Monday, 12 September 2016

Bilbao: Getxo

Vizcaya Bridge / Bizkaia Zubia

We learned about the amazing Vizcaya Bridge (Bizkaia Zubia in Basque, Biscay Bridge in English) from a visit to the Bilbao Tourist Office and immediately resolved to make it the centrepiece of a walk around part of the estuary of Bilbao. Having yesterday mastered the excellent new tram system, we had no problem with the new Metro. The Metro entrances, designed by Norman Foster, are very distinctive. So much so that there don't seem to be the usual signs with a big "M" that normally indicate the presence of a Metro station.

We heading up to Neguri station in the town of Getxo and then walked down to the large beach which fills one side of the estuary and collected a surprisingly informative map from the Tourist Office there. This is the view towards the mouth of the river; the white houses on the right mark the old fishing port.

We followed the path at the back of the beach to reach a marina. Across the road was an extraordinary sight. It is a set set of viewing galleries designed by Ricardo Bastida in 1918 partly to  act as a retaining wall for the cliff behind.

On the estuary side of the road was the lovely former Arriluce Lighthouse.

While on a ridge on the land side was a series of mansions designed for the wealthy people of this area early in the 20th century. This was one of the most charming, owing a debt to traditional Basque architecture. It was the work of Manuel Maria Smith, a prolific and versatile local architect, and was commissioned in 1909.

 As the estuary and the path turned sharply right there was a fine view back to this whole group.

There were more substantial houses on this section too. This was my favourite: another work my Manuel Maria Smith. The information plaque describes it as being influenced by English cottage architecture, which I found quite amusing.

After passing another, but much smaller, beach we turned a corner and were finally confronted with the fantastic bridge.

The bridge is known locally as the Hanging Bridge - for obvious reasons I would say - but is correctly described as a transporter bridge. It was built in 1893 and designed by Alberto Palacio, a disciple of the great Gustave Eiffel. It is 63 metres high and and spans 160 metres. It the oldest bridge of this type in the world and since 2006 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site. It connects the towns of Portugaleta and Getxo. As well as the gondola crossing, it is apparently possible to get a lift to to the top and walk across. We were feeling the heat and decided against.

Close up it became clear that the gondola (the latest one dates only from 1998) was more complicated than had been apparent at first: the central section has space for six cars and a few motorbikes to drive on, while on either side there are compartments for foot passengers to stand. The crossing fee is very modest - only €.40 per person.

We walked a little beyond the bridge and I took a photo of this nice group of buildings in Portugaleta. The lovely blue and yellow is La Canilla (a former railway station); behind it is the  Basilica of Santa Maria and to the right the 15th century Salazar tower.

We walked back to the bridge and crossed to the other side. The pedestrian compartment was not much wider than a corridor but the ride was smooth and quick. Once in Portugaleta, we heded uphill to find the Metro station passing this lovely art nouveau block on the way.

Our plan was to take the Metro a couple of stops to Santurzi, described by the Bilboa Tourist Office as a fishing village. We imagined a small harbour surrounded by fish restaurants. Wrong! A fishing port certainly, but a town not a village and with a smattering of fish restaurants scattered around it as we learned from the very helpful local Tourist Office in the former fish market. Unfortunately, the fishermen were on holiday and most of the restaurants were closed. However, to be fair, after a bit of frustration we did find very nice place nearby where we had an excellent light lunch of prawns and padron peppers. After this we took the very good Metro back into Bilbao.

Conditions: clear, sunny, very hot (35 degrees).

Distance: about four miles.

Rating: four and half stars. Interesting and varied.

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