Having slept in a place full of history, art and symbols as Gernika is, the persistent Northern rain was going to be my companion this new day until the hills of another remarkable city...
Starting my 5th Camino day with a new Camino friend, Camille (see day 4 of my Northern Camino), we went together for one typical morning ritual, we indulged ourselves to one great breakfast:
Still raining heavily, I took the opportunity to ask Camille to do one of my Camino photo interviews (an ongoing project of pilgrims and locals of the different St James routes) to which she happily agreed.
With yet another glorious breakfast filling up my belly and with no signs of the rain easing, with 10:30am on the clock, I covered up my bags as best as possible to retake the road to Santiago. Wishing a good and well deserved rest day to Camille, I ventured my dear Orbea to some difficult pathways, putting her to an extreme muddy and very wet test.
We Galicians (North West region of Spain), are known for our tenacity and stubbornness, so I pushed my equally determined Basque origin bicycle to its limits; read here the beautiful and unique history of the Orbea cycling brand in words of ex-pro cyclist Pedro Horrillo for Rouleur.
Proudly with both Basque and Galician persistence, I managed a personal heroic ascension that took me and my 25kg bike+bags weight to the hills of one of the most known and biggest cities of the Basque Country: the city of Bilbao! The rain very timely stopped allowing me to calmly satisfy my wanderlust with this striking landscape:
Bilbao, mostly known for having amidst its architectural range the stunning Guggenheim Museum, has much more to offer than just that. It is the 10th city of Spain and although deeply marked by its industrial origin, it developed into a prosperous cosmopolitan style city that unites both cultural Basque heritage with a modern urban redevelopment. If you feel tempted discover more via Bilbao tourism.
Definitively, this city is well worth a visit if you travel to the Basque Country or as me, pilgrim through it. Not being a fan of too big cities and even less of big capacity pilgrim hostels they usually have, I headed forward to the next nearest Camino town, Portugalete (no, no need to ask, it has nothing to do with Portugal ;) ). Even though the Guggenheim is not all what there is, going to Bilbao without at least passing by, is like visiting Paris and miss the Eiffel Tower... Therefore, out of the established Northern route, I followed the Nervion river to reach Frank Gehry's unique architectural achievement; find out more about this unique artist, you can hear it from the man himself in this TED talk.
Quickly after a few shots of the iconic museum, a little off track from the original Northern Saint James Way, I continued by the river side with hopes of reaching a bridge... However, this didn't happen and I ended up in the middle of Bilbao's industrial area, one of the main pieces of Spain's industrial machinery:
Nevertheless, it got me up to speed and arrive to Portugalete, where, to my surprise wasn't any bridge available either, but I still made it to the other side... no no no, don't worry, I didn't test my and my bike's swimming skills nor did I ask the rowing guys for a ride. There was a rather uncommon way of bridging which I've never seen before and makes for Portugalete's most important construction, it is, the Vizcaya Bridge!
What you see is a kind of ferry like cabin that transports cars, people, bikes and, like in my case, pilgrims over the Nervion River; it's also called the hanging bridge. Dating back to 1893, it was the idea of one of Gustave Eiffel's disciples, Alberto Palacio, who with the purpose of creating a way to cross the river, but allowing boats to pass easily and for a reasonable price, he came up with this very original idea. In fact, it's functionality and beauty make it Spain's only Industrial monument to be part of the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.
After this lovely river jump I went on to find the town's pilgrim hostel, only to discover that it was... closed! In addition, the nearest pension was fully booked just 10 minutes before I arrived. Nonetheless, they were very helpful to indicate me other possibilities and even called some pensions directly to ask if they had availability. They did have and this took me to my next urban surprise. They told me that I just had to go uphill and I could use the moving ramps... really? I was kinda doubtful and finally guessed they meant to say elevators... but surprise surprise, the moving ramps are real! Not bad to have one's bike being carried from time to time.
Although the place I ended up had no pilgrims around, after my shower I went to discover this charming city, search for my favourite Galician beer (see my love for it here on day 3 on my French Camino) and ending up with one the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen! I've literally spent an hour taking pictures :)
Even amid storms, rain, mud and other inconveniences, don't despair, the Saint James Way is a journey of sacrifice but with rewarding discoveries that will awaken the explorer in you!