Friday, August 31, 2012

Capricho de Gaudi

Comillas' main attraction for us, however, was its association with Antonio Gaudi and two specimens of his earliest work. We became acquainted with Gaudi in Barcelona in 2010. In a few moments we went from “oh yeah, we should see one of those weird buildings” to “we'll stay a few extra days so we can see them all, by day and by night, and each more than once, too.” We'll visit Barcelona again next spring, mostly for the Gaudi. Anyhow,imagine our delight in learning that Comillas, far from Barcelona, holds the Capricho de Gaudi, a home Gaudi designed for a wealthy businessman and friend of the king. It was his first design after graduating from architecture school, and, surprisingly, one can see in it already nearly all his characteristic features—the iron grill work, use of tile, bold, organic design, use of natural features, color everywhere, and on and on. All that is missing is the later use of broken ceramic and tile to make curved and rounded features. Of course, it is unlike any other house in Comillas.


Comillas is a beautiful little coastal town with many important buildings, a bit of history, and some very nice people. We stopped there principally for the Capricho de Gaudi (see next post) but enjoyed walking around the town in the morning, waiting for the Gaudi site to open. In the course of all this, something very good happened. The nice young woman at the TI directed us to an auto repair shop nearly across the road from the Capricho (direction Bilbao), and there the nice owner/manager and his assistant changed the Grey Wanderer's engine oil and filter. It was my first experience with an independent mechanic in Europe and a very good experience. They worked methodically and carefully, like surgeons, one might say. The white tile floor (!) of the garage was so clean, as were all the tools and working areas, you could eat off it. They swept up and mopped up after every job. The assistant washed his hands after every job. The best part, other than just getting it done and letting me watch, was that they charged only 15 euros to do it. (We provided the oil and filter). Students of this blog know that we have shelled out far, far, far more at Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Goteborg and Lisbon, and even at the nice and more reasonable M-B in Galiantip. 
On the trail

Beautiful mansion

In town square

Church off the square

Tiled house

Gate to villa designed by Gaudi, with an entrance for people,
one for vehicles, and one for birds

The Grey Wanderer feels much better now

Picos de Europa

Unfortunately, we followed a guidebook recommendation and drove the Picos from west back to east, that is, from Oviedo through a gorge to a reservoir, then east to the Fuente De cable car, and back down another gorge, ending at San Vicente, where we spent another pleasant evening. Bits of Cantabria, Asturias, and Castile y Leon. The Picos are admirable crags, but half the trip, the reservoir and environs, recommended by the guidebook, could well have been skipped. The good bits are over by the cable car. At least for scenic driving. FWIW, it was Assumption Day, a national holiday, and there were lots of people out.
In the gorge, headed up to the reservoir

View from the reservoir

Ditto; no pelerins in sight this day

The attractive group to which the Fuente De cable car goes

Typical view; the Picos are not big mountains; mostly
limestone, they rise to less than 9,000 feet

San Vicente de la Barquera

We tore ourselves away from San Sebastian, again, and headed west, initially on the inland toll roads, later, well into Cantabria, along the coast. We stopped at Santillana de la Mer for me to go into the Alta Mira gift shoppe and buy a fridge magnet I had missed in 2009. We were not so happy there in 2009, cold, and worried about our ability to drive (legally) in Spain and also about where we could purchase LPG. Those matters got resolved, and our memories are pleasant, now even more pleasant. (Funny how memory works, dimming the bad, highighting the good). We continued on west, looking for an aire or a lay-by, preferably right on the beach. As one might expect, in August, the place was crawling with RVs, everyone doing just exactly what we were doing. At length, we found an aire of sorts, at the Playa de Gerra, near the beautiful town of San Vicente de la Barquera. The aire was actually a farmer's field, just across the highway from an evidently popular beach. We stayed there two nights, touring the Picos de Europa by day. The beaches along here--miles of them--are the best I have seen: fine sands, a hundreds-of-feet-deep beach area, surf just rough enough for beginner surfing.
Playa de Gerra, looking east

Looking west toward San Vicente

Beach volleyball, of course

A bit of the aire

Here we began seeing rather more of the pelerins, pilgrims
on the Santiago trail

Some 200,000 do the trail annually; twice that number in
special feast (whatever) years; only 20,000 do the much
shorter but infinitely more scenic Tour du Mont Blanc;
 I just don't understand...

Interesting beach rocks along the way

Surfing at the Playa de Gerra


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Donostia Fireworks

Each of our three nights in Donostia, after tapas, cultural performances, etc., we attended the harbor fireworks. Apparently, they do a week of fireworks here in August, inviting pyrotechnic companies from all over Spain as well as other countries. The setting and quality of the fireworks were great and the crowd appreciative. One has to assume Donostians know their fireworks. The first night we were inadvertently in the front rank of the crowd, as close to the launch site as you could get. (Later, we moved on down the beach as we learned where to catch the special event bus back to the aire). You could feel the concussion of every explosion, making it a visceral as well as visual experience. Here are several pix, plus a YouTube video at
The week's schedule: we saw the groups from Italy,
Granada, and Valencia

The crowd gathers

And gathers, the Jesus statue presiding over it all

Play ball!

Great color

Most of the action was up high, some down low

The Granada group was into shapes...I missed the smiley

And cascades