Wanderung 14

The Plane to Spain replaced by the Bounding Main!

April-May 2007

Day 24: Wednesday May 9 2007, Drive to Santillana del Mar, Spain

Noon Position:43 degrees 23.178' N latitude, 004 degrees 06.752' W longitude (Santillana del Mar, Spain)


Since our intended drive for the day was just a few hours, we took our time having a simple breakfast of jam, Melba toast, and yogurt in our room before checking out of the hotel, retrieving the car, and working out way out of Zarautz to the toll road leading West to Bilbao. The coastal mountains were rocky, rugged and scenic, but surprisingly arid looking. Despite the apparent dryness many of the slopes were covered with conifers of some kind, and at one point we smelled the unmistakable sulfurous stench of a paper mill.

Closer to Bilbao an oil refinery was right beside the toll road with the typical cracking towers and gases flaring from some of the stacks. It didn't smell as strongly as the paper mill, but the odor was definitely some witch's brew of volatile hydrocarbons. As we wound down the mountains we saw mile upon mile of industrial plants covered by a brownish layer of haze that seemed to spread over the entire city, just as in the Los Angeles basin in the U.S. I was glad we were just passing by rather than spending days in Bilbao breathing what looked like quite polluted air.

Fortunately, as we continued West beyond Bilbao the brown haze layer disappeared although we still occasionally rain into wood smoke from fires on either side of the road. The fires were placed in such a way and burning in a fashion that to me suggested they were fires used to clear the brush and junk trees after a forest had been clear cut. Certainly clear cutting was occurring on a regular basis for the forests that covered many of the mountain slopes; we saw several tracts with logging trails criss-crossing them that had apparently been cut the previous year.

Continuing past Santander we turned off on CA 131, a rather dinky highway, to drive to Santillana del Mar. After our typical missing of a turnoff with the inevitable U-turn and backtracking to get back into town, we managed to find the hotel Siglo XVIII (18th Century) recommended by Frommer's. It was just as nice as Frommer's had described and the price of $47 Euro for both of us plus breakfast struck us as quite reasonable. The interior was a beautiful medley of carved wood surfaces on doors and windows plus carved wood furniture pieces. Since it was off-season, however, the restaurant attached to the hotel was not operating, so we walked into the town for lunch and a look-see.


Today's drive was to the west to the little town of Santillana del Mar, a perfectly preserved medieval town near the caves of Altimara and just northeast of the Picos Europa. The 200 kilometers was all interstate, but still took us about three hours since with road construction ever now and then, things slowed down. At one point we were merged into one lane, but instead of road construction several policemen were stationed on the side. They checked each registration against a piece of paper and had several cars pulled over. My guess is that they were looking for ETA members since we were in Basque country.

The coastal mountains came right down to the Atlantic so the scenery was beautiful. We were surprised to see a mountainside being half blasted away for a quarry that went up the mountain. We by-passed the large industrial town of Bilboa and the smaller town of Sandantes.

Frommer's had recommended a little hotel called Siglo XVIII and described it as cozy and homelike with a lingering aura of the "18th Century" and only 47 Euro in the off-season. It took us, of course, one miss before we found the really charming little place halfway between the village and the caves, about 1 kilometer to each.




From the windows of our room we had a restful view of a green pasture just across the way. As we walked to town we saw four mares grazing in the pasture with their tiny foals. The foals with their tall, spindly legs were, of course, quite cute in the way that all young animals are. Curiously the mares had cowbells around their necks so we could hear the "cling" and "clang" sounds as they shuffled around the pasture eating the grass. The foals, of course, were still nursing when they weren't sleeping! The walk to the preserved historic part of Santillana del Mar was maybe half a kilometer or about a quarter of a mile, so we were quickly in the tourist area where we found a restaurant serving lunch.

