Traveling through a state of many countries

The United States of America’s is a country made up of 50 states and a few territories. Spain is a state that is made up of many countries. I know this to be true because an Angel told me so last week.

Sabado, el 16 de Noviembre, 2019…Bilbao, Pais Vasco.

After the beautiful evening last night, we again woke to cold and drizzle. Immediately after breakfast at Poshtel, we turned in our keys, checked out and put our bags in the check room for safe keeping. Then we walked out into the cold rain towards the Guggenheim Museum for our tour. We strolled past Puppy, a 43 foot tall living sculpture of a terrier made from iron and flowers. Puppy, a monument to sentiment, was built in 1992 by artist Jeff Koons. He signifies confidence, optimism and security for the city of Bilbao as it transitions from an old industrial town to a modern service centered economy.

Puppy guarding the museum

When we arrived at the front door, the door was locked. We had arrived a few minutes before our timed entrance, so we had to wait in the rain. You would think that such a fancy designed building in a rainy environment would have an overhang built onto the roof for some shelter, but we stood out there in the cold rain. Puppy has been doing the same thing for twenty seven years without complaining once, yet here we were whining about a few minutes. The guard peered out at us unsympathetically from his warm, dry station as we watched the second hand slowly make its way around the clock. Finally, at the correct opening time and not one second before, he perfunctorily opened the door and let us in. We stood in line for the coat check and dropped off our wet clothes before exploring the museum.

Richard Serra’s Snake sculpture

Most of the art in the museum is of modern art and the collections were impressive. The architecture of the building itself is spectacular and is integrated into the river and its surroundings. I would show you more pictures, but they didn’t want people taking photographs inside. I did find one of sculptor Richard Serra’s Snake, which is a maze as long as a football field. We walked through most of it and the picture above does not give it justice.

After touring the museum, we had some free time to walk around the city. The rain stopped momentarily as we headed across a new bridge into the old town. Hearty rowers were in the inlet rowing a large scull against a strong incoming tide. These Basques are a tough people indeed!

Rowing against the incoming tide on a cold November Basque day!

Beth and I found a place with some hot soup where the locals were friendly and all huddled inside. Later, we walked around a bit and then met the group back at the Poshtel to pick up our bags and head to the bus. Our next stop would be Donostia, or San Sebastián if you say it in Spanish.

A new bridge connecting to an old town

The bus pulled into an underground terminal in San Sebastián and we grabbed our bags to hike to our new hostel, A Room in the City. The address is Easo Kalea 20, Donostia, Gipuzkoa. Yep, with all the Ks and Zs we knew we were still in Pais Vasco!

Like Dublin and Bilbao, San Sebastián is laid out around both sides of a river. Similar to Bilbao, the river has a large tidal influence. The air was clean and fresh….a welcome and noticeable difference from what we were used to in Barcelona.
It was raining here too. I was glad I had packed my rain pants, as this was the first time I had needed to use them on this trip. The group was to meet outside of the local McDonalds at 6:30PM. This was only our meeting point, as we were to tour the old town and sample pintxos at several local eateries.
Pintxos are small snacks typically eaten in bars. They have a strong socializing component, and are important in Basque society. They are similar to Spanish Tapas, but usually smaller. They usually have toothpicks in them, and owe their name to the Spanish word for spike (Pincho).
Our tour included three separate bars to try some. We divided up the large group into three smaller groups, each led by a local guide. Our guide was a man named Angel, who originally was from Chilean Patagonia. I visited that part of the world ten years ago and asked if he was from Puerto Natales, the gateway to the famous Torres del Paine National Park. He said no, that he was from a town north of there. I scratched my head. There are no towns just north of Puerto Natales. It is the first town after hundreds of miles of a desolate journey through a rugged archipelago. I traveled through there on the Navimag, a cargo ship with a few sleeping berths in 2009. The journey reminded me of Southeast Alaska, only more desolate, as there weren’t even any lights signaling remote cabins. The first lights we saw heading north were of the town of Puerto Chacabuco, about 3.5 days away. When I told him about that trip, he was surprised to learn that I knew about his country. Indeed he was from Puerto Chacabuco, in Aysen province. This was the starting point for a good conversation between the two of us. Again, Geography brings people together!

At our last Pintxo Bar

It was then that Angel and I talked about the different political situations in our respective countries. He said that the USA is a state made up of several states and that Spain is a state made up of several countries. So, I was telling the truth about an Angel telling me that.

Angel also described how the old town had been largely destroyed during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s. Most of the town had been rebuilt since then and even though General Franco oppressed the Basque people during his dictatorship, he had a summer beach home here. After the tour, we strolled along the beach promenade at night and witnessed waves crashing across the jetty where the river met the sea.

In the morning, we loaded the bus and took a short trip across town to another beach and took some photos before heading back to Barcelona. We would make a stop in Pamplona, where the running of the bulls takes place every July, but I will leave that story for a later post.

Sculpture Art on the San Sebastián beachfront
Statue of Jesucristo overlooking San Sebastián (Donostia)

2 thoughts on “Traveling through a state of many countries

  1. Great story Mick. I have been learning about the very early history of Spain on some you tube sites. Even before the Muslim domination. Yes. Many countries in one. Also interesting how Portugal remained independent except for a brief period. Thanks Pat


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