Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Burrowing Deeper into Basque Country, Altamira and Bilbao, Spain

Next up - an ambitious day westward, deeper into Spanish Basque Country. We overnighted two nights in the city of San Sebastian. This day we drove first to the Altamira Caves with prehistoric paintings, then to Bilbao and finally to the town of Guernica.The Altamira caves are truly something to take in. Cave paintings are prehistoric and believed to be between 25,000 to 35,000 years old - perhaps even the origins of art. The actual cave was discovered in 1879 by a 9 year old girl and her father. It reached peak heights of tourism in 1960-70s. But in 1977 due to the carbon dioxide of all those tourists traipsing through, the cave was closed to the public. An exact cave and painting replica was built nearby underground with painstaking detail and original polychrome art techniques. You would never have known we were in a reproduction. It felt very real. These paintings have inspired modern art practice; Picasso took special inspiration from Altamira.
The cave is out in the middle of nowhere. In farm country. We smelled and saw cows all over. Connor certainly wore the right dress on this day!
We drove next to Bilbao, Spain. For lunch we spotted a Subway/Ben and Jerry's combo store. An interesting twist. Subway now serves "baby subs" which Connor gobbled right up. Again the matching cows were noted and documented!
We were blown away from first glance at the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum. I had seen this funky building in photos but it was more breathtaking in person than I could have imagined. It is hands down the best piece of modern art in architecture I have ever seen.
How could this be real?!? Doesn't it resemble a light, fantasy drawing much more than any substantial building of concrete and metal? The modern art collection inside was equally stunning. This work by Richard Serra called The Matter of Time got us in the modern mood. We zig-zagged within its curves and mazes. Connor had no idea what in the world was going on!
Inside the art was thought-provoking and sumptuous. We thoroughly enjoyed the main exhibition on Frank Lloyd Wright along with the permanent pieces. I never thought of architectural plans as an art form, but boy oh boy were they ever. I did not realize how many building masterpieces Wright sketched and drew in painstaking detail without them being built like the Crystal City planned for DC and Baghdad's master city plan. It was a perfect exhibit considering the sister Guggenheim in NYC, iconic in its circular shape, was designed by Wright.Outside even more modern art treasures awaited us. The Tulips piece with colored reflections were both beautiful and hilarious.We walked across the "moat" to take in different angles of this magnificent building...
...and came across the famous spider sculpture. It was a little creepy to stand right under it!
We loved the Guggenheim Bilbao. It was really all we did or saw in the city. But by itself it was more than enough to make the city dazzle!Adjacent to the Guggenheim was an impressive playground. It was Connor's bribe throughout the museum and thus a good romp around was due.My favorite part was the big colored globes. They resembled a piece of art all by themselves. Balancing and standing atop them made us all feel childlike.
One last stop on our return trip to San Sebastian in the town of Guernica. It was the town of Picasso's famous war-painting we saw in Madrid and where aerial terror bombings took place during the Spanish Civil War. Nothing too much to see or photograph, but still good to put a place with a painting from Picasso's masterpiece.

Bring on the Basque! It was a day of learning and seeing and experiencing new things.

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