After a workout Friday morning we spent a restful day on the ship. originally we had a dinner scheduled in a Michelin-starred chef’s kitchen, but it was cancelled, and since it was rainy we decided to spend the day on the ship, relaxing. We had dinner with Audrey, Emilio and Martin. Martin went to Rioja, and said it was a good trip. We shared a few wines, including a 2006 Lynch Bages, which had a classic Bordeaux nose, but was acidic and off balance. Maybe the rest of the bottle will be better in a couple of days.

Saturday we had a shore excursion into Bilbao, about 10 miles upriver from the port. It sprinkled throughout the day, but not enough to disrupt the excursion, and since it rains 40% of the year in Bilbao, I suppose it’s to be expected.

We began our tour on a mountain overlooking the city, for a panoramic view. Bilbao has undergone an amazing transformation in the last twenty years, from an industrial iron works into a garden-like model city. The centerpiece of the city is the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry. It was paid for locally, Guggenheim simply gave permission for use of the name. It proved to be a successful spark to the city’s renaissance. We drove past, but didn’t stop.

Our destination was the old part of the city, now a trendy shopping and dining district. Following a walking tour we stopped at three different tapas bars for a glass of wine and a pintxos (the “x” is pronounced “ch”). Traditionally pintxos was served on a stick, but these were all toast with either, ham, salmon or brie, plus marinated vegetables, fruits and so on. Each was excellent, and frankly better than anything on the ship.

We were back on board for an early 3pm sailing and formal night number two, which we celebrated with the tasting menu in Ocean Liners. This time we tried the prix fixe menu, which is one of the few good deals on the ship, at $89 for food and matching wines, considering the wines include a Puligny Montrachet and a Smith Haut Lafite Blanc. The service was excellent, and they were very flexible about letting us swap around courses from the regular menu, and changing the tasting pairings. In fact, we skipped dessert, and they comped us two glasses of Perrier Jouet instead, which were worth about half the cost of dinner. We’ve noticed that while the food even in this restaurant is just so-so, they are really good at salads. I had a quail salad with seared and caramelized goat cheese on arugula with a mustard dressing that was certainly the best thing I’ve tasted on board. It was great with a (gasp) Zinfandel from Chiarella Family Vineyard (the 2009 Giana).

Afterwards we attended a very good review of songs from around the world, presented by the ship’s company.