The cheapest way to get there from Barcelona was taking a flight into Bilbao. So I decided to see the Guggenheim for the day then take a one hour bus ride on to San Sebastian. Bilbao is experiencing a cultural transformation. Former industrial areas seem to now be stylish tourist spots and they played opera in the tram! I’m not saying there is a lot to see in the town but I think its worth a stop on a longer trip. It was also the first time on my trip I’d seen green, misty mountains in the distance – for me that’s the landscape that makes my heart feel at home.
The Guggenheim was re-doing the exhibits, so all but the first floor was closed, which was actually fine with me. I got to see a couple of big exhibits and then admire the building (the real draw) up close.
I had extra time so I went to the Basque museum. Bilbao is the capital of the region known as Basque Country, which straddles both sides of the France-Spain border. They have their own language and every sign was in both Spanish and Basque (Etrusxxx…forget name…looks nothing like any other language – see it above the Spanish in the picture) plus often French and English. The Basque people want an autonomous state, and a portion of the population supports ETA, who I believe have now broken their cease-fire. I was looking for more information on the Basque viewpoint and was surprised to find the museum was exclusively about the preserving the lifestyle of the Basque peoples. It was very telling to see how extensively they documented the lifestyle…it was basically a natural/living history museum. The people were either fishermen or shepards, depending on their personal geography. I learned quite a bit about the region so it was worthwhile.
I caught the tram back to the bus station, took my bags out of storage and hopped on the bus for a lively ride to San Sebastian.