The city planners have done quite a good job of creating a relatively uncongested city centre and traffic signals are noticeably pedestrian-friendly. Public transport, basically the Metro and Bilbobus, is good with frequent, inexpensive services.
There is however no escaping the ubiquitous infernal-combusting engined machines and whilst most car parking is underground there is some street parking available for which tickets have to be bought from the machines. At least the machines are doing their green bit by being solar powered!
For a first-time visitor to Bilbao the easiest place to start is the central Plaza Moyua. This is accessible by both Metro and the local Bilbobus and from here the eight radial roads lead to pretty much everywhere you need to visit.
If you are not sure which way up your map is stand in the middle of the plaza and look for the landmark Hotel Carlton - this is South - finding your way around becomes easy after that.
For a useful interactive city map click: HERE
Pic below shows the southwards view from the Plaza with the Hotel Carlton behind the red Bilbobus. To the left is one of the Metro exits.
Bilbao offers something for everyone, art (modern, classical, and Basque), shopping (high end such as Gucci through to local markets), and a range of dining experiences from High cost stylish menus to simple menus, and don´t forget the pintxos (tapas) that you graze going from Bar to bar.
Often bars and restaurants cluster together, facilitating the eat, drink, and move eating habit that the the bilbao people use.
Try the casco viejo (old quarter), or around Pozas / Indautxu
Bilbainos are a humorous bunch of people. Their easily recognisable accent and their ebullient personality have turned them into the target of thousands of jokes told all around Spain, including Bilbao. In these jokes, Bilbainos are depicted as exaggerated and boastful people who show, in particular, an immense proud of being from Bilbao. These jokes are spiced up with the peculiar tune that Basques have when speaking Castilian, truffled with a great quantity of swear words, and therefore hardly translatable into other languages.
A typical Bilbaino conversation would be something like:
- Which was the greatest proof of humbleness that Jesus Christ gave us?
- Well, while he could have chosen Bilbao, he chose to be born in Bethlehem.
As the famous Basque writer Pío Baroja once said, the Nervión River is the aorta of Bilbao. Furthermore, it is the main reason for its development as a port city. The Nervión is a very short river, since it has its source at only 72km from the Bay of Biscay, in the Altube Heights (Province of Alava). At its source, it drops in a spectacular waterfall in the Delika canyon. It meets the Ibaizábal River at Basauri and forms a 15 km long estuary from Bilbao's old town.
This estuary forms a great natural harbour, which became the most important seaport in the North of Spain, the estuary remaining navigable thanks to the canalisation works of Evaristo Churruca.
Today, port activities are concentrated in the external part of the estuary, where a mega-port has been developed in the last decades (at the Abra in Santurtzi). This has allowed for the dismantlement of industry and port facilities in order to recover the river banks for the leisure of the citizens. Thus, different urban development projects have been carried out in this area, and some of them are still on-going, such as the Zaha Hadid master plan for the Zorrotzaurre Island.
At the same time, a lot of energy has been put in cleaning the river, which after so many decades of intense industrial activity, had become one of the most polluted in the world.
Bilbao was the cradle of the industrial revolution in Spain. The abundance of iron and coal in the area as well as an incipient bourgeoisie resulted in an extraordinary development of the city since the end of the XIX century.
This heavy industry damaged seriously the environment: the high furnaces and steelworks expelled black and thick fumes, the river stank and was biologically dead, immigrants were crammed in unsalubrious homes... Things could only go worst with severe industrial crisis in the late 1970s. The often gray skies, the grimy buildings and the abandoned factories were not exactly inviting.
Bilbao had then to reinvent itself and look for new sources of wealth to become again one of the most dynamic cities in Spain.
If the Guggenheim effect cannot be denied, it would be too simplistic to believe that the renaissance of Bilbao is owed exclusively to the works of star architects like Calatrava, Foster or Gehry. No matter how grandly conceived the museum and other spectacular pieces of architecture were, nothing would have happened without an ambitious and audacious urban planning that has been on for more than one decade and which has transformed almost all the boroughs in the city.
What is more, even before the arrival of the world-class architects, Bilbao and its Ensanche in particular was a space of high architectural value. Excellent Bilbaino architects have left a legacy of fine buildings which bears almost no comparison in other cities of similar size. Achúcarro, Ispizua, Galíndez, Chapa, Rucoba, Gimón, Amann, Smith, Alardén, and many others, fueled by an entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, have designed the most amazing buildings in a variety of styles, ranging form eclecticism to rationalism and expressionism or art deco.
Favorite thing: Bilbao is often referred to by locals as the Botxo, which means hole in Basque. This is due to the fact that the city is located on the bottom of a bowl shaped valley totally surrounded by hills (Artxanda, Guribikolanda, Mikoleta, Orueta, Artagan, Arbolantxa, Pastorekorta, Pagasarri, Ganeta, Restaleko, San Bernabé, Banderas, Santo Domingo, Avril, Enekuri... ). They protect the city from the strong winds and create a somewhat suffocating heat in the most torrid days of the Summer. On the other hand, the vision of the green hills from almost every corner of the city is a great counterpoint to all the industrial feeling of the city, and reminds you of the fact that nature is never far away. That contrast was particularly pleasant during the days when Bilbao was a much gloomier place than it is now.
Apart from this site, there is one other excellent source of information on Bilbao, and that is provided by the city itself.
The city website at: http://www2.bilbao.net/bilbaoturismo/index_ingles.htm give itourist information in English (it is also available in Spanish and Basque).
The website as a whole http://www2.bilbao.net/ is full of good information such as bus timetables, and traffic flow.
A new children's play area opened in July 2004 next to the Guggenheim.
This play area, aimed at the active c.10 year old features many scrambling nets and similar equipment. There are also things for small kids, all done with style.
Bilbao is full of small playparks, in particular along the river on the Deusto side (start opposite the river museum and head towards the centre of the city).
Very convenient internet café situated just in front of the bus station to Madrid, Barcelona, or other parts of Spain.
The price for half an hour is 1 euro.
They also make photocopies and have international telephone.
address: Calle Luis Brinas 25, Bilbao
Tf. 94 4395020
Fondest memory: people are the best
Favorite thing: Northern Spain is known for their Txakoli - a nice refreshing white wine. It's light but still has body. Not too dry and not sweet. Very easy drinking. This wine is hard to find in the states unfortunately, so if you like it be sure to bring a bottle or two back with you!
When in a bar, forget what your mother told you and put the dirty things (e.g. serviettes) on the floor. They will sweep it up regularly.
The rule is clean things on the counter, dirty on the floor. If you don't believe me, look at the floor of a busy pintxo bar!
Favorite thing: It so happen that during my visit was a Marathon period. Some band and live telecast, accompanied with several stalls providing local delicacies and beverages for free. My lunch was free on that day!!
The climax of the whole procession.
It tooks about 1 and 1/2 hours.
This event took place right in front of the Ercilla street where the hotel that we're staying.
Pictue shown was the shrine of Our Lady of Bitterness carried by 15 man at least. You should seen how they carry this heaven shrine.
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