Country #60 - Spain

The Guggenheim

Today I visited Bilbao, Spain! You’re probably wondering why I chose Bilbao of every amazing place in Spain that there is to visit and the answer is pretty simple. I spent a week in Spain last year with my mom when she visited me during study abroad; we visited Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia, all of which I loved. However, ever since I heard about the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao it has sat at the top of my bucket list and a visit became a must. I am a huge fan of museums if you can’t tell, and especially modern art museums which the Guggenheim Bilbao is. Also, it seemed like a good idea to avoid Barcelona right now considering everything that is going on politically. So Bilbao, finally, it is!

I thankfully got a really good nights sleep before setting off for a full day in Bilbao. My first stop of the day was Catedral de Santiago. It was right near I was staying in the heart of Plaza Nueva area and was a beautiful example of gothic architecture. There was a nice audio guide that I appreciated and it was a really stunning Spanish church. From there I walked along Ria del Nervion O de Bilbao all the way to the Guggenheim. It was a beautiful walk along the water and I really enjoyed being able to see the city that way. When I arrived at the Guggenheim my jaw literally dropped. It is one of the most, if not the most, incredible buildings that I have ever seen. It is made of titanium (that’s as thin as tissue paper), stone, and glass. It is incredible and words simply cannot do it justice so please enjoy the pictures. The art outside (besides the creepy spider) was all amazing and I just so happened to walk by when the fog installation on the bridge went off which was really cool.

If I can give you any advice for visiting it would be to definitely buy your ticket ahead of time. The line outside went stretched up the long stairway entrance and down the street, but I was able to just walk right on in. Also, the ticket includes an audio guide! I took my time in the museum as it was the entire reason I was in Bilbao. And I was not disappointed. The first floor was filled with large installation pieces which I really enjoyed and will include some pictures of below. The second floor was entirely a video installation by one artist spread throughout the galleries which was really interesting. Lastly, on the third floor was the Guggenheim's permanent collection. It was a more typical gallery feel and included works by Rothko and Pollock.

I thoroughly enjoyed every floor as well as learning more about the building which is basically a sculpture in itself and was my favorite work of art on the day. It’s just such a cool building! I spent three hours in the museum and another hour outside taking pictures. I even walked up on the bridge next to it to get some better shots which I recommend if you visit. It was definitely worth travelling to see and I can now say that I have seen every Guggenheim museum (the others are in New York and Venice).

After the Guggenheim, I was starving but everything was, unfortunately, closed thanks to Siesta being an actual, annoying, thing. I get that it is a cultural thing but, speaking solely as a tourist, it is annoying to find things closed in the middle of the day. I found an ice cream place that was open at least. It wasn’t the ideal lunch situation but it was enough to hold me over until a large dinner later in the evening. After getting the ice cream I walked to Federico Moyúa Plaza which was filled with people and was just a cool spot in the center of the city to see. From there I walked to the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao. The permanent collection there is free from 6-8 so I waited ten minutes before entering and it was great!

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I really enjoyed the museum because it covered all time periods, from Medieval to Modern and everything in between in sequential order. I also enjoyed my time there as it wasn’t huge but was high in quality even having works by Picasso. I spent about an hour in the museum before walking by the next door Doña Casilda de Iturrizar Park for a few minutes and then walking back across the river to Plaza Nueva for dinner. I had originally planned to take the Metro back until I realized why their streets were swarming with people - Bilbao Athletic Club (soccer team) was playing Barcelona (FCB) tonight! There were fans everywhere and I even saw an approximately ten police car long motorcade escorting the Barcelona team bus. This added to it being a Saturday meant people were everywhere! As a result, I decided to walk and people watch instead of packing into a metro. I did not see any protests due to politics the entire day and the only thing I saw on my walk were lots and lots of soccer fans and a few chants!

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Plaza Nueva is basically the heart of Bilbao. It was absolutely packed. I think it is just a thing in Spain for children to run around squares at night while their parents socialize because I have seen it many times before. This one was no different other than some of the kids were wearing Halloween costumes. My favorite was definitely the little girl dressed as Iron Man; she was SO into it it was fantastic. She would try to blast everyone she saw with her hands like Iron Man does.  It was adorable.

It was a bit of a struggle to find a place to eat because ordering tapas off of the bar is a little stressful, but especially in Bilbao where English was much less common than in cities like Madrid or Barcelona. I found a sit-down restaurant on the square and only had to wait for the table for a few minutes! It was great. A French family came up and sat at the rest of my table. It wasn’t ideal because it was just a bit weird - they didn’t talk the whole time. My server told me, while they were deciding to sit down, that what they were doing was considered incredibly rude in Spain! It was weird but my food was fantastic and included some of my favorite tapas: croquetas, manchego cheese, and Iberian ham.

After dinner, I sat in Plaza Nueva for a bit and called my mom. My bus to Madrid didn’t leave until 1:00am so I had to find something to do to pass the time. I eventually found a cafe around the corner that served my favourite Spanish dessert, churros and chocolate! You dip the churros in the melted chocolate and it is as good as it sounds. I sat there for about two hours and then made my way back to my hotel to pick up my luggage and head to the bus station. I arrived about thirty minutes early and we started to board not long after. It was a four-hour ride to the Madrid airport and I slept at least two of them.

When I arrived in Madrid there was almost no one in the airport as it was 5:00am. Security was, as a result, really easy. Of course, the information boards didn’t say which gate to go to because Europe is the worst at this, but I used the American Airlines app to find out since I was flying home using a family pass. It was a long wait but I watched some TV and worked on my blog. I then had to do the new extra security screening for the first time. It’s the one that was just enacted where you have to answer questions (to the airline employees) about your travels. It was just as stupid and pointless as I thought it would be. I was asked what my occupation is and where I travelled in Spain. It was more annoying than anything else.

I got a seat on the plane even though I was low on the standby list and, excitedly, it was an exit row seat! There was nothing in front of me and I had tons of space for the entire flight. I watched two movies (The House and The Big Sick), slept for three hours, ate two meals, and worked on the blog. It was not turbulent at all and was overall a good flight back! I’m going to work in Dallas for a bit before heading out on my next trip back towards the Middle East! I had an amazing time on this trip, notably in Iceland and Spain. I highly recommend you visit both. I wish I could have done more of Spain on this trip but just know that Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia are all also amazing Spanish cities that you should definitely visit. Spain is such a unique country (or countries, depending on what happens there) and I have loved every second I have spent there!

60 countries down, 137 to go.