Saying goodbye to our two favorite Germans, and exploring two beautiful towns with our favorite Irishman
October 17, 2015
Comillas to San Vicente de la Barquera, 10 miles
After saying goodbye to Ann and Heidi, who had to head back to Germany, Jim, Vann, Dale and I decided to hang around Comillas for a little while to explore this fascinating little town.
A little background: Comillas was founded as early as the eleventh century, but its popularity as a vacation town for nineteenth-century Spanish aristocracy really put it on the map. The aristocrats built expensive houses here, and there are many fine homes and buildings designed by renowned architects, but there was only one we were really interested in: Antoní Gaudí (1852-1926), one of the most important architects of the twentieth century. Neither of us know much about architecture, but we learned about Gaudí when we were in Barcelona, where some of his most important and famous works are, and it blew our minds. He was such a creative artist, a visionary, and his buildings are not only beautiful but fascinating. He planned everything down to the smallest detail, and every part of every building was significant.
Other than the Spanish, Germans comprise the largest percentage of people hiking the Camino, and as we’ve hiked with some of them, we have come to realize that the German Camino guidebook is way better than the American one. The maps are more detailed, the information about the trail’s course is more thorough, and it includes shortcuts. It’s good to have Germans as hiking partners.
Today’s stage, from Santander to Santillana del Mar, measured about 37 kilometers (22 miles) and was described in the guidebook as being a significant amount of road walking through dreary terrain—“flat, paved, and little to see.”
After some discussion, Dale and I decided to skip a portion of this section by taking the train to the town of Torrelavega and then walk to Santillana del Mar from there, thus saving ourselves about 14 tough miles. On several prior days, we’ve debated whether or not we should train or bus past less desirable portions of the trail, and in the past (Day 9, leaving Bilbao), we decided to walk it anyway, and it turned out to be a pretty good day. Today, however, we opted to take the train for several reasons:
We had another beautiful walk through the lovely Cantabrian countryside. The people of the region of Cantabria are very friendly, the older people especially. Most people greet you when you pass them on the street, which is refreshing, and they don’t hesitate to stop us and ask about our destination ahead or where we’ve been. My Spanish is still limited but improving thanks to all the locals who are giving me opportunities to practice.
We began the day on the coast and stayed there for much of the time, enjoying breathtaking views of the Bay of Biscay, which is the enormous body of water that runs along the length of the northern Spanish and western French coastlines.
The guidebook’s description of today’s leg of the journey was less than inspiring: “As you slog through the first half of today’s stage, remind yourself that by day’s end you will be in a beautiful place…. Sometimes bleak, often forgettable, the walk… is poorly way-marked and best finished quickly and put behind you.”
We were excited about today’s destination: Bilbao. The week before starting the Camino, Dale and I had spent a night in Bilbao with our friend Tamara, and it had been a great experience. We stayed at an Air B&B apartment in the city’s historic city center, known as the Seven Streets, and it was charming, with lots of restaurants, panaderias, pastelerias, and even a chocolateria or two. And it was in Bilbao that we were introduced to the sublime pleasure of eating Basque food.