This past weekend was one of my favorite weekends. On Saturday, our group went on an excursion to Urdaibai, located in the Basque Country, the area in Spain where Bilbao is also situated. UNESCO declared Urdaibai a biosphere reserve (sites established and recognized to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/ecological-sciences/biosphere-reserves/) in 1984. We drove through the mountains and saw the sea, meadows, beaches, and valleys. It was truly a spectacle as I have never seen anything like it and now understand why it is protected. Mundaka (which is also in the Reserve) is a beautiful fishing village, quiet and colorful with parks full of little children and benches occupied with old men. Everyone in that village seemed happy and relaxed. When we arrived at a beach in Mundaka, I was able to gain some insight into how much this country really loves soccer. The children had made a makeshift soccer field in the sand and were playing! Guess you don’t always need grass. I noticed this on another beach I visited on Sunday. Not only do they play soccer, but families on the beach play something reminiscent of paddle tennis as well. There seem to be a lot of activity on the beach instead of simply lying around sunbathing.
Later in the day my group visited Guernica, the historic capital of the Basque Country. Unbeknownst to me, Guernica was bombed in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War by German airplanes on behalf of Francisco Franco whose army was less developed with bombs than the Germans. The bombing occurred on market Monday, a day filled with the hustle and bustle of trading and buying and the citizens were completely blindsided. There was no warning and many people died as a result. A highlight of this trip was our visit to Guernica Peace Museum. This museum depicts the bombing and its aftermath but focuses more on the peace the Guernica citizens have attempted to attain after the bombing. It is less about the destruction and more about making peace with the Germans who caused them terror. I found that notion particularly poignant during my visit there, as I sat and watched a video on reconciliation and forgiveness filled with video clips on formal apologies by Germans to the city. It truly takes courage to be able to put all that in the past.
Duplicates of Picasso’s famous Guernica were in the museum as well. Another favorite of mine was when I wandered into an empty room with big pieces of glass depicting parts of Picasso’s painting. I stood on a pedestal with footprints to see what I was supposed to do. If you stand the correct way on the pedestal, you can see separate parts of the painting by Picasso. There are individual interpretations of each part of the painting on each piece of glass. If you tilt your head a little more, all the pieces come together to form the painting. I am a big fan of playing around with art and found this exercise to be awesome! Each part of the painting (humans, animals, the sun) represented something different in the bombing, though what each symbolized I cannot remember. After viewing the duplicate painting for the first time in the museum, I found it to be insensitive. I personally would rather not depict such a sad and brutal event through art but after standing on that pedestal and getting a physical interpretation of each part of the painting, I was able to understand Picasso’s idea a little better.
I am attaching a few links at the end of this post for more information on everything I talked about in this post, which hopefully clarifies any questions you may be having as you’re reading this.
Lastly, in Guernica, we visited the General Assembly House. What stuck out most to me was the oak tree they revere. Years ago, the people of Guernica would meet around the big oak tree and make important political decisions. Today, they have an old oak tree on display from around 300 years ago. The seed from the first tree has been passed down and is planted next to the House and has grown into a little oak tree. It’s weird to think it’s “related” to the first big important tree!
The second day of my weekend was spent lounging on a beach in Sopelana. My observations were mentioned before: lots of physical activity but also a lack of bathing suit tops…not sure if I’ll ever get used to that! It was a relaxing day and discovered that more people frequent the beach later in the day around 4 o’clock, different from our usual early afternoon time period. I look forward to going back to the beach and if you ever visit Pais Vasco, (Basque Country) I definitely suggest you check out the biosphere reserve of Urdaibai!
Links of interest:
More information on Urdaibai:
More information on Guernica: