(early Summer, 2009) One of the nice things about having Jax for a home airport is the Art. In addition to the artistic décor of the terminal, there are display cases with changing exhibits and a very nice gallery. There were large abstracts and a wall-sized installation with 12” art tiles and pink birds attached to the wall.

We began our adventure in DONASTIA, better known as San Sebastian, on the northern Atlantic coast of Spain; the Bay of Biscay. It's the Capitol of the Basque Region or Euskadi, as it was locally known.

Our accommodation for the next few nights was a bungalow in a campground above Donastia on Mt. Igeldo. We took a bus from just outside the gate down to the city.

Ondarreta, the neighborhood at the bottom of Mt Igeldo, was a very nice, upscale area that we explored later. But then everything we saw in Donastia was pretty upscale. From the center of town we walked past all the fancy shops, through neighborhoods of Belle Epoch residences, over the Urumea river on the Christina Bridge, past the train station designed by Gustave Eiffel and lots of statues, we followed the river to the sea. Recrossed the river and found the Old Town. It was all so beautiful, though a gray day.

We discovered Gipuzkoa Park, had pinxos (tapas) and beer in the old Courthouse Square, and watched the fun.

Then we walked along the beach and the promenades above La Concha until 9:30 or so, before taking the bus back up the mountain.

As usual in the life of a “shoulder season” traveler, the weather can turn on you, and it turned cold. So we were glad to find café con leche and breakfast tapas the next morning.

Meanwhile, we noticed that something was going on. Groups of people were congregating, walking together, tossing handfuls of fliers into the air. They were heading for Gipuzkoa Square. Flags were unfurled, posters plastered onto everything, tractors in the streets, people in t-shirts, police. Then we saw that the marchers were heading for the bandstand on the boulevard where they had erected towers of loudspeakers. The Basques were going on STRIKE.

The tourism office was nearby and open. There we discovered that the San Telmo Museum (of Art) was closed for restoration and there were no other art museums in town. She did say that a Chillida statue we were seeking was at the top of Mt. Urgill in the castle. I had addresses for thrift shops and art galleries, but found the thrift shops were really vintage. And the galleries were either empty or closed or at that hour.

At the edge of Old Town we found stairs leading up to an old church and from there, additional steps that led us onto the main path up Mt. Urgill. The entire end of the peninsula is a park for the mount. There were lots of paths with interesting stonework through the park-like slopes offering views of the city. It wasn’t terribly steep, but we took our time trying to figure out the correct paths. At the top was the Castillo, which was topped by 50-foot tall El Sagrado Corazón (the Sacred Heart) by artist Federico Coullaut in 1950.

Once inside the walls, there were more stairs up to where we would find the Torso by Chillida only to find that the place was closed due to the STRIKE. We would soon learn that everything was closed, including the Catedral de Buen Pastor which houses another Chillida sculpture. (More about Eduardo Chillida later.) At the base of the mountain, facing out to the ocean, is the sculpture Construcción Vacía (Empty Construction) by Jorge Oteiza of Orio. The work was placed just before the artist’s death in 2003.

It was a nice day, so we drove west along the ocean past Ono and Zarauz. Stopped at GETARIA, which juts out into the sea and has a special kind of cidre, but not available due to the strike.

Zumaia, Deba, and MUTRIKU. We walked along the Calle del Muelle, there, admiring the sculptures and the waterway, before returning to our Igueldo base.

On the Passeo de Julio Beobide.

We found, the next day, that Ondaretta Beach was separated from La Concha by Miramar. Beginning at the west end of the beach, up the Passeo Eduardo Chillida, we visited Chillida’s Peine de los Vientos (Wind Comb). It was in three large metal sections; all attached to the rock. This has become an unofficial symbol of San Sebastian. (Click here for more pictures.)  Then we went back, East, along the beach to Miramar.

Miramar, presently a large beachfront, hillside park, was once a Royal Palace built by Queen Maria Cristina in 1887.  The architect was an Englishman, Seldon Wornum. More mansion than typically palatial, it was, apparently, now a music school as we could hear violinists practicing and then a band playing as we climbed the hill. We searched for more Chillida and found two more overlooking the beach.

