The next day (a Monday,) I had planned to visit the Guggenheim. I made the mistake of not checking the schedule (my casual traveler mindset failed me) -- if you visit Bilbao, the museum is closed on Mondays. I ended up wandering around Old Town, which was far from disappointing. That did leave me with only a couple of hours to see the museum on Tuesday, between the museum's open and my early-afternoon flight, which was a mistake.
There is a Basque museum in Bilbao, which I thought would be interesting to visit. It was, somewhat. The museum focused on industry and art of the Basque people -- fishing, smithing, pottery -- I don't know what I was expecting. I expected there to be not much English, but I read online that everything was also in English. That isn't quite the case, and I find dioramas and reproductions are only as interesting as the story they tell. At any rate, it was a fine way to spend a quiet and inexpensive couple hours.
Later, I had a delicious lunch at a vegetarian restaraunt, Jatetxe Berdea (also on my hosts' list of recommendations!) I'm pretty sure some of my food was at least re-heated in a microwave (I also eat at weird times when travelling alone, so I'm not mad) but it was a TON of food, yummy, and I think 11 euro for the "full meal" (soup, bread, entree, dessert, and a glass of wine.)
Another goal I had while in Bilbao was to visit the coast. I found Playa Gorrondaxte, Azkorri, mapped my trip on the metro, and headed out.
The beach is maybe 2-3 miles walk from the Berango metro stop (some hills), but not bad. Much of the walk is through residential area, but there are also dirt trails that wind around alongside the road. I took the trail on a whim, and I started to get a little nervous after walking a few minutes through high greenery, unsure where I was going. I was relieved when the trail dumped me out on the same road, just farther along.
The beach, like the mountain vistas, was totally stunning. I spent some time just sitting and looking at it, walking up and down...
This guy started following me on the road back, getting closer, barking at intervals... I'm leaving your territory, dude, lay off. I yelled at him (one of those yells that don't come out how you expect, and startle even you) when he got a little too close.
This excursion was so much easier than the day before to the mountain. I attribute that to no buses -- just the metro. It was a longer ride (about 45 minutes from where I caught it) but there's a map right there on the wall with all the stops, so I knew when to start paying attention; it's a smoother and less twisty/turny ride, so easier to read and pass the time; and generally the stops are a lot more of a hub than bus stops, so getting oriented and regaining directions and bearings on foot is quick.
I set my alarm to get up in time to be at the museum just before it opened. I slept through it (of course) but made it just a few minutes after open. There was already a line, which dismayed me, but it shouldn't have -- the line moves really fast.
Before even entering the museum, there's a ton of sculpture and architecture to appreciate. The building itself is the obvious example, but the sculpture garden just outside and along the river and contemporary pedestrian bridges across it also shape the vibe of this little port town. You could be in the Old Town, with buildings dating back to the 1600s, then later that afternoon be in this very contemporary part of the city.
I really enjoyed The Matter of Time permanent installation; it's a huge work and a really unique and unusual way to experience art and form. There's a better picture at that link.
When I visited, there was a special Jeff Koons retrospective, with pieces from throughout his career. I love cheeky art, which he definitely makes. I took a ton of pictures, but the stainless steel balloon-looking sculptures stuck with me the most. So shiny. And the tulips especially -- such a big, colorful, shiny contrast to the cloudy grey sky outside.
I do wish I had more time at the museum. I was only left with about 2 hours, and plenty unseen (especially of the museum's permanent collection). Another "what would I do differently" moment: I packed very light, so in hindsight I could have brought all my luggage to check at the museum. That would have given me up to an extra hour or two if I had known to pack up and check out before. Live and learn.
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Bilbao. I have this dream to someday live abroad, even just for a couple years -- could see home in Bilbao or Toulouse. I loved Barcelona and Paris, but I felt small and temporary.
I caught my flight for Lisbon, and the last new city of the trip, early Tuesday afternoon.