Monday, 21 April 2008

The Ugly Duckling / L'aneguet lleig

Bilbao (Bilbo in Basque) is a city of which I had a picture long before we moved here and I must admit that it was not very favourable. I used to think of it as a harbour, dominated by low buildings of corrugated steel but without people. Anyhow, this was the city I most wanted to visit when we went to the Basque country (Euskal Herria) - not only because of the Guggenheim, but also to understand why this place is more and more popular with tourists.

Now afterwards, I cannot reconcile the two images – the Bilbao of my prejudice and what it really looks like. I guess that there are big wharves and shipyards up along the coast, but to my big surprise you do not even see the sea unless you leave the centre. Instead, we found a well-maintained historic town built along a meandering river and totally surrounded by lush, green hills.

Not long ago Bilbao used to be seen as an industrial town which probably would not recuperate as jobs moved to cheaper places in the world. Fortunately enough, the Basques did not accept that destiny and decided to turn the most populous town of their country into its capital of knowledge. The Guggenheim was not the cause of the change, but clearly one of the most remarkable results.

The halls in the interior of American Frank Gehry’s shining metal construction are spacious and equipped with elevators, so we did not have any problems to manoeuvre the two-year-old in his push chair. The four-year-old, for his part, was happy to recognise some of the works of art, since my wife was well prepared and had let him colour print-outs of Jeff Koons’ Tulips and the 12-meter tall flower covered Puppy. However, that could not match his excitement when I let him walk as he pleased (I cannot write run, since that is not allowed) in the huge metal spirals of the Fish gallery.

After the museum we went to the Old Town (Casco Viejo in Spanish), where the area of the Siete Calles is said to have some of Bilbao’s most interesting nightlife. As you understand, I am not able to tell you whether that is true. We are a typical family with small children and therefore limited our adventure to a lunch and a long walk.
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Comentari en català: Bilbao és una ciutat preciosa i és una llastima que no vam poder passar-hi més que un dia. Com encara fa pocs anys que vam arribar a Espanya, per a nosaltres és molt difícil comprendre que feia tan de temps que el nucil antic de Bilbao no es renovava i que la costa de Barcelona es veia com una zona de treball i no cap com un actiu de l’encant de la ciutat. Ambdues ciutats serveixen com bons exemples per a Vilanova i la Geltrú d’això, com es pot canviar el perfil d’una ciutat. L'Eixample del Mar és un primer pas i ara tindrem una altra gran oportunitat amb la nova zona verda del Parc de Baix a Mar. Espero que sapiguem aprofitar-ne.

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