Day 5 |
May 02, 2010

Bilbao, Spain

By Olga Staveakis, Anthropologist/Historian

Co-ordinates: 43º20.318 N - 003º01.479 W

We started our visit to this incredibly beautiful Basque city under a light rain and cool morning temperatures driving along the Rio Nervion (an estuary of the Rio Bilbao) through a former industrial area, small towns, and up to a lovely green park with a spectacular panoramic view of the whole city.

The city of Bilbao is a marvel of unusual architecture with examples of Baroque, Art Nouveau, and super modern all connected by a series of parks and riverside walk ways. Once a dirty industrial town, in the last 30 years it has been converted into a marvel of eclectic harmonious styles that blend the old and the new into almost a three dimensional visual feast.

One particularly interesting building was somewhat Gaudiesque and the guide explained that it was designed by a student of the great man himself. The façade had flowing balconies with that melting look so typical of Gaudí’s work.

The highlight of this outing was the Guggenheim Museum, which was built jointly by the city of Bilbao and the Guggenheim Foundation in what is referred to as a post modern style. Made of shiny metal and light brick, the main spaces of the building feature sweeping elements with no straight lines and no right angles. Huge shiny metal arcs seem to float out of each other as if weightless. Inside, the exhibits seem to cater to different tastes. I was particularly interested in one that was rather architectural in style, which had the feel of a symbolic village with inner and outer walled spaces that reminded me of West African villages.

From the opposite side of the river, the view of the museum is quite stunning. The shiny gently undulating surface glistened in the rain. A giant metal sculpted spider stood silhouetted against the metallic surface.

In the old part of town we wandered around with the crowds of locals who had come out for Sunday celebrations sponsored by a local radio station, which was celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Children were given red balloons and a long line of people waited to receive free pastries, which looked like little éclairs.

A block from this square there was a columned patio with a flea market selling everything from antique coins to second hand shoes and lot of books. Wine shops lined the inside of the colonnade and were all packed with patrons sipping wine standing up elbow-to-elbow and snacking on delicious tapas of shrimp and ham.

We returned to the ship for lunch and I gave a lecture on Eleanor of Aquitaine and the High Medieval period followed by a short rest period then recap and dinner. This was followed by a special event, the Liar’s Club, a funny game show that our guests enjoyed!