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Clare
Clare

Day 1: Home to Bilbao

We made our usual mistake of deciding in February that a 7am flight from Stansted would be a great idea. It seemed like less of a great idea in June, when after a long week at work we had to set our alarms for 2am on Saturday morning with the aim of being in Essex by 04.30. We managed it though, reaching the airport parking just as dawn was breaking and joining the hordes of other sleepy travellers in the manic chaos which is Stansted airport.

We were flying to Bilbao with Easyjet, which turned out to be a pleasant - albeit somewhat orange - experience, made far more civilised by the presence of allocated seating. It was a beautiful clear morning as we flew across the channel, although once the effect of our Wetherspoons' coffee began to wear off, we were probably too semi-conscious to appreciate the view. We touched down in the uninspiring concrete of Bilbao airport before 10am, and by 10.15 we were already sitting in the local bus into the city centre. As we had waited outside the terminal building for the bus, we noticed that all the signs around the airport were in three languages: Spanish, English and Basque.

Within less than half an hour we were recognisably in Bilbao, driving past the famous Guggenheim mueseum and crossing the river Nervión. Although the bus stopped at several locations in the city centre, my plan had been for us to stay on until the bus terminus on the far side of town, where the Internet led me to believe that there might be some luggage lockers for us to leave our bags in. The earliest we could check into our apartment was 2pm, so we had quite a lot of time to kill and it would be far easier without luggage.

We arrived at the bus station and promptly found the luggage lockers... but there were only a handful of them, and all the ones of an appropriate size were already full. Oh dear! Condemmned to keep our cases with us then, we embarked on a slow walk back across the city centre in the vague direction of the apartment.

Whilst we were still walking in confused circuit around the bus station, trying to work out on which side of it we had emerged and where the main road we needed might be, an elderly Spanish couple approached us and asked whether we needed help. When Tim showed them where we were trying to get to on our map, they exclaimed in consternation and began earnestly trying to convince us that we should turn back around and catch the metro into town. The situation became increasingly chaotic as they waylaid two other passersby and they all began giving us advice in Spanish simultaneously. Tim tried to explain that we had three hours before we needed to be at our destination and that we were quite happy to walk, eventually succeeding in extricating us from their well-meaning clutches.

The bonus was that we did at least confirm where we were on the map. After walking for half a mile or so we found ourselves in a shady square full of benches, so we decided to have a rest for a while, making a start on the many books we had brought on holiday with us and enjoying the view of the city with the mountains behind.

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We were definitely sitting in the shade - and the day itself wasn't incredibly hot - but somehow I still managed to get my arms mildy sunburnt. Oops!

After a pleasant hour or so we continued with our journey, which was made slightly more challenging by the fact that the Google map I had printed was somewhat lacking in street names. Our vague aim was to head for the river, as we knew the apartment would be on the far side of it. We located it sooner than expected, and to our joy found ourselves on a road which actually corresponded to one on the map. The joy was short-lived, however, as it soon became clear that this was a road which intended to go relentlessly uphill. Bilbao, which I had somehow erroneously imagined as being completely flat, turns out to be one of the hilliest cities I have ever been to. We hauled our suitcases upwards for what seemed like forever and then, stopping for breath just short of the summit of a particular hill, I caught sight of a sign which looked suspiciously like the name of the apartment we were staying in.

It wasn't quite on the road Google had placed it on, but consulting the reservation confirmed that the name agreed, and although it was only technically half past one we decided to venture inside and see whether we would be allowed to check in. Happily we were, and the lady behind reception provided us with our keys and gave us some slightly complex directions to our room, which involved several corridors and two separate lifts.

These weren't just any old corridors, they were probably the strangest hotel corridors I had ever seen in my life...

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The statues were huge - and more than a little creepy!

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When we opened the door to the apartment itself, we were relieved to see that it was completely normal. In fact it was much more spacious and well-equipped than we had been expecting.

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After a couple of hours of much-needed rest, we headed out to explore the surrounding area. Our apartment is just above the old town, and we walked down through some steep narrow streets until we happened across this beautiful church.

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We then headed down to the river, which divdes the old town from the new and is spanned by numerous bridges, each seeming different from the last.

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There were some beautiful buildings on both sides of the river.

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Unfortunately our explorations were cut short by a heavy rainstorm and we had to retreat back to the apartment. Bilbao's proximity to the Atlantic coast makes it one of the rainiest places in Spain and the guidebook had warned us to expect showers most days. Lucky that we had brought a few books with us to help pass the evening :)

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