Eating Pintxos and Trying To Appreciate Art: San Sebastian & Bilbao
Can I get a hallelujah… back in Spain. Iain and I could hardly get the grins from our faces as we reached one of our favorite countries to spend time. Our first stop was San Sebastian, a city that has been on my list for a long time to visit and is known for its scenic vistas and culinary epicness. We couldn’t wait to explore.
There’s a great area de autocaravanas near the university which while a little small and cozy was inexpensive and at the very end of November there was still a good amount of room when we got there in the middle of the day. We walked into the city on the first day and while it’s not far to get to the beach, going all the way along to the old town took quite a while. But the beautiful views made our tired legs worth it. The almost perfect curve of the bay is unspoiled by the cruise ships we see in most places; I am guessing the bay is just too small for the ships. We took a quick explore of the old town and had a crafty pintxo or two in one of the myriad of bars. Pintxos are small pieces of bread with food ornately piled on top. They are works of art as well as delicious and every bar has them all lined up ready for your enjoyment. We promised ourselves we’d come back the next night to get the full pintxo experience.
The next day we decided to go by bike to cover some more ground. We started by visiting the beautiful Peine Del Viento (wind combs) sculptures. These magnificent pieces of art were installed in the late seventies by artist Eduardo Chillida. They looked fabulous against the rugged coastline, I can only imagine they would be more spectacular on a more tempestuous day. After breathing in all the fresh air, we jumped back on the bikes and cycled the full length of the bay, through the old town and over the top of the aquarium for a view of the entire bay from the other side. It’s such a beautiful city to explore after getting back to the motorhome we knew we had to head back into the city for a bit more pintxo time. This time we took the bus to save our legs so we could maximum bar crawl.
After a fun few days in San Sebastian we decided to head to the big brother city of Bilbao. I had visited in the past for work, but had absolutely no recollection of seeing anything other than the inside of a meeting room. This time we would have the freedom to roam around and get to know the city better. There is an amazing camper park in Bilbao that is high above the city. At this time of year it was pretty quiet meaning we could get a front line spot and just marvel at our view over the city both day and night. Instead of just watching from a distance we took the bus down to town to explore more. While nowhere near as pretty as San Sebastian, the city is lively and full of little wonders and of course more pintxos. The old town is cute and the mercado is buzzing with life and lots of delicious things to eat.
One of the most famous things in Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum. Iain and I hemmed and hawed about whether to go. Both being of the left-brain human variety neither of us really appreciate contemporary art much. We like to look at it but the deep and meaningful interpretation some people draw from the works just sound like guff to us. We had visited the Guggenheim in New York a long time ago and while the architecture was something we totally appreciated, the art left us feeling cold. We can never forget the day we laid eyes on “lettuce on granite” which was a piece of iceberg lettuce on a block of stone. It is indelibly marked on my brain and has left me somewhat skeptical ever since. But the day was soggy, and we though what the hell let’s go with an open mind… how bad could it be?
Of course it wasn’t bad at all. In fact we really enjoyed it… ok most of it. First of all it goes without the saying the building is amazing. We absolutely loved the permanent exhibit A Matter of Time by Richard Serra, a massive space filled with incredible steel sculptures that you walk inside and experience not just with you eyes but with all your senses. We were also mesmerized by the temporary exhibit of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. His interpretation of the human form was quite haunting, especially when you paired the evolution of his art with his journey through the dark period of time in Europe of the 1930s and 40s. And of course who doesn’t like looking at some Van Gogh’s, Picassos and the like up close. There was really only one part of the museum that brought back our feeling of being back in New York all those years ago. A gallery of “masterpieces” again left us feeling nothing, unable to understand what anyone was getting from these pieces and cursing under our breath “bunch of bullshit” as we headed back to look at some pieces we found more accessible.
San Sebastian and Bilbao were both fantastic cities to visit but the weather was chilly and damp and December was marching on. We decided we had to get further south and save visiting this amazing area for a future visit. There is so much more to see here in Northern Spain, we can’t wait to come back and spend more time.