a borja bernberg trip: paris, madrid, segovia, salamanca, san sebastian, bilbao…

“one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ henry miller 


you’ve just come back from a family vacation to france and spain. it’s a long flight home ~  a 2 hour leg, and then an 11 hour one that lands you right where you started from 2 weeks ago, or was it 13 days? you can’t remember, it’s all a blur. 

when you arrive at your house, after a one hour BART ride and a local taxi, you’re all excited to sleep in your beds again, drink your own coffee, wear new (clean) clothes, pick up your dog whose pictures you’ve been sent daily, realizing how much a part of the family he actually is, how much you’ve missed him.

you go to sleep that night ~ you’re exhausted because you somehow managed to watch 6 feature films on the transatlantic haul ~ including Danny Boyle’s (and Ex-Machina’s Alex Garland’s) 2000 Leo Dicaprio flick The Beach, which you actually love. It even has a youngish Tilda Swinton in it, whose character reminds you, briefly ~ like really briefly, as your younger 19 year old idealistic self. you wake up super early the following morning ~ this is the part you really look forward to every time you return from a trip to Europe, the time change and the waking up in the dark, before sunrise and before the others…wake.

you attack your emails and your texts, you clean the house, you organize the desk you rarely use, you empty everyone’s suitcases and start the wash. you’ve gone through everything in the next 3 hours, one cup of coffee and two cups of earl grey later, time to breathe in front of the calmness of your backyard full of oak trees and calm and realize how hard traveling is, how much work, especially as a family ~ as the exhaustion of 14 days on the go hits you, hard. But it’s time to pick up Ponyo. You arrive, he’s excited to see you, even remembers you it seems, and when you arrive back home ~ the past two weeks are a distant memory. did it even happen at all?



(madeleine-like memories /walking by Willi’s in Paris, where 20 years before I had my first Meurseult, and now I have 2 kids; sharing my memories of Freddy Krueger (+ Johnny Depp) and “one two freddy’s coming for you” with Royal, in Spain; and the sweetness of seeing these guys who Lloyd had just “worked with”, in Pixar’s Toy Story 4 ~ which we had seen, and i had loved, weeks before) 

It’s now 7 weeks after returning from Spain (now, as i’m re-reading + posting this, actually almost 6 months ago since the day we left! ~ June 8th), and i struggle to really remember anything. You plan a trip for the family ~ one that you really want, deep down to change your teenagers’ lives (they’ll appreciate it when they’re older, you’re told and then you tell others), show them a new culture (they need to get outside of their Bay Area bubble), a different perspective (they’ve already had two ~ inner city Oakland and through the tunnel Orinda, now let’s widen it even more) ~ and maybe in the meantime connect your family a bit more, show that you can make it, as a family ~ through the screaming and yelling and picking out a restaurant in Paris, after the one you really wanted to go to was closed ~ and then this happens a couple more times ~ it’s bound to during the summer in Europe when things aren’t overly planned which is exactly how you like it, but causes chaos when you need back ups and plan B’s. But you make it through all of this ~ and the continual search for pizza and pasta in Spain, asking yourself why did you bring the kids along or at least why did we not just go to Italy again ~ a safer bet: the ease of the language and culture, and um, the food. But let’s rewind for a sec ~ in just thinking about this trip, focusing in on Paris, I think back to my last time there ~ a mother-daughter trip in April of 2015 (i wrote about it HERE and HERE). It was a trip one would imagine could be an early trip with one’s daughter, just like those annual family trips to Europe and Asia that you talk about, because the people around you seem to do that: do these annual things to far away places. And you are lucky, so you do do them, not annually ~ but occasionally. This one is your second family trip to Europe. And then, someone close just says it, kind of randomly ~ “you never know when that last family trip will be. This could be it…” The comment annoys you at first, and then you think about it and just for a moment go back in your head to all that’s changed in your lives and the city of Paris and the country of the USA in the 4 years since you were there. Notre Dame is closed to the public, we have Trump our president and you can easily count over two dozen people ~ friends and family, colleagues and classmates from the ages of 20 to 75 who have died somewhat unexpectedly in those four years; you find out 3 have passed away during the two weeks you were gone. How do we hold the moment and appreciate one another now ~ new ways of being and doing, living and learning? That perspective ~ my first time traveling and living abroad was something that opened new worlds to me. It was transformative. I think this is what we all want for our children, (and ourselves, over and over), and yet I think it’s difficult to live in the moment when you’re traveling as a family of four. It’s at times in retrospect that it all makes sense and the beauty of the idea of the family trip comes together.

So for me, this is the fun part ~ the recollecting, the re-imagining and re-remembering of a meaningful moment : of arriving in Paris 6 months ago and making our way, as a family (with two teenagers, how about THAT!?), through Paris, Madrid, Segovia, Salamanca, San Sebastian and finally Bilbao… It was a whirlwind ~ a beautiful time as I look back from my corner velvet chair in our home in Orinda (and now from my mom’s couch in Leominster ~ yes, this is taking a LOT longer than usual), as I’m  back at Apple, working on a new project with a new team… 

travel: a passage, a journey, to a distant and unfamiliar place

travel is hard work. I think I forget how hard it is to travel ~ the amount of energy and effort and the very basic fact that my daughter Royal reminded me, every day: “I’m used to being with you and dad in the morning for a really short time and then in the late afternoon with just you, and then in the evening with all of you ~ but all day, day after day. geez….”

yup. all day, day after day. I did have my moments of early coffee adventures in madrid to literally step into the Starbucks next door for a grande Americano (yes, I did ~ i have no shame ~ AND Royal now works there too as I go back and fill in/update the post i never posted). It was on the second floor of the Starbucks directly across from our VERY cozy, and highly recommended for a family of 4 who like “intimate” living (all in one room!) ~ the Spanish hostel concept of TOC Hostels & Suites / https://tochostels.com/destinations/madrid/ with similar hostels in both Barcelona and Sevilla (and coming soon in Malaga, Granada and Valencia), this was one of the cooler vacation ideas of the vacation, along with the Spanish paradors that just blew my mind. You could make a full year excursion around Spain, staying in these…

So here we go: this is both a visual essay of our trip with some highlights and places to go, things to do, and some of the things i found out, read and were inspired by along the way ~ the most revelatory of all, most likely was Bilbao ~ the city itself and the role that the Guggenheim played in altering its way forward into the 21st century. When I was 21, and just out of College of the Holy Cross in 1993 ~ i was looking into two directions. As an economics and art history major, part of me wanted to be an investment banker at Cantor Fitzgerald (yes, I interviewed there after being a gallery asst at the on-campus Cantor Gallery during my undergraduate years) but the idea of being an intern at the Solomon R. Guggenheim sounded too fabulous to pass up. I was also given a small stipend called the Hilla Rebay scholarship. It may have been because I was Guamanian. That too is a blur. But I couldn’t say no. The idea of Wall Street and a car service and beautiful elegant suits and playing with numbers and portfolios seemed bizarrely dreamy to me when I started Holy Cross when I was 17; but now I was 21 ~ had spent a year in the UK, travelled throughout Europe and really wanted to change the world through culture, the arts and making education open to everyone. I’m not sure what planet I was thinking I was from, or what drugs I was on ~ but this was what I wanted to do, with every part of who I was. And I ended up in a tiny apartment on Sullivan Street in the West Village and spent part of my time at the Guggenheim in Conservation (I wanted to be near the Kandinsky and Rothko paintings that were in storage, and understand how they were made and how they held up through the years) and I spent the other half of my time in Education at the Visual Thinking Curriculum. During that time the Bilbao Guggenheim was being talked about, and also designed ~ we saw, somewhere the early models and heard about the original vision of its possible impact on the city of Bilbao which was at the time a dilapidating industrial city in the Basque region. I had spent time in both Barcelona and Seville but had never heard of anyone going to Bilbao.

