I have never had as much trouble getting money exchanged as I did in Bilbao.
Most banks don’t exchange foreign currency, and neither does the Bilbao airport. Take Euro with you, or plan on using ATM machines. If you do get stuck, like I did, there are two big banks that have exchange desks—BBVB at 12 Gran Via, and Santander at 4 Gran Via. The other branches of these banks can’t do it unless you have an account there. (NOTE: Our hotel would exchange limited amounts, but the rate they quoted bordered on robbery.)
Bilbao and the other Basque areas have two official languages, and street signs in Bilbao are in both—Basque on one side of the street, and Spanish on the other.
The Basque language (Euskara) is in a category all its own—it isn’t related to other language groups, and it is nothing like Spanish.
The Aste Nagusia (literally "Big Week") of Bilbao takes place the 3rd week of august and there are many events and shows that week in the city, including bullfightings. People go out at night for dinner, a drink, walking along the lively streets and there are temporary bars (txoznas) in the streets.
Euskera is how we call our most precious treassure, our language, the Basque Language. From the south of France to the banks of river Ebro, and from Santander to the Pyrenees, the Euskera is the soul of our ancient country, The Basque Country.
With no known relationship with other indoeuropen languages, Euskera is one of the oldest languages in Europe.
TO BE CONTINUED...
The people here in the Northern Spain are extraordinarily hospitable. They are active, imaginative, and they know how to enjoy life. They are generous people who offer whatever they have, and manage to make the visitor feel at home on these frontier shores. At least, if they do not have anything else offering for unexpected guests, they have a hidden bottle of orujo (Aguardiente, Alguitara), maybe saved for tens of years for this purpose.
These products, always distilled from grapes, require very a delicate production process which is laborious and not easily described. They frequently involve a ritual prior to tasting. The process, like the ritual, is not unimportant: "al Alguitara" distillation is not the same as other forms. There are at least two ways to consume these orujos: by the glass (in shots) perhaps on an empty stomach; or to aid digestion, after a big meal.
The Semana Grande or Aste Nagusia (Great Week) is Bilbao's main popular festival. It is held every August (in the week of the 15th). It is not really an old tradition or something unique from Bilbao: just nine activity-filled days with music concerts, fireworks, food stands on the streets and lots of people and noise everywhere.
Loads of fun for people who enjoy crowds and getting drunk on the street and horror for the rest.
Like in many other parts of Spain, the Holy Week Processions were a dying a tradition in the Bilbao of the 1980s. However, the last years have seen a big revitalisation of this striking cultural and religious expression. There is currently in Bilbao a tenth of brotherhoods (cofradías) hosted in the main parishes in the city. Some of them have more than 1 000 brothers. Processions go from Monday of Grieves until Resurrection Sunday. During those days, several figures of the Virgin Mary, Christ and scenes of the Passion are carried out in the streets of Bilbao by the penitents or nazarenos, dressed with their peculiar hoods.
The Procession of the Holy Burial is the most interesting of them and goes on in the evening of Maundy Thursday from the different churches in the Old Town to Plaza Moyúa, on the opposite side of the river. The procession is organised principally by the Brotherhood of the Holy True Cross, the oldest in Bilbao (was created in the 16th century), which has its home in the Church of the Saint Johns.
If your visit to Bilbao does not coincide with the Holy Week but you are still interested in this tradition, you can visit the Holy Week Museum (Mueso de Pasos de Bilbao) on Iturribide Street (Old Town), which hosts most of the images that are carried in procession during Easter. Each brotherhood has a stand in the museum showing its most identifying elements.
Midday meals work a bit differently in Bilbao. There are, of course, sit down restaurants where you can have a full meal like in any other city in Europe, but the traditional way to eat your fill is to go to one of the many bars in the city centre and partake of pintxoak. Pintxoak are sort of like tapas, although the best way to describe them are finger foods. The custom is something like this: go into the bar, order a drink (cider - sagardoa - is best, since it is a local product, but you can alo get beer or wine) and then you start selecting which pintxoak you want. They are usually pieces of bread with something on top: sausage, sliced chorizo, seafood, etc. Later on at night, when similar spreads are available, you can also get things like pulpa gallega (skewered hunks of octopus, intersperced with bacon an topped with melted cheese). When you're finished, you simply tell the server which pintxoak you ate and how many glasses of cider you've had, and settle your tab. At some of the more popular bars in the Alde Zaharra, its not unusual to see this process spill out onto the street, so don't expect to get lots of elbow room!
When I first got to Bilbao (December 20) I thought that it was a mistake to visit Euskadi in winter. There was frost everywhere and I was ill prepared in terms of clothing. However, the next day I wandered into the Christmas fair in Plaza Berria. What a delight! Basques love to eat (since they're the best chefs in the world) and the fair had dozens of stalls selling traditional food, peppers, sausages, hams, olives, fish.... There were also concerts and folk dancing shows. Definitely way more festive and lively than Barcelona at Christmas.
Every year, usually on palm sunday (typically the start of April), there is a boat race between the University of Deusto and the School of Engineers.
Oxford and Cambridge it is not, but it has been going on now for nealry 30 years.
The finish line is at the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento).
The local football team completely respect the pride of this great people...
It's a team that has only Basque players and trainers and no sponsors' logos contaminate their shirt... I think that no other teams do that all over the world.
This notwithstanding Athletic Bilbao is one of the most valuable teams in Spanish Premier League ("La Liga") even if the choice of players can be very limited respect to other teams (Basque region VS. the World!!!).
Carnaval, celebrated the weekend before Lent is when everyone dresses up and has a good time. The emphasis is on the family enjoying things together.
BIlbao puts on children's activities as well as many other things, including parades and fancy dress competitions. Oh, and lots of drinking and eating.
The Spanish celebrate Los Reyes (Epiphany) as the time to exchange presents at Christmas. [The Basques celebrate on the 25th December with the Olantxero].
In Bilbao, there is a grand parade at 6pm on the eve of Los Reyes (5 January) down Gran Via.
This bright event is very popular with children as sweets are thrown from the passing floats.
A group of 3 cafes with an atmosphere from the early 1900s - traditional cafes from Bilbao.
Good pintxos and cafe during the day - and music and going-out places at night.
During the Aste Nagusia, they organize lots of activities - gastronomical, cultural and of course, party during the whole night! - the circular square (Plaza Biribila) is almost closed to traffic because of the crowd of people dancing outside Cafe La Granja.
Cafe Iruna - at Jardines de Albia, beautifully decorated inside with Andalusian-style tiles.
Cafe La Granja - at Plaza Circular
Cafe Boulevard - in El Arenal, oppsite Arriaga theater, also hosts tango dancing from time to time.
Aste Nagusia or Semana Grande, are the city fests. The name means Long Week, because they last from a Saturday to the following Sunday.
A typical fest day begins early in the morning with the Encierro, which takes the bulls to the bullfighting arena. In the old part of town, there are gastronomical contests and plays for children .
In the afternoon, after the Bullfighting, the Konparsas go down playing music to the Casco Viejo, where the party goes on at any txozna, eating and drinking in the evening.
One of the most crowded activities is the daily 11pm iInternational Fireworks Contest, from Etxeberria Park - all usually very noisy and coloured.
After that... concerts (for every taste: for nostalgic and parents, rock, folk...) and party all night long (gaupasa).
When:August, usually beginning the Saturday after 15.08 to next Sunday.
This year a bit earlier:
Aste nagusia 2.004: 14-22 August