I had heard stories, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect Bilbao. We arrived on a tour bus with fellow students crossing tall bridges into the city. I remember thinking that Bilbao felt like a fortress with the Guggenheim Museum nestled into the river bank. Except the Guggenheim Museum is no ordinary structure found in any sort of fairy tale conceivable by quiet imaginations; more like a dreamland building in curvy titanium built by the one and only Frank Gehry (the same Canadian architect responsible for buildings such as these).
The day started at the museum with just enough time to enjoy a very neat exhibit featuring 300 years of American art. It was funny to see so much americana in a land that felt far away from home, but when wasn’t I surprised by Spain? Keep in mind that the Guggenheim is a contemporary/modern art museum, so they are known for featuring art as innovative as the structure itself. My favorite piece was this room that had five television screens playing different surreal situations all linked by mixed noise music. Very trippy and engrossing.
After an uneventful lunch, Amy and I sat along the river bank, reading ‘The Little Prince’ aloud to each other while we waited for our afternoon walking tour of the town. Something about the city made us feel right at home very quickly and I soon realized that I dreaded having to leave after only one short day. I don’t know if it was the whimsy of the city reflected in the Zubizuri footbridge, or the fight between the obvious transition of a predominantly urban, industrial city to a more touristic zone, but Bilbao held that sparkle of curiosity I’ve come to love in cities.
Our tour of Bilbao consisted of walking through some of the most historic neighborhoods and important architecture. I remember walking through Plaza Nueva and thinking about how different the city felt compared to Barcelona- it was akin to the difference between pistachio gelato and raspberry; the same basic elements that make it delicious, with a completely unique twist. Also, the basque language, which was very present, is entirely different from Spanish and Catalan- all I remember how to say in basque is food related, go figure.
Casco Viejo was another fascinating neighborhood, famous for its medieval architecture and the maze of colorful streets, bars, and shops that tempted even the most thrifty study-abroad student. It is easy to see why so many imaginations have been captured by Bilbao and why it is obviously one of the top 10 places I would like to return to and explore more in depth, when my student budget isn’t quite so modest.