I’ve traveled alone before, but the maximum time period is usually 3 days — that is, unless you count the thing where I moved to Spain for 9 months. That aside, I was too nervous to do the Camino de Santiago alone. As a compromise, I decided to CouchSurf my way through the north of Spain instead. I sent dozens of couch requests, took a deep breath, ignored my conscience, and bought a Ryanair flight from Sevilla to Santander.
My itinerary, with Wednesday and Tuesday for flying to and from Sevilla, is as follows:
- Thursday: Santander
- Friday: Ribadesella
- Saturday: Oviedo
- Sunday: Cangas de Onís and Covadonga
- Monday: Bilbao
It’s currently 1:30am on Sunday morning, and my bus leaves for Cangas de Onís at 8:30am. But before I forget, and because I broke my camera in Santander, I wanted to write down some of my experiences.
Sevilla vs. Santander
Leaving Sevilla, despite the persistent weather over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or perhaps because of it, I knew I would miss it. Luckily, leaving Spain still feels theoretical and so far into the future that it hasn’t affected me emotionally. I suppose I probably won’t realize I’m gone until I land in Chicago — just four days away!–, and there I’ll have amiable distraction in the form of my high school best friend.
Sweat dripping down my forehead and my back, I boarded the bus. With a makeshift fan made of my boarding pass and itinerary notes, I fanned myself onto the airplane. A mere 2 hours later, I landed in Santander, where everything was different. Where Sevilla is… toasted orange, Santander is… moist blue.
First, I rolled down my sleeves. I put on my fleece and wrapped my scarf around my neck. I smelled something strange: freshness. I saw deciduous trees. I saw rust.
First Impressions of Santander
The first item on my itinerary was to find the apartment building where I’d be spending the night. One of the most difficult things about traveling in Spain is finding the name of the street you are on. The other most difficult things are finding a bathroom when you need one (bonus if it has toilet paper and/or soap) and finding a good place to eat something vegetarian.
As I disembarked from the airport bus into the city center, I asked the bus driver to point me in the direction of the first street on my directions. He asked me where I was going and gave me landmark directions for the entire route. Nice!
I followed the bus driver’s directions and made my way to a plaza. I didn’t see a name, and so I asked someone nearby for confirmation. After the confirmation, the agreeable stranger asked me where my final destination was andwalked me to the door, even though he lived a couple streets away. I protested that he needn’t exert himself in this fashion and that I could find my way, but he insisted, and so we chatted amiably on the way. When he left me at the door, he invited me for coffee sometime in the next few days. I was touched, but had to decline.
My hosts were equally gracious. I walked in the door and they offered water and an orange. They showed me my room: an actual bedroom with a double bed and a desk. A shelf was decorated with postcards from former CouchSurfers, photos, and drawings from former CouchSurfers’ kids. They even had the wifi title and password written out already and placed neatly on the desk.
We stayed up until 2:30 in the morning chatting in the kitchen (in Spanish!) about everything from regional dialects to CouchSurfing horror stories to the best ice cream in Santander. With their help, I was so oriented to the city before I left the following morning to explore it that I didn’t use the map once.
Overall, my first impression of Santander — having arrived in the dark and not seen any monuments or vistas yet — was favorable. The people were warm and friendly, and I was excited to see the sea and mountains. When I laid down in the giant bed, sleep fell like a dropped cannonball.
Second Impressions of Santander
- The good: the Eastern Market. It was sprawling and noisy with people shuffling and scuffling in front of stalls in order to get a hand on the goods, shop-keepers hawking their wares and prices and yelling out to passers-by, and everyone haggling.
- The bad: I haggled enough that I bought nothing at full price, and I admit that I lied; “I thought you told me it was only 5€!” But when I paused later on to look at my goods, one item had already broken and other seemed not to fit. They had removed the packaging with the brand name — and I stupidly realized that they would probably reuse it on other jewelry, and that I bought something fake. Luckily, I paid a price that was worth what I bought anyway, and the broken item will be easy enough to fix.
- The good: the views are beautiful! There are rows upon rows of mountains across from the river across from the marina and the port and the long, winding beaches. I climbed to the top of the hill on the peninsula and had picnic overlooking Camello Beach, which was littered gigantic fallen cliff bits. If I turned around, I could see another beach and the mountains across the river. If I turned again, I could see a landscape of the colorful city houses in blue and red and orange and green. Turning a last time, I could see the open-air zoo, which had penguins, sea lions, seals, and ducks.
- The bad: I broke my camera. Because I decided not to bring anything buy my travel purse, I had to hang the camera around my wrist. Horrible idea; it fell twice. The first time, it chipped: an aesthetic wound, but it funcitoned without a hitch. The second time was a short fall, the height of a park bench, but a ribbon of wire disconnected on the inside and I have to send the camera in for repairs. It’s a good thing I got that warranty!
- The good: Regma ice cream is delicious. Like Rayas, it has a hazelnut flavor — truly the best flavor ever. Unlike Rayas, Regma is real ice cream and not gelato. I got a large scoop on a tasty cookie-waffle cone and ate it walking barefoot on the beach. Perfect.
- The bad: I got sunburnt 😦
- The good: there are escalators in the street that lead up to an elevator in the street that takes you up to a look-out point to see over the entire city, the river, and the mountains.
- The bad: the simplest sandwich costs 4-6€. WHAT?! The north is expensive!
- The good: I got 4 pintxos for 5€, and they were amazing. One pintxo was stacked with fried eggplant, baked brie, grilled mushroom, and roasted red pepper. Another pintxo was a flatbread with baked goat cheese and carmelized onions. Yet another was spanish tortilla au gratin with a squash sauce. It was an excellent meal, and I ever had some left over for a snack.
- The bad: I didn’t have more time in Santander; I could live there!
I was sad to leave Santander, but looking forward to Ribadesella enough that I toughed it out and boarded the train the next morning.
But that’s a very long story; and it will have to wait. Here’s a taste:
- Meeting Willi
- “Megan’s House”
- Dinosaur footprints
- The hermitage on the hilltop
- The calm bay
- The winding river
- The rows of mountains
- The steep, rocky cliffs and crashing waves
- Whale watching and pirate hunting
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, I’ve still got Oviedo left. Here’s a taste of Oviedo:
- Woody Allen
- Grilled vegetables
- The jewels of Oviedo: preromanesque churches
- Cider and fava bean stew
- The cathedral
- Wounds of the civil war
Hopefully I’ll have some good memories from the pueblos in the mountains after tomorrow. For now, good night!