Bilboa and San Sebastian

An unexpected surprise. At a friend’s suggestion we ended travelling to Bilbao mainly to see Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. All I knew about the Basque country was through their campaign for autonomy in the 1980s and ETA being deemed a terror group…one man’s hero is another’s…

We arrived at the airport which is a modern edificice designed by Calatrava. We took the airport bus into the centre of town (Moyua station) and walked to the hotel which was on the opposite side of the Nervion river to get there you go over Calatrava’sZubizuri bridge.

Once we dropped off our luggage we decided to explore the Guggenheim which was a short tram ride away. It was worth the trip, the building is an imposing swathe of curves surrounded by outdoor art by Kapoor, Klein, Bourgeois and Koons, inside local stalwart Oteiza. Admittedly, I found the interior of the Guggenheim distracting from the art and appreciated the large rooms with just the art. All this was next to the San Mames bridge which itself is a work of art. The city melds the old and the new very well, and obviously we have arrived after gentrification. Bilbao is an easy city to get around the tram takes you to the main sites and there are many to see.

There is a funicular railway which takes you atop a mountain viewpoint – Artxanda, you will have a full view of the city and explore the surrounding park. On a clear day we took a walk from Abando along the Nervion river towards Atxuri we passed the old town – Casca Viejo (filled bars and restaurants) and stopped by La Ribera indoor market for tapas and wine – well worth it. When we gathered our strength we attempted the stairs outside (Casca Viejo station) you’ll know them when you see them. It was a painful reminder of the onset of age.I would recommend Bilbao for its great architecture and mixture of public art.

We them took the Euskotren to San Sebastian, seriously the cheapest 100km train ride ever – 5Euro was all it cost, and it takes you through almost the entire mountainous and rugged Basque Country through Zarautz – a surfer’s paradise and home to Balenciaga then onto everyone’s favourite 19th century seaside town – San Sebastian with its famous beach La Concha and from which you can go up and explore the gardens of Miramar Palace. Admittedly we were there in March and the downpours were fierce. After having a meal and lots to drink, we summoned the courage to accidentally go up Mount Urgull – it was only until we were half way up we realised we had taken a wrong turn as we really wanted to visit San Telmo Museum which is set in a former cloisters. The view from the base of the statue of Christ you have another great view of the city.