Day 2: Guggenheim, Zubizuri & Antxanda

Friday morning and we woke to the sun shining at last, so with a hop and a skip (apart from Karen, who was still limping), we slunk through Bilbao looking for coffee

After a couple of coffees and a tortilla, we had to make our way to the most obvious place to visit in Bilbao – the Guggenheim, with its distinctive building designed by Frank Nehry. And just to add the icing to the cake, our trip has coincided with a special retrospective of the video artist Bill Viola, which is right up Karen’s street.

Like most major art galleries, you could spend an hour, a day or a week sampling the exhibits, and we stayed for a good while lapping up the slightly claustrophobic installation art of Richard Serra, the “Heroes” collection of Georg Baselitz, and the 3d film and video experiments of Ken Jacobs. There were also works by Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg and Mark Rothko in the permanent exhibition. But inevitably, it was Bill Viola’s work that really appealed – especially the “Tristan Ascending” waterfall piece , inspired by his work on the Wagner opera Tristan und Isolde in 2005. Seeing this on an enormous screen 20ft high is quite awesome. Karen was also taken by “The Dreamers” , while Dom found Life Spans mesmerising Outside the gallery are a number of other major works – Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, and Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree and the Eye. Well. Fill your boots.


Nest stop was Zubizuri bridge, one of the many bridges across the river in Bilbao. It was lunchtime so we stopped and by chance found a fantastic authentic restaurant called Bikandi Etxea, whose owners were really welcoming and who recommended some amazing local dishes.

Our day wouldn’t be complete without a trip up the funicular railway to Antxanda, one of the many hills overlooking Bilbao – or Bilbo, as it is known in the local dialect. Up at the top is a roller-rink, and a quirky fingerprint sculpture; but it is the view that is most impressive. Again, Bilbao looks surprisingly attractive, nestled between the rolling green hills of the surrounding countryside. We caught the Bilbobus back down to town for another evening’s dining on Pinchos in the old town.

Bilbao has really surprised us – we’d always imagined it was just going to be an industrial port, but it’s far more than that. For anyone travelling here by ferry (or even by plane), don’t bother with a car: the public transport (buses, trams, underground and funicular!) is extensive, and if you’re centrally based the city and the old town are fairly easy to walk around.

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