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My Erasmus Experience in Bilbao


Before anything else, I want to clear something up. I wasn't in Bilbao for my Erasmus year. I'm from Bilbao, but it seemed necessary for me to write this from the inside, as a student, for people who have any doubts about whether it's worth it or not to come here for their Erasmus or whatever type of university exchange it is. So, read this, so you can squash any of those doubts and start to think about visiting the city.

My Erasmus Experience in Bilbao

What is the student lifestyle like in Bilbao?

The student lifestyle in Bilbao is quite different. So, before you go, you can't go with the idea that Bilbao is a city designed for and by students, such as Salamanca or Granada in Spain or Coimbra in Portugal. Just to give an example or two. From Monday to Wednesday, there's not much going on when it comes to the student atmosphere I referred to. However there is some sort of atmosphere in terms of going out to have a few beers or even a night out. In turn, after Thursday the city is inundated with students. They go out in both the old town and in the centre of Bilbao. And you can't forget the other party and nighttime leisure zones. And yes, there is definitely more of an atmosphere.

And in terms of the other types of atmosphere that I'm referring to, such as cultural activities or things like that, there's always some sort of offer and something to do.

The problem with Bilbao is that the university areas (Campus UPV Leioa, Sarriko and Deusto) are very far away. This makes it very difficult for students to meet up in the same place and create that type of atmosphere. But anyway, the environment that Bilbao has it one of the best that I've been to.

My Erasmus Experience in Bilbao

Would you recommend the city and the University of Bilbao to other students?

Yes, of course I would recommend it. Without a shadow of a doubt.

Bilbao offers an endless number of things to do and visit. From visiting museums, passing by various different sports events or going to dreamlike places with incredible views.

And now, I'll leave a list of places and things to do in Bilbao:

If you like sports, Bilbao offers a wide range of things to do or see. These depends on the time that you want to do them or how active you are, of course.

- El Athletic and San Mames:

If Bilbao is known for anything in Spain and the wider world, it's for its football team, which is the sport of kings in Bilbao. The Athletic Club is the most important team in Bilbao. It was founded in 1898 and along with Real Madrid Football Club and Barcelona Football Club, it's the only football team that has only competed in the Spanish First Division since its creation in 1928. But Athletic isn't like the rest of the teams because of its unique philosophy (which only players born in the Basque Country or raised to support the football teams from the same place play with), which makes people from Bilbao have a special affection for their team. You could even say that Athletic is a religion in Bilbao. Whenever the team plays an important game, like the final of a competition, Bilbao decks itself out in their red and white flags. It's a magical spectacle.

So, if you are the same as the majority of people from Bilbao who have been bitten by the football bug, or you would simply like to see an intensely animated match, I recommend that you go to San Mames to see a game. It's one of your obligatory visits if you come to Bilbao some time and it happens to coincide with when the Lions play a home game in their stadium.

- Bilbao Basket and Miribilla

If you're not one for football, not to worry! Bilbao offers plenty more. Bilbao Basket is Bilbao's very own basketball team. They have an arena in the centre of the city and it's perfectly connected to the rest of it. It would be a very interesting option to go and see Bilbao Basket play. And if there's one thing that sports fans have in Bilbao it's that they feel as if their team is truly their own. That they're a part of the team. "Los hombres de negro" (what the team is known as) have suffered extremes in the last few years, from playing in the final of international level football to nearly disappearing from the league. The team has almost been forced into decline because of their economic problems. Finally this year, it seems like those problems have changed hands and the team is ready to lift off again. Problems aside, they fill out their stadium game after game and you'll hear the 10, 000 voices turning hoarse after every single match.

- But, if you want to take part in a sport more than just watch one, what I recommend the most is going canoeing down Bilbao's river. I would recommend doing this in nice weather, something which depends entirely on the time of the year you come to Bilbao as it can be completely unbelievable. Even so, this option helps you see Bilbao from a different point of view. This is because the river divides the city in two, so you can see the city's most emblematic buildings whilst canoeing down the river (for example, San Mames, the Iberdrola tower, Bilbao Town Hall, the famous Guggenheim Museum or the River Market, and the Arriaga Theatre).

If you would like to immerse yourself in culture, learning and discovering new things, Bilbao can also be your city:

- Obviously, in the first place, the most important place to visit (at least once), is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. For those who don't know what it is, the Guggenheim Museum is museum of contemporary art in Bilbao, designed by the famous Canadian architect Frank Gehry. It was instated on the 18th October and since then has housed various exhibitions from different national and international artists.

The Guggenheim isn't just pretty inside, but it has a strange structure which makes it interesting on the outside as well. And if that's not enough, you can find the famous giant spider at the side of the estuary or, the very well known and famous dog of Bilbao. Everyone in Bilbao has a dog in common. Its name is Puppy and it was made by the American artist Jeff Koons. This giant work of art made of flowers is one of the best known and prettiest things in Bilbao.

- If what you're into is museums, and doing peaceful things, there's not only the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The city has another important museum, which is the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao. This is just like the Guggenheim but it's located in a prettier place, and it's right next to the Doña Casilda park. This is the most important and famous park in the city. The museum has different expositions of national and international artists. Right now, and until the end of May, the museum is hosting a Renoir exhibition and another about the culture of wine, amongst others.

Finally, there's also the option of travelling to towns close to the capital and being able to enjoy all of them as well. The metro line and bus services make sure that everything is connected. This means you can get to any place in the city using either of these services.

