24 Hours in Bilbao

Like every one who visits this city, our main focus was the Guggenheim. So we made that the start of our day. Our luck with the weather had come to an end, and our walk up the river from the old town was in a light drizzle and bitter breeze. But, the river walk is interesting for the variety of buildings that you can see as you move away from the old town.

The first sight of Gehry’s masterpiece is breath taking. There is no doubt that this building is one of the architectural wonders of the modern world. Its sinuous titanium curves entrance and beguile. The shapes complement each other, and the play of light across them is amazing. We had the pleasure of seeing it both in grey cloudy weather and in sun, when we emerged some two hours later.

The art begins outside, with a number of sculptures to entertain the public, including Jeff Koons famous living sculpture, ‘Puppy’:

Once inside, the initial fascination is again with the building itself, as the soaring, sensuous white curves of the foyer invite you to touch them:

But, this is an art gallery, so one’s attention must ultimately be dragged away from the structure and focus on the exhibitions. There are two temporary exhibits for our visit; a Jeff Koons retrospective and an exhibition of the late New York artist, Jean Michel Basquiat. The latter exhibition was particularly good – what a tragedy that he died at the age of 28.

However, my favourite work was called “The Matter of Time” – a permanent series of massive steel sculptures by Richard Serra. Beautiful.


 From the Guggenheim we turn inwards, heading for Alhondiga Bilbao – a converted old wine warehouse, with an interior designed by Phillipe Starck. The building is now a multi purpose centre, with a cinema, a media library, a gym and pool. We had also been led to believe that there were designer shops and restaurants – but the building was virtually deserted, and the cafes had almost no one in them, giving the building a somewhat desolate air. So, we abandoned the idea of having lunch there and continued walking.
We spied a restaurant nearby, with white walls and cheerful blue & white awnings, called La Mary. It had a menu de Dias for 10.50 Euro, and looked very popular – so, in we went ( just before the crowds turned up, as shortly after there was a long queue to get in). We felt very authentic, as we were the only English speakers, and none of the waiters spoke English. Using the Spanish and Basque dictionary on our phone we managed to work out enough key words to be able to order a meal. The meal was basic, tasty, home cooking – and, cheap!

We continued our wandering, with the central train station as our destination. It has a fabulous painted glass mural on one wall, as well as a beautiful tiled entrance:

From here we crossed the river and headed to the Mercado de la Riberio, built in 1929 and it has the distinction of being the largest indoor market in Europe. Unfortunately, we did not do our homework, as the market is open from 8am-2pm and then again from 5pm-7pm, and we were there at 3.30!

So, we continued on back into the old city and consoled ourselves with an ice cream from a 4th generation ice cream vendor:

By now the rain had returned, so we retreated back to Caravan Cinema for a rest before braving the rain soaked streets later in the evening for some Pintxo bar hopping to finish off our 24 hours in Bilbao:


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