Bilbao, Spain

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Bilbao, Spain

“On the Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners.” Unknown 

Bilbao  is our first stop in the Basque Country. The city has its own personality. It is quite small which makes it easy to walk around and enjoy the Basque culture. The Basques have their own language which is different and unrelated to any other language in the world.  If you are linguistically obsessed, this is a good place to be. There are also several different dialects of Basque, so the Basque that people speak in Bilbao is different from the Basque that is spoken in San Sebastián. You will notice a lot of k’s and tx’s.

We meet our guide Kyle from Cultural Xplorers. He is carrying three umbrellas -just in case.  As we were to learn, some days, it seems like all it does is rain in the Basque Country. They even have a word for that light, misty rain that seems to never stop – txirimiri.

  We start with breakfast at a pinxto bar and have a  potato and egg torta and a cortado coffee.

Walking through the beautiful city, we head to the train station. There is a large stained glass window depicting Basque life.

There are lots of architectural gems  scattered all over the city,.

We enter Casco Viejo (Old Town). At its heart are Bilbao’s original seven streets, dating back to the fourteen hundreds when the city was founded.

There are many historic buildings like the Gothic Cathedral and tiny streets lined with quirky shops and bars.

I find an authentic hat store and  buy a Basque beret -ish.

I could have wandered around here all day – except we were getting hungry again.  That could only mean one thing in Basque country. It was time for pinxtos.

Pinxtos are foodie heaven.  Imagine sitting in a bar having a nice quiet drink and being able to steadily munch your way through a range of amazing food from wonderfully cured meats, steak, cheese, olives, rich foie gras, duck and fish in various guises. It’s overwhelming and Kyle helped us find the best ones.

They are in every bar so even if you just plan on going for a drink-you will end up eating. Kyle points out some of the better bars so we can come back on our own.

The truth is I don’t think you can find a bad meal in Basque country. It is known for amazing food. 

We continue eating in the nineteenth century Plaza Nueva.- full of pinxto bars which come alive between three and eight pm. 

It is a custom to go from bar to bar and try different pintos along the way. 

Refueled, we take a walk down the waterfront toward the Guggenheim Museum and our hotel.

The riverfront promenade has an eclectic mix of traditional and modern architecture and is buzzing with both tourists and locals. We see the La Salve Bridge and the big art installations outside the Guggenheim Museum.

There is Louise Bourgeois (Maman -spider),  Jeff Koons (“Tulips” and “The Puppy” which is a giant flowering topiary in the shape of a terrier).

There is Anish Kapoor (“Tall tree And The Eye” aka a stack of metallic balls)  and Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Sculpture, which is a unique sensory experience of a jet of fog emanating from the water in the moat surrounding the museum at every hour -odd to experience in the pouring rain.

We meet for a late lunch early dinner at La Vina Del Estanche. On a trip of best food ever, this meal rates very highly and was only the beginning of the food to come.

The next morning I go over to the new exhibit at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. It was their 110th anniversary and newly renovated and reopened the day I arrived. The exhibit was ABC including Spanish, English and Basque letters and words.

Through a selection of more than 300 pieces and 200 artists, they created an alphabetic story.in 31 rooms. Each room was a word. Arte (art), Bilbao, Citoyen (Citizen), Desira (Desire), Espejo (mirror), Friendship………( P was for Portraits- from many different artists)

It was really cool and the museum has some interesting pieces. (love this one – John Davies-Every War Memorial)

And then it was back to eating.  After a private tour of the Guggenheim we went to the Michelin starred Nerua. Nerua is an ancient Latin name for the Nervion River  where the restaurant in the Guggenheim museum is located.

Nerua,

The small restaurant is designed by Frank Gehry with white walls and tablecloths and his signature curvy chairs.

When we arrived it was pretty much empty.

Chef Alija’s tasting menu was a beautifull and artfully prepared take on Spanish flavors.

I did not know what to expect from my visit to Bilbao. A bucket list place doesn’t always live up to the hype. Bilbao’s enchanting mix of old and new with a focus on food and people makes it a wonderful place to visit.  Special thanks to Kyle for making us feel so welcome, comfortable and extremely well-fed in his wonderful city.

