The wheels on the bus don't go round and round

The hop on/hop off bus worked so well in Toledo, I looked forward to riding it again to get to know Bilbao. I was informed, though, at the conveniently located tourist office (directly across from the train station) that the bus (note “the” bus) had broken down and was not in service.

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  But the office had a better deal for me anyway: An all access card for all trams, metro, busses, light rail, funicular and a Basque regional train network for half the price of the hop on bus. I happily forked over the fifteen euros, and hopped aboard the tram at a stop, also conveniently located just outside the tourist office.

  I rode the tram its complete route twice. I can tell you that Bilbao is not as Hemingway described it, “a rich, ugly, mining city where it gets as hot as St. Louis, either St. Louis, Missouri, or St. Louis, Senegal, and where they love bulls and dislike bullfighters.”

  Well, the beef on display in the many, many butcher shops I came across is something to love, and I don't have any first-hand accounts of attitudes about bullfighters here, but I can tell you Bilbao is definitely not ugly. The inbound train does take you past a couple of cutting mills on the way into the station, but Bilbao is bright, vibrant and alive with bustle. The young women I’ve seen are stylishly dressed (the torn jean look is still very much “in”) and their thick black eyebrows make their eyes flash like strobes.

the Guggenheim from the tram

the Guggenheim from the tram

  Then there's the Guggenheim Bilbao museum I passed on my tram ride. If it were a concert hall, I could see the twisting, trainwreck design as meeting some vaulted acoustical standard.  But it's an art museum, and the design seems another homage to excess. Perhaps more ordinary than excessive. I think I once came up with something similar-looking wrapping leftover ribs in tin foil. If you were to put the Guggenheim alongside Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, you could not look at them directly.  The combination would be the architectural equivalent of a total eclipse of the sun.

  The gentleman sitting across from me in the tram held a grocery bag containing a large, live crustacean about the size of a Dungeness crab. He was teasing it, I suppose, to anger it to continue to fight for life.

  “He will live for about two more hours,” the man explained in broken English.

  “Dinner?” I asked.

  “Lunch.”

  Which was much on my mind, when I finished up my tram ride. Since my little studio came with a fridge and a two-burner, I could enjoy some fresh home cooking, as I did in Madrid. Eventually, I'll get to the paella, but as a solo traveler, I do prefer eating when possible. That will change, as I suspect my next destinations will offer just basic rooms.

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  The main goal now was to find a wine shop. There were several grocery stores near the apartment, but being Arab-run, they did not stock alcohol. I stumbled across a Chinese grocery that harbored no such stipulations. By the end of the week, me and Madame Mao had become jiggy, her greeting me with a smile and an English “hello,” pointing immediately to the wine shelf and asking “uno or dos.”

  It was always dos.