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Monthly Archives: November 2016

We spent a few days in Madrid after Donostia-San Sebastián. The Museo Nacional del Prado had just put on a special exhibition that marked the 5th centenary of the death of Jheronimus Bosch – aka El Bosco.


This represents the greatest number of Bosch’s works ever to be assembled.


Each ticket entitled one to enter the gallery at a set time (our time slot was 18:30). It was indeed a special treat. Bosch’s most important triptychs were shown free-standing in order for both the fronts and backs to be visible.


Photography was not allowed in the gallery. What you are seeing here are printed cardboard tiles of The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych (El jardín de las delicias), center panel, hence the white dots.  The museum sells a reproduction of this painting in the form of a set of tiles that can be hung on the wall.  These pictures are taken from a set that was hanging near the entrance of the museum shop.

Some of the text below came from an interactive storyboard on the Prado’s website, click here to see it – it is illustrated with several other paintings by El Bosch.


Jheronimus Bosch was born around 1450 in the town of ’s-Hertogenbosch. He took the surname of Bosch from the last syllable of the city’s name. His real name was Jheronimus van Aken.

In his paintings, Bosch represented the obsessions and anxieties of men and women of his own time in a masterly manner. All details were carefully planned by the painter and are seemingly meaningful.


His work is known for its fantastic imagery, detailed landscapes, and illustrations of religious concepts and narratives. The theatre had a notable influence on Bosch’s work. Many of his paintings are organized in the manner of stage sets.


Bosch’s imagery struck a chord with Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí.


Apparently René Magritte and Max Ernst both were inspired by Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.


Moralists during Bosch’s era believed that it was woman’s—ultimately Eve’s—temptation that drew men into a life of sin. There are 31 females in the central pool surrounded by about 100 males performing stunts while riding on fancy animals in an endless, circular path.


Some critics have interpreted the triptych as a warning on the transience of earthly pleasure. Based a medieval mindset, the sumptuousness of Bosch’s description may have been intended to convey a false paradise, filled with transient beauty.

The general consensus is that his art reflects the orthodox religious belief systems of his age.


Another interpretation posits that the triptych’s center panel portrays a joyous world when humanity will experience a rebirth of the innocence enjoyed by Adam and Eve before their fall.


The exhibition showed studies based on infra-red and X-ray which reveal the creative process showing the surprising changes that Bosch made between the start of the under-drawing and the completion of the pictorial surface.


Bosch enjoyed enormous success in his lifetime and his works were regularly copied and faked. Most of his work were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Attribution has been especially difficult; today only about 25 paintings are confidently given to his hand along with 8 drawings.


Pintxos and tapas are usually eaten in bars or taverns as a small snack while hanging out with friends or relatives; thus, they have a strong socializing component, and in the Basque country they are regarded as a cornerstone of local culture.


It is also very convenient for tourists too. Our previous post (see part 1 here) showed various platefuls of pintxos we had along our way to some sightseeing destinations – a market here and a museum there.


The photos shown here were all taken during one lunch period at the bars and taverns located in the old town (Parte Vieja) of San Sebastián-Donostia.


The area is a bit touristy but it became famous partly because of the pintxos bars here. The beach, waterfront and some of the city sights are just a few minutes away.

We were doing a kind of bar-hopping, except that the main objective was to try different kinds of pintxos.


If you search, there are lists of the best pintxos-tapas bars in this part of town online.


We stopped by Ganbara which is one of the better known tapas/pintxos bar. It was packed and nearly impossible to place an order.


Cool sparkling white wine on a hot day.


Ganbara piled their special ingredients on the counter – mushrooms and peppers.


We ordered their famous mixed mushroom with egg yolk. It is so simple and delicious that we have made a note of the idea and will try to replicate the dish at home.


We had jamón ibérico in croissant – it was light and yet fatty, salty too.


We also had the spider crab baked tart and chorizo sausage roll. The idea of the tart sounded more interesting than its taste. The rolls were however divine.


All were accompanied by skewers of something sharp and salty – olives, pickles and anchovies.


One of the other places where we stopped do not display the tapas dishes on the counter. At Borda Berri, another well-known tapas bar, the items were all listed on a board. As far as we saw, few items were served on a stick here.


We ordered the mushroom risotto – Arroz “Bomba” con hongos.


We also tried grilled octopus – Pulpo a la plancha con Membrillo.


And we ordered Oreja de cerdo con romescu (pig’s ear). The photo looked rather dull so we are skipping it here.

It was fun eating lunch this way, albeit a bit hectic. Everything tasted great here.



While visiting Northern Spain, we had several opportunities to try pintxo. A pincho (literally “thorn” or “spike”) or pintxo (Basque) is a small snack, typically eaten in bars, traditional in northern Spain and especially popular in the Basque country.


The first place we went was in Bilbao which is not a touristy spot. There, we paid 1 euro per piece.


Pintxos are related to tapas, the main physical difference being that pintxos are usually ‘spiked’ with a skewer or toothpick, often to a piece of bread.


They are served in individual portions and always ordered and paid for independently from the drinks. The main differences, apart from the local ingredients, is that in southern Spain one would get a tapa for free with a drink, while one pay for pintxos in the North.


We also had a few sticks of pintxos at a cafe, sitting in the middle of a square in San Sebastián-Donostia. These were really disappointing – for a start, the bread were not even toasted !


We also had a snack of pintxos at the cafe inside the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao (see photos below).


Each item had an explanation of what were in it, in Basque, Spanish, English and French.

White tuna and vegetable pasty – 3 euros


Anchovies with Bilbao-style ratatouile – 2.5 euros


Stuffed egg and prawn – 2.5 euros


Roll with goat cheese, celery and sofrito – 2.6 euros


The other place where we had pintxos was in Madrid. Lizarran is apparently a chain of restaurants specialized in tapas/pintxos.


It was located in a touristy area and the prices were almost twice or 3x that of the other place in Bilbao.


We wondered if tapas is free and pintxos are not, does it mean drinks are more expensive or smaller in southern Spain ?


More pictures of tasty snacks to come.



The largest gallery in Guggenheim Bilbao is the Arcelor Gallery which measures 30 meters wide and 130 meters long (98 ft × 427 ft).


The gallery houses Richard Serra’s monumental installation “The Matter of Time” – eight pieces of torqued ellipses made of weathering steel, weighing a total of 1034 ton.


That is more than 100 ton per piece, and we walked among them without thinking much about our safety, as the pieces are standing by themselves, balanced without support.


We were intrigued as we wander into each of the gaps wondering how the “walk” will finish – where will we emerge ?


Or is there an exit ?


There were groups of kids running around the pieces, playing hide and seek.


The surfaces of each piece bear different weathering treatment – some looked like etching by acid and some looked scratched.


What we wrote below is taken mostly from the museum’s web site.


The metal sculptures are “unexpectedly transformed as the visitor walks through and around them, creating an unforgettable, dizzying feeling of space in motion. The entire room is part of the sculptural field.”


“As he has done in other sculptures composed of many pieces, the artist has arranged the works deliberately in order to move the viewer through them and through the space surrounding them.”


“The layout of the works along the gallery creates corridors with different, always unexpected proportions (wide, narrow, long, compressed, high, low).”


“The installation also includes a progression in time. On the one hand, there is the chronological time that it takes to walk through and observe it from beginning to end.”


“On the other, there is the time during which the viewer experiences the fragments of visual and physical memory, which are combined and re-experienced.”


These photos do not do justice to the experience of walking between these steel structures – go to Bilbao and see it for yourself.


By the way, a couple of the pictures here are placed not in its natural orientation.

Our earlier posts about the museum are here and here.

This blog posts will cover what we saw inside the Guggenheim museum Bilbao. An earlier post talked about the outside, click here to read. Here is another view of the Simpson-ish model of the building.


Let’s take a look around inside. There is a normal-looking, rather warm and cozy, education center.


A cafe with a giant painting.


In the atrium, looking up …


The upper floors or ceiling, if you can call it that …


The main galleries are spacious.


Tailor-made space for an installation by Jenny Holzer


There is a gallery specially designed to house Richard Serra’s monumental The Matter of Time – we will have a separate post later on it.


We saw two special exhibitions – one exhibition is about Louise Bourgeoise’s Cells series- the creator of the giant spider (Maman) outside the museum. Much of what we have written below came from the museum’s site.


Over her long career as an artist, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) developed concepts and formal inventions that later became key positions in contemporary art; these included the use of environmental installation and theatrical formats, and the engagement with psychoanalytic and feminist themes.


Cells is a series of architectural spaces that deal with a range of emotions. a collection of 60-plus pieces of work created over two decades.


Cells present individual microcosms; each is an enclosure that separates the internal from the external world. In these unique spaces, the artist arranged found objects, clothes, furniture, and sculptures to create emotionally charged, theatrical sets.


I(Chris) found the pieces intriguing, claustrophobic and surreal … the Cells reminded me a bit of the world created by Rene Margritte’s paintings.

The other exhibition is Andy Warhols’ Shadows – created with the assistance of his entourage. It is a collection of 102 silkscreen canvas, placed side by side in an enormous space.


According to the museum’s web site, “The “shadows” alternate between positive and negative imprints as they march along the wall of the gallery.”


“Far from replicas, each Shadow corresponds to a form that reveals, with precision and self-awareness, its space, directing the viewer’s gaze to light, the central subject of the series. In focusing on the shadow to devise light—that is to say, sparks of color—Warhol returns to the quintessential problem of art: perception.”

We think the museum curator is being rather generous here.


Venturing out onto the terrace, we found Tulips by Jeff Koons – a bouquet of multicolor balloon flowers measuring more than 2 meters tall and 5 meters across.


It is nowhere as endearing as the Puppy out in front of the main entrance.





San Sebastián-Donostia is well known for its collection of Michelin-star restaurants (at least 16 stars in one city, just behind Kyoto – see our visit to Arzak here).  It also has a fair share of popular fun restaurant such as Va Bene, just a couple of blocks from where we were staying.


It’s a burger joint. Va Bene sounds Italian to us but it might also be Spanish (feel free to comment below). Its full name might be “Va Bene Disco Burger” (see sign below).


Behind the red bar is a DJ setup and racks of vinyl LPs – may be it turns into a disco after dark.


There is a disco across the street, we imagine these places would be packed after dark.

The interior is mostly painted firehouse red and packed wall to wall with American signs from the yesteryears. Norman Rockwell posters galore.


They have a Coca-Cola bottle dispenser and assorted vintage knick-knacks, except everything looks shiny and brand new.


This is really a complete package of Americana that is designed to create that warm and fun environment.



The menu is extremely flexible, every ingredient can be combined with every other ingredient in different combinations.


One of us tried the white toast with Spanish ham and cheese.


We went during lunch. It was not busy but a stream of people kept coming in.  This place is not far from the beach so this kind of American fast food must be popular.

While visiting Donostia-San Sebastián, we took a day-trip to see the incomparable Guggenheim museum in nearby Bilbao. The express bus route between the two cities is well-run, frequent and comfortable. Much of what we have written below came from the official web site.

A model of the building in the museum


When the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened to the public in 1997 after a 4-year construction period, it was immediately hailed as one of the world’s most spectacular Deconstructionist buildings. It will be celebrating its 20th birthday next year. Click here to see the official site.


On approach, one is greeted from a distance by Jeff Koon’s Puppy – a giant West Highland terrier carpeted in flowering plants. According to the official site, “Puppy employs the most saccharine of iconography—flowers and puppies … Koons designed this public sculpture to relentlessly entice, to create optimism,and to instill, in his own words, ‘confidence and security’ … as it stands guard at the museum, Puppy fills viewers with awe, and even joy.”


We had to agree that, especially on that somewhat cloudy date, it still made us feel positive.


The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation selected Frank Gehry as the architect. The curves on the exterior of the building were intended to appear random; the architect said that “the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light”.




Located next to the Nervion River, the building uses primarily titanium, limestone and glass as the construction material.


It has been characterized by architectural critic as “a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,” its brilliantly reflective panels also reminiscent of fish scales. Frank Gehry’s work has often been associated with the fish form – see our post on Gehry’s Berlin conference center – Axica here.


It is possible to walk all the way around the Museum, admiring different faces from each perspective and also a number of artworks installed outside.


One can’t miss Louise Bourgeoise’s Maman – a giant nine-metre-tall bronze, marble and stainless-steel spider, created in the 90’s.


The museum cost $89 million to build. The museum was opened as part of a revitalization effort for the city and it became a popular tourist attraction helping to generate millions spent on hotels, restaurants, and shops. The city collected taxes from tourist spendings which are more than what it paid for the building cost.


The interior “is designed around a large, light-filled atrium with views of Bilbao’s estuary and the surrounding hills of the Basque country”.


Inside the Hall, visitors access the atrium, the heart of the Museum with curved volumes and large glass curtain walls that connect the inside and the outside.


The atrium is flooded with light and covered by a great skylight. The three levels of the building are organized around it and are connected by means of curved walkways, titanium and glass elevators, and staircases.


See our next post on the artwork exhibited inside the museum.


We went to Donostia-San Sebastián in early June. It is the European Capital of Culture for 2016.


Historically, it is a resort town, located in the Basque Autonomous Community, an area with its own local language – Euskara (basque in basque)apparently unrelated to any other languages in Europe.


For several days, the sky was overcast and judging by the number of bathers on the beach, the sea might be a bit cold (we did not try the water ourselves).


Mount Igeldo and  Santa Clara island in a distance.


This is after all the Northern coast of Spain and not the sunnier Mediterranean side.


It has one of the best in-city beaches in Europe. The beach is flat and deep.


One can sunbathe and swim right next to major historical buildings and churches.

Zurriola Plage


La Concha Plage, Mont Urgull in the background


La baie de La Concha and La Concha Plage


Paseo de la Concha


At the eastern end of the Paseo and the beach.


The city sits at the mouth of the River Urumea. Zurriola Bridge and mouth of the Urumea.


The Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo and completed in 1999. It is the home of the San Sebastian International Film Festival.


The complex is stunning at night. During the day, it is a bit of a contrast from the 19th century buildings in the area.  But it’s not an eyesore since it is really isolated on the waterfront.


We would love to spend more time here and enjoy the festivities of the European Capital of Culture but we had to do a day trip to the nearby Bilbao – posts to come soon.

The city has a great website here if you plan to visit.