Bilbao – 10 Top Experiences

Bilbao by Judy DarleyWe were warned that Spain’s fourth largest city was far from being one of the most beautiful, but discovered a marvel of architecture, fountains and sculpture that had us enthralled at every turn. The presence of the Guggenheim Museum since 1997 has inevitably helped its metamorphosis from industrial hotspot to cultural centre, with notable museums dotted along with more cafes than you could count, and the twisting tidal Ría de Bilbao to confound you, while mountains make up an impressive backdrop.

Here are my top ten recommendations for Bilbao.

1 Eat up

Bilbao gastronomy_cr Judy Darley

The food in Bilbao is marvellously varied, reasonably priced, and made from fabulously fresh ingredients. Naturally, you need to try some pintxos, the Basque Country version of tapas, generally costing between €1 and €3 for a delicious morsel of meat, fish or cheese piled on a small slice of bread. The pastries are light and moorishly delicious, while the seafood is outstanding.

Things we ate during our days here include salmon tartare with cod roe, pickled quail legs with haricot beans, steak, churros (Paul Hollywood would have been impressed by the crisp exteriors and fluffy centres), rose ice cream and a large quantity of puff pastry, usually served with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. To wash it all down, the Rioja wine is delicious, and cheaper than water. If you want a coffee, don’t forget to ask for “un Americano” – otherwise you’ll end up with an espresso. If you take your coffee with milk, ask for it “con leche”, or they’ll assume you want it without.

2 Meander in Doña Casilda Iturrizar park

Doña Casilda Iturrizar park, Bilbao_cr Judy Darley.

This elegantly sprawling park comes to life around 6pm, when families flock to the winding paths, green lawns, and the duck pond, which gives the park its local name Parque de los Patos. With the evening meal not commencing till 9pm or later, this is the perfect time for a few drinks sitting outside at the park’s café, or simply to promenade and chat. Look out for impressive fountains, some spectacular tiling and albino peacocks.

3 Soak up fine art

Bilbao Fine Arts Museum_cr Judy Darley

The Museo Bellas Artes (museobilbao.com) or Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is set on one corner of Doña Casilda Iturrizar park, and is full of the work of Spanish painters.

Docker of Bilbao by Quintin de Torre_cr Judy DarleyOur favourites were upstairs, where you can marvel at glowing canvasses of everyday life by Aurelio Arteta, Benito Barrueta, Joaquin Sorolla and others, as well as this bust of a Bilbao docker by Quintin de Torre Berastegui.

The building is itself a work of art, created by blending the Fine Arts Museum of 1908 and the Museum of Modern Art of 1924 into a classical building in 1954, was extended in 1970 and again in 2001. It’s open daily apart from Tuesdays and costs €7 apart from on Wednesday, when it is entirely free. Bargain!

4 Ride the metro

Norman Foster Metro entrance, Bilbao_cr Judy Darley

This elegant transportation system makes getting about really simple, and only costs €1.50 per ticket. Your first sightings of it may be the sci-fi slug-like eruptions designed by Norman Foster, emerging from sub-pavement level in a shimmer of glass and metal. If the sinuous shining curve seems familiar, it may be because Foster was also a key architect on The Gherkin in London.

5 Go to market

mercato-la-ribera-bilbao-by-judy-darley

Teetering on the riverside in Bilbao’s Casco Vieja (Old Town), you’ll find La Ribera – a market hall that’s been thriving since 1929. An amble among the stalls will offer up everything from pigs’ trotters to artisan cheeses, and a copious amount of fish. Up one level you’ll find bars selling wine, beer and pintxos to enjoy on the terrace.

To absorb the beauty of the building, walk to the far end and admire the windows and glass tiled ceiling.

 6 Be boggled by the Guggenheim

The Guggenheim Bilbao cr Judy Darley

This Frank Gehry construcion of sweeping titanium and soaring curves is a true marvel on Bilbao’s riverside. Happily, the Gugenheim Bilbao (www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/en/) one of the first things you see of the city as the airport bus drives over the bridge alongside, but its definitely worth a closer look. Like a dance of angles and planes, of jousting metallic butterflies and fogged up mirrors, the building is a sculptural masterpiece, and that’s before you reach the art within.

Erm, and no, I’m not sure who that is photobombing my pic above!

Andy Warhol Shadows installation at Guggenhaim Bilbao cr Judy Darley

When we visited there were some spectacular Anselm Kiefer artworks on display, including the artist’s The Renowned Orders of the Night. We also had the chance to visit the Andy Warhol: Shadows installation – a fun opportunity to be immersed in pop art, not least through the evocation to take photos and become part of the show.

 7 Meet Puppy and friends

Puppy by Jeff Koons cr Judy Darley

The gleaming exterior of the Gugenheim isn’t the only reason to stick around, with an array of art adding humour and happiness to this part of the riverside. At the museum’s fron entrance you can meet Jeff Koon’s Puppy, an impressively enduring comment on extravagance and sentimentality, with a West Highland gigantic terrier build from petunias, begonias and other flowers. Originally created for a German castle, it’s been guarding its present home since 1997.

Maman by Louise Bourgeois, Bilbao_cr Judy DarleyOn the other side (as you exit close to the gift shop) you’ll find Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, an immense bronze and stainless steel spider, complete with a sack of marble eggs. Her impressive legs frame the view perfectly.

Then there’s Anish Kapoor’s gravity defying Tall Tree & The Eye, featuring 73 reflective spheres arranged as a tower of mirrored ball bearings. And Jeff Koon’s gloriously balloon-like Tulips. Plus, in case you hadn’t realised, that red structure on the bridge is another installation, Arcos Rojos, by Daniel Buren.

Fujiko Nakaya fog installation at Guggenheim Bilbao_cr Judy Darley

 

Hang around a while and you’ll experience Fujiko Nakaya’s fog pouring across the water and walkway. Somehow, this installation on a hot day in Bilbao seemed far more magical that the one I encountered on Pero’s Bridge during a naturally damp day in Bristol.

 8 Look out for public art

Bilbao coffee cups sculpture_cr Judy Darley

Well, you can’t really miss it. Every corner seems to have something worth marvelling over, whether it’s drinking fountains adorned with bats, a statue or a pair of vast coffee mugs.

Sculpture by Vicente Larrea_cr Judy DarleyIn Plaza de San José, you’ll find three sculptures by Vicente Larrea, created in memory of the architects and engineers who helped to build a new Bilbao in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The bridges themselves resemble sculptures, and occasional works of street art will stop you in your tracks.

See if you can spot any pixellated aliens, said to have been scattered through the city by a group of anonymous French artists. The fountains, too, are worth a few moments of your time, upheld as they are by wondrous figures and beasts.

Bilbao alien cr Judy Darley.

 9 Take a riverside stroll

Bilbao riverside_cr Judy Darley

This is one to enjoy slowly, during the siesta time that unfurl between 1 and 4pm, as that’s when you’ll see the locals jogging, roller blading and rowing – a reminder of why the people here are so friendly and laidback (unless you go to a post office, where you’ll find the folks are just as stressed out and pressed for time as they are in every post office in the world). What could be better than a culture that shoehorns a few hours of weekend pleasure into every working day? If you can get out on the water yourself, splendid. If not, satisfy yourself with a leisurely amble, pausing to sit and admire the views at every other bench you encounter.

10 Get out of town

Playa de San Antolin cr Judy Darley.

The city is stunning, but the countryside is equally entrancing, especially the beaches of buttery soft sand. Watch the surfers do battle with the Atlantic waves, paddle in the icy shallows and see the Basque country that nature created.

Where to stay
Hotel Zenit Bilbao bilbao.zenithoteles.com
Petit Palace Arana Bilbao petitpalacearanabilbaohotel.com

Discover more about Bilbao at www.bilbaoturismo.net

Discover Brescia.
Discover Budapest.
Discover Bath.
Discover Barcelona.
Discover Laugharne.

A calligraphic journey

The Darkling Thrush by Simon SonsinoI encountered Simon Sonsino’s beautiful textual art at Art In Action this summer, and was instantly captivated. His use of lettering as a abstract form of patterning is utterly entrancing – it’s the shapes that matter, so that the angle of a serif font, the curl, tilt or crossbar, makes up part of a whole composed of abstract marks and enticing colours.

That isn’t to say the meaning of the words themselves have no weight (the artwork at the top takes its title, The Darkling Thrush, from a Thomas Hardy poem), only that whether or not you can read them is less important than you might expect.

“I came to calligraphy late,” says Simon. “I was 30 before I picked up a dip pen, and although I now have my OU design degree, various certificates and calligraphy diplomas, I feel the richness of learning comes from watching and working with people who inspire me.”

These days, he comments, his calligraphy “tends toward the abstract and most applications of my work are for artistic calligraphy rather than practical lettering.”

