The culinary divide…

This won’t be a long blog, (I can hear the collective sighs of relief) as we are on the road home.

It was an overcast, rather chilly morning when we left San Sebastian. We had mixed feelings on leaving, the views from our room were impeccable, the hotel is quite patchy, some aspects are excellent, others less so. San Sebastian itself left us rather cold, to be fair, I can’t see us running back there in a hurry.

The satnav soon had us back on the autoroute and after less than an hour, we’d crossed back into France. To celebrate, I pulled into an autoroute aire and used it’s delightful stainless steel facilities. It was so good to be back somewhere I could at least make a guess at what the road signs said. There will be future blog about the unfathomable nature of the Basque language.

I’d intended to make a stop for fuel at St. Jean De Luz, as we did on the way down but missed the exit, so we carried on for a while until there was an aire with three essential things, somewhere to buy diesel, somewhere to buy food and somewhere to pee.

Our selection of snack food from Spain were gourmet crisps manufactured in Cordoba and bought in El Corte Ingles in Bilbao. In France I had a panini from a motorway shop. The man serving asked if I wanted it cold or hot. For the sake of rapidity I said cold. He then explained it could only be sold hot. It’s so good to be back in France…

So we’ve stopped for the night at a 16th century coaching inn in Fontenay Le Conte. Luckily we’re not bedding down with the horses but in a very clean and comfortable room over the stables. No, not really…The alarm is set for 7:30 in the morning and we hope to be back home in the early afternoon.



It’s good to talk…

We couldn’t begin too early this morning. About 9am we sat down for our breakfast buffet, then dawdled in our room as the funicular doesn’t begin till 11am. It rattled down the hill and we alighted with slightly shaky legs. The bus stop is just outside the funicular terminus and there was only a five minute wait for the #16 which dropped us off just outside the old town.

There was a sizable market hall, which we looked round and located a very helpful lady who sold us some more ‘extra special olive oil’. Susie enthused over her ‘taster’ but I’m afraid it does nothing for me. Obviously my palate is more attuned to sweeter things. Heading towards the older part of town, we saw a very animated police officer, enthusiastically waving her arms at the traffic. In the distance we could here horns and whistles and shortly a group of protesters came into view. It was a demo about cutting back on care. I’m not sure how effective it was, but they have my admiration for both their enthusiasm and the amount of decibels you can get out of a whistle.

Susie found somewhere that sold not only UK papers but San Sebastian fridge magnets of the worst possible taste. Slipping into the older part of town we saw a restaurant which displayed a mirror adorned with the statement that they had no wifi and we should talk to each other instead. Naturally we popped in for a coffee and stayed until their kitchen opened for lunch. Studiously avoiding the menu item of ‘premium meats of old cow from Guikar’ I ended up with a burger, rather larger than I’d imagined….oh, we talked too.

I wish I could say that the old town had charming twisting streets, like Seville or Cadiz but it didn’t. For that matter neither did Bilbao. Why, I’m not quite sure, maybe it has something to do with the relative age of the towns and original inhabitants. We like San Sebastian but found it lacked a bit of warmth and personality. It definitely looks better from our hotel room window.

We found a taxi and a short drive later we were back at the hotel. It’s a lot easier than catching a bus and boarding a funicular that doesn’t fill you with confidence as to it’s ability to reach it’s destination. We stowed yet more bottles of superior olive oil in the boot of the car, ready for tomorrow, when we cross the border back into France and drive to an overnight hotel.


Funicular – peculiar

We were quite sad to be leaving Bilbao this morning. The hotel was lovely, not luxurious by any means but it had a very friendly, warm atmosphere. The satnav told me that San Sebastian would be less than two hours drive away. Even taking things easily (and yes, getting lost briefly) we made the climb up through the hairpins of Mount Igueldo and still arrived here just after noon. Our room was prepared, though we were not prepared for the view from the windows….even at night it’s pretty special.

