Thursday, June 05, 2003

I'm (finally) in the Basque country

Right. After standing for the best part of an hour in a completely crowded bus on the tarmac at Stansted airport due to the fact that a blocked toilet was discovered on the plane between our leaving the terminal and arriving at the aircraft, and after waiting another hour on the ground for French aircraft controllers to stop striking (or something) I had a perfectly uneventful flight to Bilbao, arriving around 11pm. Of course, I hadn't booked accommodation because I had expected to arrive in the morning. After walking around in Bilbao for some time (not helped by the fact that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the Pyrenees, apparently), and discovering a youth hostel that wouldn't check anyone in after 9pm (welcome to the 24 hour world city), I eventually found a pensione with an available room that was at least comfortable and not terribly expensive, and got some extremely necessary sleep - remember, I got up at 2.30 am yesterday.

This morning though, my impression of the place was much more favourable. In a way anything, Bilbao reminds me of Wellington, in that it is a city built in the valleys amongst quite dramatic hills. Unfortunately, it was dark when the aircraft landed, so I didn't see the geography around it. We did have to come through a long tunnel to actually get into Bilbao from the airport, however.

Architecturally, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim is every bit as spectacular as I had heard - a truly magnificent building. Santiago Calatrava's footbridge across the Nervion impressed me less than I thought it would. Interesting but not remarkable. (The way in which the Guggenheim building interacts with an older and much more massive partially cable stayed road bridge is very nice, however).

And one thing in particular that improved my morning. The guidebooks all say that the basques make the best food in Spain, and this seems to be entirely true. One custom is the pintxo. Walk into almost any bar, and the top of the bar will be covered with really deicious and inexpensive savoury items of really delicious food. What a fine way to have breakfast. Yum.

The city of Bilbao is in a valley through which the Nervion river runs, and in particular it is at a point where the river doubles back on itself so there is a sizeable flat area inside the curve of the river. There are rather steep slopes on either side of the river. I walked up to the top of the ridge on one side of the city, and looked over into the next valley. Fortuitously, it happened that I was looking in to the valley with the airport in it. The one runway stretched lengthwise down the valley, which was long and straight enough for it. (I wonder what was there before the airport: there is sufficiently little flat land in this area that it must have been used for something). Santiago Calatrava's airport terminal looks just like one of his bridges, with a little arch on top. It didn't strike me as a great piece of architecture either: Norman Foster's terminal at Stansted (from where I departed yesterday) is better. And it isn't a large airport - it is perhaps on a par with Adelaide or Auckland.

I like this city though. It is an industrial city that went through industrial decline at the right time to avoid modernism, and is so having some really interesting post-materials revolution architecture, engineering and design imposed upon it now.

No comments:

Blog Archive