Bilbao & San Sebastian, Spain

This blog is less travel and more economic commentary on Spain. We left France and (Paris, which is not exactly France) and the French economically are still living the good life. But Spain is one of the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) and these countries are the ones in the news, all struggling with their economies, all needing bailouts. Spain has 24% unemployment and half of the young adults are unemployed, so I assumed the country would be visibly hurting and the world wide recession would be in the streets in Spain. Wrong. The tapas are bueno and the wine still flows in Spain. The city of Bilbao is in the north part of Spain, Basque country they proudly proclaim, most of the public signage is in Spanish and Basque. The Basque language really likes the letter X in words. Bilbao is a medium size city, unhurried and there are no empty shops along the main street and no signs of any recession. I was a bit confused. What austerity? After walking around I think it is fair to say the city is on impulse power (think you Star Trek) only. During the go-go days of the 1990s and early XXI Century the city was on an economic rocket ship to the stars. The world famous Guggenheim foundation built a spectacular art museum there in 1997 and it was the talk of the country and the world. Bilbao was destined to become one of Europe’s glittering cities. Then in 2008 Spain and the rest of the world suffered an economic collapse. So now Bilbao is limping along like the rest of Spain, the downtown is calm and not much goes on. Car traffic is minimal which is an indicator of troubled times. One exception is the Iberdrola building (see picture) is 40 stories higher than anything in town and out of place architecturally. Iberdrola is a private energy company in over forty countries on four continents serving 30 million people. It is undoubtedly the only real powerhouse in employment in Bilbao. The international bank in Bibao BBVA, one of the institutions of greatness prior to 2008 is a zombie bank, dependent upon the kindness of the Euro zone. One of the problems and benefits of an EU currency for all the countries is it gives the illusion of stability for the countries in trouble. Normally, like in the USA, our problems have driven down the value of the almighty dollar, we have had to devalue the dollar against most other countries. For all of the countries in the EU the Euro is not devalued and those with jobs and money, most of the people, are doing just fine, gracias, due to the overall strength of the currency. So far. As for the people in Spain, they still take a 3 hour lunch break from 1 to 4 p.m. and the women’s fashion boutiques and shoe stores dot the main street. At night after 8 p.m. when the Spanish end work they fill the bars and cafes. In the old city of Bilbao it is a delight to sit in the plazas and order tapas and wine and drink until midnight with the Spaniards. In Bilbao,  (we have not traveled to the rest of Spain and I have “heard” it is much worse in other parts of the country) times are not the best, but but not the worse.

End of economic lecture. Bllbao is very clean and they have human street sweepers who work all day cleaning the streets. They also have the “green sidewalk monster” (see photo) who work day and night sweeping the streets and sidewalks, and practically running  people down. The city built a modern tram in the go-go years and it is not very crowded. We spent a day at the world famous Guggenheim museum. The featured artist with a one man show was the English painter David Hockney. With the price of admission you get free head phones that explains the paintings and give short narratives by the artists about their work. Their museum’s art collection was all  contemporary and they share their collection with the NYC  museum. BTW, the metal used on the outside of the building (see photos) is made of titanium. The other days we wandered about the city, visited the Bilbao art museum and did a walking tour of the old city. We took a bus from Bilbao to San Sebastian, Spain about an hour west to catch an overnight train to Portugal. San Sebastian is known for its food and glorious ocean beach. The city is gorgeous, the streets wide and beautiful new buildings everywhere except in the old city where there are beautiful old buildings. If there is any depression in Spain it is NOT in San Sebastian. The sidewalks were plastered with tourists surging everywhere. The golden sand beach (see pictures) must have had 20,000 people. (Note: The beach is topless and hopefully we didn’t’ t include any bare breasts to offend people who are reading out blog. Sorry, I tried guys.) Vacationers in San Sebastian were 20 deep waiting to buy ice cream and curio shops were on every corner. It seemed every street had performers of some kind. As a street performer in my youth and not performing at all in over an a year, it was a struggle not join in some of the fun. Next installment, the overnight train and on to Portugal and finally arriving at ArtTerra artist residence.

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One Response to “Bilbao & San Sebastian, Spain”

  1. Pat Dismukes Says:

    Thanks Michael as usual superb job. I think so far I like Spain the most from your descriptions. Maybe it’s the part about sitting at a cafe drinking wine until midnight!

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