Monday, July 11, 2011

July 10, rumbo Bilbao

From Madrid to Bilbao:
On this warm summer morning in Madrid, and after a pretty lousy night's sleep, Jeff and I wake up to catch the 11:00 a.m. Alsa Supra bus to Bilbao, non-stop through the rolling plains where the rain mainly tames the flames of central Spain.  This bus actually has wifi for our internet, which young people may take for granted, but it still amazes me.  The highway gradually leads us to the foothills of the Pyrenees, reminding Jeff of California and me of northern Michigan and Wisconsin in some spots.  The clouds and humidity increase as we approach Bilbao.  MAP At 3:15 we arrive at the bus depot and share a taxi with another Spanish teacher to the dorm (colegio mayor, Deusto).  All the signs in this city are in Spanish and Euskera (the local Basque language), which is totally foreign to me; lots of words beginning with e and i and lots of k's, b's and blending of tz and tx; all very unfamiliar.  Jeff and I take a quick stroll along the "ria," around the Gugenheim, which we can see from the side of the mountain where our dorm is located.  This museum wows me like a building never has.  Even in Madrid, I realized I must have walked around the city 30 years ago with my head down because the architecture is impressing me more now than when I was young (er?). On the river side of the museum is an enormous spider sculpture.   The giant flower puppy dog made of real flowers in front of the museum adds to the contrast of larger than life buildings and geologic oddities in this old and rugged industrial city that is now experiencing a rebirth thanks to the Gugenheim.  This is our first night in Bilbao.  I am in a dorm room, all by myself with a tiny bed and a desk to think, read and write.  I feel like I'm on retreat.  It is so quiet here, at least on this Sunday night.  The food here is amazingly delicious; seafood options most days, red wine at lunch, fresh French bread, garbanzos and gazpacho, ample olive oil, potatoes, vegetables, dessert.  I'm in heaven and feel totally spoiled.  About ten of us, seven women and three men, take a walk to a nearby tavern/restaurant.  Most are closed on Sunday night, but we sit next to a group of four people in their 50's.  They overhear us and we overhear them, and I make some comment about the paper napkins that say "Eskerrik Asko," trying to pronounce it like I was a local.  Who was I kidding?  The guy next to me laughs and tells me it means Thank You in Euskera, the language of the Basque Country (pais vasco).  He tells me how to say it properly and then introduces us all to the two women and the guy next to him who is a real live Euskera language teacher.  The more we talk, the more we learne about Euskera (the language), Euskadi (the region of Bilbao), and that they are from a nearyby coastal city, San Sebastian (Donostia in their language). This region is famous for its iron works, and this guy's job is actually making traditional wooden, leather walking canes that have a hidden dagger inside.  They're called "bastones de mando" and are used ceremonially when heads of state from this region need a formal gift to give other heads of state etc.  Anyway, he tells me he thought I looked like I could be vasco and asked if my parents were from the Basque region.  Now of course, I am convinced that I am part vasco and that I must learn more of this language.  One man actually knows a relative of someone in our group and that makes us all like blood brothers and sisters.  It is amazing how eagerly they shared their proud Euskadi (Basque) heritage, and I do mean proud!  It reminded me of the Irish on St. Patricks Day, times ten.  As they leave, they bid us farewell with firm handshakes and affectionate kisses on each cheek for the women.


  1. Cathy's favorite place in Spain is San Sebastian - she was there about 17 years ago when she studied in Madrid for a summer.

    Great posts so far - what an awesome experience!

  2. Wow! What an amazing experience, especially learning about the language of the Basque region!