Fly safe

JAZ

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Street Art In Madrid, Spain

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Street Art In Madrid, Spain

“Don’t have much to say that wouldn’t look better on a wall.”BiP

 The urban art scene in Madrid  has a very cool street vibe. What better way to see it then with “the point of view” of Javiar Garcia of Cool Tours Spain.  

A lot of the street art in Madrid seems to be created around annual street art festivals.

Local and international artists are invited to paint in some of the neighborhood around the city. 

We walked  around the neighborhoods of Lavapiés and Malasaña,

Gentrification is everywhere in these once rundown neighborhoods. Most of the city’s street art can be found here.

Street art is diverse and includes paste-ups, murals, stencils, sculpture, tags, bubble letters and more. The artists are influenced and inspired by a multitude of cultures and styles, resulting in a wide and expansive body of urban art. 

Graffiti and street art has always had a history of being influenced by the present political and social issues.

A lot of people have painted and pasted on the walls and buildings in their cities as a form of anonymous political protest.

As Europe struggles to respond to the refugee crisis, street artists in Madrid have their own protest. 

La Tabacalera  is an old tobacco factory where a lot of street artists have their workshops.

This former factory is a 30,000-square-foot museum filled with graffiti and street art.

It is a much cooler gallery space than the sometimes snobby art world.

I could have easily spent the whole day here examining every wall. 

 The street art world is all inclusive and made up of artists, art lovers and people passing by.

Javier’s comprehensive tour and commentary made me feel that Madrid  can be just as wildly creative as NY or London. You can contact him at https://www.cooltourspain.com. Don’t miss it when you are in Madrid.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

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Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

“Much will be written and said about the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum in the future; we will simply be able to say that we built it.’   Juan Ramón Pérez, Works Manager for the Guggenheim Museum and Head of Building for the Basque country.

 Humans tend to be fascinated by several sights and places.  We see pictures and videos of those places we want to visit. And then we go.

The Guggenheim is bigger and bolder than I thought it would be. I had a window view and it is as peaceful to me as looking at the sea.

It is one of those rare works of contemporary architecture that dazzle the world with its modern styling and intricate structure. It is located in Northern Spain in the city of Bilbao, an industrial port encircled by the green mountains in Basque Country.  The museum stands right next to the banks of the Nervión River that flows through Bilbao down to the Cantabrian Sea. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao features exhibits and works of artists from all over the world.

The glittering titanium museum is designed by Frank Gehry, an award-winning Canadian-American architect. When he was chosen by Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation as the architect, Thomas Krens, its director, asked him to design the museum extraordinarily. Gehry surely exceeded their expectations. The construction took place from 1993 to September, 1997. On October 18, 1997, the former of King of Spain, King Juan Carlos I, inaugurated the museum. When it was first introduced, the design awed the critics as well as the public. After its immediate and immense success, many similar buildings popped up all around the world.

 Gehry is known for a number of renowned architectural designs including Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.

One might say that the artistic contents and exhibits of the museum are not as impressive as the structure of the building itself. To be honest, it would not be wrong. People from all over the globe  pay a visit to the museum to witness the avant-garde structure that they have heard so much about. It is on the Northern route of the Camino de Santiago and the pilgrims usually make a stop at the museum.

There are no photos allowed  inside the museum.  This is good because it give me a chance to enjoy the works in a more relax and peaceful way instead of busily taking pictures.  Sometimes I do wonder why I need to take so many photos and whether  I miss anything by doing this.

The urban building is covered in glass, titanium, and limestone. The exterior structure feature random curves and hurls that catch and throw the lights while the interior is built around a huge, lighted atrium offering picturesque views of Bilbao’s river banks and the mountainous greenery of the Basque country.

The building spans an area of 32,500-square-meters (350,000 sq. ft.) The exhibition area has nineteen galleries. 

You will be surprised to know that the museum was built on a strict time limit and budget.  Gehry said he ensured that he had an accurate estimate of the budget, and that no political and business interests interfered with the project. Furthermore, he used his own software, Digital Project, to create detailed computer visualizations and teamed up with the individual building trades to cut down the costs.

Immediately after opening, the museum became a popular tourist attraction.  The taxes collected from the hotels, restaurants, shops and transport itself has more than paid for the building cost.

The  “Bilbao effect” refers to how the museum transformed the city.   This is amazing because before the museum, Bilbao was just a faded industrial town.

