Back to Bilbao

September 29, 2017 - Bilbao, Spain

No real hurry this morning as all we have to do is drive back to Bilbao and drop off the hire car sometime before the office closes. Easy enough then to pack our bags and enjoy a last breakfast at Hotel Villa Arce. This has become the basis for our busy days recently.

We sit and listen to the oranges being juiced and our host then presents us with very fresh orange juice and a plate of fruit pieces (watermelon, honeydew melon and orange pieces) that we attack immediately. A basket of toast and a plate of iberico ham, ham slices and a smoky chorizo (sin ajillo, I was assured) is ready to go after that, along with coffee and a slice of cake (it seems universal for Spanish breakfast).

This morning's breakfast was no different. In fact every morning it has been the same and each of us appreciated it in different ways. The only difference this time was that we were both feeling the effects of a bit of overindulgence last night.

By 10.30am we had said goodbye to our hosts. Neither of them could speak much English but the one who had first welcomed us and served us breakfast most of the time was Ilena. She bowed to the other woman's superior English abilities but I don't think they were very different. About the same as my Spanish perhaps. There were no deep and riveting conversations but with Ilena we shared a few jokes and a bit of fun in a few words and a bit of mime. The other was a bit too serious for that sort of thing. She would often pop out her little hidey-hole near the front door as we were leaving for an evening meal as well as when we returned later at night. Maybe making sure the footsteps were bona-fide guests but we could imagine her going back to her TV in that little room and marking down our comings and goings.

Last night we had programmed Miss Leading with the address we needed to return the hire car and checked that the route went somewhere along the coast so we could enjoy the views. We still sat in the car this morning and did that all over again to make sure she hadn't changed her mind over the last twelve hours.

Once we were assured we drove down the little lanes for the last time. And again managed it without having to give way and without brushing our mirrors on the stone walls that seem very, very close at times. The main road was a relief when we reached it and we left town in the same direction we arrived, and the same way we had driven each of the last three days. I wonder what lies in the other direction.

We were soon on the Autovia and following signposts to Bilbao. Ho, Hum. Set the cruise control and watch as the rest of the traffic streaks by. Occasionally we had to move out of the slow lane to go around trucks but the road was pretty quiet.

Just as we thought we would never see the sea we caught a glimpse down one river valley and a bit later we saw an inviting looking beach and a coastal town so we took the next exit. The road back toward the beach began with some promise but slowly turned inland heading up a river valley so we found a place to turn around and then found a narrow little road signposted Playa de las Arenillas which sounded promising. There we found a parking area, a new looking but abandoned, and derelict hotel and a small boat harbour. That is a harbour for small boats as the only way in was through a channel about seven metres wide between steep rock walls.

It was a particularly picturesque place if you ignored the smashed windows and wrecked externals of the hotel. The harbour itself was pretty and the water looked very inviting, though the few people we saw swimming looked to be finding it cold. It is the Bay of Biscay and part of the North Atlantic after all. We opted for a walk around the area and over the eastern headland to another couple of bars and hotels in a much better state than the one near the boat harbour.

As we weren't going to brave the water we jumped back in the car and made our way back to join the motorway and continue into Bilbao. The traffic volume increased as we got closer to the city and more and more roads joined ours. We tried to follow Miss Leading's directions but I got caught in the right-hand lanes when I needed to bear left and then had to rely on her quick recalculations. Who knows if the first choice would have been better. We had to content ourselves with a winding path into town near the bus station and then take a quick course in the operation of 'bus lanes' Bilbao style before entering a series of narrow, one-way calle to approach the Railway Station car park in the correct direction on the one-way street. After waiting here and there for cars and trucks parked in the middle of the road we made a final tight right into the car park and we could take a ticket and park the car in the Enterprise Car Hire parking spaces. Whew! Take a long deep breath.

Once the formalities were over with and we were assured of the return of our deposit as well as money we had paid to rent a GPS when there was already one as standard equipment in the Peugeot 308, we could then wheel our suitcases the short distance to our hotel.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon just relaxing, doing some journal work or in my case having a siesta. Margaret fretted a little over a missed chance to visit an Art Gallery that held an 'El Greco' but that concern did not outlast the desire to sleep and relax a little.

For dinner we walked up to the La Viña del Ensanche restaurant where our research said it would be busy on a Friday night but we were lucky to arrive before the crowds moved from the Taberna to the Restaurant and were seated at a table outside without having to wait. The meal was brilliant and we enjoyed our food and wine as we watched the crowds build up until they were lined up along the street waiting for a table.

We had chosen from the Entrada Caliente menu (warm starters or Pintxos).

Croquettas Joselito (ham and cheese croquettes),

Racion de Josellini (Iberian ham and foie on toast),

Verduras Wok (wok fried vegetables with Iberian ham),

all accompanied by a Rioja Crianza and followed by our usual coffees. All for €43.

We were very pleased with our meal and with watching the antics of the waiters shuffling table spaces around and turning over the seating to accommodate the bustling crowds. We were so glad not to be sitting nearer the bar where drinkers had their glasses balanced precariously on the divider between the seating area and the footpath outside the bar.

We took a little walk up the same pedestrian way and marvelled at how few diners there were at the other restaurants when it had been so busy at our end. As we walked around the block we could hear the noise from La Viña and La Olla (side by side) from at least a block in any direction.

In all we felt that this day had stretched on quite a way considering we started late and finished early but we did have a siesta in the middle.


The small harbour at Playa de las Arenillas
View around Playa de las Arenillas
The harbour looked inviting for swimming
Taking photos from the rocks
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