Day 7 – Bilbao-bound

We woke up, as usual, to lights being flicked on at 7am. The beds last night lived up to expectations, and the supplied blankets meant no screwing around with sleeping bags. Watch this space for bed bugs, though – that’d be a hoot.
Aggressive drizzle sat over the town of Larrabetzu, so Peter and I joined three retirees at a café 50m from the albergue. “Kurz laufen!” (Short walk!), one of them exclaimed. Over a breakfast bocadillo (jamon and egg) they explained that they were taking the bus to avoid another day arriving at the albergue soaked. I have to admit, I was very tempted… But something in me (probably idiocy) won out; I decided to walk. I figured I’d allow myself to take a bus if the bad weather persisted for days after Bilbao. I was, after all, allowing myself an extra day to see Bilbao. On the plus side of my choices for the day, the blister had finally started to harden and my strained tendon seemed to be mending itself. No more hobbling up and down the hills!

Breakfast

Clearly, someone got a little overexcited on approach to Bilbao

Ascending the final hill before Bilbao, glistening chestnuts studded the path like topaz, polished by the recent rain. The local plants were changing, albeit slowly. The rest of the day’s walking was uneventful, bar a peach stop on the hill overlooking Bilbao and a sharp descent down into the city proper. An old industrial center and the capital of the Basque heartland, Bilbao reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Bogota in Colombia or Santiago in Chile. It’s mostly mid-rise apartment blocks carpeting a dense valley and the surrounding hills. The odd skyscraper or cathedral spire are the only things, other than the mountains, that poke above the skyline. A Thames-coloured, jaundiced river snakes through the center. Locals give it the unattractive nickname of ‘hole’ based on the city’s geography, and I can see why.

Competing graffiti

An upwards-sloping cathedral

The path down to the old town

But the city is not inherently ugly. Despite its industrial past (and to some extent, present), Bilbao has become known as an arts and culture capital – not least because of its Guggenheim museum and architecturally-daring subway stations. The medieval old town is beautiful, with crooked alleyways and chiselled façades. But I’m still not used to the atmosphere of these northern Spanish cities – people are at once ultra-friendly and very reserved. Maybe it’s just that I don’t speak enough Spanish to fit in immediately, or that there’s that extra layer of ‘peregrino’ separating me… or maybe it’s entirely self-imposed (in that I’m even doing this damn walk).

A reproduction of the ‘Codex Calixtinus’, a 12th-Century guide to the Camino. It’s amazing to consider how old this route is

An impressive organ

Peter had booked an Airbnb for Bilbao, citing an urgent need to take a ‘proper bath’ (an excellent reason, if you ask me). I decided to find a ‘regular’ hostel in the old town, somewhere that would definitely have Wi-Fi (it tends to be an uncommon bonus in albergues).

The view from the hostel window

As I like to do whenever possible, I headed out with some folks from the hostel for pintxos. Once again, the night grows a little fuzzy here… but not before some excellent pintxos.

As good as – if not better than – it sounds

‘Til next time,

Alex

What did you think? Feel free to comment!