We visited Bilbao in order to see/tour/experience Frank Gehry's architectural masterpiece, the Guggenheim. Apart from the art museum, Bilbao didn't have much to recommend it, prior to the Guggenheim's arrival the city had primarily existed as an industrial center and, according the the guidebooks, Bilbao still didn't have a lot to offer tourists. But we ended up falling in love with this town and considered our time there one of the highlights of our vacation.
First of all, we stayed in a gorgeous topfloor apartment in the city's old town (you can see it here). Up until this point, T usually slept on a pull-out couch, so having three bedrooms felt crazy special. Especially since Dan and I had a master-suite, basically a mini-vacation in itself.
As you can see, we spent a lot of time just hanging out - napping, playing chess and cards, watching movies together (yes, we all gathered for a family movie on the ipad, thank you Amazon Prime). Everyone loves a siesta.
When we finally ventured into old town (i.e. exited the building) we focused on the food. Like San Sebastian, Bilbao has tons of wonderful Basque eataries and pintxos are served everywhere, but the lack of crowds made it easier to discover new things. F and P gravitated toward a stand/restaurant that only sold french fries (um, so in retrospect, maybe we weren't as creative in our eating as I remember), I couldn't get over the windows and windows of salted cod. And T loved the "milk machine", he still says that Bilbao had the best milk ever.
And, of course, more pinxtos, though by this point, we were somewhat sick of eating meals made up of appetizers.
For our first (and only) full day in Bilbao we decided to walk the river to the Guggenheim, which was the perfect way to experience the building. Almost like a mountain sprouting out of nowhere. Plus, the river had tons of playgrounds and lots of art.
You aren't allowed to photograph Guggenheim exhibits, which made me super sad. Luckily, Jeff Koons's retrospective included a few designated photo spots, hence the photo of P with Popeye. I was also disappointed to learn that the museum does not house a permanent collection, outside of a few large sculptures. Oh well, I like Koons' large playful art, though after awhile it becomes redundant (Dan, on the other hand, did not care for Koons' quirkiness). And Jean-Michel Basquiat's work was on display upstairs, but he's never been a favorite of mine.
Another "fancy" lunch out. As this city was smaller, the waitress spoke no English and it took awhile to find the restaurant's English-translated menu. But the food was good, even T actually ate. Yay!!
We spent our evening touring various playgrounds along the river, which seemed like the perfect end to a wonderful day. Plus, the playgrounds were quite creative.
We woke in the morning to a cold, foggy day (which felt pretty wonderful after Italy's crazy heat) and walked the 2 miles to the car rental agency, passing the Guggenheim on our way.
HAPPY WEDNESDAY EVERYONE!! In a few weeks, I'll post the last of the Europe pics - our Spanish road trip and Disney Paris.
Places to Go (Vacation) - SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN (Days 16-18) - Dragging Our Kids Through Europe, Part IX
When I last left off on the Europe posts, we had just arrived in San Sebastian after a LONG DAY of travel from Rome. Luckily, San Sebastian proved the perfect beach town for some rest and relaxation (and amazing food). We stayed off the main dock area, which was a quick walk to old town and the beach. Plus, our apartment had lots of wonderful morning light (you can check out our digs here).
First stop, morning pastries, which by this point in our trip, had become a necessity. And these were the best yet. So. so. good.
Then, of course, everyone needed to ride the double decker carousel.
Finally, THE BEACH! At high tide, about 90% of that sand is gone, but we arrived at low tide and felt like we were on the biggest public beach ever. Unfortunately the water was somewhat colder than expected (probably because a storm was moving in), so Dan and the kids made sand castles while I read my book. Happiness. During this period of relaxed bliss, I whispered to Dan, "maybe later today we can walk to the castle that overlooks the town." T overheard "castle" and within minutes he was running up the hill.
The walk to the castle was gorgeous.
T bought this awful, tacky souvenir in Venice with his allowance money. And everywhere we traveled, he took it out of his backpack and set it up by the window. By Spain, I became oddly attached to it. And now it resides in our living room as a treasured family possession. Every time I look at it, I remember our vacation and I smile. Crazy how quickly it moved from complete junk to loved keepsake.
The local drink was Coke with red wine. Don't knock it before you've tried it. So. so. yummy.
Years and years ago, San Sebastian hosted bullfights in this square. Apparently, the apartments were privately owned but the balconies belonged to the city. So they would sell tickets and strangers could march through people's apartments for their paid view.
Our landlord (is that the right term for someone who rents through airbnb?) told us that San Sebastian's Zara was one of the largest in the world. So the girls insisted on spending an afternoon there. And then T decided he also needed to "get his shopping on". Oh well, sale racks were everywhere.
For dinner, we went with carry out pinxos again. San Sebastian is famous for its food scene (second most Michelin stars per square mile of anywhere in the world; only beaten by Kyoto in Japan). And the big thing to do there is go from bar to bar eating pintxos (Basque tapas) at stand up tables. The problem is that the best tapas places are always crowded (just like the best bars in a city) and, as a family of five, it is tough to find a spot. So we found that picking up carry out was easier than braving the crowds (by this point in the vacation, we'd given up on cooking for ourselves).
In late afternoon, a storm started to move in. So we went down to the beach to watch the clouds cover up the night. The kids cartwheeled and ran through the sand.
On our second day in San Sebastian we woke to rainy, cold weather; making me appreciate the unused rain jackets and sweatshirts I forced everyone to make room for in their backpacks. We spent the morning at the crowded aquarium, with thousands of other tourists, which was fine but nothing compared to Baltimore. And then lunched at a "nice" restaurant. T, of course, ate nothing but Dan's dessert. But the girls loved everything.
Finally, for our last morning in San Sebastian, we had the perfect weather we'd been hoping for. Unfortunately, we also needed to check out of the apartment by noon. So we hurried to the (now very wavy) beach, where P insisted on diving into every wave (STRESS!!).
And then walked miles (literally miles) to the bus station for the quick 1 hour drive to Bilbao, Spain. We arrived in Bilbao during the heart of fiesta (see how EVERYTHING is closed?). T kept losing his pants on the walk, we should have sympathized but we just kept laughing.
I'll post more on Bilbao on Wednesday, happy Monday everyone!!