Friday, September 9, 2011

Thursday, Day Three

Thursday, September 8
      It's dark, and Jane is up and moving about, making too much noise for the middle of the night. I think it's 1:00 am. It IS 1:00 am in Virginia, but it's 7:00 in the morning here in France, and it's dark because the curtains are keeping out the bright sunshine. I stumble out of bed and into some clean clothes, and we head down to the hotel lobby for a continental breakfast of Croissants, cafe au lait, fresh kiwi fruit, orange juice. Price is 7 euros, almost $10.
      At 8:30 we meet Robert and several others. We'll all ride together today on a trip to Bilbao, Spain.
      This time we stay on track for awhile. We pause from time to time to take toll road tickets or to insert them in toll booth slots and feed Euros into the slot that raises the gate to let us proceed. Since the formation of the European Union, there is no indication of any demarcation between France and Spain, no official border-crossing, no checking of passports, nothing. I'm not sure when we actually left France and entered Spain, but I do notice that all of a sudden all of the signs are in Spanish. Displayed with the Spanish language signs are additional rows of letters that are obviously yet another language, but I don't recognize it at all. It wasn't until later in the day that I learned that more than 600,000 people in north-western Spain and south-western France speak Euskara (yoush-KAR-ah), an ancient, isolated language that is believed to have been spoken in this region since long before the Roman invasions that started in 58 B.C. It doesn't seem to be related to any other known language in the world.
      As we approach the coast of the Bay of Biscay and the town of Orio, we exit to try to find restroom facilities. A narrow road winds first along a grassy ridge where we see several groups of hikers with backpacks, and a number of cyclists challenging the steep slopes.
      The road dips down between old two story houses. The smooth pavement disappears, replaced by cobblestones, and the street into the oldest part of this old fishing village becomes every steeper and narrower until poor Robert is forced to slow to a crawl, inching between walls that threaten to scrape the car on both sides. Everyone holds their breath as he inches around a very tight corner, hoping we don't get to a point where we can go no farther. It's certainly impossible at this point to back up!
      The steep slope lessens a bit and the street widens a bit as we approach the flat bottom of the valley next to the River Oria and enter the newer part of town. We move along a shop-lined street that appears to be only a few hundred year old, then come to several blocks of new apartment buildings. Robert pulls off on a blind side street, and several people scurry off toward the town center a block away to try to find restroom facilities. They later report that the owner of a small shop, not open, has allowed them access to the single toilet in his establishment.
      Taking a short walk while the others are away, I find an extended area close to the river where there are numerous small farming plots. I don't know if they are community plots or individually owned. I watch an old lady plucking fruit from the low lying branches of a fig tree near the dirt path. 
     Turning back toward the car, walking along a side street, I found a poster advertising the upcoming rowing races. Each boat appears to have 15 or 20 men manning the oars. I am amazed at the similarity of these Basque long boats in the picture to the fautasi longboats that are raced on the bay at Pago Pago, Samoa.
      In our attempt to get back on the highway to Bilbao we missed a turn somewhere, and spend perhaps 30 minutes wandering small, wooded, winding roads that lead us in a loop back into the lower part of Orio before we finally are able to proceed toward our destination.
      Robert has no clear idea of the exact location of the ultra-modern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, so we get an extended rambling tour of various parts of this city of more than 350,000. Eventually though, we begin to spot signs to the museum, and find space in an underground lot to park the car about a half mile from the museum.
      The strange, random metallic curves of the Frank Gehry designed building on the banks of the Nervion River catch the late morning sun and also cast dramatic shadows to create a really fascinating piece of architecture. I had convinced myself ahead of time that I would dislike it, but was surprised that it was so intriguing.
     The members of the group wandered off in different directions, promising to meet back at the entrance to the parking garage no later than 4 pm. Jane and I strolled along the riverside and past the museum to view it from different sides, and settled to eat a light lunch of baguettes with thin-sliced ham and pieces of a delicious cheese at an outdoor cafe before heading into the Guggenheim.
      There were vast exhibit rooms with large abstract pieces of art and paintings that Sydney and Francis Lewis would have loved for their peculiarity. 
     I found that the building itself was the only really interesting piece of art, but that alone was worth the trip to Bilbao!

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