The Thin Wall by Simon Sonsino

The Thin Wall by Simon Sonsino

Simon’s calligraphic journey began in 1994 when he joined an evening class for beginners with the aim of equipping himself to design stationery for his wedding to his wife Yvonne. “After learning the formal rules and with continued practise, I felt I was ready for more input,” he says. “I joined a calligraphy society, primarily to learn more than the books were giving me (the internet was still in its infancy at this point) but I soon became disillusioned with calligraphy as an art form and, although I appreciate the skills and hard work needed to create calligraphic works, it seemed to me that people were happy to gently nudge the boundaries rather than push them.”

The Golden Oriole by Simon Sonsino

The Golden Oriole by Simon Sonsino

Simon’s view of this was challenged when he attended a workshop with Satwinder Sehmi. “His style and attitude open my eyes and in his book Calligraphy: The Rhythm Of Writing I discovered a world of influences, especially the abstract calligraphic works by Thomas Ingmire. I knew this was the direction I wanted to take my lettering – at last I’d found calligraphers using letterform for its aesthetic rather than just a means to an end.”

It was a moment of awakening for Simon. “Learning how others create their art has been pivotal to my artistic direction and love of letterform; from their techniques and styles I have gleaned elements that have motivated and enhanced my own art and helped my style evolve and grow.”

The Thinner Wall by Simon Sonsino

The Thinner Wall by Simon Sonsino

In Simon’s artwork, the words serve an aesthetic purpose, rather than being the end aim in themselves.

“I believe that it’s acceptable for modern calligraphy to be illegible as a literal message, and so strive to challenge the viewer’s perceptions of calligraphic work,” he says. “My compositions show that words and letters can become abstract images that convey visual cadence, humour, atmosphere and expression. Letterform can evoke feelings in the viewer that verse alone is not always able to.”

Wrong by Simon Sonsino

Wrong by Simon Sonsino

He adds: “I’ve never been solely interested in the well-trodden path of interpretation that preoccupies calligraphy at its most traditional; I prefer my work to imply the emotion and ‘feel’ of the chosen text. In my opinion, any art form need only have two attributes: impact and intrigue – impact to grab the viewer’s attention and intrigue to hold it.”

Sharing techniques and ideas “with other likeminded people at workshops and demonstrations” is among the greatest pleasures for Simon. “For me, the joy comes in the activity,” he says. “Sometimes watching the paint dry is more enjoyable than the final result!”

Simon’s first book Textual Art is already on its 3rd reprint, and he is currently working to complete a DVD in time for Christmas, and starting work on his second book. Find more of his work at the gallery on his website www.simonsonsino.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – elevator

Lift at ABode by Judy DarleyElevator, or lift? The American–English is more elegant this once! Two things prompted this writing prompt. I once read an interview with author PD James in which she mentioned a lift she’d seen with a notice beside it stating: Do Not Use on Friday Afternoons.

Wise but alarming advice…

The second is that recently I was working with a magazine publisher in a very tall building (by British standards) that only had two working lifts, and then one was taken out of action be refurbished. One day after lunch, I pushed the call button, and a few moments heard the doors to my left swish open. This was the apparently out-of-action lift, twinkling and calling to me, so I stepped aboard, and whizzed up to the 11th floor where I emerged feeling rather smug.

The next morning, I pushed the call button, and when the new, shiny lift arrived, I stepped in confidently, followed by four other trusting colleagues. We zoomed up a few storeys, then the lift faltered, and dropped, then came to an abrupt halt.

We weren’t in there long before someone prised the doors open and we were able to climb out (we were between two floors). It was a weird fifteen minutes or so – watching people’s responses and thinking how long we might be trapped for, especially as the woman we answered when we pushed the emergency button seemed totally bewildered. Perhaps she was just walking past a desk when the phone rang!

Set your story in a lift, or an elevator (your choice!), then trap someone inside or have it send them somewhere unexpected. Alternatively, focus on the woman who took that phone call and seemed so nonplussed by our request for help. What’s her story?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

The why, what and how of writing poetry

Coriolis Effect by Sarah Dncan

Coriolis Effect by Sarah Dncan

Poet Paul Deaton explains how he came to write Black Knight, his debut poetry pamphlet for Eyewear Publishing’s Aviator Series.

Writing for me has been an intuitive adventure. It first kicked off when I was a teenager; the need and struggle to place myself and where I was; to find something in my life to hold on to. Sounds a bit dramatic, but that was the genesis.

Why I write

Words can offer us a means to place ourselves within our own worlds, when perhaps you don’t feel well placed. Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis calls this a “sacred place, where I allow myself to express my true feelings.”

