Sunday, December 27, 2009


While waiting for our package to arrive from DHL in
Santillana del Mar, we visited the nearby Altamira cave
paintings and museum. Altamira is absolutely in the
same league with Lascaux and Pech Merle (both closed
this time of year), late Paleolithic, definitely Cro Magnons.
The cave was naturally closed around 13,000 BC, and most
of the paintings are now reckoned to have been done c.
18,000BC. Picasso visited the caves and exclaimed that
"after Altamira, all art is decadence." He had similar things
to say about Lascaux. We figure he was angling for a free
lifetime pass. Above, Vicki outside the museo.

The museum itself is one of the very best pre-history
museums we have seen

Like Lascaux, Altamira is really a replica, for reasons of
preservation, but a very convincing one

Mostly animals, mostly what they appear to have been
interested in

My favorite, nearly a Picasso

Another still

Two of the three hands in negative; the really famous one is
at Pech Merle

The actual cave entrance

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Central square and fountain in Guernica

Street scene

The International Peace Museum

Guernica church

Museum of Basque Culture

The Basque parliament building; Guernica has been their
gathering place for centuries

Trunk of the old oak tree under which Basque
leaders gathered to elect their leader

The new oak tree

Wednesday morning we departed beautiful San Sebastian and headed west along the coast, but up into the hills briefly to see Guernica, both the capital of Basque country and also the site of the infamous 1937 terror bombing that killed and injured thousands, the subject of Picasso's famous painting. At the time, it was as bad as warfare could be imagined--relentless bombing of civilians on market day--Hitler's first experiment in terror bombing. Ironically, it was so successful that the Germans (Franco's supporters) suspended work on a heavy bomber and decided to rely strictly on the twin-engined medium types. The Battle of Britain would have turned out differently had the Germans long-range heavy-payload bombers in their arsenal.

From Guernica we headed back to the coast, intending to see the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, but we got totally distracted by the fact that our fittings were not compatible with Spanish LPG nozzles (despite assurances otherwise from various authorities).  This plus the fact that we were down to 1/3 tank and historically-cold weather was predicted. So we drove on to the campground at Santillana del Mar, where our new drivers license was to be delivered by DHL. At the campground there we at least had electricity to heat with. It was our first night in a campground in 28 days.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Final San Sebastian

How to find the aire/caravan park

Obligatory cathedral shot

The main beach, in the harbor, some of the newer city

View of newer buildings, from other side of old town

Real Spanish tapas bar

All set up for lunch

San Sebastian Out-Takes

Best sight we saw Friday, the DHL office that shipped our
new international drivers license application back to America;
allow 5-7 days...

In the aire where we parked, at the Unibersitarea, a Class A
British motorhome

Monday night snow-storm--a real surprise, and not just to us

Snow accumulating on our windshield; we're not getting south
fast enough...

The Spanish are doing some very interesting
condom ads; it took us a few minutes to figure
them out...

San Sebastian Markets

In the fish market, the pescadaria

Ditto (not pictured: octopi, of which I am not fond, but which
are everywhere)

Ditto again

One of dozens of carneceria; jambon is the national favorite,
and pig legs are dangling from the ceilings of every store, bar,
etc; all those poor Spanish pigs hopping around on crutches....

A whole pallet full of pig legs, boxed and ready
for Xmas sale, at the local supermarket

San Sebastian

Available at fine stores everywhere; and recently decriminalized
in Spain

You can always rely on McDonald's to tell you what country
you're in (the McCroq in France was credible, sort of); besides,
McD's is the only continent-wide reliable wifi source, too

We're deep in Basque country; this guy atop the Mercado in
the Centro

Street in old town, lined with tapas bars

Castle overlooking one of the harbor entrances (before the
weather fell apart)

More of the harbor, with the other side and the little island
in between

Jesus blessing it all

And the absolutely best-yet St. Sebastian so far; duh...

We have spent some days in San Sebastian now. It is a lovely city, as gorgeous as any I have seen...a small harbor guarded by two mountains, an island in the middle, glorious 18th and 19th century buildings all around the the best cuisine in Spain, jambon, and tapas, and all the rest of that stuff.  The weather has cooled considerably--it snowed Monday night!!!--and we have grown a bit lazy. Besides, we are awaiting news of our new/improved international driving license.

Monday, December 14, 2009

To Spain, and Back Again, Plus Some Effigies in Bera

My, an effigy; I wonder what that's about?

And another

And a teddy bear

And a whole street (among many) of them...

From Heydane, we boldly set forth across the Pyrenees, our goal, Pamplona and the annual running of the nudes. We never got there, as Vicki will report below, but we did see some strange sites in the pretty mountain town of Bera. Vicki writes (originally for a different audience and publication):

"I have to give you the full story of our last two days. Yesterday we set Tom our navigator to go into Spain. We were just leaving the last town in France on the sea and heading inland to go to Pamplona where they do the running of the bulls. It is only about two hours, then we were going to cut across through the Rioja wine area and come down again to the sea at San Sebastian. We decided not to take the toll road because Rick Steves said that the national roads are good though full of trucks.

"Anyway from looking at the map I thought Tom was putting us on that national road once out of town. Instead he first put us on a shortcut—over a pass in the Pyrenees on a 1½ lane road that had just been repaved so that if you left the pavement, you would turn over and then quite simply fall off a cliff. No guardrails of course. We were doing okay—it was straight up, winding, but not much traffic and absolutely no place to turn around, as there wasn’t room for a driveway on the mountainside, when around the bend came a tractor trailer. He, of course, took up the entire lane. We got over as far a possible and he only hit (and cracked) our side mirror. When we reached the top where there was a restaurant he had been delivering to; we debated whether to go back the way we came or keep going. By this time we knew we were only 4 miles from the big road. Luckily the  road on this side of the pass was actually two lanes—although the worst hairpin turns we have been on, including Norway, but at least two lanes.

