Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bilbao, Basque Country Spain (23-26 June-2016)

23-June:  We travelled by narrow gauge railway from Llanes to Bilbao - leaving at 11:20am, two hours to Santander, 25 minute connection and then another 3 hours to Bilbao.  It was slow compared to the bus but we enjoyed it much more and passed through quite a stretch parallel to the Camino route that we walked.  Arrival in Bilbao was in a familiar area of town, the train stations is just across the river from the Old Town where we are staying at Pension Mardones, the same place we stayed when we were here on May 8th - nearly 7 weeks ago.  We wandered the old town and had a dinner of tapas bar hopping around the old town.  

24-June:  Last night, I made online ticket reservations to the Bilbao Guggenheim museum beginning at the 10am opening time.  The museum is very impressive and the Frank Gehry design is an amazing work of art in itself.  However, the are was a bit outside of our areas of interest and to me seemed to clash with the building - or perhaps the building detracts from the art?  In addition, it's such a contrast to the simple pleasures of walking the camino and that made me uncomfortable.  Lunch was at a Japanese restaurant (Miu) and a nice change from our usual fare.  We enjoyed people watching at a bar on a pedestrian street and then back to our "Old Town".  Now, we are sitting at Bar Berton, across the street from our Pension.

25-June:  After breakfast, we visited the public market near the river and then had a nice long walk around downtown,  then enjoyed a nice lunch of tapas in Plaza Nueva.  After lunch we roamed the streets and then relaxed a bit.  Dinner was at a nice place, "Koska" in the old town, followed by gelado at a place that we liked. It's going to be culture shock fr us to give up this "lifestyle"!  

26-June:  Caught a 5:20am bus to the airport and then a 6:50 flight to Frankfurt, a 2 hour connection and non-stop to Seattle.  

Spider statue, "Maman", in front of the Guggenheim museum.  The sculptor is Louise Bourgeois and she had a rather large space of exhibits inside.

The side of the Guggenheim that faces the river.  The surfaces are all curved, either titanium or glass.

Statue called "Puppy" in front of the museum - covered with growing flowers.

Breakfast at a nice cafe/bakery in the old town

Public Market - fish shop

Lots of fish shops!

Pork products galore!

Simple tapas (tortilla, skewer of octopus), red wine!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Llanes, Asturias Spain (21-22 June-2016)

21-June:  We took the 11:45am bus from Oviedo and arrived in Llanes at 1:20pm - just in time for lunch! But first, I "splurged" and got us a room at "3 star" Hotel Gran Paraiso - discounted rate was 48 euros per night and they gave us a suite rather than the small room so this is much nicer than our usual 40 euro room.  We dropped off our bags and went to Casa Canene for their menu del dia lunch.  We ordered smaller first course and I skipped dessert but it was still a lot of food.  Three course meal plus a bottle of wine for $12 each (tip included) will be hard to give up when we go back to USA this Sunday.  After lunch we explored the town, back to room for R&R then out for dinner at a Sidreria.  It was a nice place but we ordered the wrong food.  We could have ordered our "standbys" but decided to have some other items and they were not as good as we expected.  Ah well, after nearly two months eating in restaurants every meal it's bound to happen once or twice.  We did watch a bit of the Euro 2016 match of Spain vs. Slovakia but left before the end -- turns out that Slovakia scored a late goal and won in an upset.  Would have been interesting to be in a local bar when that happened. 

22-June:  After breakfast, we packed up and walked 3 miles or so along the coastal cliffs to the village of Poo and went to the local beach.  It was small but on a nice sunny day there were quite a few people.  We di d have on our bathing suits and waded in the surf but it was cold enough that we retreated to our spot in the shade and "people watched".  After walking back to our room we relaxed a bit then out again to have a glass of wine and work on our journals and blogs.  It's only 6:30pm now and dinner won't start until 8pm so we've a bit of time to kill!

Dinner tonight was nice and our last in "small town Spain".  We will miss these places!

Local church

Beautiful vines in bloom

The "town beach" of Llanes

Looking back at the beach and with Pico de Europa mountains in the background.

Coastal view from the cliffs

Harbor of Llanes in the evening

View of Lllanes with mountains in background

View from cliffs as we walk from Llanes to Poo

Beach at Poo - the tide is out and the surf is barely visible in the background.  The sand is clean and not muudy so the walk to the ocean is nice enough.

View from the cliffs - we will so miss these views!

View from the cliffs as we walk back towards Llanes

Dinner at Siete Puertes restaurants in Llanes.  First was pate with caramelized onions.

Top is warm seafood and wild mushroom salad.  Bottom is grilled clams and razor clams.

Top is grilled fish and bottom is duck breast.  

All of this plus dessert and bottle of wine for less than $30 (tip included)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Oviedo, Asturias Spain (20-21 June-2016)

20-June:  We arrived by ALSA bus at 2:30PM, located our lodging (Hotel Vetusta) and had a menu del dia lunch at nearby Sidreria - Tierra Astur.  There is a "Street of Sidrerias" that's lined with similar places.  The lunch was pretty heavy so we strolled around the old town very slowly afterwards.  

Oviedo was capital of Asturias and in the 9th century the king made one of the earliest recorded "Camino de Santiago".  The Camino Primitivo is still in existence and begins in front of the cathedral.    Parts of the cathedral date to the 9th century, albeit hidden inside and underneath the "modern" visibile sections that may date to the 13th or 14th centuries.  

We explored the twisted streets of the old town and had wine in a courtyard before going back to the bus station to purchase tomorrow's tickets.  Dinner was at another Sidreria where we enjoyed two bottles of cider with dinner and had fun watching the waiters here and nearby using "the long pour" to serve sidra.  

21-June:  Our bus leaves at 11:45 so we had time to go back to the old town for a light breakfast and stroll around and around.  We visited the bronze statue of Woody Allen.  He was apparently fond of Ovieodo and filmed parts of Vicky Christina Barcelona here.

The cathedral of Oviedo - begining of Camino Primitivo.  Parts date to the ninth century with most of the visible portions finished between 13th and 15th centuries.

We are fascinated by the jamon!  Note the hanging hams plus the one portion in the backet, waiting for slices to be served.

Bronze placque near cathedral denoting the beginning of Camino Primitivo.  FYI - we could have left our coastal route and finished our camino via this - perhaps next time?

Woody Allen stature.  He was fond of Oviedo and filmed parts of "Vicky Christina Baarcelona" here

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Coruna, Galicia Spain (18-20 June-2016)

18 June: We travelled by train from Valenca, Portugal to A Coruna (La Coruna) in Galicia, Spain.  A Coruna is a mostly modern city on a peninsula with the train and bus stations situated 1.5 miles from where we stayed (Hostal Carbonara), near the old town. We had a nice lunch, checked in to the pensionne and explored.  Unfortunately, we had to retrace our way back to the bus station to purchase our tickets for when we depart.  Back to the older section of town and we wandered the busy streets - it was Saturday night and the Euro2016 soccer tournament was in action so things were pretty interesting.  We had so many bars around that it was tough to make a choice.  We had Fried calamaris and a salad of olives, tomatoes, roasted peppers, cheese and anchovies (lots of olive oil) plus a nice bottle of red wine. Afterwards, we wandered the streets and enjoyed people watching.

19-June:  We slept in then had cafe and churros con chocolate for breakfast.  Over to the beach and walked the oceanside promenade around the penn

insula and back into town - more than 5 miles.  Near the tip of the penninsula we visited the "Tower of Hercules", a nearly 2000 year old lighthouse first built by the Romans and still in operation today.  Of course, during the "dark ages" it fell into disrepair but was restored in the 17th century.  There are only two of the Roman lighthouses still in existence with the other in Dover, England.  We walked the winding staircase to the top and enjoyed the panoramic views.  Apparently Julius Caesar visited the place with a fleet of 100 ships.  Lunch was in the old town at Nova Ria, a typical Galician place.  We had pimientos de Padron and a platter of chipirones, perhaps the best of our trip - and we've had LOTS.  All was accompanied by 4 glasses of local red wine (two each) and the bill was less than $18.  Then, more wandering the old town and back to our room for a break.  We enjoyed a glass of wine along the marina and then back to a bar for racciones (like tapas but larger portions) and a bottle of wine.

20-June: Bus departed at 10am so we made the 2.5km walk back to the station right after breakfast and made the 4.5 hour bus ride to Oviedo.

The beach of A Coruna

The ~2000 year old Roman lighthouse

Panoramic views from the lighthouse

Panoramic views from the lighthouse

Panoramic views from the lighthouse

Really delicious chipirones at Nova Ria restaurante.  Seared on a grill and with a squeeze of lemon.

Look at all the hams hanging from the ceiling of this deli!  The little cups are to catch any fat that might drip off.  They are dry cured and do not need refrigeration. Too bad the USA will not allow us to bring one of these home!  

A "tango school" was dancing in the main square.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Portugal (12-18 June 2016)

12-June:  Bus ride from Santiago to Braga, Portugal and arrived 5pm or so and checked into the Sabrados Gelados Pension.  It's actually above an ice cream shop and probably not the best choice to have made (my bad!) but we do have a nice central location.

We were surprised to find a festival in full swing - a celebration of Vinho Verde, the wine of the region.  We bought coupons and a glass of wine and were tasting rather generous "pours" of local wine for ~80 cents per glass!  Perhaps twenty wineries were present plus several booths selling snacks and food.  There was even a Bacalao (salted cod) food tasting but we stuck to the wonderful wine!  As we were watching the people, a couple (Pedro and Paula) started talking to us and we had a great time visiting with them, learning a great deal more about their country.

13-June:  The next morning, we caught a bus to a nearby town, Guimaraes, known for its UNESCO heritage old town, castle and ducal palace.  We visited all of that, had another great lunch then caught an afternoon bus back to Braga.

14-June: The next morning we caught a 10am bus to Viana do Castelo, a small city on the coast of Portugal.  Arrived in rainy weather but made it to our lodging (Pensoa O Laurenjeira) and checked in.  This is a small (7 room) pensionne run by a family and above their very nice restaurant.  The current manager is the granddaughter of the founder, a 94 year old woman who was there and seems quite healthy.  We had a very nice lunch of grilled codfish - reconstituted salt cod and you would not know it had been salted rather than fresh - plus a bottle of vinho verde.  We explored the town, walked to the beach, rested in our room and then had dinner in the hotel restaurant downstairs.  At dinner, the owner's family (4 generations!) were at a big table near the kitchen.  The youngest is the 17 month old daughter of the woman who checked us in.  We had broiled mussels, grilled small squid and a bottle of red wine from the Douro river valley.

15-June:  We woke to a rainstorm that eased up and showers were scattered throughout the day - but not too bad.  We had breakfast downstairs in the restaurant and then took the funicular to the church on the "mountaintop".  We walked up small staircase to the top of the church and enjoyed a spectacular view of the rain squalls, coastline and city below.  Lunch was at a deli recommended by our pensionne and I had a very interesting dish of local sausage topped with a fried egg and roasted potatoes.  

We toured a restored hospital ship that had been stationed in the fishing grounds off of Greenland and Newfoundland.  In this city, "Codfish is king" and we see evidence of that in the restaurants where many dishes are based on reconstituted salt cod.  It's actually much better than it sounds and unless one asks, difficult to be sure it's not fresh.  

16-June:  We left almost all of our clothes yesterday to be washed (at the pensionne) so were happy to get our laundry this morning and put on clean things.  After breakfast at the pensionne we packed and then caught the 10am bus to Ponte de Lima, about an hour away and also on the Lima river.  This is considered to be the "first town in Portugal", receiving its grant from the first queen of the country.  There's a very nice old town and the big landmark is a multi-arched medieval stone bridge across the river.  The 15th century bridge is actually connected to a portion of an even older Roman bridge at the far end.  The river changed course so the Roman bridge had to be extended to cover the new riverbed.  We had an inexpensive set lunch at a riverside restaurant then went sightseeing.  The Camino Portuguese crosses the river on the old bridge and there's an albergue on the far side, along with an old church and other ruins.  We toured an international garden exhibit and then came back to wander around the old town.  Dinner was Baccalao gratin and a nice bottle of vinho verde.

17-June:  Bus travel between Ponte de Lima and Valenca is a bit spotty with only one direct bus per day and that's fairly late.  We got advice at the tourist office and took bus to another smaller village, waited a bit and then another smaller bus to Valenca.  The bus station is very small and there was no indication where we could buy onward tickets to Spain.  In any event, we wanted to get train tickets so walked ~400m to the train station and were able to buy train tickets to La Coruna - that was a relief!  So many train stations now days are very poorly staffed and no way to buy tickets.  Our train ride requires reservations on the last leg so we most probably could not have purchased tickets on the train.  

Once we got that problem solved we found a great bistro/bar restaurant in part of the train station building had had a nice "daily menu" meal.  Several small hotels were within walking distance so we picked out a very reasonably priced place (Hotel Val Flores), got settled and walked to the nearby fortress. The fortress is more of a walled town and was built in the 14th and 15th centuries on top of an old fortified Roman town.  In later years it was expanded and formed a key part of the defenses against Spain - just across the river is the Galician city of Tui.  We were tired of codfish so found a very nice nearby Italian restaurant where we celebrated our 44 wedding anniversary.  

18-June:  In the morning we walked onto the bridge between Spain and Portugal (designed by the Eiffel firm) and enjoyed the views back into Valenca.  Then we caught the train to Spain.  First was a 45 minute ride to Redondela and then we changed to a faster train with stops in Santiago and then on to La Coruna.  

Vinho Verde festival in Braga, Portugal

Woman grilling sausage and meat for "snacks"

We arrived in Braga in time to catch the last three hours of Vinho Verde Fest!  We learned quite a bit about this wine region and loved the wine!

Guimaraes was once a center for tanning of leather

Interior of old church

Portugese buildings often covered with colorful tiles - this is an old convent.

Interior of another old church

Simple lunch of grilled fish, vegetables and a nice bottle of Vinho Verde wine.

Castle in Guimaraes dating back to 11th century

"Codfish for two" - reconstitued salt cod, grilled and served with roasted potatoes, collard greens and a bottle of vinho verde!

View of Viana do Castelo and the coastline from the top of the church 

Santa Lucia church on a hilltop overlooking the city

My lunch - local sausage of smoked meats topped with an egg, roasted potatoes, tomato and greens!

Large bronzes of a peasant family at work.  The figure in front is a woman leading a team of oxen pulling a plow and using the stick to guide them.  

Medieval bridge, Ponte de Lima, with an even older Roman section at the far end.

The Roman portion of the bridge

Pork products at a meat shop

Baccalao gratin and Vinho Verde wine.
Ponte de Lima - view across the Lima river in the morning.

Balance - View from fortress looking across the Minho river into This, Spain 

Walls of fortress in Valencia, Portugal 

Tomatoes, cheese, roasted peppers, olives and anchovies plus bottle of Mencia from Ribera Sacre