Chorizo Inferno Basque Cask Ale Fail

Saturday had been a very full day thanks to arriving so early, but Sunday is our only bona fide full day here. Not only that, but our little guidebook says most things are shut on Mondays. Thus it was a day which needs seizing, which started with me writing a blog post while Helen popped out on a hunter gathering expedition.

Having discovered the supermarkets and most other shops to be closed, she returns with mystery bakery goods she's immensely proud of having ordered using no English at all, but the perfect Spanish of saying "dos", pointing at stuff, and shrugging when responded to with a torrent of Spanish or Basque. In the hotel room we discover she has bought some delicioso ham and cheese croissants.

I finish my blog post but can't actually publish it, because hotel room wifi signal is so poor. I nip down to reception but the same is true there so fuck it, I'll take the iPad with me and publish when I find wifi later.

Our first item on the agenda is to get one of the cool modern looking trams up to near the RENFE train station and then walk a couple of blocks to a museum of art reproductions, i.e. fakes. Across the bridge and at the tram stop, the timetable informs Helen that there isn't one for ages so we set off on foot, immediately after which a tram arrives. Damn it.

It's cloudy but warm out, and the streets and park by the riverfront are very empty and suspiciously clean, the only evidence of last night's festivities is the smell of piss which makes our nostrils twitch every 50 yards or so. The pop-up bars are still popped up but not yet open, though a few cafes are.

Just past the bridge from near which we watched the fireworks last night there's a stunning grey building with a marvellous facade, and a cafe inside selling cider-infused chorizo and stuff. The menu is all in comic sans, however, which detracts somewhat from the awesome.

We don't stop for anything, however. By now it's about 11am or so, and the museum's only open until 2pm. Up alongside the station's side, then down to the river and Puente de Merced, then up a very steep residential street and left along Kalea San Francisco to the museum.

There is a permanent sign in Spanish, Basque and English detailing opening hours, and a temporary sign only in Spanish and Basque. A friendly man in a neckerchief, of course, points at it and says lots of words which we take to mean "this sign says it's shut". It's definitely shut. Later, I wield my phone to translate the text - closed for renovation. I suppose doing that during the week in which the whole of Bizkaia descends upon the city makes sense. Eh?

OK so we've had wifi fail, tram fail, and museum fail, but my schadenforeman is strong. Back down to the bridge and across, then turn right to skirt round and into the parts of the casco viejo we had yet to see.

There's a large grey building which is apparently some kind of upscale shopping centre and then, hmm, lots of people lining the street for something. Seems we've stumbled upon a happening, but we have no idea what it is and there are no clues. So, next to an over-exposed church, we wait.

After ten minutes or so there's a whistle, and then some applauding, and the sound of skidding, and around the corner comes someone in a homemade go kart soap box racer style thing. Eh? Then, 90 seconds or so later, another. Then another. It seems to be a time trial of folk riding homemade vehicles. Not all of them are go karts, some are bikes, some are kinda like street luges. It's entirely not anything we would have predicted. It seems like one of the rules of the vehicles is that brakes aren't allowed, because pretty much everyone skids around and pulls emergency u-turns in order to actually stop.

We really have no idea why this is happening. There's no finish line, no timer, no announcements being made or music playing or banners up or stage or anything being handed out to the participants, some of whom just fuck off immediately they finish anyway. It's just people doing this.

With no end, or way to tell when it will end, in sight, we go back into the old town. It still looks ace, if a bit greyer and wetter.

After a brief stop to buy souvenirs, we venture back towards one of the many squares and find a corner to sit in outside a pintxos selling bar with an English language menu. Beer, spiced wine, and plates full of pintxos arrive and we sit back to take in the scene.

By the time we leave, this square will be heaving. A good 30% of folk will be wearing Atheltic Bilbao colours; turns out they're playing Barcelona at home tonight, and people like to start their drinking 8 hours before kickoff.

PIntxos: Iberico ham sandwiches, super-hot spicy fiery chorizo sandwiches, and amazing cheesy mushrooms w/bread on sticks. No idea what the beer was. Spiced wine comes served as you see here.

Topped up with some gilda pintxos: olives and peppers. Plus some "natural cider", which was apparently nice. The smell made me want to throw up.

That was a most excellent lunch experience. The waiter was friendly and easy to get the attention of, and the crowds were very convivial. I am a bit antsy due to having yet to post my blog, as working wifi seems to be non-existent around these parts.

We walk back to the hotel, weighing up the options of siesta now vs siesta later. I vote for later, so after a bit more anger at hotel wifi - and the impossibility of reversing the "use free wifi" decision to actually pay for a decent connection, we head out again, to go wander around Bilbao's biggest attraction.

Considering the Guggenheim is visible from roughly 20 feet away from our hotel's front door, it's a curiously awkward place to reach. We have to walk away from it first, over a bridge, up some steps, up a lift, up a hill, along a deserted main road, and then, aha, here we are. A dog made of flowers.

We're actually not that bothered about going inside the place. It's €16 each to do cultural stuff neither of us are interested in, and anyway we've seen signs around intimating that the place pays wages tantamount to slave labour, so by only seeing the free stuff on the outside we can stick it to the man. Yeah!

It's a right weird shape is this place. What were they thinking?

