Friday 13th June
We had planned to part walk/part train into Bilbao today. It is 35k and will be tackled by most serious pilgrims/walkers. But in the event we are so exhausted and keen to see more of Gernika (pronounced Gerneeeeka here) that we decide to dump walking altogether. We pack up our walking gear and boots and send them by taxi to Hotel Rio in Bilbao (50 euros). We split up from the chaps today and the gals decide on a cultural and historical tour of the town. We set off in light mood due to light weight clothes and sandals, no rucksacks and admire the hill we might have climbed had we been so inclined.

Walking up the Main Street we hit upon the ceramic mural copy of Picasso’s famous painting. We learn that he stopped working on a commission for the 1937 Paris exhibition to capture his thoughts and feelings about the catastrophic flattening of Gernika by Nazi Germany at Franco’s behest. We were astonished to learn that German involvement wasn’t admitted until 1989 and that Franco attempted to blame the saturation bombing on Basque separatists. It was George Steer a British reporter for the Times who was at the scene soon after who revealed the truth. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Steer
Light mood turns increasingly heavy at the realisation of what happened in THIS town at that time.

This extraordinary church survived as did the famous Gernika oak tree, symbol of Basque freedom.

We did get a bit confused by the tree issue as this is now the 4th generation of sapling from the original oak dating from the middle ages. This one was only planted in 2005. There is a relic of the 3rd tree (bomb survivor) in a marble pillared cage in a prime place next to Assembly House and other saplings planted here and there just in case.

The Assembly House is open to the public and is well worth a visit if only to see the enormous stain glass windowed ceiling – see below.
It was originally conceived as a Church-Parliament and may still house meetings for the governing body of Bizkaia.

Our main reason for sticking around in Gernika was to visit the Museo de la Paz (Peace museum) but while we waited for opening time we walked up the hill to the Parque de los pueblos de Europa to see two famous sculptures. Henry Moore’s “Large figure in a shelter” was given as a tribute to those who perished for the Republican cause

“Gure Altaren Etzea” (Our Fathers House) by Eduardo Chillada is designed to give a view of the Tree of Gernika from its window

Two massive works of art vying for our attention – one soft and smooth and golden, the other stark and grey and concrete cold. But later at the Peace Museum, I think I saw elements of Chillada’s vision in footage of the post bombing devastation. The greyness of broken masonry and images of incomplete circles seemed to be a déjà vu.

Writing this, as I am, one week later, it is difficult to recollect the highs and lows of the Peace Museum. It was admirable but confusing in its attempts to make sense of Gernikas tragedy by promoting global peace and reconciliation. But it was tricky for us to follow because of the plethora of images accompanied by Basque and Spanish commentary. There was a hard hitting re-enactment of 27th April 1937 with an English commentary. As we sit in a reconstructed 1930s Spanish parlour it is truly traumatic to be reduced to rubble.

The stained glass ceiling of the Assembly Rooms

A whistle stop tour of the Euskal Herria Museum – pretty inaccessible except for the dancing which needs no translation- before getting the train to Bilbao. In Bilbao, we eventually managed to get the tram from the station to the river where we only had to cross a bridge and walk along the opposite bank to find our hotel. Three of us were here last year and were confident of the route but we got lost and went well out of our way. Much to our embarrassment. But it turns out the place has changed beyond recognition since last year. Regeneration is moving downstream from the Guggenheim and the ‘hood of our hotel is going to be an island so next year it’s gonna be a boat ride away – and probably a lot more expensive!