After settling in, we had lunch in the hotel restaurant. That was pretty special too, probably the best meal we’ve had this trip. The receptionist had given us a map and explained that the easiest way to get to the town on the other side of the bay was to take the funicular down the hill and board a #16 bus. We thought that ‘town’ could wait till tomorrow, so we bought tickets for the funicular and decided to walk along the promenade for a short way. The funicular is showing some signs of wear and tear but after 160 years it has a right to I guess, though the way it swayed when you got on didn’t fill you with confidence. It has wooden bench seats, no glazed windows and some sliding doors that the ‘driver’ insists on opening before it completely comes to rest.

We managed to walk about a third the way to town, but that was enough to see a few things. Despite the less than summer like weather there were still hardy folks swimming and surfing in the sea. It’s a lovely beach and I can imagine it being smothered in baking, oily tanned bodies during the summer. We also thought San Sebastian was much less attractive from the promenade than from our eagles nest in room 325. Neither of us are lovers of ‘selfies’, so the above image of our shadows on the sand will be as close as we get on this trip.


I guess it would be almost an hours walk to the town, so tomorrow we’ll be taking the bus and using a taxi to get back. The funicular stops running (well, clanking and groaning)  at 18:30 and neither of us could get 100 metres up the road without some assistance, hence the taxi, which will drop us off at the hotel doors. So tonight we’ll go to sleep with the lights across the bay twinkling dimly and the crash of the waves, somewhat deadened by efficient double glazing…

Not Starck at all…

We did want to go the Fine Arts Museum, honestly we did. However, unlike the rest of Bilbao it doesn’t close on a Monday, but Tuesday instead. Ah well, there was a plan B.

The tram line we’ve used has it’s terminus at La Casilla, which is in the south of the city, so we sat on this excellent public transport, past the Atletico Bilbao stadium, round the loop which handily drops you off outside the hospital and got off at the end. A ten minute walk brought us to Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao’s multi purpose cultural centre.

Using as a base, an old wine warehouse and utilising the transforming vision of architect and designer Phillipe Starck, Bilbao has a unique facility. It houses conference and exhibition spaces, a movie theatre, fitness club and gym, two swimming pools and a huge area at ground level, featuring thick stubby supporting columns in strange, sometimes wacky designs. There’s a seating area with benches lit from within, a shop, an information point, a restaurant and a huge display screen for future events. It’s simply glorious…

We spent more time there than we thought we would and could easily have explored more, had there been an exhibition open. As it was, we left and headed off back to the tram track, by way of the soccer stadium, which as you can see is another architectural stunner.


Finding our way to Arana, the nearest tram stop we caught the tram in the other direction and got off near the Zubizuri footbridge, which we wanted to see close up. From there we walked back to the Guggenheim to see the Joana Vasconcelos sculpture that we’d missed the other day. This one is made from gold alloy car wheels, formed into a circle with a white pedestal structure mounted on top. It’s called ‘Solitaire’..

While there we had a snack lunch on the plaza outside the museum bistro and watched two Italian ladies get very stroppy with as many of the waiters and waitresses as they could. When we’d finished our meal, we slowly came back to the hotel and took some things down to the car ready for our departure tomorrow. There’s so much to see in Bilbao, that we’ve only skimmed the surface. We have no doubt we’ll be back…


Miyake? Mais oui, ici…

Today was declared a shopping day. Susie had drawn up a list and we had two empty backpacks and two almost empty bank accounts. We walked over the bridge, down in the very thoughtfully placed lift provided for exhausted retired travellers and a short stroll to the tram stop. We love Bilbao’s trams. Clean, quiet and efficient. Less than ten minutes later we were in the ‘Casa Viejo’ or Old Town.

A very helpful lady at the tourist information office had helped Susie draw up a list of shops selling the ‘best’ olive oil. One of them was on our map. Could we find it? No, of course not. We spied a tea shop (loose, not to sit and sip) and after buying some green mint tea, she pointed us in the direction of the oil shop. Nope, still couldn’t find it. Susie  asked in another three shops and we criss crossed a maze of streets. Finally a shopkeeper took us round the corner of the street where we’d begun and it was there in front of us. In fairness, we don’t think it was open when we went past before. Six bottles of gold medal winning oil went into our backpacks (four in mine, two in Susie’s) and off we headed, back across the river towards the more commercial part of town.

