Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Pamplona

Trip Start Nov 10, 2013
Trip End Nov 24, 2013

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Flag of Spain  , Navarra,
Thursday, November 14, 2013

Our wake up call was at 6:45, bags out at 7:45 and on the bus at 8:30.  Breakfast was mostly cold food with a typical layout of cheese, meats, breads, cereal, fruit and pastries.  There was also soft cooked eggs and bacon.  We had breakfast with Penny and her friend, Virginia.  Also at our table were Mike and Paula from London, Ontario.  We had a fun time getting acquainted.  We left a couple of minutes late.  The skies were grey but it was dry and the temperature a bit nippy.  We headed north to Bilbao (bill-BOW - rhymes with cow).  We went through the forest and the mountains.  When we arrived in Bilbao we parked behind the Guggenheim museum.  We had a little time outside the museum to take pictures of the spectacular architecture.  The building is supposed to be reminiscent of ships at sea. It is a museum of contemporary art.   It is built along the river in an area that was rundown warehouses and factories.  The Guggenheim Foundation supported the construction but the people of Bilbao were very involved in determining the rest. 

Once inside we were divided into two groups.  Our group was lead by David from Scotland.  He took us first into a gallery with very large sculptures made of steel by American artist Richard Serra, .  They were huge standing ellipses and spirals that you could walk into or through.  David did a good job of teaching us about modern art and asking us questions to keep us engaged in the conversation.  Next we went to another exhibit on the first floor by American artist Jenny Holzer which was textual art.  It was done in red and blue light with words of a poem running verticially like a neon sign.  There were 6 or 8 vertical "billboards" running simultaneously with the same words.  On the front it was in red in English and then you walked through the vertical lights and it was in Spanish or Basque on the back.  It was about 20 feet high and the movement of the words made us dizzy.  Some people had to leave or turn away because it was so disorienting.  We continued on the first floor to a gallery filled with similar paintings by American Alex Katz.  This exhibit was called smiles because each of the female subjects was smiling, similar smiles in similar poses, on a black background.  Again, David did a great job of eliciting from us about what we noticed.

We went up to the second floor to an exhibit by Spanish artist Antoni Tapies.  This exhibit was more difficult to explain and understand.  He used everyday objects, for instance a stack of white plates.  He had sculptures with chicken wire, straw, a wardrobe with clothes etc.  Lastly, we went to the third floor to see Basque artist Erlea Maneros Zabala whose art is not so much what she created as what she noticed and copied.  When we returned to the first floor we looked at some 3-D pictures on the way to the museum store.  Derek got a magnet.

Once outside again we walked to the bridge to take pictures, then walked around the museum and took pictures.  There were lots of neat angles.  I especially liked the spider and the puppy sculpted out of shrubbery.  Then we started our journey to San Sebastian along the Atlantic Coast. 

We arrived in San Sebastian about 1:45 a little late because a street was blocked and we couldn't park where they normally do.  So we had to walk across a bridge to get into the old city.  San Sebastian is an elegant resort town with three beaches.  As we drove to the old city we saw two of the beaches and because of our detour we also saw the third beach.  It was a little chilly because of the wind.  Raymond walked us into town and showed us where we could eat and shop and where the harbor was.  We went to a Tapas Bar for lunch.  I got a glass of white wine and Larry and Derek, Cruzcampo again.  Then we all chose a couple of tapas, which were lined up on the bar with toothpicks in them.  We chose what we wanted and if it needed heated they would heat them.  I got one that had fish and zucchini and was very tasty.  Derek got one that had fish too.  Larry got sausage and we all got a Spanish tortilla.  A couple from Australia was there too and we spent some time talking with them.  Then we went into McDonald's to use the restroom.  Yes, McDonald's are everywhere and Burger King, KFC and Dominoes Pizza.  We headed toward the harbor looking for a pastry shop for dessert.  We soon found one but Derek and I were tempted not by pastry but by Croque Sandwiches like we had in France last year and just as good.  Larry got a mint chocolate chip green Super Cookie, about 4" square.  We sat in front of the store and ate our "dessert."  When we got to the harbor we saw the National Theatre building.  We also spied an interesting church down one of the side streets.  We walked along the harbor and a Herring Gull came and perched near us probably wanting fed.  We noticed a place where we could take a side street back in the direction of the bus and it was very quaint.  We came to the cross street where the church was and turned toward it.  It wasn't open but from the sign outside it looked Greek or Russian Orthodox.  We headed back toward the river and finally came upon the riverside walk.  We got back early to catch the bus at 3:10.

Then we headed out of the city and up into the Pyrenees Mountains.  It was grey and it eventually rained.  On the way to Pamplona we watched a video on the Fiesta of San Fermin also known as the Running of the Bulls.  The scenery was spectacular even if it was raining.  On the north side of the mountains everything was green as they get a lot of rain.  The fields reminded me of Wales or Ireland only with less sheep.  We arrived in Pamplona shortly before 5:00 but got lost and it took us a while to get to our hotel, the NH Iruna Park.  We got off the bus and got our key.  We are the only ones on the 9th floor because we got a suite with a fold out sofa bed.  We have a great view! 

We had less than an hour until we met downstairs at 6:00 to ride the bus to the old city.  It was almost dark already.  We walked as a group to the Plaza Mayor and it was already dark.  Then we crossed the plaza and went down the street where they have the running of the bulls.  It is really narrow with shops along both sides.  During the Fiesta of San Fermin the shop keepers board up their doors and windows.  We walked all the way to the bull ring but it took less than 10 minutes.  The bull ring was not illuminated so we couldn't see it very well.  Outside the bull ring on Passeo de Hemingway there was a bust of Hemingway as he wrote several novels in Pamplona about bull fighting.  Then Raymond gave us until 7:10 to meet back at the Plaza Mayor for dinner.  We went in a couple of shops and Derek bought a magnet and I bought a sea shell with a red cross and red string necklace.  It is too big to wear but I thought it was appropriate since my friend Peggy asked me if I was wearing a shell around my neck like a pilgrim. :) 

After we had all gathered at the square, Raymond led us to Restaurante Basaburua for dinner, drinks included.  We were seated in the back room along two long tables.  Before our meal the wine steward, Michael gave us a lesson on the wines we would be drinking.  The three wines were from the same 75 sq. mile region of Rioja.  There were two red wines: Editor Crianza and Coto Crianza both made from Tempranillo grapes and one white wine made from Verdejo grapes.  I only tasted the first one and it was really good.  On our plates was waiting a hard roll and soon they brought out cerrano ham (like prisciutto Italian ham) to go with it.  then they brought out deep fried shrimp, cheese and ham and cheese.  The next tapas was a dish of eggs, shrimp and green beans.  They were all delicious.  During this whole time we were drinking the wines.  Next came the main course of hake (white fish) or steak.  I got the fish and it was delicious.  Larry and Derek got the steak and it really tough and full of grissle.  For dessert we had flan and vanilla ice cream with coffee sauce on it.  As the evening wore on the licorice liquor and another liquor started going down in shots.  It got louder and louder with more and more talking and joking and laughing.  We had a really good time.  After dinner we had  to walk to get to the bus and it was raining a little but it didn't dampen anyone's spirits at all.  We had fun on the way back on the bus but reality came down on us when Raymond reminded us that tomorrow our wake up is 6:15.  We got back to the hotel after 9:30.
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