A Night of Culture and Lights in Bilbao

June 18, 2011

LA NOCHE BLANCA FESTIVAL

I remember my wide eyes as my Spanish host father handed me the newspaper, and pointed excitedly to this one, large headline at the top.  We were sitting in the bleachers of Bilbao’s high school gym this Saturday morning, watching my host student’s gymnastics competition.  It was only my SECOND day here in the beautiful Basque Country of Spain, and I already had a city festival to look forward to that night?

This. Was. Awesome.  My thoughts exactly.

Bilbao’s riverside at dusk

After a sunny day spent at the beach, the first of many days like these to come, it was time for me to discover what this whole Noche Blanca (meaning “White Night”)  festival was about.  As soon as the sun set, we jumped on the Metro and were on our way into Bilbao.

At the time, I of course didn’t really know what to expect. But this event is basically a cultural festival, and many other European cities, such as Madrid and Paris, also have a “White Night”.  Museums and galleries open up their doors to people for free in this cultural celebration, and there are often many exhibitions of sorts out on the streets as well.

Our group’s experience began with some aimless wandering around the Casco Viejo (Old District), laughing, eating some fast food, and really not knowing where the heck we were going.  The Casco was old and beautiful and confusing, and we passed lines of people outside many of the museums and old churches as the Spanish students were leading us to who knows where.  When we asked them where we were headed, they just said we were going to El Teatro.

The Theater? Were we going to see a play or something? I was still confused but nonetheless I just went along with it, embracing this night and all its possibilities.  The element of surprise always makes everything more exciting.

El Teatro Arriaga

We arrived at this very old building, with a very large group of people seated on the plaza in front of it, staring up at the building.  A countdown of sorts was projected onto the side of the building, and it said there were six minutes left.

What were we waiting for?  I assumed this was the theater, as we joined the masses sitting in front of it waiting for the timer shown on the building to reach zero.

And when it did reach zero, I was absolutely blown away. 

What followed was this absolutely fantastic light illumination show that happened right on the facade of the theater as we watched in awe.  Some sort of projector would flash lights onto the theater along with some music, and it made it appear as if the theater was actually changing shape and color right before our eyes.

It is impossible to put what I saw into words, so here is a video from Youtube of my experience! It was obviously way better in person though, where the illuminations looked amazingly real.

After watching this incredible show, we were off once again, across the bridge over the river and out of El Casco, with high rise buildings appearing around us, all lit up.

However, I think my favorite part of walking around Bilbao at night is simply looking up at the mountains that tower above you in the dark, all dark and mysterious except for the lights of buildings in the mountains twinkling down at you.  It took my breath away every time.

Our next wandering expedition brought us to the Guggenheim Museum, famous for its architecture which makes it appear as if it’s made of gold.  The Museum will get its very own post in due time.

In front of the Museum was a large group of people just dancing.  I’m completely serious.  There was a large screen set up, with two guys showing people how to do a certain dance on it.  And everyone was following along.

Yet another one of the things I love so much about this country, is that dancing and partying in the streets is most definitely acceptable.

We joined the mass of dancing people for a short time, making complete fools of ourselves and having a blast while doing it.  And our night ended with us making even bigger fools of ourselves at a nearby playground we discovered.

Embracing our inner child on top of the jungle gym, looking out at the city lights.

So after an amazing, adventurous Noche Blanca, it was time to head back to the house.

Was it possible to fall in love with a city this much after only two days?  I was certainly convinced.  I was smiling ear to ear after that night, feeling happier than I have in who knows how long.

And I still had a whole other week here in Bilbao.  I could already tell it was going to be one I’d remember forever.

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