Most people come to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim museum, either the art inside or just to stare at the building.
Not me, I have been asked to work there for a week, which gives me the ideal opportunity to meet some of the locals as well as explore this city in the heart of the Basque Country.
Before I arrive, I must first find a place to stay. I settle for the Gran Hotel Domine due to the central location, it’s panoramic views of the city and its stylish rooms and arty look.
Upon arrival in Bilbao, I immediately sense the artistic culture of this city. It truly believes it is a place for creating and viewing art. It has an air of arrogance but as I am to find out good reason for this.
The Gran Hotel Domine does not disappoint.
It is stylish and opulent with large trendy rooms. From the restaurant terrace I stood in awe of the panoramic view of the city, with the backdrop of the green mountains. However, I was not prepared for the image right in front of my eyes by the side of the winding river; the uniquely designed Guggenheim museum.
This shimmering titanium landmark is mesmerising. Its many curves create a structure of amazing beauty.
I stand transfixed unable to take my eyes off it.
The only other time I have looked at a building in this way was from Circular Quays in Sydney Harbour towards the Opera House.
As always, the most simple way to get my bearings is to go for a run. The river Nervión runs through the heart of the city. An out and back will give me a good reference.
Down the steps by the Guggenheim, my starting point is the Maman Spider. At over 9 metres tall, the Bourgeois sculpture is an ambitious piece of work but somehow doesn’t look out of place.
I head left with numerous others who think a run is a good idea.
With the river on my right, I am soon passing the Iberdrola Tower, which all grand looks down over the city and am then onto the old remains of the ship yards. Long gone but reference from crane type structures show off proud heritage. Then as I look to my left I see the modern place of worship. The Athletico Bilbao football stadium, high above the river in a prominent location of the city.
My thoughts wander towards the original team, helped by the shipbuilders of Sunderland to set up in the first place. And if there were any modern day similarities between the two clubs, other than the red and white kits.
And then on out of town. I realised at this point the old city was in the opposite direction and I should take a look on another opportunity.
Next day would offer me the inner delights of the Guggenheim, it is was half as good inside as it was outside then I was in for a treat. One of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, the building has been hailed as a magical moment in architectural culture as critics, academics and the public were united about it.
Inside the building gives an initial artistic feel, the spaces are open with three floors to explore. This building is filled with art from the mid 20th century to contemporoay times. On the ground floor, I am drawn to a large room full of steel scupltures (Richard Serra), in which you can walk through the display. I keep an open mind and explore.
Upwards through the visiting exhibition of Francis Bacon and then up again to the Picasso’s. As a person lacking an artistic reference in my logical head, it takes around two hours to see all that I want; followed by a beer at the cafe to reflect on this iconic place.
The following day allows me to walk the Old Quarter or as the locals say the “Casco Viejo”. This is the real heart of the city from a previos era. To get there I walk along by the river, past the Town Hall before turning into this distinctive older part of town. It is full of quaint cafe’s, high end shops and bars. Before long, the Plaza Nueva is presented, a neoclassical square home to the pintxos bars and cafe’s. An unbelievable sight with an energetic buzz of people socialising. A must for any traveller to this city and a most memorable way to end my stay in Bilbao.