Sunday, August 22, 2010


Yesterday, Michelle and I ventured to downtown Bilbao for the annual weeklong festival of Aste Nagusia. It’s pretty much a festival celebrating the Basque culture, the city of Bilbao and the end of summer. They close down parts of the city and pretty much party all night long.

Michelle and I left the apartment at around 6:30pm to take el metro (subway) downtown. It was very crowded getting out of the subway and we walked through the massive crowd of people, just enjoying the festive atmosphere.

We first stopped at a bridge, which was next to Bilbao’s town hall. There was a guy there who was telling what appeared to be a riveting story as two other people tied him up. We thought he was going to try to escape but he kept on talking and talking and, since we couldn’t understand what he was saying (it was very loud and we were away from the speakers), we left to go see other things.

We walked a little bit further down the bridge when we came across a tent set up on the other side that displayed flags of some “oppressed nations”: the Basque Country, Catalonia (the region where I’m going to be studying), Scotland, Ireland and Palestine. It was interesting to see this because it seems like some of the Basque people feel a special connection to other “politically oppressed” regions (more about this is a separate post).

We then walked down el Casco Viejo, which is the older part of the city. This is what I think of when I think of Spain: the narrow streets, the stone sidewalks and the grand plazas. We stopped at la Plaza Nueva, and watched a pretty cool band play. After that, we went back out where most of the people were gathered and we stopped to watch a group of guys break dance.

Then, we saw the mascot of Aste Nagusia, Marijaia. She is one of the two symbols of the city, the other one being el puppy (the giant dog made out of flowers in front of the Guggenheim). Marijaia leads a little parade around the festival, complete with a marching band (!). At different points she stops and her song comes on while people begin to sing and dance with their hands in the air. It was pretty neat to see it, as this is one of the many traditions of Bilbao. A picture of what she looks like is above this post (courtesy of google images)

After Marijaia left, we strolled down by the river, eating ice cream on the way. We stopped by the Guggenheim museum for a bit before we continued our stroll. At about 11:30 the fireworks started and they were absolutely magnificence. It’s funny, the only time I got to see fireworks this summer was in Spain at a local festival. After the grand finale we boarded el metro and went home for the night.

Up next for this week: A stroll down the coast of the Bay of Biscay, The Guggenheim Museum, A Basque History Museum, and going back to Aste Nagusia to see an Irish band that Michelle likes.

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