WARNING: I’ve written some of this a few days ago and some now so no doubt my past and present tenses are screwed up and I don’t have the patience to re-read and fix. Apologies. There are also no pics of art because taking pictures of the galleries is strictly forbid, which results in my guards continually telling people to stop taking pictures.
The Pyrenees Mountains separate Basque Region from France. The mountain ranges in this part of Spain are indescribably spectacular. With every hairpin turn as we wound our way up and eventually back down we were met with another astonishing view. Dense pine forests, staggering rock formations that looked as if they might touch the sky, and the greenest of mountains and valleys. As difficult as it was to make the journey to Bilbao because of the drive, every inch was well worth it. I’ll post pics but, unfortunately, none capture the extraordinary beauty of this place.
In Basque country they speak a completely different language than the rest of Spain. When you read it, it looks as though it may have been a derivation of Greek. But that’s not the case. I have yet to speak to anyone here who actually knows the roots of the language. Towns like Amezketa or Lizartza, both are near the town we’re staying in way, WAY up in the mountains called Guipuzcoa. We tried, in vain, to get an explanation for the strange language that had nothing to do with Spanish or any language we were remotely familiar with, but nobody had one.
Bilbao is a port city. It was on the verge of collapse but unlike in the US where we let major cities like Detroit and New Orleans go to seed, the powers that be made a decision to invest 140 million euros (I think that’s the figure) to build a world class museum. The Guggenheim hired Frank Gehry to design the building. The rest, as they say, is history. We went to Bilbao on Sunday. We were told everything would be closed because Sunday is sacred (like in the US, ha-ha). The town was alive and thriving despite most of it being “closed.” New buildings were going on and it felt every bit as active and important as Barcelona. It’s all well and good to say that Detroit as a fine museum as well, but it doesn’t bring people to Detroit. I believe it has to do with the attitude that accompanies the museum. People here understand the need and necessity of culture. Art, music, theatre – that’s what brings life and hope to a city. The Spanish understand that and the return on their investment turned a dying city into a world class destination.
We had mixed feelings about the museum. The physical structure is more interesting as an architectural achievement than, from my point of view, as a museum. Once inside, I found it very confusing and difficult to focus on the art, which is also very limited. The museum is devoted primarily to modern abstract art. But it’s difficult and confusing to find the rooms that contain the art. The most interesting thing for me was listening to Gehry, on the headset, explain how he works and what inspired the design. He’s obsessed with fish apparently and it was that obsession that formed his ideas of what the museum should look, and even “feel” like. The coolest thing was Gehry’s overall intention was so brilliantly executed. He wanted to not only have it be the focal point, he wanted to “draw” people toward it and encompass them in its space. You can really feel that when you’re there. I loved that aspect of it.
Yesterday, we met a number of Americans living abroad. Several lived in London, another young couple in Berlin. None of them missed the States. To the contrary, they were content and “at home” in Europe. One woman was from California and had moved to London with her dog. We shared a laugh over getting the dogs into London and the experience of doing so via Calais. Neither of us had ever met anyone before who knew about or taken the Calais route.
We also had a wonderful “chat” with a large group of Basque residents, probably in their 50s, down to their children in their 20s, the former all being friends since childhood. I say “chat” because only one spoke English. With the others we found language in gestures and “acting” out our mutual meanings. All of them live throughout Basque country and gather annually at various hotels/restaurants to celebrate their friendship. I was struck by how physical the men were with each other. At one level they appeared to be traditional “macho” Spanish straight men, with wives and kids, yet they openly hugged, kissed and exhibited affection for each other so freely.
Of course, they fell in love with us thanks to our anti-Trump buttons. Their positions on Basque independence were all over the map. The closest they came to agreement was that it was probably never going to happen. The man who spoke fluent English said he believed the citizens of the region would settle for their own football team. We laughed, thinking he was kidding. But he wasn’t. He explained what they wanted was recognition, a sense of their own identity and in a country like this a football team serves that purpose.
We also learned that when the laws governing the region were established, this part of the country was responsible for paying 10% taxes to the State vs. 70% the rest of Spain pays. Needless to say that has caused and fueled resentment, particularly has the region continues to flourish.
And here’s the most important part – we liked the food better in this part of Spain! Yes, I’m shallow and getting progressively pudgier, but what the fuck.
I fell in love with our hotel. The setting, the physical structure, the elegance and grace of it. It was like living in a 17th century estate. I took endless pictures of it. Maybe I thought if I took enough, they’d hand the place over to me.
All the pictures were taken in Bilbao unless otherwise noted (doesn’t that sound so official, like I know what the hell I’m doing). You’ll also see a lot of facades of buildings. I can’t get enough of them. The older the better.
We always happen upon weddings when we travel!
Exterior of Guggenheim
Interior of museum looking out
I love this little room off the hotel lobby. Walk through the doors and you’re inside the hotel. But out here we can sit and have drinks or whatever.