Bilbao

Saturday 14th June

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Now we are only three! Just Mo, Anna and I. Bernt and Peter are continuing on the Camino del Norte for a bit longer. Jude and Derek fly off this morning.

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We had THE most fabulous day from 10am to 10pm at the Guggenheim without getting exhibition overload. The programme is so varied and we punctuate it by meeting up for morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea to exchange stories. The day is at the same time both stimulating and restful because I spend 2 hours prostrate in the afternoon listening to music.

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Spent the morning with Georges (Braque). I was particularly pleased to catch this exhibition because it was on at Le Grand Palais in Paris last autumn when I was there but the queues put me off. All I knew about him was that he was a mate of Picasso and did Cubism. Sludge and slate colours come to mind. But he did a lot more. He started very colourfully inspired by Matisse and the Fauvists at the Salon d’Automne 1901.
Lovely photo of him as a young man (well, aged 40 I’ve just worked out) by Man Ray

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He was badly injured in WW1 but recovered. Seem to lead a quieter life than his contemporaries living and painting on the Normandy coast with the same partner for over 50 years. He painted a lot of musical instruments and birds.

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And in later life went back to landscapes

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But the postcard I bought to remind me of this expo was of his early work and fauvism

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It’s my third visit to the Guggenheim and I’ve never done a guided tour of the building before. But this time it was on offer in English and it was well worth it Learnt about the incredible regeneration of Bilbao it has kick started, the fish scale tiles are titanium, the massive ground floor maze sculpture are at different stages in the rusting process. And lots more I’ve forgotten.

When I met up with the others at lunchtime , Anna did a sterling job of trying to persuade us that Yoko Ono was a conceptual artist who in the 60s was well ahead of her time. So I went into her exhibition with an open mind, thoroughly burying my fierce resentment as a 15 year old that she bust up the Beatles, totally aware that the females in artistic partnerships usually get unfairly subordinated to their mate. But could not hack it. Being generous the slow motion magnified film of a fly on a nipple hair was momentarily fascinating. But her ‘music’ made me internally scream as loud as she does. The only good bits were with John in – the ‘bed-in’ film and Give Peace a Chance. Sorry Yoko!

Moving swiftly on, the most surprisingly stimulating and enjoyable experience was the musical installation by Icelandic artist, Ragnar Kjartansson. He filmed and recorded a group of friends playing different instruments and singing in separate rooms, including himself in the bath. Each one was displayed on a giant screen but the sum total was hugely greater than the parts. The effect was electrifying and mesmerising People, including myself, were drawn in, initially disorientated but soon impelled to sit down or lie down to watch and to listen and TO SING!

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http://www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/en/exhibitions/ragnar-kjartansson-the-visitor
I was in a well relaxed mood by the time we met up for early evening aperos. For some reason Mo had ordered me a Bloody Mary. Went down a treat! We strolled off site for our last pinxtos and pushed the boat out with some weird and wonderful seafood specimens. Then ice creams on the way back to the Guggenheim for the 9pm outdoor installation.

I

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What a fabulous closing day to this adventure. To be continued …..sometime ……… probably back at http://caminocomrades.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/camino-del-norte.html?m=1

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Gernika

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Friday 13th June
We had planned to part walk/part train into Bilbao today. It is 35k and will be tackled by most serious pilgrims/walkers. But in the event we are so exhausted and keen to see more of Gernika (pronounced Gerneeeeka here) that we decide to dump walking altogether. We pack up our walking gear and boots and send them by taxi to Hotel Rio in Bilbao (50 euros). We split up from the chaps today and the gals decide on a cultural and historical tour of the town. We set off in light mood due to light weight clothes and sandals, no rucksacks and admire the hill we might have climbed had we been so inclined.

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Walking up the Main Street we hit upon the ceramic mural copy of Picasso’s famous painting. We learn that he stopped working on a commission for the 1937 Paris exhibition to capture his thoughts and feelings about the catastrophic flattening of Gernika by Nazi Germany at Franco’s behest. We were astonished to learn that German involvement wasn’t admitted until 1989 and that Franco attempted to blame the saturation bombing on Basque separatists. It was George Steer a British reporter for the Times who was at the scene soon after who revealed the truth. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Steer
Light mood turns increasingly heavy at the realisation of what happened in THIS town at that time.

