Saturday, July 12, 2014
Finally we arrived in the famous old seaside town, Biarritz. After checking into our hotel we immediately went to the number one Trip advisor restaurant just around the corner. I ordered the sole meunière. When it came it was as tough as an old boot and I should have returned it but I was hungry. After I had pried it off the bone the taste was all right. When the meal was over the server, who spoke perfect English asked if we had enjoyed our meal. I told her about the toughness. Funny, she didn't understand that particular word in English, however a Swedish lady at the next table translated for me. The server went off to check what the problem was and reported back that the fish had been in the fridge one day too long. Horrors! She didn't charge for our coffee and gave us and our neighbours free aperitifs. But still this was the number one restaurant.
The next morning is was very dark and grey. We had breakfast on the front and ran into the bad service that the French used to have a reputation for. Basically, the server brought what she thought we ordered but she hadn't listened. How complicated can two cappuccinos, 2 croissants and one orange juice be. Even our French is up to that. This is something that we never encounter when we are in France. Once we had what we ordered we set off to explore the town.
We did walk around the old port, which is very tidal. When we were there all the boats were very low down on the wall but we could see that if we came at high tide the boats would be about fifteen feet higher. From here we climbed a hill to look over the coast. On our way back to the hotel we found some narrow streets lined with some interesting shops. Ryanair must fly here from Ireland, since they seemed to be filled with a lot of Irish families.
Early the next morning we headed off, glad to leave Biarritz. We didn't even have breakfast but stopped on the road. Thankfully, it was a much shorter day on the highway before our final destination, home.
Friday, July 11, 2014
It was lunchtime so we drove into the fishing village Finisterre. There were a number of restaurants right on the port. Two hake steaks and four boiled potatoes later, we were quite full. We hadn't done enough walking to justify the large portions. Once again we watched walkers meet and greet old friends from their trip along the Camino. Before returning to Santiago, we walked along the wharf as some smaller fishing boats came in to deliver their catch.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
The last tour of the day for us was the roof of the cathedral. We had to meet for the English speaking tour at 6 o'clock. We came well prepared since the skies had opened and it was bucketing down. After waiting for a short while to see if the rain would let up — it didn't — we were on our way. We climbed up to the gallery overlooking the cathedral to admire a row of gigantes, the huge papier mâché figures black, white and Asian paraded in many festivals in Spain. Someone mounts the gigantes on their shoulders and carries them through the town. Of course you can't see anything of the person under the gigantes. They represent lords and ladies or just regular townspeople. Gigantes of an old lady and a man smoking a horrible looking pipe are used to threaten misbehaving children.
We looked up at the many stonemasons' marks on the walls. Each stonemason would make his mark, where he had worked. The best stonemason's marks are the ones that are still etched deeply in the stone today.
Most of the other people on the tour were Irish so they weren't too bothered by the heavy rain. I must admit it was lots of fun being up there in the bad weather. It was pointed out to is that the huge chimneys we saw on some of the houses we looked out on indicated the importance of the occupants. In the 1800s a huge, ornate facade, 1800 metres long and 3 metres wide was built in front to cover up the houses of the poor. Who wanted to look at them?
We looked across at a huge nunnery; nuns enter and are never allowed out again. Even today there is a slot, through which you put your money and receive back some St. James cake made by the nuns. There is a story of a pilgrim's shadow that can be seen at night on the bell tower. It is said that he is looking across at the nunnery that houses his lost love.
As we were leaving the rainy roof we looked up at the little gargoyles and religious figures but there tucked in the corner, almost out of sight, was a bare bottom. This was the mason's way of getting back at the church official that hadn't yet paid him.
Back at the hotel we weren't surprised to see that we were soaked through. After a quick dry off, we went down to the hotel's cafeteria, which wasn't a cafeteria at all but a nice restaurant, to mingle with all the other guests watching the World Cup. A good ending to a busy day.
After unpacking we walked the150 metres to the vast square in front of the giant Santiago de Compostela cathedral, reputed burial site of James, one of the apostles. This is usually the final destination of pilgrims completing the 800-kilometre Camino Real, by foot, bicycle or even by donkey. The traditional route is from France but there are other routes.
