Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Santillana del Mar

Surprise, I'm actually writing my blog post for Santillana the day we moved from it. I readied the pictures last night. 

Santillana is an old town with a 12th century church and many old sumptuous buildings which were occupied by the nobility (dukes and duchesses) in its heyday. Many are restored although not open to visitors. 

Santillana is also home to one of the most famous caves in the world - the Altamira, which is considered the Sistine Chapel of caves because of its remarkable ceiling paintings, which were painted circa 16000 BCE. 

Our first meal was at El Bizonte Rojo (the Red Bison) no doubt named for the bison pictured on the ceilings of the Altamira Cave. While we ate we felt well protected as two of the Guardia Civil were supping a little wine at the bar. 

Of course we had the Menu del Dia - here there was a wonderful salad with tomato, goat cheese, walnuts and raisins with a balsamic drizzle and a delicious risotto of bacon and mushrooms - for starters. 
The main course was salt cod steaks with clams in a seafood broth. 

The old buildings and the cobbled squares and streets were quiet - many of the restaurants were closed for Monday. This is my arty black and white shot of a deserted plaza. 

The church of Santa Juliana is from the XII century. The lion at the entrance to the church property is very well worn. Santa Juliana lends her name to the town, but the Ju is elided to achieve Santillana. 

In another old property (restored) was the Fundacion Jésus Otero - home of a sculptor who was born and died in the same house here. The sculptures I saw are mostly realistic like this amazing sheep head. 

This sculpture was in a different location and I do not believe it is by Otero. But an unusual piece at the entrance to another property. 

Told you the streets were deserted. 

An entryway to another property. 

The town was quite small - here a plaza with the rolling countryside at its doorstep. 

The area of Cantabria is known for its cider (sidra) and there were several sidrerias. They have wonderful apparatus which are self serve. Place a tube in the bottle and position it upright. Place the glass at a steep angle into the round support at bottom left, then pump your cider using the vacuum pump at upper right. 

Lazing away the afternoon on a very old stone bench. 

The church had an interesting frieze above its doorway. 

Here the church backs onto a plaza. 

Flowers find root in many of the stone wall crevices. 

A night scene of the main street through the village. 

And a marvellous balcony which would make a great location for Romeo and Juliet. 

We walked the 2 kilometers out of town to the Altamira caves. The countryside is very beautiful and with my new hearing aids I was able to enjoy the wonderful sound of trilling birds. 

No photographs were allowed in the cave so I had to make do with this idealized mural in the museum section. The original cave is closed to visitors, as earlier in the 20th century they were badly damaged by both grafitti and the respiration of carbon dioxide by human breathing. 

Below are five examples of the art work on the ceiling of the cave. I took photographs of the post cards I purchased at the gift shop. No other comment necessary. Note the paintings have been reproduced with great precision, as have the cracks. All the paintings are on the ceiling so there is much craning of necks. 

On the way back, this flower child needed a rest. We had a lovely chat here with four delightful Japanese women who were in Spain for only two weeks. 

But we stopped at a posada for coffee further down hill where there were several ponies in the corral next door, including this mother and child. 

The roses are in full bloom and gorgeous. 

A snail makes its way patiently up a lamp post. 

And an old stone bench graces a stone house. 

The village is also famous for this - on the left quesada - a solid cheesecake-like square, and sobaos - a small simple cake, served with fresh cow's milk - I think it's actually fresh as in unpasteurized and came from a cow that morning. (There are lots of dairy farms in the immediate area.) The milk is in the round jug with the crocheted cloth over the top. Cost: 1 euro for the milk and cake together. 

The chuch has a gorgeous Roman Cloister. 

And the pillars have remarkably beautiful carvings. 

Look at that wonderfully exuberant woven Celtic knotting. 

And this. Such art.

Every pillar was unique, even those with the celtic knotting. 

St. George and the dragon perhaps. 

In another plaza, a bison - I'm guessing another of Otero's pieces. A sign advises one not to climb the sculpture which didn't stop a 50-something woman from climbing astride it to wave to her friends for her photo op. 

A rather low door. 

And one of the tchotchkes available for purchase in the many shops catering to tourists with more money than taste. Busloads of tourists arrive, are dropped off at the edge of the village, and swarm the streets. It must be awful in the summer. (I confess I rather like this sheep - but I didn't buy it.) 

On to San Vicente (we are there now, but it's pouring rain so I'm hoping it will clear so we can get some good pictures tomorrow). Until then. 

San Sebastán

We left Bilbao for San Sebastián on this small train - the Euskatren - a very efficient service - similar to light rail transit, but for longer distance, about 2.5 hours. 
And here we are just after arrival walking to our accomodation, with busy streets full of pedestrians. 

There is a very well run museum, only a couple of blocks from our hotel, the San Telmo, with a very modern section attached to an original convent. 

The obligatory San Sebastián himself. 

And another. San Sebastián was a Roman soldier martyred for his Christianity. 
The church part of the museum was hung with large canvases - not ancient, but rather painted in the early 20th century by an artist named Sert. It was eerie because I was in this huge sanctuary all alone. 

There were some fine art pieces. I very much liked this wonderful oil and the amazing brushwork that created that yellow dress. 

This piece was an original painting for a poster by Aurelio Arketa, used to advertise an annual regetta in 1924. The figure's face has "features of the Basque prototype as defined by the anthropologist Aranzadi". 

As a knitter these socks were intriguing. 

As was this piece of knitting on four needles. Note: the text is in Euskadi (Basque) and Castellano (Spanish). 

These headdresses were worn by local women and defined their marital status. I found it amusing that at some point they were banned as the headdresses appeared too phallic. 

There was a deeply moving special exhibition called Wastelands. This self portrait by Raeda Saadeh of Palestine was described as the artist in the role of Penelope, part of Greek mythology. She is described in the printed literature as "weaving" but of course this is knitting. An understandable mis-translation since the word to knit and the word to weave are the same in Spanish -tejer. 

Another of her self portraits - this one a video. A somewhat Sysiphean act as she vacuums the stony landscape -an act of futility that makes a powerful statement. 

This footrace went right past our hotel on Sunday morning. Our hotel is at the extreme right and our room was on the third (fourth in our terms) floor above the white shirted man. 
Geordie got trapped in a spot where the runners flowed around him. 

This delightful drawing was posted on a wall in the street. It reads (in my translation) "I'm looking for a missing shark. He looks like this". 
Someone lost a unicorn - it was trapped in a railing. 

The beach at San Sebastián. There are more beaches around the bay. There were people swimming here. It's the Atlantic (Bay of Biscay). I doubt it's warm water. 

These beautiful iron railings circle the beach along the walkway. 

A view out to the open water "The Bay of Biscay". 
A busy street - so many tapas bars. All fully occupied by hungry patrons. 
Here's an array of tapas ready to be consumed. 
We ordered a platter of pimientos de Guernica. Delicious flash-fried in olive oil and garnished with big flakes of sea salt. 

A lovely sunset over the bay. 

And the convention centre lit up at night. 

I leave you with this picture of a walking stick I bought for the camino - on sale even - I got it at 25% off. I start walking on May 23. 

Next up - Santillana del Mar. Coming soon.