Not a city many would rank amongst Spain’s greats; a Barcelona or Madrid it is not and barring those of you whom are not architecture geeks I would happily wager you’re completely unaware of its existence. Hell, the Spanish news doesn’t even include it in it’s list of forecasted cities so who am I to expect you to have heard about it.
That said, it’s not a small place by any means, the population pushes upwards of 350,000 and hosts what is deemed to be one of Spain’s best universities, Duesto. Remnants of Bilbao’s shipping history line the central river, which acts as a natural division between the city’s historic hillside and its newly formed modern life.
The city’s division is personified by it’s uncontested crown jewel, the Gehry designed, Guggenheim museum which takes prize position upon the river’s banks in an almost directly opposite position to the original town hall.
Lonely Planet intro aside there is but one reason for someone to visit Bilbao and in case you hadn’t guessed already it’s for the giant-fuck-off-metal-distortion that is Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim. Old Gehry is one of my favourite architects and his work is admired by around the world. The last piece of his I visited was the Toronto art museum which opened whilst I was living there a couple of years ago and for anyone even remotely interested I highly suggest you watch one of Sidney Pollack’s last pieces of work, “Sketches of Frank Gehry”, a documentary of Gehry’s work.
There was another reason, beyond man-love, for me to see the Guggenheim; which is that simply I’ve never seen one… well not properly anyway. Each time (and it’s been three now) that I have been to visit the Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim in New York I’ve been greeted with no more than a scaffolding clad structure obscuring any chance of appreciating it’s external facade first hand.
So what if it meant an hour long flight to the complete opposite side of Spain that I had flown in to, to a place most people had never heard of, I was doing it (and I’d checked there was no scaffolding on this one).
Excluding a hail ridden thunder storm and hideous grey skies that consistently haunted each photograph this Guggenheim reconnaissance mission was a success. I suppose. I could have sat and stared at the building for hours (should the weather have allowed it), its contents and exhibiting pieces bored me to tears, mostly, but I got what I came for.
As for Bilbao, well if you Google “things to do in Bilbao” every list I came across basically had the museum at number one and then quickly turned in to a random list of bars and cafes. It has a nice shopping mall that seems nice but never has anyone in it and they’re building a giant sky-scraper that sticks out a bit.
Yeah. Unless you’re an architecture or art buff I can’t recommend this one, but if I was ever nearby again I’d be back to Bilbao in a heart beat.