Estela a Rafa Balerdi, Pico del Loro
Monument to Dr. Fleming

Around the corner from the Wind Comb, was the funicular station at the bottom of Mt. Igeldo. Funky reigns here, I think you’ll agree. Old train cars with bright red Coke ads moved slowly up the single set of tracks. At the top was an amusement park. Everything old and familiar: carousel, bumper cars, kiddie train, arcade games were in operation. The boat ride looked good, but was closed, as was the House of Horrors, the fun house, trampolines, toboggans, and lots of other rides and games. Of course, there were great views up and down the coast and over the city.

We drove south to HERNANI and the Chillida-Leku Museum, which was only open from 10:30 to 3. We both enjoyed the many sculptures around the farm and inside the huge renovated barn. Click here for photos.

In the early 1940’s, Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002) was the goalkeeper for Real Sociedad, San Sebastian’s football team. He studied architecture, however, at the University of Madrid from 1943 to 1947, and immediately began his sculpting career in Paris. Some of his earliest works were in plaster and clay, but he preferred more durable materials such as iron, granite and alabaster. He first exhibited at the Salon de Mai in Paris in 1949 and thereafter showed his work internationally.

While Chillida's earliest sculptures concentrated on mostly torsos and busts, his later works tended to be more massive and more abstract. Much of Chillida's work is inspired by his Basque upbringing, and many of his sculptures' titles are in the Basque language, Euskera.

East of San Sebastian is PASAIA DONIBANE, a picturesque town on the Oyarzun River. We found the rooms Victor Hugo rented and a place to have ham sandwiches with beer. We even took a little boat across the river. While the sign stated that the fare was 1.20€, the boatman asked for 1.50 each. He got 1.20.

Hugo's bedroom

It was a fairly quick drive north to BAYONNE, France, at the confluence of the Nive and Adour rivers. Tall, old, half-timbered buildings. Streets of galleries, bookstores, string instrument repair shops filled with fiddles, upscale clothes, the usual. We discovered a very large park outside the old city wall adding greatly to the livability of the place.

Begun as a Roman military site, Bayonne was a target of Danish Vikings.  And as part of Aquitaine, it was ruled by England from 1151 to 1452. A military armament industry was born here giving the world the "bayonet."  It became a center for Basque culture.

In our travels, I noticed a shop with no sign, but the window had Art and other items piled up in it.  The door was open, exposing more piles of art, books, and stuff. We went in.  The proprietor, Alain de Guili, was a photographer and it appeared to be a gallery of sorts, but there was also an old piece of furniture which turned out to be a breadbox that stood about 4 feet tall to accommodate the French loaves.

While we couldn’t take home the painting of a woman & snake, M found a rack of photo/postcards that he shot. The price for two was 50 cents, but we had no change, nor did he, so he made them a gift. He then proceeded to give Marie two more packets of postcards.  Very cordial.

The cathedral, which towers over Bayonne, was very old and worn. To one side was a cloister which was under restoration, but you could see the green grass of the courtyard within. The other side had a nice little area of shops and cafés where we stopped for lunch. While sitting outside we admired the old town and ate Tarte legumes avec fromage et salade. Pleasant service and atmosphere.

Crossed over the Nive River and found the Musée Bonnat. A beautiful old mansion which housed the collections and paintings of Léon Bonnat. Among the collected artists were: Rubens, Ingres, Greco, Goya, Padilla, and others. There were also several bronze busts of artists. Downstairs was his collection of ancient artifacts: Egyptian, etc. Upstairs were the paintings. There were also graphics from the likes of Dürer, Rembrandt, DaVinci, Titian, Caravaggio, Delacroix, Botticelli, etc. Mural-like paintings by Bonnat on the main floor.

Ingres by J. B. Guillaume

Back to the car and down the coast to BIARRITZ. It was wild, mobbed, and upscale. Really a lot of people everywhere. Locals, tourists, young, old. It was a nice day, after all. The streets led down to the beachfront, the benches were all full, the plazas buzzing. The beach in front of the casino was even more crowded, with a mix of families and topless sunbathers. More than a bikini was overdressed. Click here for more pics.

