A motorcycle trip to Bilbao, during winter.
The Pyrenees covered with snow, new year's Eve in Bilbao, the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit in the Guggenheim.
On the way home, we rode alongside the Gulf of Biskaia, and stuck on several closed passes in the Pyrenees and the French Cantal.
To reach Spain, from the Netherlands, you first have to cross Belgium and France. In november, one month before, a severe storm had hit Western Europe, and especially in France, much damage had been done.
It was impressive to see big trees lying at the side of the roads, water everywhere where it should not be, and whole cities where the electricity still did not work.
Bilbao is a city in Basque country, where many people still speak a language which is unique in Europe: no connections to other langages are known. When you see a "Spanish" word containing an "x", it is certain to be a Basque word.
Bilbao has an old and a "new" centre (the new centre being built in the 19th century). In the old centre, you find narrow streets, and a very beautiful covered market, still in use for meat, fish and vegetables. The new centre has wide avenues and the big stores.
In between runs a river, the Rio Nervion.
Bilbao feels as a "workers" city, with lots of activity going on. The city is in the process of developing, with the Guggenheim as a masterpiece.
The oldest part of Bilbao is built on the small level stretch of land near the river; the rest is steep, hilly, giving a real 3-dimensional aspect to Bilbao.
This is a place where you don't have the feeling of being trapped by the tourist trade. This is a city where you can dwell endlessly, buying some (always delicious) food now and then, and enjoying the atmosphere, the buildings, the people.
A Basque woman explained to me that the word "eta" that you see in the photograph is not only the name of the well-known terroristic
movement, but simply means "and" as well. In the picture, the word is used just for the word "and".
As you see, it's very hard for an outsider to get a grasp on what's going on, even on what's being written on walls...
The Basques are a mysterious people. Nobody knows where they came from; it is even thought that they stem directly from the Cro-Magnon-man.
When you watch people in Bilbao, you recognise Basque faces after a while: they have a broad forehead, giving them sturdy faces. Sturdy people with sturdy faces.
Like most people in Spain, they enjoy food, and it's impossible here to buy anything that doesn't taste very well.
Every evening, at around 7 pm, they gather in parks and on squares, with their little children. We have seen the same in Catalunya, but not in the
south of Spain.
The parents talk to each other, the children run and play and scream and enjoy themselves. After an hour or two, people disappear to restaurants, or to their homes. The people in Bilbao are very very kind to their children.
We saw a demonstration (on Day 5 nl ), of the ETA. The ETA is a mystery to me: a vast majority of the Basques don't want a separation of Spain...
The building of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao is designed by the American architect Frank Gehry.
You walk around it, you cross the bridge to the other side of the river (by Calatrava by the way), and look again, you study the building from far off, and look at it from close by, and from every angle it is different, and beautiful in a different way.
Yes, this is a miracle building, and I hope it will bring much luck and prosperity to Bilbao.
The dog of Jeff Koons, outside, is to be found on th Dutch Day 4 nl .
One of the reasons for choosing Bilbao as a destination was the exposition of the Art of the Motorcycle in the Guggenheim Museum.
Anyone who has the possibility of seeing this exposition should make use of it: it offers a marvelous overview of the development of motorcycles, both considering the technique and the design.
North of Bilbao, there is a narrow road following the coast of the Atlantic, running eastward.
The road rounds the Cabo Machichaco, runs inland after Mermeo, until the Rio de Guernica can be crossed at Gernika, and keeps following the coast until it hits the N634 towards San Sebastian.
The sea at this part of the Atlantic coast, the Golfo de Vizcaya, is known to be rough, almost always, so you are guaranteed to have spectacular sights of the water.
More pictures ofthe Golfo de Vizcaya on the Dutch Day 9 nl .
We crossed the border between France and Spain on the Col de Pierre St Martin. There was snow, but it was open.
We didn't want to leave the Pyrenees at once, and rode the rest of the day in the mountains, and slept in a hotel in a ski-resort.
Some of the passes were closed, forcing us to detours, which we didn't mind.
We celebrated our stay in the Pyrenees by camping the following night.
Our last stay before returning home was in Figeac, on the Massif Central.
Figeac happens to be an old town which is beautifully preserved. Our landlady showed us around, and we promised to come back one day.
And here too, some of the passes were closed, it was, after all, wintertime.