Umbrellas signal a cultural difference

You might’ve read here that we visited Bilbao, in northern Spain, in late September this year.

This part of Spain is known as green Spain, because it rains. The weather is like our own, variable. On our holiday, some days it was sunny and hot, others overcast, and occasionally rainy. We noticed on the overcast days the number of people carrying umbrellas. We, of course, being holidaymakers, had none.

One day, while we were in the centre of Bilbao, we were caught out by a heavy rainstorm that we didn’t think was worth waiting out. Eschewing the excellent public transport to get back to our hotel, we bought an umbrella each from El Cortes Ingles, who had masses of good quality umbrellas from which to choose.

Anyway, the whole point of relating this story is to point out the cultural difference between this part of Spain and the UK. It’s this. In the UK we hope for, nay irrationally expect, dry weather. We are often unprepared when it rains, not everyone, and not all the time, of course. In green Spain, they know it’ll rain, and travel both expecting, and being prepared for it.

It’s this photo of a demonstration in Bilbao a couple of days ago, in support of arrested politicians – how odd, not sure it would happen here – when the march was a sea of umbrellas. That, I feel certain, wouldn’t be the case in the UK.

Hattip: Reuters for photo

Impressions on visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao: 3 of 3 – The Art on View

This is the last article on my impressions of The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

In previous articles on the Guggenheim Bilbao I was unreasonably harsh about its overall lack of humour. How could I have forgotten Jeff Koons ‘Puppy’ outside the Museum. I’m sure it has some form of conceptual art meaning, which I’ve not sought to discover. To unintellectual me it’s simply clever, entertaining, and mildly amusing, and looks expensive to maintain  – see photos below.

Humour, though unintended, came, through listening on the provided wand, from the pretentious, overwrought descriptions of some of the art work, especially in the gallery of enormous works by Anselm Kiefer.

On the ground floor of the Museum is a gallery of eight sculptures by Richard Serra, entitled The Matter of Time. In reading this Museum’s description, there’s a higher level of intellectual interpretation than I’m capable of. Sculpture is an art form that begs to be touched, think of Henry Moore, or Barbara Hepworth.

The Museum website asks, How do you feel when you look at the painting below by Mark Rothko?

It replies, saying,

Rothko’s picture exemplifies American Abstract Expressionism and the style known as Color Field painting. Rothko sought to use large chromatic planes to express universal human emotions through the contemplation of color, often in the form of large chromatic planes.

My conclusion on visiting the Museum; it’s the building that’s the significant art work. While it’s interior is impressive in it’s combination of materials, angles and views, the museum is best viewed from afar. Here’s my brief photo montage of some of the art. [Note, photography of the art was discouraged, so only two photos, a Rothko and a Warhol. Click on images to enlarge.]

Impressions on visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao: 2 of 3 – Humour

Yes, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is impressive, it is, though, devoid of humour. I know these cultural icons and their avant-garde contents are jolly serious and I should not expect humour.

There are places to sit and admire art works, though they’re not abundant. And when my dear wife encountered some seats at the end of one large gallery, they turned out to be of the gently collapsing kind, which you can see here in these two photos.

Levity in art is possible. For example, in Canaletto’s painting of the The Stonemason’s Yard, in the National Gallery, London, in the bottom left hand corner there’s a small boy on the ground piddling.

Impressions on visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao: 1 of 3 – The Building

When I said we’d been on a shortish holiday to Bilbao, you’ll no doubt have expected me to describe my impressions on Bilbao’s most famous attraction, its Guggenheim Museum.

That’s what I’m doing now. I’ve split my report into three, otherwise this will be too long an article. This first article is on the building itself, the second is a piece of fun, and lastly on the art exhibitions in the Museum.

I’ll let you discover the background to the reasons for co-operation between the Basque Government and the Guggenheim Foundation to establish a museum of art in Bilbao. The selection of American architect Frank Gehry whose desire was to conceive an adventurous post modern design has succeeded.

Putting my conclusion first, it’s that the building is the work of art, its artistic contents fare less well by comparison.

It’s best to admire the whole building from the opposite back of the river on which its located. Although, even when close up its worthy of appreciation.

Entering the building, past the pay counters, leads you into the Atrium, which is the heart of the building. The floors into the galleries lead off the Atrium. If you do visit, do look out for the elevators, most visitors miss them, and so walk up the spiral staircases. Go right to the top, and then it’s easier to walk down through the different galleries and floors.

Here’s our photo montage of the Museum – click on image to enlarge.


Crossing the Bilbao estuary on the world’s oldest Transporter Bridge

A smattering of stories about our recent holiday to Bilbao is what I promised. Here’s the first, about an unusual bridge.

Bilbao sits astride the tidal Nervion River, whose outlet is into the Bay of Biscay. Not far to the north of Bilbao, near the mouth of the river, is the world’s oldest transporter bridge connecting the two towns, Portugalete [left side bank] and Getxo [right side bank].

The bridge has a number of names, Bizkaia Bridge in Basque language, Vizcaya Bridge in Spanish, and commonly known locally as Puente Colgante [“Hanging Bridge”].

Built between 1890 and 1893 by Alberto de Palacio in cooperation with Ferdinand Arnodin. Palacio was a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. During the Spanish civil war the bridge suffered, with the crossbeam being destroyed. It was rebuilt in 1941. In 1998 a modernised gondola was inaugurated, and in 1999 a walkway across the crossbeam.

On 13th July 2006 the bridge was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. We crossed the river on the bridge – price remarkably cheap, just 40 cents. On the Portugalete side are images of other transporter bridges, including three in the UK. Here are our photos of the bridge.


If it happens, then I’ll pluck up courage and do it

Do what? Walk on the refurbished and renovated El Caminito del Rey in Southern Spain. That’s another what, I hear you say. The Camino del Rey for short ‘The King’s Path’ – is, as Wikipedia states,

“a walkway, now fallen into disrepair, pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge in El Chorro, near Álora in the province of Málaga, Spain. The walkway was built to provide workers at the hydroelectric power plants at Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls with means to cross between them, to provide for transport of materials, and to facilitate inspection and maintenance of the channel. Construction began in 1901 and was finished in 1905”.

When visiting family last month I was given copies of English speaking Spanish newspapers that were reporting the local provincial government’s plans to refurbish this scary dilapidated elevated mountain walkway. I found out about the King’s Path when holidaying in Spain in the late 1960’s, and in many subsequent holidays in Southern Spain heard of numerous plans to renovate the path. If and when it happens, I’ll overcome my fears and walk on it, as I promised myself years ago. Here are a couple of images, one showing the planned before and after, and the other a short video of the path.

El Caminito del Rey Refurbished Caminito del Rey

If you think we’ve got troubles

If you think the UK is not doing well, then pity Spain, which is doing far worse, as the Economist reports. Unemployment is approaching an unsustainable 20%.

For many years we holiday’ed at Christmas in sunny southern Spain. [Christmas theme, you see]. While there I learned that the region of Andalusia collected only 30% of it equivalent to our Council Tax. Compare that to Surrey Heath, where we collect almost 99% of Council Tax. It explained why often the roads and other infrastructure were only partially complete. However, I believe that EU intervention funds have helped greatly to overcome this.

Conclusion, we’re not too badly off after all, eh.