If you travel north-east from Madrid, towards the elbow where the northern coast of Spain meets the western coast of France, you will eventually reach one of the most fascinating corners of the country: el País Vasco, or the Basque Country.
The Basques are an ethnic group indigenous to the region, and they’ve been around a long time. Their origins cannot be precisely determined, but it is thought that they represent a living lineage of the people who occupied Europe before the Roman expansion. This is believed because their language, Basque (Euskara, as they call it), is unrelated to any of the neighboring Romantic languages. That’s clear at a glance. Look at even a Basque street sign, and your eye will rebel at the confusing jumble of consonants—so thick that even German would flee in terror. The language is absolutely isolated; there is nothing similar, no dialects even remotely related. Its survival is an indication of the Basques’ remarkable toughness.
The Basque region has always been troublesome for Spain. This is understandable, considering that the Basques have a different language and culture. Basque separatism has existed since at least the time of Ortega y Gasset, who identified it in his book, España Invertebrada (1922), as one of the forces of disintegration in modern Spain.
Much more recently, the Basque terrorist group ETA fought for independence. To date they have killed over 800 people, and that number rises when you include injuries and kidnapping. Thankfully there haven’t been any attacks in many years. But this antagonism between the Basques and the Spanish still exists. Just this month, while working at a summer camp, some kids from Bilbao got very angry when people from Madrid started making fun of them for being Basque. And one of those Basque kids kept telling me “I don’t like Spain,” even though he lived in Spain and spoke Spanish far better than Euskara.
For all these reasons, I have long been interested in visiting the region; and this is not to mention all the friends who recommended going. So GF and I decided to spend a long weekend exploring the Basque Country for ourselves. Our first stop was the most populous city: Bilbao.
Bilbao is a city of industry. On our train ride from the suburbs to the city center, we passed dockyards, cranes, shipping containers, and factories. Bilbao is situated on an estuary; and the whole riverside, from the city center to the Bay of Biscay, is a scene of unbroken industry. For, unlike many Spanish cities, Bilbao is a place bent on the future. On our way in, GF and I passed the Exhibition Center—a daring building, erected in 2004, that looks like a waiter carrying too many plates in one hand. Once you reach the center of Bilbao, a circular glass skyscraper towers overhead; and a modern bridge made of twisting metal spans the river. Even the garbage disposals look like robots.
But Bilbao also has history. The historical center of the city is the Casco Viejo, which is where we headed to first. It is a lovely area, with narrow streets and plentiful restaurants. One of the most famous things about the Basque country is the food. Instead of tapas, they have pintxos, which are more or less the same thing—small servings of food, mostly on bread.
Our Airbnb host recommended the Casco Viejo for eating; and since every restaurant was advertising pintxos, we randomly picked one and sat down. I’m sorry to say that, although good, the food did not leave a deep impression on me. Indeed, I cannot say that I found the food in Bilbao noticeably different from the food in, say, Logroño—that is to say, it seemed fairly typical of Spanish food. It’s good food, to be sure, but I expected something more distinct. Instead, we had croquetas on bread, jamón on bread, tortilla on bread, chorizo on bread, and so on. In any case, it was inexpensive and filling, so I shouldn’t complain.
We spent some time wandering around the Casco Viejo, enjoying the medieval streets. We wanted to visit the cathedral, which is small and has a lovely façade; but it was closed, for whatever reason. So we decided to leave the old area, and walk towards Bilbao’s main attraction: the Guggenheim Museum.
The walk towards the Guggenheim was delightful, taking us along the riverside. In some sections I was reminded of Paris, with elegant apartment buildings and the old Santander train station, decorated in a colorful art nouveau style. Then the city began to look more modern. Rectangular glass buildings, brutally square, towered overhead; and a small white suspension bridge came into view. Soon we could see the Guggenheim itself, although its strange form was mostly hidden from view by apartment buildings and another suspension bridge. Next to this bridge, two odd, grey towers curled up towards the sky, serving no apparent function but decoration.
As we neared, I grew increasingly excited. I had heard of the Bilbao Guggenheim months before, and had longed to see it ever since. My anticipation growing, we walked under the bridge and turned a corner.
