A couple weekends ago, five other American expat friends and I spontaneously decided to take a weekend trip to Bilbao. Bilbao is a major Spanish city located in the very north, known as the “Basque country.” The Basque country is similar to Catalonia (the region that Barcelona belongs to) in that they both want to become independent from Spain. I can understand this because they are completely different regions and even cultures from the rest of Spain. They even both speak their own languages in addition to Spanish! I’ve heard great things about the Basque country so I was excited for this spur-of-the-moment trip.
My friends Kristen, Brittani, Erin and I took a 5-hour train ride after work on Friday, which just so happened to be Valentine’s Day- Ooo La La! The whole way there we were the 4 loud American girls who wouldn’t stop talking for 5 hours straight and had a ton of snacks to eat. I bet everyone around us just loved us! We booked a table seat because it’s actually cheaper than getting individual seats, so we had plenty of room to spread out all of our food.
After getting checked into our hostel, we all got dressed up and found a restaurant to have our very romantic Valentine’s Day dinner together. Dinner was delicious. I had my own personal-sized seafood paella! As much as I love paella, I don’t think I will ever get used to the heads of the prawns not being taken off. I can’t say I enjoy having beady eyes staring at me from my plate.
The next day we walked around the city a little bit and then met up with a Spanish man who is friends with one of the other teachers that Kristen works with at her school. It was awesome meeting up with him because he showed us around a ritzy town north of Bilbao that was on the BEACH. All of my friends and I agreed that it was so amazing to be near the beach. Since Madrid is so land-locked, we don’t get to see much water except for the lake in Retiro Park. That is one of Madrid’s only downfalls.
Ruben (Kristen’s co-worker’s friend) also took us to a couple different tapas places in the area. The Basque country is “said” to have the best food in Spain. They are known for their tapas which they actually call “pinxtos” so it’s very common to hop around to different bars and try a bunch of them. We did this that night as well. I won’t lie, I actually liked La Rioja’s food a lot better than Bilbao’s, but in general it was still really good.
That afternoon we made our way to the Guggenheim Museum. The only two things I knew I had to do in Bilbao was try the pinxtos and go to the famous Guggenheim Museum. The museum wasn’t at all what I expected. Everything was interactive and child-like but also had a ton of underlying sex references. My favorite part was the “fertility net.” It was a squiggly net that lifted into the air that 8 people at a time could climb in and bounce around. Then at the very top was a main area that everyone could play around in. Essentially it represented a sperm and an egg fertilizing- and it was so much fun! The Guggenheim Museum is also known for it’s large “puppy” at the front that is made of all flowers. It’s funny because all of the Spanish kids were running around saying, “Poopy! Poopy!” because that’s the Spanish pronunciation of “puppy.”
That night after pinxto hopping, we somehow found ourselves in a gay club. I honestly didn’t even realize until my friends pointed it out haha (I’m guess I’m really oblivious). It was a lot of fun! We spent the whole next day walking around the rest of the city. It was a BEAUTIFUL day- about 60 degrees and so sunny! So of course we had to make puns the whole time saying we were “basque-ing” in the sun.
Then 5 o’clock rolled around and it was time to head back on our 5-hour train home to Madrid. We made sure to load up on double the amount of snacks we had going there. The second we sat down we unloaded everything and immediately started eating. The old women at the table next to us couldn’t stop staring. They definitely weren’t expecting that! One of the workers on the train commented saying it was a “merienda” or snack haha.
Overall I can’t say Bilbao was my favorite city. I loved the trip in general because our group had a ton of fun together but I can’t say I have any desire to go back to Bilbao. But I’m happy I finally got to see the very north of Spain since La Rioja is the only place I’ve seen north of Madrid. I hope to make it back up to the Basque country in the future because San Sebastien, a close neighbor to Bilbao, is said to be an incredible city and is also supposedly many people’s favorite city in Spain, so I’m dying to see what all the hype is about!