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This extraordinary church survived as did the famous Gernika oak tree, symbol of Basque freedom.

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We did get a bit confused by the tree issue as this is now the 4th generation of sapling from the original oak dating from the middle ages. This one was only planted in 2005. There is a relic of the 3rd tree (bomb survivor) in a marble pillared cage in a prime place next to Assembly House and other saplings planted here and there just in case.

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The Assembly House is open to the public and is well worth a visit if only to see the enormous stain glass windowed ceiling – see below.
It was originally conceived as a Church-Parliament and may still house meetings for the governing body of Bizkaia.

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Our main reason for sticking around in Gernika was to visit the Museo de la Paz (Peace museum) but while we waited for opening time we walked up the hill to the Parque de los pueblos de Europa to see two famous sculptures. Henry Moore’s “Large figure in a shelter” was given as a tribute to those who perished for the Republican cause

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“Gure Altaren Etzea” (Our Fathers House) by Eduardo Chillada is designed to give a view of the Tree of Gernika from its window

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Two massive works of art vying for our attention – one soft and smooth and golden, the other stark and grey and concrete cold. But later at the Peace Museum, I think I saw elements of Chillada’s vision in footage of the post bombing devastation. The greyness of broken masonry and images of incomplete circles seemed to be a déjà vu.

Writing this, as I am, one week later, it is difficult to recollect the highs and lows of the Peace Museum. It was admirable but confusing in its attempts to make sense of Gernikas tragedy by promoting global peace and reconciliation. But it was tricky for us to follow because of the plethora of images accompanied by Basque and Spanish commentary. There was a hard hitting re-enactment of 27th April 1937 with an English commentary. As we sit in a reconstructed 1930s Spanish parlour it is truly traumatic to be reduced to rubble.

The stained glass ceiling of the Assembly Rooms

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A whistle stop tour of the Euskal Herria Museum – pretty inaccessible except for the dancing which needs no translation- before getting the train to Bilbao. In Bilbao, we eventually managed to get the tram from the station to the river where we only had to cross a bridge and walk along the opposite bank to find our hotel. Three of us were here last year and were confident of the route but we got lost and went well out of our way. Much to our embarrassment. But it turns out the place has changed beyond recognition since last year. Regeneration is moving downstream from the Guggenheim and the ‘hood of our hotel is going to be an island so next year it’s gonna be a boat ride away – and probably a lot more expensive!

Monastario Zenaruzza – Gernika

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A really hot and hard day! In the Ciccerone guide it says 13k with at least 8k on the road, not very pleasant in the heat. Fortunately since the guide was written, the path has been redirected off the road but it appeared to be much longer. Not sure how far we actually walked but as temperatures reached 30C and there was a lot of uphill again, we were completely exhausted on arrival in Gernika.

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The first part of the walk was pleasantly shaded. We stopped in Muntibar for coffee and bought tortillas and bananas at the bar for lunch.

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Anticipating no further shops or bars until Gernika, we were surprised to find another one a couple of hours later. We stopped for Cerveza y Limon (Shandy) – very refreshing and the patron brought us out 2 bowls of spicy lentils and bread ‘to keep our strength up on the Camino”.

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We met and chatted to lots of bods – an Australian girl doing an MA in Gregorian chanting in Limerick, another young women studying economics about to attend a conference in London, informing us about the federalised government in the Basque region which refuses all foreign investment.

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It is by now VERY hot and there are mixed opinions as to how far we have to go ranging from 5k-11k. I think it was more like the latter and it was really hard going. Peter rescued a young girl Erica who was really struggling and carried her bag. She had bad blisters which she had burst and sown up herself!

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Long hard slog on a hot road for last couple of kilometres.

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Exhaustion and elation when we finally arrived

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On final arrival in Gernika we flop in the first bar and meet a handsome basque character who speaks great English and tells us a bit more about the Basque psyche and what to do in Gernika. He is a teacher and says wages are equivalent here to France unlike the rest of Spain where they are low. Possibly down to regional government promoting strong economy.

Derek had decided not to walk with us today as his blisters are bad. He went on ahead with the luggage and got us booked in the youth hostel when they opened at 3pm.

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We are stuffed in a small room all together impossible to move around but manage to shower, rest and get out again for evening meal. The 15€ pilgrim meal is marred only by the industrial cheese and membrillo which is inedible.

