Today was a day dedicated to driving to Bilbao, and visiting the Greater Bilbao.
Discovering the Farm at Jesuskoa
After a wonderful breakfast at Jesuskoa, I walked around the farm and visited the animals. Besides this cute dog, there were a pair of vicious, barking German Shepherds that wanted to eat me alive. I did not dare photograph them. Leslie also found some pigs and piglets but they were hiding in a dark barn by the time I got around to photographing.
A Great Surprise
Afterwards we got in the car, Aitor had a surprise for us. We pulled up to what looked like an abandoned warehouse. We walked up to the door and here’s what we found….
A Chocolate Factory!
We were greeted inside by a very nice Basque woman who was one of the factory workers (made the chocolate). She walked us through the chocolate making process, from the raw ingredients, to the mixing, to the molding. We even got a tasting, including the less refined (chunkier) chocolate used in their Basque hot chocolate.
Then we got to taste the more refined, higher quality eating chocolate – dark and milk with nuts/fruits. Yum! Leslie bought an assortment for her office, but I surprisingly resisted.
Moving Towards Greater Bilbao – The Town of Vitoria
Then we drove to Aitor’s town of Vitoria-Gasteiz for a small tour. The streets were similarly picturesque as the other Basque cities we’ve visited, and the old town was appropriately charming Vitoria is the second largest city in the Basque region, second of course to Greater Bilbao).
It’s also Europe’s “Green Capital” (yes, ANOTHER capital!) in what I call the Greater Bilbao region. Here’s a map.
The highlight of the Vitoria tour, and our journey towards Greater Bilbao, was the tower, the Casa del Cordón, which was a 15th century fortified tower that had survived over the years due to it’s unusual position in the city. It had several levels, including an area for animals (the bottom), a living area for humans (that is now the blue ceiling-ed room on the first floor), and the upper floors were for defense. It was built by the converted Jew trader Juan Sánchez de Bilbao and he made a great point to emphasize that we was a believer to avoid persecution – Santa Maria was written in the front as the patron Saint and protector.
Check out the beautiful star-studded dome, a rare example of Gothic civilian art.
I also liked the stained glass.
And the original blue paint in the coat of arms.
We then drove through Greater Bilbao and in to Bilbao to check in to our hotel, the Miro Hotel, a boutique/designer hotel. We shoved our luggage in the room, briefly marveled at the economical design, and most importantly grabbed lunch nearby at Restaurante Serantes next door.
This was a restaurant known for fish, a subject our family is not very adventurous in. We eat white fish, shrimp, some lobster, clams, oysters…but it basically stops there. We won’t eat octopus, eel, or squid (OES), which seems to be snuck in to nealry every mixed seafood dish in Basque country. As such, it turned in to a disaster (but humorous) meal. Everything that could have gone wrong did.
Marv ordered the scallops but got served the escalope (breaded veal) – translation error. Leslie ordered the seafood salad and had heaping octopus squishing around in the middle. I thought I was so sophisticated in my mastery of Spanish that I ordered gambas a la planche, thinking that it would be grilled shrimp (deshelled). It turns out that they were mini-lobsters in their carapace and had to be unwrapped – tentacles and eyes still attached. I immediately lost my appetite. Aitor ordered squid in ink and we were all disgusted – however Leslie tried the squid and admitted it was good, and I tried the ink and admitted that was good. I had never seen such a black and while seafood dish, ever. I forgot that this used to happen to me all the time when I visited Europe (at least one meal gone wrong due to an ordering mistake, a translation mistake, or a wrong assumption) – it’s part of the charm.
After lunch we drove to Getxo in the Greater Bilbao area, and saw where the cruise terminal was located (where Marv would have sailed in to the last time he was slated to visit Bilbao, but didn’t due to weather/tides). We also saw an amazing bridge.
See the rectangle that’s handing from the wires? That’s how people and cars get from one side to the other, and it’s the only bridge around for 10 miles in the Greater Bilbao area. Here’s a closer look.
Marv described it as both a “stupid bridge” and a horizontal funicular. The latter is a great description. The formed is better understood in the context of WHY it was built this way. A hundred years ago there were certain constraints on the river that don’t all exist today – limited real estate along the banks to build a ramp for cars, the fact that the bridge needed to accommodate large ships often. This took a “normal bridge” and a drawbridge off the table. It was built this way out of necessity.
It was one of the highlights of the trip for Marv, even though he thought the bridge was stupid.