Madrid Chamartin – Valladolid – Miranda De Ebro – Bilbao Abrando
As has become the norm, my day started with an early trip to the booking office to reserve my seats for the day. Unfortunately the service I wanted was fully booked, but an alternative route was soon found, departing on the other side of Madrid.
This minor annoyance turned into a positive when I arrived at Chamartin. A section of the station has been turned into a museum of the history of the city Metro. It was free to wander around and I’m glad I had time for a good look. I noticed that even on the oldest cars the sign above the door implored passengers to let people off the train first. Evidently a success from the start.
The journey to Valladolid was uneventful. I’ve been there once before, to see a concert by Anna in 2006, when she was doing a rather odd tour of lecture theatres next to banks, sponsored by Santander. Apart from a couple of lovely shows (the other being in Ponferrada) my main recollection of this part of Spain was that almost no-one spoke English, and that my high school Spanish was even worse than I remembered!
A change of trains here took me to Miranda De Ebro, and from here onto the twisting and scenic line to Bilbao. This section of the journey passes through the Parque Natural de Gorbeia, which is essentially the same mountain range as the Pyrenees, and as I’ve seen so many other times on this tour the railway gains or loses height through some enormous loops, in this case as we dropped into Orduña.
The station in Bilbao has the most remarkable stained/painted glass window in the concourse. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
We are now in the Basque region, where the local language, Euskara, appears first almost everywhere, with Spanish and French more or less equally used on signage after that, other than on government notices. I noticed that all web links for local businesses had the “.eus” top level domain, which I’d not heard of before.
I’d spotted a handful of lads in Athletic Bilbao football shirts on the train from Miranda, but thought nothing of it until arriving in the town. Suddenly there were fans everywhere, I’d arrived on the night of the Copa Del Rey semi-final second leg and there were people in colours everywhere. The atmosphere was lovely, with young and old, male and female all getting into the mood for the evening ahead. No hint of tension in the air; just excitement. The two guys in a custom built vehicle attracted lots of attention, not least as it had what sounded like an un-silenced motorbike engine in the back.
I left them to it and walked to the place that had brought me to Bilbao in the first place, the Guggenheim Museum. Arguably the most famous modern art gallery in Europe, certainly the most unusual that I’ve ever seen. Even though it had closed for the day there was no shortage of people wandering around taking photos. Jeff Koons “Puppy” has been sitting outside the entrance for over 30 years now. It is one of a number of sculptures that surround this remarkable building.
I then headed to the funicular railway, on the far side of the river. One of the surprises for me is that Bilbao is not actually a coastal city, it is about 10km from the open sea, on the Nervión River. From the park at the top, I could just about see the coast in the fading light.
I walked back through the city. The bars were full of people intently following the game on TV screens. I grabbed something to eat and then headed back to my hotel.
I watched the last hour of the match in my room. Not the greatest of games, Athletic missed a couple of sitters and Osasuna stole it in extra time. The city was very quiet as I turned in for the night.