Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Bilbao, Spain 11.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 12, 2010

The Guggenheim across the river

We took the PESA bus to Bilbao today, trouble free, and tonight we are comfortably ensconced in the Hotel Esperia Bilbao with a lovely view of the river and only a short walk away from the Guggenheim.  I can’t believe I’m actually going to see it tomorrow, at last!  According to the guidebook the hotel provides there are all sorts of special exhibitions on at the moment, not just modern art but also Dutch masters, so it will be a real treat.  How lucky we are to be able to travel around and see these masterpieces in Europe’s great museums and galleries!

Although it’s still a little bewildering hearing Spanish compared to the level of confidence I felt in France (and in Italy on our previous trip) I am starting to be able to understand some of what is said.  I think that perhaps that is because here people are speaking Spanish instead of Basque whereas in San Sebastian I couldn’t recognise any words at all.  I was starting to think that I had wasted six months trying to learn Spanish but now I am starting to ‘get my ear in’ and to have a go at communicating, though  I’m still thinking in French when I need something and have to get the phrase book out of my pocket. (I am especially bad at numbers, mixing up French, Italian and Spanish, and bits of Indonesian resurrect themselves sometimes which sends Tim into fits of laughter).

People in hotel reception and restaurants speak a bit of English, but not much, and elsewhere it seems that no one speaks English at all.  So I was pleased with myself when I successfully bought dos billetos por el bus Bilbao without holding up the queue, and even more pleased with myself when I was able to explain to a young Spanish boy that seats on the bus had reservationes and he needed to go to seat 60 at the back.  At hotel reception I was able to choose the habiticiones matrimonial and no-fume which means we have a double-bed on a no-smoking floor, but I have still not figured out what the automated voice in the lift is telling us and we have to watch carefully to make sure we get out at the right floor.

Best of all was my triumph at the shoe-repair shop.  My (brand-new) Jag handbag was showing signs of strain and I was ecstatic when I was able to negotiate repairing the handles so that it doesn’t fall apart – and chat to him about how our amigos Judy and Rosie had recommended Espana as a beautiful place while he mended it.

Still, it was a relief to have an English menu in the hotel restaurant and we had a delicious meal.   Would I have known that this scrumptious risotto was made with black (wild) rice, truffles and ‘grouper’ fish if I had had to translate the description?  Of course not!  My DK phrase book, alas,  limits itself to dishes that are common and ordinary.

After lunch we strolled down to the ‘old town’.  We have heard it said that Bilbao is nothing special except for the Guggenheim, but we like it.  There is some striking modern architecture and also some beautiful old buildings.  The old town is full of winding streets with shops and cafes and despite the light rain which began falling, full of people everywhere.  We stopped in a little cafe for some coffee and orange juice which I managed to order despite calling it valencia instead of naranjes causing much amusement, and then walked back along the river to watch what looks like a Spanish version of Spicks and Specks on TV!

My hero is about to venture out to see if he can find a restaurant nearby, otherwise we’ll eat in at the hotel.  There are some signs that the Global Financial Crisis has closed a few places around here….

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