Susie has always had a ‘thing’ about Issey Miyake clothes. She bought her first items in Japan nearly 40 years ago and still wears them, which says a lot about their unique style. We’d located a boutique called Persuade which offered a range of his collection. What a wonderful shop. What a wonderful owner, Andrea. She helped Susie choose items, made suggestions and above all let her take her time to try them on. All the time I sat dutifully outside the changing room, making helpful and sometimes unhelpful remarks when Susie emerged in differing outfits.  In the end a selection of items were chosen in which Susie looks beautiful.

We wandered up to El Cortes Ingles (after walking into the one in Seville as well, perhaps they should offer us shares). We found a place on the seventh floor for lunch and the waitress met us at the door. Would we like to eat in the cafeteria or the restaurant, she asked. Did she not know our reputation? The meal (in the restaurant) was very good and included a ‘copa’ of beer which I really could have done without.

Burdened down with purchases and topped up tummys, we made our way to the river and a tram stop which would take us back to the nearest point to our hotel. Bilbao is an easy place to get round, though we were grateful that we’d discovered the tram. A museum day tomorrow we think.

A cheap day return to Mordor please..

Ah, how much easier the ringbearers journey would have been had they used public transport….

Our own journey across the river was by contrast quite simple and uneventful. We met no Orcs or Nazgul though did have an encounter with an extra large spider..

Today we visited the Guggenheim and what a sublime experience it was, even better that it was a free admission day, though it seemed that most of Bilbao had decided to take advantage of it too. I must say it was one of the best gallery tours I’ve ever had. The modern art was always interesting, sometimes challenging and on occasion breathtaking. Its difficult to single anything out, though the pieces by Joana Vasconcelos were a special highlight. You’re lucky that I managed to sneak a photo or two before the guard told me off….

The whole Frank Gehry designed building is a work of art, inside and out. No more words on that, just images…

Just for this one museum, we have resolved to return to Bilbao…..

Ryanair announces their departure to D’Boing..

Our journey out of Seville was smooth and largely uneventful. We said goodbye to Max and his crew at Pan Y Piu over breakfast, got a taxi to the airport straightaway and we were through security like premium grade olive oil out of a bottle. Our gate was announced ahead of time and we got a seat near the front of ‘boarding group 3’, in which we were. Seville’s airport announcements are no different to any others. The airline, flight number etc is perfectly clear but the destination is open to interpretation. I hope the passengers who flew with Ryanair today ended up somewhere different to D’Boing. Though perhaps they were going to a clock makers convention.

Arriving in Bilbao a few minutes early, we rang the car park company to ask for our car and were told ‘5 minutes’. Someone then advised us to go further up the parking and see one of the FlyPark reps. Sure enough our car turned up 15 minutes later and off we went faithfully following the satnav. Our hotel is a little way from the city centre and after missing the turnoff once we found it. It then dawned on us that it was Bilbao Marathon weekend (there was a queue of ridiculously fit athletes waiting to book in). Even better, it was taking place tonight…yes, a marathon in the dark, or under street lights anyway..

The hotel manager recommended us a pintxos (tapas) bar and we popped along to sample the local delicacies. Very acceptable they were too.

We ventured out again, just prior to the marathon starting. Resisting the urge to strip down to shorts and warm up, we passed on the chance to run 42km in the dark in a strange city. We had a look at the Guggenheim, which was also hosting the finish of the race, ably manned by an animated commentator, who interspersed his reading of the race with very loud dance music.

Getting away from the race finish we found a small cafe and had nachos, gazpacho and sandwiches. They do breakfast too… Strolling back towards our hotel we crossed over the river and stood once or twice watching runners and trying to work out which lap (of two) they were on. Looking at the degrees of tiredness was no use and we contented ourselves by clapping and joining in with shouts of ‘Wenger’. That’s what it sounded like to us anyway, I suppose shouting the name any other football manager could have been just as much of an incentive to run faster. The Guggenheim is open tomorrow but not on Monday so that’s our objective…