My trip to Spain and Portugal started in Bilbao – a bucket list place for me.  It was a more expensive trip than usual and I struggled with the decision to do it. But I believe that you should invest in your life for the things you love. I have no regret for this decision. Life should be spontaneous and without too much thought. Just go. The memories will be worth it.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Thirty-Six Hours In Madrid

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Thirty-Six Hours In Madrid

“I love thee as I love all that we have fought for. I love thee as I love liberty and dignity and the rights of all men to work and not be hungry. I love thee as I love Madrid that we have defended and as I love all my comrades that have died.” Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Check into Hotel Urso – a boutique hotel in the center of Madrid in the trendy Chueca district.

Have dinner at Media Racion – the delicious restaurant at the hotel.

Breakfast  -Urso’s continental breakfast in the  lobby bar did not disappoint. I had toast with tomato and oil, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee – not a bad way to start my first day in Spain.

Street Art Tour of Madrid . It is always my favorite thing to do in a city (more later.)

Lunch at the Reina Sofia

Visit Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia. The visually stunning Guernica is the favorite painting of my childhood from the  Museum Of Modern Art in New York.  It was returned to Spain in 1980 when I moved to California. At first glance, the painting looks like chaos – all hard lines, blunt angles, and cartoonish scenes of animals and people. But when you look at the details, you begin to see more. Here’s a woman, grieving for the child in her arms. There’s a fallen man, his broken sword lying beside him. The painting depicts the bombing of Guernica (in Basque Spain) during the Spanish Civil War. The Guernica takes up nearly an entire wall of the museum, and at eleven feet tall and nearly twenty-seven feet wide, it is simply massive – especially to a child. The painting always has the same emotional effect on me. I visited the city of Gernika (Basque spelling) in the Basque region on this trip. It was a peaceful quiet city and of course was nothing like the painting. But it was strangely poetic to be standing there. 

Visit the Spanish Paintings at the Prado. No museum in the world comes close to matching the Prado’s collection of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. Velazquez spent most of his life in Madrid as a court painter and is considered the greatest Spanish painter of all time. Las Meninas is one of the great Spanish paintings. There are eighty works by Velazquez in the Prado. There are over nine hundred paintings by Goya there as well.

Follow his trajectory from his early portraits, light and full of life, through to the dark intensity of his final works.There’s nothing quite like the Black Paintings. Painted directly on the walls of his house in the outskirts of Madrid towards the end of Goya’s life, they reveal the inner life of an artist disillusioned by politics and society, losing his health (and possibly his mind), and confronting his own death. These are dark, twisted scenes which stay with you long after you leave the museum.

Churros and Chocolate at San Gines  One of the great customs in Madrid for either breakfast or afternoon is a sweet pick me up. It’s the smell of the  intoxicating blend of hot oil, fried dough, and melted chocolate that lures everyone in. Hot chocolate in Spain bears little resemblance to its counterpart in America. Spanish chocolate is designed for dipping, so it has the consistency of something  like a warm, soft pudding. Those long, sugary sticks of dough sold at Disneyland or  Costco bear little resemblance to the authentic Spanish article. Churros must be eaten fresh from the fryer, are almost more savory than sweet, and are considerably shorter than their American imitations.

The spa at Hotel Urso uses the Natura Bisse Spanish products that I use at home. I am eager to try some treatments and spend the evening having a decadent facial, massage and body treatment. I take advantage of the steam and whirlpool facilities. It is an excellent experience to unwind and get rid of the jet lag.

In the morning, I leave for Bilbao – after I eat my new favorite tomato and olive oil on toast .

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ten Things That I Want To Do In Portugal This Time

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Ten Things That I Want To Do In Portugal This Time

“Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.” Fernando Pessoa, Book Of Disquiet

Porto is the colorful, Unesco city that I  have wanted to visit. The photos are beautiful and I can’t wait to walk down those streets.

 Livraria Lello and Irmao is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Ask JK Rowling.

Drink Port which is named after….

I love seafood and both Porto and Lisbon are on the sea – codfish, sardines, snails, grilled whole fresh fish of the day with coarse salt and crispy, skin, octopus, eels, and snails along with kale soup and pastel de nata  is a great reason to go to Portugal  (This is a major eating trip)

When I was in Lisbon I didn’t make it to the National Tile Museum ((Museo Nacional De Azulejo). It is located in the Alfama area (where we are staying this time)  in a fifteenth century convent. I saw those beautiful tiles on many of the old buildings and palaces when I was there and I want to know more about them.

