Bilbao: Hearts got warmer, smiles got wider…

It’s Bilbao time. Bilbao was put in the itinerary for one reason and one reason only. Guggenheim Museum. We thought it’s one of those things as architects we should do. And a trip to Spain will not be completed without visiting the museum. I didn’t know much about Bilbao and it was away from rest of the places in Spain we wanted to visit but we both agreed we’ll do a quick stop so we only had a day there. (one night and two half days)

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Bilbao is in the Basque country, on the Northeast side of Spain and is a 5 hour bus ride from Madrid. At first I had booked accommodation right in the centre of the city but later to cut down on spendings I booked a cheaper hostal (guest house) across the river in the ‘old city’. Nothing fancy, it’s only for one night. This was the least researched and the one with fewer facilities.
We got to Bilbao around 3pm with our backpacks, weather was nice and sunny, asked direction from the nice lady at information and was given a choice of taking the tram or walking for 40mins.(at this time we didn’t have a CIM so no internet or my best friend, google maps) By this time I was regretting my decision to find cheaper accommodation in the old city instead of a one in the centre. Nothing can be done now so we took the tram and my heart skipped a beat when it went past the museum of titanium! We went for a few more stops and then once we crossed the bridge to the ‘old city’ the difference was evident. The buildings were more dated yet more detailed, a beautiful cathedral present and narrow and dark alleyways stemming from the main road, wait a minute, this is not bad.

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We got off and the area was almost deserted. We only saw a few locals outside talking, a few old people sitting in public areas like they do here in Spain and we loved it. First time in days we are not amongst hundreds of tourists. We walked past a few of those lovely old buildings that has rooms with balconies facing each other, with narrow paved streets with medieval style lamp posts and almost gasping at how good it feels. Then we found our accommodation Pensione Serantes and surprise surprise it turned out to be in one of those amazing little streets. We enter and after about hundreds (I exaggerate) of wooden straight flight of steps later we are in our room, with a tiny balcony looking down at the beautiful scene from a movie. 🙂
Ah the joy!
We spent a good few minutes looking at each other in excitement as we couldn’t believe our luck. It was perfect. And we had the nicest host, Miguel, who didn’t speak a word of english which only added to this beautiful experience in Bilbao.

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Downstairs there were bars and cafes and we wondered into one for lunch. They had pintxo. Pintxos are bite size little morsels, traditional in northern Spain and they are mostly with a crusty piece of bread topped with all sorts of fillings or fried goodness spiked with a toothpick. Bars keep them all on display so you pick which ever you like, order a drink (no sangria in this part of Spain) and eat to your hearts content. 🙂

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After that we were ready to see the master piece. We were there just before sunset and the whole area was just big and spacious and there was a strange calmness to it. We spent the rest of the evening wandering around, taking photos and having a drink listening to some amazing jazz at a bar right in front and watching the sun set behind the Guggenheim.
Bliss!

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Oh so beautiful!

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Dinner was at another bar we stumbled upon while wandering off the main street to admire some lamp posts and it ended up being a pretty good pintxos and wine night.

Early next morning when sunlight was just getting through the curtains I woke up quickly and went and had a peak outside. Heart melted. It was still slightly dark, street was almost empty, few locals getting ready to open their shop and the lamps are still lit. It was the most beautiful sight. We both woke up and just sat outside on our tiny balcony and watched the city wake up.

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Then it was time to visit the Guggenheim. This time inside. It didn’t disappoint. It turned out to be pretty amazing and if this wasn’t inspiration I don’t know what is.

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Geeks! 🙂

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Richard Serra’s Exhibit

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One of the coolest foot bridges.

When we came out of the museum it was pouring! We only had a couple of hours to get to the hotel, get our bags, have some lunch and catch the train. oh wait, we have umbrellas so no problem. Oh wait, I packed them with in our main bag that’s sitting nicely in the hotel. So no other way, we walked in the pouring rain and ran! We were drenched by the time we got to the hotel but boy it was fun!
We managed to get to the train and our next destination awaits.

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Bilbao Station Art

 

 

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Thank you Bilbao for an amazing experience. Barcelona, here we come!

Travel Tip – Always find accommodation in the ‘old city’ or ‘old town’. It is totally worth it. And steer away from the main road to find places to eat. In Bilbao it is pretty cheap and you can have about 3-4 pintxos and a wine for under 10euros.

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Toledo: Once a walled city, now a tourists’ paradise…

An hour away from Madrid is Toledo, a UNESCO world heritage site that is an amazing example of cultural co-existence between the Christians, Muslims and Jewish. It is the most popular day trip from Madrid and the old city of Toledo is on a mountaintop surrounded by the Tagus river.  The photo below is not mine (http://madridenjoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/toledo1.jpg) but I thought it will give you a better idea of the overall picture of why it is a beautiful place. We did try to get this photos but we didn’t have time as it is a fair bit of travelling away from the city.

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http://madridenjoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/toledo1.jpg

Old city of Toledo is relatively small and you can pretty much walk through the whole thing within the day if you are pretty fit. 🙂 It is a place full of beautiful old buildings and architecture from different cultures and tiny streets between buildings and surprise surprise there are cars and taxis that manoeuvre their way in those tiny (I mean tiny) streets. Of course the people who are walking has to either get out of the way by walking quickly to a bigger street or crawl into a doorway or something. There are lot of places of interest such as the Cathedral, Alcazar, Plaza Zocodover, El Greco Museum, etc.. I am not going to say much because there are lots of photos and they will hopefully speak for themselves. 🙂

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Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo

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So many beautiful doors and details everywhere.