The sight did not disappoint. Designed by Frank Gehry, the Bilbao Guggenheim is covered in overlapping titanium strips, meant to look like the scales of a giant fish. The curling forms of the façade are also reminiscent of a fish, or perhaps of a massive, misshapen boat. Indeed, the building looks more at home in water than on land—a feeling reinforced both by a large pond in front and its location right next to the river. Just as in Gaudí’s work, there is hardly a straight line to be found; everything swells and curves, contracts and expands. In front, a large statue of a ghastly, nightmarish spider welcomes visitors to the museum. It is not exactly a beautiful place, but undeniably intriguing.
We found the entrance and went inside. Because photos were not allowed, and some time has passed since my trip there, my recollection of the artwork is hazy; but I’ll do my best to give an impression.
The first thing we saw was a work by Andy Warhol. Consisting of at least fifty separate silkscreens, the work was an exploration of color and shadow. Essentially, Warhol just took the same silkscreen and made copies of it with many different colors; most of the colors chosen were, as was his style, bright neon. I enjoyed walking around the room, seeing how the image changed as I went along, but GF was deeply unimpressed with the piece. And I cannot say I found it terribly original or impressive, either.
My favorite room in the museum was the largest. It housed Richard Serra’s massive installation, The Matter of Time. The work consists of long, thin metal strips, far taller than a person, arranged in geometrical patterns throughout the space. Some of these are in waves, some circles, some spirals. The feeling of walking through it is rather like being lost in a maze. Several times I lost track of GF, and had to search through the odd shapes to find her. The acoustic properties were also interesting, the metal sheets creating massive echoes, amplifying my footsteps into a loud clacking. The way that the installation warped and stretched my perception of space made it a true work of art. Even so, I cannot imagine how expensive it was to make these giant metal strips and move them inside; and I cannot help wondering if it was worth it.
The most well-represented artist in the museum was Louise Bourgeois. She is mostly known for her three-dimensional installations, which often use everyday materials in their construction. In content, her work tends to be highly autobiographical. The aforementioned spider in front of the museum, which is her work, is meant to represent her mother. This strikes me as rather grim, but apparently, for Bourgeois, the spider’s weaving represents nurturing and protection, though I’m not sure I buy that. Her relationship with her father does not seem to have been any better. One of her most famous works, Destruction of the Father, is an abstract depiction of a banquet in which the children have rebelled and killed and eaten their father. The whole installation is made of soft materials, illuminated with red light that makes everything look like flesh; and the “children,” the “food,” and the “table” are formless blobs. In sum, I find her work a bit creepy.
The most beautiful room in the museum was the one dedicated to 20th century Parisian art. Unfortunately, while I remember being quite pleased with the paintings, the only canvases that stick out in my memory are Robert Delaunay’s portrayals of the Eiffel Tower. These are wonderful works, with the towering form of the Eiffel Tower squeezed, compressed, stretched, and twisted, standing over a trembling Paris below. There is an attractive energy and dynamism to the paintings, which fit well with the aesthetic of Bilbao, for Delaunay’s painting, the Eiffel Tower, and Bilbao are all oriented towards the technological future. More generally, I found the works in those rooms satisfied my ideal of what art should be—original, daring, personal, and yet informed by a tradition of technical competency and well-worn standards of beauty.
This I cannot say about another room in the Bilbao Guggenheim, that dedicated to “Masterpieces” of the museum. This label may have been tongue-in-cheek, for the works contained therein were, one and all, large canvasses covered in either a monochromatic shade of paint, or merely splattered haphazardly with colors. One of them, I remember, looked like someone had randomly thrown blue paint at a white canvass; but the audioguide informed me that the artist had a nude model covered in paint roll around on it. Another one (if memory serves) consisted of an amorphous blob of green, yellow, and blue, which the audioguide explained was meant to represent the countryside of the artist’s youth. It’s things like that which give modern art a bad name. True, there was a work by Mark Rothko, who I tend to enjoy; I don’t know how or why, but I find his paintings exert a strange, calming, almost hypnotic power over me. Apart from that, however, I was left cold. I spent about ten minutes doing my best to appreciate the works, and then finally gave it up.
