Saturday, November 7, 2015

The North of Spain

Our flight went well although a shortage of air traffic controllers delayed our take off from Madrid and our landing in Barcelona.
It was a bus and subway trip from the airport to our hotel. We cleaned up headed out at mid afternoon, walking first to the Gottic and Barri areas. We saw the Roman walls and the downtown cathedral, and we scouted out walking and bike tours for tomorrow.

We then sampled the Ribera area and then down to the waterfront, La Barceloneta , formerly a fishing district, mostly 18th century and we viewed the large man made beach area (for the Olympics). Although windy, there was a decent turnout. Weather was sunny and comfortable, in the high 70’s.

We headed north to the Citadel Park, one of the few green spaces in the city. We rested awhile and then meandered back, sneaking in a few churches.

Clean up time again, then on to Los Ramblas where we found a sit down kebab place and enjoyed lamb kebabs for dinner, sharing a Greek Salad. We walked the length of La Rambla, a long, wide, tree-lined pedestrian street and the happening place in the afternoons and especially evenings. We viewed another church and stopped for gelato.

As per our custom, being our first night, we slept from 9 to 9. In the morning we walked back to Citadel Park to have a morning run. At first we thought it might be too cool for shorts but it was perfect. The park had several museums and a zoo off to the side, a large attractive pond with sculptures, a couple of arboriums and a number of paths running through it.

After cleaning up, we headed to the bike tour which turned out to be quite fun. We went to the Columbus Circle, the beach area, and through La Barceloneta (area around the beach). Next the bull ring, the last one being used in Barcelona and under some pressure by animal lovers to be closed down. The red paint on the ground and walls was splashed by protesters on people attending the fights. Our guide, an Aussie, condemned bull fighting and gave us some nasty details about the treatment of the bulls.

 A bit of a ride before reaching La Sagrada Familia, Antonio Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, a cathedral. We then biked to Barcelona’s version of the Arch de Triumph, built not to honor a victory but as a main entrance to the 1888 Universal Exposition that took place in the Parc of the Ciutadella. It consisted of colorful brickwork in the Mudejar style, which we learned has its origins in Moorish architecture.

At each stop our guide gave us some information on the site, Barcelona and the Catalonian region. At the conclusion of the ride our guide bought us a beer at a little restaurant on Passeig de Colon. He then did a soft sell of a boat ride dinner which we declined and a paella and sangria dinner and cooking lesson. As some people from our group decided to attend the next day, we signed up too, 18E each. We stayed and ordered lunch, a tuna pizza, which was tasty, and chatted with our guide and fellow bikers.

From there we went to La Rambla for gelato and to play with the street performers. ("Las Ramblas" and "La Rambla" are seemingly interchangeable)

Plans to watch World Cup Soccer at an Irish Pub fell through when it proved to be packed. Watched for just a few minutes and headed back to La Sagrada Familia with the trip ending up an experience. We took the subway and had only gone one stop when a team of 2 guys tried to pickpocket me. One held up a map to ask for directions as another reached his sweatshirt draped arm behind me. Luckily they were sloppy. Everyone in the car became irate with them and they jumped off at the next stop.

When we got to Sagrada Familia, we booked an English tour. It is, as the guide told us, the most visited construction site in the world. They expect to have it finished in 2026.


After the tour we climbed the tower for the views and were whipped by strong, cool winds.

We headed west to through the Eixample neighborhood, mostly 19th century buildings, to check out the Casa Macaia, Casa de las Puxxes(House of Spikes), Casa Zudras which is curiously now ‘Casa Asia” which devotes 3 of its 6 floors to North Korea. We couldn’t tell for sure what stance it was taking on the forsaken country as there was little English, but what little there was, was not showing condemnation. Next was Casa Mila, another work by Gaudi (Sagrada Familia), unfortunately they were just closing so we just got a peek into the lobby. Lastly we viewed Casa Batello and Casa Amattler from across the street in order to get a view of the whole, trees obscuring some of the facade. These building being part of the Modernismo movement which has brought fame and tourists to Barcelona for the originality of their designs.

We then went back to the room to clean up for dinner. We went to a restaurant at Passaige de Colon. We broke 2 streaks this day. A country we were visiting lost a World Cup soccer match (Spain lost to Switzerland) and Teresa ordered a better meal than I did. She had a green salad, pork with mushrooms, and crème broulet and quite a bit of wine. I had macaroni Bolognese, pork chops with French Fries, strawberry ice cream and beer. Total tab 22.60 Euros.

Next morning after our runs at the Citadel Parc and cleaning up, we decided to do a walking tour.

First was Jirame Placa which featured lampposts by Gaudi. Then to Placa Reial which was larger.

At the Cathedral de la Seu, we visited the inside and the cloister area.

The Placa del Rei is where it is supposed Isabella greeted Columbus upon his return from the New World.

We toured the Museum of History of the City. It did not trace the lineal history of Barcelona but focused on a Roman excavation below the museum.