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Narrow alleyways
Narrow alleyways

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Some amazing entertainers
Some amazing entertainers

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View of the Tagus river
View of the Tagus river

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El Greco Museum
El Greco Museum

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From Toledo with Love
From Toledo with Love

Travel Tip – It is a beautiful place no doubt but because it is easy to reach and is on every online guide and tourist brochure it is full of tourists. So try avoid going on weekends. Also don’t try to go inside every attraction as pretty much all of them charge a fee to enter. Walking around and looking at somethings from outside is as nice. 🙂

Madrid: Where it all began…

When we were trying to decide where to go for our next big adventure, we were tossing up between a few countries and then I put my foot down and decided on Spain & Portugal. (ok maybe I exaggerated a little bit there ;))
And then after 4 months of planning and a 25 hour plane ride later we were in Madrid. After finding our hotel and leaving our backpacks we stepped out to the streets of Madrid.

After just two minutes of walking we found plenty of cobble stone streets, cute restaurants with chairs and tables out on the street and jamon hanging off the ceilings and people chatting and getting ready for the lunch rush. We decided to first get some food so wandered in to a restaurant which had ‘Paella Marisco’ on their chalk board menu but it was empty. We knew before coming here that in Spain people don’t have lunch until well past 1pm. And we were a little bit early. The guy behind the bar was nice and asked us to have a seat but food won’t be ready till 1. We were fine with that and I ordered the paella and a sangria while A ordered jamon tostadas with a beer. We saw tostadas in every lunch menu and they were pretty much slices of toasted bread with thinly sliced cured meat.

Then we excitedly waited for our first taste of Spain.

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"Paella Marisco"
“Paella Marisco” 
"Pimientos & Sangria"
“Pimientos & Sangria”
"Churros of a different kind"
“Churros of a different kind”
"Cute shops everywhere"
“Cute shops everywhere”

Then we headed back for a nap to get rid of jet-lag (unsuccessfully) and started wandering again at night. It was a different sight. The streets were completely taken over by people. We walked to Puerta de sol (Gate of the sun) one of the most known and busiest squares in Madrid. People were everywhere. There were dancers, footballers, magicians and sellers. It was somewhat overwhelming but exciting at the same time. Next stop Gran via, the street known as the Spanish Broadway. It was big. Architecture, lights, shopping, food, people, cars, all in one place. It was a shoppers paradise. From there we moved onto Plaza Mayor, where grand buildings stood on all four sides making this one of the biggest squares I’ve seen, Yet it was much calmer than Sol, maybe it was late at night. Still it had a very real european feeling with restaurants on all sides and seating out in the open.

Puerta del sol
Puerta del sol

Gran via madrid

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Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor

Day 2 in Madrid started with a walking tour. We decided to do a free walking tour just to get a glimpse of the city, to know the places we might not go otherwise. This turned out to be a good idea. We started from Plaza Mayor and went to the ‘square of the closed gate’, the oldest restaurant, Plaza de La villa, Catedral de La Almudena, Palacio Real de Madrid, Plaza Oriente and finished off at Plaza de Isabel II or the Opera Square.

walking tour

"colours of Spain"
“colours of Spain”
colours of Spain
colours of Spain
"Almudena Cathedral"
“Almudena Cathedral”
"Almudena Cathedral"
“Almudena Cathedral”
"Almudena Cathedral"
“Almudena Cathedral”
"Royal Palace of Madrid"
“Royal Palace of Madrid”
"Royal Palace of Madrid"
“Royal Palace of Madrid”

After the walk we decided to venture on our own towards the Art district which turned out to be quite different from the Madrid we have seen so far. It was big and clean with less tourists and felt more like a CBD in a western country of course except for the amazing architecture that are centuries old. First we headed towards Reina Sofia Museum, after being inspired by the works of Picasso, Salvador Dali and many alike we headed to the Prada Museum. It is Spain’s main National Museum and home to some of the finest collections. And not surprisingly there was a massive line. It was too long to wait to get in for us so we decided to take a photo of the line, say hello to the museum and move on.thumb_IMG_3942_1024

"Reina Sofia"
“Reina Sofia”
"Caixa Forum"
“Caixa Forum”
"Prada Museum"
“Prada Museum”

And move on we did. We spent an amazing Autumn evening in Retiro Park.The park was full of colours, sun was ready to set and the weather was beautiful. What better way could you end a day? Walk around the park, a quick look at the crystal palace just before it closed and ended the day sitting in a cafe near the lake, sipping coffee, watching people and writing postcards. The park was full of colours, sun was ready to set and the weather was beautiful. What better way could you end a day? Walk around the park, a quick look at the crystal palace just before it closed and ended the day sitting in a cafe near the lake, sipping coffee, watching people and writing postcards.

"Retiro park"
“Retiro park”

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"Crystal Palace"
“Crystal Palace”

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"Postcards from Madrid"
“Postcards from Madrid”

On our way back we came across the Puerta de Alcala. The light was perfect for some amazing shots. Dinner was at Mercado San Miguel. I have no photos for proof. But it’s something you have to do. There are lot of options. Buy some tapas with all sorts of fillings, a nice big glass of sangria and… The End. 🙂

"Puerta de Alcala"
“Puerta de Alcala”

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"Puerta de Alcala"
“Puerta de Alcala”

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Travel tip – Madrid is full of tourists and even more tourist traps when it comes to eating and drinking. Have meals at their times. Lunch after 1pm and dinner after 8pm. Always stay away from restaurants and bars near major sights and wander into the little streets. A tip we got from a local, if there are english menu’s, if there are signs saying’ we speak english’ or if there are photos of the dishes in the menu, especially paella, run! 🙂