- One of these places, which is definitely the most magical and beautiful of all, is the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Gaztelugatxe is a small island that's in Bermeo, close to Bilbao. At the top of this tiny island there's a shrine from the 10th century in honour of San Juan. But the most beautiful thing of all is to contemplate how the waves broke against the cliffs and the silhouette which forms the whole image. Without a doubt, it's one of the necessary places to visit.

My Erasmus Experience in Bilbao

- You don't need to go all the way to Bermeo to be able to have an incredible view of Bilbao, to really see how big it is. Catching the Funicular will be enough. This is an old train that climbs up the mountain and from it you can enjoy the short trip where you can see the city getting bigger and bigger before your eyes. You can also enjoy the park they have at the top. There's also another Funicular which is situated near the Deusto police station which goes up to the neighbourhood Arangoiti where you can have another pretty view of Bilbao. Bilbao, being between mountains, you can see almost every single mountain it has on its outskirts.

- El Puente Colgante is another obligatory viewpoint in Bilbao. This bridge was used, and it still used, to pass from one side of the estuary to the other (as, like I said before, it divides the city into two). You can pass over the large barge, in a small boat across the water and then walking over the bridge. This offers three distinct views of this giant structure.

- The geography of Bilbao, which is in between mountains (this is where the nickname "El Botxo" comes from), means that it's a great option to take part in sports there as well as seeing some privileged views. You can climb the mountains close by too, such as the famous mountain Pagasarri (every December it's a tradition to climb it as a family) and the Ganekogorta. Ganekogorta is a nearby peak which is 1000 metres high, and situated near the Pagasarri mountain.

Another option is also going to the famous Gorbea, but the climb is a little bit more difficult because of the different stretches along the route. At the end, you'll find a huge cross which is 17 metres high. The Gorbea is nearly 1500m, which is an interesting and recommendable climb. This offers some magnificent views from the top.

What is the food like there?

If the North of Spain is known for anything, it's the food. In Bilbao, the gastronomy is an art. The selection is incredible. You can find fast food, passing through the restaurants of difficult cultures, finishing in the traditional cider bars. If you are thinking of coming to Bilbao to eat, I would recommend that you pack stretchy trousers! It's very typical that people from Bilbao like to eat a lot, and that is the truth.

My Erasmus Experience in Bilbao

Where would you recommend to go on a night out in Bilbao?

The nightlife that Bilbao offers is varied and there are locals for every taste. You can enjoy places from pubs to huge clubs.

If what you like is clubs, there are different types and features.

Fever: Fever is the most famous club in the city. Located in the Bolueta neighbourhood, it's five minutes away by metro from the centre of the city. Inside, electronic music is predominant, although you can listen to other music such as latin music in the different rooms. Because of its recognition at national level, international level artists (those who frequent important festivals both in and outside of Spain) are regulars to this club.

Back&Stage: this is becoming more and more recognised that somewhere that deserves a visit. It runs the party on Thursdays as it's in the centre of Bilbao. It has two rooms, which are separated, which offers the same sort of music.

Contrastingly, if you like the option of going to smaller local places instead, more of a bar or pub style, your area of choice should be Mazarredo. This crazy street is barely 5 minutes away from the centre of the city on foot, and there's a huge variety of different types of bars. If you don't want to party with people who could be your mum or dad, the best time to go is on Thursdays or Fridays.

Another interesting option is the Old Town of Bilbao, it has different streets and bars with many different atmospheres. On Thursdays, the standard plan for many students is to go out around this area, walking around and drinking from bar to bar whilst talking and debating with friends and acquaintances (something that's impossible to do in a club). Afterwards, they end the night in Teatro Antzokia which has free entry on Thursdays. What you have to bear in mind when you come here is that they tend to play Basque music, so you won't understand anything they're saying. Even so, it's worth going to at least once to enjoy this different atmosphere. The negative part is the fact that the prices aren't very affordable. This means it's worth drinking before going in, outside the club or in a bar somewhere else, but before entering the club.

If there's somewhere that everyone goes to when they go out in the centre of Bilbao, is the sandwich shop which is on the street next to Antzokia. There, a saviour sandwich at 6/7 in the morning will bring you back to life.

My Erasmus Experience in Bilbao

What good cultural sites are there to visit?

Like I've said before, Bilbao can be a big city to visit over a few days as there is a lot to see, so you'll definitely run out of time. You can see the most important sites and monuments in one day as everything is well linked and quite close by. However, you couldn't go to all towns around the city. In any case, Bilbao is a great city to visit.

The weather?

The weather is the most important and strangest thing about Bilbao. It's almost impossible to predict whether it's going to rain or not. During the winter, it's normal that it's cold and rainy. It can have such long periods of rain that you forget what it's like to see the sun.

During the summer, contrastingly, the heat and humidity makes it difficult to sleep, amongst other things.

If you intend on going to Bilbao, I would recommend that you come during the summer. It will be a lot more probable that you won't get wet whilst getting to know the city and its "xirimiri" which is hated in equal parts (this would translate to something like the continuous drizzle in the UK). It refers to the fine rain that doesn't stop and doesn't seem to get you too wet, but then you realise that you're completely drenched.

My advice would be that, if you come to Bilbao, don't forget to bring umbrellas with you. Why? Who knows...

Language?

The official language is Basque and Spanish, but there are a lot of people that don't speak it. Bilbao is a city that has always had a lot of migrants, both from Spain and other countries. So day to day, in shops and daily habits, it's quite unusual to speak in Basque. This is, of course, unless you're the one that starts to speak it. If you've heard some story about a friend of your uncles neighbour's nephew who went to Bilbao and only heard everyone speak Basque, it's a lie.

Even so, like I've said, Bilbao is a very interesting city to visit, or even to live in. It offers varying views and atmospheres, and there's always something new to learn and do.


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