Markina- Xemein to Monastario Zenarruza

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Lovely breakfast send off from our host and hostess at Inxtauspe. Big blister operations before take off with 7 different opinions on the best treatment. Only a short day today so we afford to meander and take our time.

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Lovely walk along a river/creek until we reach a bar for a coffee and pastry stop. Methinks calories in are going to exceed calories out today.

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Onwards into the little town of Bolibar, the ancestral home of Simōn Bolivar, where there is now a museum celebrating his life and achievements. Namely the Liberation of Venezuela from Spanish colonialists. No wifi to check out more info. But a good guy.

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After the museum, lunch in local bar. Jude and I braved Lingua (tongue). Anna was in heaven with a plate of pasta. Cheese and membrillo (quince) is available for postre but I’ve got to stick with yogurt to counteract antibiotics.

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A beautiful cobbled path takes us to the Monastery Zenaruzza, a fabulous cloistered building in a tranquil and peaceful setting. An exhausted French guy who has walked from St Michel in Normandy is already waiting for opening time at 4pm. On snooping around we find at least a dozen pilgrims ensconced in various dormitories. The guide book says only 11 places available. Strange. We think we have reserved 7 beds through Peter (our best Spanish speaker). At 4pm, Father Rāmon appears and greets Peter like long lost brother. We are escorted to a posh new part of the building and given individual rooms with en suite facilities. What IS going on? Understandably, French chap is confused and pissed off. “I was here first” he bleats. And indeed he was. So feeling a tad embarrassed by our overtly preferential treatment. Makes a change though.

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Happy to find out that French guy and others are not turned away. They are in the “Donativo” quarters (free or donation). We are apparently paying 35€ each for bed, breakfast and evening meal but we are all chuffed to bits with our unaccustomed luxury.

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A few rare hours to ourselves. Jude and I venture into the lowly pilgrim quarters to see if there are any tea making facilities. A group of 5 Irish brothers are lying on their bunks counting the number of dead people in their street, presumably to pass the time. Jude performs the monologue “Albert an t’ Joobilee” in exchange for 2 tea bags and use of microwave. Move outside with the luke warm tea and Father Rāmon appears eerily out of the shadows in his white robes gesticulating for us to beat it. Not sure if he is unhappy about us fraternising with men or with lowlife, or both. Feel about 15 years old and do what we are told.

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Still in acquiescent but inquisitive mode, we go to Vespers in the church at 7.30pm. Moving singing especially from the organist and Bernt does a sterling job of joining in.

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Waiting for supper is embarrassing as we know we have food and wine in our package and the table is set for 7. The other pilgrims wait around in hopeful anticipation and are rewarded with a big pan of veg soup and loaf of bread. We are escorted into the dining room for a very civilised meal. Just don’t know how this happened but many thanks to our Swede Peter for arranging.

Ermita de Calvario to Markina- Xemein

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Breakfast at the Albergue was a shambles. Not much to eat or drink unless we pressed the only chap available and he exploded into a Spanish diatribe which roughly translates as this is not a ****** hotel!
There followed an exchange about payment and luggage which was unnecessarily aggressive. I was allowed to buy a loaf of bread for 3€ for our lunch. This is a new Albergue run by an inexperienced couple and it comes across as predominantly a money making venture. Anna thinks the Señora may be all fur coat and no knickers!

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It is cooler today but uphill nearly all the way. There is not much opportunity to stop but we were lucky to find an isolated taberna open for café con leche. There a lamb roasting slowly over hot coals.

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So it’s onwards and ever upwards.

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Views were few and far between because we walked mainly through managed forest but there were occasionally some gems.

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Apple and nuts stop in an old Lavanderia – see picture below.

We arrive at Markina-Xemein about 3pm and have instructions to ring our hospitelero on arrival at the outskirts. He arrived in 5 mins and very grateful we were too. We are getting very tired now and 4 of us have blister issues. It is a strenuous walk and in the Ciccerone Guide today is marked as 5 – very challenging!

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It is a lovely Albergue and the hospitalero attends our every need while preparing an amazing smelling dinner – we recognise garlic and mushrooms. This is SO different from last night. The ambiance is palpable. So relaxing. All showered. Clothes washed. Cup of tea and cake. Red wine.

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The name of the place we are staying is Casa Rural INTXAUSPE.

