The airport bus dropped me and Maria near Plaza Moyua. I walked from the bus stop to my B&B in the old quarter of Bilbao--a 15-20 minute walk along a wide boulevard, crossing over the river that winds through the city, and then entering the medieval, pedestrian-only area. The weather was beautiful--22 degrees and sunny--so I thoroughly enjoyed the walk.
I'd found the B&B, AliciaZzz, on TripAdvisor. While I had the address, it was still a little hard to spot--it's on the second floor of a building, with a very unobtrusive sign and an unmarked door. You have to find the B&B name on the list of doorbells and ring it to be let in. Once I'd located it and made my way up, however, I was delighted. Koldo, the owner, was gracious and helpful, the room was bright and clean and well-appointed, and the location was fabulous. (One warning: I'd asked in advance if they took American Express, and they said yes--but when I arrived, it turned out they didn't, and I had to use my debit card to pay for the room.)
I dropped off my things, changed from my not-so-practical but oh-so-stylish stiletto-heeled boots into something better suited to walking, and immediately headed out to explore the area. Koldo had mentioned a funicular railroad that would take me up the mountain and give me panoramic views of the city, which sounded irresistable. To get there, I walked along the riverfront, which took me past a gorgeous old church...
the historic Ayuntamiento de Bilbao...
and beautiful views of the cityscape along the river...
When I finally reached the funicular station, I realized I was awfully hungry, so I stopped at a little market and bought some fresh bread and Coca Cola Light that I ate while watching children play in the plaza. Then I bought my ticket for the funicular--a whopping €.90--and entered the front car.
Since the car had been mostly empty coming down, I figured it would be going up as well, and I entered the front car expecting to have it to myself. Much to my surprise, it quickly filled up with ten-year-old boys carrying backpacks and chattering excitedly in Spanish. I'd apparently arrived just as a nearby school was letting out, and these boys all lived at the top of the mountain. It was really fun to listen to them--I couldn't understand a word, so instead was able to enjoy the energy and body language.
At the top of the mountain, the boys scattered off to their respective homes, and I found myself on the edge of a lovely park overlooking the city.
I spent an hour in the park, admiring the view, the happy couples--from teens to octogenarians--walking its paths, and the way the light illuminated both the sculptures and the people.
(There are many more photos from the park in my Flickr photo set from that first day.)
I took the funicular back down once the sun had dropped below the mountains on the western side of the city. Looking to my right along the river, I saw that the Guggenheim wasn't far away, and decided to walk in that direction for a few minutes.
On my way, I passed the spectacular Pasarela Zubizuri, a beautiful footbridge designed by architect Santiago Calatrava.
The weather was so beautiful, and the riverside path so inviting, that I decided to walk back to the hotel, change into my running gear, and go for a run up to the Guggenheim and back. Unfortunately, my calf started bothering me a bit (I blame the morning spent in those stiletto heels...), so I ended up walking about half of the time. I still managed to get some spectacular photos along the way:
Once I'd finished my run there was an SMS waiting for me from Maria, who suggested that we meet for dinner at the metro stop near my hotel (Casco Viejo) at 9:30pm. I took a long shower, checked some email, and then headed out to meet her.
The plaza next to the metro stop was filled with cafes and people, and once Maria arrived and we started exploring the old quarter, it was clear that the entire area of the city was jam-packed with cafes and bars each of them filled with people.
We ended up at the Plaza Nueva, a lovely square next to my B&B. In the center of the square were dozens of kids, from toddlers through teens, all playing, laughing and chasing each other. Parents were stationed all around the edges, blending with the crowds in the cafes, drinking wine and eating the pintxos that Basque establishments are famous for.
Since Maria doesn't eat a lot of meat, and I don't eat a lot of veggies, we wanted to find a place that had pintxos we both could enjoy. Given the crowds, it was hard in many of the establishments to see what they had out on the bar, and neither of us knew enough Spanish to be able to ask questions about ingredients. We finally settled on a place that Koldo had recommended, Gure Toki, where the food looked delicious, and the bartender spoke English. A plate of seven pintxos, a glass of Rioja for me and a glass of beer for Maria set us back a total of only €17, which felt like a bargain! We took our food out to the plaza, and sat at an outdoor table so we could enjoy the warm evening and the crowds in the plaza.
By midnight the full day had caught up with both of us, and we said goodnight and headed back to our respective hotels, with promises to stay in touch--both personally and professional, as Maria's doing fabulous work with designing games that involve VR and AR technology.
All in all, it was a spectacular day.