A Narrow Little City Called Bilbao
Pro tip: Never think you’re strong enough to haul your black and white weekender all the way from the Bilbao bus station to your hotel in Casco Viejo. Instead, jump on the Euskotren tranvía at the San Mamés station, in direction of Atxuri, and jump off anywhere between the Uribitarte and Arriaga stops. It’ll cost you 1.50 €, but it’ll save you your patience (and your back).
Bilbao seems to be built the way the others around here are: on levels, with elevators, stairs, bridges, and ramps on every other corner. Which is to say, actually made accessible so people can get around. Unlike most cities I’ve lived in where if you don’t have a car, you’re screwed.
At the very end of the curve beside one such set of stairs and overlooking the river Nervión, is the Hotel Vincci.
After checking in and unloading all our crap (mostly mine), out we go to explore. The whole of the estuary – and of the city, it would seem – is an exciting mismatch of older baroque and gothic buildings, industrial remains, and modern art, coexisting in… harmony?
Speaking of art, after making our way over the river with no direction in particular, we run across this beautiful piece located under the La Salve bridge.
Titled “Giltza bat – Una llave (A key)”, it is the only mural from the Itinerario Muralístico Vitoria-Gasteiz located in Bilbao.
The view from the top of the bridge is just as impressive, both because of the bridge itself, and because of the heights it gets you to. It’s not from just any place that you can see the top of the Guggenheim.
Speaking of which, the Frank Gehry-designed museum is quite something. From here it feels like you can reach out and touch the titanium and limestone scales. The only view I enjoy more is the one from the river, because of how the building’s curves flow seamlessly in the water below.
Out front, Puppy’s fur is short and green, no doubt enjoying the afternoon mist. Come spring and summer, he’ll shed this coat for a much more lively one.
We’ve made our way to Plaza Moyúa, a square smack in the middle of Bilbao from where the Gran Vía and 3 other main streets branch out. From here we’ll jump on a metro that will take us up to Portugalete, a town north of Bilbao’s suburbs and home to the Vizcaya Bridge.
While switching metro stations on our return to the Biscayan capital, I realize that all the ones we’ve been in so far look exactly the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with feeling like you’re emerging from the Millennium Falcon every time. (Pic for reference in case you have no idea what I’m talking about)
I still don’t know if it’s a Basque Country thing, a Spain thing, or a Europe thing, but flower beds and public parks are so well maintained here. They’re always a pleasure to see, and it’s still one of those things that never fails to surprise me. San Vicente de Abando in the background is really nice, too.
The Santiago Calatrava-designed Zubizuri (Basque for white bridge) has some sort of mat running across it, in what I can only assume is an attempt to reduce the slipperiness resulting from the mildly impractical glass bricks and the relentless rain. From here (or from any of the bridges that cross the Nervión, frankly) , you can turn to either side of the river and see how the mountains constrain the city to the narrow valley below.
On the other side, we’re rushing towards the Funicular de Artxanda, which will take us to the lookout on the mountain of the same name, in hopes of catching the sunset. The funicular, which made its first ascent on October 7th 1915, covers 770 meters over 3 minutes. At a 45° angle, it would probably take me well over an hour to do the same. Not that I’d entertain the idea.
And there it is: the sun handing the city over to the streetlights. Probably the last sunset of the year we’ll get to see. From up here you can see how narrow Bilbao truly is, and it almost feels like a tiny, playable version where you can pick up and rearrange the buildings to your heart’s content. It wouldn’t make the city any less coherent.
Zubizuri has switched to a more colorful nighttime scheme. I can’t tell, however, if the variance in colors is due to different temperatures of white lights used or if there is a sequence I’m unaware of. That bright aqua panel looks quite chaotic to me.
But somehow, I feel it encapsulates the spirit of the city perfectly.