17 September 2011

The Basque Country: Bilbao

Most Americans, if they have heard of the Basque Country, have heard of it because of the numerous attacks launched against Spanish and French institutions by Basque separatists operating under the armed organization called ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, "Basque Homeland and Freedom").  More than 1,000 people were killed in these attacks between 1959 and January of this year, when the ETA called a permanent ceasefire.  The Basque Country, known in Basque as Euskadi and in Spanish as PaĆ­s Vasco, is now an autonomous community located in northern Spain, on the Atlantic coast, near the base of the Pyrenees.  It is, as we found in August of this year, a safe, beautiful, warm, and welcoming place for Americans to visit.  Its language is fascinating and perplexing (both to amateur and professional linguists, actually), but everyone spoke Spanish and a little English too, and the Basque people couldn't have been nicer to us.

The biggest city in the Basque Country is Bilbao (with around three hundred fifty thousand people).  Bilbao was our first stop after the spectacular cathedral in Burgos.  The thing you notice first about Bilbao is the flowers.  They are everywhere, and I couldn't resist photographing them at every turn...

...with or without my family standing in front of them.

In front of Bilbao's most famous building, the Guggenheim Museum, the flowers were sculpted in the shape of a giant dog.

My kids lived on baguettes for about three weeks.  At every turn, they were munching on baguettes.  You may notice this in more pictures as we go along.

The Guggenheim is Bilbao's crown jewel.  Designed by the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, it opened to the public in 1997 and houses an impressive collection of modern art.  Here are a couple of pictures of the building stolen from Wikipedia:

The Guggenheim Museum by night

The spectacular and dizzying curves of the building, seen by day

We liked the building itself more than the collection; as Yoda would say, fans of very modern art we are not.

We spent one day and one night in Bilbao.  Then it was off to San Sebastian (Basque: Donostia), the seaside resort in the north, for three days.  That post will follow shortly.  In the meantime, here's a little more Bilbao.

Inside the Guggenheim, looking down from the top floor

At the fountain in front of our hotel, the Hotel Carlton

Me and Sam, in the late afternoon light, by the fountain

Looking out from our hotel-room balcony onto the city

P.S.  As you know, I am writing this in my New Jersey basement, long after our return from Spain.  It is finally cooling off a little bit here, and the kids are settling into seventh, ninth, and eleventh grades.  With all that's going on, it's a lot of fun for me to periodically look back at our summer trip; I hope you are enjoying it as well!

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