As usually happens when I have a spare day in a hostel and blog posts to write, I didn’t get out until about 2pm. Somewhat of a shame, because it was an excellent day [The likes of which I was not to see again for the next four days… – Me, day 11].
The title of ‘Single Largest Rejuvenator of Bilbao’, were it to exist, should probably go to the Guggenheim museum here. Completed in 1997 – so this is its 20th year – it symbolised the end of Bilbao’s industrial era and ‘rebirth’ as a European cultural city. A sunny stroll along a cafe-lined riverbank brings you to the art precinct. The most immediately noticeable feature, other than a large and colourful bridge, is a huge bronze spider. It’s by Louise Bourgeious and symbolises her mother, who mended tapestries (the sculpture is called Maman).
Next to it, unmissable, is the Guggenheim proper. The building itself is the largest attraction, fully plated in 0.5cm thick titanium plates. It dominates the space around it like a futuristic spaceship.
Sipping a cafe con leche overlooking the museum, listening to a jazz band play, it’s hard to imagine what Bilbao was like twenty years ago. This used to be such a heavily industrialised area – there was a photography exhibit showing the riverbank before and after the museum’s construction. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were two different places. Stacked girders and gantry cranes have been replaced by a paved boulevard with leafy trees, a grungy dock transformed into a plaza.
Strolling back through the city centre to the hostel, the new Bilbao becomes apparent. I see young men in suits walking purposefully between banks and 15 euro sushi packages – definitely the financial heart. One industry is always replaced by another, I guess.
Later, I headed out with a couple of people from the hostel. Yet another assault of pintxos, vino tinto and sidra followed. Fried seafood croquette, iberico puree, jamon bocadillo, tortilla with cheese – it’s very easy to eat and drink and drink and eat and then wonder why you’re so full – and where all your small bills went.
Wandering back through the streets, I spotted a golden beacon – ‘Las Fritas’, some ‘famous’ chips I’d read about online. The shutter was half-down, and slowly descending. I crouched down and looked inside, calling out “hola!”. The budget Antonio Banderas manning the counter grinned and pressed a button – the shutter started rolling up. He tossed a batch of chips in the fryer, saying he wouldn’t usually close this early (it was 10:30pm; the hours on his door were ’til midnight) – but that in Spain, you close when you feel like it. As we waited, four or five more people were drawn to the smell of frying potatoes. Antonio greeted them with a smile. I can confirm that the chips are fantastic, a must-try if you find yourself in Bilbao. Get the aioli, too.
I’m done for today. Time for sleep.
‘Til next time,