Saturday morning the weather gods were once again on our side with bright blue skies, decent doses of sun and no wind. First on the ‘to do’ list was a visit to the Mercado de La Ribera – markets are always on our to do list & this market came with some words of high praise.
The market opened in 1929 and used to be housed in a glorious old art deco building but has recently been modernised. It is the largest indoor market in all of Europe to which I can mos def attest. As much as we love markets, it is always a tough visit in that so much of what is on offer we cannot buy as we lack any cold storage. But it is all here folks in spades – we are not sure how the people of Bilbao can possibly buy and consume all the food that was on display. The seafood was blinding in its fresh brilliance and variety. And the meats were the same – Spain is especially good in all things pork and the charcuterie here would possibly make the French a bit envious. We did manage to grab a sweet, fat stick of salchichón for the train ride home – score!
We had decided to go a wee bit museo hog wild and plunked down the dosh for a double ticket – the Guggen and the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. And our experience with this museum was the polar opposite to the Guggenheim – the art was spectacular and enthralling and we could take pictures! The focus of this museum is Spanish painters or artists and we got seriously lost in time here which is what you hope to do in a museum. So if in Bilbao, do yourself a serious art favour and spend a chunk of your time at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (Bodega Urbana is a 5 or less minute walk away for a delish post or pre museo lunch visit – and of course wine).
We felt s bit peckish after our inspiring art tour, so we made a bee line for Plaza Nueva, again, armed with some postcards to be done and some thirst & hunger to be quenched…hard to believe sitting outside in just a shirt in February in the Northern Hemisphere.
Saturday night was yet another big pintxo quest and fest…we love this way of eating – have a nice stroll, spot some tempting morsels laid out on a bar top, pick your fave & wash it down with a vino tinto. Repeat. Your appetite is satiated at a much more healthy food consumption level than the sit down feed most folks usually do.
Armed with our trusty list we made the rounds….and the folks were out this Saturday night given the absence of the wet stuff and a reasonably mild temperature. And we gave it the good old college try – sampling the wares & vinos at Gatz, Motrikes (grilled stuffed mushrooms to die for), Kuku Soak, La Viña del Ensanche and Gure Toki to name but a few…
Though we like our ‘hot top spot’ lists, we also greatly enjoy a bit of spontaneity and a smidgen of free will or discovery and we were most lucky on this trip to come across a few gems. While weaving in and out of the Old Town laneways, we noticed a happening area across the river near Calle San Francisco. We dutifully crossed the bridge and found ourselves in a clearly up and coming hipster street. Our first stop was El Perro Chico where we were pleasantly surprised to be served El Pájaro Rojo vino (Mencia grape) from Bierzo as the house tinto, an excellent drop and not standard bar juice. We had a peruse of the menu and ticks all our boxes – worth coming back to Bilbao to just eat here! And directly catty corner to El Perro Chico was the super hip Bar Marzana…we will return here. And you should too.
Returning to the Casco Viejo we got a wee bit lost and landed in Saltsagorri – a vermut bar! What excellent hosts these folks were and the taberna was packed with rowdy, fun crowd. Put it on your lists people – this is a seriously local hole in the wall.
But our night was still sort of young (we’re sort of old) so why not a rock concert? Hound #2 had spotted a listing in one of the local entertainment guides for a group called the Reverendos that was playing that night at a venue close by. So off we went – a Basque blues band, who knew? But way fun and rock’n music and an excellent venue.
And you might be surprised to hear but we’d worked up another appetite so we decided to close out our Bilbao stay on a high note and make a return visit to Cafe Iruña to savour the most tasty & spicy Pintxo Moruno – lamb kebabs cooked over a wood fire by Ahmed. These are worth a detour from any place you find yourself in Bilbao – a decent portion of Spanish food lacks any real kick or intense flavours but this had it all.
So for not expecting too much and fearing we may have overbooked our needed time in Bilbao, we came away quite enamoured with this Basque city….so much so we plan to make a return trip before we depart Spain for New Zealand.