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Road Trip – Porto To Barcelona To the Basque Region of Northern Spain – Part 2

Continued from Part 1! Barcelona

Barcelona did not disappoint in any way. It’s a much more intimate city than Madrid and very walkable. We put on over 10 miles in one day!

Of course the highlight was the work of Gaudi.

The Sagrada Familia facade that you currently enter through is almost too much to look at in one photo so I’ve added some closeups. When the Basiciala is finished (they hope by 2028, it was supposed to be done in 2026 100 years after Gaudi’s death but because of covid that will not happen), the main entrance will be to the left. They will need to tear down an apartment building to finish it. People that live there are protesting but documents were signed when that building was built that eventually it would have to be torn down. The people that lived in the building and signed the paper beleived the basiciala would never be finished.

I read that a lot of people that go to The Sagrada Familia never go inside – big mistake – it’s amazing.

As you move around the exterior, well the interior too for that matter, the style changes, as was Gaudi’s plan.

We also visited Casa Milà (La Pedrera), another Gaudi creation built for a wealthy family.

The chimneys, staircase exits, and fans, on the roof were the inspiration for the look of some of George Luca’s characters in Starwars. This is a wonderful place to visit. There is a gift shop on the first floor, the current owners live on the second floor, other floors contain apartments – you can visit one – go up on the roof where you can see across the city and there is also a museum in the attic.

And lastly Park Güell I’ve seen many pictures through the years but guess I never read much about it. It was a failed realestate venture. It was supposed to be a gated community for some very wealthy people. Gaudi built the infrastructure but it was too far out of the city and way up on a hill so only 3 houses were ever built there. It then became a park.

The park is named after Eusebi Güell, the rich entrepreneur, who commissioned Gaudi to build the luxury residential complex. When the project was abandoned, Gaudí redesigned it as a park. Created between 1900 and 1914, Park Guell has been open to the public since 1923. There are viaducts to connect different levels, A huge long bench with mosaic work, and a covered area that was going to be a market.

In 1984, it was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The park was made following the architectural style that made Gaudi famous: Catalan Modernism.

Other things I enjoyed around the city was the Gothic Quarter and seeing where the 1992 Olympics were held. We weren’t there long enough to do everything – it was just a taste to see if I want to go back. And I do. There is the Picasso Museum, Miro Museum, buildings from the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition, lots and lots of great shopping, the Telefèric de Montjuïc cable car, and lots more.

Here are some random shots around the city.

Since I grew up not far from Toledo, Ohio I could not pass up visiting Toledo, Spain. Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 .


The view of the walled city of Toledo is pretty impressive.

The highlight of the city to me was this unusual window in the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo. I have never seen anything like it. The rest of the Catedral was pretty spectacular as well. Toledo is also where marzipan comes from.

There was discussion about how Jews, Muslims, and Christians all got along in Toledo. We should take a lesson from them.

El Greco spent much of his life in Toledo.

Basque Country of Spain

I always thought Spain was Spain but the Basque Country is one of Europe’s oldest and strongest cultures. It is located in northern Spain, on the Bay of Biscay at the western end of the Pyrenees, straddling the frontier between southern France and Spain. Their culture and origins are distinctive from that of the rest of Spain.

What a surprise this region of Spain was! For a country smaller than the state of Texas the Country of Spain is more diverse than I ever expected.

Our trip to that region was a post trip add on, I really had no expectations of this part of the trip since I never realized that the region would be so different.


This region has been isolated from the outside world creating its own language with no known relation to any other language in the world, there is no C in their alphabet, the language has lots of r’s and k’s and even lots of people that grew up there don’t know how to speak it. People call it Basque but it’s real name is Euskera. During Franco the people could not speak the language, read it, write it, teach it, because he wanted them just to be Spanish, not Basque. So for several generations it was slowly disappearing. Now they teach it in the schools as the main language with Spanish, French, and English as secondary. Another fallout from Franco’s rules for the region is that an organization was formed that wanted the region to become its own country. They caused a lot of violence and deaths through the years. Because of the 40 or so years of his rule the Basque region now keeps all its own tax money, none is sent to the government of Spain, as kind of a payback for the years of oppression.

The area is mountainous and gets much more rain fall than the rest of the country and is the richest region in all of Spain. There are lots of farms, lots of rain, and lots of manufacturing.

Pamploma is one place they do the running of the bulls, where Hemmingway wrote The Sun Also Rises. We walked the path that the running takes place. Pamploma is also a stop on the The Camino de Santiago from Pamplona to Logroño is the second section of the Camino Frances , starting from the city of Pamplona (“Iruña” in the Euskera language).

We asked our guide how many people get hurt each year during the running of the bulls – hundreds – how many people die – it happens occasionally and is usually a visitor because they don’t realize how dangerous it is.

This photo is from the cities website. People rent their balconies for the occasion and it pays their rent for the year!

City Hall is a beautiful structure, especially the top of it.

Pamplona was where we were first introduced to Pintxo and Txakoli. Pintxo I wrote about earlier, small bites poked with a skewer, and Txakoli a sparkling cider drink. Pxakoli is only availble in the Basque Country.

The Hotel Hemmingway wrote and drank in.


I won’t go into ancient history but will say that it became a steel town, due to the iron ore mines surrounding the city, with major pollution following. We saw strip mine after strip mine as we drove through the mostly tree covered mountains on our way here. It was also a major port and ship building area.

