Bilbao

Bosque de Oma

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To take advantage of the wonderful 80-degree weather today, I joined some friends on an outing to the Bosque de Oma, also known as The Painted Forest, just over an hour bus ride outside of Bilbao. It’s fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll just leave you with pictures and the observations that I am thankful for how easy it is to find blog posts explaining exactly how to get to little places like this and that, to be frank, I found the forest and its puzzle-piece paintings underwhelming. But it was well worth it to be outside walking the gentle slopes in the dappled sunshine. IMG_8207

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And when I returned home to Bilbao, it was still just as gorgeous.

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“what country are you from?”

I like to at least try to fit in when I’m living in other countries – to outwardly appear as little like the foreigner that I am. I fancy that I passed fairly well as a German when I lived in Germany. But in Spain it’s hopeless. This is my everyday:

My hair swirls around my head in a frizzy, light brown mane as I powerwalk – my natural pace – between and around the sauntering, bronzed Spaniards with their flowing, deep brown locks. For the sake of comfort and relieving stress on my shoulders, my backpack is lashed to my waist with its wide, grey mesh straps, and it bulges with my tennis shoes and other workout paraphernalia, as well as textbooks and a massive umbrella.

I can feel the eyes of the women toting their oversized purses – never a backpack, no matter the load! – fall on me as I pass. Or maybe they’re staring at my blindingly pale arms, which my tank top exposes to the world. It’s 65 degrees and I’m still sweating from exercising; what else am I supposed to wear? Perhaps if I moseyed along at their pace, I wouldn’t be drenched even if I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, like the rest of the population. I doubt it, though.

My feet are squished into my comfy Toms, which have neither heels nor platforms to make me seem taller. Nevertheless, my strangely broad shoulders stand the chance of knocking some of the Spanish women I pass in the chin. That would be tragic indeed, as I’m uncertain if their wispy frames could withstand a brush with my solid one, especially with their ankles suspended at odd angles several inches off the ground. They might tumble over, their flowy blouses fluttering all the way and their smoker’s lungs wheezing out gasps of surprises. If that happened, I’d grasp their delicate fingers with my meaty paw and lift them to their feet before apologetically speeding away.

They are different stock here, and I’m never going to physically fit in. So I’ll enjoy my sleeveless shirts and throw my fuzzy hair up in a bun on all the humid days, and I won’t be surprised when the first question I’m asked is, “What country are you from?”

alive and hiking Pagasarri

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Despite the brooding tone of my last post and my subsequent silence implying that I died from the cold from which I was suffering more than a month ago, I am still alive and well. Indeed, I’m thriving, as much as I believe is possible for me to do during these brief months in Bilbao. The reason for my absence, for anyone who hasn’t heard from my parents or grandparents, is not that I’ve been so terribly busy with schoolwork – though sometimes I have been – nor that I have been having all kinds of grand adventures – though I’ve enjoyed several day trips – and most certainly not because I have a Spanish boyfriend – though it has been suggested numerous times as the best way for improving my language skills. No, I stopped blogging simply because we had no internet in my apartment for more than a month. Our contract with one internet provider ended and with it the wifi in our house. Borja, the seemingly most responsible housemate of the six of us, dutifully contracted a new and cheaper provider, who informed us that it would take some days for the technician to come install a modem/router/whatever was necessary, but it wouldn’t be too long – certainly no more than 20 days at the very very maximum. Oh what lies! The 20 days flew by and so did the next 20, and I spent my precious daylight hours hiking back and forth from the library to do translation homework and my weekend evenings bundled up against the chill and huddled in the corner of an outdoor courtyard, using the school wifi to skype my parents in the bright beam of the nighttime floodlights of my deserted university. I became an expert at typing up a few sentences about my day with my thumbs and keeping my family and best friend more-or-less updated on my life via instant messages on my phone with its precious few megabites of data. And between all that and the rest of life, I had no time to be spending sitting at school typing up blog posts.

