In a fight, Madrid beats Barcelona. That’s my take. I’ve been to both Spanish cities twice now — I returned this week from the capital, Madrid — and conclude that Madrid is the real charmer, the metropolis of less sprawl, less dazzle, less tourists. If it has perhaps fewer bucket-list attractions — despite the marvelous Prado and its trove of Goyas and El Grecos, and Picasso’s overwhelming “Guernica” at the Reina Sofía — it compensates in sheer street-level charisma.
Madrid is about its distinct, vibrant, supremely walkable barrios, humming with old-world quirks and character. Tapas, flamenco, doggies, blue-chip ham that’s cured for years, wonderful locals, seductive atmosphere. There’s something more intimate, more personal, more special about Madrid compared to big chest-thumping Barcelona. Both are world-class — I do love my Gaudí — but I could live in Madrid.
On another high note, one of my trip’s tippy-top joys was a two-day jaunt to Bilbao, far north in hilly Basque Country. If you know Bilbao, a bustling bayside city of 350,000, it’s probably because of the famous Guggenheim art museum, which is celebrating 25 years as a ridiculously successful tourist magnet.
The Guggenheim, designed with playful splendor by architect Frank Gehry, is a shimmering shrine for modern art, from Serra and Rothko to Warhol and Bourgeois. It’s a succinctly curated spread of visual greatest hits, a tantalizing survey that’s intelligently to the point. You leave filled, not fatigued.
Naturally the Guggenheim’s star is Gehry’s woozy vessel for the art — all shiny, warped grandeur — which is not only gorgeous, but mind-boggling. How does he conjure such elaborate beauty? (Er, genius.) And how in the world was it actually built — by elves and sorcerers? It’s all so breathtaking, a fun, lavish, almost Escherian modern marvel that vaults gawkers into fits of selfie euphoria.
Here’s a few more angles:
And some shots of Bilbao and Madrid:
2 thoughts on “The wow of Bilbao”
You make a great case for Madrid – though I’d love to visit Madrid OR Barcelona. Sigh. I have yet to see either, but if there’s ever a choice, I’m opting for Madrid, based on your words.
I have seen the twin of that spider at the Guggenheim however. It’s at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. A fabulous museum despite its Wal-Mart roots.
I envy you all the foreign travel. So broadening. So fantastical. Such an effective route for taking us out of ourselves. There’s nothing like it.
So … you asked about my book. It came out in Jan. 2013: titled Kiss and Tell: Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97. Actually, it’s a really fun story how it came about. I’ll send it to you later today.
Stay well. Keep traveling!
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Yes! I was hoping you’d send me a copy of your book. How impressive, how exciting. Thanks, Anne! xox