Friday, 4 October 2013

Las Arenas - Living on the Sands

We live in Las Arenas in the Basque province of Vizcaya in northern Spain. This small town sits at the mouth of the Nervion river that runs up to the city of Bilbao - about 10 km away.The Basque country is bilingual, Euskara (as the local language is known) and Spanish. Children learn the two languages at school. Parents have the choice of a mainly Spanish education or mainly Euskara.

Many schools are set slightly out into the country and the kids get a bus morning and evening. Each school day there may be dozens of buses crisscrossing the town picking up and dropping down. 

Most parents have to work so many children go to a nursery from 3 months and then start school at three.Playgrounds are the main meeting place for parents with young children and bike and scooters are very much communal toys; whatever you take to the plaza expect other children to play with!

It is a densely populated area so most people live in blocks of flats, houses exist in the outskirts at a very high price! Some of the houses used to belong to rich merchants and ship captains.

Some of the houses are colourful...

... and some are quaint.

Food is very important to the Basque people. There is a huge range of bars selling "pintxos" - Basque tapas - which are rather tasty.
This bar, in the old part of Las Arenas was our favourite, but sadly the lovely owners have just left to go to Costa Rica!

The river is the main focus of the town, dividing Las Arenas from Portugalete. Because big ships have to get up and down the river, in the 19th century they built a transporter bridge - the "Puente Colgante" or "Puente Vizcaya" - which still operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.

The bridge is a UNESCO world heritage site, and dominates the local landscape.

This is the other way to cross the river - with Portugalete in the background and the tug boats ready to guide the ships in. A ferry crossing is 35 cents

We are on the coast, with the nearest beach just 800 metres away. The better beaches, famous for surfers, are just a few metro stops down the line.

Supermarkets are popular here but many people still prefer to shop in specialised shops and go daily to the fruteria. the fruit shop for fruit and veg. There are also local markets selling fresh food and plants for your garden. This one is just over the river in Portugalete.

Las Arenas is on the Bilbao metro system. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the entrances are called "fosteritos" or "caracoles (snails). It takes about half an hour to get into the city centre.

The metros are frequent and run all night at weekends because most young people do not go out until after 11pm!

They can be busy at peak times but are cheap at about a Euro per journey

All in all, Las Arenas is a very pleasant place to live, with good food and facilities in a child friendly and social environment.