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Mari's Northern Spain and the Camino de Santiago Trip Report

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Jun 5th, 2005, 07:08 AM
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Mari's Northern Spain and the Camino de Santiago Trip Report

I am still in the throes of post-vacation depression after arriving from our long, long, long planned three week trip to Spain, as we all know the only way to get over this is to talk/write about our trip as much as possible and start planning the next one! I will not aim for an epic trip report since I know from personal experience that I dont get very far with them (my US National Park TR is still halfway done a year later in the US board) but this trip was so wonderful that it would certainly deserve extensive descriptions and discussions

*******
Executive Summary: I LOVED it!!! Northern Spain is totally different from Southern Spain. The Pais Vasco is beautiful, the coast is amazing. I loved the Guggenheim and the walk along the river but did not bond with Bilbao (I am so very sorry Cova!!!). Txakoli is very, very good white wine. We had one of the best tapas/raciones meals ever (EVER, yes ever) in a little bar in Castro Uridales for 36 Euros. The Picos de Europa deserve a trip by themselves. The drive to the Lagos is a bit scary but definitely worthy of the effort. There are a lot of cows in Asturias. Ribeiro is now my absolute favorite white wine. Walking the Camino the Santiago had been a dream of mine for a long time and it was wonderful, tiring but still wonderful. We walked 150km without having to carry our gear, the people that do the entire Camino (800km) with their backpacks and staying in Albergues have my outmost respect. I loved Santiago!!!
*******

The trip report:

We flew from San Juan to Atlanta (8 hr layover) to Madrid - ohhh the cruelty of airfare purchased with FF!!! Arrived in Madrid around 8:00 AM of the next day. Picked up our car and headed out to Burgos. We were out of the ariport within an hour.

Safety note - as was commented by a felllow fodorite in one of my trip planning posts, the three hour drive to Burgos is a bit too much after a long flight like we had just had. I would not have attempted it by myself and needless to say I was falling asleep an hour and a half into the drive. Anyway, DH was fine and he was the one driving. He did all the driving on this trip, I must admit in total shame that I do not know how to drive with a manual transmission and some of the mountain roads that we took were not the place to learn!!!!!

Since we had slept on the plane (DH a little and myself a lot) we were not hit hard by jetlag and decided to make the detour to Santo Domingo de Silos before going to our hotel in Burgos. We stopped by the monastery, walked a little around town and up the hill to observe the beutiful contryside. We went back to the car to get additional sweaters becase the temperature was in the 50's. We then had lunch in a restaurant by the 'plaza'. After we had gotten our first fix of Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup)and Cabrito Asado (roasted goat) we finally felt like we were back in Spain and into vacation I think that the name of the restaurant was Tres Coronas.
After lunch we went to the service in the Monastery to hear the midday prayer - this is the Benedictine Monastery made famous by its recording of Gregorian prayer in the CD 'Chant' a few years ago. Do not miss this if you have a chance!!! I wish that our timing had allowed for hte vespers prayer but it did not - you just cannot have everything...

Cova had recommended the walk to the Yecla Gorge but DH was not in the mood for walking and since he was driving and had not really slept that much, I did not push for it - first miss of the vacation, ohhh the things you do for love

We arrived in Burgos and easily found our hotel, el Meson del Cid. Maribel and Cova had both recommended the NH Burgos hotel but the lure of looking from my window at the Cathedral was too much. The hotel room was small and a little dark but perfectly clean and ideally located. I must say that the NH looked a LOT more appealing but I sitll do not regret staying at el Cid.

We walked 100 meters to the Cathedral and looked around for a while. It began to rain we purchased two little umbrellas, I pulled my thick scarf out of my pack (this item got in the luggage only as a last minute impulse and booooyyy was I glad). Temperature was in the 40's. We were still stuffed from lunch so we went to a few unremarkable bars for tapas and then happily crashed.
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Jun 5th, 2005, 07:57 AM
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Mari, you're back!

I kept looking at the boards this past few days, I wasn't sure when was your return date.

Thanks for your first installment in what obviously was a great trip. Looking forward to reading the rest!
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Jun 5th, 2005, 09:17 AM
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I'm looking forward to this report also. I went to a lecture a couple months ago where a couple discussed their several trips walking the Camino de Santiago (they did it the hard way). It sounded intriguing, but I'm not sure I'm that much into hardship. So I'll be happy to hear how you did it.
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Jun 5th, 2005, 03:51 PM
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Ribeiro?? Once I travelled on Renfe to Galicia - the person across from me was a wine merchant. As we went from Ourense paralleling the rio Minho to Tuy, he described the various wines by region: first Ribeiro, then Albarinho and finally Rosal. That was also the order of the quality of the wines of the Minho valley. My (wife's) cousin lives in Rosal (near La Guardia). If you didn't get a chance to try either of those wines, you have to go back.
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Jun 6th, 2005, 01:21 AM
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Hi Mari,

don´t worry about your Bilbao opinions

I have the theory (and I have put it to practice), that you need decent weather and a native accompanying you in order to be able to enjoy it. It can be a hard city ...

You were right in not going to the Yecla. It might have been a bit taxing on you ... and that Burgos weather, I know it quite well. We have been in Madrid in June with 34 degrees, and stop in Burgos on our way back home with onlty 4 degrees (that was real garlic soup weather ...).

Looking forward to the rest of your report

Cova
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Jun 6th, 2005, 08:12 AM
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Thank you for the report, looking forward to the part about Camino. Could you please post how you arranged the luggage transfer? I have visited most towns/cities along the route, but plan to walk some sections this autumn/winter.
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Jun 6th, 2005, 10:46 AM
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Day 2 in Burgos started out a little warmer than the day before but still on the cool side. Our hopes for good weather were increasing since the sun was coming out so we bundled up and started wandering around town looking for an appealing place to have breakfast. Coffee in Spain is good!!! Any hole-in-the-wall bar will have GOOD coffee so you are pretty safe anywhere you stop. We drifted into a non descript bar full of people in business suits and lots of napkins in the floor and had a wonderful little Serrano and tomato rub sandwich, a slice of tortilla and four coffees (two each). Cheap and good, just our kind of place! We walked along the river to the Cartuja de Miraflores and we just made it into the church before they closed for a whole week to do some maintenance work. Beautiful altar and sepulcher, definitely worth the walk!

We started to make our way to the Reales Huelgas convent and realized that we would not make it all the way there before they closed for lunch. We decided to stop in a café along the riverwalk and in front of the old city gate (next to the cathedral). DH had some pasta and I had some stuffed peppers, naturally we both had some tintos (red wine).

I had to pull out again my ‘old faithful’ thick scarf and bundle up before I could settle down to people watch and wait out the siesta hour(s). I wished (not the for the last time) that I had brought some gloves!!! I absolutely love people watching in Spain. You always see a large amount of couples (young, mid and old) together. Beautiful baby carriages and clothes. The older ladies are always impeccably dressed in suits, they wear nice, elegant jewelry and wonderful walking shoes (I want to be like them when I grow up!!!!!).

Finally we pulled ourselves from our comfy seats and walked the rest of the way to the Huelgas. We walked by the NH hotel and I have to admit that Maribel and Cova were absolutely right….it looked REALLY nice compared with the Meson del Cid where we were staying! Still, the Meson’s location is so good that I do not regret staying with them.
I really enjoyed the Huelgas visit but I am so used to wandering around at our (my) own pace that guided visits seldom (never) leave me satisfied!!! Do not miss the statue of Santiago with the mechanical arm used in the middle ages to knight princes. I was very disappointed that we could not see the textile collection since it is out in loan while they are conducting restoration to their museum.

We returned to the hotel to freshen up a little before heading out again for the evening and a British guy that was staying in the hotel with his Porshe Club started to absolutely rave about this great meal he had had in town! We asked at the hotel desk where it was and headed out that way for a few tapas before returning to the Meson del Cid for dinner.,
The place is called Casa Pancho and I will be the first to admit that this was no secret find, no place where only the locals go, we were smack in the middle of the tourist restaurant area but after hesitating a little bit we remembered the raving and went in. We settled in the bar with a great view of the kitchen and had a racion of grilled squid rings, after that we were hooked!!! We had pincho after pincho (and more squid in between) and wine glasses to follow.