More walking before finding a restaurant for lunch. Teresa had a salad, I had a sardine salad and Roquefort pizza. The bread and olive dip were quite good.
In the afternoon, the Picasso museum was first up. It was more extensive than I had expected. It contained a lot of his early work which actually had recognizable likenesses. It ended with several paintings in which he seemingly mocked a famous painting by Velasquez.

We then went to the Church of Santa Maria del Mar, which was built by the shipping trade. It is described as Mediterranean Gothic, but I got more of a Romanesque feel to it. It was simple with tall, massive columns, which only seemed slight because of their height.

Back to the room to clean up. We had our cooking demonstration at the Travel Bar. It was quite overbooked so we were in an outlying table. We got a quick demonstration on preparing tapas. The paella demo was long and difficult to see so we gave up on that. The Sangria presentation was better and we both prepared a batch which we drank freely. The tapas were good (the Manchino cheese was tasty) but the paella was uninspiring. The saving grace of the evening was meeting and talking to the other 36 people mostly Aussies and Kiwis, but including Canadians and an American opera singer, fresh from a gig in Hamburg as Aida. We were by far the eldest.

We begged off the impromptu pub crawl they planned and headed back to Las Ramblas for gelato and the promenade.

The next morning we decided we would make the 8:36 train to Montserrat so we skipped our run. We took the subway to Placa de Espana and with a little difficulty figured out where the train to Montserrat was. We received help at the station from an attendant to purchase the correct combination ticket from the machine. They were 38.45 Euros each. These included round trip train passage, round trip cable cars up to the monastery complex, round trip funiculars to the sacred cave and St. John’s hermitage, entrance to the museum and audiovisual, lunch at the cafeteria and 2 subway tickets. We used them all.

The train took about an hour as there were several stops. Being the first train in the morning, all of us were able to get into the cable car immediately which took us up to the monastery area. We first bought some decadent custard filed donuts (the best of the trip) at the Bodega.

Our first stop was the basilica which was impressive; we got in line for an up close visit with the Black Madonna, only about a 10 minute wait.

From there we took the funicular down to the path that takes you to the Sacred Cave and chapel. This is the spot a light guided some locals to find the Black Madonna Statue. The trek included along the way representations of the Joyful, Sorrowful and glorious mysteries.

After taking that funicular back up we took the other up to the Hermoyasge (hermitage of St. John). That included an uphill hike. When we got there Teresa felt we needed to climb to the summit of the mountain. I told her there was no way I was making that climb. She again insisted and I told her she must be out of her mind to think we would climb to the top.

After we climbed to the top we found some tiny cairn constructed by previous climbers so we formed a “T” out of rocks to check back on when we return in 17 years.

The climb down was more treacherous but we made it to the funicular and decided it was time for lunch. I had a large sausage, French fires, salad, bread, cake and Sprite. Teresa had salad, baked tomatoes, baked chicken, bread, cake and water. Nothing gourmet (although the almond cake was quite good) but filling and all included in our ticket.

Next we went to the museum. It was rather eclectic, with paintings by Carravagio, Monet, Pissaro, Renoir, Picasso and Dali among others. They had an antiquities section featuring Mesopotamian , Egyptian, and Hebrew artifacts; and a religious section.
We then decided to pop into the basilica again as part had been roped off on our first visit.
Next was the audio visual presentation which consisted of audio-solely singing by their semi-famous boys’ choir (who were away doing a concert today) and a slide show of what has and is going on at the monastery.
Teresa then investigated St. Jerome’s trail but thought the uphill climb not something we wanted to do late in the day.
Back to the cable car and train. I will say everything ran exactly on time. Subway to our room and cleaned up before heading to an internet café where we spent almost an hour.
We walked around the neighborhood of Placa Joame looking for Kebabs. We finally found one with real lamb. Afterward we metroed to Placa de Espanya to see the “Magic Fountain.” The place was mobbed, and with good reason, the Fountains were spectacular. Also a Harley convention/fair was set up with hundreds of motorcycles lined up and rows of booths selling everything a biker could wish for and then some. We stayed quite a while before taking the subway to Las Ramblas where we found a different and better gelato shop.

The next morning we slept in a little late as a result of a.) turning in tardily b.) boisterous revelers in our neighborhood and c.) it is our vacation.
We took our walk to Citadel Park and ran our respective runs. After cleaning up we visited the huge and mobbed food market off of Las Ramblas. We bought provisions for a picnic lunch; cured ham, mancha cheese, whole wheat bread, tomatoes, peaches and cherries (we already had olive oil.) The market was a site, so we took it in as one.

A subway ride and uphill walk to Guell Park was next. This was an area intended for an upscale community in the early 1900’s but it ran out of steam. Gaudi left his thumbprint on it however in some of the buildings and infrastructure. Decorative tile work and whimsical structures made the park interesting, Disneyesque. It was here we ate our picnic while enjoying the drifting music of a street musician. We later both enjoyed a couple playing tympanic kettledrums (that is my word for them- I have no idea what they are called.)

