Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Paris and Northern Spain: Day 7

by Kathy 27. October 2010 19:31

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<< Day 6: Bilbao—Guggenheim Museum and Old Town | Day 8: Tolosa—Basque Town Extraordinaire >>


Santillana del Mar—Caves and Old Town


Around the corner from our Bilbao apartment was a small breakfast place called “Bar Ziabog.”;

The name “bar”, however, did not mean that alcohol was being served. Inside, we found a long counter where one could order coffee, hot chocolate, pastries, and a variety of breakfast sandwiches. There were a few tables at the back, as well as bar stools along the counter.

We watched a steady stream of locals (mostly men in business suits) come inside, order coffee, sit briefly at the counter to drink their tiny cups of espresso, and then quickly exit. No lattes in giant paper cups were carried out the door here! Occasionally, someone would order something to eat and linger a bit at the counter, chatting with the friendly server.

The coffee was delicious. Ben and I also ordered breakfast sandwiches on crispy fried bread, with hard boiled eggs, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise—yum! Sebastian is a chocolate donut connoisseur, and he happily tackled one of the biggest donuts I have ever seen.

After breakfast, we loaded into our tiny rental car and left Bilbao behind.  The city had surprised us all with its modern, artistic flair and warm people.

Our destination today was the small village of Santillana del Mar, about 1 ½ hours west.  We planned to stop along the way to visit some prehistoric cave paintings.

The coastal highway had some bridges with an intriguing center-cable design, which is uncommon in the United States:

Occasionally, we had beautiful views of the Bay of Biscay.

To reach the cave paintings, we veered south, away from the main highway and the Bay, to the small town of Puente Viesgo. It was raining, and our 2-lane road had spurts of construction, where it was being widened to 4 lanes. Stationed on the side of the road were mechanical flag wavers, dressed in florescent yellow.

Those of you who have followed our travels know how I love to look at all the different types of houses. Here are a few from this area:

The mountains near Santillana del Mar have a number of prehistoric cave sites. Perhaps the most famous is Altamira Cave, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although that cave has some spectacular paintings, visitors are no longer allowed into the cave to see the real paintings and carvings. Instead, a museum has been created nearby with replicas of the cave walls and paintings. Although the museum is supposed to be quite wonderful, we opted not to visit. We wanted to see the “real thing”, not a fabrication.

We chose to visit a group of caves about 12 miles from Santillana del Mar—Cuevas del Monte del Castillo (Caves of Mount Castillo).

These caves have hundreds of incredible paintings, and visitors are still welcomed into the caves on guided tours.

We arrived in time to take a tour of the El Castillo cave. The tour was given in Spanish by a wonderful guide, Alfredo. Here is Alfredo with Sebastian and Genevieve:

Ben and I could understand a lot of Alfredo’s descriptions, but the children (as well as an English couple on the tour) could not; so Alfredo first gave a Spanish explanation and then graciously translated much of what he had just said into English.

Photos were not allowed inside the caves to protect the images.  However, we took several photos outside the cave entrance.  Here is a map showing the layout of the El Castillo cave, with the entrance marked by the arrow on the left:

A building had been constructed over the entrance, with a ticket booth near the front door:

Looking down into the cave entrance:

Alfredo started the tour by explaining that these caves had been “discovered” in 1903. From bones found nearby, archeologists have determined that people have lived in this area for 150,000 years.  Evidence suggests that people did not reside in the caves, but instead used them for rituals.

There are about 1600 paintings in the El Castillo cave, with two main colors--red and black. The red paintings were made with iron oxide about 28,000 to 30,000 years ago. The black paintings were made from burned wood carbon about 12,000 to 13,000 years ago. Some of the paintings had both colors, indicating that people had added to older drawings.

I thought the paintings were absolutely amazing. We saw many hands, which appeared to have been created by blowing iron oxide around each hand that had been placed on the wall. There was one set of two hands together, but the rest were separate. One painting showed two bison, and another bison was drinking water with a possible arrow sticking from it. There were also paintings of a horse, as well as two deer. Sometimes the lines were faded, and Alfredo would point out how to discern the animal shape by connecting certain lines together visually.

At the lowest point accessible to the public (82 feet below the surface), there was a cavern that had formations resembling a castle or a church. The cave had many stalactites and stalagmites that were still growing.  Nearby was a 15,000 year old painting of an oro, which is an extinct animal related to the cow.

One cavern was called the “Discos gallery” because there were 133 red circle markings. There are many speculations about what the circles could mean, but nobody knows for sure.

Part of the cave has been closed for conservation since 1995. I was very grateful to have been able to see actual cave paintings that had been created thousands of years ago—truly remarkable!

