Travel Reads: Welcome to Bilbao!

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Hello and welcome to the second instalment in my “Welcome to…” travel section where I’m inviting friends to give us a little tour of their hometown or local area. This time we’re heading to the Basque Country with fellow teacher Onintze. Bidaia on! Bon voyage!

I’m from the Basque Country, which lies in northern Spain, on the French border. This fabled place is a land of diversity, where awesome mountains mix with picturesque coastal villages and lively cities still keep deep-rooted traditions. And to add to its charm you’ll find magical places, secret spots and cozy hideaways scattered here and there.

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My kids on Ogoño hill overlooking Laga Beach and the Bay of Biscay

Another important forte is its gastronomy; Basque food is known worldwide. If you’re a foodie person, this is your place. The Basque Country is home to some of the world’s best chefs, such as Pedro Subijana, Juan Maria Arzak, Martín Berasategi or the young Eneko Atxa. In actual fact, there are twenty-two restaurants with one or more Michelin stars. Basque cuisine is not only famous for its meats and fish grilled over hot coals, but also for its salt cod in many forms, such as kokotxas al Pil-Pil and salt cod omelet.  And thanks to the wealth of the land, all the ingredients used, such as vegetables and legumes, are top quality. So there’s always a tasty reason to visit the Basque Country!

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t warn you about the weather, which has been especially crazy in recent years. For example, we’ve just had a really mild and pleasant autumn with lovely sunny days and on the contrary, although it’s now May, there’s no trace of spring yet. Still, I can’t reproach the weather because rain makes this landscape green, astonishing and unique.

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Gorbea nature park

Before I talk about my hometown, let me tell you a little bit about our unique language, Basque, known also as Euskera or Euskara. It’s a language isolate. It doesn’t come from the Indo-European family. I find that rather enthralling. There are a few dialects and, believe it or not, these dialects can differ to such an extent that people from different regions can find it difficult to understand each other! That’s why we have a standardized Basque, created in the late 1960s, which is used in official business, media and education.

So now I’ve given you a little introduction to the Basque Country, come let me show you around my hometown, Bilbao. In truth, I live in a tiny village near Bilbao, but I’ve always considered myself a great defender of this amazing city. Being from a small town, Bilbao meant freedom when I started university, a place to have fun in my twenties and now it means a vibrant city where I feel alive, I feel at home.

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Bilbao, La Salve Bridge and the Guggenheim

Do you remember when color came to our TV screens? Maybe you’re too young so let me give you another example: Have you ever seen a caterpillar turning into a butterfly? That’s Bilbao. Once a dull grey city where iron, steel, and shipbuilding industries reigned, it has evolved into this colourful, culinary and arty hub. You can see this astounding metamorphosis with these pictures I took a few months ago.

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A glimpse of Bilbao’s metamorphosis

Bilbao can be every bit as charming and exciting as the big cities in Spain. It has so much to offer: architecture, food, urban culture, art, and music too – I really recommend you check out the BBK Live Festival, which takes place every July. Besides, everything’s compact so the visitor can cover most of it on foot in just a couple of days.

Bilbao’s big draw is of course the Guggenheim Museum. It’s no wonder this bulky, undulating, titanium boat put Bilbao on the map, it’s impressive! You can also enjoy walking around the museum or have a drink at the nearby bar, where if you’re lucky enough, you can take in some great live music.

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The Guggenheim Museum on the river Nervión

The Guggenheim is just the tip of the iceberg, though. I seriously recommend you get lost in the Casco Viejo, and walk around “las Siete Calles” (the Seven Streets). You’ll see the sun’s rays play hide and seek with the shops and corners; a place full of life where you can go shopping. It’s a pedestrian area and you’ll find not only clothing, shoe shops, fabric shops, wine shops but also some hundred-year-old establishments that sell traditional Basque berets and the famous salted cod. Nearby you can enjoy the huge transformation of the Ribera Market where life and work come together. It’s the perfect spot to gather strength and enjoy some of the city’s best pintxos. Here you can taste our gildas (white anchovy, olive and pickled pepper skewers), enjoy some soft boiled quail egg with black anchovy and Piquillo peppers, delight in some fried eggplant with honey and goat’s cheese and  savour our wood-fired chorizo with pickled carrots.

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Top: Bilbao’s Casco Viejo and the Ribera Market. Below, left to right: Alhóndiga Bilbao, Doña Casilda Park, the Jeff Koons “Tulips” sculpture at the Guggenheim

It’s not easy to focus on just one place, there are so many places worth visiting! Alhóndiga Bilbao will delight all architecture lovers with its forty-three columns of different styles and materials or perhaps you would like to take a stroll with the kids through Doña Casilda Park and feed the ducks or rest under the trees (there are around a thousand!). Head to Calles Pozas and Ledesma if you want to satisfy your curiosity about Basque food. Take a stroll by the river from the Town Hall to the Guggenheim Museum to recharge your batteries. Arriaga Theatre and Euskalduna Palace will make you feel alive with their performances. All in all, a perfect city for a long weekend where everything’s a stone’s throw away. Bilbao is like a small box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get but…you can have them all!

I quit my job in an office to follow my dream of becoming a teacher. I’m trying to make those little rascals love English as much as I do, I’m trying to instil my passion in them. I’m not alone though, my children are my allies, my guinea pigs and my reason to try harder. I love nature and the awesome landscapes of the Basque Country. My perfect day would require a book, a good run in the mountains and a movie with my kids.

You can find me on Twitter at @OnintzeP.

Onintze Bio Pic - Cropped

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