Anyway, we live on one of the original three streets that were built in 1300, called Calle Somera. (The other two are Calle Artekale and Calle Tenderia). 100 years later, four other streets were built - Calle Belostikale, Calle Carniceria Vieja, Calle Barrenkale and Calle Barrenkale Barrena, and together these seven streets are known as .... the Seven Streets! (Siete Calles).
These tightly packed streets are lined with six-storey buildings: the impression is a bit like the old town in Edinburgh (though a bit less dour!). As in Edinburgh, it's difficult to know the age of the buildings. We have old wooden beams all over our ceiling, and I suspect that the basic framework of the buildings is around 17th century, though they have clearly been much adjusted over the centuries, and the frontages look more 19th century.
The frontages of Bilbao strike you as soon as you get here. Having never been to another part of Spain, I'm not sure whether they are found elsewhere, but here the tall old apartment buildings have very characteristic facades with gables of stacked bay windows, sometimes in a rather art-nouveau style (see pictures below). I need to find out more, but these look as though they were added in the 19th century. Anyway, it's all very nice.
It was immediately clear, however, that the different streets of the old town have different characters. The 'seven streets' (where we live) are rather more medieval-feeling (and not in the twee sense) than the surrounding newer streets of the old town, which are a bit posher and more touristy. In fact, the seven streets are a tiny bit down-at-heel in places - and our street, Calle Somera, is by quite some distance the most down-at-heel of the seven. We also seem to be living in the most down-at-heel stretch of the street. So that's all good*... (*quote from the recent brilliant BBC comedy Twenty-Twelve, for those who haven't been watching it.)
Calle Somera appears to be the people's drinking centre of Bilbao. It (especially our stretch of the street) is lined with bars - cerveccerias (cerveza = beer, for those who know as little Spanish as me), and every evening an extensive assortment of ordinary Bilbainos, young and old, and backpackers, etc., come out to drink in the street. Some sit in the bars, but most stand or sit on the street, including on the cobbles and on the doorsteps of the houses. It's a bit like living on the stretch of the high street that has the Slug and Lettuce, the Rat and Parrot, and Wetherspoons - except that the clientele are not generally drunk, as they would be in Britain. But it can be a little bit rowdy, and the noise is considerable, especially given that these streets are six-storey-high corridors which trap the sound. So sitting in our first floor flat with the windows open feels a bit like having your living room in the middle of a boisterous street market.
Last night, we went on a reccy at 10pm to see what the other streets in the old town were like in the evening. We concluded not only that Calle Somera is the noisiest street in the Casco Viejo (and possibly therefore the whole of Bilbao) but also that our stretch of the street is the noisiest stretch of the street. So that's all good... Well done Pietro!
Although it is VERY noisy in the evening (and in fact, being Spain, up to about 2 am each night), we have discovered that:
(1) as long as you are not trying to listen to something (music radio, etc.,) it's actually quite pleasant to have the buzz of people talking and drinking outside
(2) if you do get fed up with the noise, the french windows keep it out very effectively when shut, and the bedroom at the back is fine.
In fact, there are various different phases on the street. Between 2 am and 8 am is very quiet. Between 8 am and 11 am is very busy with lorries delivering stuff to the bars and shops, etc. After 11, traffic is not allowed on the street, so there's a quiet phase till about 4pm. Then, the bars gradually come to life before the evening peak starts at about 8pm.
Apparently, also, during the annual Bilbao Fiesta (the 'Aste Naguria' in Basque), which starts in 2 weeks' time and goes on for 8 days, Calle Somera is the centre of much of the revelry. We have been advised to move out for that period!
Perhaps I've made it sound worse than it is. We really like it - it's lively and full of character, the flat is good, and the noise doesn't seem to be a problem. Most of the time, it's just an ordinary old town street: there are dozens of other people living in the apartments in the street - quite a mixture of old and young, etc.
The Casco Viejo in fact is lovely. Strolling through the streets of the old town is hugely pleasurable, and the feeling of actually living here, rather than just being a tourist, is good - knowing that over the year to come, we'll get to know the shops, cafes, etc. quite well. More to come on this in a future post....
Meanwhile, below - our flat, the building opposite us, and some other splendid frontages from the streets around the old town: