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Negotiating the North

Santiago de Compostella, Asturia, Cantabria, Basque Country

Next day – Monday 9 September – we awoke on a different planet. Temperatures had dropped 10 degrees, from the high 20s to 18!! And it was wet as! This was to be our climate for the next 4 or 5 days and the cool snap seemed to have affected the whole region.

Our next target was Gijon on the Spanish north coast but we planned a brief stop in Santiago de Compostela. Most obvious sign of our shift from Portugal to Spain was an increase in the Motorway speed limit from 120 to 130kph!!


We had heard of many people who had walked the camino to Santiago de Compostela, and had both enjoyed film ‘The Way’ so thought we should check it out. A place of pilgrimage over many centuries; it also provided a good spot for a lunch break on a 5 hour car trip. Apparently, a local hermit followed a star, sometime in the 9th century to discover the remains of St James (Santiago), instantly receiving both regal and papal favour, and generating a place of pilgrimage third only to Jerusalem and Rome. In the early years, apparently a well conducted Santiagran pilgrimage could in a Holy Year generate remission for a lifetime’s sin! Quite where Jesus came into this is a bit murky. No wonder there was a reformation!

As we walked up the hill into the central square in front of the church, we came across many tired walkers arriving, collapsing in the square on the cobblestones. Others greeting and congratulating fellow sojourners who had also completed the walk. There was a great air of achievement, joy, satisfaction and camaraderie. We visited the church, but with much renovation going on, it was difficult to get a real sense of it as a sacred space rather than a building site.


Then onto Gijon (pronounced with that ‘hoick’ more common to Afrikaans that we found utterly undoable) where we were very warmly greeted by our Servas host Ana Garcia and her 20 year old daughter, Pilar. They lived in an apartment building on 12th floor. Parking in cities and towns can be a challenge. Ana came with us and helped us find a free park close by and gather up our bags. Ana welcomed us with a delicious vegetarian dinner during which time we learned about Gijon and Asturia and as Pilar was studying languages and classics, gained some deeper insights into Asturian culture and language. The apartment was small, but the welcome huge.

Portugal had seemed relatively homogeneous; the concept of Portugal had originally developed in the north of the country while the Moors (Muslims) were occupying the South. They were driven out in the 12th century by the ‘King of Portugal’ and the newly identifiable country gradually expanded south, as far as we know with relatively few objections. Interesting to read somewhere that anti-Muslim prejudice is far less strong in Portugal because of the deep and often positive impact the moors had on that country.

Travelling across the north coast of Spain, on the other hand, one becomes very aware of the strong regional traditions and previously independent nations that are now absorbed as regions of a unified Spain (and France). How much this usurpation is accepted by the locals seems to vary tremendously. In Catalonia, as we’ll see in a subsequent post, it continues to be determinedly resisted. But before we got there, we travelled through Asturia, Cantabria, and Basque country. Asturia was the only part of Spain never to have been occupied by the Moors.

Tuesday 10 September: Ana was working as a physical education teacher in a local high school , so we headed out with her suggestions for a self-guided walk around Gijon. While out , suddenly there was torrential rain. Fortunately we were prepared with an umbrella, which helped and it was a bit of a foggy grey day around the waterfront and historical area. So we did some shopping; bought shoes!


That evening we went out with Ana for a traditional Asturian meal, yet again meat and fish heavy but utterly delicious. Two great memories; one food one drink.


Asturia is renowned for its cider, a slightly different animal to the one we know, less carbonated and rather cloudy but mostly known for the rather incredible pouring method. 95% of production is locally drunk. In specialist “ciderias” – we were in one – your bottle of cider is put to one side by the waiter, who periodically returns to fill the (shared) table glasses, rather flamboyantly and from a great height! This is supposed to refresh and enliven the drink and one is expected to skull it down immediately, while the fizz has been activated by the pouring technique. MC struggled to keep obliging and became rebellious, being a hobbit and not wishing to become drunk, to the chagrin of the staff. Phil and Ana on the other hand….

Here's a bit of video..

The memorable food was “Cachopo”, which Lonely Planet describes as “a local speciality, breaded veal stuffed with ham, cheese and vegetables.” So we had to sample that, alongside a delicious vegan salad and fresh fish , chosen before being cooked. The Asturians clearly believe in very generous portions of everything. We had to ask for a doggie bag to take some home.


Wednesday 11 September: A touring day; we began our sojourn east to Barcelona. First stop was Vilavisciosa, a very pretty spot where the river came down to the sea. We enjoyed a walk and some lovely views.


Then on to Tadoniz, a pretty fishing village at the base of a windy hill road.


Some pretty views on the way to our next stop, 'Praya de Gulpiyuri ', which turned out to be a beach in the middle of a paddock!!


Finally for the day, on to Suances, with a couple of abortive attempts to visit a not-open-to-visitors-as-it-was-supposed-to-be cider factory, and some caves that had only one ticket avalable for the remotely-plausible tour time. Suances was a pretty little beach spot where we'd booked a couple of nights in a lovely aprtment: 'Apartamento sol y mar'. Some issues getting in because the owner knew no English and our Spanish was non-existent. But we had a lovely couple of days and made use of the kitchen. Spag Bol one night, then out came the cataplana for a sausauge/seafood delight the second. And the fantastic 3 Euro supermarket wines kept coming!! And for about the fourth time on the trip, the touing sourdough bug was put to work and we made some bread! The weather was starting to improve so we braved a rather windy beach; even Phil had a dip in, honestly, what seemed like near-freezing water. Phil was knackered so otherwise a quiet day!

However, MC went walking on a round trip up the hill to the township and stunning views and a walk back down the hillside past grazing horses and farmland back down to sea level. She also enjoyed a long walk around the coastline on a long promenade walkway and thoroughly enjoyed the crepes both savoury and sweeet.


Friday 13 September: After a restful couple of days, and with the weather finally improving, we continued East. The plan had been to stop in San Sebastian, an apparently gorgeous place and tourist mecca in the heart of Basque country. That didn't happen (see next post) but on the way to our next stop that turned out to be in France (!!), we enyoed a couple of stops. First was the delightful little medieval village of Santilla del Mar; Lonely Planet says "They say Santillana is the town of the three lies: not holy (santi), flat (llana) or by the sea (del mar). This medieval jewel is in such a perfect state of preservation, with its bright cobbled streets, flower-filled balconies and huddle of tanned stone and brick buildings – it’s a film set, surely? Well, no. People still live here, passing their grand precious houses down from generation to generation. In summer, the streets get busy with curious visitors." It was lovely:




and we rather enjoyed an unexpectedly interesting and absorbing diocesan museum with religious art and other antiquities, mostly dating back centuries but with some interesting contemporary stuff:

Our second stop was Santander, another lovely, if larger and more modern city. We managed to park between the tourist attraction of Magdalena (Palace and Peninsular) with park and castle, and the beach, where we enjoyed a swim and sunbathe, and lunch, in the improving conditions. Water not yet wonderfully warm, but starting to get there!!




Next - St Jean de Luz and a wee disaster!

Posted by philandmc 14:20 Archived in Spain

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