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Published: August 25th 2011
Electricity—a shock—a sudden burst of raw energy—for me: Bilbao. One step off the bus from Santiago de Compostela and the city’s magnetic atmosphere bewitched me without a moment’s hesitation. The warm rain began to pour as I walked around trying to find the first street off of Google map directions as lighting light up the grey dusk sky, raising the hair on my arms. I walked, asked for directions, walked, asked for directions. An older couple took pity on me and took me to the closest bus stop while chitchatting with me about where I was from and other sorts of small talk. Half way through our conversation my temporary Spanish grandmother stopped mid-sentence, “You understand Catalán really well,” and continued what she had been telling me about the Festival week. I was under the impression that we had been speaking in normal Spanish the whole time, not the French and Spanish mixture of a language that is Catalán. At the bus stop they told me repeatedly which bus to take and where to get off. After getting off at the appropriate stop I, again, asked for directions only to be told that I now needed to take the Metro: it
was time I took the first cab of my adventure. Driving up to my hostel the Festival fireworks were going off in the already static night air, never have I seen such impressive fireworks—they lasted for at least fifteen minutes and were the largest and most colorful fireworks ever. I stepped out of the cab and onto the wet pavement awestruck by the scene that greeted me: the Guggenheim museum, directly across from my hostel, light up by not only the fireworks, but also by the lighting storm as well. The metal curves fading and becoming relit suddenly in an unrehearsed rhythm. Naturally, after seeing the spectacle that was the Guggenheim the night before, the next morning I ordered my usual café solo and took a seat facing the Guggenheim while it gently became aglow as the morning sun dissipated the previous night’s fog. In Santiago de Compostela a guy I had met told me that the Guggenheim was not worth the money to visit, but as I sat there, looking at the silver petals unfold I knew I had to go inside. How could I not after coming all this way? I love art in all forms and here
I am sitting in front of one of the world’s best modern art museums, so if I don’t go in what was the point of coming to Bilbao? Two minutes later I was wondering around the inside examining each piece with care while thinking of how glad I was to have made my decision. Bilbao honestly stole my heart in the first five minutes I was there, and after the Guggenheim I knew that this city grasped more than what the tourist books say, so I began to explore. Due to Festival week El Casco Viejo (the old neighborhood) was decorated with lights and flags of red and white. What appeared to be thousands of people roamed the streets wearing blue manuelos (bandannas) while tasting the street vendors sidra (regional hard apple cider) and bocadillos (sandwiches) of everything and anything one could ever want. By my last day I had become fascinated with the Basque people, the sky, the streets, all that encompassed Bilbao. The entire vibe of the city was as if New York and IKEA had a Spanish love child who spoke vasco (Basque) an isolated Indo-European language that survived the Roman conquest; however, I was not intimidated,
Every once in a while mist fogs the pond outside of the Guggenheim.
but drawn in, as hearing and seeing Basque was so unique and new to me. Even though I had been traveling by myself for two weeks and I was running out of clean underwear, I would have loved to travel more, see more, experience more. After my trip to Santiago de Compostela I was ready to regress to Granada and settle down, but after Bilbao bewitched me, and after it’s electricity acted as a defibrillator to my travel bug—it suddenly didn’t matter to me how tired my feet were: I craved to see more of Bilbao, for me personally, the city of revival.
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