On the way back to the car, we came upon a plaza with a bandstand, in front of which was a four-piece group called Tobrogoi. Click here to see videoClick here to see pics.

Continuing south, we came to BIDART, a small, quiet community with beaches at the bottom of cliffs. The houses were of Basque style, painted white with red trim, though we saw occasional blue or green trim.

We heard a band playing, as we approached the town square where we found lots of people wearing different colored robes or capes, and hats with signs that we could not read. By the costumes and signs we figured out that this all had something to do with food. Standards with carrots, cherries, loaves of bread, chunks of cheese all in evidence and much more. We got there right after the entrance procession and the Mayor was on stage speaking. The banner across the back of the stage read: “Confrérie du Chipirón” (Brotherhood of the Squid).  Interestingly, the word for brotherhood is in French while the word for squid is in Spanish, but this referred to the local chapter, not the organization.  There were obviously brotherhoods for various gastronomical objects.  Next to the stage was the band. There was much speechifying, awarding, kissing, and clapping, with an occasional song.  Click here for video. Click here for pics.

The restaurant we chose would open for dinner at 7, so we walked down toward the coast – not shore, because we were too high above the water to see much. There were views from the pathway along the top of the cliffs as well as a nice sculpture.

So it appeared the answer to Spain’s proclivity for late dinners was to go to France for an occasional meal at a reasonable hour.  The restaurant was upstairs and we sat outside on the balcony overlooking the town. We could see the procession leaving the church and the band accompanied the parade, so we could hear them play several more tunes.

Back in Donostia, there was time for a walk on Ondaretta’s beachfront promenade with its many beautiful flowers – the colors blended so perfectly – and then a stroll through Antigua Ondaretta. Lots of folks out for evening socializing. Knots of people, young and old, crowding the sidewalks and parks.

Next we had planned to go into the Pyrenees in search of dolmens, stone circles, and menhirs, but heavy fog made navigation in the mountains difficult with little promised in return. Changed course south for VITORIA-GASTEIZ, capitol city of Navarre, the southern part of Basque country. A hilly town, there were moving walkways (ramp-escalator) going up through the neighborhoods. The walkways were covered by an interesting enclosure.

There was one gallery open with the Art of one artist who was there minding the shop. Her name was Maite Sainz and she spoke a little English. She explained that her website was under construction.  She apparently had a NYC show, once, and her work is in several US cities. I liked her stuff, but didn’t end up taking any photos.

At one end of the vast Plaza Nueva there were small groups of people – old and young – pouring over stacks of trading cards. Adults with lists of numbers which they crossed off as they passed cards back and forth. One boy showed me what he was trading, apparently an animated adventure series I didn’t recognize (not that I would). I saw others that looked similar to Pokemon. They leaned in close to one another, like top secret stuff. The open square was surrounded by arcades and there were vendors set up there as well. On the other side of the plaza were tables and bars, where we got some tapas and beer from the Café Moderne: pinxos, canon, stuffed red pepper over a fish paste on bread, fried quail egg on anchovies & ham, tuna & ham sandwiches. We sat outside watching the kids play.

The man next to us had a lot to say when we asked for directions to the art museum. We had no idea what he said, but he gestured in some direction. When we got to the area he pointed to, we asked a woman there and she said the museum was closed. So we just walked around town watching the sky get darker with storm clouds.

Drove south again, the next day, to ESTELLA in search of a festival. It was an interesting drive, climbing a mountain ridge and crossing through a pass into an enchantingly isolated place.  We were almost surprised when we arrived at the small city. It soon began raining.  As we approached the square we found a Navarre folk group singing in a doorway. Click here for video.

The rain persisted, forcing the community band to set up under the narrow arcade, but they stayed dry, as did much of the audience. The performance was nicely done and we discovered that this was the final event in the month-long festival to the Virgin.  Click here for the video.