Continuing into Santillana del Mar after lunch we found it was just as pretty as Frommers had claimed. Indeed it was a small (maybe 5 blocks long, 2 blocks wide) but very well preserved and restored example of an old Spanish town. I enjoyed just wandering up and down the cobblestone streets looking at all the old buildings. Some of them had the big old exposed timber framing that was split, pitted, and blackened with age while others had a pure masonry construction


We decided to look at the village today and leave the caves for another day. But first there was lunch to be thought of. A restaurant across from the village entrance posted its menu in English and so we went in, ordering the chicken plate and the pasta plate. The chicken plate came with French Fries, the pasta plate had two eggs. Both had a salad. So after a bit of re-arranging Bob had chicken, my pasta, and salad with my tomatoes, and I had 2 eggs, Bob's French Fries, some pasta, and the rest of the salad. A satisfactory meal for both of us. The waiter was, of course, bemused by all the food switching.

From there we wandered into the village. Outside was a large parking lot with several tour buses, and an old gypsy woman being rather persistent. We were glad our car was safely parked in the parking lot of the hotel. This all gave us a hint that this town was more tourist oriented than Sos del Rey Catolico. And indeed there were a lot of little tourist shops, including T-shirt shops



Although about 25% of the buildings had the lower floors converted to tourist shops and another 20% were bars, restaurants, and cafes, the rest of the buildings appeared to be private residences or official buildings of one kind or another. The wares in the tourist shops were quite varied, ranging from the ubiquitous T-shirt shop to leather bags, embroidered goods, ceramics, and even Celtic and witchcraft items. The latter items were unexpected in a predominantly Roman Catholic country, but my guess is that some percentage of the tourists to the nearby Caves of Altimira are Wiccan and will spend money on that type of souvenir.

The residences on the upper floors of most of the buildings looked ancient but well-preserved. I'm sure they had modern electricity and plumbing, but there was no external sign of any alternations. To me, at least, the stone facades seemed to be absolutely authentic. Some of the residences had balconies with flowers growing in boxes or pots, and that gave a welcome break of greenery from the otherwise pervasive vistas of buff-colored stone and black timber

At the far end of the village was the church, of course. The church had a beautifully arched stone entrance with carvings all around the edges. That plaza also had a public watering trough of some kind that was seriously overflowing while we were there. I wasn't sure if the water was potable for humans or just meant for watering animals or something, but it was a restful, soothing sight nonetheless.


However, the houses were authentic and we enjoyed wandering up and down the two major roads to the monastery and church and back. The town was on more level ground, so it was very little uphill-downhill compared to Sos del Rey Catolico. The houses were more varied in architectural styles than the ones in Sos del Rey, so Bob had a blast with the camera.

We finally went into one of the more artisan and less T-shirty stores and bought a little wall plate in the blue Dutch type painting style and 2 pictures of cave drawings to be hung with the footprint of Fido our dinosaur. After that we headed back to the hotel to write in one of the comfortable lounge areas.


On our way back through town we stopped at a couple of the aforementioned tourist shops and finally succumbed to the urge to purchase souvenirs, which up to this point we had kept pretty well under control. We bought a blue and white Delftware kind of plate with that had the watering trough and street scene represented on it plus two prints of neolithic figures copied from the Caves at Altimira that we intended to see while we were in the area. Carefully carrying our booty, we retraced our steps back to our hotel and repaired to the comfortable lounge downstairs to read and work on our respective journals for the afternoon.

We found we didn't have enough to really make a dinner, so that evening we drove off to the next larger town to find a grocery store. The comical thing was that in Spain we found new car dealerships far more frequently than we found supermarkets! Each little town seemed to boast a car showroom, usually Renault or Peugeot but often Mercedes, BMW, Citroen or other esoteric makes. In contrast, we often searched in vain for a supermarket, and on that evening it took us well over two hours to finally locate one, work the car around so we could park in the teeny parking lot in front, and then buy some ham and cheese for the evening meal. The traffic was quite dense and I was relieved to get the car back to the hotel in one piece, after which we had our dinner and read for a bit before turning in for the evening.

Copyright 2007 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt
Prolog Map of Cruise Map of Spain Epilog

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