Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, BasqueApril 23, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C
The last thing on our 'to do' list was a visit to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. Heading towards this northern city we entered Basque country. Many of the road signs became dual language; Basque contained a lot of 'Z's and 'X's and most wasn't similar enough to Spanish for us to be able to understand it. As well as the language, the terrain had also changed. Steep peaks rose to the skies, many of the summits shrouded in cloud, giving them an air of mystique, like something out of Lord of the Rings.
Will had done his research and instead of driving into the centre of Bilbao, we made a beeline for the free street parking at the top of the hill, a short walk from the funicular railway station. €6.50 got us two return trips into the heart of the city. The railway had been running for more than a century and was mostly comprised of a single track, with a short section for the carriages to pass in the middle. We were the first on and got to choose the front cabin with a great view of the sheer track leading under an arched bridge to the city below.
Stepping out into central Bilbao, we were immediately struck by the architectural details on the buildings; fretwork, tiles and colour all added interest. Several bars stood near the station and Laidatxu caught our attention because of the clearly displayed tapas options and prices chalked on a blackboard outside. Tapas (or pintxos as they are known in the Basque region) were layed out on the bar for you to choose. It would have been impossible for a celiac because almost every one contained bread. There were a range of small sandwiches made up of sliced bread or baguettes as well as croquettes on bread and spanish tortillas on bread. We chose 3 each and took them outside with our alcohol free beers. It had been raining and wasn't warm, but we found some dry chairs under a parasol on the pavement and enjoyed watching the world go by. Our menu included strawberries in white chocolate sauce and coffee for desert, all for a total of €14!
Very pleased with our lunch, we set off towards the river. We often find the density of people and traffic in cities stressful, but at this moment Bilbao's streets were pleasantly uncrowded. The daylight was dull, but we still had to stop and admire the Zubizuri tied arch footbridge. Zubizuri is Basque for 'white bridge' and its painted cables rising up from the sides of the walkway were certainly a striking feature.
Crossing over, we walked north east along the bank towards the second artfully designed bridge; La Salve, a tall, suspension, road bridge, at the foot of which was the Museo Guggenheim! The steel plated structure changed in appearance as we drew closer and our perspective of it was altered. Nonetheless, from whichever angle it was viewed, its multi-layered curved sides made for an impressive sight. Will commented that it was the most stunning art exhibit he had ever seen. We knew before we arrived that it wasn't open on Mondays, but as we were more interested in the external architecture, the absence of people queuing outside was actually an advantage. Several open air works of art were visible, including Maman, the giant copper spider arched protectively over the egg sack on the underside of her belly. Ainish Kapoor's Tall Tree & The Eye held our attention as we crossed the low paved footbridge running between the river and a still pool in which the sculpture of 73 reflective spheres was standing on its plinth. Edging round to view different spheres, we found one that showed ourselves in the centre, surrounded by a border of other balls.
By far Vicky's favourite outdoor exhibit was Puppy, by Jeff Koons, or El Poop as he is affectionately known by locals (the art piece, not the artist). Puppy is a 40ft West Highland Terrier pup made out of thousands of flowering plants! He had moved around different places before the Bilbaoiños decided they wanted to keep him - who wouldn't!
We spent some time walking around the Guggenheim, even climbing the steps to La Salve to view it from above. It is said to be partly modelled on a ship and this element is definitely best seen from the bridge. We even got to watch the artificial mist being produced and spreading over the calm pool at the foot of the museum. The day had begun to hot up as we made our way back. We picked up some groceries from a fruteria shop near the cable car and scanned our barcoded tickets as we pushed through the turnstile at the little one track station. The car was full of kids this time round, so we and a number of other adults huddled in the end cab, giving us a rewind of the views we'd had of Bilbao that morning. Although we could have stayed in the street, we decided to drive on so that we could relax for two nights in one place, before our journey through France.Read more