Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My First Day in Bilbao: Sunday

I arrive in Bilbao at 9:30 am on a Sunday. Before I got there I emailed Cathy, "Let's go to Mass at your favorite church and then let's go out to brunch!"

My dedicated little sister took this task so seriously that she visited every Catholic church in Bilbao the day before I came to decide which one was her favorite. She finally settled on the one she's been going to every Sunday, the church of San Jose - a nice coincidence since our dad and brother are named Joseph.

She met me at the airport bright and early and we took the bus to the city center. We passed by her university on the way there, La Universidad de Deusto.

Isn't it pretty?

Of course I took about a million pictures of random buildings and streets. Bilbao was very quiet when I arrived. The city kind of shuts down on Sundays.

The stores were all closed, but that did not prevent me from window shopping! The Spanish stores featured such cute shoes.

The church was beautiful. Frank loves church architecture so I took lots of pictures with him in mind.

We were some of the youngest people at the service. It's always a little sad when I go to Europe and see how the Church is aging there. Not many young people in Spain go to Mass. It makes me grateful for the comparatively vibrant state of the Church here in America.

The church wasn't actually this empty at Mass time; I took this picture later.
I was happy to find my Spanish coming back quickly and I understood most of the readings and the homily. It made me grateful that my parents spoke Spanish to my sisters and me when we were little. We hated having to talk in Spanish at the time but it sure has come in handy.

We made sure to seek out the little shrine for St. Joseph, the patron of that church, and I said a prayer for my dad and brother. Spanish churches can be a little creepy sometimes, with all the ornate statues dressed in real clothing and sometimes even with real hair! This statue, though, was a nice one.

After Mass, Cathy pointed out a little bakery or pasteleria across the street from the church. She told me that they have a 50% discount on Tuesdays and promised to bring us back later in the week. Of course I took pictures of their gorgeous window displays.

Next we walked to brunch, passing by some pretty little fountains and plazas.

I paused in the crosswalk for the shot below.

"Brunch" at 1 pm was delicious. We feasted on fresh bread and seafood, among other things. I was pretty sleep-deprived. Cathy said it was "painful to watch" my efforts to stay awake. Fortunately, the food gave me my second wind and I powered through.

Actually, I take that back. The brunch didn't give me my second wind. What really kept me going was GELATO.

It felt a little silly to order gelato in Spain instead of Italy. But Bilbao is very close to Italy and gelato is very popular there. We saw dozens of gelato shops and, of course, ordered it several more times that week.

As a side note, this trip really fueled my interest in food photography. If this whole journalism thing doesn't work out...

We walked around the city sightseeing as we enjoyed our gelato. Cathy introduced me to a giant statue of a dog made entirely of flowers. He is a well-known Bilbao landmark and the locals call him Puppy, pronounced "pooh-py" because of the Spanish accent.

We walked past Cathy's university so I could see it up close.

Sunday was the start of our good luck. Cathy warned me in advance that Bilbao is one of the rainiest cities in Spain. The weather forecast for Sunday predicted thunderstorms all day and I wore my umbrella, trench coat and waterproof boots in preparation. 

There was a little drizzle but mostly it was clear, other than an overcast sky (seen in these pictures). It hardly rained at all!  We were thrilled.

Cathy was a trusty tour guide, weaving her way around the city with practiced familiarity. I think that's one of the coolest things about studying abroad - becoming an expert at navigating some foreign place.

She did, however, occasionally whip out a map.

Finally we found our way to the grocery store, where we purchased supplies for a "picnic" at the hostel that evening: bread, cheese, Spanish ham, Nutella and a chocolate bar for dessert. My sisters and I had a lot of "picnic" meals while we were in Spain to save money.

Of course I couldn't resist taking photos at the grocery store.

Marshmallows for "barbecuing" - ha!
Then Cathy and I went to the airport to wait for Lillian to arrive. We sat there for over two hours! We started snacking on our groceries - which caused a few Spaniards to stare - and talked and talked.

Cathy didn't follow this year's Republican candidate nomination process from Spain so she asked me to tell her about it. Oh boy, did I have a lot to say. I may have talked her ear off. Lucky for me, she's a great listener.

We also talked about our family, our boyfriends, our plans for the future, our faith lives and anything else that came to mind. It was such a gift to talk to her for so long. I missed that girl so much.

Finally Lillian arrived and we took the bus back to the hostel. There we proceeded to alienate the other hostel guests by enjoying a raucous midnight feast in the common room.

Kidding, kidding. We did our best to be quiet. Most of the other guests were also up and Lillian even befriended a guy from Texas. But we couldn't help them being jealous of our delicious feast.

Spanish tortilla - very different from the Mexican kind

Ham and cheese on bread. Simple perfection.
Actually we did start to suspect the other hostel guests of making encroachments on our food, specifically our Nutella. The hostel offered a free "breakfast" every morning of toast, butter and jam which we supplemented with our private stock of Nutella. Every morning some guest or other would ask us where we got the Nutella from and would assume it belonged to the hostel. Since we didn't have a lot of it, we became rather protective of our Nutella and hid it under the sink when we weren't using it. The whole thing was kind of hilarious.

During our midnight feast, Lillian mentioned how interested she is in the Basque culture. Cathy told us that she was enrolled in a class on the Basque language and culture that would be meeting the next day at noon. We decided that Lillian and I would accompany her to class. Then the three of us betook ourselves to bed, where I, for one, passed out in exhaustion.

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