Madrid-Salamanca-Porto (Portugal)- Santiago – Bilbao
06.04.2014 - 14.04.2014 19 °C
i'm skipping over a few cities (Madrid, Salamanca) for no particular reason. Madrid is big but not as manic as one would expect and very easy to get around. We did visit the Palace which was... huge. Still used for important occasions too.
A fabulous but less well known attraction is the Temple of Debod - an ancient Egyptian Tomb that they literally boxed up (stone by stone) and shipped to Madrid and reassembled !!!
The street of our hostel had fabulous shops and mostly small, local brands but alas, my bag had no space or spare weight for anything
The drive from Salamanca into Portugal we went through the most beautiful landscape so far… one thing that has struck me on our many hours on buses is the diversity in landscape throughout Spain (and Portugal). Whereas the south is predominantly olive groves and various cropping fields, the north is noticeably more lush, with vineyards and a lot of forest and super green grazing pastures. Throughout we have seen flat fields then a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, dry rocky cliff faces and then more deep green valleys with heavily running rivers. At times it looked like a part of Germany or Switzerland, even the housing styles resembled Swiss chalets.
The scenery between Salamanca and Porto then again between Santiago and Bilbao was incredible. Porto deserves a special mention for it’s gorgeous location- built into hillsides on both sides of a river with featured bridge designs, as is common, and with that gorgeous people – just a little bit warmer toward tourists than in many parts of Spain.
Going north out of Portugal to our next stop Santiago de Compostela, we were in Galicia, the and then into Basque country in Bilbao. This whole Northern part definitely has the best food in Spain, with seafood plentiful and so so fresh.
With a bit of hesitation I suggested we forego San Sebastian for Bilbao instead and I’m glad we did. Of all the places we’ve been this gets my vote as overall favourite and the most liveable. As San Sebastian’s main attraction is amazing food and a decent beach of which my mum would appreciate neither, whereas Bilbao features the architectural wonder that is the Guggenheim museum/gallery still good food and near the coast plus a few more things to see and do.
I was really taken with Bilbao, one would never guess it had such an industrial past (and still houses a large port). The streets are wide and pedestrian-friendly even in the old part of town, letting in lots of light. We metro-ed out of the city centre along the river, almost to the coastal beaches and found busy, pretty suburbs. The choice and quality of pintxo (tapas) bars would knock your socks off and the mixed designs of all of the buildings from different decades are incredibly stylish. It has the most stunning backdrop of green hills yet it extends to the coast. (Ok, I know, it sounds like Perth except with better public transport and more beautiful buildings). The people make use of ALL of the city’s offerings too, a Sunday evening stroll saw hundreds of people ‘promenading’ along the wide… promenades ? that run both sides of the river, not to mention the overflowing cafés, icecream stands and (numerous) playgrounds in the centre and around the river. We found a local band playing a rock/pop concert to a huge crowd (and curiously not a policeman in sight). By the way the shops were all closed - people were out socialising and taking advantage of the good weather. I tell you what, there was no sign of anxious people of a depressed economy here!!
So in our 1.5 days in Bilbao the Guggenheim was first on the agenda. Easily the Best and most fascinating ‘museum’ (Really art gallery) I’ve ever seen. I could have stared at the building itself from the outside for hours, so revolutionary in its design (Frank Geary) that the metallic material ‘scales’ forming most of the cladding had to be invented specially out of titanium and other things to allow the strength, flexibility and finishing of the design to be realised.
(pic from the entrance side, you might just see me in this in front of the huge flower dog).
Then inside it just gets better, 2 more storeys of galleries, but all parts of the building felt very spacious and connected to the outside (intentional in the design). Most exhibitions were interactive, even the temporary Yoko Ono retrospective – she is one odd woman!