As I’m wont to do, I’m making the whole situation sound much more dramatic than it actually was. After I got used to it, I quite enjoyed my increased homework productivity and the fact that I spent entire weekends reading or exploring. Millennial that I am, the computer has an undeniable draw for me, so it was freeing to escape its addictive grasp for a while. Nevertheless, I was thrilled when, after several strangely unsuccessful visits and a number of phone calls, the Movistar man finally descended from his cyber-throne and deigned to provide us with internet on Wednesday evening. “O frabjous day! Callooh Callay!” (I do so adore that strange Carroll poem, just as much as I’m disturbed by his prose.)

I suppose I’ll have to do a bit of back-posting to summarize a few of the notable little trips I’ve taken, but for now let’s just stick with today.

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Three friends and I hiked up a small mountain outside of town at the recommendation of one of our professors. We essentially followed some instructions we found on the internet on the way up and then took our own way down, while still making use of the dozens of helpful sign posts along the way.

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The hike up Pagasarri from the center of town took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes, including lots of breaks and a few long-cuts. They aren’t kidding when they say “shortcuts lead to long delays.”

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At the top of the hill was what’s termed a “refuge” in Spanish but essentially amounts to miniature restaurant, and we couldn’t have been happier to hand over our euros for some large omelette-on-bread pintxos (the Basque name for tapas, essentially), which we enjoyed in the glorious sunshine on the hillside.

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When we parted ways after returning to Bilbao, I made a bee-line for a pastery and candy shop I’d spied a few weeks ago, which boasted filled versions (mine had dulce de leche, a caramel-like substance) of my favorite pastry here: the palmera. Though the one I tried was only fair, I intend to dedicate a whole post to my study of the buttery wonder of palmeras in general.

palmera dulce de leche

Now I’m off to spend the evening playing card games with more friends (all Americans, mind you – that’s a longer story) for the evening. We’re even meeting in a bar. Talk about a contrast from my last post. Ha!

canned seafood country

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There’s an entire aisle dedicated to canned seafood in the grocery store where I shop. I usually stick to the store-brand canned tuna, both packed in tomato sauce and in olive oil. Sometimes I spring for sardines when I’m in a splurging mood. I have every intention of branching out into clams, squid, octopus, white fishes of all kinds, and anything of interest I can find. But first I need to finish trying all the Spanish pastries. That won’t take much longer, as I’ve nearly exhausted the limited offerings at the pastelerías and grocery bakery sections I’ve come across so far.

laundry with a hint of lunch

laundry under the cubre ropas
Two days ago I hung my laundry out on our amusing window clothes line and pulled its sturdy rain cover taut overtop. Sure enough, it drizzled in the intervening days, but my clothes kept slowly drying, and today I took them down, holding my breath as I leaned out to reach them and hoping I didn’t drop a sock or a clothes pin into the abyss of the empty, locked courtyard below.

I can’t say my clothes smell fresh and clean. Their odor is an odd but not entirely unpleasant mixture of the lunches and dinners of several different apartments, plus a weak whiff of strange Spanish detergent, and a hint of damp leaves fallen in cool autumn puddles. Mmm. I’m glad I forgot to wash my PJs; I think I’ll let them dry inside. The architect clearly wasn’t thinking when he designed this building with the kitchens and their windows opening to the same courtyard where everyone’s laundry would have to hang. Time to buy some aggressively floral fabric softener.

On a completely separate note, today I met with the owners of an English academy, for whom I’m going to do some tutoring! I had hoped to be able to do something of the like while here, but I never expected it to drop into my lap like it did; my Direct Translation professor asked me if I’d be interested, since he knows the owners. I told him that I most certainly would, and here we are. I may start tutoring my first student this Saturday!

by the ría

towards Guggenheim

This weekend I went down to the old part of town, called Casco Viejo, in an attempt to find a church that I wanted to visit. Improbably enough, I failed on both Saturday and Sunday – the place must be really well hidden – but I did get to stroll along the banks of  the estuary on the way back. In Spanish it’s called the ría, which I think is a lovely contrast to the masculine term for river, río.