It took us about three hours to see the whole museum, and then we were out on the street again. My final assessment of the museum’s collection is the same as my opinion of the building itself: not exactly beautiful, but intriguing. There are times when I feel that the modernist emphasis on originality and personal expression has been horrid for visual art; by jettisoning tradition they have abandoned both the technical facility and the standards of beauty that have guided the best artists for hundreds of years. But sometimes, when I see something truly strange and fascinating, I think that this search for new modes of expression, new aesthetics, new mediums, new techniques—in a work, for newness—is both necessary and good. It is, in any case, true that it is impossible to reproduce the aesthetics of earlier times without producing sterile works; great art must reflect both the times of its birth and the vision of its creator.
I wanted to see more, but our day was over. Since we had spent the morning in the car, it was already quite late. We ate dinner, and went back to our Airbnb to rest. Originally we planned to spend two days exploring Bilbao, but a recommendation from our Blablacar driver made us change those plans. Instead, we would try to see the Hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
I always find public transportation a bit nerve-racking—especially in a new city, not to mention a foreign country. Every time I hop on a bus, I feel like I’m taking a leap of faith. I imagine taking the wrong bus and getting stranded in the middle of nowhere, or taking the right bus and getting off on the wrong stop—and these fears aren’t totally unfounded, as I’ve done both of these things. Thus I was filled with apprehension as we searched for the bus to Bakio, the A3518.
My fears notwithstanding, we found it easily enough, arriving at the station just as the bus pulled in. We hopped on, got seats, and off we went to Bakio.
Probably you have never heard of Bakio, because there isn’t much to be heard about it. Bakio is a small town, with a population of about 2,500, situated about 30 kilometers from Bilbao. There is admittedly a beach there, although the chilly, damp, overcast weather of the region didn’t exactly put me in the mood for surfing. Rather, we were going to Bakio because it was the closest we could to get by bus to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
The bus ride to Bakio was quite pleasant, taking us through the green countryside, filled with little huts and farmhouses tucked away into the rolling hills. After 40 minutes we arrived, ate some breakfast, and then set on our way. I had found a little report online (found here), written by somebody who had walked from Bakio to Gaztelugatxe. And attached in that report is a little map, with the walking route the author followed highlighted. But for whatever reason I forgot about this map as we started walking, instead relying on my phone’s GPS to guide me there. Please, don’t make this mistake: just follow the walking route.
GF and I soon found ourselves walking along a busy road, with no sidewalks.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” she said.
“Yeah, man, I’m just following my phone.”
We walked further, and after a while came to a sharp curve in the road. Because there wasn’t any sidewalk, and the road was hemmed in by a rockface on one side and some trees on another, we found ourselves in the predicament that, no matter which side we chose, we would risk making ourselves invisible to an incoming car. Thankfully, the cars only came periodically, with big gaps in-between; and we hoped we’d be able hear them a ways off. Still, it was a bit nerve-racking as we rushed around the corner, trying to minimize our time on the curve.
“I hope there aren’t any more curves like that,” GF said as we got to the other side.
“Me too,” I said.
But five minutes later, we came to another curve. And then another, and another. The entire road, it seemed, wrapped around the hills like a snake, constantly turning left and right. Meanwhile, the amount of cars on the road seemed to be steadily increasing.
“I don’t like this,” GF said. “Is there any way off this road?”
“Umm,” I said, “maybe up ahead.” (I had no idea.)
During the stretches of straight roads, I did my best to enjoy the scenery. It was a nice place, with pine trees and farmhouses all around, and the occasional view of the countryside beyond. But the whoosh of a passing cars destroyed any peace to be had; and the sight of every sharp turn ahead increased my anxiety.
There was over an hour of this, the two of us walking on through the brush and bushes by the side of the road, our feet searching for stability amid the roots and rocks, changing sides whenever it seemed more safe, pressing ourselves against the trees whenever a car went past, rushing around curves with our adrenalin racing, GF nervously complaining while I tried to keep my own fears to myself. And then, finally, just as I was at my wit’s end, the hermitage came into view.
“Yes!” GF said, filled with relief.
Gatztelugatxe is an island off the coast of Biscay, connected to the shore by a man-made bridge. Since at least the 10th century, a little religious building has been perched up at the top of it, though it has burnt down and been rebuilt many times, most recently in 1980.
To get there from the road we had to climb down towards the shore. The path was steep, twisting, and rocky. Even though you’re going down hill, it is exhausting because you need to be constantly on guard against falling. At last we got near the bottom, where there was a lookout point where we could get a good view of the island.
It must be one of the most astonishing sights in Spain. The island is a mound of jagged grey rock, covered in slight patches of green. Its splayed form stretches out into the sea, wherein it is battered day and night, on all sides, by the winds and the waves. In the middle of this island, criss-crossing its way up from the bottom to the top, is a staircase, filled with the miniscule forms of people. And crowning the island is the hermitage, a small shack with a dull red roof.
Perhaps this image is so appealing to me because I find in it a symbol of the relationship of humanity to nature. We have carved a staircase into the rock, and erected a place of worship on the summit of the island; and in this way we can be said to have dominated the place. And yet, how feeble our dominance of nature seems when viewed from a distance—just a pile of boards, liable to be blown away by the first strong gust. The relationship is the age-old contest of craft, cleverness, and perseverance against capricious, indifferent power. And I cannot help thinking that, however successful we are now, there will come a day when the hermitage blows down, and there won’t be anyone to build it back up again.
But these gloomy thoughts were soon gone as I huffed and puffed my way up the staircase to the top of the island. You must remember that, by this time, we had walked over an hour next to that road, my heart in my throat all the while; so we were understandably a bit worn out. It felt all the better, then, when we finally reached the top, and could look back towards the land. In the distance, to our right, we could see the beach of Bakio; and to the left, nothing but steep, grey cliffs and green forests. Gigantic rocks stuck out of the ocean, the biggest one almost as big as the island itself. To one side, far off, I could see what looked like an oil drill. Apart from that, no boats, no freighters, no planes broke the endless blue of the sea beyond or the grey of the sky above. It felt like standing at the edge of the world.
We couldn’t go inside the hermitage, nor even peek through a window. This didn’t bother me, however, since judging by the looks of the plain exterior, the interior would be similar. What we could do was ring the bell. A string hung from the bell on the roof to the ground below, and all the visitors were taking turns having a pull (one kid got a bit too enthusiastic, and his parents had to keep him away). I gripped the chord and lightly tugged, and the satisfying clang of a church bell sounded overhead.
Since neither of us had any intention of repeating that dreadful walk by the road, this time I looked up the walking path on my phone. We found the path without any trouble, which made me feel like such an idiot for not using it the first time. It was such a relief! Instead of the twisting, turning road we had a straight path, free of cars, taking us through quiet countryside. We passed through a copse of trees, and then through some fields where cows were grazing, making our way over gently rolling hills, the seaside on our right, until we were finally back in Bakio. The bus soon arrived, and then we were on our way to Bilbao, where we still had one more thing to see.
The Vizcaya Bridge
The train pulled up to Portugalete station, the doors opened, and we got off. Portugalete is one of the towns, ranged along the Bilbao river, that make up the Bilbao metropolitan area. (The name’s resemblance with “Portugal” is apparently only a coincidence.) With a population of about 50,000, and a land area of only 3.21 square kilometers, it is actually the fifth most densely populated area in Spain (or so says Wikipedia).
To me, the place struck me as a pleasant, moderately urbanized, yet more or less tranquil town. Along the riverside there were some large, attractive restaurants, their tables crowding into the streets—though at this hour, too early for dinner in Spain, the chairs were mostly empty. But the surroundings didn’t attract my attention for long, since I could already see my object: the Vizcaya Bridge. (The Spanish call it the Puente Colgante, or “Hanging Bridge.”)
It is a perplexing sight at first. The bridge has the familiar form of a suspension bridge, but the middle section seems to be misplaced: it hangs ludicrously high in the air, with no ramps to get up or down. The more I looked, the more confused I became, for there didn’t seem to be any way you could use the bridge. Then I thought: maybe they removed the ramps and raised the bridge to protect it from the elements. I knew it was historic, so I figured it was no longer in use.
The mystery was partially cleared up when we approached, and I noticed something strange on the water. Wait, it wasn’t on the water, but hovering above it. I looked up, and saw that the thing was hanging from the bridge. So that’s how it worked! The reason the bridge looked so odd was that it transported a shuttle that hung underneath, almost like a puppet on strings. That’s why the bridge was so high up, and there weren’t any ramps to get on.
But it looked a bit dangerous to me. This shuttle was fairly large; it transported about six cars and quite a lot of people. Could that skeletal iron structure above support so much weight? Dreadful fantasies immediately started rushing to my mind. I saw the bridge snapping in the middle, sending iron raining down into the river below, crushing the shuttle and sending everyone inside to a watery grave. Unfortunately, awful visions like this plague me rather frequently. I wonder if it’s the product of a morbid imagination, or just watching too many action movies.
