LOS DOS HERMANOS GORDOS DO EL NORTE : DAY ONE - LEAVING LONDON
My brother, Robin, has his own personal black cloud that clings to him like a timeshare sales man to a pensioner in the Algarve. This is not a black cloud of depression caused by a life not well lived but a real live meteorological cloud of storms, rain and unseasonable bad weather that follows him around like Pigpen's dust cloud. So, as our trip to Spain hove in to view, it was no surprise to me that it dragged with it downpours of rain. Rain that had, up until it seemed, the very hour we left our flat, not troubled Northern Spain for six months. I suppose, given Robin's ill luck in these things, I should be grateful that Bilbao did not lose all its firstborn to a plague nor Santander suffer a shock arrival of millions of locusts. As it was, the north of Spain was about to experience only two creatures in a feeding frenzy and I suspect they now think that was quite enough.
Day One - Leaving London Our plane was not due to leave Heathrow until after 5pm which allowed us both to go to the gym, hone our bodies to, er chiselled perfection for the trials to come and leave home at an unusually civilised time.
Our cab picked us up at 1.30pm and, by 2.30pm we had reached Paddington, enjoyed our 15 minute train journey on The Heathrow Express and breezed through check in and security to find the business lounge where we availed ourselves of the free nuts, some Fino and innumerable beers all the while congratulating ourselves on a job well done. But "stop it right there fat boys" the gods of travel hollered as we grinned smugly at each other through ever thicker beer goggles. Suddenly, the alarm sounded and we were all instructed to leave the departure lounge. We slunk out amongst the great unwashed and their pitiful "we have to buy our own beer" squalor and hunkered down in a corridor for about 20 minutes before finally being allowed back to our safe haven where our drinks remained untouched. We never found out quite what it was. It could have been the Bin Laden's on holiday, a chip pan fire in Burger King or a re-enactment of The Marie Celeste. No bugger bothered to tell us.
A short time later, it was time for us to head, or stagger to the gate and our awaiting Iberia/BA code share.
Iberia has got to be one of the most grim airlines on earth. Liveried in finest puke colour and with service that belies the spirit of the country for which it is the flag bearer, the best one can say is that it gets you there. Even, I suspect, Ivan Denisovich would not have to pay EU4.00 for a .25cl bottle of mineral water. But, as I said, it got us there and we arrived a little after 8.30pm at Bilbao's striking airport and headed into town for our first night.
It was dark when we arrived and we did not see much of the town at all as our taxi driver hurtled in to the old town and the first hotel of our stay, the basic but good value Sirimiri (the name, I am told refers to the mist that often clouds the town). Dumping our bags, we headed straight out to hit the bars in the Casco Viejo.
We tried a number of bars before supper and discovered that what we call a cana in Madrid was double the size here and the small almost 1/5 of a pint amounts that we wanted were called Zorito (pronounced thorito). Whatever they were called, we had a fair few of them along with some Jamon iberico (machine sliced ) some calamari in their own ink and some chipirones and then pondered on supper. [Ed's note:no pictures because someone forgot to take their camera out of their bag]
What more could one ask of Euskadi than its predilection for hacking animals up into unfeasibly large chunks and grilling them? As we wandered the streets of the old town, we saw Asador Arriga. It had large cuts of beef displayed in the window and a suitably fat man inside grilling them. That was enough for us and we tottered inside. We were slightly dismayed to find that, inside the restaurant, two stag/hen parties were in full flight and the only seat was right next to them. However, unlike their British equivalents which seem to be entirely based on the premise of how far one can projectile vomit, these groups were very restrained and more intent on eating their steaks than breaking into fights.
Service was, as was true of the rest of the trip (bar Burgos, but more of that later) amiably gruff but efficient and, by the time we left, we had chomped our way through some morcilla, chorizo, tiny sweet chuletillas de cordero, 1kg of chuleton de buey and some perfunctory postres all washed down with a reasonably priced Rioja whose name entirely escapes me. A very good way to end a long and tiring day.