Late afternoon we are back on the subway and heading to the Art Museum when we encountered more excitement. We came down the stairs as a train was stopping so we hurried to get on a near empty car. We were confronted by a group of late teens who blocked off all but a couple of feet at the entrance, shouting in Spanish that we get another car. As they created the commotion however, one of them was digging in my pocket. After my last episode, I had stopped carrying my wallet but had cash, subway tickets and a phone card in it. I yelled and grabbed his hand. If he had my cash, he let it go and they all ran; the ring leader very swiftly! Someone also dropped a wallet on the floor, maybe purposely, that belonged to another couple that had had it filched from their bag. Teresa picked it up and found the owners who had stepped off in pursuit of the teens. They just made it back onto the car before the doors closed. So that made two attempted thefts on 11 trips on the L3 line in our 5 days in Barcelona!
The National Art Museum of Catalonia featured Catalan artists from Baroque, Medieval, and Impressionist periods. They had one room devoted to Picasso. They spent a great deal of space placing pieces of a church’s painted plastered walls into a representational setting. They had some nice art but a lot of work by second tier artists.

After cleaning up we walked to a Tandoori restraurant on St. Paul off La Rambla. I had salad, chicken curry and Cobra beer. Teresa had a triangular shaped appetizer, Tandoori chicken (a little dry) and sangria. We checked out the street scene before gelato and heading to the hotel.

Because it was car pick up day we missed our run and took the subway to Espanya Placa and a bus to the airport to pick up the rental. A little confusion as to which terminal but we worked everything out with a phone call to their office. I convinced Teresa to allow me to take the highway to Girona as we were running late, and eschewed the scenic route that would have had us both arrive late and me frazzled as well.
Our directions to our hotel, AC Bellaviata were good (google). Very modern hotel, large room and bathroom, large bath, nice TV, free minibar. It was about a 10 minute walk down to old town and it was an old town. Founded by the Romans, it is considered a medieval city. It is best known for withstanding numerous sieges throughout its history, one of the more impressive, a 7 week ordeal by Napoleon’s troops.
We ate lunch at McKiernans. I had a large hamburger and a Guiness, Teresa had a chef’s salad.
We went next through El Call, the Jewish quarter. The Jewish community had quite a history in Gerona.

It was a Sunday and the cathedral was supposed to be closed but we checked anyway and it was open as were the cloisters and Treasury, all free. The church is famous for having the second widest nave in the world (to St. Peter’s.) Although they were open, most stores and shops were not and things were pretty dead around old town.

We then “walked the walls” along the battlements and dutifully climbed each tower. Interesting how narrow the arrow slits were.

We explored some more, went inside St. Felius’ Church then crossed the river to check out the restaurants surrounding Independence Placa. We people-watched, sitting on a bench, fed the pigeons, gave some bread to two young boys tearing around the plaza so they could also feed the birds, and then headed back to the old town.

It was only 7:30 but we decided to eat early. We both chose from a fixed price menu. I had Mediterranean salad (included anchovies, egg, and cheese) and grilled fish. Teresa had a Catalonia salad, which featured cured ham and cold cut slices and Chicken Milanese- she compared it to a large chicken Nugget. We both had bread, the olive oil was good, chocolate cake and sangria. I had room for gelato on the way back to the hotel.

 The next morning we awoke on time and walked down to the city to run. Teresa decided to run the city walls including the steps and I was in my “urban running” mode, I ran through the town.

This was going to be a scenic day. Our travels first took us through winding mountain roads. I was surprised as to the density of the forests. We headed to Costa Brava and started south from Begur. We just took pictures at Fornells de Mar. We stopped and visited the beach and climbed rocks at Tamariu which was lovely. Continuing south we had a nice drive , particularly from Sant Felice to our destination of Tossa de Mar. This road was winding and twisting its way along the tops of the rugged coast.


We found our hotel, “Sant March” quite easily. We checked in, parked our car, changed into swimsuits and walked toward the beach. On the way we got pastry.

The beach was great. Lovely sand, medieval fortifications to the south, rocks to the North! Tossa de Mar is a resort town, very neat and clean. Our room was nice enough and the hotel had a pool with quite a few people making use of it. Teresa loved the colorful impressionistic art all over the hotel and in our room. The owner told us his father had painted them and they were not for sale.

On our way back from the beach, about 5:45, I had a gelato while Teresa got her first Magnum of the trip. (We had to make up for our pastry lunch.)

We cleaned up and then set out to explore the Villa Venci, the old town inside the walls. Here was another case where people live and work in a medieval fortified town. 

After walking the walls (we couldn’t climb any towers) we chose a place to eat, Restaurant Can Siso. We ordered from the 18 euro menu. I had a great meal, spaghetti, wonderful roast chicken with various vegetables, potatoes au gratin, and a generous portion of Sangria. Teresa had a very nice salad, a huge portion of salmon with potatoes (she found the salmon tasty but a tad overdone) and red wine. We both had creme Catalan for dessert (like crème boulet but better.) We each received a complimentary shot of Oreyo, an almost frozen yellow drink from Galicia. We window shopped on the way back to our hotel as I chose to watch the end of the Spain-Honduras World Cup match in our room instead of a bar.

