Bilbao – A Perfect Blend From Old To New

We planned our stop at Bilbao and agreed to meet up with Wayne & Felixa again at the chosen aire. We arrived at about 3pm and Wayne & Felixa were already parked up having left Lekeito earlier. We just had time for a quick bite and a cup of tea then we had to sort out the leisure battery issue.

I had researched a caravan and motorhome supply shop near the airport that sold accessories and batteries. We had passed nearby to it on the way to the aire, but of course it was siesta time and it was closed until 4.30pm.

So after a quick lunch, Wayne came with me to Sondika Caravanas, 16km back in the direction we had came, while Michelle stayed with Felixa for a chat and catch up.

Previously, I had 2 x 90Ah leisure batteries installed. They were bought for their physical size as there is not much room in the battery compartment. It already houses 2 large starter batteries wired in series for the 24 volts needed to start the engine and run the lorry cab electrics of the motorhome. I was hoping to replace the existing leisure batteries with 2 similar.

When we arrived at Sondika Caravanas no English was spoken by the owner so I had to use my limited Spanish to communicate. He took us into the store to check out his stock. All of the batteries he had in stock, even those of a similar capacity, were too big to fit in the limited space of the battery compartment. The only option I had left was to buy one larger 120Ah AGM battery and fit it sideways. This led to another dilemma. My 2 old batteries were joined together then connected to the main power block with short cables. With the new battery having to be put in sideways I would need a longer cable to join everything together.

Sondika had a workshop and I asked if they could fit the new battery. Not today he said. I asked about tomorrow and he shrugged his shoulders. I had a few mumbled words with Wayne pretending that I would leave it and try somewhere else. At this point, fearing losing a sale, the owner asked me to move the motorhome behind the workshop and he set about fitting it himself as well as supplying the required longer cable. So an hour later I was set with a new 120Ah AGM battery and had restored power to the motorhome but was €283 lighter… ouch!

Just as well we got sorted though. We returned to the aire which was located about 20km from the centre of Bilbao. It was free for motorhomes to stay but there were no services, so we needed the new battery that day! The aire was at Larrabasterra in a mixed car park that was also busy with cars during the evening attending the adjacent sports centre. The beauty of here though (apart from being free!) was that it was only 200m from a metro station which would connect us to the centre of Bilbao for €2.90 each way.

We had wanted to visit Bilbao to see the world famous Guggenheim museum. We are not art buffs, so had no interest in attending the exhibition inside, but we both love the architectural style of buildings, both old and new. Most people in motorhomes only seem to visit Bilbao to either arrive or depart on the ferry, but the city itself is gaining increased recognition. So we strolled the short distance to the metro and paid for our ticket to the station in the old town, Casco Antigua.

Typical Bilbao old town street

Exiting the metro station we landed in the main square of the old town, with its narrow streets lined with tall Baroque style buildings with their box-frame windows and iron ornamental balconies.

The area around Bilbao was rich with iron ore, so Franco put the city to work ship building and supplying steel for all of Spain. Franco was none too popular around these parts, given his actions allowing Hitler to bomb nearby Guernica and it was poignant to see a banner hanging from one of the balconies in the square highlighting this region’s strong feeling of independence, even to this day.

This is Not Spain nor France!

Wandering around the old town was a joy. The buildings were beautiful, the shops keeping their old-time feel. The old town is hemmed against the river which bends around it and when we arrived at the riverside, it was lined with tall colourful merchant buildings of the past.

Bilbao riverside view

We wandered around the streets for a couple of hours before returning to the square for a lunch of pintxos, wine and beer. Then we made tracks towards the Guggenheim area, further along the river.

Modern riverside sculpture

As you stroll from the old town along the riverside, the city blends from the old, through the art nouveau era to the thoroughly modern. Approaching the museum area the river is lined with tall glass and steel structures of the financial area. A modern footbridge arcs across the river and a huge high steel road bridge just by the museum.

Regenerated Dock Side

The Guggenheim museum itself is one of those world famous iconic structures. Designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 1997 it is a free-form building of limestone and glass and covered in titanium tiles. It was built as part of the regeneration of the derelict old docks area of the city, and it along with the new financial district has brought new life to this once decrepit area.

“Maman” metallic spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois outside the Guggenheim Museum
Jeff Koon’s “Tulips” sit in front of the glass atrium, the same artist designed “The Puppy”
A Thoroughly Modern Area

Just as famous as the museum itself is the flower covered West Highland Terrier dog which sits at its entrance, and this is what Michelle really wanted to see. Known affectionately as “The Puppy” it was erected as a temporary display for the opening of the museum but the locals took it to their hearts and insisted it stayed as a permanent feature.

“The Puppy” by Jeff Koons sits in front of the Guggenheim museum

From the museum it was a short stroll back to the main commercial area of the city to catch the metro back to the aire. Bilbao was a real surprise and we loved every minute of our visit. It is definitely worth the effort to stop and visit the city if you are using the Bilbao, or even the Santander sailings.