Lake District

Lake District
Lake District


Showing posts with label year abroad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label year abroad. Show all posts

Exploring a Cloudy Bilbao | Year Abroad

Tomorrow will mark the beginning of my third week in Bilbao. It's a beautiful city and one that's fairly close to my heart since it was here that I got my very first taste of mainland Spain when I worked as an au pair for a family in the Basque Country in the summer of 2013. My first ever post on this blog was actually about my experience of working as an au pair which you can read here.

The Basque Country is actually also the place where the idea for my blog was initially conceived. I spent the most part of my time as an au pair at the family's holiday home, which was at the top of a mountain in a little coastal town with no WiFi. As it turned out, three weeks of internet deprivation along with a lot of time to think and fantasise about all the things I'd do on my return to "civilisation" resulted in me deciding that I wanted to start a blog. In my mind it would be a totally cool, edgy fashion blog; I literally have no idea why I thought this was me or I could pull that off. I guess it was the influence of a few occasional trips into the city and that 18-year-old-fresh-outta-school "I can do anything" mentality (I also decided I'd start collecting old rock vinyls and wearing all leather). None of these things actually happened- probably for the best, I'd say- and as you can see, Alphabeth went in a completely different direction. Nevertheless, it was still very cool to stand in the centre of Bilbao, camera in hand, and reflect on how much has changed and progressed since the last time I was here.

I'd love to say that I've been having an unbelievable time here so far, but in truth, I'm still adjusting. Moving to Spain has been a lot more of a culture shock than I, for some reason, had expected. And, while living here in Bilbao has been a vast improvement on the time I spent in Andalucía- for one, there are an abundance of students and people my own age, and I'm living with two other Irish girls!- it's still hard trying to get into the hang of things like the weird shop opening hours and the fact that Bilbao completely shuts down on a Sunday (this is kind of a blessing in disguise since you can essentially do absolutely nothing beyond watching Netflix in your PJs and not feel the least bit guilty! However, that's provided you've made sure you're not in dire need of anything before the shops close on Saturday night).

Anyone who knows me well could tell you how much I love the British/Irish landscape, though I'm sure that's something you can also probably tell from my usual blog content, and it's definitely one of the things I miss the most about UK- that, and not having access to my daily staple of Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup! The north of Spain is beautiful and green, and it's certainly a lot more familiar than the dry southern coast, but it's not home. That being said, I'm confident that things will get better with time, as they always do. I remember feeling much the same when I first moved over to uni. Believe it or not, I even found England a bit foreign at first.

My three housemates are all off on various travels this weekend so I've had our flat and some time to myself. I had to go into Bilbao Centre to pick up a few things yesterday and decided to bring my camera with me to try and capture a bit of Bilbao and give you lot a bit of an introduction to the city since this is only the beginning of what will be a year of many Spain- and Bilbao-orientated posts.

It was very overcast yesterday which was a shame since it had been beautiful the day before! All these pictures were taken on my circuit around town and back home, the first few in and around Bilbao's main shopping area and financial capital, Gran Vía and then Plaza Federico Moyúa, a well-known square at the end of Gran Vía that contains a beautiful fountain and some gorgeous French-style flowerbeds. Bilbao has unbelievable shopping, something which I don't think is going to be very good for my bank balance this coming year! I've never lived in a proper city before (even Belfast isn't quite a "proper" big city in the grand scheme of things) so it's an amazing novelty to have all the shopping you could ever need literally less than a mile from my doorstep. Even within my own neighbourhood I don't have to go very far to pick up essentials. Within a 2 minute walk from my flat there's a fruit shop, a pharmacy, a butchers, a bakers, bars, cafes and two supermarkets. It makes a huge change from living in Lancaster or where I live in Northern Ireland and having to walk 15-20 minutes just to get to the nearest garage or Tesco Express.

