Kathy and I have fallen in love with a new city. It happened immediately when we exited the tunnel into the city, and the Guggenheim Museum exploded into view. What a structure! As we got out and began to explore, the Guggenheim Effect became obvious. This old industrial town, which was in total decay in the 1980s, has transformed itself into a city of art, architecture, and cuisine in a world-class way.
Think about it: since the 80s, a town of 350,000 people has had Zaha Hadid work on a portion of the city’s master plan, Geary design the Guggenheim, Norman Foster design the update and expansion of the Fine Arts Museum, Philippe Starch redesign the city’s wine warehouse into public space, and Cesar Pelli design the tallest building in Bilbao. Layer this contemporary design with gorgeous Baroque buildings erected in the 19th century that were patterned after structures in Paris, such as the performing arts theatre, the city hall, and the train station. For us, this unique blending of architecture created a completely unique experience.
And art, forget about it. Bilbao has the most recognized fine art museum outside of Madrid. Add the Guggenheim Museum, and art is taken to another level. We were so proud to walk through a gallery of the Guggenheim’s permanent collection and see a John Chamberlain hanging on the wall. Shout out to Sarasota.
And food. There are more Michelin-starred restaurants in this small geographic area than anywhere in the world. The Basque will say it’s not the Guggenheim Effect, but why would there be four three-star Michelin restaurants in this area without tourism? And what is Basque cuisine? I will say, without complete knowledge, that they live off the land. No waste. Kathy had barnacles as a starter, and I had trotters. Our stomachs felt far more comfortable when grilled Turbot showed up at the table.
Our takeaway from our trip to Bilbao was that we fell in love with a city that has never given up on itself. Or, expressed differently, never stopped trying to become world-class regardless of where it was starting from. How can you not admire this commitment? We certainly did.