Travel Report on Basque Country in North of Spain and Bordeaux, France, May 27, 2019

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I last reported from Cordoba, from where I traveled north back through Madrid and on to Bilbao, capital of Basque Country.  This is an autonomous community of the Basque people in northern Spain which extends into southern France.  The region is mountainous with a high level of rainfall, and is spectacularly verdant and lush with its many rivers.  I spent 5 days in Bilbao, with unusual beautiful sunshine weather.  Basque Country is noted for its food, and especially its pintxos, the Basque variety of tapas, though these generally are far more ornate and cost extra.

I spent a number of hours in the Museum of Fine Arts, with paintings by Gauguin, Ribera, Zurbaran, Goya and El Greco among others.  I also circled outside and inside the famous Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, a number of times, noting it’s curved and twisting titanium armored plated and glass exterior.  Inside are permanent exhibitions of many modern artists (most still alive), including Jenny Holzer and Richard Serra – these more often than not were not paintings, but massive room filling creations (Serra’s “Matter of Time” includes huge curving metal walls that undulate and lean oddly as they rise to about 15 feet and fill a museum hall that is over the size of a football field; Holzer’s “Things Indescribable” uses moving neon lights, animated metal things and human bones to display disturbing ideas looking at the darkness in humans during war and conflict).  Unique and interesting, but not really my cup of tea.

From there I traveled the short distance east to the small coastal town of Lekeitio, a real gem sitting in its verdant bay.  With a balcony view of the bay I was able to enjoy the 3 days of rain from my own little wine and cigar hangout.  I also almost thought I had reached food heaven with a small local tavern where they had the most wondrous seafood soup, filled with fresh fish and small shrimps.  This was a first course choice of the daily lunch menu, and was served in a huge metal taurine from which you could fill at least 3 large soup bowls.  The included wine didn’t come in a glass, but was always an entire bottle placed on the table for however much was desired (you do need some self-restraint if you wish to stay awake for the afternoon).  Several days later I moved on to San Sebastian, where I have visited several times before.  It is one of the most beautiful bay cities in the world, and is rated higher than any other world city for Michelin star restaurants (I visited none).  The regular small restaurants, taverns and bars mostly have wonderful pintxos and wonderful wine, all simply amazingly inexpensive.  I visited for the second time the fascinating Aquarium with its giant tanks over the sea.

Being so close, and never having visited Bordeaux, I decided to take the short international bus up from San Sebastian.  I am in a loft apartment on the longest pedestrian street in the country, the Rue Sainte Catherine.  Close enough to the 11th century Cathedral St Andrew and the 12th century Basilica St Michael that the church bells seem constant, fortunately drowning out the sometimes almost constant wail of sirens (no idea why they have been so active).  I visited the Musee des Beaux Arts, said to be the second best classical painting museum in the country after the Louvre.  It contains works by Brugghen, Murillo, van Dyck, Rubens, Matisse and Renoir, among others, along with a special exhibition of some of the darkest drawings by Goya.  I had not remembered that Goya moved to Bordeaux from Spain in his final years of going crazy and died here.

Tomorrow I return to Spain and go to Pamplona, at the edge of Basque Country, just a month before the running of the bulls.  There I still will find great pintxos and chocolate, if my memory of 11 years ago is sound.  Later.  Dave

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