We flew from Marseille to Bilbao via Barcelona on Vueling. The flight was, at least, an hour late in departing MRS which led us to miss our connection in BCN and arriving in BIO almost 2 hours later than scheduled ...
and without our bags ...
|Gus sitting in front of an empty baggage carousel at Bilbao Airport|
Our bags were on the next flight that arrived at 9:45 p.m. or 3½ hours after they had been scheduled to arrive in Bilbao, ni modo.
We rented our car and 6 miles and 30 minutes later we arrived at the Silken Gran Domine Bilbao, a sleek and contemporary city hotel that we were to spend the next 3 nights.
|Atrium, centered around a dramatic abstract|
sculptural "cypress tree" designed by Javier Mariscal.
The sculpture itself is of rocks bound within a wire mesh.
|At the base of the sculptural "tree" is a collection of personalized rocks.|
We had eaten very little during the course of the day and after checking-in we had our bags sent up to our room and ducked into the hotel's lobby lounge for a few pintxos and a bottle of Txakolina the bracing, refreshing, often fizzy white wine that is enjoyed throughout Basque country.
|Penthouse Executive Suite|
(photo credit: hotels-silken.com)
The room was decorated with furniture and exclusive artwork of Javier Mariscal.
Blue and Red
View of the Guggenheim (blue) andArcos Rojos (red) appended to
the industrial looking Puente de la Salve Bridge. Daniel Buren,
a French conceptual artist, transformed the bridge into a piece of
art much more suitable to the new look of the city. This change was in
2009 done to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Museum.
|View of the hotel's famous neighbor from the terrace of our room.|
Our room, situated on the sixth floor of the hotel had an outdoor terrace with stunning views of the Guggenheim Museum and the green hills surrounding Bilbao.
The next morning we enjoyed an extensive buffet breakfast served at the Buenos Vista Terrace on the rooftop of the hotel before we headed across the street to what Bilbaoans refer to as “el Guggen.”
Carpeted in colorful swaths of flowering plants,
the 41-foot-tall Westie joined the Guggenheim
Bilbao’s permanent collection in 1997 and stands in
the Plaza Aguirre just outside the museum entrance.
Philip Johnson, the godfather of modern architecture, with the opening of the Guggenheim Bilbao declared the structure “the greatest building of our time.”
Using innovative computer technology, internationally acclaimed Frank Gehry designed and built a structure of striking originality and formal inventiveness. The swirling shapes of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao covered in highly reflective titanium are not only astonishingly original, they were, at the time, like no other building that people had ever seen.
|Entrance to the Guggenheim is to the left and down a long|
flight of stairs. The museum’s second floor is at street level.
|The atrium, which Gehry nicknamed ''The Flower''|
because it culminates in a series of angled geometrical
shapes, serves as the organizing center for the entire
|Installation for Bilbao |
A light-emitting diode installation—nine vertical
L.E.D. signboards, each more than 40 feet high— by
Jenny Holzer. The words in the moving lines are a
conversation about AIDS, and they switch back and
forth between Basque, Spanish, and English..
Whether the architecture overwhelms the art is a question that Mr. Gehry has been asked before. ''The building has to have wonderful art but it also has to be a draw,'' he said. ''This was part of my mandate. This has a sense of place in relation to the city and other buildings. I believe artists want that too. They want a building to have importance in the community.''
The structure is absolutely magnificent and awe-inspiring - yet it holds a rather mediocre and uninspiring collection of art work. There is no large or famous permanent collection here, and while some of the temporary exhibits that come through the museum are interesting, many of them are just expressions of political or social activism thinly veiled as art. Still, it is hard to resist the temptation to say that you have visited the Guggenheim, one of the most impressive buildings in Spain.
Walking through the central atrium and outside to the "backyard" ...
|Les Trois Grâces|
Keeping in the classic style of French-American artist
Niki de Saint Phalle's work, Les Trois Grâces are
3 large sculptures of voluptuous women (a creation
that de Saint Phalle calls a 'Nana') who appear to be
dancing. Made of fiberglass, one Nana is covered in
white, one silver and the other is black mosaic tiles.
Each wear elaborate bathing suits of abstract design
and multiple color schemes. They are Saint Phalle's
own version of The Three Graces.
A bouquet of multicolor balloon flowers of stainless
steel and glass blown up to gargantuan proportions
(more than 6 feet tall and 16 feet across), belongs to
the ambitious Celebration series, initiated by
Jeff Koons in 1994.
|Tall Tree & The Eye|
Sculpture by British-Indian artist
Anish Kapoor standing outside
the museum. the sculpture is made
of stainless and carbon steel and its
73 spheres reflect the surrounding
area: the Nervión River and, the
nearby Puente de la Salve Bridge,
|A bronze spider towers above a plaza alongside the|
by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, is more
than 30 feet wide and almost 30 feet high.