Poetry offers this self-private room, where words are the outlet and the poems can find balance, meaning and say things that might seem ordinarily, in one’s daily life, unsayable. The words become a mirror to your life.

Talking specifically about my pamphlet Black Knight, all those previous years are in it – many, many years of clandestine writing.

It started taking real shape around eight years ago after I’d done an adult learning poetry course through Bristol University with Totnes poet Julie-ann Rowell. That was actually the point when I started to take my own writing seriously, because someone else, who I respected, took it seriously.

I’ll use that word again and I realise now, without good mirroring it’s quite easy to neglect those things we might have a talent or gift for.

The course in 2008 with Julie-ann was a moment of change. Finally I took some self-responsibility towards my writing. Sadly, I’ve been very good at self-sabotaging, a bit of an expert, which is, to put it another way, and again drawing on poet Gwyneth Lewis from her Sunbathing in the Rain, “I do have a responsibility for the maintenance of the gift.” Previous to 2008 I’d never quite respected my responsibility towards the gift. I’d let the writing flounder as much as I’d let it happen.

Black Knight really is the result of me responding to the ‘call’, and finally embracing it and actually working at it before it’s too late to do something about it.

I decided I couldn’t carry on letting it sleep lifelessly in me and then die. The poems for Black Knight come from this period when I started to graft and push beyond beginnings. It was about the writing and also a personal thing, a statement and a commitment saying this is what I’m about.

In that sense I think the pamphlet is declarative. There’s a new relationship hidden in there too amongst the scenery and also an acceptance of bloodline; a painful one with my father.

Parallex by Sarah Duncan

Parallex by Sarah Duncan

What I write

In terms of themes, the collection draws on two preoccupations or prisms; relationships and then my deeper sense and need for geographical topographical location which draws on a sense of place and the natural world. For me there is very much an interaction between the two, but this subject matter hasn’t been arrived at deliberately. It’s just the way it is for me.

I don’t think I’m capable of writing deliberate poems. In a good way, the poems happened inevitably, which I think is in line with what Seamus Heaney says; you’ve got to write without self-consciousness.

The themes, though, are just a reflection of a sensibility I have that comes to light sometimes, of being alive in the natural universe.

I find the natural world a huge store for correspondences and I’m curious about the interplay between the private subjective and this huge living cosmos, the universe, of which our consciousness is a part.

Like I say, it feels like a sensibility. I try and stay open to that, both of my own processes as a human being and the bigger on-going processes of sun, Earth, seasons, plant, bird life and so on happening around me and outside my back door.

In this way I try and keep the pores open and take it all in – Blake’s idea that we should “see heaven in a wild flower.”  I feel whole as a human being when the two can be brought together in some way; can touch and spark, when the psyche can find those images ‘out there’ in the natural world that can name its sense of itself and the interplay ‘of the big’ that sometimes we can feel a part of.

Undertow detail by Sarah Duncan

Undertow, detail by Sarah Duncan

How I write

In terms of structuring the pamphlet, it was a case of reviewing quite a strong period of new work. It was a bit like I had in my creative garden a load of fallen leaves and I just went about gathering together the ones that seemed most beautiful.

In that sense I wasn’t really writing for the pamphlet – in fact, after having got nil response after a few years’ attempts at pamphlet competitions I’d given up thinking about pamphlets – and this probably helped. I was just writing poems and trying to get them published. And thinking that maybe one day I’d go for the pamphlet or book.

But actually I wasn’t in any rush. For me, when the poems started to get published I worried less about the need for having a pamphlet. Publication felt like its own reward. So Black Knight is really just a bundle of closely connected fallen leaves pretty much off the same tree; that new relationship and the death of my father.

I’m delighted it’s here though, and delighted to be part of Eyewear and Todd Swift’s Aviator Series.

My full-length collection A Watchful Astronomy comes out with Seren next year, and will extend on from this starting point. And some of the poems for that book have moved on too, just as I have.

Paul DeatonAbout the author 

Paul Deaton’s poems appear in The Spectator, PN Review, The London Magazine, The Dark Horse Magazine, Gutter Magazine and anthologies. His debut poetry pamphlet Black Knight was published by Eyewear in March 2016. A Watchful Astronomy will be published by Seren in 2017.

All images in this post (other than the pic of Paul) have been generously supplied by Sarah Duncan. Thanks Sarah! Find more of Sarah’s art at print.sarahduncan.net.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.