The next morning we ran on the promenade next to the beach. Because it was included I had cornflakes and Teresa had yogurt and a croissant for breakfast.

Once we made it out of Tossa de Mar the drive to Sitges was pretty easy. Finding our hotel was not, due to one-way streets and roads with no street signs. After checking in we had to find a parking space, no easy task, and ended up using on-street, metered parking. We then headed for the beach, picking up a baguette, ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce and olive oil for lunch.

Neither the town nor the beach were as nice as Tossa de Mar, but both were bigger and more crowded. We read and took a couple of walks- the scenery was pretty good. About 5:45 we went back to the room, cleaned up and recharged the time on our car for parking, and walked through the city. Not a whole lot of history. 

About 8:45 we settled on Davallada 9 for dinner. Nice ambience and it featured a menu of the day for 17.50 euros- not including drinks this time. We both ordered goat cheese salad- Teresa the duck, myself the swordfish. We asked for sangria although it wasn’t on the menu. In the meantime we got some sliced cured ham with bread. The salad was pretty good. We both enjoyed our second courses. My chocolate cake beat out Teresa’s Crème Catalana which she decided was not as good as the night before. The waiter came with the bill, 18.50 euros for the sangria. That is supposed to be cheap wine with soda, brandy, fruit and ice (and it was a small pitcher). That drink cost more than one of our meals, and a throw in on other restaurant’s menu of the day. I was so mad I had to eat gelato on the way back to the hotel.

I didn’t need my jacket for the morning run. I also picked up a coke and some “Dunkin Coffee” doughnuts, Spain’s brand of Dunkin Donuts.

Easy getting out of Sitges and getting to Tarragona. We purposely backtracked to see the Triumphant Arch on what had been Via Augustus but is now N-240. 

We also found the Torre Escipions but could not find the Roman Quarry. We are blaming bad signage.

 On a different road we found the Roman Aqueduct.

Getting to our hotel was again involved because of one-way streets and bad sign posting. We parked in a parking garage literally catticorner from our hotel but we had to drive 9 blocks to get there.

We then went out to explore. First to the Roman/medieval walls. Tarragona had been a key port and strategic location since the Punic Wars. When Rome took it from Carthage they built huge walls which have been expanded upon in the centuries since. 

Tarragona was big and prosperous. They were up to ¼ million or a full million in Roman times depending on whom you believe. After the wall tour we visited a model of the city with some more information. The forum area was the largest in the Roman Empire.

We visited a 15th century house but the Cathedral was closed for renovations. We next saw Anthony’s gate and visited another house that had originally had been built into the Roman walls. 

We then visited the Archeological Museum. Four floors- pretty standard fare- partial mosaics, partial statues. It also used the Roman walls as one of its supports. 


We then visited the structures making up the Circus- like Rome’s Circus Maximus. They had also been used as a prison by Franco in the Spanish Civil war. 646 prisoners, whose crime had been supporting democracy, had been shot here.

Next to the Amphitheater. Not as large as the one in Rome, nor as in as good a shape as the one in Pula. 

 We then walked up Tarragona’s version of Las Ramblas and eventually found a supermarket where I bought 2 liters of lemonade and Teresa got a yogurt drink and 2 apples. We then headed to the local forum which was close to our hotel. 


Back to the hotel to clean up. For dinner we ate Italian. First I had a Nicoise salad, Teresa a mixed one. I had a pepperoni pizza, Teresa’s was goat cheese. We split a liter of Sangria.

It was the feast of St. John, so firecrackers, some quite loud started before dinner. Before 11:00 we made it to the square in Unires Street where the bonfire and festivities would begin. After the initiation of the conflagration 6 groups took turns marching out. They had different hooded costumes (many also wore goggles) all were accompanied by uniformed drummers. 3 had dragons of different descriptions and one had a bull. All had fireworks. There was a couple in each group who wore more elaborate costumes and had serious fireworks. You could describe them as spinning super sparklers. The leaders had large poles with several of these pyrotechnics on them. We followed the last group. As it happened they led us to gelato. Not the best. 

Mercifully all the fireworks ended at midnight so we could get some sleep.

In the morning it was an easy exit form the city. It was a long driving day but we took a small detour to Poblet Monastery.

We arrived in Benasque about 2:00 We found a pizzeria open so we shared a salad and a large pizza- very good. We wandered through the town but most shops were closed for siesta. We ventured up the mountains a little but decided we needed better directions. We went back to the hotel and were told Los Tres Barrancos was a nice trail and only 30 minutes. We rested a bit then headed out about 5:45. We found the start of the trail around 6:15. There was a lot of climbing but nice views. We later learned tres barrancos means 3 streams and we did in fact cross 3 mountain streams on the hike.

We climbed high enough to photograph a helicopter flying below us. We finished in one hour and 7 minutes and were disappointed that we took so much longer than the prescribed time. The jaunt did seem longer and more arduous than 30 minutes. At the TI we were told it was a 90 minute climb so we felt better. 


Back to the room, clean up and then to Del Oro Restaurant and it was great. Fixed price menu 14.50 euros. Teresa had pimiento a la Roquefort which she loved while I had a champagne and mushroom soup- also very good. Teresa got the pork with Risotto and she claimed it was the best risotto she ever had- sorry Mike. I had sausage and lamb cutlets – very good. For dessert we had panna which was excellent (like a parfait). Wine, bread, water, beer, VAT, and pate and olives as appetizers all included.

In the morning I ran while Teresa went straight to the gym. I joined her after my 2 furlong breeze. We packed up and headed southwest. First stop Ainsa, a medieval walled town with fortifications. We went into a church and bought a hunk of chocolate at a small shop.


Next to Parque Nacional de Odesa y Marte Presidio. That meant a drive first to Torla where we bought meat, cheese, tomato and bread for a picnic. After walking through the town we drove further into a park with a huge parking lot, and as near as we could tell, got the last space. We went down to the river and had our picnic. 


After returning to the car to unload we headed off on the 2 hour trail. The day before had been the 3 stream trail. This was the 3 waterfall trail. El Derecho, the last one, was the best.

Back in the car to head to Jaca. It was easy to find the city, not so easy to find the hotel.
After checking in we went to the Citadel but it was closed for the local festival. We did get in the cathedral and then walked around the Old Town. Not a lot was open due to the festival.

Back to the room to relax and clean up. For dinner we went to Universal and both had the same thing: jamon, melon, lamb cutlets with delicious garlic parsley potatoes; dessert was an apple pastry.
The next morning, after our run we headed to San Sebastian. Our hotel was the Amara Plaza; very upscale but about a 20 minute walk to the beach and 25 minutes to Old Town.
We went first to the beach. We bought baguettes at a restaurant on the beach, then found a place with some shade. The beach was very crowded when we got there. We took a long walk, read and at 6:00 when we left it was mobbed. A very good day at the beach.

We walked back, cleaned up and headed for Old Town for dinner. Teresa talked me into Pintxos, the Basque version of tapas. They were great! We ate them at 2 bars. I first had beer then sidra (hard cider) Teresa had red wine then Txicholi. We still had room for gelato. I had brownie and banana split. Teresa had brownie and strawberry- very good. Back to the room.

In the morning I ran, Teresa did yoga in the room. Because of our blisters we decided to take the bus into Old Town. First, along the Boulevard we found a pastaceria. I got a luscious pastry, reminiscent of Montserrat. Teresa did not choose wisely.

We then walked to the port and then to the peninsular hill. Claro que si, we climbed it. Along the way we inspected the batteries. The fort was on the very top. This was the main defense of the city and the river from the sea. Napoleon captured it and the English captured it back and burned much of the city.

We then visited Santa Maria and San Vicente churches and prowled around Old Town, We bought a lunch to take to the beach and spent some time on the internet where we booked a room for the following night, and Teresa caught up with her correspondence. We then bought a ceramic plate- no trip is complete without one, then bused it back to the hotel.

We changed and headed to the beach via the hotel where we would be staying the following night. The sky was overcast, leaving things a little chilly. We ate our picnic lunch, took a walk, and read. After a while the sun came out and the beach was mobbed again. We started walking back to the hotel at 6:45 to clean up.

Again it was pintxos night. This time we tried different bars. A tuna spread with anchovy and green pepper was my favorite. We both had room for gelato.

The next morning after my run we packed up and checked out of Amara Plaza and did our scenic drive along the north coast. We took in Zeratz and then parked in Getaria to visit the church. We also found pastry and a large diet coke.

 We hustled back to the car to beat the 30 minute deadline for free parking. We found a spot along the coast with large flat rocks to enjoy the pastry. (Teresa chose wisely- the same as me this time)

Through Deba and Mutrihuad we stopped at Ondaroa and walked through the town, next through Ispater and Ibarengelu to Elantxobe where we overpaid for lunch- basically 25 euros to split a mixed salad. We proceeded to Laida and south along the estuary then doubled back through hills and forests.

We made it back to San Sebastian and easily found our new place Hostel Baikan; a much smaller room but much more convenient. We headed to the beach- a 3 minute walk and got there at 4:15. Our shaded spot was taken but being that late the sun exposure wasn’t that big of an issue and we found the perfect spot. We read for a while, tested the water and decided to swim out to the platform. It was high tide so quite a swim. Only teenagers- except for us were on it. After a rest I did a back flip off the diving board to copy my behavior in Monte Carlo many years ago.
We swam back in, read some more, and then headed back to the room at 7:00. The beach was still crowded but thinning out.
We cleaned up, headed to Old Town and on the way, at about 8:15 took a picture of the beach- only a few diehards were left.

