite entertainment so far making it a bang up day from start to finish in spite of the pigeon that pooped on my shoes, hat, and jacket.
Western: 78 and sunny!
Basque Country … say what….?
The Basque Country—stretching about 100 miles from Bilbao north to Bayonne, France—is located in the western foothills of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay.
The Basques have a unique language: Euskara. Unrelated to any other language,
it has its own alphabet and dedicated typeface.
All the road signs we saw today were in Spanish and Euskara.
Basque nationalism is a point of controversy in Spain.
Calling all surfers: The natural geography off the coast of Mundaka forms fast,
hollow waves that some surfers think are the finest in the world.
Basque Country is home to the second-most Michelin star restaurants per capita.