We knew we wanted to visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain designed by architect Frank Gehry. What we did not know is that Bilbao is a striking and vibrant town before you even get to the Guggenheim.

We arrived in Bilbao mid-afternoon, checked into the Hotel Ibis Bilbao Centro (Jeff likes Ibis hotels) and asked the desk clerk where we could find some action - we would visit the Guggenheim the next morning. The desk clerk directed us to the old town to which we walked in 15 or 20 minutes. After sitting in a very crowded outdoor cafe for an hour listening to an American singing songs in English we were getting cold. We decided to try a large but cozy looking cafe inside an old building that we had walked by.

There we found a nice crowd enjoying conversation, drinks and pintxos (similar to tapas). Naturally we joined in on the beverages and pintxos and even a bit of conversation with some locals. We enjoyed this cafe very much and must have spent a couple of hours there. On the walk back to the hotel we passed by several cafes filled with people enjoying themselves. Bilbao did not seem like a town in a country where unemployment is about 25% and 50% among young people.

The next morning we walked down one of Bilbao's main streets toward the Guggenheim. A block away from the hotel we came across the Alhondiga, a stately looking building that took up a square block. As we walked past it, we saw an entrance and out of curiosity went inside. What a surprise! We found ourselves in very large open area in which distinctly designed pillars supported what looked like several brick buildings inside the Alhondiga itself.

The Alhondiga

Inside the Amazing Alhondiga (Web Photo)

Here is a bit of info about this amazing strucutre. The Alhondiga was originally a wine warehouse, inaugerated in 1909. In the 1990s the city of Bilbao undertook the job of transforming the Alhondiga "into a new focal point in the daily life of Bilbao’s residents. It took eight years to build for a cost of 75 million euros (92.5 million dollars)" (source: Completed in 2010 the Alhondiga now includes a cinema multiplex, a fitness centre, a library, showrooms, an auditorium, shops, a swimming pool that lets you see the swimmers from below and a restaurant. Decorating the ground floor and supporting the inner structures are 43 unique columns some made from marble, others from brick, others from steel, stone, terracotta, bronze, aluminum, wood and cement.

As we walked toward the museum, we came across shops with some interesting edibles.

Huge red peppers, almost the size of a football

Hanging hams - Bilbao is a big ham town, however Sueann and I are not big fans of Jamon Serrano.

We continue our walk toward the Gugguenheim which is at the end of the street we are on and therefore looks larger as we walk.

The Guggenheim as seen from the street we walked down. The flowery animal in front turns out to be a huge flowered dog. "This floral sculpture of a West Highland terrier has been located at several sites. It was first created in 1992 for a temporary exhibit in Germany. It was moved to the front of the Guggenheim in 1997 as part of the opening exhibit and was later exhibited in Rockefeller Center in New York City. It is now part of the permanent collection of the Bilbao Guggenheim -- and some a say a symbol for the city. A stainless steel armature holds over 25 tons of soil watered by an internal irrigation system."

The Guggenheim from behind which is believed to be the most impressive view (Web Photo)

Our 7.5 Euro senior tickets for the Guggenheim included an audio guide that provided an excellent architectural overview of the museum narrated by its architect, Frank Gehry. As befits my senior status I can only remember a few bits of this narrative.

  1. The only flat surface on the exterior and the interior of the museum is the floor. Even the ceilings are curved.
  2. Gehry says the randomness of the exterior curved surfaces "are designed to catch the light"
  3. Gehry was influenced by childhood memories of fish and ships and their shapes formed the basis for many of the museum's curved surfaces.

We found the exterior of the Guggenheim to be interesting and beautiful. But the interior was fascinating with all of its curved surfaces made from titanium, limestone and glass. We spent a lot of time looking at the interior structure which for us was the most important work of art on view. We did spend time in two of the exhibits, Frank Serra's installation "The Matter of Time" and David Hockney's "A Bigger Picture".

Serra's "The Matter of Time" is a permanent exhibit of the Guggenheim and occupies the largest gallery of the museum. Serra has sculpted a variety of forms made from tall walls of slanted rusted steel. The shapes include double ellipses, spirals and snakes all of which the visitor may enter and explore. The walls of each form may slant together, opposed or in other angles which provide the visitor with some rather unique experiences.

David Hockney's exhibit consists of 200 works in eight galleries of the Guggenheim. They are mostly landscapes, Hockney's subject and they are full of rich vibrant colors. Because of the intensity and juxtapostion of his colors, Sueann believes that Hockney has developed extremely unique visual pathways. She says "it's almost as if his neural pathways have been damaged."

A partial view of the Atrium. The tall curved glass shape on the left serves as a shaft for an elevator that runs within.

Frank Serra's "The Matter of Time" installation as seen from above.

David Hockney's "Winter Timber", an inspiring oil on canvas painting that is 20 feet by 9 feet (Web Photo)

One panel of 52 panels of Hockney's "The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011". The panels were originally finger painted on an iPad using a special brush app and then printed on paper larger than the iPad screen. Later Hockney created a huge (12 feet by 32 feet) oil on canvas work from the iPad panels (Web Photo)

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