Camino del Norte Day 17: Goodbyes, Gaudí, and a castle

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.

The first house he ever designed is in Comillas, and that’s what we visited today.  One of his biggest patrons was a shipping magnate named Antonio López who made his fortune in the Cuban slave trade.   López purchased the title of Marquis de Comillas and commissioned Gaudí to build a home for his family.  This became El Capricho, and it’s not just a house–it’s a work of art.  There is a museum onsite, and we took a tour of the house:

IMG_0497
A work of art inside and out
IMG_0499
Thousands of hand-made tiles adorn the exterior of the house

IMG_0579

IMG_0580
Hand-painted tiles
IMG_0581
An example of some of the furniture Gaudí designed for inside the house.
IMG_0498
Posing with the master himself
IMG_0578
Jim looking for artistic inspiration with Gaudí

After the tour, Vann had to get on the road, so we wished him a Buen Camino:

IMG_0496

Then Jim, Dale, and I started the walk to San Vicente, and we got to know more about this fantastic man.  He’s very tall with a booming voice and a compassion that radiates from him.   He has travelled and volunteered all over the world, and he told us about the many places he’s visited, including India, Istanbul, Pakistan, Africa, and his favorite, Nepal, where he has walked the Great Himalayan Trail.  He said that he volunteers on his trips whenever he can, and has become an impromptu teacher in places such as Nepalese monasteries, where people are eager to learn English.  He inspired us to think bigger about our travels and to come up with ways that we can give back.

We talked so much that the walk was pleasant and passed fairly quickly.

IMG_0502
A tree growing on the top of this old church.  How did it get there???

When we neared San Vicente de la Barquera, we were greeted with this view:

IMG_0504
San Vicente de la Barquera

San Vicente is an ancient fishing village that was founded by the Romans.  Our albergue was in the old town center, which was lined by rock walls, and the streets were paved with cobbled stones.  We toured the castle, which dates back to the eighth century, and the Gothic church of Santa Maria de los Angeles, which dates back to the thirteenth century.  There is a museum inside the castle, and we were allowed to go upstairs to visit the tower.

IMG_0505

IMG_0506

Afterward, we spent a quiet evening with Jim, eating a menu del dia at a nearby restaurant.  Tomorrow, Jim would be heading back to Ireland, and that meant that, for the first time in days, Dale and I would be back to walking alone!