We went into the office and bought our tickets, though I wasn’t sure what the tickets were for. The man explained that there was an elevator to take you up to the top, where you could walk to the other end. He also gave us a little information pamphlet about the bridge. From this, I learned that the bridge is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site, the only monument in the Industrial Heritage category in Spain. I also learned more about the construction and history of the bridge. The Vizcaya Bridge is a transporter bridge, the first of its kind in the world. If you haven’t heard of a transporter bridge before, that is perfectly normal, since this type of bridge is uncommon; according to Wiki, less than two dozen were built, and only 12 still stand today.
The Vizcaya Bridge, finished in 1893, was designed by one of Gustave Eiffel’s disciples, Alberto Palacio; and Eiffel’s influence shows. The bridge is built in the same manner as the Eiffel Tower, with narrow iron beams riveted together to form a kind of skeletal structure; and like the Eiffel Tower, the Vizcaya Bridge is austere and elegant. Palacio originated the idea in response to a common engineering problem: how do you create a bridge that allows people and cars to cross the river, while leaving the river open for shipping vessels? The Vizcaya bridge, then, in both purpose and execution, is a symbol of the Basque Country’s embrace of industry, commerce, and the future—not to mention art.
(I do wonder, though, whether Palacio’s solution was all that efficient. After all, there must be a reason why the design didn’t catch on. The primary problem, it seems to me, is that the amount of cars and people that can cross at any one time is limited by the size of the shuttle and the frequency of its trips. Perhaps the famous Tower Bridge in London—completed almost the same year—solved the problem more satisfactorily, by putting a drawbridge on the lower level and a pedestrian walkway on the upper. But Palacio’s design is beautiful, original, and elegant, so efficiency can go to the devil.)
Finally it was our turn for the elevator. It was an ancient thing, crawling up the bridge at a snail’s pace. Eventually the lift creaked to a halt, and we got out. A narrow wooden walkway, surrounded by the iron structure, extended from one end of the bridge to the other. It’s really amazing how much of the Vizcaya Bridge is just air. You can see right through the thing, and yet it is strong enough to support the weight of a large shuttle carrying six cars.
I experienced this when one of the shuttles came rolling by, right underneath our feet. I could feel the entire bridge shaking, rattling, and shivering, as the electrical buzzing of the engine roared past. Once again, terrible fantasies started flickering through my mind, this time with myself plunging to a ghastly death. But soon the shuttle came to a halt, and I realized that the bridge was solid as stone. What an impressive achievement: The bridge seems to float high up in the air, supported by the slenderest structure; and yet it is sturdy enough to remain operational after more than one hundred years of daily use.
We took some time to admire the view. On one side we could see the bay, and then the ocean beyond. In the dockyard in the distance, I could see dozens of giant cranes standing silently, like petrified dinosaurs, waiting to come back to life. On the other side, we could see the river gradually making its way towards Bilbao; and in the distance, a factory loomed. Really, wherever you turned you could not fail to notice the signs of industry, filling up the entire estuary with their jagged, colossal, metallic forms. Below us, we could see the towns of Portugalete on one side and Getxo on the other, their streets now full. We might have stayed more time up there, but the wind was quite strong and chilly, so we took the elevator down on the other side. Not long after that, we took the shuttle from Getxo across the river, back to Portugalete; and I am happy to report that the ride was quick and smooth.
There is only one thing more I have to report. Before we left, GF had asked some of her students in Madrid where you can buy good pizza, and they told her to go to Telepizza (a popular chain here, comparable to Dominoes). That sounded awful to me, but GF wanted to try it; so, once we got to Portugalete, we decided to go to the nearest Telepizza for dinner. It brings me no joy to tell you that, as I expected, the pizza was horrible, some of the worst pizza I’ve ever had; and GF was of the same opinion. Is this what Spanish people think pizza is supposed to taste like? No wonder they hold Italian food in such low regard!
The next day, we got up early and went to the bus station. And here I must take a moment to warn you that the bus station in Bilbao is not in the city center. We didn’t even bother to check, so we took the train to Bilbao Station, as usual. Then when we finally looked up the bus station, we discovered that we had ridden right past it. Thus we had to pay for another train ride and wait for the next train, so we could backtrack to San Mamés, where the Termibus station can be found.
