Weekend Getaway

Bustling Bilbao

Date: 19 – 21 June 2015

Modes of Travel: British Airways

Cast of Characters: Bruce, Jodi, Alyssa & Rowan

Hotel:  Sercotel Coliseo Hotel, Bilbao
So this trip was a rare trip without Dan. The trip was again one of those random trips that was planned after about 3 bottles of wine.    Our friend Alyssa travels quite a bit around Europe for work.   Her schedule combined with our schedule pretty much means we never seem to be able to meet up.  As such during one of the rare occasions we were able to meet up Jodi and myself decided to meet Alyssa in Bilbao on the back of one of her work trips.

Jodi and I booked our flights and hotel through British Airways on a BA holiday.   Return flights and 4 Star hotel for two nights came to about £220 per person so overall a pretty cheap deal plus I got bonus Avios and £20 cash back from Quidco.    I am generally not that fussed about hotels other than location so I left the decision up to Jodi and she picked the Sercotel Colissio.

The day finally arrived for us to meet Alyssa in Bilbao.    Heathrow Airport is in the process of decommissioning Terminal 1 by the end of June so our flight was one of 7 that afternoon.    I checked a bag and went through security into an area that was eerily empty.    By this point most of the shops, bars, and restaurants had been closed.   I waited on a bench for someone in our party to arrive.   Rowan (Alyssa’s fiancé) was the first arrive.   The two of us went into Giraffe which was the only remaining restaurant for some food and beverages.    Shortly after sitting down Jodi joined us.   It does however appear that Dan has brainwashed me.   The moment the screen said that we needed to go to the gate I became instantly paranoid that we were going to miss our flight.   Jodi and Rowan of course were taking a more casual approach to boarding the plane and were working on their beverages and we did not leave the restaurant until it said Final Call Gate Closing.   We of course made it with us being the last 3 people to enter the gate area. Clearly if Dan were there his head would have probably exploded.

The flight was fairly uneventful and we arrived about 15 min early.  We quickly made our way to the baggage area, much to everyone’s dismay since I checked a bag.   After about 15 min of waiting my bag finally came and we met Alyssa outside the secure area and hopped into a taxi to the hotel.    The taxi journey was exceptionally easy and took about 20 min and went by the Guggenheim on the way.   As it turned out our hotel was also a casino and more importantly just across the river from the old town.     Check-in was simple and the rooms were very well appointed and modern.   Jodi and I quickly dropped our stuff off in our room and met Alyssa and Rowan in theirs and waited while Alyssa wrapped up a few work bits.   We then headed to the hotel bar and terrace to enjoy our first bottle of rioja in Spain for the amazingly low price of €13.

It was about 9pm when we decided to head out from the hotel for dinner.   We headed to a place a few streets away that was recommended by the front desk called Restaurante Beraia.  We walked into the bar area of the restaurant and it was heaving with activity but the restaurant area was completely empty.   There were no issues in getting a table since we were at least an hour ahead of the locals.   The wine was great and cheap and the starters were amazing.    The main courses in my opinion were good but nothing too amazing.     After dinner we decided to find a place to have a couple drinks before going to bed.    Around the corner from the restaurant there was a bar called Basque Bar.   It was definitely more of a locals bar with the obligatory overly friendly chatty old man out front.     Rowan decided to stay with the wine while Myself, Alyssa and Jodi moved on to pint size gin and tonics.  We ended up sitting outside for a few hours drinking and talking and finally just after 2am it was clear that the bar was winding down so we took this as our cue to head back to the hotel.

Saturday morning Jodi and I woke up around 10am.   We texted our Bilbao Whatsapp group but there was no response from Alyssa and Rowan so Jodi and I decided to take a walk around the city ourselves.   It became quickly evident that a majority of the city was still asleep.    We finally found a bar that was open and was serving coffee.    After a quick coffee we then walked to the Guggenheim took a few pictures and then walked along the river to the old town.

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The old town was overall very typical with several bars, restaurants and shops.    Jodi spotted some tables in the sun and quickly made a beeline.  However despite our efforts to go someplace with a bit of local flavour the sunny tables belonged to the Liverpool Cafe.     We sat and enjoyed a beer while waiting for Alyssa and Rowan to wake up.   Just as we finished our beers Rowan texted that they were awake and were hungry.    Jodi and I then began our search for a lunch location in the sun.    As you might expect in Spain we didn’t have to search very far and found this pintxos (Basque tapas) place called La Ribera Bilbao bar just underneath the city market with plenty of out door seating.   Jodi and I ordered assorted pintxos and a bottle of Rioja that was chilled as is customary in Spain.    Shortly after sitting down Rowan and Alyssa joined us and we enjoyed our beverages and pintxos in the sun.

