Shop & Eat

Up at seven again, it’s just impossible to get used to Spanish time unless you really make an effort, but then afterward you’ll have to make a similar effort to get back on Belgium time. Both are in the same time zone, but the Spanish do have a different rythm.

Fruit salad and goat yoghurt for breakfast and an early departure. Early because nothing is open, but I have plans to see a building or two and they don’t mind the early hour. We start walking to the old town across the river, but get distracted by the railway stations. The Bilbao-Concordia station is the oldest (constructed in 1902) and has a colourful Belle Epoque facade. It serves until today the local narrow gauge trains. The newer one Bilbao-Abando is in this incarnation from 1948, serves the longer distance lines and has a gorgeous stained glass window of 15 m wide and 10 m tall. The next incarnation will replace it soon, to allow for the high speed trains of the near future.

By this time I’ve come to my senses and realize it will be much more fun to visit the old town when it’s not empty and deserted, so we switch the day’s plan around and first go shopping. I buy some handcrafted paper and envelopes and a few new towels for bathroom and kitchen, at a discount. It’s not that we don’t have these in Belgium, it’s just so much more fun to shop in an unknown city. I also map our route to pass by the Azkuna Zentroa Alhondiga building, a multi-purpose venue originally built in 1909 and then renovated with great flair by architect Philippe Starck in collaboration with Thibaut Mathieu (don’t know who that is). From the outside the renovation is only visible by the glass facade sticking up from behind the old bricks, but on the inside it’s quite modern, impossible to describe. The exhibition spaces will open in fifteen minutes or so, at eleven, but we visit the rooftop terrace and take our time to admire the many colorful pillars, each unique, holding up the brick blocks with cultural and public spaces.

We continue on through the new town, strolling through the shopping streets. People are out and about, many sitting on terraces having breakfast – you can tell because they’re drinking coffee, not wine. It’s after eleven now, we’re thinking of lunch and decide to get started on the food part of the day. We enter one of the many pintxo bars, pick a few hearty snacks and do the whole thing by the rules: eat standing up, throw your sticks and napkins in a bin on the table and then move on to the next. Of course you’re not supposed to do this until after 2 pm, but I’m sure they make allowances for tourists. We stop by the appartment to drop off the bulky towels and rest our feet for half an hour and then, with renewed energy, set out for the old town.

It’s a beautiful area with narrow, pedestrian streets and high, colorful buildings, with here and there a church or palace. The Plaza Nuevo (or new square, though built in 1821) seems to be one of the newer features and it’s the busiest place we’ve encountered so far. We get in line to buy more pintxos (our third bar) and try to be a bit more Spanish: don’t worry too much about the line, don’t mind the crowd, have a glass of wine. We continue through the charming streets to see the Bilboko Donejakue katedrala (the cathedral) and Erribera merkatua (the market hall from 1929) and catch a glimpse of San Antongo Zubia (there’s been a bridge here since 1318, for a few centuries the only one).

We’re pretty tired by now, so we decide to have a siesta at the appartment. I write a letter on my new paper and read a book until 5 or so, when we do our usual outing to find dinner. This time it’s nut/raisin bread, delicious with the picual olive oil, some leftover smoked meat, a few grapes and then Belgian pralines as dessert. We’re really saving them up, don’t want to run out until we’re back in Belgium and I have to (choose to) go back to a more healthy and balanced diet!

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