grape face.

3 Jan

[Guest post by my mom, Valerie J. Nelson]

With any luck, our most dangerous encounter of this trip, and perhaps this year, is already behind us. We rang in the New Year at Sol, a plaza in the center of Madrid and because we’re Americans and because we’re exceedingly prompt, we got there a couple of hours early after pausing at an Irish bar so overwhelmed with customers that they wouldn’t slow down to serve mixed drinks. (Thanks, G, for buying me the second beer I’ve ever downed. Living large in Madrid.) We didn’t really realize how large the crowd had grown, and as the clock struck midnight, we were poised to down our dozen grapes with seeds along with everybody else but were still struggling with the concept as we started making our way to the edge of the sea of people. A jabbering Spanish sea that ended up pushing and pulling us this way and that. I wouldn’t say it was 10 minutes of terror, but almost. As G was still trying to consume her grapes, she was literally moving forward without touching the ground and feeling none too well, causing one man to call her, in Spanish, “grape face.”  
New Year’s Day we made our way to Bilbao, about a five hour’s bus ride to the north. Bus was upscale as was the bus stop, shiny new with candy promoted by “The Simpsons” (popular here, G says) and a display of pearl jewelry behind the counter. We sped by small towns where relatively modern subdivisions share the same space as stone churches that are hundreds of years old. Once in Bilbao, we stumbled around until we found our hotel smack in the middle of the old quarter of town, with its cobblestone streets and a Christmas market with two violin-makers as the star attraction. (The gift-giving part of Christmas happens here on Jan. 6, Three King’s Day.)
The river that runs through Bilbao pumps up the charm, as do its many bridges, ranging from modern to classic in style. The guidebooks say the main/only reason to go there is the Guggenheim, the Frank Gehry-designed behemoth that makes the Disney Hall look like a bit of an afterthought. The art at the Guggenheim didn’t wow but I got to see a Vermeer up close & the outsized art that surrounds the building is impressive and surreal. But what really impressed was the prix fixe lunch we had at the museum restaurant, which has a Michelin star. Food — pumpkin soup appetizer, roasted eggplant, glazed turkey with passion fruit, tomato stuffed with baby squid — doesn’t get much better than this. Or as G says, “It was bomb.” In the evening, we went on a “pintxo crawl,” “pintxto” being the Basque version of tapas. I am learning that Spanish food is basically bread-based.  
Today, we headed east to San Sebastian on the coast near France. Much more charming than Bilbao, which felt like a small-scale big city, while San Sebastian has the making of a pretty great resort town, if it weren’t 6 degrees celsius out. Once again, a river runs through the town (sensing a theme here) but it’s on the coast. G compared it to Avalon in Catalina, except this town’s for real.


One Response to “grape face.”

  1. Steve January 3, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    Up to two beers! Careful now.

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