After finishing up our drinks we headed up into the market, which was just staring to close up.   Fortunately for us there were still a few meat, veg, and fish stalls open.   We made our way to a meat stall in the opposite corner of where we entered where Rowan sampled a few items and both Jodi and Rowan bought some chorizo to take back.   After the market we headed back into the heat of old town.   During our wandering we came across a rundown street crowded with people and chanting and laughing (apparently there was a football game on).    We continued down this street that was jam packed with little student bars and managed to find a table at one of the bars where he sun made it through he tall buildings.   There we had yet another bottle of wine and some papas bravas.   After finishing that beverage we continued walking down the street until we hit a main road near a Carrefour Express.  We went into the supermarket looking for water and after much searching we found it on the top floor near the largest milk section I have ever seen in a supermarket.

Once we exited the store we noticed there were some outdoor escalators heading up a hill.    Of course we had to see where these went.  After two sets of escalators and a moving conveyor we reach the top of the hill, which had nothing more than flats and a good view of the old town.   After a few pictures and a moment to reapply sunscreen we headed down the hill in the opposite direction.    At the bottom of the hill there was another street of cafe/bars but slightly more upmarket than the previous street.   We of course stopped for wine and some deep fried potatoes at the first place we could find with a table in the sun called 300 Montaditos and had a discussion about where we wanted to head next.    It was decided that we would head back across the river and head to one of Bilbao’s oldest bars, which was coincidentally near our hotel.

After finishing another bottle of wine we headed down the road towards the river.     As luck would have it we made it about 100 meters before ending up in a square bathed in sun and surrounded by restaurants and bars so of course we stopped at a place called Beatles Bar and found the sunniest table in the square.  This was my round so I went in to purchase the bottle of wine.   In all my years of travels I have to say this was one of the more frustrating language experiences I have had in ages.    I will admit my Basque is nonexistent and my Spanish is rusty but the word for bottle in both languages is pretty similar to English so I have no idea why they struggled so much but in the end I got a bottle and a separate glass of wine.   While enjoying the first bottle of wine in the sun we were approached by a woman in her 50/60’s that was sitting in the table next to us.   She came over speaking Spanish pointing at our bags.  I initially thought she was being nice and attempting to warn us of thieves.    The first clue that I was wrong was when she picked up Alyssa’s purse and turned it upside down spilling the contents to the ground.  She then started talking to Rowan while telling the rest of us to shut up in Spanish.    At this point Alyssa went inside to inform them of the “loco” lady and from their reaction it appears it was a common occurrence and they quickly came out and ushered her away.   Of course by this time the bottle of wine was empty and we were not quite ready to part with our seat in the sun so another bottle of wine was in order.

It was after this bottle we were then on a mission to cross the river and head to the bar we originally had intended on heading too.   However as luck would have it there was yet another amazing square along the way and yet another wine bar.  However we decided to be responsible and have 4 glasses of wine instead of a bottle.    Unlike the previous place we picked a table in the shade in a side street and didn’t linger after the one glass.   We crossed the river and headed to the intended bar near our hotel to find it packed.   As it was nearly 6pm we decided to go back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.

Once at the hotel Jodi and Alyssa decided to take a nap and Rowan and I decided to head to the hotel terrace and have another bottle of wine.     While the girls slept Rowan and I discussed real estate and of course the instability in the Middle East over a bottle of rioja.   Around 9pm we decided it was time to eat and we woke the girls.   Alyssa by text message and Jodi by me banging on the window since it faced the terrace.    After the success of last nights dinner recommendation by the note we decided to take them up in their other suggestion.   When we walked in you could tell it was a slightly nicer dinning establishment.   However, as with our previous nights meal we were well before the local rush.   We sat down and the menu was brought over.  It was quickly evident that the menu really didn’t call out to any of us and very few things on the menu that I would even want to eat.   In the end we all decided to get the €50 tasting menu which had the following:  white asparagus and tomatoes, black mushrooms and bacon, ox steak with a side of French fries, and ice cream for dessert.      In the end all I can say about the meal was that the wine was good.

We finished dinner just after 11pm.  We were all a bit tired but we’re not quite ready to give up on the night so we decided to go back to the Basque Bar and have a gin & tonic before heading back to the hotel.   End the end we were back at the hotel just after midnight and agreed to meet in the lobby at 10:30 the following morning.

The next morning came way too quick.   We all met in the hotel lobby to check out.   The checkout process was far from speedy but we got there in the end.    Fortunately due to the hotel having a casino there were always taxis down stairs and this morning was no different.    It was a quick 15 min journey to the airport and check in went fairly smooth.   Security was a breeze and once on the other side of security we quickly got some food at a local fast food restaurant and did some duty free shopping before boarding the plane.

I must say that the trip to Bilbao was an amazing success.   I had fairly low expectations at the start but Bilbao exceeded them at almost every turn.  I was so impressed that Dan and I have cancelled our trip next March to Marseille and we are going to Bilbao instead.  In short go to Bilbao for the weekend if you can.

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