Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Paris and Northern Spain: Day 6

by Kathy 20. October 2010 12:10

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<< Day 5: Hondarribia—Fast Train to Spain | Day 7: Santillana del Mar—Cave Paintings and Quaint Town >>


Bilbao—Guggenheim Museum and Old Town

The grey skies promised rain today, but we were still giddy thinking about the start of our new adventure. This morning we would be renting a car and beginning a five-day journey that would wind through the northern coastal mountains of Spain and then veer south to reach Barcelona on the Mediterranean Sea.

Our destination today was the beautiful city of Bilbao. The drive would be short, about 1 ¼ hours.

We picked up our tiny car from the San Sebastian airport, about 10 minutes from our hotel.

I have to admit that we got a bit lost leaving the airport, turning right when we should have turned left, and then not reading the signs fast enough at the roundabouts (traffic circles). The end result was that we got a “grand tour” of Hondarribia before we finally made our getaway.

We didn’t mind. Hondarribia was a lovely town.

This side of the fortress walls had flags hanging down, which we hadn’t seen when exploring on foot yesterday.

There was a pretty fountain in the middle of this roundabout:

(Hmmm . . . could be that I didn’t read the roundabout signs fast enough because I was too busy taking pictures.)

Out of town, we followed some back roads for a while and then popped out onto the main highway heading east.

The hillsides were lush and cloaked in green:

Residential buildings:

Entering Bilbao:

We found Bilbao to be a fascinating blend of the old and new.

This combination was reflected in the architecture. Here is an example of the “old”:

And the “new”:

Bilbao supposedly was once a gritty industrial town, but all we saw were clean streets and beautiful architecture. Some people attribute Bilbao’s purported transformation to the wave of artistic and intellectual energy brought by the Guggenheim Museum, which was completed in 1997. The museum continues to draw people to Bilbao from all over the world.

We were staying in an apartment, conveniently located in the heart of the commercial district.

Our apartment had two bedrooms, a kitchen, and (most important) a washing machine—pure luxury, I say!

After we started a load of laundry, we headed for the local supermarket to purchase lunch fixings—fresh bread, Spanish ham, cheese, fruit and other treats.

Walking back to the apartment, Sebastian and Ben were hand in hand:

I couldn’t stop gawking at the buildings.

After a refreshing lunch, we took a walk to the Guggenheim Museum, which was the main reason why we had decided to visit Bilbao.

Here are Sebastian and Genevieve (and a stylishly dressed woman), with the titanium curves of the museum peeking through the buildings at the far end of the street.

More beautiful architecture:

This brick wall screamed "personality", with its colorful diagonal stripes:

Even the newly paved road was getting an artistic imprint:

There it was—the Guggenheim!

Out front was the flower sculpture “Puppy” by pop artist Jeff Koons:

A back view:

The flowers on “Puppy” were cheerful:

And they were also providing nectar for local honeybees:

Many people think that the greatest artwork at the Guggenheim is the museum structure itself. It was designed by Frank Gehry, who used titanium, glass and limestone to create a curving, free-flowing architectural sculpture.

The vast artistic spaces inside were just as impressive. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited in the gallery spaces. Other than this photo of Genevieve in the lobby (which generated a loud reprimand from a worker), I don’t have any photos of the interior, with its soaring beams and curves and organic spaces that made our jaws drop.

The bottom floor of the museum contained permanent exhibits. We all loved Richard Serra’s humongous sheets of steel that were shaped into swirls, wavy lines, and circles that you could enter into and explore. We felt small in comparison to the massive rust-covered walls that rose on both sides as we moved through each shape. The exhibit was definitely a sensory experience. Genevieve and Sebastian even discovered that the different shapes of steel corridors created various types of echoes.

Serra’s artwork was called “A Matter of Time”. Here is a photo that I found on the Internet:

(above photo credit:

Sebastian’s favorite artwork was the neon “Installation for Bilbao” by artist Jenny Holzer. The work consisted of nine skinny floor-to-ceiling columns that had neon words running up each one. The columns were placed so that you could walk past them into a large pocket of space that (to us) suggested an open jail cell. The words on the column were in Basque, Spanish and English, in red and blue colors that reflected off of the walls and floor.

Here are two photos from the Internet:

(above photo credit:

(above photo credit:

In the upper galleries were temporary exhibits, and we thoroughly enjoyed the variety presented by artist Anish Kapoor. In addition to his monotone pieces that explored how color changes based upon underlying shapes, he had some tall mirrored pieces that elicited lots of giggles from Genevieve and Sebastian as they viewed their squashed, stretched, or upside-down reflections.

Here is a photo (from the Internet) showing Kapoor’s mirrored artworks:

(above photo credit:

While we were inside the museum, rain had started. Here are Ben and Genevieve on an outdoor patio, with wet surfaces all around:

We had stepped outside to view a huge bouquet of metal flowers, called "Tulips," by artist Jeff Koons.

Also outside was another of Anish Kapoor’s pieces, called “Tall Tree and the Eye”:

(These outdoor photos were taken by us.)

Behind the museum was La Salve Bridge, which had been built in 1972; artist Daniel Buren had spiffied the bridge up with a red arch in 2007 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Guggenheim.

Another view of the museum’s stone and titanium exterior:

We had forgotten to pack our umbrellas, but we didn't mind getting wet on our way back to the apartment:

I was still enchanted with the city’s variety of architecture:

The rain had stopped by dinner time, so we decided to walk to the Old Town area (about 25 minutes). Here are Genevieve, Ben and Sebastian on the Grand Avenue of Don Diego López de Haro:

The Nervión River separates Old Town from the more modern section of Bilbao.

We crossed over the Puente (bridge) del Arenal:

To our left was the 15th century Baroque style church, San Nicolas de Bari:

The Old Town area is called “Casco Viejo”. The streets were narrow and many were lined with 5 or 6 story buildings on both sides.

Down one street, we could see the Bilbao cathedral, located on Plaza Santiago:

Zig-zagging our way through the streets, we found a fantastic local tapas bar and restaurant, called Saibagain, on Barrena street:

It was a boisterous place, full of local people who had stopped for a quick bite and/or drink on the way home from work. Many huge ham legs (complete with toes) were hanging over the bar. We seemed to be the only “tourists” there, but we were given a warm and friendly welcome. We ordered a selection of tapas, including bread, sardines, scrambled eggs with mushrooms and shrimp, fried eggs with ham and chips, anchovies, and mixed salad. Everything was delicious!

Here is Sebastian with an anchovy:

After dinner, we walked along the river, admiring the buildings on the other side:

Genevieve, with the Puente del Arenal in the background:

Close-up of the train station across the river:

Next to the bridge was the Arriaga Theater:

Between the theater and river, a tall climbing wall was being installed:

Genevieve had her heart set on some gelato tonight. After crossing the bridge, the first gelato shop we reached had already closed its doors. We knew there was another shop about half a mile away, but we didn’t know what time it stopped serving customers. She and I set out with a brisk jog. Hurray! The lights were still on over the gelato case when we rounded the corner.

Genevieve, with her cup of happiness:

We strolled leisurely back to our apartment, savoring the last moments of this grand day. We hadn’t expected the city of Bilbao to charm us so completely, but it had. We were smitten.

<< Day 5: Hondarribia—Fast Train to Spain | Day 7: Santillana del Mar—Cave Paintings and Quaint Town >>


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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin