Bilbao And The Guggenheim Museum

I had a very stressful day on Friday.  At first I had decided that I would not post a blog about this event.  However, in the spirit of full disclosure I decided that it serves my readers best interests if I tell the complete story.  Here is what happened.

I awoke at 5:00 AM in order to finish packing, shave and shower, check out of the hotel, make the 10 minute walk to the Renfe commuter station in Sol and make my way to the Chamartin station where my train to Bilbao would depart.  Everything was on schedule.  I arrived at Chamartin about five minutes prior to the announcement of the track number of my train to Bilbao.

I got on the train, stowed my carry-on suitcase, and athletic bag in the space provided for these things in virtually all European trains and then proceeded to my seat where I then took out my computer and iPad out of my backpack so I could work on putting two picture albums together in Sandvox, my web development software.  My plan was to do that work on the train and then publish the blog and photo’s update when I checked into my hotel.  I also removed my fanny pack which contained my Eurail Pass, my passport and wallet. and placed the backpack and fannypack in the overhead bin above my seat.

For almost four hours I worked on assembling the pictures in the two albums and having finished that, closed my computer, and put the computer back in my backpack.

At about 1:05 PM, after a long and sometimes very slow journey we arrived in Bilbao on time.  At first I wasn’t sure we were in Bilbao because the sign in the station said Abando.  However, when the train cleaning crew, and there are a lot of them, invaded the train I decided that we were in Bilbao.  I gathered up my belongings out of the overhead bin as well as my luggage, got off the train and headed directly to the Renfe ticket office to purchase my ticket back to Paris on Friday, August 1.  When I got into the ticket office I took a number and began what I knew would be at least a 45 minute to one hour wait since there were nine people in front of me and on average transactions were lasting about seven to ten minutes each.  By the way I still haven’t figured out why these transactions take so long.  My transactions average between two and three minutes.  When there were two people in front I decided it was time to get my Eurail Pass and passport out of my fanny pack since they are always required when making a train reservation.  Much to my surprise and horror, when I looked down to my waist, I realized I left my fanny pack on the train.  I immediately went into full panic mode grabbing my luggage and racing toward the track and the train I arrived on some 50 minutes prior only to discover the train had left.

I did not have a break down but I sure was frightened.  No Eurail Pass, and most importantly no passport.  I searched frantically for someone from the station, from Renfe or for a police person.  However, I could not find one.  I raced back into the ticket office and my number had already been called and the one agent had just called the number following mine, but I was able to get to him just in time.  The agent spoke less English that I spoke Spanish and believe me I speak very little Spanish, or as I have learned and used on this trip "Yo hablo muy poco español" and then using all of the gestures I could muster frantically tried to show him that I left my fanny pack on the train.  I showed him my ticket, which had the train number and the car as well as the seat I was in.  He told me to wait in Spanish which I partially understood, got out of his chair, walked to the back and returned with my fanny pack.  I immediately began to shake uncontrollably and thanked him and the cleaning crew for removing it from the train and bringing it to the ticket office.  Everyone in the ticket office understood what happened and everyone tried to comfort me which helped.  However, they all emphasized that I was very lucky and boy did I know I was luck.

I was beyond very lucky.  If one person in that cleaning crew was not honest and kept the fanny pack my trip would have been a disaster.  Now I do have insurance for the Eurail Pass and the passport could have been replaced but that would have mean having to find the American Embassy which I assume is in Madrid and who knows how long that would take.  As for the Eurail Pass I would have to file a police report and then, and only then, when I return to the United States, file the appropriate paperwork with Rail Europe, and they would refund that portion of my Eural Pass that had not been used which for me would have been 35 days of my 60 day pass.

I was still upset that I forgot my fanny pack that I decided not to try and make a reservation but to get out of the station and walk to my hotel.

Now, you may ask how did this happen?  Was this one of those senior moments people of my age?  After thinking about it I decided it was not a senior moment but a very slight change in my travel routine that caused me to leave the fanny pack on the train.  Here is how it went down.  Once I got on the train, removed my computer and iPad,  and stowed my back pack in the overhead bin I sat down and realized that I had a five hour journey ahead of me and I really did not want the large clip on my fanny pack digging into my back for the next five hours, so I took it off and clipped it to my backpack.  So far so good.  However, since I finished my work prior to arriving in Bilbao, I took my back pack out of the overhead bin and in order to get the computer into my backpack I had to unclip the clip on the fanny pack which made it impossible to unlock the computer section of my three lock back pack.  Yes, after being pick pocketed in Rome in 2004, I’ve been very security conscience so my three sectioned back pack has three locks, my luggage and athletic bag each have TSA approved locks and my fannypack also has a lock. Of course all of these locks can be easily broken.  However, I think its safe to say unless a pick pocket is carrying a lock cutter in a crowded place these locks do just what they are supposed to do.

I’ve gotten off track. I put the computer back in the back pack but failed to wrap the fannypack and snap it into place around my backpack.  When the train arrived in Bilbao and I realized that we were indeed in Bilbao I gathered my belonging but in my haste forgot that the fannypack was not around my waist, which was the first time it wasn’t around my waist, nor was it attached to my backpack, and left it on the train.

I guess the logical question would be why didn’t I put the fannypack into my backpack?  The answer to that, dear reader, is I can’t get anything else in that backpack.  It is the biggest backpack I could find with padded compartments for my computer and iPad.  My DSLR takes up a lot of space, and then all of the other electronics, cords, power adaptors, UK and European plug adaptors, el cetric beard trimmer back up portable hard drive, glasses, sun glasses, pen pencil, BMW paperwork, hotel reservation, paperwork, my Spanish Verb Tenses workbook, and portable speaker for my iPod.  I can not squeeze anymore into that pack.   So the only thing I must do for the rest of the trip is make sure I do not, under any circumstances, remove the fannypack from my waist.

The whole episode just ruined my first day in Bilbao.  When I got to my hotel, my frustration would only continue because when I powered up my computer and logged on to the internet I first checked my email and had to respond to a couple of emails I received.  When I responded and pushed the send button on Mail, the mail program that comes with OS Mavericks, I started getting these messages that the outgoing mail server was not responding.  This was getting frustrating.  So, thinking this was a Verizon problem I tried contacting them through Verizon’s less than customer friendly web site and all I kept getting was “We are sorry but that option is not available at this time please try later”.  I gave up on that approach and went directly to Verizon web mail where I was able to answer the emails successfully.  I was a little concerned that maybe my computer may be infected with a virus so I tried sending test emails using my iPhone and iPad and got the same responses.  Now I was beginning to suspect that maybe the hotel is not allowing people to upload content through their wireless network.  I went down and asked this question.  The desk manager said that the hotel does not block any access to the wifi system with downloading or uploading.  He also said that they’ve been working on upgrading the wifi network but that upgrade would not take place until July 28.  He also showed me that he was able to send email through Microsoft Outlook. Now I was beginning to think that maybe their wifi network is not quite compatible with Mac specific software.

I returned to my room and tried uploading new content to my web page and not surprisingly I was not able to connect with the server at my web hosting site.  So I’ve concluded, right or wrong, that the wifi system in this hotel is not totally open to all the different possibilities that are presented to it.  I’ve noticed something similar at AT&T free hot spots.  Since AT&T is my mobile phone provider I’ve notice anytime I connect to the internet using an AT&T hot spot I cannot get my email.  I can search the web but cannot get email.  So not all wifi networks are created equal.

Yesterday morning, I got up early and walked back to the Renfe station to try and make my reservation to Paris now just six days away.  There were only five ahead of me, however, it was almost 40 minutes before my number was called.  I came prepared with the name of the station I wanted to depart from which is Hendaya, which is located on the French, Spanish border to Paris.  I was in this same town eight years ago when my train from Lisbon to Hendaya ended there.  I also had TGV numbers and times so there would be no loss in translation as to where I wanted to go and what date I wanted to leave.  I must get to Paris on August 1 because I have a reservation on the Eurostar train to London on Saturday August 2.  Alas, there were no seats left for Eurail Pass holders.  This is the third time this has happened and each time it has happened on TGV’s in France.  The full fare for first class was $210.00.  I asked if there were any second class seats left for Eurail Pass holders and of course there were none.  What to do?  I said thank you started back to my hotel all the while trying to figure out my options and came to the conclusion that the only option was to purchase a full price ticket which did not make me happy considering I’ve already paid $1,700.00 for the Eural Pass.

I got back to my hotel and logged on to the  SCNF web site and booked a second class ticket for $120.00.  At least I would be able to get to Paris on time and make my train to London the next day.  As I was about to enter my credit card information a pop-up came and said I could upgrade to first class to for $13.00 more.  So I upgraded.  Talk about an impulse purchase.  This is another five hour journey at about 198 miles per hour.  So now I’m all set.  Now all I have to do is take a bus from Bilbao to Hendaya.  There is train service from Bilbao to Hendaya.  However, it is on a narrow gage railroad and it takes over four hours as opposed to taking the bus which takes two hours.  Go figure.

Once that was done I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and decided to do what I came here to do and that was to visit the Guggenheim Museum.  It is one of three Guggenheim Museum’s.  The other two are located in New York and Venice.

What a wonderful day I had in this shinny, titanium clad building which has helped turn this heavily industrialized city into a major art center.  I spent over seven hours there and visited every gallery.  There were several permanent exhibitions and several temporary exhibitions that I enjoyed.  The one temporary exhibit that I almost want to go back and see again today is call “The Visitors”.  It is a 64 minute HD video on nine large screens in a very large gallery, by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson.  Eight of the nine screens is devoted to one musician for each screen located in different rooms in an old upstate New York house.  The ninth screen is a camera on the outside porch where other things take place.  As you walk around the gallery and focus on a single screen you hear close up each musician singing and playing their instrument while hearing the sounds coming from the other eight screens.  It was, if you will pardon the expression, mind blowing.  I stayed for the entire 64 minutes and loved every second of it.

Next I visited a permanent exhibit which really moved me. The piece by American artist Jenny Holzer entitled "Installation for Bilbao”, is a series of nine LED columns that are site specific to the Goggenheim.  The signs exhibits phrases people say to themselves and others when they or someone they love are confronted with HIV.  Very powerful and very moving.  The phrases are in many different languages including English.  You can stand in front of the exhibit or stand behind it.  The LED panels rise more than two stories.

The other permanent collection I just loved was a series of sculptures by another American named Richard Serra.  His work which takes up maybe half of the first floor is entitled “The Matter of Time.  It is his “rumination of the physically of space and he nature of sculpture”.  Rather than go into detail here is the link to the Goggenheim Museum in Bilbo.  Click on it and learn more about the exhibits I saw.

The one exhibit I was not impressed with took up the entire third floor and that was an exhibit by Yoko Ono entitled “Half-A-Wind Show.

Last night I found the part of the city where everyone goes and had a nice dinner and took some pictures with my iPhone.  On the way back I found an internet cafe where I will go as soon as I finish this posting and try and upload two blog postings, and two picture albums.

My plan then is to visit the Bilbo Museum of Art.  Tonight I pack, hand wash today’s under ware.  Early tomorrow I make the trek back to the train station where I will pick up my rental car and drive to my next destination which are the Picos de Europa.  It is a 120 mile trip although I don’t know how long it will take me to get there.  I hope for better internet connections there than I have here.  In any event I’ll post another blog and the pictures from Bilbao on July 28. © Louis M. Skypala 2014