"Breathing a sigh of relief we threaded through the town of Bera—very narrow, parking all over the street, jaywalking pedestrians, bicyclists, crazy drivers—we are in Spain after all. The two lane national road continued over the Pyrenees—these are formidable mountains and second only to the Alps in Europe. A good road but wall to wall truckers who were very unhappy having to wait for the passing lanes to get around us. After about 45 minutes we had cleared the last of 6 tunnels when ahead are two Politza pulling over nearly every truck, including us to be weighed. After weighing us, they asked us to park the van and get out our papers.

"Mark produced his driver’s license, registration, insurance card and his International Driving Permit. After examining it all they motioned for Mark to come back to the kiosk with them where they pointed out that our International Driving License was only good for vehicles up to 3,500 kg and ours weighed 4360. The fine for driving without a proper license was $750. Mark came to get me out of the truck and we proceeded to try to talk to the other policeman who spoke some English. And I quote “ I am going to talk very slowly. You must find another driver with the proper license to drive your camper back to France and you must pay this fine now.” We tried to explain that Mark’s Montana license allowed him to drive this camper but he said no. We asked if he could take a credit card—no, they had no machine, must pay in cash, but he would let us turn around drive the car back to France without another driver if we promised to do so at the next exit. We promised.

"He also said we were actually guilty of two offenses (we were never too clear about that) so he could charge us with the lesser of the two which would be only $460 cash. We had about $250 between us. After much hemming and hawing, they decided to let us go after writing down the details. He said if we were caught again in Spain with the wrong license we would have to pay a new fine and this old one and have a driver for the vehicle. Needless to say we got off at the next exit and vamoosed for France.

"Arriving at the first McDonald’s in France to do some serious Internet research, we also decided to carefully read the International Driver’s License. What we noticed was that we are allowed to drive a vehicle with up to 8 passenger seats or (OR) a goods vehicle not above 3,500 kg. So at that point we felt that the officer had misinterpreted the license. Only how would we ever explain that to anyone who stopped us again? What we learned in further research was that only two countries in Europe require an International Driving License—Spain and Portugal, and that the International License tends to look at weight whereas US licenses are more concerned with commercial vs. non commercial use. I am sure we could explain that to the police over here! Sure... In addition, we noticed that our International License expires Dec. 30. I had not been concerned because our two guidebooks say the license is only recommended—but the US Embassy and the Spanish police both agree that it is required.

"Great. So more research to see if we can get another from an auto club in France. Can’t find an auto club in France closer than Paris. Keep searching. Find out that License can only be issued in the country of your driver’s license. Only two auto clubs in US can issue. AAA says it can be issued by mail, but allow 6-8 weeks. Terrific. Frantically email Rachel and Rebecca to see if they can do this for us at AAA if we email them paperwork. No. Only by mail or in person.

"More research at Montana Driver’s License site. Mark’s D license allows him to drive any RV of any weight for non commercial use. Decide to have Google translate this into Spanish to be able to show police. Wonder if that will work. Police officer was adamant that what counted was the International License which wasn’t stamped for category C which he insisted we had to have. (In Europe, drivers of RVs do have to pass a special test—I will give him that.)

"We decide to go into the first large town in Spain on the coast, San Sebastian and try to talk to Spanish police there and also figure out how to get an International License with a C category stamp. We spend early afternoon at Internet CafĂ©. The other US auto club has an expedited delivery with international courier for an extra $75 but we have to send application, passport photos, etc., to California. Notice that on the form we can ask for a category C license. Check the box. Talk to Tourist Information about where a UPS or Fed EX or DHL might be—they insist we use the post office. Back to Internet—no UPS or Fed EX listings for San Sebastian. Find DHL, back to TI to find out that we can take the bus there. Catch bus and are dropped off in industrial district. Find wonderful DHL man who can speak English and helps us fill out paperwork. Try to figure out where we might be in 10 days so we can get license back. Fill it out, send it off, and realize tonight that we wanted it sent to Segovia not Salamanca. Hope we can contact auto club by email and get it changed—once we get an address for DHL office in Segovia. Put that on tomorrow’s list along with a visit to police station.

"In the meantime, all friends and family are to pray to whatever gods they have that the auto club will be willing to check category C for us! Amen, hallelujah, where’s the Tylenol?!!!!!"
Major moral to draw from all this: never trust guidebooks, especially Rickie Stevie.  Never trust Tom Tom. I have concluded that the effigies in Bera are of the civil guardia. We'll pick up the new license in Santillana del Mar. To be continued.

Heydane Plage

From Heydane Plage

I tipped the bird generously

You don't have to wait long to catch a wave here

Vicki identified this as the Heydane Rosetta Stone: it
simultaneously translates French, Spanish, and Basque;
Basque is impossible...

We're still eating OK...I have downed my share of oysters in
the past, but these are the first three I have ever shucked
myself, with an oyster knife purchased (with the oysters)
at LeClerq's; "by his own hand," which was not cut seriously;
obviously there's a trick to this I have yet to learn

Patisserie-bought desserts are a bit easier

This is the train station at Heydane Plage, across from which
we parked (with a dozen other autocaravanas) for a couple
nights; we thought it was the rather famous Heydane train
station where Hitler and Franco met in 1940, resulting in
Spain's neutrality in WWII (Hitler didn't want any more
baggage to carry); actually, the station is in town, we later
learned, and it's not nearly as scenic, nor large really; so,
I guess the proper caption would be "this is not the train
station where Hitler and Franco met in 1940..."

Heydane is about the last coastal town in northern France before the Spanish border. It is an old resort town with a casino, beautiful beach, very popular with the surfing crowd. Even in winter.