A morning in Bilbao

Having fought our way through breakfast and abandoned all hope of getting the first coffee of the day we loaded the coach and set off on our morning walk. It was a lovely hotel to be honest, a fantastic position next to the river and across from the Guggenheim. The only problem was that everyone in the hotel seemed to arrive at the same moment for breakfast! Anyway, we set off to discover what is a surprisingly elegant city. I say surprisingly because a few years ago it was noticeably industrial. But the city has been cleaned and the place is looking great.

So we walked past the church of St Nicholas, reminding us that the Basque people are great seafarers, and into the medieval city. Little remains of it apart from the impressive cathedral and the street layout. But it is lovely. We stood outside one of the entrances of the cathedral, dedicated to St James, and there above the door were the scallop shells. It was a reminder that this was on the ancient Camino. Pilgrims prayed here for safety as they crossed the mountains. So in the street we prayed that we too would be protected as we travelled.

From there we made our way to the Guggenheim. It is an incredible building – stone and metal working together, wonderful shapes, surprising vistas. Outside was a familiar piece, the spider by Louise Bourgeois. Having seen it in the turbine hall at Tate Modern it was good to see it here.

Inside, the building is as surprising as outside. We toured a number of the galleries but I suppose the most amazing was the collection of work by Richard Serra who has made huge constructions of steel into which you are invited to walk. One, called ‘Reverse Point Blank’ is like a labyrinth with an amazing space at its heart. The walls are tall and slope in a disconcerting way. The effect is disorientating. I emerged feeling as though I’d stepped off a boat, my sense of balance still confused. But what was more important was the sense of journey as we walked through it, not clear how far we were going, disturbed, unsettled and then arriving at the peaceful heart.

There was a temporary exhibition there called ‘War and Art’ which brought together art from France in the period of the Nazi occupation. There were some incredibly subversive paintings amongst the Picasso’s and other more famous pieces by Joseph Steib which took religious images, like the Last Supper and by adding Hitler into the mix made it disturbing in the extreme. These were paintings hidden from the Nazis but powerful when now seen.

It was a great morning and after lunch we move off to Loyola.