Most pilgrims carry a document called the credencial, purchased for a few euros from a Spanish tourist agency, a church on the route, or from their church back home. The credencial is a pass which gives access to the inexpensive, sometimes free, overnight accommodation. Also known as the "pilgrim's passport", the credencial is stamped with the official St. James stamp of each town or refugio at which the pilgrim has stayed. It provides pilgrims with a record of where they ate or slept, but also serves as proof to the Pilgrim's Office in Santiago that the journey was accomplished according to an official route. The stamped credencial is also necessary if the pilgrim wants to obtain a compostela, a certificate of completion of the Way.
To earn the compostela one needs to walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km. Pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela who have walked at least the last 100 km, or cycled 200 km to get there (as indicated on their credencial), and who state that their motivation was at least partially religious are eligible for the compostela from the Pilgrim's Office in Santiago. At the Pilgrim's Office the credencial is examined for stamps and dates, and the pilgrim is asked to state whether the motivation in traveling the Camino was "religious", "religious and other", or "other". In the case of "religious" or "religious and other" a compostela is available; in the case of "other" there is a simpler certificate in Spanish. Back in the early days a scallop shell was awarded instead of a certificate.
As we walked around the narrow pedestrian-only streets, we encountered people from all over the world. There were lots of restaurants and little shops that were all busy. I must say that I have never seen so many people limping around. Many people weren't dressed in usual evening attire but in their walking attire. Hiking boots ruled.
Friday, July 4, 2014
We returned to the town and had a walk around the narrow streets before opting to eat in a restaurant near our hotel. After watching the football match on their TV we called it a night.
The next morning we explored the town with its fishing fleet and some very old buildings. With the sun shining it was quite charming. For us it was another day back on the road as we headed towards our next destination, Santiago de Compostela.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
We continued up the coast passing beautiful, white sand beaches with very few people on them and more quaint seaside villages. Finally, we arrived at our destination, Bilbao and the Guggenheim. It was like walking around the Enterprise, very modern, very spaceship and a bit disorienting.
Starting on the top floor we wandered around the strange Yoko Ono exhibit Front and centre was a video of jiggling bottoms, some quite unattractive. The other artwork that sticks in my mind is two condoms half filled with water mounted on a board. I did go closer to check it was water and not some remnants of John. You never know. Many of the pieces dated back to the sixties.
We enjoyed the music video made by several people in a house in upstate New York. Each of the nine big screens showed one of the musicians playing his or her instrument in a different room, including one man in a bathtub playing his guitar. It was a fun exhibit. But by now the rain had started so we waited it out for a while in the little cafe enjoying the view of the giant floral cat outside the Guggenheim.
Dinnertime took us to a restaurant near the hotel. They must really eat late in Bilbao, since we were the only people there at 9 o'clock. However, one table of twelve women soon arrived followed by another table of eighteen. This was quite fascinating to us as one young fellow was dressed in a purple satin outfit with a few holes in it, a matching cowboy hat and a feather scarf. It looked like it was a family and friend affair but we couldn't figure out if this was a birthday party or maybe a "coming out" party. I wish we found out before we braved the elements to return to our hotel.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
We arrived at our destination in the Old Port, the Naval Museum. San Sebastián was for centuries little more than a fishing village, but by 1174 it was granted self-governing status by the kingdom of Navarra for whom the bay was the principal outlet to the sea. Whale and cod fishing were the main occupations along with the export of Castilian products to European ports and then to the Americas. Years of knockabout trans-European conflicts included the razing of the city by Anglo-Portuguese forces during the Peninsular War.
We had fairly high expectations of the museum, which is housed in a mid eighteenth century consulate. The museum housed two floors of paintings showing the Basque sea heritage but that was it, no boats, no astrolabes and compasses, just the paintings.
After a pintxos lunch with lovely concoctions of Serrano ham, sausage, bright green padron peppers, shrimp, crab and eggs we headed to the beach to join the throngs on the sand. We followed in the footsteps of 19th-century Spanish royalty who came here to escape the searing heat of the southern mesas (tableland). We were fortunate in visiting at low tide, which left plenty of room for everyone on the beach. At high tide we would have been crammed into a narrow strip of sand. We had our first swim in the Bay of Biscay, getting battered around a bit in the sea.
In the evening we had dinner at a restaurant that was showing the England vs Uruguay soccer game. We arrived at the beginning of the game and managed to string out the whole meal to the end of the meal and the unfortunate end for England.