One of my friends here likes to play a game at the end of each day on a trip. She calls it “Pits & Peaks.’ Everyone is expected to say their peak from that day (better known as a highlight) as well as their pit (or, the low point). On most trips, we seem to find a long list of peaks and very few pits, which is a good problem to have!
I just returned from a trip that had quite a few pits. Despite that, it was (mostly) balanced out with some pretty stellar peaks. I don’t want to bum you out, but I did promise to keep this blog real, so you’re going to get the good, the bad, and the ugly on my journey. It was also a reminder to me that not every Euro adventure can be “the best trip ever.”
Before I launch into the rundown of peaks & pits, I have to give you one more story to explain why in the world I was getting on a plane to Bilbao, Spain (which I had NEVER heard of prior to 7 or 8 months ago)…
During my junior year at Miami University, I road tripped with seven friends to Florida for Spring Break and then cruised over to the Bahamas. I was in the boys car for the 18 hour drive, and it was there that I was introduced to some pretty important people…two of which were Brian Regan and Jack Johnson. I think after listening to “Banana Pancakes” for the 27th time, I was officially hooked. Over time, I bought all of Jack’s albums. I even made my family go to see the movie Curious George, because Jack did the soundtrack. Periodically, I would check to see if he was touring. It always seemed that he was in Hawaii and maybe Asia or Australia…once in a while on the west coast. When I made my “30 Before 30 Goal List,” I wanted “Jack Johnson in concert” to be one of the items. Unfortunately, he wasn’t touring during the time I had to accomplish the list.
After nine years, imagine my delight when I received an email telling me that Jack Johnson was coming to Europe! At the time, he only announced three shows. I chose the one at the Bilbao BBK Festival, because of the dates and because I had never been to the north of Spain. As I was planning, multiple people told me I needed to go to San Sebastián, too. I bought concert tickets back in December and an airplane ticket this spring. I was ready to go!
Unfortunately, no one else was available to travel with me. The flight times from Geneva to Bilbao are random, and it wasn’t convenient for others to travel from Wednesday to Saturday. But, I was committed!
Whew…you may have stopped reading by now, but in an attempt to keep the rest of this short and sweet. I’m going to list the pits and the peaks of this most recent adventure…
PIT – Taking three days off right before my biggest week of meetings of the year. It’s a bummer when you’ve purchased tickets to things before work plans are finalized. Needless to say, in general, I was distracted most of my time away.
PEAK – Finding the bus to San Sebastián at the Bilbao airport. I read that it was “to the right” when you exit the airport (which is only 12 gates big to begin with). I assumed it was the bus with the long line of people, but I found out it was actually the area with the two pieces of paper taped to the glass. Obvious, no?
PEAK – Receiving the following message from hotel reception upon my arrival:
Today is a special day. You are being upgraded from an interior room with no view to a room with a view.
PIT – Hotel up on the mountain with very limited food options nearby. Makes for a sparse dinner when you’re too lazy to go all the way down the mountain into town.
PEAK – The views from said hotel. San Sebastián is unbelievably beautiful! They claim that the view from the top of the Monte Igueldo tower is “the best view in the world.” I don’t know who decided that or how they attempted to validate their claim, but I have to admit; it’s pretty spectacular.
PEAK – Funicular a couple of steps outside of the hotel to ride down to the beach
PIT – Ordering a “Spanish Omelette” for breakfast assuming a hot omelette with all kinds of goodness was going to come out. Instead, something that looked like an egg, potato pie came out. Served cold, not hot. So confusing!
PEAK – Breakfast with a view
PEAK – A LONG walk around the beach and a good climb up the other mountain to the giant statue of Jesus on the top. (I still don’t understand what he’s doing up there on top of an old fortress, but at least he wasn’t covered in scaffolding like when I was in Rio de Janeiro.)
PEAK – Walking around Old Town. It was adorable! And I bought some cute things!
PIT – My pintxo experience. Pintxo (or pincho) are small snacks. They are very popular in the north of Spain. Almost every bar and restaurant had countertops full of plates with little food skewered with a toothpick. You take a plate and fill up on whatever you want to try. At the end, you are charged by how many toothpicks are on your plate. All of this is right up my alley, but after a long morning of walking, I wanted to sit down. The places with the best reviews were brimming with people and no seats. I was a bit intimidated being by myself and not really knowing how it works. In the end, I picked somewhere with mediocre food, which was disappointing.
