Matt Lauer was on the Today show featuring the new Guggenheim building in Bilbao, I watched in awe while they showed the incredible architecture, the setting and the vision. Twenty years ago this broadcast helped to cement my deep desire to see the incredible things this world has to offer. I set a goal of seeing the Bilbao Guggenheim in my lifetime, and now here I am.
My full focus in Bilbao was the Guggenheim. I didn’t bother with any other details because this was all Bilbao was to me. On the train ride from Madrid to Bilbao I plotted whether to go to the Guggenheim right away or to get to know the city first to understand better the contrast of this museum to the rest of the city. I decided to wait. J., while not understanding my deep desire to see the museum was certainly open to whatever my plans were, so we planned to see the Guggenheim on our second full day in Bilbao. It was a great decision. The anticipation was fun, as was the plotting about how to actually avoid it for one and a half days. At that we didn’t succeed.
Bilbao has an historic city and a more modern city, along with a riverside community. It really is like three towns in one city. This was so captivating for me. Each area offered something different, something unique and worth exploration. Our Airbnb was located in an amazing spot bordering all three areas. The first night we strolled over to the historic part of the city, crossing a beautiful bridge and the river. This quaint historical area is full of restaurants, bars, shops, an old cathedral, beautiful little streets and plazas as well as a community of people strolling around, drinking wine and watching their children play. It is also home to an amazing Gelataria (I know this because I ate it for lunch twice while we were there). It was so fun to sit in the little cafe’s and watch the Spanish people going about their daily lives. Again, as in every Spanish town so far, the family spirit is strong and we love watching the families interact, the generations together raising kids, eating, shopping and drinking.
Bilbao is in the Basque country. So this means different food, different language, and a slightly different culture. They serve Pintxos (Pinchos) which are small bite-sized sandwiches, quiches, or often seafood concoctions. They were beautiful. They are created and served as artwork, displayed beautifully along the bars of the restaurants. You go in, fill up a plate and then pay accordingly. For us this was really difficult. We didn’t understand at first what was going on and then when we figured it out, we realized I was going to have the hardest time eating here. EVERYTHING has meat in it. J. struggled here too since he isn’t a big shellfish eater (lots of oysters and mussels), so it was more ham products, which consisted mostly of various types of ham on different types of bread with nothing else on it. We were really frustrated because the food looked so beautiful and the custom was so awesome but we just couldn’t participate. So, luckily we had an Airbnb with a great kitchen so we could eat a lot of our meals there.
While the historic center is full of cobblestone streets, old stucco or stone houses, the modern part of the city has either grand buildings or more modern structures. We decided to explore on their tramway system, riding it back and forth through town to see the city. J. loves doing this and I have to admit for 4 euro it is a pretty great way to see a city and hang with locals. This is how we accidentally saw the Guggenheim. Our train drove along the river and with the modern Bilbao on our left and then, as we rounded a corner, there it was. I tried to look away (yes, sometimes I can act a little bit like a kid) so I didn’t ruin the surprise, but I couldn’t take it and gave in and looked. It was beautiful. Luckily we couldn’t see much from the train route, just enough to tease me and heighten my anticipation.
The riverside community of Bilbao is host to parks, museums, beautiful bridges, walkways, restaurants, shops, and houses. It separates the city between old and new while providing the perfect place for festivals, markets, and family gatherings. There are musicians playing on the banks of the river while people sit on benches watching the world go by. The bridges are so elegant you can’t help but admire the design and construction. While they are more modern they fit perfectly within the landscape of the city, not disrupting the historic area but really joining the different eras of Bilbao. We spent a lot of time strolling along the river watching the different events, reveling in the architecture or just enjoying the quiet of this beautiful city.
My trip to the Guggenheim turned out to be a mixture of feelings and experiences. As we walked towards it, down a main street in the modern part of the city, I was taken aback by the beautiful contrast of the building. The reflections of the metal and of course the beautiful floral statue of the dog. Behind the museum the river flows quietly, contrasting the metal of the building. The Guggenheim is so impressive, the lines, the details, the contrasts, the flow of energy, the way it engulfs you when you walk in, almost transporting you to a different place. It was easy for us to spend a long time studying the interior of the building, admiring the vision and execution of this gorgeous space. I was surprised by the art in the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It was very, very contemporary, which is not my thing so in that I was a bit disappointed. I enjoyed the Toulouse exhibit and then we went outside to admire the building from the riverside. There were people playing music, others selling their crafts, others hawking souvenirs, and then there were the other admirers who came to take in all this building and its outdoor sculptures have to offer.
There is really nothing like realizing a dream, for that reason Bilbao will always be very special to me, even if-or maybe especially because most of my lunches were gelato….
For the most amazing pizza, fantastic wine, and great atmosphere definitely have dinner at Coppola Bilbao at Barraincúa Kalea, 6. Make reservations unless you want to sit at the bar, which we did and loved it, or wait. This place is so quaint and delicious, just plan to walk afterwards because you will definitely eat too much!