The hospitalero is joined by his wife and young son. Lovely family. Lovely meal. We are joined by a Swedish female walker. Later by young Americans. This is how it should be. So relaxed. No sense of each man out for himself. If you get the chance come visit.

Zumaia – Deba- Ermitage de Caravalio

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Change of destination today. Our host Michel recommends a new Hostel, Albergue Izarbide on the Camino 6k on from Deba. We were going to stay in Pikua but that is apparently off the beaten track.

Late start due to visit to the dental clinic at 9am. Straight in, examination and X-ray. Prescribed antibiotics, no charge. Peter had to treat me to antibiotics, only 3€, as I’ve no dosh. I’ve lost (or had pinched) all my euros. That was 3rd tragedy so hopefully my quota! But the speedy efficient treatment was exemplary. I am now a benefit tourist. Long live the EU!

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Finally on the road, we heave up uphill again. This route is notorious for its ups and downs. It is still hot despite the weather being predicted to break with storms. Beautiful and different views with the Picos in the distance.
Banana break is first stop and Jude covers up for sun.

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Walking onward through woodland it is a bit cooler. Bernt wants to stop for lunch at 12.30pm but Derek persuades us onwards. We know it makes sense. We get to outskirts of Deba and stop where the lorries stop. Problems with the menu for the vegetarians and perennial arguments with Bernt about whose meal belongs to whom. His is the large Paella, obviously!

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Lemon trees, wild flowers, Comrade Lennin and No Fracking en route!

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We arrive late at the Albergue about 6pm.. It’s been uphill virtually all the way. We are very hot and sweaty and very tired. Loads of other ‘pilgrims’ relaxing with drinks outside this converted cattle shed. It is a pack “em in pile ’em high type of place. Never the less our young entrepreneurial hostess/hospitalera welcomes us with a bottle of cold local cider possibly to sweeten the shock of the sleeping arrangements, soon to be revealed.

Two large dormitories, packed with bunk beds, separate lockers for possessions in another room. 3 beds short for us despite booking this am so chaps are in the ‘garage’ again. Mo briefly mentions hotel and taxi but all too tired and weary so make the best of it. Pleasant apero hour outside with quirkily named nuts and joined by baby goats.

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Zarautz- Getaria – Zumaia

Sunday

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Such a good walk today – sun, sea, blue skies and vineyards ad infinitum but marred by ….. Oh no!! Yes – toothache. Currently have some respite due to 400mg Ibuprofen but have rung Denplan UK and can spend up to £450 at any dentist.

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Big question hangs over tomorrow – will I stay or will I go?

In spite of waves of pain that almost make me want to vomit, it has been a brilliant walk.

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Getaria is well worth a mini diversion from the historic pilgrim route. Not least because it actually has an outdoor lift and escalators to ferry you up and down to the town. No brainer. A busy fishing port with narrow streets, a historical whaling industry. Definitely a potential holiday destination.

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Arrived in Zumaia for lunch. Stunning views of the beach and the town on the approach path. This is apparently the last opportunity to swim as we will be going inland tomorrow. Lunch is Calamares, patatas bravas, pulpo etc

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We stay at Villa Luz with Michel in an old family heirloom of a house full of ancient artefacts. Mo and I get our last swim at the beach above which involves a very long walk. Dinner is Pintxos.

San Sebastián – Zarautz

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Before we leave San Sebastián just a couple of interesting facts I’ve gleaned. The city fell into French hands in 1792 and was “liberated” in 1813 by Anglo- Portuguese soldiers who succeeded in burning it to the ground. It had to be rebuilt from scratch. At the beginning of the 20th Century, it became a tourist destination for royalty and the upper classes, particularly the French and provided escape for some from the conflict of the First World War. In 2016, it will be the European Capital of Culture.

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We have discovered that there is a firm “Le Petit Bag” who ferry baggage from étape to étape so we have latched on to them today. It costs 40€ for 7 bags. I think that last year we paid 10€ per bag. Back in 2010, Mo and I carried our own bags but never no more!!

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The walk out of San Sebastián was up up and away again but gaining height brought magnificent views over the Bay of Biscay throughout the morning. We couldn’t have wished for more perfect weather or bluer skies. Despite I it’s turbulent reputation, the sea in the Bay of Biscay was as calm as the med today, the white sail of the odd tiny boat punctuating the intensity of the aquamarine. For anyone doing their first Camino, I think this beats the Camino Frances for views and as yet is much less crowded.

