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Spain 2010 – Day 6: Bilbao

It’s day 6! We are now midway through our visit to northern Spain. Today we visit the industrial city of Bilbao and the instantly world famous Guggenheim Bilbao museum. We’ll also spend some time in the old town part of Bilbao. Afterwards, we’ll visit some of the oldest and most fantastic cave paintings in all of Europe (don’t get too excited as NO pictures were allowed). Onward!

NOTE: Click on any of the images to pop open a larger version with captions. You can scroll through the images by clicking on the right or left side of each image. Click away from the pop-up to close it.

On the drive to Bilbao, our guide Sam came on the com and told us a bit about the Guggenheim Bilbao museum. What I found most interesting is that he said previous tourists found the museum building itself more interesting than what was actually displayed within it. I technically wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside the museum, but how can you compare if I don’t sneak a few? First, take a look at the museum itself.

A view from the side of the Guggenheim Bilbao (not that it really has a front, back, or side) A courtyard in the rear of the Guggenheim Bilbao  The main entryway to the Guggenheim Bilbao MuseumMe standing in the steam of the fountain outside the Guggenheim BilbaoLooking up inside the Guggenheim Bilbao

The exterior of the museum is dotted with several large art sculpture installations. They should give you an idea of what one should expect to see inside.

 Me standing in front of the giant chia puppy This thing looks like a Phyrexian. Whoa... mega-geeky reference there.What the heck is that thing? Quite colorful though.

Photos aren’t allowed inside the Guggenheim, but I noticed that the security was fairly lax and plenty of other folks were snapping away. So I cased out a few pieces I found interesting, then surreptitiously snuck around and took shots of them. The major display at the museum featured the works of Anish Kapoor, an Indian artist residing in London. He works primarily with primary colors and reflective surfaces. Modern art… weird isn’t it?

One of Anis Kapoor's works. When I first saw it, I figured it was a trick of the eye that makes it look like a deeply recessed yellow hole. Then I approached it and realized it is, in fact, a deeply recessed yellow hole.  This is probably the most popular of Anis Kapoor's works at the museum. It is called "Shooting into a corner." I actually got to witness a man fire the canon. It is quite loud and the red wax goes "PLOP" onto the wall. A giant installation called "The Matter of Time." It is composed of very large curved pieces of rusted steel. Doesn't that lip look too narrow for all of those people to have walked inside there? 

Next we were off to the old town part of Bilbao. This area features one of the largest fish markets in Europe. We were invited to tour it, but one whiff of the outside was enough to tell me I wanted nothing to do with it. Instead we opted for the Basque version of tapas in a nearby restaurant. In the end, we didn’t really escape the fishiness…

  Lunch in the old town Bilbao. We had a selection of Pinxtos ("pinchos") which are Basque tapas. They were all seafood oriented. The ones on the south of the plate were actually fried squid heads stuffed with squid tentacles & guts (blech!) The exterior of the place we ate lunch at in Bilbao. Pentxo is pronounced "pinchos" and is the Basque equivalent of tapas (but much fishier). Me sitting on a fountain (actually a boot-washing stand) in the old town part of Bilbao

Next we piled onto the bus and headed towards Altamira, the site of some of the most fantastic ancient cave paintings ever discovered in Europe. I found this experience to be simultaneously awe-inspiring and a giant let-down. Because the caves are so sensitive to changes in heat and humidity, they’ve been closed off to the public until scientists can figure out how to safely show them again (if ever). Instead, a VERY faithful recreation of the caves are made available in the museum that allows tourists to see the drawings (replete with video screens, extensive lighting, and wheelchair access).

The replica is staged only several hundred meters from where the actual caves are located. This is all fine and well and the fake caves are attached to an extensive and interesting museum on the history of cave men and human evolution. But why on Earth am I not allowed to take pictures of the replica caves? Am I going to harm the decade old plaster limestone reproductions? Seriously… Anyway, you can click on the link in the paragraph above to read more about the caves and see some actual pictures of the cave drawings. As for my camera, I was only able to take a picture of the outside of the museum.

This is the only picture I was 'allowed' to take of the museo de Altamira. I guess the reproductions of the cave paintings were just too fragile (read: they want to sell more postcards in the gift shop).

After visiting the museum, we headed towards Santillana del Mar which is a medieval village practically untouched by the passage of time. We will be staying in an old mansion (complete with stone walls, creaking floor boards, dusty tapestries, and renaissance art).

Our hotel in Santillana del Mar was a converted old stone mansion. Relaxing (and blogging) in our room in the Hotel Altamira in Santillana del Mar. I had to duck my head getting to and from the bed to avoid the rafters overhead. Quaint, isn't it?

I’ve got some pictures of the village, but I’ll save them for tomorrow when we tour the town properly. So do tune in!

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