Northern Spain Road Trip – Day 9

Having previously visited Bilbao for a long weekend in 2005 we were very keen to return and visit the world famous Guggenheim Museum. So with a drive of just over an hour, we jumped in the car and headed for one of the great treasures of the Basque Country. Surrounded for years by an environment of heavy industry and industrial wastelands, Bilbao’s tough upbringing meant its river front landscapes and quirky functional buildings were barely acknowledged or appreciated by travellers. Since the late 1990s, the city has under gone a huge metamorphosis, most prominently with the opening of the gleaming titanium ship inspired Guggenheim Museum reflecting the strong nautical traditions of the city.

But before we head for our culture fix we drive to the end of the city to visit the Bizkaia Bridge that crosses the River del Nervión. Designed by Alberto Palacio, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Bridge was the world’s first transporter bridge, opening in 1883. The bridge, which links Getxo and Portugalete, consists of a suspended platform that sends cars and passengers gliding silently over the river 24 hours a day. We take the trip across the bridge and ascend in the lift. We’re up 46m atop the superstructure and take a very breezy walk across the bridge and back again taking in some great views of the city. I ask Brownie if we can take the car across on our return from the Guggenheim, she flatly refuses. Boooooo!!

We jump on the metro and travel 11 stops up town headed for the shimmering titanium clad Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum, the building that firmly placed Bilbao in the international art and tourism spotlight. The art starts as soon as you reach the outside of the museum. An installation by Fujiko Nakaya: a simple pool of water that emits an ethereal mist. On the riverbank is Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, a skeletal spider said to symbolise a protective embrace. In the open area west of the museum, a fountain sculpture randomly fires off jets of water. But the star is surely Jeff Koons’ kitsch Puppy, a 12m-tall highland terrier made up of thousands of begonias, on the city side of the museum. The dog that is permanently in bloom.

It’s so good to be back. We head inside and shed our soggy brollies and jackets. It always rains in Bilbao. The interior of the Guggenheim is vast and cathedral like at 45m high it’s also packed, there are 3 cruise ships in the harbour. Surely we can find some quite space somewhere in this vast building. We start by exploring Richard Serra’s towering maze-like sculptures in weathered steel and love the twists and turns not knowing where we’ll end up.

We move up to the 3rd floor and marvel at Jeff Koons Steel Tulips, Andy Warhol and and a rather more conservative piece than we’re used to from our favourite artists, Gilbert & George. There’s a fabulous Miro exhibition and a mirror installation from Yayoi Kusama famous for her dot paintings.

The gallery is groaning with vibrant creativity and before we take the metro back we walk up to the bridge beside the museum to take a moment just to appreciate its incredible magnitude. It’s stopped raining but the wind has picked up again and plays havoc with Brownie’s hair 😆. We leave the Guggenheim exhausted but beaming from the absolute riot of artistic inventiveness and again board the tube bound for the swing platform across the river to the car.

It’s been a great day and we haven’t even scratched the surface of everything that Bilbao has to offer. Fingers crossed we’ll be back again in the not too distant future.


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