Bilbao. A city that, prior to coming to Spain, I’d unfortunately never even heard of. A city that now ranks top 3 food cities I’ve ever visited.
Holy shit, is the food good. Having been in Madrid for over half a year, I’ve had several visitors come with high expectations for the Spanish food. I’ve always had to lower their expectations, as while there are a handful of incredible restaurants here, I’ve not found Madrid to be necessarily a culinary heaven. Leading up to the weekend, every person I told about the impending trip to Bilbao told me I was going to eat like a queen. They were right.
Night 1: My friend, Karen, and I arrived around 7pm at our super chic hostel (called Poshtel, highly recommend). It’s situated 3 minutes away from the legendary Guggenheim museum, and thus, in a lovely neighborhood absolutely filled with café culture. We strolled around the city that night; observing all the locals enjoying their glasses of wine outside (despite subpar weather), munching on their pintxos. Said night, we opted to have a smaller dinner, sharing a jug of house wine with a bocadillo with lomo y queso, as well as morcilla with pimientos (all for 10€!!!). We ate outside on this tiny pedestrian street, and watched as the workers at our resto continuously popped on over across the way to a jamón shop; meaning our ham was as fresh as it gets.
Day 2: We started the day at the Guggs. What an impressive building. Upon entering, you realize the building itself is not only an architectural, but also artisitic masterpiece. From the moment we were inside, to when we departed, it felt as though I was inside the art. Creating a rather euphoric feeling; I was so relaxed as I made my way through the dizzying interactive sculptures and abstract expressionism.
From there, we frolicked around the city, getting lost in Old Town. We hiked up what felt like hundreds of steps under a constant mist-like rain, following a sign that said a historical Basilica would be found at the summit. However, upon reaching the top, no such Basilica was found. Instead, we found ourselves gazing out at a beautiful view of the city. Granted, it was cloudy. And rainy. And grey. Nonetheless, the fresh smell of the dewey grass mixed with general emotional buzz that comes along with being in a new place, made for a very positive experience.
Night 2: What do two girls that have done no research prior to arriving in an unknown city do on a Saturday night to have fun? Well, we had quite an unexpected and eventful night. It started out having pintxos in the Old City. So many pintxos. We couldn’t stop ourselves. The lovely displays showing off the little mountains of colorful deliciousness beckoned us in…”Eat me!” And just like Alice, we gave in and ate them. Each pintxo was naturally paired with a drink; with an average price for a glass of wine around €2.50, not too much damage was done to my wallet in exchange for a very joyful night. Post-pintxos, we decided we needed to at least attempt to find the happening nightlife….and so we did.
We realized quickly that despite Spain’s anti-public-drinking laws, the cultural norm seemed to be purchasing a bottle of liquor and mixer at the local “Chino,” and enjoying your homemade drink on the street. Not wanting to deviate from Bilbao’s societal norms, we followed suit, and soon wound up in a neighborhood interacting with people we likely would never interact with on a normal night out in Madrid (or back home). We sat outside a punk bar for a couple hours that night. Chatting with our new friend, Iñaki, a man covered in tattoos from head to toe, with piercing but genuinely friendly blue eyes, we learned a bit about Spain’s culture outside of our city. One of Iñaki’s friends that we were also chatting with, as we later learned, turned out to be a porn star. It’s not every day you find yourself in conversation with a porn star…but I’m glad I did. Really makes you realize they’re just regular people, that happen to really like sex and want to get paid for it in a more public setting.
Anyway, we wrapped up the night soon after that. We walked home, taking a detour to pass under a bridge that was swarming with teenagers getting smashed. I had an urge to talk to them. So I went up to a friendly looking boy and asked him about their “botellón.” Isn’t this illegal? I asked. He explained that in Bilbao, police are very relaxed and that the botellón is a big part of the teenagers’ culture. While I’m happy the teenagers are able to have fun in their city, we passed several unfortunate splashes of vomit on the rest of our walk home, which made me thankful for Madrid’s stricter laws on public intoxication.
Day 3: This day was spent relaxing. We were slightly hungover, and as such, lounged around at different cafés, eating our hearts out for the last few hours we had in Bilbao. It was a scrumptiously perfect end to an eventful weekend.