And food wise, in the rest of Spain and Portugal they have tapas, in the Basque Country they have pintxo like I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog post.

At some point the steel industry relocated and at one point unemployment was at 60 percent. The people that had come to work in the steel industry had built slums going up the mountains that surround the city. The city center is the only part that is build on flat land. So the new part is very hilly. In order to turn the city around  The Basque government approached the Guggenheim Foundation in 1991 with the idea of setting a new Guggenheim museum in Bilbao’s then-decrepit port area. This was to be the focal point of their redevelopment plans to rejuvenate and modernise the old industrial town. It’s a fabulous building. The outside is titanium and the sculpture on the right is by Jeff Koons, a dog covered with flowers.

Inside the art is giant, and their collection consists of only 600 pieces.

Suddenly other architects wanted to leave their mark on city.  Over the past twenty years the city has created a whole new identity.  It is a beautiful mix of the old and the new.  In 2010, Bilbo received the World City Prize, “considered the Nobel Prize for urbanism”.  The city’s mayor received the World Mayor Prize just two years later.  Bilbao was chosen the Best European City 2018 by the Academy of Urbanism.

The museum has also inspired the term ‘the Guggenheim effect’ to describe the socio-economic impact landmark architecture can have on the overall success of a city. During the first three years of opening, the museum welcomed almost 4 million visitors which generated around $500 million in economic activity (hotel, restaurants, shopping, local jobs to support increased tourists and payment of taxes among other items). Now the museum attracts about 1 million visitors every year.

And the city is enjoying full employment today, mostly in service industries. And the redevelopment continues.

It’s an exciting city. On a Thursday night in early June the pedestrian streets were packed. The metro, bus and tram systems have reduced the need for cars on the streets. People here like in the rest of Spain and most of Europe don’t think about eating before 8 pm. In fact even in the big cities stores close between 2 and 5 pm and most restaurants don’t reopen until 8. The old part of Bilbao is very small and any vestiages of ancient buildings are pretty much gone but it’s full of shops and restaurants that the locals as well as tourists enjoy. In the old town the buildings are generally from the 1800s. Life is very lively on the streets!

Here, like all over Spain, the is a lot of public art, both old and contemporary.

Paintings on the ceiling of a portico across from the old market.

On our last day we visited San Sebastian.

San Sebastian.

It is very mountainous between Bilbao and San Sebastian.

We didn’t spend a lot of time there but I was glad I went. It’s only 15 miles from the French border so a lot of French come but surprisingly it’s Americans that make up most of their overnight visits. We were lucky to see the beginning of one wedding and see girls dressed in traditional costumes, and the end of a second one that had traditional drummers and black powder explosives!

Then just around the corner we saw men with big paper mache heads and others on stilts with children following, it was very festive. San Sebastian also has a huge, beautiful beach and marina area.

It turns out that in January they have the San Sebastian Festival which is where over 15,000 people come together, forming 100 bands, and start a 24-hour drumming session known as the Tamborrada, they have been doing it since 1836. So some of the drummers performed for us after the second wedding.

The photos are not brighter in San Sebastian because the sun seldom shines! The good news of that is that is is a cool place for people to get away from the heat in the rest of the country.

The Basque country gets more rain than the rest of Spain so it is very green, the weather is much like it is in Seattle.

This photo was taken at 415 am as we were leaving for the airport. Bars that don’t open until 8 pm can stay open until 6 am. Every night there was a crowd outside our hotel partying. Fornutately we had good insulation so did not hear them.

It was a fabulous trip – going and coming were a challange but we survived. Where to next? Maybe Boston, maybe nowhere until I go to Maine in August for 2 weeks. For now I need a rest from my vacation!

9 thoughts on “Road Trip – Porto To Barcelona To the Basque Region of Northern Spain – Part 2

  1. Now I wish I had added the Basque Country extension…guess I will just have to return!
    Again, a great blog about a fantastic trip.

    1. Palplona could have been skipped but Balbao was great and the countryside between there and San Sebastian, so different from the rest of the country. So green. I couldn’t get many good photos out of the bus but the scenery was beautiful. It’s always good to have a reason to go back! I think there was a lot more to Porto than we saw. Need to return there. There weren’t many places I didn’t love!

  2. This looks like a fabulous vacation. I’m going to add Spain to my places to go wish list, it’s pretty long!

    1. I know what you mean Elise. It was so different than I expected. I guess I didn’t really know what to expect. Some cities we really didn’t have enough time in. Hard to pick my favorites. Porto, Seville, Barcelona, Balbao, Lisbon. I’m mostly interested in Europe so my list is getting shorter. I think next year I’m going to try a river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam and somehow get some time in Prague as an extension or something. Then I want to get back to Paris. And oh theres………!!!

  3. Your photos are amazing. Your eye for art is well developed.

    1. Thank you Larry! I enjoyed your blog as well. It looks like we’ve been to many of the same places. It was a great trip but glad I’m not flying overseas again until next year! 3 cancelled flights on way home, we were up for almost 24 hours, but made it.

  4. Glorious. Only been in Barcelona once for a day before a European cruise. I think I was one of those people who did not go into the cathedral!? Although I remember climbing to the top of one of the spires. Loved all things Gaudi

    1. Me too on Gaudi, the interior of the cathedral is breathtaking!

  5. …. And….can you go to Egypt on one of those Viking Nile cruises? Take lots of pictures and let me know if it was worth it? 🤣😂🤣😂 I want to go but Susan is hesitant. 🤔

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