Even so, the trip went smoothly. We found a bus without trouble, and in a short while we were standing in San Sebastián.
San Sebastián is a city much unlike Bilbao. For one, it is noticeably smaller, with a population of less than 200,000. But more conspicuously, it is not at all a city of industry, commerce, or manufacturing. Rather, it is a place of tourism. The streets are full of foreigners, squeezed into the narrow streets, filling up the parks, covering the beaches with their bodies. The city is also remarkably pretty. As I strolled along the beaches I was reminded of Cádiz; and as I wandered through the streets, Oviedo came to mind. But the strongest and most persistent impression was surprise at the number of tourists. They were all over the place; every restaurant was full, every shop was crowded. The shoreline was an unbroken wall of hotels. I had no idea San Sebastián was so popular.
Some of this probably had to do with the city being, along with Wroclaw in Poland, one of the European Cultural Capitals of 2016. (If you didn’t know, each year a city or two in the European Union gets designated a European Cultural Capital, which means it will host several Europe-oriented events during the year.) This may have attracted even more tourists than usual. Even so, it is clear that San Sebastián is a major tourist destination, because its whole economy is oriented around visitors. This is fitting, for the city is undeniably charming. Its location is a good one, too, being only 12 miles from the French border, and northerly enough so that the temperature is nearly perfect in summer.
We were hungry when we arrived, so our first order of business was food. Our Airbnb host recommended a restaurant in the center. The restaurant was the Bar Aitona, and it was excellent. We ordered the steak and the octopus. Both were served on a huge bed of fries, both were amply portioned, both were well seasoned, and both were scrumptious. Added to that, the prices were very reasonable. We left very full, and very satisfied. I recommend it with great enthusiasm.
When we were back on the street, we decided to start exploring the city. This inevitably led us to Monte Urgull, the most conspicuous landmark in San Sebastián. Urgull is a hill that overlooks the bay. Nowadays, it is covered in trees, and is basically a park; but in the past it formed as a military fortification, since its high elevation at the bay’s edge made it well suited for defense. And these fortifications were not just for show; they were used in several important battles. Probably the most significant of these was the Siege of San Sebastián, in which the British forces, led by Wellington, ousted Napoleon’s troops in the Peninsular Wars. Of course, I didn’t know any of this at the time, but was instead attracted by the gigantic statue of Jesus—12 meters, or almost 40 feet tall—that looms over the hill.
We began walking up, and quickly found that it is a delightful place. Old walls, broken battlements, obsolete canons, and other aging fortifications still stand, some in ruins, some overgrown; and for me there is something remarkably romantic about the sight of weeds and trees reclaiming the abandoned dwellings of past times. The hill is divided into several levels, and as you ascend you get a progressively better view of the city. From the top, the whole beach is spread before you, with its azure water, crowded beaches, and the rolling green hills in the distance. We got to the top, where we could stare up at the towering figure of Jesus, and then descended on the other side of the hill.
This part of was a wooded area. But as we climbed down a rocky path, something caught our eye. Right below a cliff, surrounded by roots and trees, was the old memorial erected by the British army after the conquest of San Sebastián. A broken and discolored plaque, bearing the royal insignias of England and Spain, bore a message in both English and Spanish honoring the fallen soldiers. Further on, we noticed another plaque, this one on the side of a rock face, honoring the unknown soldiers lost in the campaign. I know these must be well known, but at the time, with only the two of us, it felt like coming upon an archaeological treasure. This illusion was quickly dispelled, since at the bottom of the hill we encountered a map showing where all the different war memorials, graves, and mausoleums could be found on the hill. In any case, it’s a lovely area, both for its history and its views.
The rest of our day was rather uneventful. We strolled around San Sebastián, enjoying the ocean, the river, the crowded city center. But we did not really visit anything in particular, since we couldn’t find anything to visit. It seems that San Sebastián is a lovely place if you want to eat and go to the beach, but it does not have much in the way of cultural tourism, which is mostly what I’m after. In any case, it was late. We had arrived at around noon, and by now the sun was setting. So we walked along the river to our apartment, and the next morning we said farewell to the Basque Country. But I hope to return, the sooner the better.