So we left France bound for Spain. We had a successful overnight to Bilbao, Basque country! A nice combination of sparkling beaches, cutting edge architecture, and proud feisty locals. Bilbao.
In recent years, Bilbao has undergone a significant transformation from a depressed industrial city to clearing the way for a new convention center and the stunning Guggenheim Museum.
Me, Beck, Logan and Braun in front of the ultra contemporary Guggenheim Museum
View of the the Guggenhiem Museum from funicular overlooking the city
Jeff Koon's ~ The Puppy
This large floral sculpture of a West Highland terrier is located in front of the Guggenheim. It was part of the opening exhibit in 1997 and then was exhibited in Rockefeller Center, NYC. It stands 43-feet tall and is made of 70,000 fresh flowers. A stainless steel armature holds over 25 tons of soil watered by an internal irrigation system.
When they took it to New York the people of Bilbao went nuts. They thought the pup was permanently theirs. No way, Jose...it belongs to the arteest! So the Bilbaonians scraped together their Euros and bought it. Now it permanently resides in their city.
We kept reminding the boys that this was a special opportunity to visit one of Europe’s great modern art museums. This was lost on them but the fountain adjacent to the museum was a sure hit!
After Wayne, Logan and Beck left us in Bilbao we were out at night in the Old Town (Casco Viejo) enjoying the city’s narrow streets lined with thriving shops and tapas bars.
The inviting pintxos/tapas at a bar in the Casco Viejo, Bilbao. Galicia.
Time to move further west to Galicia! We departed Bilbao for two day run along the southern Bay of Biscay, north coast of Spain bound for A’Coruna. This old city is a bit gritty but picturesque with narrow paved streets, houses with characteristic glassed-in balconies and the ubiquitous small restaurants and cafes.
A’Coruna has modern marina facilities that attract visiting yachtsmen. They come from all over, across the Atlantic, Bay of Biscay or from the south with a heading toward northern Europe. It’s also an ideal place for a road trip to visit the nearby ancient cathedral city of Santiago de Compostella which is what we did.Santiago de Compostella.
Many people will tell you it’s the best destination in the northeastern providence of Galicia. For centuries Santiago de Compostella has had a powerful, mysterious draw on travelers. More than a thousand years’ worth of Christian pilgrims have trekked the desolate trail from France across northern Spain to gaze in awe at the façade of this glorious cathedral and pay homage to the sacred bone relics of St. James.
Catedral Santiago de Compostella...undergoing renovations
Posers in front of Catedral Santiago de Compostella
At the end of each day we saw hundreds of pilgrims trekking in, having finished their journey. They were a rough looking crowd after being on the trail for a month or more. I asked one of the rare American trekkers what was the worst part? She told me she got used to the boiling sun, bloody feet, unable to wash, cold food, and masses of smelly people. But she couldn’t stand the all night biting of the bed bugs! One tough cookie!
An American family of pilgrims!
Some history of El Camino de Santiago: The first person to undertake Camino de Santiago was St. James himself. After the Christ’s death, the apostles scattered to the corners of the known earth to spread the word of God. St. James went on a missionary trip from the Holy Land all the way to the northwest corner of Spain, which at that time was the end of the Western world.
According to legend, St. Jame's remains were discovered in 813 in the town that would soon bear his name. This materialistically put Santiago on the map, attracting pilgrims and spenders to one of the three places – along with Rome and Jerusalem – where relics of apostles are known to be buried.
On horseback, St James fighting the Islamic Moors
Centuries after St. James’s death, the Spaniards prayed to and beseeched him for aid in reversing the conquests of the Moors. He appeared from heaven and led the Crusaders to victory over the Muslim foes. Since then he has been a symbol of Christian triumph over Islam. Humm...that explains the countless Guardia Civil and Policia around the square and this statue in particular. There is justified concern about attacks by Islamic fundamentalists. Oh well, it used to be a peaceful place.
Today, aided by EU funding, El Camino (the pilgrimage route) has enjoyed a huge renaissance of interest with close to 200,000 pilgrims trekking to Santiago annually.
We made like pilgrims…well, we are in a way and joined in the many lively bars and time warped dives on the streets along the cathedral. Tapas joints are everywhere serving pulpo.
Pulpo (squid) is king here. It’s beaten to tenderize it, then boiled and chopped up and topped with olive oil, paprika and sea salt (Pulpo a la gallega). It goes down nicely with the regional Ribeiro wine!
Fresh pulpo in restaurant window Salamanca
. After de Compostella, I convinced Braun that we needed to take a side trip to Salamanca, Spain’s quintessential University town.
I have fond memories of Salamanca. In 1978 as an exchange student I attended two semesters at the Universidad de Salamanca, Europe’s second oldest university and the oldest in Spain (12th century). The University, its museum and campus grounds have changed little since my student days there.
We enjoyed a romantic walk down to the Roman Bridge, Puente Romano.
Then cocktails in the atmospheric and grand Plaza Mayor.
La Plaza Mayor - Salamanca
And finally a wonderful serenade just for me by strolling musicians - Las Tunas
I was clueless when the band/Tunas gathered right in front of our café table. They began playing, directing their song and attentions to me. Then a handsome guitar player asked for my hand and led me to a chair and had me step up on it. I glanced at Braun and I saw the all too familiar “it wasn’t me” look and I knew I’d been had. Good thing I'd already had a few tintos!
Earlier I’d made the mistake of telling BJ that I fondly remembered the good looking University guys that would form a band and for tips sing to the plaza crowds and in particular pretty young girls. The Tunas would put the senoritas up on a chair and serenade them with love songs! The crowds love this stuff!
So there I was 37 years later feeling the love with BJ claiming complete ignorance of how the Tunas fixed on me. Porto.
Leaving Spain bound for Porto, Portugal we continued to enjoy moderate seas and prevailing north easterly winds. The Atlantic coast of Portugal, while a hostile shore, is dramatically scenic, making for a wonderful passage.
Gritty urban second city to Lisbon, Porto offers two high-impact thrills - the picturesque riverfront Ribeira district and the opportunity to learn more about (and taste) the port wines that are aged there.
The Ribeira side of the Douro River in Porto
Across the Douro River and 10 minutes from the Ribeira district is where the port lodges are. These are warehouse like buildings where the Port is brought to be aged. There are over 50 of them, many open to visitors. Most of them stand on the Gaia hillside with their world-famous names in giant neon signs. Names such as Sandeman, Graham, Taylor's, Calem, and Cockburn – to name a few.
Where port wine is aged - Vila Nova de Guia at sunset.
Port tasting at Taylor’s port lodge.
Having tuned up our knowledge of Port and the fabulous Douro Valley wines, it was time to strike out for Lisbon!
Over and Out ~
Tina & Braun
The boys with the Aduanas de Espana, Customs, Bilbao