*Originally, I signed up to write about the excursion to Santa Clara island. The weather prevented us from visiting the island, so I’m taking some creative liberty and using this blog post to write about a few other activities of note instead.*
MONDAY, AUGUST 15
On Monday morning, those of us who stayed in town for the long weekend hopped on an Alsa bus for a day trip to Bilbao. It’s truly amazing what you can get and how far you can go for 6.97 euros. Our journey from San Sebastián to Bilbao’s Intermodal Terminal was approximately 100km and took about an hour and 20 minutes. Free WiFi was offered onboard, and each seat on our double-deckered bus was fitted with a seat-back TV screen that even had a Bluetooth option for audio!
Once we arrived in Bilbao, we visited the official Athletic Club store at San Mames Stadium and then walked along the Nervion River towards the Guggenheim Museum. I thought the downtown area was surprisingly quiet for a holiday, though activity started to pick up once we got closer to the museum. The Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, is arguably Bilbao’s most famous attraction, and the crowds of people taking photos of the sculptures and the building itself seemed to confirm that idea.
After marveling at the museum’s architecture for a minute, we continued walking along the river path, admiring the different bridges along the way. We crossed over the river on the Zubizuri footbridge and made our way into Casco Viejo, Bilbao’s Old Town. Like San Sebastian, Bilbao has pintxo bars spread over its Old Town, but there are certainly less of them than in San Sebastián and the pintxo culture didn’t appear to be as strong either.
Our last stop before heading back to San Mames was Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao’s cultural center. The building is in the middle of downtown and houses a gym, a movie theater, a library, art galleries and exhibitions, restaurants, and lab space. There was a steady flow of people while we were inside, and I’m glad to see a multi-purpose venue being used so well by residents and tourists alike.
Monday’s highlight was definitely the evening’s football game: Athletic Club vs Mallorca. You couldn’t walk 200 feet around town without seeing someone in a striped red and white jersey. Football is a big deal in Spain, and Athletic Bilbao’s fans definitely brought the spirit for their team’s first home match of the season. I’ve watched plenty of games on TV, but I’ve never had the opportunity to attend a European match live (I’ve seen a few MLS games in person). Seeing a La Liga game abroad was an amazing experience.
The first fan activity of the game was the singing of the team anthem. Large banners were spread over the heads of some spectators, and those who weren’t covered held their scarves above their heads for the same effect. Everyone was singing passionately, and by the end of the song, the stadium was filled with the sounds of whooping, whistling, cheering, and clapping. Athletic Club only recruits players who were born or learned to play in the Basque Country, and this policy encourages a strong cultural connection between the club and its supporters. Many of the chants were in Basque, and I was able to pick out some of the Basque phrases spoken by the guys sitting behind me (thanks Stuart!). The energy inside the stadium was electric, but the game itself was not as exciting. Athletic Bilbao dominated possession for most of the first half and for all of the second. They had many corners, free kicks, and other chances to score, but could not finish. Mallorca had a strong defensive line and their goalie made some key saves, thus allowing the game to end 0-0.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17
When our Spanish classes ended, we grabbed plates and organized ourselves around the two large tables that had been arranged in the common room at Lacunza. The staff had set up a cooking station on the terrace and prepared paella for us while we were finishing up our classes. I’m part of the group of vegetarians on this trip, so I was served a vegetarian version of the traditional dish. The vegetarian paella was delicious and included cauliflower, peas, and red peppers in place of the mussels and king prawns that the others had. I’m not good at describing any food I eat, so all you really need to know is that I enjoyed the meal :))
After the paella activity, we biked to the marina to catch the ferry to Santa Clara island. Upon arriving at the ticket booth, we discovered that all trips had been canceled because of strong winds and forecasted rain. Though at the time there were clear blue skies all around, I can understand the company’s decision. White caps could be seen all over the bay and massive waves were crashing onto the beaches.
The rain did not set in until much later in the day. Typically, Basque Country rainfall is very light and misty, a phenomenon known as txirimiri. Today’s rain was different. Heavy droplets fell from the skies, splattering on our heads and clothes. We were assured that the evening’s fireworks would never be canceled because of rain, but a few minutes after we claimed our spot to watch, a security guard informed us that the fireworks display had in fact been canceled. We later learned that was the first time in 30 years that San Sebastián had canceled the fireworks show. (As of the time I´m writing this, it has not stopped raining and the wind is brutal).
The past few days have certainly had their ups and downs (some of which have been omitted for simplicity), but learning to go with the flow is an important part of life. If your bus gets delayed because of traffic, there’s not much you can do except enjoy the ride. If the fireworks get canceled because of the weather, the best you can do is run inside a pintxo bar and not get soaked from the rain. If the Basque Country has taught me anything, it’s that it is important not be too hard on yourself, take a siesta, and eat gelato every day.