Because of the earlier problems with the train in Madrid, I ended up getting Bilbao about 10 PM. While I’d prefer to arrive in new places during the day – it’s easier to navigate your way around new places when landmarks are more readily apparent – everything was fine. The train station was pretty quiet when I arrived because the train from Madrid was the last arrival for the evening and the last trains out for the night were set to depart. Nonetheless, I headed for the ticket office and made some additional arrangements for the trip to Portugal and then walked to my hotel.
The map I had on my iPod was reasonably helpful, but it wasn’t super clear to me about the scale of the map. Plus, Google doesn’t seem set to create driving directions for some cities in Europe, so I didn’t have any distance information – and I certainly couldn’t use Google’s excellent new walking directions feature. Fortunately, I kept finding open WiFi along the way, and could zoom in and around, which helped make more sense of things. 30 minutes later, I walked through a wonderful park with lots of droopy trees (great for picnics) and exited at my hotel, the Sheraton Bilbao. I don’t really like hotels for vacation travel because you rarely meet anyone especially interesting, but getting upgraded to the penthouse suite was pretty good. It didn’t make much difference that evening, but the next morning, the balcony off my room afforded some great views of the city. And, it was nice to be able to hop on a treadmill for a midnight run.
After a sound sleep, I spent the day doing what I’d come to Bilbao to do: see Bilbao’s Guggenheim and check out Calatrava’s zubizuri (white bridge), a pedestrian bridge that spans the Nervion river. After I’d seen those two things, I explored the rest of Bilbao. I really liked the city a lot. It’s many parks, great cafes and restaurants made it a fun place to spend a couple of days. One of the things I liked best of all was the wide promenade along both sides of the river. It made the area welcoming to residents, so lots of people seemed to come from their office down to the river to eat lunch and enjoy some fresh air and sun. There were many benches lining both sides, trees to provide shade and taps where people could get fresh water for themselves or their children.
The entire city seemed to be going through a fairly significant transformation from a place formerly concerned with manufacturing to a place of regional commerce and tourism. Many cranes punctuated the city skyline, erecting all sorts of new buildings. After I enjoy a sunny day in Bilbao, I went to the supermarket, picked up a couple of beer, a baguette, some fresh tomatoes, peaches and nice cheese. I whipped together some dinner for the train (as much whipping as you can do when all you have as a cutting tool is a plastic spoon that came with yogurt I bought several countries ago). Boarding the train in Bilbao, I settled in for a night of absolutely no rest, en route to Porto.