Pintxos again. At the first bar we met a Norwegian mother and daughter and spoke to them for a while. We also saw them at the next bar. 5 bars this night, then gelato and back to the room. A great day.

The next morning started well though we had a little trouble getting out of town. It was nothing compared to the traffic in Bilbao, our next stop. Large political demonstrations and a proclivity for double parking made driving almost impossible. I finally parked at the bull ring and we walked to the Gugenheim. The museum has an interesting design but the artwork inside is rubbish, some of it quite literally. We had audioguides so we got to listen to artists try to explain their work and instead reveal what pretentious idiots they were.

After that we walked to Old Town which was in siesta mode. On the way back to the car, on Kalle San Francisco we found Magnums and a kebob restaurant in that order. The kebobs were great.

Thanks to Teresa’s dead reckoning it was an easy exit from Bilbao and on to Santillana del Mar which is not close to the sea. Hotel San Marcos was easy to find and we walked into town. Sartre described it as the loveliest town in Spain and we would not disagree- charming and medieval. 

Back to the room and then back to town for dinner. I had a sausage and pork and bean soup and chicken fried steak with custard for dessert. Teresa had salad, the same soup and custard. We both had red wine. We stopped at the traveling carnival on the way back but still caught the end of Spain’s 1-0 win over Portugal in the hotel lobby.

We both ran the next morning and had our included breakfast of a croissant and juice at the hotel. First stop was the Altimira Caves just one mile form the hotel. What you get to see is a pretty good museum on paleontology and a computer produced replica of the caves a few hundred yards from the actual ones. These have been described as the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art, and the last art before decadence (paraphrasing Picasso). The actual caves have a multitude of ceiling paintings, quite well done for the most part, of horses, bison, goats, deer and other animals. Ochre and charcoal was the medium, the latter giving the opportunity for precise carbon dating of 13,500 years ago. A cracked cave ceiling was the canvas. The tour of the replica was in Spanish but English was written everywhere in the museum.

 We next stopped at Camarillo trying to see the Gaudi, El Capricho. Due to construction we couldn’t get close; the consolation prize was the palace but we didn’t go in as waiting for a tour would have cost us precious time. We did make it to a supermarket where we bought tomatoes, ham, bleu cheese bread and a jar of pickles, onions, and olives for our planned picnic. (we still had olive oil)
That picnic took place at De Fuente, after a drive through a gorge and a trip up the third longest cable car in the world.

 We shared our food with banded black birds with yellow beaks, which, after eating, curiously cleaned their beaks by scraping them on the rocks. The mountains were part of Picos de Europa. After lunch we hiked along a couple of trails, I won a snowball fight.

Due to Teresa’s recent successes with dead reckoning we left the trail on the way back and trod through green mountain pastures where we encountered horses. Another snowball fight and we made our way back to the cable car station where I purchased a coke. Teresa even partook.

Back down to the car and back to Potes where after a visit to the TI we found a room on our second try. For dinner Teresa had a mixed salad, meatballs, French fries and red wine. I had a heart of lettuce with anchovies, eggs, French fries, sausage and beer.

In the morning we didn’t run so we could get out early. We made it to Cian by 10:00 after about 2 hours on semi-treacherous roads. After buying a coke we set out on our hike of the Cares River Gorge and it was stupendous. We walked out about an hour and a quarter. Our walk back was delayed by a mother goat and her 2 younguns. 


In Cian we bought bread, cheese and tomato and drove to the top of a mountain for a picnic. 


Next to Leon. Good signage got us parked and checked in easily. Next we went to the cathedral which was just as billed. Stained glass dominated the structure, much from the 13th century. Beautiful.

Next to St. Isadore’s Church where we were treated to some a cappella singing by a young choir from Segovia.
 Next door was the museum and pantheon which happened to be free that day. Called the Sistine Chapel of the Romanesque period, the ceiling had interesting frescoes and the first depictions of the New Testament in Spain.


We then went to the convent that had formerly served the knights protecting the pilgrims on the way to Santiago Compestello (the scallops were everywhere). It is now partly a hotel but we got in the church and cloister.

 We then walked along the river to the Calle Alonso II where we headed back toward Old Town. We saw the Gaudi house- now a bank and back to clean up.

We wandered around looking for dinner but ended up making a good choice; Café Gatico, Calle Varillas 5. We both ordered from the menu of the day 12.10. euros - ITV, bread wine and water included. Teresa had a mixed salad, salmon with vegetables and crème caramel. I had shrimp pasta, pork with capers and white sauce, and ice cream.

 Everything was wonderful. Back to Albans by the cathedral as it was already 11:00.

Maybe it was luck but we got out of Leon very easily, and it was an easy trip to Zemora. There we visited the cathedral and its museum that featured numerous tapestries, some huge, and ranging in themes from David and Goliath, to the Trojan Wars, to the Carthaginian conquest of Iberia.

We visited the outside of the castle as it was closed and tried 2 more churches, also closed. The Spanish take their siesta time seriously. 


