Hi! This is gonna be my first post this week of what’s happened so far during semana santa, and maybe next week I’ll post another. Just to give you a WARNING right now, this post contains too many photographs. So if you’re reading this be warned, it’s gonna be a long, long post with a lot of photos that I think are just too great to not include. Trust me there were plenty more that I could have added, so just thank me for making this easier.
So the trip started on Saturday, and I had been looking forward to it for a long time…well, just since I booked my plane tickets, a week ago. But after I decided to go, I grew excited to visit a place unlike any other that I had been to before; and all the eagerness wasn’t in vain. Afterall Bilbao really was unlike any other place.
So the trip started Saturday morning, me and my roommate woke up with our bags backed and headed out the door just after 7 AM. We caught the bus to the bus station, and we were there even a little earlier. We got to the bus station right on time to hop on our bus to the airport. It was a miracle that we’d thought to buy our tickets already or else we would not have made it to the airport that day. There is so much traveling during semana santa and it seems that every mode of transportation is getting sold out before you can get a chance to buy it. For example we had to go to the whole way to the bus station a few days before just to buy our tickets, and we got the last ones. Anyway, we made t to the airport on time and zoomed through security with a few minutes to spare. At 11:05 we were in the air, flying away from the southern “Costa del Sol” and at 12:30 we were in Bilbao, the northern coast of the Bay of Biscay.
Bilbao is a part of the Basque Country, one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain, which is particularly keen on its own history. It’s just a small region, of just over 2 million “vascos,” but they live in a different culture than the rest of Spain, and would therefore like to be independent from the rest of the country. Euskera or “Basque” is the ancient language that they speak; a language isolate, unrelated to any other European language and older than Spanish. It’s an amazing language to see and hear, and it’s incredible that these people can be bilingual with two extremely different languages.
Besides the people, the landscape is another thing that makes the Basque Country so different. It is part of what is called, “Green Spain,” a section of Spain that is perennially green, which stretches along the northern coast. The air is much more humid, there is more rain and less sun. We were in luck because this whole weekend has been beautiful in all of Spain, without rain and hardly a cloud in the sky. This is apparently rare because apparently semana santa almost always coincides with a rain storm for the country. Anyway the landscape is beautiful and it’s too hard to explain in words so I’ll just let you look at the photos.
Another characterizing fact about Bilbao is that it has historically been an important industrial port. After talking with a few Basques, I found out that the mayor has subject the city to an ongoing transformation in the past 15 years, that has resulted in a more welcoming, friendly and beautiful city. In Bilbao, there still remains relics of its maritime past.
The Guggenheim Museum
After dropping our stuff off at the hostel, we took a quick tour of the neighborhood. The Guggenheim has to be the number 1 tourist attraction of the city, so of course I had to take my picture in front of it.
This scary creature is another characteristic feature of the Bilbao skyline…a giant spider! If you look close, you can even see its eggs
Soon after we arrived at the hostel we discovered that there were other Americans staying there (surprise surprise). It seems that every person that works at Spanish hostels are very fluent in English and a lot of their business is conducted in English and with english-speaking people. It was pretty cool to meet them because they were three American dudes that were teaching as auxiliares and they didn’t know each other. I thought that was a pretty good coincidence. We all got along pretty well and we got to hang out and check out the city some that day. The hostel we stayed out was called Pil Pil and, even though it was a few extra euro, I would definitely recommend it to a friend. It had plenty of rooms, as they just added a new part on next-door and I got to stay in the one of the new, less crowded rooms for no extra charge. Everyone was friendly enough, as Spaniards tend to be, and we got a chance to experience the culture up north for a few days.
Ok, I’ve been in Spain for a few months, but have never seen this much paella
#Gora Jai Herri Koiak
You can imagine how surprised we were at coming across all this paella and all these people under a tent at venue-looking place next to the river. On top of that, there was rock music blasting; ranking from the smooth riffs of Jimi Hendrix to much harder punk. From what I’ve seen, it seems like the Basques enjoy their rock fashion and punk music….and of course PAELLA. This turned out to be a paella taste-testing competition. I can only imagine what you have to do to achieve the role of a judge at an event like this. Between the sights and the smells it was really exciting, and we left before the first paella was tested, but apparently it was a paella free-for-all and anyone could try the paellas after the judges had voted. If you noticed, the close up shot showed a paella that bore the words, “gora jai herri koiak.” This is Basque and I don’t have a clue what it means. The Basque language is a very interesting language, completely different than Spanish, and I am very impressed at Basques ability to use both languages interchangeably. I didn’t realize this bilingualism at first, and I was hesitant to talk with them thinking that we wouldn’t be able to communicate, but their status as Spanish and Basque offers them this great ability to speak with foreigners… like me! I hope that they keep up the good work maintaining their language and heritage. Here’s another example of not only Basque language, but also culture………
From the looks of it, it’s a poster advertising a 2-day festival, from April 12-13, consisting of various activities at various times. I imagine one of those events is a paella-tasting championship and no Basque festival would be complete without the appearance of one of the Basque Country’s own sports. Basque sports are famous throughout Spain for spotlighting brute strength, like lumberjacking.