Fast forward from 1993 to 2019 and I was truly blown away by experiencing the city itself and the actual cultural institution, architectural structure and surrounding public pieces, especially Louise Bourgeois’s 1999 (and almost 9 meters tall) spider sculpture Maman. What was even more curious were the African men who were weaving small sculptures in various colors and styles of chord and metallic wiring. I still wish I would have bought one, but told myself we will make our own once home. Inside the museum was what was expected from the Guggenheim ~ or rather what I have come to expect over the years (though I am always excited here and there by the NY Guggenheim and some of the more boundary pushing initiatives they have done with bringing in other voices and new ways of seeing). I could hear murmurings of disappointment of the fact that Bilbao’s Guggenheim had the predictable Western artists on exhibit: Jenny Holzer (I loved her whole show), Richard Serra (loved seeing my son experience it for the first time), Gerhard Richter, and Lucio Fontana… But how could you not love Jeff Koons Puppy? What was missing, I would know, and hear, and then read ~ any real representation of artists from the Basque itself ~ local artists. There was one: Eduardo Chillida I would say. I would remember his larger public sculptures on our boat excursion to the island of Santa Clara when we were in San Sebastian. That was something that I thought, in my anthropologist guise, Apple could maybe fix. What if they opened a flagship in Bilbao? Why not? It was kind of what we were/are trying to do through Today at Apple when I was guest Head of Programming at Apple Union Square. I just think back to my time there and the more than 400 local (and some national and a handful of international artists) that we brought in to talk, teach, perform and have dialogues around what they were doing and why.

To now pull back, it’s interesting to think of this dichotomy of the cultural and the corporate and who does what and why? The Guggenheim Museum ~ the great cultural temple of high art for the select (and not so select few anymore, I would argue) and then there’s Apple ~ the “$1 trillion tech behemoth” that may, in some people’s eyes, be getting it right with thinking about community and the art of gathering, in a very local way. I left with that ~ with thinking about different institutions’ (educational as well) impact on society and its individuals ~ for the better or worse : what are the stories that each of them want to tell, and then actually tell, and why?

Below is a brief fragmented memory of moments + places from 6 months ago (and a few trips ago) of our family trip to Spain (via Paris)…


Paris — Madrid — Segovia — Salamanca —San Sebastian—Bilbao

Paris ~ Eataly, La Marais / Breizh Cafe / Du Pain et Des Idees / Hotel du Nord / Foster + Partners Apple Champs-elysees / Palais Royal / Willi’s Wine Bar / Eric Kayser / Floderer / Pierre Herme … other recs, for next time: Cedric Grolet / Jeu de Paume / Telescope Cafe / Clamato / Le Servan / Le Grand Bain / Clown Bar / Les Catacombes / Musees des Parfumeries-Fragonard / Musee des Arts et Metiers / Musee Delacroix



Madrid ~ La Musa /  Puerta del Sol / La Mallorquina / Palacio / HanSo Cafe / Grosso Napoletano / Buen Retiro Park, Palacio de Cristal / Los Gatos / mexican at midnight at La Mordida / Prado / Diurno (12.50 euro lunch menu 3 course) / Temple of Debod / Museo Chicote … for next time, Cerveceria Alemana / El Sobrino de Botin / Taberna Txacolina / Bodegas Alfaro / San Gines / Mercado San Miguel La Chisperia



Segovia ~ Asador Maribel (suckling pig!) / Parador de Segovia / Aqueduct /  Catedral de Segovia / Alcazar de Segovia (Walt Disney’s inspiration for the castle at Disneyland) / Restaurante SanPedro Abanto … next time, Restaurante Jose Maria / Meson Don Jimeno / Pasteleria Limon y Menta

Salamanca ~ Plaza Mayor (film Vantage Point, 2008) /  iPan iVino /  / Casa de las Conchas /  Casa Lis … next time, Pizzeria A Margellina



San Sebastian / Playa de la Concha /  Isla de Santa ClaraAtari  / Sakona / Bideluze / Pizzeria La Mina (pasta borja) / La Central /  Amelie / PINTXOS at Leku Eder / Goiz Argi “Mari Juli” / A Fuego Negro / San Telmo Museoa / Mount Urgull … next time, Ganbara / Bar Txepetxa / Mount Igueldo



Bilbao / Pizza Fratelli /  Artxanda Funicular /  FooDoo / Foster + Partners Metro / ZubiZuri  Calatrava BridgeGuggenheim Bilbao (Jeff Koons’ Puppy) / Cafe Iruna (14.90 for 3 course with wine) /  Persuade … next time, Casa Rufo / Agape / La Mula de Moscu / Bar Mugi / Asador Etxebarri



“I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.” ~ louis bourgeois



“memory is a way of telling you what’s important to you.” ~ salman rushdie

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