Arrived in Bilbao August 20th to discover the hotel I had booked “close to the bus station” was not close to the bus station in Bilbao. The taxi driver’s face spoke volumes. He’d asked me to sit next to him in his car as he checked his phone for the name of the hotel I had given him.
Booking.com, through whom I had made the reservation, clearly had “expanded the search” to the hotel I had booked, which the taxi driver told me was a 9-hour drive by car from the Bilbao airport. Clearly not my intention for this pre-paid room.
I was dazed. I walked back into terminal to the information desk. “Perhaps, he’d been mistaken,” I thought of the taxi driver. There was no airport wifi.
The young woman at the information desk was kind, sympathetic, and yet confirmed my hotel was not in Bilbao. She showed me a map of the downtown area near the bus station, and circled a good hostel I could check out once there. Then, she told me how to get an airport bus from the airport to the bus station in the city. And that would only cost 1.45 euro — about $1.50.
I kicked myself a bit on the ride into Bilbao. But realized there were more expensive mistakes. This one cost me $100. There was absolutely nothing I could do. I decided that once I reached the bus station, I would check on my bus for the next day to confirm that booking.
At the station, I went to a counter and the elderly man, with glasses and mustache, spoke English but said “We do not go to Irun!! You need Alsa!” That was another bus line. Then I realized the names of different bus lines stood over each stand. So I stood in line practicing some Spanish beginning with “Please, do you speak English?”
I noticed the woman who would be helping me was named Ana, the same pronunciation but different spelling of our oldest daughter’s name. I considered this a hopeful omen. She was middle aged, with a round, pale, beautiful face, her silky black hair pulled into a bun, and her glasses perched on her head.
I greeted her in Spanish and asked my well-rehearsed question. Ana was not having the best day and had not learned the dialogue I had so instead of responding, “No, Señor. No hablo ingles.” She just abruptly said, with an offended tone, “No!”
So I offered my second Spanish sentence about my need to confirm my reservation.
I handed her my phone where thanks be to God I had put the booking number information. At first she handed the phone back saying she didn’t see anything but I realized the screen had shifted, returned it to her. I was so hopeful.
She asked for my passport, the need for which I caught, like a catcher the pitcher’s throw, as the words flew past me. In the end with my limited abilities we made it through. Thankfully I had just learned the number 40 so when she asked if my bus left at 840 I caught that too. So I thanked her profusely and departed with my printed bus ticket for the next morning.
I went to the Pilpil hostel and there the young woman behind the desk spoke limited English. She told me they were full. She said, “All the hotels and hostels in the city are full because of the festival,” and my heart sank. She said: “If you want a room you need to book ahead.”
I told her I had booked a room but unfortunately it was in the wrong city.
I asked for options. She said there were none, at first. What happened next reminded me of the woman in the biblical Jars of Oil story who when asked what she had in her house and has said to Elisha the Prophet “Your servant has nothing at all,” only to then recall the oil, saying “only a little jar of oil.” For this woman, having said, “There are no options,” remembered one, and said, “Well there is one place to try.” She directed me to a hotel literally a few blocks away. It was called the Estada Hotel. I didn’t really want to know why this one place of all in the city might have a room.
I arrived there with little hope but duly following my feet. The blond slender 60-ish woman behind the desk spoke no English, so I explained my need for a room and thankfully she had one room left. It would cost 70€.
She gave me the key and I went up to the room. It was the size of a closet, but had a bath in the room, and was clean. I thought I’d shower but there’s no cold water. The hot was sizzling. So I decided to run a bath and then got cold to work on the sink (2 ft from bathtub) and tossed cold water to the water in the tub with the glass they had that was about 1/2c in size. I tossed lots and lots of cold water laughing the whole while, and finally got it to a temperature I could tolerate.
I had not eaten since breakfast, so headed out, at 8 pm hoping to find something available. At that point nothing was open, They were still closed for siesta. It was a strange sight to see all the shops along the street shut up, as if for night, with great metal barriers pulled down in font of them.
At 830 I spotted a Chinese place with an “OPEN” sign. I entered this fancy place, cloth table cloths and napkins, and elegant wall paper to find all the staff eating their meal in the back room, and no one but me yet in the restaurant. The Chinese man, who came out from the back room to welcome me, spoke only Spanish. 😳 Well he also spoke Chinese but I’m not so good at that!! Again practicing a new language we communicated about the meal and true to form he thought I was from Germany!! As our oldest daughter, Anna, who is fluent in Spanish tells me, I speak Spanish like a German. The 3-course meal and beer was perfect, large and cost just 10€!!!
I went back to my room. On the way found a grocery store and stopped to buy fruit and veggies and meat for breakfast.
Then, the door to my room locked, I went to sleep.
All kinds of street noises, and noises from the rooms around me mostly of people watching tv. At one or two in the morning the door handle of my room jiggled and someone tried a key in the lock on the door. The voice was muffled, frustrated, and slurred on the other side. He tried a few times and then went of to try another door, perhaps his room this time.I wondered, “Perhaps this is why they still had a room here!”
Other than my late night visitor, I slept well and awoke early. Got to the bus station at 730 after eating my breakfast. I found stall 16 which is what my ticket said. I sat there for some time. A bus had been sitting there loading but it didn’t say Irun on the front of it. I kept expecting it to leave so my bus could arrive. Finally at 835 I went up to the driver asking if this bus was headed to Irun. “Irun?” He replied. I showed him my ticket and he said “That is your seat number on your bus. It leaves from stall 4,5 or 7. Not stall 16.”
I could have sat there and missed my bus!!! I got into the proper line and got my bus.
Travel is filled with mishaps and adventures like everyday life. Sometimes these feel more exaggerated when alone and far away. This first day in Spain was marked by rescue. Again and again the gift of God’s provision led the way.