Drove to PAMPLONA for a quick look. Parked under the Plaza del Toro, walked and walked.  Peeked in at the Gran Hotel La Perla, next to the Café Iruna (mentioned by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises). There are lots of sculptures to see in the city. We enjoyed our visit and headed northwest to BILBAO.

by Rafael Huertas

BILBAO is the capital of Bizkaia, the third Basque county. Not especially pretty, but working hard at it. We found the old quarter, with an unimpressive Plaza Nueva. There were lots of sculptures, however, especially along the Nervion river. And there were nice pedestrian bridges, which we crossed to get to the Guggenheim Museum. Calling Frank Gehry’s creation a beautiful building doesn’t suffice. It’s indescribable, really.

Bosque de Paraguas by Jose Ibarrola
Garden of Delights by Juan Luis Moraza

We started at the top floor, though the floors were not consistent. There was Japanese anime turned into huge sculptures. Sexy and violent. On the second floor there was the work of Cai Guo-Quang, who used gunpowder in many of his works. The first floor had an awful video installation and a wonderful steel sculpture by Richard Serra. There were schoolkids running and yelling, crashing into other patrons. We walked around outside the building looking for other sculptures and found Mamam-Mother by Louise Bourgeois, some mylar and a giant plant puppy by Jeff Koons, and an almost inaccessible Chillida.

Cai Guo-Quang, Reflection-a gift from Iwaki, 2004

The Museo del Bel Arts was not far away. The exhibition was mostly Basque painters, but there were lots of them. Plus a Goya, an El Greco and a Mary Cassatt!  Outside were these Chillidas.  There were also a lot of Art galleries in the area.  Click here for a few more pictures of Bilbao.

Lugar de Encuentros IV, 1973
Stele of Gernika II
Untitled Chillida
We drove north through Gernika (of Picasso fame) on the way to the Forest or Bosque of Oma. Once there, we drove up a steep, skinny roadway, up, up, up to a muddy place for the car with stairs leading away. It was a long walk down to find the painted trees, but it was worth it. Very magical place. This was the work of artist Agustin Ibarrola. Click here for photos and/or click here for video.

We spent three atypical nights in LEKEITIO. Got a room upstairs, facing the beach, (on a dead-end road) and relaxed. Marie, of course, painted, while I explored the beaches. Down at the marina, there were a couple of bars offering tapas, and the place we chose, though cave-like, had an excellent selection. The highlight of our stay was the second evening in the same bar, when we found everyone watching the Championship Series Football Finals. It was Barcelona vs Manchester United with Ronaldo, in Rome. We grabbed the last two chairs and joined in. We just had time to also grab a beer before the match started because there was no service during the game. Not that anyone asked for any. We knew enough to root for the Barcelona team and we were soon into the action. We got some tapas at intermission and a few smiles from the local women, who were sitting on the side with us. After the initial barrage from United and a missed penalty kick by Ronaldo, Barcelona dominated and won the match. It was great fun. Click here for a quick look at the crowdClick here for pics of Lekeitio.

After our rest, we continued along the coast to SANTANDER, capitol of Cantabria. The art museum was closing just as we got there and would not open again until after 4:00. Just about everything else was closed, as well.

Los Laqueros
Next stop was the reproduction of the Altamira Cave, a major jewel in the crown of cave painting, in Santillana del Mar. I let Marie experience this by herself. Altamira is famous for its Upper Paleolithic cave paintings, which were the first to be discovered in 1879. This caused an uproar, as the establishment did not believe Paleolithic man to be capable of artistic expression.  Marie especially liked how some of the paintings incorporated the topography of the cave wall to give them more dimension. 

We went to COMILLAS to see Gaudi’s Capricio, and decided to spend the night in this coastal town. It’s a pretty little place with old buildings covered with blooms. We got a room at the Esmerelda and then we walked to Capricio. A private residence, it was one of Gaudi’s earliest commissions. We liked it very much. Inside, which featured a curved center wall, is now a restaurant. Pricey, too. We also walked the beach and all around town. Click here for pics of Capricio and Comillas.

