País Vasco

We had a puente (long weekend) over Halloween weekend and so decided to use it to visit País Vasco, one of Spain’s northern coast. In English, the name is Basque Country, and they speak both Basque and Spanish. Signs everywhere were presented in both languages, and we caught ourselves the whole trip trying to figure out what different words meant.

We first went to Bilbao, a city famous for its Guggenheim Museum. The building is truly incredible and a work of art in itself- the huge steel, sculpted interior is in the shape of waves that give it a very organic feeling. The foyer and entry of the building are equally breathtaking, with glass, metal and wood all managing to be bent into impossible shapes. The entryway also has a LED work by famous artist Jenny Holzer that was  specially designed for the space, which allows the light to bounce around and carry the work throughout the museum’s smooth surfaces.

Currently on display is Francis BaconFrom Picasso to Velázquez, a fascinating exhibit on the Irish painter and his inspirations in Picasso, Velázquez, Goya and others. The exhibit was masterfully arranged, with the pieces that inspired him featured alongside his own works, which were at once disturbing and fascinating. The permanent collection also featured works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and some incredible pieces from Anselm Keifer.

Later in the day, we headed to the nearby city of Bakio, and made a long trek out to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The way required a 6 mile hike (that a friend and I opted out of) and 241 stairs across a man-made bridge to access the island that houses a 10th century monastery. Usually you can see pretty far in front of you, but we chose an incredibly foggy day. However, it lent an eerie air of mystery to the journey that I appreciated. We reached the top and saw the outside of the monastery before ringing the bell at the top three times for good luck.

The next day we headed to San Sebastián, (Donostia, in Basque) a famously precious seaside town. The Playa del Concha (Shell Beach) was lovely– and it really is in the shape of a clamshell! We climbed quite a few more steps to reach the top of Monte Urgull, and were rewarded by getting to tour another castle, as well as see the huge statue at the top of the mountain up close. By then, the fog had rolled in pretty badly so we decided against trying to climb the mountain at the other end of the bay to look for the lighthouse that was supposedly there.

We had pintxos  for dinner- a wide variety of different hors d’oeuvres sized foods. Bars will have a variety of these set up for people to choose from, and you can try a huge variety of foods for pretty cheap. As we were on the coast, I was trying to eat as much seafood as possible!

The next day we were going to head to Guernica (Gernika in Basque) to visit the city, which was bombed badly during the Spanish Civil War and is the site of Picasso’s famous painting. However, the six hour round trip didn’t sound too great so we decided instead to visit the mountain and lighthouse we weren’t able to see the previous day. We took the funicular, a little tiny train that looked kind of like a strange house, up the hill and arrived in the middle of an adorable amusement park. We found the lighthouse but decided against paying the entry fee, enjoying the tall view down to the beach for free instead.

My friend told us we should try to go to Fuenterrabía (Hondarribia), a cute fishing town, for the rest of the day. After a few mishaps of not finding the correct bus stop, we found ourselves in this precious little town. Hondarribia is full of medieval buildings, and a well-preserved medieval wall as well. They also have famous former fishermens’ houses that in style look almost Scandinavian. We sat along the bay for a little while (though two of us went a little farther into the water than that!) and looked across it to France! Too bad we didn’t have time to go to the French part though!

The next day we headed to Vitoria-Gastiez,  where we explored the many cathedrals and medieval architecture. We also walked through El Florida, a beautiful park with huge trees and tiled benches that look like the famous wall in Barcelona! There was an exhibition of photography inside one of the buildings, and it was incredible that featured were photos from every continent! There were also some incredible murals tucked everywhere around town, though we didn’t get to see all of them.

We had some incredible Indian food for dinner, and headed back to the bus station. We took an evening bus and were back in Madrid by 10:30. We parted ways and all were a little sleepy at work the next day, but it was definitely worth it! I was definitely enchanted by País Vasco and now would like to learn a little more Basque!

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