Returning inside we turned to the left and entered Arcelor Gallery (often referred to as the "boat gallery"), a vast room, some 430 feet long by 80 feet wide , and encountered ...
|Richard Serra's "Matter of Time" |
Dramatic view from the second floor balcony above the Arcelor gallery
(photo credit: artinfo.com)
The installation is breathtaking. The space inside, the gap between the walls, narrows, widens, breathes in and out (if you can speak of massive iron "breathing") and eventually led us to an inner chamber, for exit we had to follow the same route out. At all points, the structures were open to the gallery roof; we were able to see out only by looking up, which didn't really help a disoriented Gus locate himself. Exploring was a bit claustrophobic and unsettling ... to be in the narrow curving slot between giant planes of steel, to be unable to see what lies ahead.
While there is just no way of fully experiencing this exhibition without actually entering its inner sanctum, imagine for a moment being inside the video below ...
To some degree this is art for the feet. Serra’s eight sculptures
invite you to walk them in sequence. In fact they demand it. How
else will you get to see them?
Leaving the Arcelor gallery we headed up to the second floor and gallery 105 to view Jeff Koons: A Retrospective. Koons has a unique style that allows seemingly contradictory concepts to coexist harmoniously.
His art is provocative, intelligent, esoteric, creative, challenging, bemusing, and at times disturbing or simply vulgar. People either love or hate Koons' work. Gus could go either way.
In The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl announced that there was no way of arguing with his success. Koons is “the signal artist of today’s world,” Schjeldahl wrote. “If you don’t like that, take it up with the world.” In New York magazine Jerry Saltz announced that “haters will hate, but ‘A Retrospective’ will allow anyone with an open mind to grasp why Koons is such a complicated, bizarre, thrilling, alien, annoying artist.”
|Antiquity (Manet) |
The background of the painting shows the images of Christ
and Manet: to the left is a Greco-Roman statue of Aphrodite,
to the right an ithyphallic satyr, in the center is a very stylized
representation of a couple embracing. At the forefront, is a child
like drawing of a sailing ship using a brown magic marker.
(To Koons, ships are metaphors for sexuality.)
|Michael Jackson and Bubbles|
A larger-than-life gilded porcelain sculpture of the late
musician and his cherished pet chimpanzee.
Unfortunately, we never made it to the third floor as it was closed for a changing of exhibitions; from The Art of Our Time: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collections (September 23, 2014 – May 10, 2015) to Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time (July 3, 2015 – November 1, 2015).
We headed back to the hotel for a quick rest stop and then headed out for a walk-about. Exiting from the back of the hotel we turned right onto Lersundi and quickly left onto Iparraguirre, a narrow and primarily residential street.
Housing prices in city center Bilbao are relatively expensive: for a 3 bedroom residence one could expect to pay $1,400 of rent per month and to buy a similar apartment would cost around $550,000. However, the location is ideal and most of the buildings have undergone extensive renovation and upgrade in the last 20 years coinciding with Abandoibarra's (a district of Bilbao) revitalization and transformation. The building in the lower left corner is Casa Montero; built in 1904 and designed by Luis de Aladrén, a disciple of Antoni Gaudí.
|Iglesia San José de la Montaña |
Belongs to the order of the Augustinians, and
was designed by José Basterra in 1918.
Flemish style building located on The Elliptical
Square. Since 1943 the palace has hosted the
Government of the Spanish province of Biscay.
Access to the metro is provided by 'fosteritos', glass structures
affectionately named after the architect who designed them,
Norman Foster. These modern-looking tunnels stand attractive
alongside the modern and innovative interior of the stations.
Reflection of Joan & Gus in garden mirror.
An old wine warehouse designed by Ricardo Bastida and inaugurated
in 1909, which has morphed into a cultural and sports center.
|Fourth-floor indoor, glass-bottom swimming pool.|
By now it was late afternoon and we stopped in for a bite at restaurant La Florinda. We ordered a hamburger and fries which we split and two cold beers which we didn't split. From the Alhóndiga we caught a taxi to Casco Viejo or what Bilbaoans call "The Seven Streets" which is a reference to the oldest part of the neighborhood which included 7 parallel streets: Somera, “upper”, Artekale “middle street”, Tendería “shopkeeper’s”, Belostikale, Carnicería Vieja “old butchery”, Barrenkale “lower street” and Barrenkale Barrena, “lower, lower street”. Over the centuries, it grew and occupied more than those seven streets, but has retained the name.
The old town, a pedestrian zone, contains several historical churches (San Antón, Santos Juanes, the Cathedral, San Nicolás), the Arriaga Theater and many of the city’s bars and restaurants.
|San Nicolás Church|
Designed by Ignacio de Ibero, it was inaugurated in 1756, and is noted for its
striking Baroque façade topped by two towers. It was a meeting point for sailors
before going to sea. Exterior and interior restoration has allowed the church to
recover its splendor, eliminating added details and revealing again the quality of
the stonemasonry from Galdakao. Its interior houses altarpieces and sculptures
by Spanish artist Juan de Mena.
Modeled after the Paris Opera House and opened in 1890. It is the work
named after the Bilbao-born composer Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, known
as the “Spanish Mozart” in those days. It offers a year-round program of artistic
activities, with theater performances, opera, ballet, concerts, and other cultural
We walked south onto Calle Bidebarrieta Kalea and passed by a small croquetas shop. Although we did not try any of the shop's offerings Gus noticed that they were selling cooked (just fried) and uncooked (take home and fry) items including, but not limited to, croquetas of cod, fried ham sandwiches stuffed with bechamel and cheese, piquillo peppers stuffed with shrimp and mushrooms, cannelloni with different fillings, and bacalao al pil-pil.