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We arrived in Orio at lunchtimes hoping to find a bar for reviving beers but ended up doing the long Spanish lunch thing. We couldn’t resist the 14€ Menu del Dia of Ensalata de queso de cabra, anchoas fritos and postre washed down with local wine or cider. We do only have 6K left to do today. The Basque language seems to an X in every word preceded by a T as in ‘pintxos’ for delicious nibbles otherwise known as tapas in other parts of Spain.

Saturday afternoon has a very Spanish holiday feel. Families are out under multicoloured umbrellas along the estuary as we leave Oriio. I was imagining the photos that Martin Parr might take of the variegated shapes and sizes of the couples in deck chairs enjoying their Saturday leisure. The scene is a far cry from the cool dude surfing beach of San Sebastián.

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The youth hostel Iguerain is another 3km through the other side of Zarault. We drag our feet now, having clocked up 24k according to Derek’s gizmo. We have spacious rooms for 4 and 4. No bunks, massive en suite bathroom with loo, 3 sinks and huge wet room. 5 star!

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After showers and late siestas we force ourselves out to look at Zarautz, where Saturday night is in full swing. Bars are heaving and on the beach groups of kids are still playing in the evening sun.

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Early to bed despite all the local action.

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San Sebastián (Donostia)

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Finally Wifi!! A lot of catching up to do.

Free day today to discover San Sebastián or Donostia in Basque speak, a completely unknown quantity. It is magnificently beautiful in its understated celebrity. So well kept and clean. Fabulous beaches and buildings but most famed for its food. More Michelin stars than any other town. It really does deserves more than one day but we did our best.

Collected highlights of day – Derek’s was the football museum with John Toshack Manager of Real Sociodad and John Aldridge player in same team.

Mo’s swimming in the Bay surrounded by amazing views.

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Anna’s was Derek’s after dinner musical quiz – she had actually heard of Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson! Jude – the funicular over the bay. Me – proper dinner of scallops gratinée and Lubigo (Bass) but sadly NO veg! Fortunately had salad for lunch and bag of cherries so won’t die of scurvy just yet!

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Bernt said his highlight was walking round the old town

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But we know it was actually the fact that his horse won a race in Stockholm today and as a result he treated us all to Martini/gin cocktails which he showed the barman how to make.

On returning to our dorm in a merry state we are greeted by a German woman who shouts at us -“excuse ME but I am in my underwear!” Well tough – we live here too.

Church of San Vicente 1507 is San Sebastián ‘a oldest building

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Sculpture in the sand by an English guy who looked like he had lived on the beach for the last 20 years.

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And cheers to Richard who we are missing enormously!

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Pasaje – San Sebastián

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It is blue skies and sunny this morning but not taking any chances. The weather on this coast is notoriously changeable. I’m wearing paramos. Small round man wants us out by 8am and Peter has arranged a taxi to take luggage to San Sebastián.

All ready to roll when I discover my very expensive Brasher sticks have been half inched! This temporarily casts a shadow over my day. On the Camino? Thieves? In best Agatha Christie style I get the names of an Austrian couple who stayed here – Franz and Elisabet Biebstallel. Prime Suspects! But I hasten to add innocent until proved guilty!

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Theft of sticks quickly forgotten as we leave the harbour at Pasaja into bright sunlight and staggeringly blue skies. Up up up hundreds of steps leaving the little dots in the ocean that were working fishing boats.

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Half way up I’m sweltering and have to stop to discard paramo trousers and don shorts. It’s gonna be hot hot hot!

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The most amazing walk with stunning views over the sea

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And arrived in San Sebastián in time for picnic on the beach.

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After a beer in a slick bar on the beach, the gals opt for a beach afternoon.

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This beach is frequented by surfers as the waves are huge and forceful. I tried to swim but got somersaulted over several times and just a titchy but terrified.

Many thanks are due to Richard who although he couldn’t join us booked as into the youth hostel. We show up at 4pm and many wearier and sweatier pilgrims are turned away as it is ‘completo’. We have a stupendously equipped dormitory for 8 with ensuite showers etc and feel sorry for Mick the Irishman in the 8th bed as he is outnumbered. But he is early to bed and early to rise so don’t see much of him. Opted for local restaurant for fish and pricey fresh asparagus blanco.

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