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Santander: May 10, 2022
Planes, Busses, and Jamón
Hello from Santander, Cantabria, Spain! We planned this trip originally for May 2020, but we all know what prevented vacations and any fun over the last two years. Everything went swimmingly on the trip over. The flight into Madrid landed right on time at 6:45 AM. In case the flight was late, we bought our bus tickets to Santander for 10:45 AM. After breezing through immigration and a health screen to prove we were vaccinated, we found the bus stop area and asked if we could take the 8:15 AM instead, which kept us from being sleepy and bored in the airport and got us into Santander at 2:00 PM instead of 5:00 PM.
We should tell you what we are planning for our glorious vacation. Back in 2017 we were in Spain with my Uncle Pete and Aunt Carol visiting my wonderful sister, Deb, and her equally wonderful husband, José, at their house in José’s hometown of Arbo, Galicia, Spain. After we dropped off Pete and Carol in Madrid so they could go back home, the four of us took a drive up north to Asturias to see Covadonga and the Picos de Europa. Covadonga is a major religious site in Spain because that’s where in 722 the Spanish first defeated the Arabs who had taken over almost the entire Iberian Peninsula at that point. Over the years it has become the site of several huge churches. The Picos de Europa (“The Peaks of Europe”) is a gorgeous mountain range that extends across the provinces of Cantabria, Asturias, and Castile y León and is surrounded by several national parks.
Something that we truly loved about the entire time we spent in the Picos de Europa area were the sounds. In this mountainous region of Spain, cows are major agriculture and are let loose to wander the farmer’s fields and mountains mostly free. Each cow has a very large bell around their neck and almost no matter where you are in the area, especially up high, you hear this low bell ringing. Also, you never know when you are going to run into a cow. You might be at the top of some mountain, or going past a fast, steep creek on a mountain side, and there’s a cow. Above Covadonga, up one of the most impressive drives in the world, are two glacier lakes. Though they are achingly beautiful, when Deb, José, Pam, and I were there in 2017, all we could talk about were the cows and the cowbells.
Though we had seen much of the mountain range, we loved them so much we had to come back and walk them. In 2019 Pam and I walked across part of Asturias to Galicia, where we met up with brother-in-law José, José’s little sister Carmen, nephew Al, and nephew Joey, and we all hiked the Camino de Santiago. This is one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in the world and parts of it have been walked since 822. (Those Spaniards sure know how to do old!) Pam and I have been doing long hikes for many of our vacations, and, after we finished the Camino, we knew we had to go back and do some serious walking in the Picos.
The Picos de Europa from the top of Fuente De from our 2017 trip
We are going to spend 11 days hiking and a couple of days in Madrid for this trip. The hikes will be between 9-15 miles a day with a good bit of up and down. We specifically picked this trip because we wanted some harder hikes where we wouldn’t run into too many people. A couple of the days, such as when we visit Covadonga, we will have a dedicated guide to really show us what’s going on. While you might be thinking that Pam and I are some crazy campers, we are absolutely not. You might of heard of “glamping,” which is a portmanteau of “glamor camping,” where you sleep in a “tent” that is far more luxurious than the Taj Mahal. We don’t even do that; we are into “gliking” (glamor hiking). Glamping is a little too rough for us so we do our hiking between inns with giant beds and hot showers. Showing even more of our famous laziness, the tour companies we use takes our luggage from inn to inn. All we have to carry are ourselves and a day pack. We are nothing but completely civilized in our adventures! For this trip we are staying in very local inns, some of which are so small that there’s no menu for dinner; you just eat what is freshest. Other inns are renown for their food. While we do all this walking, we never seem to lose any weight when we go on our vacations.
Being that this is our first day and we haven’t slept at all since we left the US, our goal was nothing more than staying awake in Santander. After we got situated in the hotel, we headed out for a little food and drink in the Spanish custom of whiling away part of the afternoon sitting outside at a bar. I didn’t pick the best place, but the service was good and we did get some food in us. Santander is known for its beaches so we did the walk along the bay where we could people watch and look at the sights. The earlier clouds went away so it was nice and sunny to enjoy the water. We wandered around a bit and even got to see the zoo on the Magdalena Peninsula. It was penguin feeding time so we stopped to watch that, but the penguins didn’t seem to interested. However, the seagulls have figured out when feeding time is so if a penguin doesn’t grab a fish immediately, a seagull is right there to steal it.
As we were walking back to the hotel, we had planned on going to a recommended restaurant. With very heavy eyelids, we just didn’t have the energy for one of those long, wonderful Spanish dinners. We decided instead to go to a grocery store and get some ibérico jamón, one of the very best things about ham. (Seriously!) I talked to the lady working the meat counter for a cheese recommendation to go with our jámon. She immediately pointed us to a sheep’s cheese, El Estanque from La Roija, a mountain province south of Santander. For those of you familiar with your Spanish cheeses, it was like a softer manchego and good beyond belief. We also go some of that amazing fresh daily baked Spanish bread that has zero preservatives in it. Originally, we thought we’d go back to the beach and have a picnic, but in our exhausted state, we went back to the room and had a true feast of jámon, queso, y pan sándwiches! Whenever Pam and I think of Spain, this is our go to memory because we try to eat all the jámon, queso, and pan every time we visit. I know we are supposed to eat seafood in Santander, but we were pretty happy with our meal.
Thank you all so much for reading! We have such a fun time talking about what we should put in the newsletter every day. Pam had a great idea that she wanted to add a “Pam’s Picks” where she would add a sentence or two with her thoughts on the day so you all get a break from just me writing. However, she’s in bed right now snoring away so the first “Pam’s Picks” will have to wait for tomorrow!