Alfredo took this photo of our family after the tour:

Ben, Genevieve and I all gave the tour very high marks (a “9”, “8” and “10” respectively, on a scale of 1 to 10). Sebastian, however, rated the tour a “3 ½” because he had been “cold” inside the cave and his interest had waned at times when he couldn't understand what was being said.

The caves were located on the side of Mount Castillo. We traveled back down the mountain to look for a lunch place in Puente Viesgo.

We had asked Alfredo for a good local restaurant, and he had recommended La Taberna:

(The restaurant had two different names outside, “Taberna Picoteo” and “Taberna La Pasiega”.)

It was an excellent choice. The menus were in Spanish, and we were able to order a variety of dishes, all delicious—eggs with Spanish ham and fried potatoes, salmon, a burrito, a tomato and cheese salad, and baked chicken. Here are Sebastian and Genevieve, with full tummies:

After lunch, we drove about 20 minutes to reach the quaint medieval town of Santillana del Mar. The name “Santillana del Mar” supposedly comes from a distortion of the name "Saint Juliana," whose corpse was brought here and entombed in the local church 1200 years ago after her husband killed her for refusing to give up her virginity. A local joke about the name, however, is that Santillana del Mar is “the town of three lies”, as it is not holy (santi), not surrounded by plains (llana), and not next to the sea (del mar).

We chose a bed and breakfast right in town. From our window, we could see the village church, La Colegiata, which has the tomb of Saint Juliana.

Our room was on the top floor and had a small deck with a lovely view. Here are 3 photos, showing the view from left to right:

We had a family room that had two separate beds for the children. Here is Sebastian on his cozy bed:

The hotel had a couple of lounge areas, including one with a computer (where Ben checked his email) and a chess set (which the kids enjoyed). Here is Genevieve in the other lounge area:

While Ben and Sebastian rested, Genevieve and I decided to explore the town.

Genevieve, on the narrow lane leading from the hotel to the main town square, Plaza Mayor:

Looking back at our little deck on the top floor of the hotel:

Genevieve in Plaza Mayor:

With a golden bison:


We found the Torture Museum, but we didn’t have any desire to see exhibits of torture instruments or techniques. However, Genevieve posed with the knight:


La Colegiata:

Beyond the church were green fields with houses and some grazing horses:

After buying an ice cream cone for Genevieve in a small tourist shop, we started our walk back to the hotel, taking a back road behind the church. Here is the rear wall of the church:

Heading back to Plaza Mayor:

This grandmother figure was standing outside a ceramics shop called “El Naranjo”.

We talked briefly with the friendly man inside, who told us that a family member makes most of the ceramic pieces in the shop.

Back to our hotel:

For dinner tonight, we wandered around town, considering our options. We finally entered one place, where we were greeted coldly, taken upstairs to a large room that had one other couple (English speaking) eating dinner, and given a table right next to that couple. The atmosphere of the restaurant was really unwelcoming. Ben and I looked at each other, and we were thinking the same thing. Two seconds later, we were walking back down the stairs and out of the restaurant. No thank you.

After walking around some more, we selected another restaurant—the Altamira.

The menu outside listed “white bean soup” as an appetizer and I suddenly had a craving for it. The woman who greeted us was very warm and welcoming, and she provided excellent service throughout our meal. I only wanted a bowl of soup for dinner, and she brought me a tureen with enough soup to feed three people. The soup was thick and delicious—mmmmmm! It was exactly what I had wanted.

Genevieve and Sebastian had baked chicken:

Ben decided to try something different—baby eels. His dish was served with a layer of potatoes on the bottom, topped with a large mound of baby eels, with fried eggs on top, and some shrimp on the side:

Eel is one of my favorite foods when it is served in large grilled slices called “unagi” in Japanese restaurants. The baby eels, however, were a bit different—in appearance, texture and taste. Ben did eat over half of the eels. As we say continually around our house, “It’s good to try new things!”

After dinner, we strolled back to the hotel, where Ben and Sebastian played checkers, and Genevieve and I played the “Paris Muse” board game from the Louvre.

We were only staying one night in Santillana del Mar, and I was glad. I had really wanted to like this town. Jean Paul Sartre had purportedly called it "the most beautiful village in Spain." It was indeed visually beautiful. And it was full of historical old buildings, which I generally love. However, something was missing. For me, there just wasn’t any “magic.”  Essentially all of the shops and businesses in town catered to tourists.  While we had encountered some nice people (at the ceramics shop and the Altimira restaurant), we had also felt a lack of warmth from others (including our hotel staff).  Santillana del Mar may once have been a thriving village, but to me it now felt hollow, like skeletal remains.  Maybe that's all it is supposed to be . . . , but I wanted something more.



<< Day 6: Bilbao—Guggenheim Museum and Old Town | Day 8: Tolosa—Basque Town Extraordinaire >>


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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin