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Late Doors

Northern Spain

The nasty little bug I brought back rather took the shine off what was a splendid fortnight travelling across Northern Spain. Its only now as memories and internal movements alike begin to solidify that I am able to look back and report with fondness

We greeted our first night in Porto Portugal like an old friend after Easy Jetting from Liverpool for the Sunday night. It was good to survey the waterfront from high up on the bridge as we did many times last summer. We didn’t have time to tarry as we were up at the crack of dawn for the train North across the border into Spain and finally to our first destination proper, the splendid and ancient town of Santiago De Compostela where our monastery awaited us. Yes, a monastery, a real life working monastery with Monks. I say working, when we got there Monday Lunch time there were three monks at the dinner table with three empty bottles of wine and a fourth on the way. Monday Lunchtime, I tell thee that lot could teach the Wetherspoons Monday club a thing or two. They had obviously ventured into a little ungodly capitalist opportunism by converting a large part of the monastery into accommodation. As expected it was a glorious building serene internally with basic amenities, regal externally with superb vistas all around from high up in the rooms.

Santiago translates as St James and it is said that Christ’s First cousin himself settled here for a while after coming over from Jerusalem (like you do). It is also said his bones were found here, coincidentally after one of the Prophets were during the Moor occupation. All hokum of course as everyone knows St James was laid to rest in Leeds West Yorkshire England in a place with real healing powers but as usual you do get the good people of Leeds making a song and dance about that.

So Santiago itself. Like the rest of Galicia there is a strong Celtic influence running through it. Morris dancer types played pipes and strings with that wiry Celtic ring everywhere, in cafes, bars, streets and squares to entertain the tourists. Many of the tourists had done the famous 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain finishing at the truly magnificent cathedral square in the epicenter of the small town to sit and gaze at the cathedral itself. Narrow medieval streets spin off this square in a maze of seeming randomness. The tourists mainly center on the bottom side of the general slope of the town but there are gems in the shape of bars, cafes and shops all around including a very fair market. It is a very picturesque place, the essence of post card Spain and a real pleasure to wander aimlessly around. The crowds were sparse actually as it was late season but the sunshine made it feel summer although cold at nights.

Beer was moderately priced at around 3 euro a pint and the food was average to poor. Tapas the main offering, squid in many ways, Prawns usually deep fried frozen disgusting things and all the usual potato, lentil, meat portions available but it wasn’t magnificent, simply adequate. The Rioja and local white wine was good and cheap.

Managed to get a day trip to A Coruna as well. A huge port town with a fine beach and a handsome town center. Not particularly beautiful but interesting and seemingly affluent. You may remember the football team ending our Euro champions’ league campaign back in the dream. Went to see the ground as it is central. Ironically they are no longer in La Liga and are languishing in the lower leagues. An ugly concrete brute of a stadium but impressive inside.

Ill post some piccies up later

That was Santiago, next up Oviedo, Santander and San Sebastian
Late Doors

Night Time digestif



the wonderful cathedral


Our Monastary


A Coruna


view from room


inside monastary


night time


day time
Grind

Perty.
Butts

Great that thanks, looking forward to our food report from San Sebastian, one of THE foodie destinations.
Late Doors

Quite a trek then East to Oviedo in the Asturias region. Nearly a six hour bus ride along Northern Spain that sounds painful but in fact was very enjoyable. By now murky wet weather had set in as it often does along this region and we arrived in rain soaked Oviedo around lunch time and commenced the fifteen minutes walk through town to the hotel back packs and casual attire giving us the appearance of genuine travelers instead of the four star glam packers we really are .

Our hotel was just outside the old town perimeter on the main drag into it. A comfortable smart hotel with good cafes around for the all important industrial strength coffee and pastry in the morning. We were starving and headed into the first Tapas bar we came across for Chopitoes (battered baby squid) cabrales (a great local veined spicey cheese made from a trio of goats, sheeps and cows milk and hung in cloth) with cured ham and fresh bread, simple and perfect washed down with an ice cold one. By luck we had stumbled on the finest bar in town apparently. We were now up for our traditional first day getting ourselves acquainted with the vibe and layout of the place.

Oviedo immediately gives the impression of a stately possibly staid but wealthy town, I mean the very few cadgers around asking for money were better dressed than I was ffs    . Scratch the surface though and the immaculate buildings, churches and beautiful layout reveal a healthy dynamic young atmosphere. The place was virtually destroyed in the civil war when the defending nationalist were on the point of surrender when they were bolstered by Franco’s Galligo force and overcame the republicans, It’s been sympathetically restored,  a few original squares and structures remain.



The rain had taken a real grip by now but still the odd burst of sunshine lit up the wetness to produce a fascinating light that really enamored the place.



The locals did not seem perturbed by the weather at all. In fact it was the festival of St  Mateo and the whole town was setting itself up for a three day spectacular celebration with stalls a music stage in the main square and seemingly every young person and local dignitary in the area converging on the place. Even saw Sheeps and Dock





Another aspect of the town that is quite famous is the Cider Street where cider bars or Sidrerias served cheap and nasty rough arse cider from a great height into a glass while starring non plussed into the distance. This is presumably to give the dull lifeless alcoholic apple juice some effervescence. It was poor stuff and merely a tourist con if you ask me.



So we had just two nights here including a most memorable one outside a fantastic restaurant El Raitan in a beautiful square whilst a raging thunderstorm flashed and cracked all around us. Some hugely satisfying and tasty black pudding balls, more cheese and bread with   a sublime lentil dish and Rioja. Unforgettable




So with it been festival time the place was buzzing till around five am both nights. We heard some beautiful Spanish/Celtic music on the stage by someone who must be huge in Spain. He had two wonderful guitarists with him who were simply mesmerizing.



A heavy rock outfit followed in complete contrast but were very competent with an awesome deluge of distorted guitars assaulting the massive crowds. Throngs of kids were drinking all around us on the streets, pavements and walls and you know what? there was not an ounce of aggression, hostility, over drunkenness or anti social behavior of any kind. It was quite beautiful actually




So next up into the Basque country and the Train to the very beautiful Santander home of Real Sociedad, THE Basque team.

edited
err no it's not, thats San Sebastian, Santander is home to Real Racing Santander, twit
Late Doors

There’s an independent train service operating along the north coast o Spain called FEVE. The main RENF service connects the big towns and the FEVE strings together hundreds of smaller places as well as the bigger towns to provide a local, slower paced service. We caught it from Oviedo to Santander passing through 51 stops for the four hour journey. The incessant grey drizzle put a slight dampener on the journey but it passed very quickly and we terminated the very enjoyable chug through the North country arriving in Santander around 1.30pm. Our hotel was several kilometers out of town on the opposite end towards the Northern peninsular just below the golf course. It was too far to walk with our gear so after consulting the brilliant tourist info office we got the No2 bus almost to the door for 1.20 Euro each.

Well what a wonderful, classy, scenic and vibrant place Santander is. Golden beeches, 2 attractive peninsulas adding interesting coast line mileage and protection to the town. There’s industry, a working port, civic pride, surf, great buses, safe walking, attractive buildings, a la liga footy team, a busy well set out old town with great bars and other nightlife, modern shopping all complete with well behaved and respectful citizens and visitors alike.

Our hotel was the last building at the end of the bay







There is also a regular ferry from Portsmouth so we heard a few English voiced for the first time in a week, they were the well behaved and respectful kind though.

So after booking into our hotel checking out the marvelous views across the bay albeit in murky cloud we set off walking down the coast line. Didn’t get off to a great start with a plate of calamari and a beer served with the grace and style of a petulant Wayne Rooney tackle from the bar near to the hotel but thankfully that was the end of anymore of it. It was obvious from the start that Santander was a quite affluent place and a retreat for the Spanish middle classes to spend time and retirement. We got as far as the casino and took a bus back before setting out finally for the evening into the old town.

Santander had a major fire in 1941 that destroyed a lot of the old structures but the old town set in a neat  grid system just set back from the main drag along the harbor still had plenty of charm and a veritable host of bars, cafes and restaurants as well as interesting shops and independent outlets.

The tapas they serve in Santander is on a different level, almost works of art stacked en masse on and around the bar. Lots of exotic creations served on bread as well as all the usual favorites. The wine is extremely good value and very palatable but the beauty of eating out there is the actual bars themselves, bussling, vibrant, friendly, efficient and very accommodating. Very popular with the locals and visitors alike.





My most memorable meal though was after a long walk through docklands to a small collection of sea food places recently made famous by Rick Stein. We actually had given up hope of finding them such was the far flung hideaway they were occupying right at the far end of the docks. We certainly wouldn’t want to be wondering around their at night but once there it was totally different. Exclusively locals, massive paella pans on the front and sea food galore inside. We actually had the loveliest paella we’ve ever had on Monday afternoon. First of all a huge rake of sardines and then a beautiful intense, rich, luxurious bowl of rice, deep flavored stock, chicken on the bone that melted off and assorted sea food penetrating through with a  searing shell fish backdrop, all washed down with a bottle of local white, magnificent.

By Sunday afternoon after a real dousing in the rain that caught us in the open forcing us to take refuge in a bar for an hour the sun had broken through and the whole place took on a completely different texture. It positively glowed. I watched Real Racing Santander in a beach bar with the local Ultras, they got hammered at Atletico Madrid. I had three pints and they thought I was an animal as they nursed one half for the entire game.

So by Monday the place was baking in sunshine and completed our three night stay pretty much in perfection. Walking around stopping off here and there for tapas and beer but never caning it. So much for the eye to behold and the soul to bask in.



Next up the Bus into real Basque country to San Sebastian
Butts

Brilliant, paella is one of those dishes that just CANNOT be replicated successfully outside Spain, don't know what it is, maybe the stock or the rice.
lebowski

Absolutely fantastic reporting LD.

I have spent an awful lot of time in Spain but never the north, I must rectify that.

BTW Butts, You willhave to try Mrs Lebs Paella, better than any I have had anywhere else and many others agree.
Nyles O Cranium

I've just spent a week in all inclusive digs in Fuertaventura.  Loved a lot of it and got a nice tan.  Slightly different level of culture from yours LD

Thanks for the great travelogue  
Butts

Need to pick your brains on this LD in the near future, planning a trip to Spain to see The Boss next May, San Sebastian a definite destination.
Late Doors

No probs, any time, haven't got round to the San Seb leg yet but will and get a move on now. It was ace.
Butts

Tickets permitting, we're seeing him in San Sebastian on 2/6 and then in Lisbon on 3/6 so once they're in the bag it'd be great to get some insight into Mrs D's fail safe system for finding accommodation and inter-connecting travel.
Late Doors

Accom.  no probs but I think you need to speak with Dr Who about travelling from San Seb to Lisbon in a day. Ill get her on it but flying will be your only option I think. She is very good though  
Butts

Thanks  - yes we would fly - 6 hour train otherwise. Not going to do anything until we get tickets and they go on sale next weekend.
Butts

Butts wrote:
Thanks  - yes we would fly - 6 hour train otherwise. Not going to do anything until we get tickets and they go on sale next weekend.


Decided against Lisbon but we've got tickets for San Sebastian on 2/6. Plan is to spend three nights in SS and then two in Bilbao so could do with a chat in due course LD about where you stayed on this trip.
Late Doors

So finally to the last Spanish leg of our trip. We'd enjoyed Santander so much that after the three nights of getting so attached to the place we were a little sad to be leaving. There's nothing like  a fresh adventure though to liven up the expectations

our modest pension was a fifteen minute walk away from the station following another pleasant journey on the impeccable public transport system. The first thing i notched about the town on the outskirts as we entered  were the abundant blue and white flags of Real Sociedad. Clearly a well loved club around these parts. The pension was a stone's throw away from the beach on a busy road with tall urban buildings old and new hiding any indication of the beauty beyond them. Our firt view of the bay emerged as we passed between a gap in the promenade buildings from our digs and what a sight to behold. A long bay, sandy beach, a small island in the middle of the bay looking like a place where a Bond Villain would live and all book ended at opposite ends of the bay with two hilly peninsulas. To our left topped with a castleesque structure and right to the East a huge jesus state looking down on the town, one hand outstretched which i took as a sign to go ahead and enjoy the hell out of it.

We did our usual initial stroll around the town familiarising ourselves with the layout landmarks and atmosphere of the place. It just oozes continental class. You could picture Simon Templar hanging out on the terrace of a cafe sipping a cocktail, one eye on the dusky beauty the other on some shady characters milling around the yachts. As luck would have it, bad luck that is, it was the San Sebastian international film festival throughout our stay which meant the place was full of fawning fans of the likes of Richard Gere waiting around to catch a glimpse of him. Not only that but groups of precious industry "workers" quickly dashed about earnestly talking and careful not to catch anyone's eye in the hope that someone might think they were famous or as important as they cleanly thought they were.

A small rocky estuary running into a shallow river around the Eastern peninsular  hosting the jesus statue split the town in two with several bridges traversing it. The Eastern half is in fact Called Gros and is famed for its gastronomic flamboyant tapas or pinxtos as they are called in Basque land and i suggest that is where Butts should research and head to. Alas it was also the area hosting the festival so we dint tarry there long except to peruse the very smart inner civic area.

Dusk and night were spent in and around the harbour and the old town at the far east side of the main bay under the jesus statue. The setting sun sinking below the opposite bay lay it's dwindling amber light to cast shadows across the sand and harbour front creating the perfect continental night setting. The narrow warmly glowing streets of the old town gradually filled with people milling around and seeping from the bars as casual evening chatter escalated into a night time crescendo. The bars seemed to creak under the load of concentrated platters of beckoning pinxtos stacked along the entire length. It was all very colourful and appealing but here's the caveat for m. We saw them stack the bars late afternoon and there were still mounds of it late night. Squid, chicken, prawns, beef, cheese, sausages, veg salad rubbing shoulders with each other on the open bar under the lights in front of customers and staff. You can't tell me its fresh every day. When you order it they give it a quick whirl in the microwave which barely takes the chill off it. We looked at each other and looked around. Hundreds if not thousands were tucking in and enjoying it so it must be alright. I have my doubts though, especially to unfamiliar British tummies.

I prefer the traditional bars with only a few dishes on the chalkboard that comes straight from the kitchen and so too did the discerning locals and that's what i recommend. San Seb has it all, brilliant atmosphere, authentic tapas, quality restaurants for those that must. I suppose it's like our real ale pubs we have in our drinking culture. It does pay to search out the quality. The food in the restaurants was not dissimilar to the  Languedesc region of France actually.

Anyway that's it for now, i;ll post some piccies up later and add other comments as and when i remember them
Late Doors

Prom Front towards the east with the jesus statue on the hill with the harbour and old town below



From the Old town end towards the west



Sunset as we sank a chilled one



The rocky estuary that splits the town in two behind the jesus statue



The groaning boards of e coli




Iconic image at the west end wind tunnels (suprise awaiting)


amazing view back towrds the bay from the west end peninsular, a great little walk up
Butts

Terrific that thanks. Will certainly heed your advice about the pinxtos places and seek out the smaller establishments. We're there for four days so will definitely take in Santander for at least one of those.

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