Our train to Bilbao, a 6.5-hour affair, is scheduled to leave at 0730, so we’re up early. It’s modern, sleek and fast; not quite in the bullet train category, but in my book, 160 mph is fast. And it arrived exactly on time.
Approaching Bilbao reminded me of northern Italy and a little Bavarian-themed town called Leavenworth. The surrounding mountains are covered in conifers and buildings tend to be stone chalet. The outskirts of Bilbao are altogether different, though, being dominated by heavy industry. It’s not exactly grotesque, but grimy applies. There are blocks on blocks of blocky, brick apartment buildings, all a uniform look that contribute to a dreary look.
Bilbao is the largest city in the province and the Basque Country as a whole. It’s the tenth largest city in Spain, with a population of 345,000. The metropolitan area has roughly 1 million inhabitants. After its founding in the early 14th century by Diego López V de Haro, head of the powerful Haro family, Bilbao was a commercial hub of the Basque Country. This was due to its port activity based on the export of iron extracted from the Biscayan Bay quarries. Throughout the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Bilbao experienced heavy industrialisation, making it the centre of the second-most industrialised region of Spain.
The city center has been transformed. Since the mid-1990s, Bilbao has been in a process of deindustrialization and transition to a service economy, supported by investment in infrastructure and urban renewal, starting with the opening of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum. The setting helps with this new vibe. The hillsides of the river valley, as seen from downtown and the museum, are sparsely dotted with homes, allowing the dense green foliage to predominate. I think the city grew up the river rather than up the hillsides. The downtown buildings are quite attractive, with a mix of old and new. I have to love a city that builds glass-clad high-rises with big opening windows!
After the relentless crowds of Barcelona, Bilbao was a wonderful reprieve. There were people strolling and lollygagging and standing around, and nobody was in the way. In fact, it felt under-populated and, maybe, under-appreciated because of that. As you can see in the image above (in addition to the opening windows), there’s hardly anyone on the street. We walked up to the museum and bought tickets without standing in line. Inside was pleasantly uncrowned, too.
Our evening was consumed by the museum…and the finest dining experience we’ve had in ages, not just on this trip! The Guggenheim is quite the place, outside and in. We were enthralled!
The modern-ish art inside appealed to me, much more so than the modern art in Barcelona. The video rooms, the large installations (4th above) and the pointillist paintings were my favorites. We left we’ll satisfied with the experience.