Bilbao

Bilbao & San Sebastián, Spain  – 10-12 May 2019

Up early this morning and met David down in the lobby before heading to the bus station for our trip to San Sebastián to meet up with my friends Michael and Justin visiting from NYC. I suspect I could have figured it out on my own – though probably with lots of agita and stress, so having David to get me there was fantastic

We arrived mostly without incident, despite missing the 11AM bus and having to take the noon instead. It was just more opportunity for us to yak (esp since someone who shall remain nameless but whose name rhymes with Gayvid slept for most of the ride).

Granted, by the time we arrived, I was very nervous about making it on-time to our lunch reservation at 1:30 – but we took a cab and arrived at the restaurant Justin had reserved for us at exactly 1:30! And yet, neither he nor Michael were anywhere to be seen… I was convinced we’d arrived at the wrong place and was having a mild panic attack – especially since my phone wasn’t working. Oh, I didn’t mention that I’d re-started my phone at the bus station in Bilbao, but didn’t remember my local SIM card PIN and was locked out of my phone? Yeah, that happened.

Luckily, David convinced the lady at the restaurant to grant us access to wifi and I called Justin – who advised they were already on “Spanish time” and were on their way to our (correct) location. Phew!

Lunch was lovely – the restaurant located next to the sea with views of both the ocean and the charming town of San Sebastian. Food was great, though as always, the talking was even better – and everyone was super impressed by my mind-reading trick that involved an illustration of a duck. Just ask Justin!

After lunch, we ambled about the town a bit – it was lovely despite the overcast weather. We ended up back at the apartment Justin and Michael had let – so nice! On the top floor right in the center with a lovely terrace where we had a bit of bubbly… This is really the fucking life.

Sadly, it was soon time to say our farewells to Michael and Justin. We caught our bus back to Bilbao, walked around a bit before dinner, then hung out for awhile at my hotel, talking about everything under the sun. Finally, it was 1AM – time to go out for drinks, which is still crazy to me, but is the custom here.

Had a few drinks at a couple of different bars. I got to meet lots of David’s friends (he seems to run into someone he knows every time we walk down the street) who were all so nice and welcoming to me, despite the language differences. I made it ‘til about 2:30AM before I had to call it a night and everyone else went out to go dancing until morning.

I was up at a relatively reasonable hour and spent the morning and early afternoon exploring Old Town. I also had my first pintxos! David had promised to teach me how the “system” works that evening, but I was on my own and hungry when I stumbled across Mercado Ribera – with an entire first floor dedicated to small shops selling all manner of pintxos. The place was pretty hectic, so I just ordered a few things from one stand (after observing the process from a bit of a distance) and managed to acquire a few skewers of olives and anchovies and a boccadillo with ham. Oh, and a glass of wine, obviously.

WELL! Everything was amazing. As much as I enjoy some fancy meals on occasions, the most delicious food often seems the simplest. All the ingredients were of superb quality and it was a perfect way to start the day – or start the afternoon, as the case may be.

David was supposed to meet me at 2:30PM, but apparently got a slow-ish start to his own day after the previous evening’s activities, so was running a little late. But I had no complaints wandering about on my own in Old Town. Probably the highlight of my walk was seeing a woman out walking her dog (there are so many dogs here! I loved it.). He looked Border Collie-ish and was not a tiny thing. He was standing on his hind legs, front paws around her waist, eyes beseeching while she repeatedly told him he had to get down – until she finally let out an exasperated sigh and picked him up and carried him. The doggo looked absolutely delighted with his victory. I suspect this is a regular occurrence between these two.

Once David arrived, we had a nice visit to the Bilbao Historic Museum. It’s great old building and provides a nice introduction to Bilbao and Basque history. The descriptions are all in Spanish and Basque, so I was very lucky to have my local interpreter along to assist. Among other things, I learned that a significant number of Basque shepherds emigrated to the western US to tend sheep.

Next up: more pintxos! David took me to Plaza Nueva in the center of the old city. The main square is surrounded by a dozen or more restaurants selling pintxos, with tables packed with diners in the center of the square. We tried three or four places and it was wonderful, as the photos make clear. And the prices! Generally, a couple of pintxos and a glass of wine runs less than 5 euros! I could get used to this quite easily, thank you.

Also, while I really thought everything we ate was delicious, I especially liked Gure-Toki, since they had most of the waiters were sexy AF. #fuego

Had a bit of a siesta later that evening before David took me to a groovy Asian-fusion place called Panda. I often feel like I’m “cheating” when I travel and eat anything other than local cuisine – which is a little ridiculous, I admit. It’s not like he took me to Applebee’s! And the food was great. Started off with gyoza and a couple of steamed buns stuffed with short rib char siu. We both got mains of stir-fried rice, mine spicy with vegetables, while David’s delicate palate went for a mild version with grilled veal. So good!

And some wine of course. There were a few rosados on the list and prices were 8 or 9 euros a glass, which seemed reasonable enough to me. Except that wasn’t the price per glass, it was for A BOTTLE! A FULL BOTTLE OF GOOD WINE IN A RESTAURANT FOR ABOUT TEN BUCKS! Coming from San Francisco, this was both shocking and delightful.

Made an early night of it (finishing dinner at about half-past midnight – which still feels crazy to me, but I also kind of love it) and I headed back to the hotel. I got packed and organized for the next leg of my trip.

David met me Sunday for a last lunch together, though we had a bit of time to hang out together beforehand and the strangest thing happened. We were sitting on a little floating platform on the river, next to a bridge. I asked David to take my photograph while I ran up to the bridge and posed leaning over the side. Then two local fellows approached me and one was very happy and dancing and grabbed me and spun me around, jumping up and down dancing and singing in Spanish. I had no idea what he was saying and tried to explain that I didn’t speak Spanish. It was all over in the blink of an eye.

As I walked back toward the stairs, I reached into my pocket and discovered my wallet was missing – though all my cash was still in my pocket (I don’t typically carry cash in my wallet). Before I could even react or comprehend what had happened, the guy who’d approached me yelled at me, “Hey, is this yours?” and was holding my wallet. He gave it back to me after checking my ID that was in there. Both my credit cards were still in there, along with all the other odds-and-ends. So, the story has a happy ending – I dodged a huge bullet! – though I’m pretty sure the “nice” guy who returned the wallet had actually picked my pocket. I’m guessing he wasn’t interested in credit cards, only cash, which he didn’t get. It was a very freaky experience – though again, I was so, so lucky I didn’t lose anything.

Anyway, I’ve switched to using my little money pouch that attaches to my belt and goes inside my pants. Better safe than sorry!

The remainder of the day was great. We revisited Plaza Nueva as planned and I ate more pintxos (and drank a bit of wine) before it was nearly time for me to make my way to the airport. I didn’t have an particular expectations about what Bilbao would be like, but I have to say I’m a little bit in love with this city – not least because it’s home to the wonderful David who showed me the best of his hometown. I can’t wait to come back!

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