On the way home I passed the Guggenheim Museum. This kind of epitomises everything I love about Bilbao in the sense that the city is such an eclectic mix of old and new, even near-futuristic-style, architecture. On one side of the city you've got the Casco Viejo, the 'Old Town' with its narrow streets and tall balconied townhouses and then just across the river you find places like the Guggenheim, which is like nothing I've ever really seen before. Bilbao's Guggenheim is one of several museums owned all over the world by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, all of which house various pieces of modern and contemporary art. I haven't been inside properly yet, I've just wandered briefly through the foyer but I'm really keen to go as soon as possible.

At the front of the building there sits a 43ft tall sculpture of a West Highland Terrier known as 'Puppy'. It was designed by Jeff Koons in 1992 and is made of a metal structure which supports tens of thousands of fresh flowers (I've read 36,000 flowers from one source and 70,000 from another so I'm not sure how many it actually is!) which form the sculpture's façade. I think it's absolutely beautiful and is all the more awe-inspiring in real life! Inside the sculpture there's an internal irrigation system and the flowers are replaced seasonally in May and October so the sculpture can be seen to change colour throughout the year.

As much as I love the Puppy, in my opinion the back of the Guggenheim is even more impressive than its front, if that's possible! The rear of the building backs onto the River Nervion and I feel like it's from this angle that the curved exterior of the building, which is coated in glass and titanium, is the most striking. This is the side I pass from across the river on my walk to university every morning and it never fails to turn my head!

There are a few sculptures aside from the puppy that are dotted around the outside of the museum. The sculpture comprising a series of stacked metal spheres pictured above is called 'Tall Tree and the Eye' and is by Indian artist, Anish Kapoor. There's also another Jeff Koons piece called 'Tulips' that you can just about make out on the platform protruding over the water in the photo above. It's a giant bouquet of multicoloured flowers made out of stainless steel that was part of Koons's 'Celebration' collection where he painted and sculpted items that are generally mass-produced in association with birthdays and holidays.

Finally, probably among the most iconic images of Bilbao in my mind is the huge and somewhat curious 30ft high spider sculpture, Maman by Louise Bourgeois that also sits at the rear of the Guggenheim. It's constructed from bronze, stainless steel, and marble and while it's undoubtedly very interesting, I can imagine it being an arachnophobic's worse nightmare. I'm not hugely afraid of spiders but this sculpture still makes me feel a bit uneasy. I think its a combination of the spindly legs and the sac of marble eggs contained in the spider's abdomen. However, I'm actually still very fond of it, especially what it represents.

The sculpture is an ode to the artist's mother who died when Bourgeois was 21 years old. Despite what it may seem this is a flattering comparison, with the spider symbolising aspects of her mother's character such as care, and protection. It's also meant to encompass the idea of spinning and weaving, alluding to her mother's role in repairing tapestries in her father's textile restoration workshop.

What did you get up to this weekend?

Sunday in Verse | Mount Stewart, Co. Down

The Rambler by Thomas Hardy

I do not see the hills around, 
Nor mark the tints the copses wear; 
I do not note the grassy ground 
And constellated daisies there.

I hear not the contralto note 
Of cuckoos hid on either hand, 
The whirr that shakes the nighthawk's throat 
When eve's brown awning hoods the land.

Some say each songster, tree and mead-- 
All eloquent of love divine-- 
Receives their constant careful heed: 
Such keen appraisement is not mine.

The tones around me that I hear, 
The aspects, meanings, shapes I see, 
Are those far back ones missed when near, 
And now perceived too late by me! 

I just finished 'Far From the Madding Crowd' this past week, my first Thomas Hardy novel, which I feel will be the beginning of a very long and very fulfilling relationship. I can't wait to get stuck into more of his work. As such, I thought it would only be appropriate to feature one of his poems in this week's 'Sunday in Verse' alongside photos of a recent visit to Mount Stewart, a National Trust property, with my mum. I know the photos and poem don't match up too well this week but the notion of only appreciating the beauty of a moment or place on reflection of it really resonated with me. Especially in the Age of Instagram when we're in such a rush to share our experiences sometimes we fail to fully appreciate them.

Hope you've all had a lovely weekend!
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