The Fado Museum (Portuguese guitar music) is also in Alfama and sounds like something I would like. The Fado Museum is a  testimony of passion and dedication this country has for Fado and has helped musicians, instrument manufacturers and researchers gain the exceptional esteem which the practice of fado enjoys today.

Buying a few more pair of handmade gloves at Ulisses in Lisbon.  They are guaranteed for life so i will check mine before I leave for Portugal . 

The Douro Valley is known for its vineyards, landscapes and the Douro River. It’s another amazing place in Portugal that I will see this time.

Drive from Porto to Lisbon stopping in towns and fishing villages along the way.

Buy canned fish to take home from Lisbon. There are many different cans to choose from. Shelves in every corner of the city sit stacked with cans of sardines, horse mackerel, tuna, anchovies, octopus, eel, and more. Some shops sell nothing but tinned fish. It is surprisingly good. It is not like Chicken of the Sea.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Old World Palaces And Castles

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Palaces and Castles

“ And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you, that I’m tired of castles in the air “Don McLean (I love that song)

Castles and palaces are pieces of the past. They are evocative of the people who lived in them many centuries ago. They are rich in folklore and history and often built with astonishing craftsmanship and innovative design. Here are some of the palaces that I have toured. Many of these photos were before I was blogging so less palace and more look I was there shots.

Alhambra – Granada, Spain

fullsizeoutput_5ea7Buckingham Palace – London, England

Buda Castle – Budapest, Hungary (view near castle)

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Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) – Venice, Italy

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Neuschwanstein – Hohenschwangau, Germany

Pena Palace – Sintra, Portugal

Peterhof, (known as Petrodvorets and Petergof) – Petergof ,Saint Petersburg, Russia

Pitti Palace – Florence, Italy

Prague Castle – Prague, Czech Republic

Schoenbrunn – Vienna, Austria

Trakai Castle – Trakai, Lithuania.

Palace Of Versailles, Versailles, France

Fly safe,

JAZ

Day Trip From Florence To Fiesole, Italy

Day Trip From Florence To Fiesole, Italy

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi

Fiesole is eight kilometers north of Florence. It is an ancient Etruscan city in the Tuscan countryside. There is a beautiful chapel, Roman ruins and spectacular views of Florence.

It’s nice just to go for a stroll, walk around the winding streets and see what ancient wonders you will find, what charming little stores you will stumble across and the locals you will meet along the way. It is full of art, history and literature.

Leonardo da Vinci spent much time in Fiesole testing his flying machine, while Michaelangelo learned his carving trade on the hillside stone works.Robert Browning, who moved to Florence during the Victorian era to elope with fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, mentioned Fiesole in his poem ‘Andrea Del Sarto’

The Archaeological Museum gives you entrance to the Roman and Etruscan ruins as well.  The Roman amphitheater, baths and the Etruscan walls are amazingly well-preserved. The theatre is still in use today.

If you are a fan of the Uffizi, then you will also fall in love with the twelfth to fourteenth century works at the Bandini Museum. There are works from Della Robbia, Taddeo Gaddi, Bernardo Daddi, Lorenzo Monaco and Nardo di Cione.

Fiesole’s main square, Piazza Mino, is the setting for an antiques market every first Sunday of the month. It is also the setting for recurring markets, so it is always likely you’ll find one going on when you visit.

The slower pace of Fiesole after frenetic Florence  makes it easy to go to a coffee-house, bakery or pizzeria and sit and relax in the Tuscan countryside.

The monastery of San Francesco is  located at the top  of the hill. It will be a tough climb but worth the view you’ll have over Florence. There are nice restaurants with great views on the street leading up to the monastery.

If you’re looking to burn off the unavoidable carbs of Italy, you can  hike to Fiesole from Florence, enjoying the steep ups and rapid downs on the curvaceous roads and bumpy country trails. The number seven bus from Florence drops you in the main square of Fiesole. As with all Italian public transportation, watch for pickpockets.  You can also share a taxi with some new friends like I did.

Ciao, Fly safe

JAZ