After leaving Zaragoza we drove to Bilbao, which took about 3 hours and brought us through some pretty Basque countryside that reminded me of Lichtenstein and the Austrian Alps.
We checked in to the hotel, dropped off laundry, had some lunch & headed into town.
A little known fact is that when J.R.R. Tolkien visited here, he found that the Basque people were a little shorter than average and deciding to honor his local host Mr. Baggins, chose to the most well known hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Okay, I just made that up, but wouldn’t it be cool if it were true?
Walking around the old quarter, the Casco Viejo, we found that almost everywhere was closed. Places seem to close from 2 until 4:30 or 5, but most places seemed to be taking even longer to get reopened. We did come across a strange art installation, but what was more interesting to me that the art, was people’s reaction.
So we strolled along river to the Guggenheim Museum, then around to the Fine Arts Museum, which just so happened to be free today. This museum covers art from the middle ages to today, but mostly includes classical art.
Finding a place open for dinner turned out to be a challenge. Most Restaurants don’t really open until around 9pm and instead people eat tapas at the local bars. In the end, we were the first customers in an Italian restaurant at 8:30 and had a great dinner.
The following day we went back into town and as we walked towards our first stop, came across what appeared to be some kind of protest against the Swedish conglomerate ABB, but why most of the protesters were dressed as Roman Legionnaires, I have no idea.
Hoping to get a pastry and some coffee, we stopped at the Mercado de la Ribera, supposedly Europe’s largest covered market, although it didn’t seem all that big to me. What did strike me was the it was bright, clean, and very modern, yet with all the typical fruit, fish, meat and other stalls that you might find in older, dingier markets elsewhere. Plus of course, the gent in the Basque beret doing this grocery shopping.
We went first to the Basque Museum which had some interesting pieces, but everything was in Basque and Spanish, so it was difficult to decipher some of the artifacts. We walked back to the Guggenheim where we spent several hours exploring the art and the building.
The famous Frank Gehry building is amazing – a sinuous form of unusual materials that integrates itself into the location in a dramatic and meaningful manner. For instance, as Bilbao has a strong maritime tradition, the forms of the building bring to mind sails and fish. Outside, between the building and the river is a shallow pond that seems to integrate the building with the river itself, and so on.
The artwork in the building ranges from unusual and provocative to odd. Make that very, very odd. While I enjoyed most of the art, some of the pieces were way off the deep end. If I tell you that I do NOT include the Damien Hurst pieces in this category, perhaps you will understand.
We had dinner at the hotel tonight, which in most respects was not great, but since tonight is a local festival, they had a band of traditional Gallician musicians playing songs, which was fun. Also a good reason to always have a camera with you! As mine was up in the room, I snapped the image below with my cell phone.