This morning, Silver Whisper docked at the Port of Bilbao, about 30 minutes from the city center of Bilbao and its famed Guggenheim Museum.
Our shore excursion began with a 30-minute drive to an overlook at Mount Artxanda. From the top, we could see all of Bilbao spread out below us. One fact we learned from our fine tour guide, which we hope is true, is that the city has not a single McDonalds but plenty of Michelin-star and Slow Food restaurants (Silversea, by the way, features Slow Food on its vessels as part of its Italian heritage.)
We also learned that Bilbao was in the depths of a financial crisis, with unemployment above 25 percent, when in 1991, the Basque government suggested to the Guggenheim Foundation that it would fund a museum to be built in the city’s decrepit port area, once Bilbao’s main source of income. The government agreed to cover the US$100 million construction cost, a big risk that has paid off handsomely in more ways than one for Bilbao.
The Guggenheim Museum has not only attracted enough tourism dollars to repay the investment but also the development of the museum led to Bilbao lifting itself from the ashes and cleaning up itself. The city is now attractive and sophisticated, as we learned during the drive down the mountain and along the city’s main thoroughfare, Gran Via, a street that reflects Bilbao’s 19th-century mining and industrial prosperity.
We spent a couple of hours at the museum, admiring both the exterior and interior. Built by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, the masterpiece in flowing titanium and limestone reflects Bilbao’s heritage with its suggestion of maritime shapes and sails. The building is covered with more than 35,000 titanium tiles and pieces of glass strategically placed to catch the natural light.
We also learned from our tour guide that “Puppy,” an installation by Jeff Koons in front of the museum, is made up of more than 60,000 living flowers.
Our next stop was Bilbao’s Old Quarter, or ‘Casco Viejo’, situated on the right-bank of the Nervion River.
During our guided walking tour, we saw the 14th-century Gothic Cathedral, Arriaga Theatre, Plaza Nueva and the Bilbao Ria, the river that separates the old and new cities.
We also stopped to enjoy pinchos as they are known in Spanish or pintxos in the Basque language, which are basically the Basque equivalent to tapas. As was the case yesterday during our tour in Pamplona, the cost of the pinchos and beverages were included.
We had some free time before the drive back to Silver Whisper, which sailed away late the same evening for our next stop, Gijon, Spain.
Also see, Avid Cruiser’s Port Profile featuring Bilbao.
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