If you are a fan of contemporary architecture and Frank O. Gehry, then the Guggenheim in Bilbao is certainly on your destination list. There has been lots of press and even a movie (Sketches of Frank Gehry) about the titanium structure on the River Nervión, called by Architect Philip Johnston, “the greatest building of our time”. It was certainly the reason I was making my first venture into Spain, but unlike many tourists who come to see the Guggenheim on a day trip, I stayed for a few days in Basque Country Spain.
The Bilbao Airport designed by Santiago Calatrava, is an amazing entrance into northern Spain. The airport is very modern and slick in its appearance, designed to be reminiscent of a plane’s wing, it seems the design of the gates and other public areas really have the passenger in mind. Grab a cab for a quick ride down the winding hills into Bilbao.
Many of the major streets in the city are wide with extensive sidewalks on either side, giving pedestrians and bicycles alike a great way to get around. The sidewalks open up for access to the underground transit system, which is one of the most modern I have seen. Buy your ticket from a machine and hold on to it as you will need it to get on the train and out of the system at your destination.
The streets are lined with large villas and apartment blocks, muted colours and architectural embellishments drawing your eyes to the beauty of the buildings. Public spaces have statues, fountains, gardens and areas to relax on siesta. One of my favorite spots is outside the Fine Arts Museum, where there is a park filled with different street lights, a great spot to visit day and night. There is quite a juxtaposition between the beautiful old buildings and the modernity of the transit, the public art and gardens, the airport and of course the Guggenheim.
My first glimpse of the Museum was down a busy street lined with traffic, at the end of the street was this amazing structure like nothing I have witnessed before. The sun was reflecting off the titanium shell of the building and drawing me into its splendor. Outside you first notice the 30 foot high Scottish Terrier made of flowering plants by artist Jeff Koons and the brilliant blue administration buildings of the Museum. Then you are overwhelmed by the glass and metal structure before you, staircases leading to the entrance to the museum and the surrounding grounds including dancing fountains, cafes and the River Nervión. I found myself walking around the exterior of the building, admiring the fluid lines and curves of the building, the reflecting pool and even the BI 631 highway the runs right through the east end of the building. Crossing the river along one of the modern pedestrian bridges gives you a brilliant look at the building and probably the best place to get a picture of this amazing masterpiece.
The interior is just as amazing, windows allow filtered sunlight into the atrium, reflecting off the titanium outside. The galleries are spacious and showcase 20th Century avant-garde exhibits. The only permanent collection is The Matter of Time by artist Richard Serra, these weathering steel sculptures are located in the largest gallery. Walking through these rusting and oxidizing mammoth sheets of steel give you incredible vantage points of the gallery and the sculptures. Check out the back patio to see Tulips by Jeff Koons and the spider sculpture Maman by Louise Bourgeois. Upstairs in the cafe look for a copy of Gehry’s original sketch of the Guggenheim that was initially penned on a napkin. Click to see my Guggenheim Bilbao gallery.
Head to Casco Viejo (old town) for an old world experience. Watch the catch of the day being wheeled down the small alleys on a wagon being sold to restaurants along the way. In the heart there is a public square with restaurants, cafes and stores and a huge staircase to sit and watch the action. As this area is not frequented by foreign tourists you may want to brush up on your Spanish to read menus and order a snack.
Take the Metro to the Atlantic coast and Gexto. Enjoy the pollarded London Plane trees making an arbor across the pedestrian walkway leading you to the sea. You will also notice the tallest structure in town, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Vizcaya Bridge, designed by the Basque architect Alberto de Palacio and completed in 1893. Take the elevator to the top to cross the bridge and test your fear of heights on the wooden planks that sag under the weight of your body as you cross River Ibaizabal. This is also a great place to take pictures. The bridge with its innovative adapted cable car crosses the river carrying vehicles without effecting the boat traffic on the river. Spend the day enjoying the oceanfront along the piers and beaches of Gexto.
Click to see my Bilbao gallery
Click to see my Gexto & Vizcaya Bridge gallery
Click to see my Guggenheim Bilbao gallery
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