Bilbao, Spain

July 30, 2012

The next morning, the ghosts were gone and after a fabulous breakfast in the room that had once been the refectory, we got back on the road. This time we had just a short drive to Bilbao so we took our time and explored some smaller roads leading out to cliffs with crashing waves and extremely blue water. The northern coast of Spain really is absolutely spectacular.

The gorgeous northern coastline of Spain

To our right as we drove east rose the precipitous Picos de Europa mountain range. Unfortunately, the peaks were shrouded in clouds so we never really got a good sense of them.

Picos de Europa shrouded in clouds

I’d definitely like to return and explore more. The area of Spain is called Asturias and is pretty much undiscovered by North Americans as far as I can tell.

After an easy and delightful drive along Spain’s northern coast we navigated our way into Bilbao with just one false turn (not bad, considering!). Our hotel – the Melia Bilbao—was a perfect example of Bilbao modern chic. Thanks to booking.com, I’d gotten a great deal – just 99 euros for what really is a 4-star hotel. The soaring lobby and ultra-modern rooms were a great introduction to Bilbao—the city that apparently remade itself. My only beef was that the hotel charged to use the Internet in the room which meant I had to go down to the bar to check email. Hardly a hardship but still…!

View from our hotel in Billbao

After a wee rest and a spot of lunch on the terrace overlooking one of Bilbao’s lovely parks, we set off for Bilbao’s main event – the Guggenheim museum. Well I have to say that whoever runs Bilbao is a very smart person! It’s heartening to see how a city that apparently was not all that much to write home about transform itself by adding a world class art museum.

Ultra modern Bilbao

Our ultra modern hotel was in the ultra modern area of Bilbao about a ten minute stroll along the river from the Guggenheim. The sun sparkled off the water, the huge broad walkways were virtually devoid of people, and we were filled with anticipation as we rounded a corner and finally saw the silvery-gold slabs of hammered, stamped steel of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim.  An amazing sculpture of huge silver orbs stacked almost as high as the roof of the museum faced the river. The sculpture was by Anish Kapoor, an Indian artist who Gregg tells me is one of the top sculptors in the world. His piece was perfectly situated to catch the sun, turning the entire column of orbs into one pulsing, glistening beacon.

Anish Kapoor’s sculpture outside the Guggenheim
Spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois at the Guggenheim
The amazing Guggenheim

We walked around to the front of the museum to visit with Puppy. Gregg has never been much of a fan of the American artist Jeff Koons who made Puppy but I confess I was looking forward to seeing it. Puppy is a massive Highland topiary terrier who stands guard in front of the Guggenheim. With its variegated coat of flowers that change with the season, Puppy is remarkably photogenic. I found it hard to stop taking pictures of him!

Puppy stands guard outside the Guggenheim
Puppy and me

After satiating myself with Puppy pics, we entered the Guggenheim. The place is huge so we chose to concentrate on just two areas – the incredibly massive sculpture by Richard Serra on the ground floor and the special exhibition of new work by David Hockney. The Serra work consists of six enormous steel slabs bent and curled in various ways that invite you into their depths to wander until you feel dizzy. We went into two of the sculptures and that was more than enough! The effect is stunning but a little goes a long way.

Matter of Time by Richard Serra

Our main reason for going to the Guggenheim was to enjoy the exhibition of new works by Hockney. I didn’t know much about Hockney’s work, having just a vague memory of his paintings of very blue swimming pools and static figures in the 1970’s. The new work featured in the exhibition was almost exclusively landscapes done in the past few years. Hockney is now well into his seventies and he sure hasn’t slowed down. I was entranced by room after room after room of landscapes primarily of the Yorkshire countryside, not all that far from where I lived back in 1978. On several of the largest walls (and I mean large!), Hockney hung grids of paintings. Each painting was about 2’ x 2’ but stacked six high and ten across to form a massive three-dimensional landscape. The effect was pretty stunning.

 I was also very impressed by the work he did with the ipad. Hockney is known for his willingness to experiment with new technologies and so has experimented with the capabilities of the ipad for producing art. He uses his ipad to make sketches in the field and also to make finished pieces. Some of these he had printed as huge blow-ups – 10 feet high. Apparently, some critics panned his use of the ipad to make his large prints but I thought they were pretty amazing. It’s not like Hockney doesn’t also do a ton of painting. He’s incredibly prolific. Almost all the work in the exhibition (and there must have been hundreds of pieces) were done in a year. The exhibition also included a great documentary that we watched for quite awhile. We ended up buying the DVD so we could see the whole thing at home. I can’t say I liked every piece in the exhibition but taken as a whole, it was a stunning body of work. Very inspiring.

We decided to buy food in a local supermarket and stay in for dinner. I spent the evening in the posh bar in the hotel writing and downing a few glasses of good Spanish red wine.
 Around 11, we went out for a pre bedtime stroll along the river back towards the Guggenheim. The whole area was completely deserted – huge wide avenues and plazas and no people. I think the night scene is across the river in the old town but we didn’t feel like walking that far.

 The next morning we said Adios to Bilbao and headed back onto the highway towards France. Our goal was a lovely looking B & B called Chateau Le Tour in the Dordogne region, about an hour east of Bordeaux. We got pretty lost in the tiny country roads but when finally we pulled up in front of the chateaux, the extra twists and turns were worth it.

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Categories: Spain, Travel

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