PIT – The aquarium. I LOVE aquariums. In the past couple of years, I’ve been to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Granted, these are world-renown, but I had hopes that an aquarium on the water would offer more. Aside from the history lesson at the beginning of the aquarium all about the fishing / boating / trading past of San Sebastián, the fish exhibits were really bland. They weren’t colorful like I expected. I did manage to find Nemo, his dad, and Dorey, so that’s something.
PEAK – Cheapest massage yet in Europe at La Perla spa, which is 102 years old and sits right on the beach.
PIT – Waking up at 2:40am to screaming and banging on doors when a couple broke out into an argument for the whole floor to hear.
PIT – Barely catching my bus back to Bilbao. How does this happen? Well, for starters, I paid for my bus ticket ON THE BUS when I boarded at the Bilbao Airport. I had no reason to suspect that anything would be different this go around. The bus station had 12-15 buses parked with little to no signage about which bus was going to which destination. Approximately 10 minutes before departure, I figure out which bus is going back to Bilbao. I wait in line to load my suitcase in the bottom of the bus and then wait in line again to board. I get on at approximately 9:57 only to find out (in Spanish…which I don’t understand) that I can’t pay for a ticket on the bus; I have to buy it elsewhere. I leap off the bus contemplating getting my bag from below, but figure I can run to the kiosk quickly. When I don’t see a kiosk, I have to ask someone who tells me it is 50 METERS down the street. I take off in a full sprint, barge into the ticket office, cut in front of a woman at the counter practically yelling that my suitcase in on the bus and that I have to get a ticket immediately. Thankfully, the woman rushed to get me a ticket (a first for me in Europe), and I sprinted back to the bus. The bus driver was closing the doors to the luggage compartments and seemed shocked and impressed to see me making it onto the bus in time. I think it took me half the distance back to Bilbao to calm down.
PEAK – Guggenheim Museum – the building. I came around a corner in a taxi and my first sight of the building literally made me gasp! It is so unusual! There are three Guggenheims in the world – New York City, Bilbao, and Venice. I went to the one in New York for the first time last year, and now I’ve checked off Bilbao. I also have to add that the Purina in me LOVED the huge dog sculpture made of flowers. So weird and yet, so adorable.
PIT – Yoko Ono exhibit. I know I barely appreciate modern art on a good day. This exhibit was so extreme that I literally walked through the entire 3rd floor and thought, “I don’t understand one thing on display.”
PEAK – Richard Serra. This is a permanent collection. For all of you St. Louis people, I learned about Richard Serra when I lived in St. Louis. He is the artist who created the huge metal sculpture at the far end of City Garden downtown. (The sculpture was there long before City Garden was created.) He also has another sculpture on display in the courtyard at the St. Louis Contemporary Art Museum. My architecture friend introduced me to him. I was SO excited that I connected the dots and realized that the room full of intriguing sculptures in Bilbao were by the same artist! You can walk through all of them, and sound & light are altered pretty dramatically when you’re “in” the sculpture. It’s really amazing.
PIT – Bilbao BBK Live. The next time I think it’s a good idea to go to a music festival, remind me that I am too old. After the taxi dropped me off, I still had to walk up the side of a mountain to reach the entrance. Security confiscated my umbrella and two bottles of water from the mini bar in my hotel room. I found this confusing when I got inside and was surrounded by flasks and marijuana. I only stayed about two hours total, but there were SO many people crowded together. I prefer a lot of personal space, and the crowds caused me to freak out a little bit. Okay, a lot.
PEAK – Jack Johnson. He is more attractive in person than I realized he would be. I knew all of the songs he played, and I loved watching his band jam together. His keyboard player was having so much fun. I LOVE watching musicians who love to play. I would definitely see him again, but preferably not in a field. Next time, I’d like an assigned seat, please.
A lot more travel is coming in the next four weeks. Hopefully, I will have more peaks than pits to write about.