Not stopping to sample anything we continued, passing by charming apartments ...
|Elaborate sets of enclosed glass sun porches that are|
an ubiquitous architectural feature in Bilbao. They’re
known as miradors.
... and arriving at Plaza de Santiago and standing next to the beautiful Catholic cathedral.
|Cathedral of Santiago de Bilbao|
It is the oldest church in Bilbao, built in 1379 and
carries the name of the patron saint of Bilbao.
Architecturally, the present building is a blend of styles: from the 15th century Gothic of the cloister and the main vault, to the overly lavish Gothic Revival façade, rose window, tower and spire.
|Cloister and Sacristy of the Cathedral|
|Portico Home, south side|
Leaving the square of the Cathedral we found ourselves on Dog Street ...
|Fuente del Perro (the Dog Fountain)|
The fountain has been named after its street location.
Note that the three gargoyles, despite what some have
wanted to see, are not heads of dogs but lion heads. In
Ancient Egyptian architecture, gargoyles were typically
in the form of a lion's head.
While we did not walk all "seven" streets we did hit three ...
|View from pedestrian bridge, Puente de la Ribera, which spans the Estuary of Bilbao. On the left (oddly, the "right" bank) is Mercado de la Ribera and on the right (the "left" bank) is Bilbao la Vieja|
|Across the river and a bit uphill to a terraza that was packed due to it|
being "nice enough" weather, being a late Saturday afternoon, and the
terrace being part of Bar Marzana 16 which overlooks the estuary.
Returning to the hotel we turned-in for an early night. The next day we set out on an adventure. Originally planned as a culinary adventure Gus and Joan were "treated to" or "challenged by", depending on one's perspective, an extraordinary satnav adventure.
Gus had made arrangements to have lunch at Asador Etxebarri. This "grill joint" is said to be a 40 minute drive from our hotel, without traffic. Reservations were for 1:30. We left the hotel's garage at noon. Well, our GPS navigation suggested a route which would avoid toll roads and took us meandering and confusingly through Bilbao. We saw Bilbao in our rear view mirror 45 minutes later; we should be at the restaurant by now. Once on national highway N-637 we seemed to fare much better until we took the exit for Durango and found ourselves on a poorly maintained narrow road which was more suitable for mountain bikes that our rental car. This route was one of two routes to the restaurant, unfortunately it took us through Urkiola Natural Park. The road led Gus and Joan over hill and dale while turning from paved but poorly maintained into graveled and at times washed-out. There were dead-ends, farm houses mistakenly thought to be our destination, an abandoned car in a roadside ditch, and the inevitable forks in the road. The car's temperature gauge remained safely in the middle position, however, both Gus' and Joan's temperatures were steadily rising. It started to rain. Leaving the park, ahead we saw a small Basque village nestling in the lush green and rolling hills of Atxondo. Soon a sign indicated we had arrived in Axpe, home to ...
|The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2010,|
which it has retained ever since. Voted to be No. 13 on
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2015.
|Old stone house on the village square, that is now the|
restaurant, was personally restored by the chef over
25 years ago.
It was nearly 2:00 or 30 minutes after our reservation time. Joan jumped out into the rain and went inside while Gus parked the car behind the building. When Gus went inside he felt as lost in a loud and crowded first floor barroom of Etxebarri as he had felt while driving in Urkiola Natural Park. Fortunately, Gus discovered the second floor and the restaurant dining room. Joan was seated at a nice table for two towards the front.
Gus had been looking forward to eating at this restaurant ever since he had read Cooked, by Michael Pollan.
"... even after some two million years of practice, the possibilities of cooking with fire may not be exhausted yet ... a self-trained chef in his fifties by the name of Bittor Arguinzoniz, a former lumberjack and electrician, has been quietly and intently reinventing what it means to cook with fire in the twenty-first century." Michael Pollan
|Castell d' Encus Taleia 2011|
The sommelier recommended this wine
to accompany the first two courses of our
lunch. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc (87%)
and Sémillon (13%) that was very food
|Gambas de Palamós - Both Gus & Joan|
These were only borderline cooked but, as all the seafood is kept
live until needed, they were as fresh as could be. At once sweet,
smoky, succulent, almost a raw texture and sprinkled with a light
smattering of salt – dazzling in its simplicity yet so
We changed wines and each paired a single glass of Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero with our final shared course of "Beef on a Bone."
|Bone-In Rib Eye of Galician Beef - Shared by Gus & Joan|
With a seared char crust, sparingly salted and bordering on rare
we couldn’t have asked for a tastier dish or a better showcase of
that Etxebarri smoky char flavor. Served with a vinegary lettuce
salad to balance the richness of the meat.
Fortunately we had a better idea of driving routes and were able to avoid getting lost and arrived back at our hotel in less than and hour.
Tomorrow we travel to the beautiful wine region of La Rioja.