On to Salamanca. It is a University town with the largest Plaza Mayor in Spain. It is also known for its old and new (16th century) cathedrals.

The first thing we did was my laundry. The proprietor was very helpful (free detergent and softener) and we had free internet while we waited.

Afterwards we cleaned up and headed down Rue Mayor and compared prices on various prospective purchases. Everything was closed but we saw the outside of the Cathedrals, walked the very long Roman Bridge and looked for dinner. 

I had potatoes with garlic and bacon, secret pig and ice cream. Teresa had a Mediterranean salad, secret pig and a house pastry. We both had sangria. We walked some more, watched the lights come on at Plaza Mayor, got some gelato and back to the room. 

In the morning we walked to the Park of the Jesuits to do our running. After cleaning up we went to the Central Market to observe the cutting of fish with big knives among other things. We then went to Mass at St. Martin’s. From there we headed to first the New Cathedral begun in the 16th century, then the Old Cathedral, begun in the 12th. We then toured the University, finding the frog on the skull after exiting.

 We then went to St. Stephen’s and toured the church, museum, choir, sacristy, and cloister. We went by a couple of convents before looking for lunch. We each had a tuna pizza; I had a large beer, Teresa had a glass of wine. It was siesta time and starting to rain so we headed back to the room, I had gelato on the way. 



After our siesta we decide to go to Plaza mayor for the game. Various bars and restaurants had TV’s set up. We found a spot and I ended up having 2 beers, a tuna tapa and an anchovy tapa. Teresa had 2 glasses of wine and some gelato. Spain won 1-0 in a very exciting game. 

Afterwards we went to the Chinese restaurant. We both had Peking Duck, wanton soup and egg roll. I enjoyed mine- Teresa would have preferred more vegetables. We finished dinner at 11:30 and made our way through the crowds back to the room.

In the morning we went straight away to Burgos with little difficulty. We drove straight to the Monastery/Convent Huelgas. There was a Spanish tour but the guide gave us English speakers a few minutes after each stop. She wouldn’t accept a tip.

We then drove to our Hotel, Meson El Cid. We found free parking. Our room was nice and overlooked the Cathedral.

 We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant. I had a BLT with chicken added. Teresa had a salad. We walked around a while. I had gelato, Teresa a Magnum and then went to the Cathedral. There was a very good guidebook and pathway for tourists. It had some impressive chapels. El Cid and his wife were buried in the middle if it.

The tour took some time and after we went to St, Nicholas Church, then went to the town walls. From there we went to the castle and toured it. It had a good history of the city spelled out. 

Back to the room for clean up. We walked quite a while looking for a restaurant and it was chilly. We went to the Corrallon and got good value for our 10 euro menu of the day. I had a meat appetizer and Teresa had the red beans and sausage. We both had the ½ roast chicken, ice cream and wine.


Did you know Spain had a wine country? It apparently does and is called Rioja. We ended up in La Guardia in the middle of it. 

We tried to get in some pretentious wineries, Ysios and Rascal, and actually broke into the former where we met John and Lydia, a nice couple from California. We then toured La Guardia and saw the famed entryway to its church.

We had a difficult time finding our hotel in Pamplona and by the time we settled all our issues we cleaned up and walked into Old Town. We toured the Cathedral and the town’s fortifications then joined the mob in the center of town. We ended up eating at several tapas bars and saw some street performers. We had some gelato and took a bus back to our hotel. 

In the morning we walked to the Citadel to do our run. Going back we saw the dress of the day was white with the traditional red accents so we dressed accordingly. We walked into Old Town and made it by 10:30. We were apparently late as half the hundred or so thousand people there were already (or still) drunk.

We saw 2 guys trying to squirt wine into each others’ mouths at about 5 feet. They weren’t very goods at it. I thought using a little care we could avoid being stained by wine. I was wrong. Apparently the arbitrary tossing of wine, sangria, champagne and beer is a well-followed custom. No one escaped wine stains. Another custom is throwing buckets of water down from balconies, presumably to clean the wine-drenched revelers, but probably mostly to cool them off. (that morning it was quite cool) Marching bands were always just around the corner.

It was an ordeal to move, because of the crowd, and because the streets had attained the consistency of a barroom floor after 3 weeks of bar fights.

We staked out a corner of a plaza where we were not jostled too much (some of the jostling I didn’t mind). We saw the band go by, and following it were John and Lydia, the oenophiles. The 4 of us headed to Windsor Tavern where we had sandwiches and talked for a while.
We sauntered around town for a while and met some fellows from the Basque region. They introduced us to their favorite drink: red wine mixed with coca cola. 
The crowd was losing a little energy so we chanced some movement. We headed to the outer ring of the Old City and made our way around it. Numerous others were escaping the jam inside the city. We arrived at a park and decided to relax on the grass for a while. We each got a Magnum on the way.

