The Unexpected in Bilbao


Initially when Lauren and I planned our trip I purchased my ticket to Bilbao because it was only a one hour bus ride from her apartment in Vitoria-Gasteiz, whereas Madrid was a four hour ride. My intention for my travels to Spain were to visit Lauren and so I was open to go where ever she suggested. Honestly I wasn’t familiar with Basque Spain, including Bilbao, but once I knew that’s were I would be landing my interest to learn more about the city peaked. When I told an artist friend that I was going to Bilbao he lit up and said he would fly to Bilbao JUST to see the Guggenheim, and when I saw photos of the art museum I knew that it was a must see for me. Originally we were to stay one night in Bilbao, spend an hour or two at the Guggenheim, and then head off to other destinations. But Bilbao turned out to be a central location for day trips to Portugalete and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe so our one night stay turned into four.


The Guggenheim at dusk.

We explored the Guggenheim our second day in Bilbao and because it captivated us so much more than we anticpated we spent half a day there. That evening on our way to Casco Viejo for pinxtos we could hear loud drumming as we passed through downtown.  When we approached Plaza Moyua crowds of people lined the streets and the drums boomed at a deafening roar.


Processional participants carried crosses, banners, drums, trumpets and lights.

We squeezed through the mob to see what was going one and a procession of people   wearing hoods and long robes, while beating drums, came into view.

At first the scene was somewhat eerie because the hooded participants resembled what we know as the KKK in the states (Their clothes are meant to depict the people from Nazareth).

It was one of those visceral experiences where I felt transported to another time; the masses of people, the repeated heavy beating of the drums and the hooded figures in the dark passing by.  I was definitely NOT in California, I thought as Lauren reminded me that it was part of the Semana Santa (Easter week) celebration.


Young children in beautiful outfits. Many people were barefoot

These processions were happening in cities all over Spain.  I felt an appreciation for the ancient tradition and sensed the pride in the faces of the onlookers.  Sometimes the unexpected experiences can be the most memorable.


Religious figures on wooden platforms were carried by a dozen Costaleros.  They practice carrying the platforms for weeks prior to the celebration.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is celebrated in Spain much more than other European countries.  Street processions are organized in most Spanish towns in the evenings between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.


One thought on “The Unexpected in Bilbao

  1. So grateful I was able to share a bit of Basque Spain with you and all of our luck with the unexpected! We had so many wonderful moments, in part because you were open to the unexpected and going with the flow! You have no idea how happy I was and am that you were so willing to go with the flow and test your comfort zones! I know you pushed past a lot and it wasn’t easy but in the end you were rewarded! Great reflection and photos!

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