So, yesterday afternoon we arrived in Bilbao after a pleasant cross-country drive from Burgos. We were booked into a hotel for the night to give us an evening and morning to investigate Bilbao, largely the Guggenheim museum, before our ferry back to Portsmouth.
The first thing to point out about Bilbao is that its geography, crammed between the Bay of Biscay and various precipitous chunks of ground not dissimilar from mountains, forces roads to be funnelled together resulting in a frenetic confusion of both roads and junctions between said lumps of rock. For once, I really appreciated having Sally Satnav and was very grateful that I didn’t have to rely on good old fashioned map reading. As good as Francine is with a map, the rapidity with which curves and junctions come upon one – speeds are quite high as many of the roads are motorway grade – any driver unfamiliar with the territory and names has little chance to assimilate the signs before the next decision is forced upon them. Being surrounded, as one inevitably is, by local Spanish drivers, going slow to gain time is not a viable option. After several leaps of the heart into the mouth, Sally got us to our target road.
Note that I said target road, not target hotel. Francine had been unable to program the precise hotel location so we just ended up near some random address on the road. Actually, we ended up at a T-junction onto the road. Left or right? Flip a coin. I went left and, after a little while we passed what we thought might be the hotel name we sought. Note also the term passed. At this point we were about half way up one of the aforementioned precipitous lumps of high ground. The roads are narrow with twists and turns. There are few, if any side turns resulting in a lack of places to flip a U-turn. I soon found myself heading for a slip road onto a dual carriageway taking us rapidly away from where we needed to be. I managed to make what was probably an illegal turn using a piece of rough ground immediately before the junction.
We returned to the hotel we’d seen where we were forced to cross opposing traffic approaching around a blind-ish bend and ended up in what this place laughingly called a parking area. Five cars was about the limit. The gate in was narrow and the driveway slope rivalled the worst of the Devon and Cornwall roads and had us nosing alarmingly down the mountainside on what must have been a 1 in 3 slope. Somehow, I parked. We announced our arrival. Wrong hotel! Señor Receptionista told us that the correct hotel was 4.5kms down the twisting, turning road. I should’ve gone right not left. The good thing about this was that this particular hotel looked and smelt like a dive and we’d rather have slept in our car. The bad thing was that I now had to renegotiate the cramped parking area and the 1 in 3 uphill slope to get the hell out again.
We meandered roughly 4.5kms down the twisting, turning road. Once again we missed and watched our correct hotel disappear on the left before we could turn in. Again there was no way to turn around. We ended up all the way at the bottom of the hill in Bilbao itself before I could perform what was probably another illegal manoeuver and return. Finally we checked in. What fun. A precise location in the satnav would’ve saved so much trouble. We drank several glasses of reality correction fluid – red reality correction fluid.
[I might offer a short explanation – oh, alright, an excuse – for our hotel name confusion. This is Basque country. The Basque language has cornered the market in the use of the letter X, most frequently in combination with a preceding letter T. We now know this combination makes a sound like our more familiar CH combination but it looks very unfamiliar to our eyes. The sound is largely irrelevant; almost every name looks like —ETX—. We’d initially picked one wrong —ETX— before finding the correct —ETX—.]
Right, so, we’re here. Bilbao highlights.
Our —ETX— looks down on the tallest skyscraper in Bilbao – pretty much the only skyscraper in Bilbao – which is the resultantly ostentatious Iberdrola [Spanish electricity company] building. We are quite high up one of those mountainous lumps. Fortunately, since I’m sure parking down below would require the intervention of someone’s non-existent deity, there is a wonderful old funicular railway running up and down the mountainside. It’s known affectionately as the “funi”. We were keen to give it a try. The top station was about 2kms from our —ETX—. We diced with the road again, this time managing not to miss our turn incurring another 5km penalty, and parked. Each funi ride costs 95 centimos. Brilliant – worth every centimos! Here’s a view downhill. This view is very similar to the one we had driving into our first, incorrect —ETX— but without the driver’s head.
Yesterday I freely admitted to being a cultural numbskull. Today I freely admit to being an artistic numbskull, too. [Are you getting an inkling as to why cities and I don’t mix?] I’m not entirely sure who or what a Guggenheim is because mercifully we didn’t go in. However, there was a piece of what I imagine is so-called modern art outside so I’ve mentally filed the Guggenheim away in the same dusty folder as the Tate Modern. I have to say that the structure of the Guggenheim building looks unique and quite interesting. When we were there, in common with the distressing majority of this trip to Spain, the sun was not out. I’m left wondering what this vast collection of differently angled metal plates might look like when the sun does shine. I’ll probably never really know, now.
Much is made of the so-called spider and of Pupi, both standing outside the Guggenheim. The spider may have eight legs but clearly isn’t really a spider, looking more like a spider-shaped collection of sticks. Pupi, on the other hand, is an immense flower bed standing 12m high, roughly in the shape of a dog. Why? Neither the colours of the flowers nor the way in which they are planted look particularly significant. So, more modern art, then, nothing being quite what it might seem. Give me Canaletto any day of the week.
Much more entertaining to my mind in Bilbao, was the fact that the buses are run under the name of Bilbobus and that there are tourist river boats trading under the wonderful bilingual joke of Bilboats. Terrific!