Monthly Archives: May 2010

Basque Ferrerías, Ironworks of the Middle Ages

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el pobalOne of the main characteristics of the Basque soil is (well, it was) its rich content in high quality iron. Up to the XVI century, there were around 300 foundries! producing iron for all of Europe. Nowadays, iron still plays an important role in our present industrial activity (unfortunately, not as before…). At the very beginning, the foundries were located on top of the mountains and they used the wind as the main force to produce iron, using coal as their source of heat (in a very anti-economical way). Soon they found out that it made more sense to have the ironworks close to a water stream, and so “modern” foundries were established in many Basque towns.mirandaola

I´ve been to two of these foundries, both recently restored and open to the public . You can visit them (visits are also available in English) in order to watch “live” how iron was formerly obtained. The historical reconstruction is very well performed and what you see is probably very close to what it really was, they take great pride in transforming iron “the old way”. One of them is near Bilbao, in Muskiz (Bizkaia), Ferrería El Pobal, www.elpobal.com (this link will redirect you to another page available in English)- press here for a 4´youtube video of a visitor-. You can also see how they got flour from wheat with a water mill. Entrance tickets are cheap and very interesting, kids find it really amusing.

mirandaola2The other one is located in Legazpi, Gipuzkoa, where there formerly were 7 foundries. This one is Ferrería Mirandaolaon this link (not the best of webs, but at least it´s in English), located in the middle of a beautiful park where you can enjoy the incredible and beautiful landscape surrounding it. There are restaurants nearby where you can have a good meal after the visit, and even get all the way to Azpeitia, to the Museo del Ferrocarril (http://www.nekatur.net/museo-vasco-del-ferrocarril-de-azpeitia), where you can take a ride for half an hour on a real XIX century train powered by coal, apart from an interesting collection of old engines, trams,  buses, fire trucks, the workshop, etc…

Some Places I Like In Bilbao You May Also Like

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There´s always an area in every city in the world that is widely visited by tourism, forgetting about other places that may be even more interesting. Bilbao is not like San Sebastian, which offers an unparalleled natural beauty as well as a better known gastronomy. The “Guggenheim effect” has brought tourists to this formerly ignored city, but the vast majority just stay a night or two and then leave, missing some of the charmest spots in town.

What follows is a quick very short list of some of the places I like in Bilbao (ordered as they come to my mind), that you normally will not visit as a tourist (and at very fair prices):

1) Bar EME, www.baremebilbao.com,  absolutely the best sandwiches in the whole world (and I´m not exaggerating), locals love this place, you can have them either at the bar or to take away, it´s amazing how many hundreds of them they sell every day. Made with a special bread and a secret sauce, they are a treat. Quality remains untouched over the years. At 2,20 euros each, a bargain!!

porron2) La Tabernilla de Pozas, in Licenciado Poza street (known as “Pozas”, the most popular street for having some drinks before the soccer matches), you´d never enter here because it doesn´t even have a sign outside. There are no bars like this anymore. Wine coming from wooden barrels behind the bar, drunk in “porrón”,  it´s popular to have (non-peeled) peanuts and wonderful tuna sandwiches (real ones with huge chunks of fish and wonderful crusty bread), an ageless counter, unaltered premises for ages,…, and the legend says that the two brothers behind the counter haven´t talked to each other for years..

3) Melilla y Fez, in Iturribide street (Old Town), just entering the street on your left hand side, a huge variety of potato omelette (Spanish omelettes) served in big portions at very good prices. Also, “pinchos morunos” (real kebabs) and a lively local atmosphere.pinchos morunos

4) Bar Estoril, in Plaza Campuzano (downtown), the best long drinks in your life, together with wonderful french omelette pintxos. Can´t miss it screw driver made with real orange juice and the gin & tonic.

5) Bar Rio Oja, in El Perro street, the best cazuelitas (tapas), Old Town (Casco Viejo), homemade cuisine at popular prices.

6) Azak restaurant, in Pablo Alzola st, in the Basurto district, you can have selection of Iberic specialties and cheese for as less as 14 euros…and so big you´ll need to have another bottle of their wide (and cheap) wine list. A rarity in this district. Huge selection of meals, appetizers and beers.rio oja

7) Taberna Taurina, in Ledesma street (center), small but authentic with dozens of pictures of bulls and bullfighters.

8) Mina restaurant, a small restaurant in the heart of the Old Town, facing the Ribera Market. A bit pricey, but worth every cent spent at it. The chef Álvaro Garrido deserves a Michelin star, at least. Menu changes weekly, always surprising, always delicious.

9) Maestro García Rivero street, in the very center of town, full of bars where  you can have a “zurito” (small beer) or a glass of wine together with some pintxos in any of its several bars. Lively outdoor atmosphere, the place to meet to start the night for many locals.

In your next visit to Bilbao, try to visit any of the places mentioned above. You´ll get a true feeling of what this city is about.