We walked back to Old Town and ended up eating kebobs after walking for a while. On the way back we stopped for a pastry at a restaurant close to our hotel. We turned in early.
We arose at 6:00 the next morning and were headed to the bull ring at 6:20. We saw plenty of people headed that way but probably more headed back to their hotels after a very long night.
I left Teresa to purchase her ticket at the bull ring while I tried to get in position for the run. It turned into quite an ordeal. Tourist Information had told me I could go straight to the Estrecha part of the run as long as I got there before 7:30. I was there along with scores of others but at 7:30 the police came through and made us all leave the course. (This was the second bit of misinformation from the TI. I had asked them when the bulls would be in the Corralinas. In “The Sun Also Rises” there was a reference that the bulls were delivered there late in the evening. TI told me the bulls were already there. They weren’t. Heminway -1—TI- 0)We had to scramble to get back in the run. We couldn’t get in at the beginning and the other places all had their barricades in place. When I ran to the beginning I was told to try the next barricade. I climbed through in front of the police but they made no move to stop me. I was now in the run but nowhere near where I wanted to start it. As a matter of fact we were all in a jammed confined space with no room to move. If they had let the bulls out then it would have been a big problem.

The police moved on however and opened up the course one section at a time so that shortly before 8:00 I was back to where I wanted to start. Unfortunately it was very crowded there. My plan had been to start running when I saw the bulls come through Dead Man’s Corner. I would have enough head start to beat them to the ring. With it so congested I wasn’t sure how fast I could go. After one false start the firecracker went off and the bulls were away. About a minute later the runners down the course started running at us and you could barely make out the bulls. I tried to linger a little longer but waves of runners were running by so I took off in a pack. Teresa was taking pictures of the big screens in the bull ring.

I made it in the arena, took a left, and the bulls followed right behind so they had been closer than I thought.

All the runners who finished the course mulled about the arena until the first young bull with the tips of its horns padded was let in. With the multitude of people in there it was like being in a ball of baitfish. You don’t see the bull until you see a sudden synchronous parting of those in front of you and you instinctively join it. Some played with these bulls, others avoided them. I avoided them. There were a total of six of these, one at a time; after the fourth one I removed myself from the field and observed from the fence.

The bulls moved pretty much in straight lines, particularly when they put their heads down, but one rather agile one surprised some people and got more than his share of collisions in. There was no goring but at least one guy left on a stretcher and a couple others got clobbered pretty good. Most of the contact was of the glancing variety.

After the sixth bull I left the ring and met up with Teresa outside. We then got a coke and then went to City Hall for the start of the Giant Head Procession.

 At City Hall dignataries were picked up and the procession went to the cathedral to get the priests. From there the parade, including bands, went through the town to San Lorenzo Church where they acquired the statue of San Fermin (the guy who made all this possible) and marched him around the town before bringing him back for Mass at the San Fermin Chapel in San Lorenzo Church.

We did some T-shirt shopping before heading back to our hotel. After 3 weeks in Spain we decided to adopt the Spanish custom of eating the big meal in the middle of the day before siesta, so, at a restaurant near our hotel we had a very good meal. I had roast chicken, French fries, mussels, a salad and a large beer. Teresa had a large salad, a beef stew, wine and chocolate cake. We also got a free pitcher of iced tap water

We then cleaned up and headed back to town. There were several marching bands with different allegiances. We did our final T-shirt shopping. We did some people watching and saw some more break dancers.

A little after 8:00 we headed back to see Spain defeat Germany 1-0 in a restaurant (we had considered watching on the big screens at Plaza del Castillo but the crowd was enormous quite early). We had spaghetti with tomato sauce and flan with ice cream.

We decided to skip the fireworks again, even though we had been lugging around the blanket for firework viewing purposes.

We slept in a little the next day and headed out of Pamplona. After the first toll booth there was a random breathalyzer test. I was pulled over and blew a cero-cero.

Speaking of tolls, they effectively removed our “too many euros problem” as they were quite steep.

Our next stop was Zaragoza. After a visit to the TI we went to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. It appears the Virgin visited St. James the Apostle when he was in his Moor-slaying incarnation in Spain, perhaps to give tips on battle plans. When she came down she alighted on this pillar which is now ensconced in the Church. You may touch, or even kiss a portion of the Pillar in the Church or gaze upon the other portion which holds up a diminutive statue of Our Lady. The cathedral is sumptuous and appears inside as containing two cathedrals back to back. So what does a city do when it has such a grand basilica? Why you maintain a huge cathedral a few steps down the street. The Cathedral of San Salvador or “La Seo” has many artistic chapels and quite a tapestry collection in its museum.

We left and went to the Aljaferia. This began as a Moorish Palace but was added to by the Reconquistadores.


 From there we walked to Bodegas Almara for tapas. I had, among others, “Anchoas de Reina” which was anchovies, avocado cream, mint syrup and nuts.
We had very good directions to our hotel in Barcelona near the airport. Pizzas for dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Great trip recap. I have bookmarked the post since I want to read it with more detail later. We went to Spain about a month ago but are interested in going back.