Continued west to REBADEDEVA and Cueva del Pindal, another prehistoric cave.

view of the Atlantic from the mouth of Cueva del Pindal
And then south to the Picos de Europa National Park. Popular with mountaineers, climbers and mountain walkers, the area was also famous for its blue cheeses which age in the limestone caves. This was part of Asturias.

Hórreo (storehouse) in Cabrales, a cheese center.

Saw the medieval Roman bridge (Puente Romano) at CONGAS DI ONIS, an ancient capitol of the Kingdom of Asturias. There was also a running race messing up the traffic, while the rivers were filled with kayakers.

Congas was way too busy, so we kept going to ARRIONDAS, and after lots of driving around looking we went up a hill and found La Quintana de Villar. They were not really open, certainly not just for two people for only one night.  But instead they showed us the two "units" and gave us our choice. We stayed in what was an old hórreo (pic below), converted with upstairs bedroom and downstairs kitchen, living, etc.  Surrounded by fields of cows with Asturian bells around their necks, and a spectacular view of the mountains. 

The next day we went hiking in the Picos at COVADONGA.

We returned to the coast at Playa la Cuevas and hiked through the countryside to a remote chapel site atop an oceanside cliff.  With horses.

It was about here that we found ourselves days ahead of my itinerary and had already reached the caves with pre-historic Art where we had made our ticket reservation. We went there hoping there might be an early opening, but no.

We continued on to GIJON, which was overrun with football (soccer) fans cheering for the home team, Sporting de Gijon (also known as Rojiblancos because of their red and white striped jerseys).

There was a sculpture at the beachfront promenade, but not the Chillida we were seeking. That, it turned out, was on the extreme other end of the beach (far), up on a hill, also overlooking the ocean. With the influx of people and traffic, it was not possible to get near this site, however.

Sombras de Luz by Fernando Alba
We then made the decision to spend the last days of our trip in Barcelona. We went south, past Oviedo and León, then east toward Burgos. Must have been a slow time for pilgrims on the Camino Santiago, as we found a bed in  the pilgrimage stopover of SAHAGUN.

Drove through the plains of Spain (felt more like a desert), arriving at the outskirts of BARCELONA in mid-afternoon without any idea of where we were or where anything else was. We did, however, find the Metro signs and then found a legal parking space very near. We packed up our backpacks and headed into town. This turned out to be one of the best things we ever did as driving would have been difficult.

Probably founded by the Carthaginians around 230 BC, invaded by Visigoths and then Muslims, Barcelona points to the time when the Muslims were expelled in 801 AD as the beginning of Catalunya.

We got off the Metro at the Arc de Triomf and walked through the promenade that dated from the 1890s.  It was lined with interesting buildings, though several were under restoration, as was the massive park at the other end. Walked along the Passeig Picasso and decided not to go to the Picasso Museum. Outside the Customs House we found a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture and more, as we walked through the marina to the Rambla de Mar and the Maremagnum (shopping mall on the pier).

Wedged between the marina and the beaches, was a small neighborhood of apartments. We don’t know why, but the streets were filled with people, as troupes of dancers/marchers each with their own band paraded through the streets. There was no apparent parade route and I was never able to find out the reason for this parade or even a name.

Many twirled large axe-like props, while others employed a variety of items. One group looked like they had emptied out a convenience store and attached it to themselves. Others marched with brooms over their shoulders and performed some not-so-precision drills. Drinking was not evident, but many of the marchers smoked cigarettes while they pranced about.  Click here for video.

We found ourselves at the sunbather-filled playa now, with more sculptures like Frank Gehry’s Fish and a host of unlabeled installations. All that and we hadn’t yet found a bed for the night.

Barcelona, like much of Spain, has embraced monumental sculpture throughout the city. Click here for a collection of what we found.

The next day we began our search for all things Antoni Gaido i Cornet, also known as Gaudi (1852-1924). As usual, we did more than our share of walking. Yes, it takes time, but there’s no better way to see what a city has to offer. And Barcelona had plenty to offer an architecture fan. Besides Gaudi, there was a whole school of wildly creative artists working in the “modernista” style, as they refer to Art Nouveau.  This activity was interrupted only to look for Chillida sculptures.