A lot of the architecture in the city was extraordinary, it seems like the simplest things they made into pieces of art.
We came across a museum of modern-type artwork and it was free. It was all pretty interactive, with both sound and audio supplements, so it kept the viewers’ attention. A lot of the expositions were pretty abstract to me, but it was definitely interesting. I still can’t believe it was free.
Then began the processions. This was Saturday, the first day of Semana Santa, and my first time experiencing the “Pasos” which are very important to Spanish Catholicism.
Then, night fell, and it all just became even more interesting.
Here are some “penitentes” pushing a display of an important “virgen” along the street for people to see.
“Los pasos” are the passings of these giant structures throughout the street for the townspeople to see. These are carried out in a different manner in a every city, but they do have some commonalities. The display is a more or less permanent structure in a local church that makes its way around town during one day of Semana Santa. After taking the trip around town for everyone to see, and usually making it through the main cathedral of the town, the display returns safely to its original place.
A banner displaying something in Euskera
Here are just a few night shots of the city….
The top is Euskera, the bottom is Spanish…Just to give you idea of the difference
At the Guggenheim there was an exhibit done by Yoko Ono, it’s apparently pretty big and is being advertised pretty well. Part of the advertisement scheme are these following posters that read Imagine (like John Lennon’s song)……….
And in Spanish………….
There was also one I saw in Basque, but I didn’t get a photo. I can Imagine that the word was pretty gnarly
This tower that you see a bit of to the left is another characteristic part of the Bilbao skyline. There aren’t too many skyscrapers so this shiny new one sticks out pretty well. It’s called the Iberdrola.
The Other Side of the Guggenheim
This dog is another noticeable landmark of Bilbao, it’s made of flowers so I imagine it changes its look with the seasons.
I went for a run and got some cool shots of the city…….
The Basque is in Black, the Spanish Green
A Nice Country Cottage
^I’ve never seen a house like this^ in Andalucía
When I got back, my friends were ready to go to the beach. So we took a short trip on the metro to some pretty cool places.
“Santurtzi y Plentzia”
Names of stops along the metro line. Everything in Bilbao has a Basque name.
This ones pretty funny I think: an advertisement for english-speaking bands on a poster in Spain, written in Basque. That’s got to say something about the multiculturalism of the area.
First we stopped at this town, at the advice of a friend, to see “Europe’s oldest suspension bridge” or something like that
This is what we found……..
There’s no one up there now, but you could also get lifted in an elevator, at a small fee of 7€, to cross the bridge yourself.
Pedestrians, cars and bikers alike all took this bridge, at a small toll, as a part of their route. I’m just imagining how funny this would be if it were part of your daily commute. For us to walk it only costed us .35€
It was a beautiful town
These trees branches all grew together. How strange, right
Some legendary fishermen?
Euskera All Over the Basque Country
“Udal Liburtutegia” in Basque, “Biblioteca Municipal” in Spanish, and “Public Library” if it were in English.
Those weird trees…
I just thought this house was great.
After we checked out the Vizcaya Bridge and the area around it, we hopped back on the metro with our passes and headed to a beach. There were a few that we could have reached by the metro, but we were advised to go to Algortako Baxa, off the Bidezabal stop if we wanted to see an impressive beach.
The first sight of the water!!!
And when we made our way to the shore we came across this.
The Definition of Beauty
This town’s like a paradise
I may never get to see the White Cliffs of Dover, but the White Cliffs of Bilbao is just fine with me.
It was bitter-sweet to come across this skatepark right here in the middle of everything, it was a pretty cool park, but I didn’t even think to bring my board.
Marah, making her way across the rocks
The crew, trekking along the rocks to explore the jetty
Don Quixote? No wait, he was in La-Macha.
We got to eat dinner on this hill
The weather was perfect, the beach was perfect, the town was perfect, the trip was perfect. It was seriously the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. If I have the chance, I’ll have to go back again. It was just such a great trip because the weather was so good. Basque Country’s supposed to be cloudy, rainy and chilly. During Semana Santa it always rains in Spain, but on that day it was sunny and 75°, we even got to lay on the beach. It was just an interesting experience, sharing that beach with local Basques and their families. It was interesting hearing the way they transition from Spanish to Basque with seemingly no reason, and it was interesting to see that their language is still preserved and in everyday use after thousands of years.
Even though I was running late, and almost missed my bus trip to the airport, I had to take a second to pause and take one last image of Bilbao.
After all that, it was hard to say goodbye to the Basque Country. It exceeded my expectations. The people were a lot more personable than I expected, they are more bilingual than I expected, the weather was a lot more enjoyable than I expected and the landscape was even more impressive than I expected. I’ll have to go back someday, ideal with more time to spare. I had a flight to catch so I couldn’t spend any more time there, it was time to head back down south to check out the way Semana Santa is celebrated in Andalucía.