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Both times I used the metro to take me down town. It’s cleanest and newest I’ve seen anywhere.

imageThe estuary curves around and through the city, so it’s never far away. The ornate train station (still used) is the building on the far left above.

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There’s sort of an extension to the Guggenheim that’s built so the museum appears to envelop the bridge right next to it. You can see the sun shining between the stone tiles, though.

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This evening the sun finally came out after showers off and on all day, but yesterday the clouds stuck around.

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I walked down the side of the ría opposite the Guggenehim yesterday and took a number of pictures, so you could see the boat form of the museum and its scale compared to the bridge and skyscraper near it.

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Guggenheim Bilbao: worth my time

Gugghenheim Bilbao

Call me unsophisticated, but I’ve never managed to enjoy a modern art museum. Granted, I’ve been in a grand total of three, maybe four, in my life. But that was completely sufficient. However, the modern/contemporary art of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao held my interest on Friday, and I would even go back. Perhaps I’ve reformed. Or perhaps the Guggenheim Bilbao was simply an stunningly constructed and well-curated modern art museum. Who knows. Regardless, it was excellent and the first modern art museum I’d wholeheartedly recommend!

Side note: Dad brought to my attention that, coincidentally, NPR did a piece/article on Frank Gehry this pas Thursday. It mentioned something that my audioguide also told me: Gehry is more artist than architect in his natural state, his career as the latter possible in large part due to the blessing of living in an age of computer modeling that can turn his attractive but at first structurally improbable designs into realities. Definitely believable.

My pictures are all at the wrong angle to show it, but the outside of the Guggenheim is shaped like a massive boat covered with steel plates that shimmer like fish scales.

On the entrance side of the museum near the city stands a permanent installation called Puppy, which is an enormous dog shape covered in a patchwork of blooming flowers. Unique and adorable.

The side of the museum facing the estuary is embraced by a shallow pool, which makes the river seem closer. Several pieces have their homes on little islands in the pool, one of which is a shining tree of metal spheres, apparently made by the artist whose work includes the so-called “Bean” in Chicago.

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The inside of the museum has more curves and unexpected faces and angles as the outside, especially the atrium area, with its insane mixture of glass, steel, and rock twisting up toward a skylight above.

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Besides being simply visually stimulating to walk through, the Guggenheim felt intuitive. Curving walkways, sloping ramps, and winding galleries lead me through every single space; I don’t think I ever left a gallery the same way I entered. It was refreshing not to have to wonder if I’d missed something, as I often do in art museums. I just followed the natural flow of the building and saw everything.

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It appeared to me that a select few galleries of the Guggenheim hold permanent collections, while the vast majority of the space is dedicated to extensive impermanent exhibitions. The ones there during my visit were Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time, and Shahzia Sikander’s Parallax.

I thoroughly enjoyed a number of Jeff Koons’ whimsical painted and polished steel sculptures shaped like massive balloon creatures and blow-up pool toys, as well as his baffling sets of basketballs suspended underneath the water in small aquarium tanks. Parallax was a strange piece of audio-visual art made up of a wide-screen presentation of endlessly-shifting water-color shapes accompanied by loud music that to my ignorant ear sounded “Middle Eastern” and eery. It played for ages, and I never saw a repeated sequence; impressive and somehow simultaneously disturbing and mesmerizing. I sped through the Basquiat art, as its scribbled words and distorted sketches reminded me of poorly done graffiti or the naïve attempts of a five-year-old to scrawl his world on crumpled paper with a crayon.

kids' art Bilbao

Speaking of children, there was a lovely little corner gallery apparently reserved for art from classes of local school children, which even included a project where they corresponded from kids who live near the Guggenheim in New York.

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Bonus: even the bathrooms were beautiful!