The most famous Gaudi creation was La Sagrada Familia, which was begun in 1882 and is expected to be completed no earlier than 2026.  Click here for more pictures.

And for something different Parc Güell is a Gaudi wonderland commissioned in 1900 by Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi, Count of Güell. Click here for more pictures.

Walking through the city, the architectural exuberance was obvious, and Gaudi led the way creating fantastic private residences. Casa Vincens was done by Gaudi for industrialist Manuel Vicens from 1883-1889. Click here for more pictures.

Casa Milà-La Pedrera (Catalan for “quarry”) was built from 1905 until 1910. Click here for pics.

Casa Batlló, 1904, down the street (Passeig de Gràcia) from La Pedrera, was a complete redo of the residence of Josep Batlló i Casanovas. Click here for more pics.

We had to go north of town to find La Pabellones (the Pavilions) in the university district. From 1884 to 1887, Gaudi did the porters house and stables for Finca Güell, the country estate, 1884-87. The grounds were worth the schlep. There we discovered two more creations by Gaudi: the Perebola and the Fontaine de HerculesClick here for pictures.

Back in town, we found these Chillida's as well:

Barcelona, 1998, at Plaça Àngels
Topos V, 1985 in Plaza del Rey

As impressive as the stairs up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art are, Rocky would have passed out wheezing before making it up to the front door of the Palau Nacional. Built in 1929 for the International Exposition, its location on the side of Montjuic offers spectacular views of the city to look at while you’re resting from your climb. Actually, they have several flights of escalators to help with the ascension.

Palau Nacional was the home to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya as well as Museu d'Art Modern. This was the largest museum in Catalonya. It was also the most important center for Romanesque Art (11th-18th century) in the world, though Art of other styles and other times were well represented, from Catalan Gothic artist Jaume Huguet to Goya, El Greco, and Peter Paul Rubens.

Some of the most important works of art in the museum were frescoes taken from 12th and 13th century churches in the Pyrenees and reassembled at the museum. And there was an attractive display of decorative art from the 19th and 20th centuries featuring Gaudi and his Modernista pals. Click here for some pictures.

Not far down the mountain was the Joan Miró Foundacion. Opened in 1975 as a living salute to the great Catalan artist, the building was so full of Miró’s work it spilled out onto the grounds. Photos were not allowed inside, so I can’t show you all that we saw (but I did get a few). The collection comprises over 14,000 pieces: 217 paintings, 178 sculptures, 9 textiles, 4 ceramics, the almost complete graphic works and some 8,000 drawings.

The year after Miró’s death in 1983, his contemporaries contributed artwork in tribute to their late friend. This included Pierre Alechinsky, Balthus, Anthony Caro, Eduardo Chillida, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Julio González, Wifredo Lam, Fernand Léger, André Masson, Henry Moore, Robert Motherwell, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Antonio Saura, Yves Tanguy and Antoni Tàpies. Two by Alexander Calder were on display. One was the Mercury Fountain, which he made for the Spanish Republic’s pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair of 1937. The other was piece called Hunchback and was a gift from Josep Lluis Sert, architect of the building. Much of this work was displayed in the lowest level of the museum. I was disappointed to find that there was not a catalog for it in the gift shop.

Mercury Fountain

 Agulla by Tom Carr

We found two contemporary Art museums: The CaixaForum, which was housed in the Modernista Casa Ramona, and MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) at Plaça Àngels, since 1995.

The Caixa offered interesting displays of graphic arts, as I recall. And very long escalators. MACBA had a variety of contemporary Art exhibits on several floors of the large, airy space.

The last place we saw in Barcelona was the Agbar Tower by Jean Nouvel. On the way, a band of female pickpockets wsd foiled by Marie’s quick thinking.

I should point out that we have been to Spain previously, when we visited Galicia in the northwest corner, as well as Segovia, Toledo, Madrid, and other places along the way.  This was before we had a decent camera, so the photos may not allow for a full post.  But I will someday write about the Galician artist Alfonso Daniel Rodríguez Castelao.

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