Map of Northern Spain marked with our routes from Barcelona
Tuesday, Sept. 7
During the morning while Rita was working, Maite came over to visit. We talked for a while and then she took us to a place she liked on Rambla de Catalunya and bought us bocadillos (small sandwiches) café and postre (dessert). We talked until time for us to pick up our car. She walked us with our luggage to Avis, hugged us goodbye then disappeared into the Metro opening.
We picked up our little Ibisis, with minimal amenities except for AC. Bob needed only a short time to become re-acquainted with the manual-shift transmission that we both drove exclusively until the mid-eighties. As directed we made our way onto the Diagonal out of BCN and onto the AP2 (autopista 2). The autopistas are high-speed, low traffic pay-as-you-go highways. They are more expensive but leave little opportunity for wrong turns. Even the gas and food concessions are a part of the autopista system—no hunting for a gas station, clean restrooms or quick food and drink. The most stressful part of the trip was exiting--and finding again--the correct AP as we ventured into one of the old cities.
Our first stop was Zaragosa. We found the old part of the city and parking facility very easily. We had thought to spend the night here but discovered that the city was crawling with tourists and what seemed like hundreds of buses. We had coffee and agua mineral sin gas, also called agua puro or still water. We found that three English words/phrases were universal: still water, parking and shopping. Even the signs indicated the last two in English. After visiting the Plaza de Pilar, the cathedral, a tribute to Goya we decided that we wanted a different ambiance for the evening and continued on to Lagroño which Josep had recommended. We arrived late—after 10.pm--without a hotel, but were fortunate that the first one we tried made a call and found a beautiful, affordable hotel nearby with underground parking for our rental car.
Having eaten a small lunch before we picked up our car we were extremely hungry. We walked just a few blocks from our hotel to a cafeteria with outdoor seating. We ordered food and wine and were discussing the day when a couple at the next table heard us and asked where we were from. We told them and they said they were from Wisconsin. We said, Oh, our son lives in Appleton. They also were from Appleton.
Appletonis not a large place. They took our card and email and were going to contact my son and his wife. We talked with them for almost an hour—a very interesting couple- These were the first of only two American couples we would meet.
(A little parenthetical commentary here: The people in Barcelona, our friends and the rental car people, assured us that we didn’t need to make reservations at a hotel this time of year and could remain flexible enough to decide in the moment. Wrong! In Logroño, which we absolutely loved, there was a huge wine festival going on and since Logroño is the prominent city in the red-wine region of La Rioja, we were extremely lucky to have found a room.)
The next morning we were, as always, awake before the locals and wandered through the Casco Viejo (old city) enjoying the bustle of people having coffee and pastry before work. The narrow streets were full of trucks delivering fresh produce and other necessities for cafés and other businesses. I took dozens of photos of the bridge, the parks, and the fountains. We stayed for lunch since we were only 120 K (about 72 miles) from our destination:
Lunch in Basque country is the biggest meal. This was our first experience since Italywith the Menu of the Day listing: “Dos platos, vino, pan, postre and café,” in this case for 9Euros (2 courses, wine, bread, dessert and coffee.) One can choose one from a list of “starters”—mostly salads, soups and vegetables-- and one from a list of 4 or 5 meat dishes. We ordered a bottle of water in addition and the water cost twice that of the bottle of wine which was about the same size. We finished our lunch about 2:15 almost an hour before the local lunch rush would begin.
Wednesday September 8
Even with a stop in Vitoria, a Basque city of which the “Casco Viejo” (old town) was bombed in 1936 and rebuilt after WW 2, we arrived at our hotel in Bilbao and were checked in and on our way to the Guggenheim by just after 6. The museum closed at 8 p.m. so we walked the 20-minute walk rather quickly.
The titanium-covered Guggenheim building IS the main exhibit. They have begun to accumulate some permanent collections and continue to have temporary exhibitions that rotate through the 3 main floors—but the structure itself is what I will remember. We took an audio tour in English and thoroughly enjoyed it. The building is constructed on stone, marble, glass and titanium. The only surface that is not curved in some fashion is the floor. The general impression is of movement and progression of the form of the building. After completing our tour about 15 minutes before closing, we purchased a book and some souvenirs from the gift shop and went outside to have drinks with the locals and tourists at one of the outside bars just across the way. The sun was just setting and we made our way back to the hotel in twilight with lights and colors reflecting into the river which runs along the walking path leading to the museum.