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June 24, 2009

Bilbao to San Sebastian

Filed under: Space Invader, Spain, Travel — anotherheader @ 6:52 pm

Basilica de Begona

Basilica de Begona

On Wednesday we moved from Bilbao to San Sebastian, a 100 kilometer trip.  First, though, there was time to head out in the early morning light on the partly cloudy day to the pilgrimage church, Basilica de Begona.  The basilica sits on a hill, overlooking Bilbao.  We climbed the steep streets, always keeping the glimpses of the church in sight.  It was too early to enter the cathedral but the outside, in the warm morning sun, was impressive enough.  Spanish Gothic cathedrals always remind me of sand castles.  After viewing the church from all angles, we returned down the hill.  We found an elevator that took us down the hill to the old town.  Too bad we didn’t know about this on the way up.

Basilica de Begona up close

Basilica de Begona up close

On wanderings, we had been noticing Space Invader and Pacman mosaics at various locations in the city, often where you least expect them.  Later we saw more of these in Barcelona.  Searching on the web revealed that an artist known as Invader has placed tile mosaics in forty places in Bilboa.  Wikipedia says that “Los Angeles, New York City, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Geneva, Tokyo, Prague, Melbourne, Vienna, Bilbao, Bangkok, Darlington, Ljubljana, Barcelona, Nice, Amsterdam, Katmandu, Varanasi, Perth and even Mombasa are now invaded with his colorful characters in mosaic tiles.”  An urban game of spotting the mosaics has emerged.  Analogous to finding GPS confluences, websites with pictures of over 600 of these mosaics have appeared on the web.

Space Invader mosaic in Bilbao by Invader

Space Invader mosaic in Bilbao by Invader

With lunch reservations at 2:30 for Mugaritz, we made sure we left Bilbao with plenty of time to spare.  Our pension’s website said the Arenal parking garage where we left the car is 150 meters away from our lodge.  Our host said it was 100 meters away.  Googlemaps said our car was 350 meters away by foot.  It seemed far enough that I suggested that we drive the car back to the pension and load the luggage there.  Perhaps I was just embarrassed that we might be seen on the streets of Bilbao with our typically massive array of luggage.  In any event, Becky and I walked the short distance to the car and headed back to the room while Catherine and Ganesan secured the luggage.  We knew that the road directly leading to the room was blocked by construction and we couldn’t stop on the main road even though we’d be a stones throw from the pension.  What we didn’t remember was that the next road was blocked off.  Before we knew it, the combination of multiple construction related road closures and one-way streets sent us off to little visited parts of Bilbao.   It’s always good to get off the tourist track, but perhaps this was a little much.  The TomTom knew where we were but it couldn’t know which roads were closed.  And there were a lot of roads closed.  We eventually reached pension after a grid search through Bilbao’s Old Town.  It took us 50 min and 15 kilometers of driving to get the 350 meters to the room.  This comes out to about 0.04 miles/hour.  We could have walked with the luggage to the car, had churros and chocolate, shopped at the market, and still made it out faster.

The Abando train station in Bilbao

The Abando train station in Bilbao

Fortunately we left early enough to make it to the room in San Sebastian at Pension Altair, change clothes, and catch a taxi to Mugaritz.  Even though the restaurant was off small country roads about 9 kilometers from our room, the taxi driver knew exactly where to go.  I suspect that in the Bay Area, eighty percent of the residents would have no idea where the French Laundry, the best local restaurant, is or what it is about.  In San Sebastian, the locals all seemed to have personal knowledge of Mugaritz and were happy to tell us we were in for a treat.  And so it was with our taxi driver.  After a 10-minute ride, moving past the numerous rode cyclists who all looked to be in Tour condition, we were dropped off at the entrance of the restaurant ten minutes before our reservation.  Since the blow-by-blow description of our meal is rather long, I will share it on next installment.  For now, I will just say that it was one of our best meals, ever.

DSC_3466After our feast at Mugaritz, we headed back the 10 minutes to our room by taxi.  We were back from our “lunch” at 7:30 pm!

At our pension, we received a new card key that would work for multiple days from our hosts.  The door to the room opened fine.  When we inserted the card key into the reader in the room to turn the lights on, nothing happened.  Well, nothing desirable happened as you’d have to be stone deaf to miss the pulsating screams of the alarm.

Pension Altair is a small hotel, so it was a few steps back to the desk.  Our host at the desk called her husband.

He came to the desk quickly.

“Don’t worry, I fix it,” he said.

Sunset in San Sebastian (HDR)

Sunset in San Sebastian (HDR)

Screwdriver in hand, he headed to the room.  As we chatted in the small lobby, we heard sounds of the electrical panel being opened and the screwdriver working the circuits.  Then came a zap of arching electricity followed by a thud.

We all fell silent as we waited for a sound.

Becky, in a panic said, “He hit the floor.”

Cabra Roca in the Bilbao Market

Cabra Roca in the Bilbao Market

Now, I thought it was the sound of the screwdriver hitting the floor, but it was a particularly heavy thud.  We all started to move to the room.

The husband emerged from the room saying, “No, no.  I’m OK.”

“Maybe I get someone else tomorrow.”

That seemed like a wise decision, so we weren’t going to argue.  We switched rooms for the night.

Playa de Zurriola, San Sebastian

Playa de Zurriola, San Sebastian

After the long meal and the room excitement, we were late getting onto the streets for pintxos.  It was mid-week and even though the bars open late, they were also closing before ten.  We missed our pintxos and our pimientos de Padron this evening.  It was futile to ignore the emerging pimientos de Padron withdrawal symptoms as we tried to fall asleep.


Teatro Arriaga in Bilbao

Teatro Arriaga in Bilbao


  1. […] Our first encounter with Space Invader’s Mosaics: […]

    Pingback by UK 2009–The Departure « Another Header — January 2, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

  2. Invader art – Great. Funny information about the luggage trip with closed roads. Reminds me of getting lost on foot for ten hours three days ago in Copenhagen. Nice theater in Bilboa, I checked their website out. I’m having withdrawals from pintxos and pimentos de Padron by reading your text.

    Comment by Paul Edward Kosloski — January 3, 2010 @ 10:02 am

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