One day in Bilbao: What to do?

Bilbao surprised me. It is a big city, young and chic, with an incredible night life. For some reason, I always got Santander and Bilbao mixed up, but I think I now know the difference. This was my first time visiting and I liked it very much. Too bad I was only there for one day—certainly need more than that to stroll around this magnetic city!

Chris and I took a bus from Santander to Bilbao. We arrived at Termibus—Bilbao’s bus station—and the first thing I noticed was the language. Signs were written in both languages, Spanish and Euskera or Vizcaíno, Basque Country’s other official language. I walked to an information window to ask for directions and the guy greeted me in Vizcaino. It almost felt as if I was in a complete different country. I couldn’t understand a word. That language is something else… so different from every sound I was used to in Spain.

It had been raining that day. We took the Tranvía (tram), which was also a different experience in Spain, on our way to the hotel. We stayed at hotel Bilbi, not too far from the medieval neighborhood Casco Viejo. (Even though this hotel is so close, I didn’t go to Casco Viejo because not enough time.) Anyway, this hotel had decent reviews when I booked it—not bad for public transportation connections either—but I wouldn’t stay there again. The bed felt like the Flintstones’ bed and the neighborhood was kinda strange (I’ll review it further soon).

The city of Bilbao is different, but in a good way. It is very modern. There’s a lot of energy. A lot of things to do, lots of bars. And I noticed men were a lot taller up there than in Southern Spain. Really, men were taller! Maybe I had too much Prosecco? Speaking of which! Bars in Bilbao carried Prosecco!  It is Italian champagne, which I could find nowhere in Spain until then, and it is one of my favorites. After that discovery, I felt there was no need to go back to America, or Italy…

One thing they tell you to visit when in Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum: modern and contemporary art. So we did. The building is an interesting look. Pretty? Not quite. But it’s a very interesting design. The giant flower-puppy dog sitting by the entrance looks more interesting though.

It was David Hockney’s month (or year?) when we visited and I’m glad it was because, otherwise, I would’ve been bored. I discovered Hockney’s art that day. His landscape exhibitions—David Hockney, a Bigger Picture—blew me away. And how he can draw on the iPad: amazing. We spent some time there.

So, here we continued wandering around this big beautiful modern city by the ocean, we had to try the seafood! Let me just say that Bilbao’s bars and restaurants serve out-of-this-world pinxos/tapas. Some of the most delicious I’ve had in Spain. A great range, too. Lunch was incredibly cheap. We went to a restaurant right by Plaza Moyua. It was just a random discovery that turned out to be really good.

On the other hand, for dinner, it’s too bad that we decided to go by Tripadvisor’s reviews (by tourists) because we ended up at an overly priced seafood restaurant. Booo. The food wasn’t bad, just ridiculously priced. I’ve noticed that Lobster in Spain is very expensive! They tell you one price and when la cuenta comes it’s another. Why is that?! Well, it is Spain. Nothing’s too clear there.

Later that night we visited the bar “district.” Most bars are packed around there. Especially, I remember one bar that was playing Latin music. We went in there, danced a little and had a great time. It’s no secret that Spaniards like to go out so streets in a big city will always be busy.

Bilbao is definitely not the kind of place to go to for just one day. I think we accomplished a few things in such a short time, but it can be exhausting. At least three days could, possibly, be enough. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot to see—and eat.



My Top Five Favorite Spanish Dishes

Spain’s cuisine (or cuisines) is influenced by contributions made by the various regions that make up the country. Spaniards are very traditional people and everyone really loves promoting—and I mean LOVES promoting— the typical foods from their pueblos (hometown). It’s easy to find certain foods typical of, say, Madrid in another region, and vice versa, because people keep passing on their traditions. The only difference—if any—is that they might add a different “touch” to that certain dish possibly to blend in with the food from that region (kind of like Tex-Mex).

I had the opportunity to try several typical dishes from different regions. Some, I was already familiar with and they had become a favorite long ago. Others (which did not make my top five but are still really good), such as Málaga’s Pecaítos fritos (fried fish), Burgo’s Cordero asado (roast lamb) and Ciudad Real’s Potaje (a type of stew), I tried them for the first time and really liked them.

But for my top five favorite, this is what I’ve picked.

Cocido (Madrileño)
Español: Cocido madrileño

Typically from Madrid, cocido is a traditional stew which main ingredients are chickpeas, vegetables and a lot of meat. The variety of vegetables includes potatoes, carrots, garlic and onion; and the meats are usually pork belly, bacon, smoked chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), chicken, beef marrow bone—or other bones and meats people may prefer to add. Mmmmm

(Mixed) Paella
Paëlla, olé !

I don’t think Paella needs any introduction; it’s one of Spain’s most famous foods—and it is for a reason! It is so popular that people from around the word consider it a national dish of Spain; however, in Spain, they recognize it as an original dish of the region of Valencia.

Paella is a moist rice dish, which ingredients vary depending on whether it is a Seafood or Meat Paella. Me? I prefer my paella mixta (mixed); it is a combination of seafood, chicken (or any other meats of preference) and vegetables.

Cochinillo (Asado)
Español: Cochinillo asado

Cochinillo, or roast suckling pig, is a typical dish from the region of Castilla y León, especially Segovia. It is made so that it is crispy on top and tender and juicy inside. It is seasoned overnight for the most part, roasted whole and served as is. I think that’s the part that scares a lot of people.

I grew up on this kind of food. It was mostly saved for special occasions, like Christmas. Maybe that’s the only reason I like it so much. Seeing a pig’s head on your table, staring at you and all, it’s not appealing. I agree. But it is soooo good…it’d be a crime not to try it (if you’re as carnivorous as I am). Besides, you don’t necessarily have to eat cochinillo whole; you can just order pieces, like a leg, rib or shoulder.

Preparing and making cochinillo is not that easy. It requires special skills to make a darn-good, finger-licking cochinillo. And not all restaurants know how to make it either. For a better tastier experience, I suggest finding a restaurant that has top-notch ratings/reviews.

(Watery mouth right now)

English: Picture of Fabada.

A typical dish of Asturias. Fabada is a very earthy, very heavy and filling hot bean stew. Believe me on the fillingpart.  You won’t need an appetizer or a side dish with a Fabada. You’re set for the day! Though it is typically from the region of Asturias, they serve Fabada at many different restaurants throughout Spain.

I don’t know if other people would agree on this, but Castilla La-Mancha’s potaje is like a smaller version of Fabada.

So what’s in a Fabada? It is made with large white beans, pork shoulder or belly, chorizo, morcilla, ham or bacon and seasoning. I tried Fabada in Oviedo—with a piece of bread and a sidra (cider) on the side!

By the way, can you tell I like stews? 😛

Rabo de toro
Rabo de Ternera Estofado con chocolate

They say the Rabo de toro(Oxtail) dish originated in Andalucía, especially originated in Córdoba, and people started cooking the tail of a freshly-killed bull in the bullfight. (I really wish I didn’t know an animal was killed in the making of my food, but it’s the circle of life.)

Rabo de toro is not exactly a stew, but it’s cooked like one and it can be served in a bowl with some broth or on a regular plate with just enough sauce to keep it moist. It’s delicious!

I would post the recipes for these dishes, but it’d feel unnatural coming from me as I can’t cook at all! 🙂


Eating in Segovia

Some of the delicious dishes we had in Segovia!

Segovia is famous for its cochinillos/lechon asado (suckling pig) and we love it, so I think we’ll be tempted to have just that every time we visit. 🙂 In other words, I think you’ll just see pictures of pork meat on this section. These are from a few weeks ago when we visited. (more to come)