País Vasco is a unique section of Spain due to its differing culture and languages. Basque, or Euskara is the only surviving language isolate in Europe, meaning it is not part of any other language family (such as Romance languages for example).
Some of the most popular destinations in País Vasco are Bilbao and San Sebastián, though the capital city is Vitoria-Gasteiz. I had wanted to see both Bilbao and San Sebastián, but I did not have long enough to travel between the two cities during my weekend trip in February 2020.
I left for Bilbao at 8 am from Madrid. The train arrived at the Bilbao-Abando station around 1 pm. This gave me the morning to explore the city before my friends arrived from Dijon and Pamplona where they were studying. The Bilbao train station has some stunning glass work and I took a moment to admire it before stepping out into the city.
I oriented myself using the river, walking along the Nervión river. I explored primarily in the Abando and Casco Viejo areas, trying not to stray to far from the centre of the city. I had a late lunch before making my way to my Airbnb. Unfortunately I had an allergic reaction to lunch (remember to be extra cautious when solo travelling to my fellow food allergy folks out there). Our Airbnb was in the Deustuko San Pedro-Erribera area, which was not too far from the river and walkable to the central part of the city.
I rested and recovered from my reaction until my friends arrived. We had a dinner at the apartment after stopping at a local supermarket. We had a quiet night and we ready to explore the next morning.
Our first stop on Saturday morning was the Guggenheim museum. The museum was designed by Frank Gehry, and is a definitive part of the Bilbao cityscape now. We explored the museum, though I have to admit I found the architecture the most intriguing part. The exhibits are of modern art, and some were more abstract than others.
We took pictures of the puppy outside the museum (43 foot flower sculpture). Then we continued into the city to find lunch and gelato. After refueling, we explored Casco Viejo as a group. We attended a Catholic mass in the evening that was given in a mix of euskara and Spanish, and then we joined the streets for Carnaval.
People were wearing elaborate costumes and playing loud music as they roamed the streets. We made our way to the river again, were some carnival rides had been set up. We bought cotton candy (which began to melt in the humidity) and other carnival foods. On our way home, we stopped for sandwiches at a café. Finally, we made our way home.
The next morning we took the train to the coast, wanting to see the Atlantic Ocean. We travelled to Gexto by train, which took around 30 minutes. The cliffs over the sea were stunning and the ocean blurred into the fog on the horizon. Though it was February, the weather was very warm and pleasant.
We made our way back to Bilbao and ate a quick lunch at the Bilbao-Abando station before I caught the train back to Madrid. I connected through Miranda de Ebro to get back to the city, so the return trip took longer. I was in town with enough time to prepare for my 9 am class the next day.