There are clacking horse things putting on a show. Somehow they pull daft faces, and if you give them some money they bow and say thank you..

There are shiny balls. I put this on instagram and twitter and the next morning am rewarded with a "like" from the official museum account. Yay?

Also there's a massive spider.

That's basically everything there is to see on the outside, so we walk up past the live jazz being played by a tourist trap cafe and start our pub crawl. A couple of streets away from here are two craft beer places, Singular and Residence. Both the internet and our guidebook have told us about here, and Google says that Singular, at least, is open but not very busy at 3.30pm on a Sunday.

Residence is shut. Singular is shut. The schadenforeman is still strong but there are chinks in my mental armour by now. We walk back to the tram stop and miss one by 20 seconds; the next one is in 15 minutes, and this time we're going to wait, damn it. I want my public transport fix.

Two stops back to comic sans cafe becomes three stops because we want to go over the bridge and fuck it, casco viejo is the only part of town where we've really had any actual success at doing stuff so far. We're both in the mood for beer and some more food and go in a likely looking venue, called Oddity. No matter which of us says "dos cerveza", we get nothing but blank looks so leave. I am somewhat crestfallen by the idea that our single go-to phrase has been knocked back.

Every bar is heaving with people inside and out, the majority wearing AC Bilbao colours, still. Most venues with food have long tables set up for proper food and they are all full, seemingly of people who are genuinely out eating in parties which are 12, 16, 20 people strong.

A few streets later, we find some open tables outside Cafe Lago and grab one with a menu. There's a waiter serving people while he smokes, but he doesn't come up our end until literally the moment Helen suggests we give up and go elsewhere. I'm proper grumpy now, but the beer we order comes quickly. We also ordered chips, and more chorizo. A moth comes to examine Helen's wine.

Somewhat unbelievably, the chips take 40 odd minutes to arrive and the chorizo another 20. This annoys me even more, and even though it shouldn't. As we finish up, the lads selling fake shoes are setting up all along the shop fronts and down by the river there's tons of stalls too. The pop up bars all have long tables outside as if people have just finished up a huge meal too, and we walk back to the hotel, again.

It's a late siesta, what with being about 6.30pm now. Helen grabs some shut-eye while I let the bad wifi wind me up even fucking more. Then check-in opens for our flight home, and BA tells me that I haven't filled out the correct advance passenger information, so I do that. Then, once checked in, I'm told that a boarding pass can't be issued because our travel documents and details are not valid for the journey and this cannot be fixed by phoning up. FlyerTalk reassures me things will be fine but, ffhs, don't need this grief.

Barcelona are winning 1-0 when Helen wakes up, and the commentary says it has been raining. Sure enough, outside there's very very mild drizzle. Totally groundhogging things, we head back to the left wing booze vendors to see what the last night of Aste Nagusia has in stall. Before we even reach them, however, we notice some shenanigans taking place on the river and a lot of people lining the frontage. Hmm?

Also the town hall, or whatever it is, looks nice.

There's an outside broadcast unit here too, so this is plainly a sensible place to stand to witness whatever's about to happen, but we want a pint. Walking to the bars is going heavily against the grain, so we just go to the first one and I ask for two beers. This kind of works, but then I'm asked a supplementary question so I just say si. Apparently, what I have ordered is two large plastics to be only 2/3rds filled with beer. Um, OK then.

Back by the river we get a half decent vantage point and wait. And wait. And wait. Some street lights go out, some music starts. Classical stuff, being pumped out of a speaker on the other side of the river, playing some fairly mournful stuff. The crowds keep expanding and then a couple of boats get rowed past us.

But this isn't the big deal. It starts to rain a bit more seriously, and a bunch of umbrellas go up. More street lights go out. The music keeps playing. Then, we can see that the water on the other side of the bridge has changed colour, it's illuminated red now. The boats are coming back and... yes. There's a couple of boats with flares and fire and a big puppet of a woman holding her arms up. What?

No idea.

We're not really sure what we've just witnessed. Later, back at the hotel, we decide perhaps it's actually time to look up what Aste Nagusia is all about. Apparently, the woman is Mary and she's in a "perpetual dance" pose. Um, OK.

Once the boats have gone past, the music stops and a stern voice comes over the tannoy. We plainly don't have a clue what's going on so duck out of the crowds and go back to buy more beer. Except, we can't. All the bars are now shut, not just during whatever this show is but that's it. Done. Finished.

It's now properly raining 'n all. What few permanent bars are still open seem to be closing, but are getting crowded anyway. As we head back over the bridge BANG BANG BANG there's sudenly a very loud, very close firework display, being set off from the boats. It's pretty deafening and bright.

I guess that's Sunday done with then. We think about going to the hotel's bar for one, but it looks busy and anyway we've still got some supermarket beer in our fridge. We have that while looking for something good to watch on TV. Unfortunately for us, all the Spanish channels choose to dub rather than subtitle English language films. This is particularly jarring when we stumble across Helen Mirren in The Queen. German could be realistic, but Spanish?

So, we settle on BBC World, except we don't because it's showing some documentary about the slaughter of albino children in Africa. Eesh! So Sky News it is, telling us how badly prepared the UK government was, and still is, for the realities of Brexit. Bloody hell!

Created By
Darren Foreman

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