Northern Spain - Por el Norte de España

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Europe » Spain
October 15th 2005
Published: June 1st 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

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The first and greatest challenge was to start driving on the right-hand side of the road. Made ‘slightly’ trickier by the fact that everybody here drives like an absolute maniac with an unmistakable death wish. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking people pass their test in a fairground dodgem car. This is a summary of how a junction works: 1. Approach at great speed. First to break is a sissy. 2. Choose a lane, ANY lane. The one with the shortest queue of cars is best. 3. When the pedestrian’s light turns red, GO! 4. If anyone’s still stationary when the traffic light turns green, honk immediately. Loudly. 5. Now is the perfect time to decide which direction you actually want to take, so start dodging cars. Use of indicators optional.

You’ve been warned!!! Won’t even go into motorway driving, will leave that to the reader’s imagination... suffice to say the word “tailgating” takes up a whole new meaning in these parts… (Sabry, you’d love it here!!!!!).

So, having learnt the basic rules of survival on the road, we set off. First night stop was Burgos. Head of the Kingdoms of Castile and Leon during The Catholic Kings’ (Fernando & Isabel) reign. These were the ones who sponsored Columbus’s 3 journeys to America, by the way. El Cid was born in a village just outside Burgos too. In case you haven’t seen Charlton Heston’s classic movie, El Cid (“The Boss”, real name Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar) is one of Spain’s best loved heroes, famous for driving the Moors out of Spain which ended over 5 centuries of domination. He did start off as a bit of mercenary though, fighting the Moors’ corner for the right price, and was actually expelled from Burgos by the king Alfonso VI for his double dealing. This legendary figure has a strong presence in Burgos and his statue guards one of the entrances to the old town across one of the main bridges over the river. The man himself is buried in Burgos’s impressive gothic cathedral alongside his wife Jimena.

Another fact worth mentioning about Burgos is that it’s part of the “Camino de Santiago”, Europe’s main route of pilgrimage, which leads to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, North West Spain. Santiago is actually the Apostle James. Legend (or religious history as you may prefer it) has it that he had come to Spain to preach and after his death his body was taken to Galicia by sea through the Pillars of Hercules (The Strait of Gibraltar nowadays). During this voyage he performed a miracle by saving a gentleman whose horse had panicked and dashed straight into the sea with him strapped to the saddle. They say man and horse came out of the water covered in scallop shells and this later became the Saint’s symbol (all the pilgrims doing the route will carry a shell on their rucksack). Some 800 years later a shepherd was guided by an angel to a tomb in the woods (now Compostela) and the local bishop decided it was St James’s grave. A church was built and pilgrims from all over the place (mainly France) started to make the journey to venerate St James’s remains. The pilgrimage became extremely popular when the Pope declared that everyone who went to Santiago would have their time in Purgatory halved. It later declined in popularity, but enjoyed a revival in the late 20th century and it is estimated that around 100,000 people make the journey every year (mostly on foot), if only in part. We actually saw some of these pilgrims and had a brief chat with a Canadian guy who looked far more like a traveller than we do. In fact we looked like Western tourists next to him so he put us a bit to shame.

And that’s today’s history lesson for you m’dears.

From Burgos we went to Leon. Unfortunately after the sunshine we enjoyed in Burgos, Leon was a bit of a wash-out which didn’t help to appreciate it as much. The cathedral is its main attraction, with an impressive 1,700 m2 of stained glass, much of it still original, like the large rose window above the main entrance dating back to the 13th century. Sadly it was so dark outside that the interior of the cathedral felt like a massive cave, but it must be amazing on a sunny day. Maria wasn’t impressed by the fact that visitors weren’t allowed to take pictures inside (big sigh of relief from Mark) and sulkily refused to pay to visit the cloister and other rooms.

Next stop, Oviedo, capital of the province of Asturias, and onto the Picos de Europa National Park. Before heading for the mountains, we made a brief visit to the seaside and visited Llanes, a quaint fishing village which used to be an important whaling town. It is in an impressive location with the sea on one side and the mountains rising high right behind it. It’s also got the most colourful harbour we’ve ever seen judging by the picture.

It is also in Llanes that we spent our most “colourful” night. We called at the train station’s hostel which turned out to be closed, but which the owner happily opened for us (leaving a large Labrador behind) and which cost us a measly €10 each for a bunk bed. As we were the only residents there, it felt like a scene out of The Shining at times. Mark didn’t like his dinner of tinned beans so he fed it to the dog who promptly wolfed it down. Not content with this, he patted at the door asking us to take him out, so taking pity on him (it did seem cruel to have a dog stuck indoors for so many hours without food or water nor a chance to go to the loo) we started searching the office for the leash (and praying they didn’t have cctv in the place). And off we went at about 10pm into the streets of Llanes, walking a strange dog who seemed pretty pleased to breathe fresh air. We came back an hour later feeling really good about our good deed of the day. It was about half an later that the owner turned up to take the dog home and he’s probably still wondering why his dog wasn’t hungry nor needed the loo that night. Doh.

From there we headed out to the mountains and visited Covadonga, regarded as the place where the Spanish Reconquista (the Christian reconquest of the Peninsula) began when the Moors where stopped from entering Asturias around AD718 by Pelayo, an Asturian leader considered to be the first King of Spain. Legend has it he and around 30 men fought off over 100,000 Moors from a cave which is now a grotto in a rockface with a small chapel. The church was erected much later, in the 19th century, and it’s the actual setting that makes the place more impressive.

After visiting Covadonga and a couple of other villages we drove up to a place called “Mirador Del Fito” which offered the most impressive views we’ve ever seen. Almost 360º of uninterrupted views over the sea to the left and the mountains to the right. Beautiful scenery but as usual the pictures just don’t do it justice. We were lucky enough to be caught up in a bit of rain which within 2 minutes gave us a magnificent rainbow and had us rooted to the spot even longer.

Driving along the twisty roads as night fell upon us wasn’t much fun though. It was worth it though as we got close to our next destination which was near one of Spain’s most popular trekking routes known as the “Ruta del Cares” and a must if you ever visit this part of the country. Don’t do it in the summer though as apparently it is grossly overcrowded. The Cares is the name of the river which has carved an impressive gorge so deep you sometimes lose sight of the water. The route is 12 kms long and pretty easy as it’s virtually flat, however if you’re not a fan of heights you may want to reconsider, especially if you plan to go after heavy rainfalls which never fail to partially cover part of the path making it extremely thin and precarious to negotiate (with a sheer drop to the bottom of the gorge to one side). Other times the landslides are so bad it’s not uncommon to hear the path is closed in parts whilst restoration works are in place, and indeed we couldn’t go beyond the 8th km. and you’ll see why in the picture (note the big boulder).

Tired but very happy with the experience we made our way back to Madrid…

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Con destino a los Picos de Europa salimos un sabado por la mañana. Siendo algo novatos en esto de conducir por la derecha y yendo de todas formas sin prisa, decidimos tomarnoslo con calma y hacer alguna parada en el camino para ver otros sitios de España a los que yo tampoco habia ido nunca.

Primera parada la hicimos en Lerma (cerca de Burgos) para comer. A mi el sitio me sonaba de las clases de historia del colegio pero de poco me acuerdo. Pues resulta que el pueblo, que empezo como un humilde asientamiento pre-romano, alcanzo gran importancia hacia finales del S.XVI cuando el duque del mismo nombre decidio quedarse
La Ruta del CaresLa Ruta del CaresLa Ruta del Cares

See if you can find the path on the right - a ver si podeis encontrar el camino a la derecha de la foto
a vivir alli y construir todos los edificios que le dan su caracter (el palacio ducal (por supuesto) y la plaza, la iglesia de San Pedro, varios monasterios y conventos (o ex-conventos) que hay repartidos por el pueblo, el puente medieval, la torre de la carcel...). Al parecer el duque este era el favorito del rey Felipe III y fue un mandamas que dirigio el pais durante unos 20 años. De aqui me hubiese gustado ir al monasterio de Silos pero se nos hizo demasiado tarde.

Asi que continuamos hacia Burgos, donde pasamos la primera noche. De Burgos evidentemente lo que mas destaca es la maravilla de catedral que tienen que es preciosa aunque uno no sea religioso ni entienda de arquitectura. En general como ciudad nos gusto mucho a los dos, aunque solo vimos el casco antiguo y no nos molestamos en cruzar el rio para ver la parte moderna.

De Burgos, a Leon, que nos gusto algo menos, pero claro es que de ver Burgos bajo un sol radiante a ver Leon bajo un chubarron pues como que no le hace justicia. Pero tambien es bonito, aunque al estar lo antiguo mas mezclado con lo moderno no es tan pintoresco como Burgos. La lastima es que la catedral por dentro debe ser impresionante con los ventanales que tiene (1,700 m2 de cristal en total) pero como estaba oscura como boca de lobo no pudimos apreciarla en todo su esplendor. A mi tambien me dio rabia que no me dejasen sacar fotos (para alivio de Mark), en Burgos si te dejan aunque te piden que las hagas sin flash.

En Oviedo paramos una noche tambien pero no hicimos mucho turismo, con tanto sitio bonito que ver por Asturias la verdad es que la capital se pasa desapercibida. Hay que decir que tuvimos mucha suerte con el tiempo, ya que aparte del dia en Leon y a pesar de las predicciones de lluvia del telediario nos hizo mucho sol y hasta calorcito (el suficiente para andar con una capa de ropa la mayor parte del tiempo), asi que yo encantada.

De Oviedo nos fuimos a Llanes, que debe ser el pueblo pesquero con el puerto mas colorin. Los del albergue juvenil nos parecieron unos careros para nuestro presupuesto asi que nos fuimos al albergue de la estacion que resulto que estaba cerrado ya por temporada pero que abrieron de todas formas para acomodarnos. €10 por persona en una habitacion de 4 (en literas), no esta mal. Y encima el hostal para nosotros solos, a excepcion del perrazo que tenian ahi haciendo guardia. A ratos nos parecia estar viviendo una escena de la pelicula de el Resplandor, todo oscuro y cada paso resonando por los pasillos, con un eco algo tetrico. Despues de darnos una vuelta por el pueblo y el Paseo a lo largo de la costa, volvimos al hostal a cenarnos una lata de medio kilo de fabada asturiana. A Mark no le gusto y como yo con mi racion ya tenia mas que suficiente, cogio y se la dio al perro, que se la zampo de dos lametazos y dejo el plato mas reluciente que nada. Acto seguido el chucho se puso a pedirnos que le sacaramos de paseo, y como nos parecia algo cruel que llevaba la torta de horas encerrado, nos pusimos a buscar una correa y nos lo llevamos a dar una vuelta como a las 10 de la noche. Una hora y varios pises mas tarde, volvimos al hostal, y ya preparandonos para meternos en la cama sentimos la puerta. El dueño, que venia a llevarse al perro. Se debio volver loco intentando averiguar por que el jodio chucho no queria ni comer ni hacer pis esa noche. Y nosotros que estabamos tan orgullosos pensando que habiamos hecho una buena obra...

Al dia siguiente nos fuimos a Covadonga y a los Lagos. A los 10 minutos de bajarnos del coche para dar un paseo alrededor del lago de la Ercina, me pegue un guarrazo y casi me parto el femur contra una roca. Todavia me duele el pedazo de cardenal que me salio y no me puedo apoyar en esa rodilla. A partir de ahi, recorrido turistico en coche el resto de la tarde. Y es que desde luego que no se me puede sacar de casa.

Despues de Covadonga nos pasamos por Arenas De Cabrales, pero ni nos fuimos al museo a que nos apestaran ni nos atrevimos a probar el queso. Al dia siguiente nos acercamos a Poncebos y el plan era subirnos a Bulnes andando, ignorando el funicular que nos parecio un robo a mano armada. Pero a mitad de camino, no se muy bien por que, nos empezo a dar la sensacion de que nos habiamos equivocado de camino y pensando que ibamos a acabar dios sabe donde decidimos darnos media vuelta. A mi lo que me despisto es que ibamos siguiendo el curso del Cares y, no habiendome fijado bien en el mapa que nos dejamos en el coche, se me metio en la cabeza que debiamos estar haciendo la Ruta en vez del camino a Bulnes. Nos sentimos como un par de bobos al bajar y darnos cuenta de que efectivamente ibamos por el camino correcto, pero ya se nos habia hecho algo tarde para volver a subir asi que desistimos, y partimos con rumbo a Cain (para empezar alli la ruta del Cares al dia siguiente), consolandonos con un vistazo del Naranjo a lo lejos desde la carretera.

Por el camino paramos un rato en Cangas De Onís y luego tomamos un desvio para subir al Mirador Del Fito, que nos encanto, las vistas son impresionantes, con el mar a la izquierda y las montañas a la derecha. Llevabamos ya un buen rato y un puñado de fotos sacadas cuando se puso a llover, y nos ibamos a esconder en el coche cuando nos sorprendio un arco iris precioso, al estar tan altos el arco era casi una linea vertical, y los colores muy vivos y brillantes, nos quedamos pegados al suelo un rato mas.

Se nos hizo tan tarde que a Cain ya no llegamos, hicimos noche en Osaja De Sajambre y salimos hacia Cain por la mañana, donde nos hicimos los primeros 8km de la Ruta del Cares. La foto muestra por que estaba cortada la ruta en esta ocasion. Un pedrusco habia hundido el canal que hace de camino y aunque si te dejaban pasar, estaba el asunto algo complicado y no queriendo acabar en el rio decidimos dar media vuelta y disfrutar de las vistas a un paso mas relajado.

La ultima noche la pasamos en la Posada de Valdeon, donde en el mismo hostal en que nos alojamos nos dieron una cena por €10 que nos alimento para 3 dias, y al gato tambien (literalmente: se zampo la mitad de mi pechuga de pavo porque si me la como yo reviento).

Y de vuelta a Madrid...


3rd November 2005

Green eyed
These photos are breathtaking. Am following your story avidly. Good luck! Sue xxx
17th May 2006

A house hunting trip ?
Thanks for the insight, so I aint seen nothing yet ? I will add to this after our return from our House hunting trip from Bilbao to Vigo and back (in a week) starting on the 10th of June and also DRIVING ??? Rik

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