Tag Archives: Cantabria

Travels in Spain, El Capricho in Comillas

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Discovering the works of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona reminded me of a visit to the town of Comillas in Cantabria in 2013 where there is a rare example of the work of  the architect outside of Catalonia, a mansion called El Capricho complete with a signature tile clad tower, playful ceramic sunflowers and whimsical images of animals playing instruments.

It was built in 1883 for a nobleman who wanted an exotic villa in an oriental style and the really significant fact is that this was Gaudi’s very first commission.  There was a €7 admission charge which was a bit of a shock but having walked all the way through the town to find the place we went through with the transaction and made the visit to the house and the gardens and we were glad that we did.  Kim may have got tired of towers, castles and cathedrals but she remains comfortable with palaces and Gaudi it seems.

001002003.jpgAntoni Gaudi and me

Travels in Spain, Terracotta and Geraniums

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“And thank God for home-sweet things, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.” – Martha Haskell Clark

Two pictures taken in the village of Bárcena Mayor in Cantabria in the far north of Spain.  In Green Spain in the rain and the mist the geraniums are not quite so extravagant as in sun-burnt south, they do not bloom so freely but they have a rustic elegance nevertheless!

A Ghost Story for Halloween

Posada San Telmo

We picked up a hire car at the Sol-Mar desk and after completing the formalities found the vehicle and headed west on the Autovia to the tourist town of Santillana de Mar and the nearby village of Ubiarco where our accommodation was booked.

It was an odd thing about the accommodation but when I checked the web site a few days before I couldn’t find the hotel again and I had worried that perhaps my booking had been cancelled or the place might be closed for the winter.

Eventually I found it through my booking reference number and everything seemed to be in order so I stopped worrying. I was perplexed however that when I entered alternative dates just to check, there was never any availability and there were no more rooms available for this weekend either. I convinced myself that the place must surely be full of people all enjoying £10 flights just like us, but there was another odd thing because there were no customer reviews posted to the site, which has to be a little bit strange.

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It took only about thirty minutes to get to the village and most unusually for me, we found the place almost immediately and drew into the car park. There was only one other car there and the place was in almost complete darkness except for a creepy light seeping through the cracks in the curtains at a downstairs window. It was locked but when we knocked on the door a kindly elderly couple opened a heavy creaking door and invited us in.

They explained that they had been waiting all day for us to arrive and I was surprised by this because I was certain that I had advised my late arrival time when I had booked.

Now, here was a peculiar thing because it was immediately obvious that there were no other guests and the man took us to our room on the first floor. We asked about restaurants and bars but he told us there were none close by and as it was about half past nine we weren’t in the mood for driving any more so we decided to settle in, have a bottle of wine and play cards in the lounge.

The lady melted into the shadows in the room and we didn’t see her again but the man was downstairs and most attentive, he seemed to know instinctively when we needed something from his small bar. First we ordered beer and later a bottle of wine and he was always available when we needed him but at this stage I didn’t find that especially strange even though he seemed to appear from the same dark shadows.

The wine said 1974 and I hoped it wouldn’t be expensive, on the coffee table were a pile of very old magazines and the television programme was an episode of something like Dallas dubbed in Spanish and the place began to feel more and more unusual and curious the later it became.

We finished the wine and went to bed and I went to say goodnight but the place was deserted except for us so we went straight to our room via the creaky staircase and settled down.

After a minute or two we heard soft footsteps in the corridor and whoever it was stopped outside our door for a second or two and then moved on.  I felt a shiver dart down by spine but I told myself that it was just the owner making sure we were all right and I thought that was a nice touch and that I should be sure to mention it in my hotel review.

ghost Wales Cottahe Llanuwchllyn

I had a restless night full of wild dreams, nightmares almost and at some point I heard the footsteps for a second time but I had no idea what time it was. The room was pitch black and although we were on the village main road there wasn’t a single sound to punctuate the total silence that lay on us like a thick blanket. Wild thoughts raced through my brain, I thought about the web site, why were there no guest reviews? Why was no one else staying here? Why did the room go cold and the lights dim when the man bought us the wine?

And then I heard the footsteps again and Kim stirred and heard them too, we were too scared to investigate so we pulled the sheets over our heads and prepared to meet an apparition..

I struggled top get back to sleep for straining to listen for strange noises but eventually it was morning and when we looked outside there was a promising clear sky and an unexpected view of the sea. We made a cup of tea and then went downstairs for breakfast but were surprised to find the place deserted and all of the furniture draped in dust covers.

It was cold and eerie and no one responded to our holas! I didn’t like it at all so we went outside and down the street there was a lively little café that was full of customers so we went inside. I asked for the breakfast menu and told the owner that we were staying at the Posada San Telmo next door.

He turned pale and gave me an odd stare and when I looked surprised he said ‘Senor, you must be mistaken, no one has stayed at the San Telmo for thirty years, the house has been abandoned since 1976’.

My blood turned to ice and froze and the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention and I suddenly understood about the empty web site and the ghostly footsteps and we were anxious to get away so we drank our tea and left rather quickly…

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Travels In Spain, Northern Spain in Postcards

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Entrance Tickets – Castillo del Rey, Cantabria

Castillo del Rey

There was an interesting castle and an old town that stretched from the headland to the church of Santa María de los Ángeles and which enjoyed magnificent views over a busy river estuary to the mountains beyond.  And there was a good view too of the Maza Bridge, with its twenty-eight arches, which was built on the orders of the Spanish Catholic Monarchs in the sixteenth century.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Off-Season

On the final morning of the visit to Santillana del Mar the weather proved to be a disappointment, I could hear rain on the window as I started to stir and when I did the window check I could only report back that the sky was grey and it was drizzling.  At breakfast our host confirmed the worst and informed us that the forecast was gloomy all day so we decided that it was probably a good day to go and do something undercover and perhaps visit a museum.

Read the full story…

 

Entrance Tickets – Castillo Del Rey

Castillo del Rey

The sky was blue and the sun was shining and there was an interesting castle and an old town that stretched from the headland to the church of Santa María de los Ángeles and which enjoyed magnificent views over a busy river estuary to the mountains beyond.  And there was a good view of the Maza Bridge, with its twenty-eight arches, which was built on the orders of the Spanish Catholic Monarchs in the sixteenth century.

Read the full story…

San Vincente De La Barquera

 

It’s Nice To Feel Useful (7)

  

It’s nice to feel useful (7) …

Every now and again I like to look back over my posts to review what has been going on.  One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

Last year my favourite was is “Why did Shakespeare bring starlings to Australia?”  and I was obliged to point out here that William Shakespeare died in 1616 and Australia wasn’t settled by Europeans for another couple of hundred years or so after that and although there is much literary speculation concerning possible visits by the Bard to Italy I think it is safe to say that he never went as far as Australia!

Vesuvius the crater

Being a student of geography I am going to begin with a couple of wildly inaccurate searches:  Firstly “Vesuvius Turkey”  and secondly “Wales Cantabria”.  When I was a boy I had a book called “The Boys’ Book of Heroes” which had a chapter about great explorers and I am fairly certain that if they republish it that these two enquirers are really most unlikely to get a mention.

Sex always rears its ugly head so let’s deal with that one straight away.  Someone asked about “Getting laid in Germany” and believe me if I had the answer to that one then I would keep it to myself.

I like this one even better – “Medieval brothels images” and I am completely unable to help with that one because most of the illuminated manuscripts in my collection have images of Jesus and the Saints and as Monks didn’t have digital cameras they probably didn’t have a great deal of spare time to draw pictures of brothels.  Perhaps the enquirers were thinking about the red light district in Amsterdam or perhaps they found their way to my post on the Grand Tour of Europe?

The best that I can do is show this picture of a ‘walk this way‘ brothel sign in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey …

Ephesus Brothel Sign

There are always some bizarre questions about low cost airline Ryanair and this year these are my favourites: firstly “Can I take tea bags on a Ryanair flight?” and as far as I am aware tea has not been declared an illegal substance so I am certain that the answer is yes but I don’t think you will be allowed to take a kettle and brew up!  Next – “Is agarbatti allowed in flights?”  and I have to say that with Ryanair being a no smoking airline probably not and lighting up an incense stick is likely to lead to Argy Bargy.   I did provide some advice for flying with Ryanair in a post called Travel Tips When Flying Budget Airlines.

Ryanair Fez Airport

Some of the daftest search enquiries seem to crop up every year but here are some new ones from the last twelve months:

“What were gunfighters actually called” and my answer to that one is that although some of them had real names of course like Jesse James, Billy The Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  I think mostly they were just called gunfighters!

The meanest gunfighter in the West however was…

Next up – “Which state are Johnny Cash and June Carter talking about when they say we been talking about Jackson ever since the fire went out?- I am of course tempted to say just try Jackson USA and you will get the answer – it is that simple!

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,
Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.

To finish two more searches that caught my attention this year – “Jesus give thanks to feed four thousand men” and I can only assume that in an era of cutbacks and austerity that  this enquirer works for the Government because the size of the crowd has been reduced by 20%.  I wrote about the feeding of the five thousand quite recently.

And finally for this time – “is there a weight limit for the Cresta Run” but I am afraid that I cannot help with that one at all.

What is the strangest search engine enquiry that has brought someone to one of your blog posts?  (This is not a quiz!)

A look back at previous silly search questions:

It’s Nice to feel Useful (1)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (2)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (3)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (4)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (5)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (6)

Travel Postcards of The Year

Asturias Postcard

Some time ago my friend Dai Woosnam suggested that posts about travel would be enhanced by the addition of some maps  so I started a collection of map postcards and these are from my travels in 2013.  Unfortunately I didn’t get one for my visit to Siguenza in Castila-La Mancha but I will be going back this year so will put this right!

SOUTHWESTMAP-DALAMAN

Cantabria

Girona Catalonia Post Card

France Côte d'Opale

Puglia Map

Iceland Postcard

Travel Review of the Year 2013

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

2013 has been a good year for travel and I have managed to make a total of seven overseas trips (my record is twelve in both 2007 and 2008), starting in March with a return to Spain.

Despite the ambition to visit as much of the country as possible this was the first visit to the peninsular in nearly two years since the previous trip to Extremadura in May 2011.  Our destination this time was Castilla-La Mancha and the medieval town of Sigüenza in the Province of Guadalajara halfway between Madrid and the capital city of the Autonomous Community of Aragon – Zaragoza.

One of the reasons for choosing this small town was the desire to see one of Spain’s most famous religious festivals and by all accounts Sigüenza is a very good place to see it.  The Semana Santa is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion.

Turkey Postcard

One day in January when the temperature was hovering around zero and icy rain was lashing at the windows my daughter Sally called me with a travel proposal.  She had booked a holiday and the arrangements had fallen through which meant there was a spare place available that needed filling and crucially – paying for and I was being called up as first reserve.

“You will enjoy it dad, you can spend time with the grandchildren and it’s only for a week.”  I gave in quickly and asked the obvious questions of where, when and how much? “May, Torquay, only £900”. Actually I thought £900 for a week in Torquay in May was rather expensive but I agreed to it all the same and the deal was done and I started to research what there might be to do with three very young children in south Devon in early summer.

A couple of weeks or so later Sally phoned me again and said that she was applying for a passport for her new son William and although I appreciate that we are from the north I wasn’t yet aware that there were visa requirements for British citizens who wanted to travel south within the United Kingdom.  I called her back. “Why do we need a passport for William? I asked, “For the holiday, obviously”, she replied, “But we don’t need a passport for Torquay”, I smugly informed her, “Torquay? Torquay?”, she said, “who said anything about Torquay? We are going to TURKEY!”

Burgos Cathedral

In June we returned to Spain to visit the north of the country.  We started in Asturias and its capital city of  Oviedo and then drove south through Castilla y León  and visited the provincial capitals of León, Zamora, Salamanca, Avila, Segovia, Valladolid, Palencia and Burgos and that is all of them except (and I apologise for this) Soria.  It would have been just too much of a detour as we came to the end of our travels but I have promised to go back one day and apologise for this rudeness because Soria has one of the most bizarre festivals in Spain where once a year local men demonstrate their faith and fearlessness (stupidity) by walking over red hot coals!

But I have a plan to put this right because in April 2014 we plan to return to Sigüenza and I think it may be close enough to this missing city to take a day to visit.

Girona Catalonia Post Card

In July we travelled to Catalonia in north-east Spain and fell in love with the city of Girona. It is said that Girona consistently wins a Spain country-wide poll of citizens on preferred places to live and  I had a really good feeling about the city and as we sat and sipped cool beer I thought that it might be a place that I could return to.

I used to think that it might be nice to sell up and go and live abroad but as I have got older I have abandoned the idea.  The reason for this is that I wouldn’t want to end up in a British ex-pat condominium and I imagine that living outside of this would bring its own problems.  I am English not Spanish or French and my character, behaviour and whole way of life has been created from an English heritage that, even if I wanted to, I could not lay aside and become something that I am not.

But, now I have another idea.  It always annoys me when I see a poster advertising something that happened last week, before I arrived, or will take place next week, after I have gone home, so I think I could be happy to live for a while, say twelve months, in a different country so that I could enjoy everything that takes place over the course of a year in a Spanish town or city and I would be very happy to place Girona on my short list of potential places.  Before we left we walked past a famous statue of a lion climbing a pole and there is a story that if you reach up and kiss its arse then one day you will return but there was too much spit and dribble on its butt cheeks for me to take out this particular insurance policy.

France Côte d'Opale

2013 was a special birthday year for my mum as she gregariously tipped over from her seventy-ninth year to become an octogenarian and as part of the celebrations she invited my brother Richard and me to join her and her partner Alan to visit the north east corner of France and stay at at a hotel that they especially like, the Chateaux de Tourelles in the village of Le Wast, just a short distance away from one of my favourite French towns, Boulogne-Sur-Mer.

Something like ten-million British travellers arrive in Calais each year and then without looking left or right, or stopping for even a moment head for the motorways and the long drive south and in doing so they miss the treat of visiting this Anglo-neglected part of France.

Normally I have a preference for travelling by sea and always enjoy the short, weather-unpredictable, ferry crossing but they like the Eurotunnel shuttle so on this occasion we took the thirty-minute subterranean route rather than risk the choppy seas of the English Channel and the mad rush to the car deck upon docking.  It was busy at the terminal and on the following day the service set a new record for numbers of vehicles at almost sixteen-thousand. I had been through the tunnel before on Eurostar but never on the vehicle carrying train so this was a new experience for me and overall I have to say that although it is quick and convenient I think I prefer the boats and the rugby scrum.

Puglia Map

Every September since 2004 our late Summer travelling has been to the Greek Islands and it hadn’t really occurred to me that that we would break that habit and that 2013 would be the tenth year in a row, after all there are roughly one thousand four hundred of them and I have only been to about twenty-five so there are still a lot left to visit.

We were persuaded to make a change to our normal September routine when the Ryanair website offered return flights to Bari in Southern Italy for the bargain price of only £70 each (no hold luggage, no priority boarding, no pre-booked seats obviously) so we snapped them up and started to plot our way around the Italian Region of Puglia one of the least visited by tourists and most traditional areas of the country.  We have travelled to Italy several times but mostly to the north and certainly never to this part of the boot.

Iceland Postcard

For our final travels of 2013 we went north in October in search of the Northern Lights! This was a second visit to Iceland and the first since the financial crash of 2008 so there were some significant changes – mostly financial.  Six years previously I had found the country horrendously expensive but immediately after the crash the krona lost fifty percent of its value against the euro and even taking into account six years of relatively high inflation, which even now remains high at over 5%, I was rather hoping for cheaper prices this time and I was not disappointed because I estimate that the tourist cost of living was only about 65% of the costs of 2007.

We did enjoy Iceland, we had a nice hotel, found an excellent restaurant (Harry’s Bar), drove the Golden Circle and on the final night got to see the Northern Lights just as we had given up all hope of seeing the spectacular light show.  I am tempted now to return to Iceland, maybe in June and experience the midnight sun but this time I would miss Reykjavik because I have been there twice now and seen all that there is to see but I think I would hire a car and circumnavigate the island, that would be about one thousand, five hundred kilometres but I am guessing that this would be a wonderful experience.

So now thoughts turn to 2014 and the current plan  is to visit Poland (Wroclaw) in January, Sigüenza in Spain in April, possibly Ireland in June and then a holiday with my family to celebrate my sixtieth birthday in Corfu in August but obviously I hope to slip a few more holidays in between these main events!