Day 48: Across to BilbaoApril 4, 2017 in Spain
Time to move on again, and another busy day - a double UNESCO day. Lots of sites in a fairly small area here up on Spain's northern coastline, so it was proving to be a busy couple of weeks.
We left the apartment around 10:30am and started our 2 hour drive eastwards to the first stop - the Altamira Caves. This is a large cave complex where paleolithic paintings were discovered in the late 19th century. Most of the paintings are between 15,000 and 35,000 years old and they're absolutely incredible! Vivid colours, excellent representations (mostly of animals like deer, horses, cows and the now-extinct bison), and the artists had even used the contours of the rocks in the ceiling to create depth effects on their paintings.
Unfortunately for us though, the visit wasn't so great. You aren't allowed into the actual cave any more (it's been shut for tourists since the 1980s for obvious conservation reasons), but they've created a big museum and a supposedly perfect replica of the caves right next door. That was cool enough, but for some reason you aren't allowed to film or photograph inside the cave replica either! So it's going to be a pretty crappy video for my channel.
Neither of us were particularly impressed either that the entire museum was packed with hundreds of misbehaving schoolkids - young children being young children, ten year olds mucking around and screaming, and noisy teenagers being typical shits. It was really awful. Probably the most disappointed we've been in a UNESCO site so far I think. I get that it's important cultural heritage and that it's important for kids to see it, but they needed to be kept in line more, and maybe not bring hundreds through at the same time?
Back to the car, where we drove further eastwards to the city of Bilbao, the capital of Basque country. It's very different here to the rest of Spain, as most of the signs are in Basque first and then Spanish second, lots of Basque flags around and the countryside is different as well. Pine trees and green farmlands, rather than hot and dry olive groves you'd usually associate with Spain.
Our second site for the day was the Vizcaya Bridge, a huge gondola bridge spanning the river just north of Bilbao. It's a marvel of industrial age engineering, 50 metres high and a couple of hundred metres long. In the late 19th century the locals needed a bridge to cross the river, but they couldn't build a low bridge because of all the maritime traffic coming in and out of Bilbao. They couldn't build a high bridge because it would require ramps and a lot of money, plus the space needed would mean knocking down huge swathes of the towns on either bank.
So they came up with a gondola bridge! It's essentially a tall suspension bridge, except instead of a road deck, it has a gondola suspended from high steel cables that slides back and forth between either bank. These days it only fits six cars, a few motorbikes and a bunch of pedestrians, but in the horse & cart days it must've been very useful!
We spent a couple of hours here admiring and crossing - walked across the top catwalk and then came back on the gondola. I think it's the newest heritage site we've been to so far, and very impressive. Interesting to see it on the same day as one of the oldest we've been to! And the first one in the category of "industrial sites" - very different to the usual medieval, religious and Roman sites we've seen.
Late afternoon we drove down to Bilbao and our accommodation. In a good spot right in the centre of town, sixth floor apartment with district views I guess. Only downside was no grass or trees nearby for Schnitzel to relieve himself on!
We headed straight out into the city for a walk around, exploring the old town (mostly 17th century) and following the river around to the city's main attraction these days, the Guggenheim Art Museum. It had just closed, but we were planning on visiting tomorrow.
For dinner we headed back to one of the main squares to check out the big culinary attraction - pintxos (pronounced pinch-os). These are basically fancy little bar snacks that you order with a drink, the idea being you just order a few of these with a drink, enjoy them and then head to another bar. Sort of like tapas but these are straight off the bar, rather than ad-hoc from the kitchen.
We visited one of the highly rated ones and had some great stuff - chicken yakitori skewer, baguette with sausage, a few different types of croquettes and bacalod (codfish) of course. Very tasty! Good that Schnitzel was welcome to join us inside as well, he sat on the floor and was very well behaved. Last stop was around the corner from our apartment where we had a slice of cake and a coffee/hot chocolate.
Back to the apartment very tired but looking forward to exploring more of the city!Read more