A group of thirty Germans came in unannounced and started ordering tapas. They were ushered to the upstairs dining room by the owner who had a look of absolute horror in his face. This is when our view of the kitchen turned into front row seats for an evening of culinary entertainment!!! Forget the Food Network, those ladies in the kitchen are true masters of the short order…the tension, the yelling, the tears from the apprentice, the desperate calls from the manager to his nieces and nephews to drop whatever they were doing at home and come help in the restaurant…all accompanied by our running commentary, we never made it to dinner at Meson!!! We rolled contently back into our nearby hotel and crashed for the night
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Jun 6th, 2005, 11:54 AM
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Hi Cova and Cruise!!! Thanks to all of you for the great advice, it made a difference.

Ned - I adore the Albariños but I did not know anything at all about the Ribeiros so the element of surprise came into play...oh well I will have to go back and drink some more!!! I also had an amazing rose wine from Ourense that if we had not enjoyed soooo much of it we might have remembered to take the label with me

Judy - I did the camino the lazy way, the tour company took care of all our transportation, luggage, lunches and meals. We just had to take a day pack and walk to the next meeting point. The company we went with is called Spanish Steps and we would recommend it without hesitation. The walking portion of the trip was our first ever organized tour and we were very hesitant about it. We thought it was kind of expensive but we both think that it was worth the money.
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Jun 6th, 2005, 12:40 PM
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Mari,

Thanks for the second installment. I'm absorbing everything you have to say about Burgos since I might spend 2 nights there in July. I'm glad to read your positive comments about the NH as that's where I have a reservation.
I'll make note of Casa Pancho, sounds like a lot of fun. Do you think they'll "frown" at a woman showing up by herself? ( maybe I'll be sent to the upstairs room where the germans went! LOL!) . Do you recall the name of the street where it is?

I'm so glad that you were pleased by Spanish Steps. I've been researching their groups for a while but it's good to have a first hand recommendation from you. I hope that in one of your next installments you'll comment about what kind of accomodations/ meals they provided.

Thanks Mari
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Jun 6th, 2005, 02:50 PM
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More, more !
I am enjoying this and may do a similar itinerary in the next 2 years.
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Jun 6th, 2005, 03:19 PM
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Day 3 we waved our goodbyes to Burgos and headed to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The curch is beatiful, the tomb of Santo Domingo is impressive and the cloister/museum is worth the detour.

We headed into Bilbao and got stuck in afternoon traffic getting into the city. We eventually made our way to the hotel, the Abba Parque which was recommended and I found to be very nice indeed. Very good quality vs price. Getting the car into their underground parking was an adventure upon itself!

We dropped our stuff and headed straight through the park into the Guggenheim. Amazing building! I had seen many pictures but still was impressed. I loved the interior flow, DH did not care much for either inside or outside. He loved the Maya exhibit that took over the entire museum. I was not particularily impressed by the audio guide to the exhibit.

We walked by the riverside until we hit the bridge to the old town. We went into the square and I was ready to start hitting the tapas but DH wanted to SIT DOWN and eat RIGHT NOW. You might have noticed that I have not mentioned lunch this day because we had not had any after a rather large breakfast in Burgos. All my nice plans for the perfect meal in Bilbao were laid to waste that instant....
We finally went into a restaurant (something Pepe?) and had quite a nice meal. The salad was very good and I had a nice rabo (oxtail stew), DH had sweetbread which was rather small-considering the lack of lunch.

From the restaurant we walked right next door to Cafe Bilbao and he proceeded to have several very nice Pinxos (I had to taste, you know how it goes...). From there we hopped into the metro which was very close and rode away to the station near the hotel.

I must say again that I did not fall in love with Bilbao. It was nice, I am very happy that we went but we decided to skip our second night in the city and leave in the morning.

next: the Basque Coast - love at first sight
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Jun 6th, 2005, 04:31 PM
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Thanks Mari!

Come back soon to tell us the rest of the story!
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Jun 6th, 2005, 05:49 PM
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I am sooo very happy that I took Maribel's advice and skipped San Sebastian and made our lazy way along the coast. We went through Gernika to Mundaka, I was stunned. Forget the Amalfi Coast - well not really but think about the Amalfi Coast without the lemons and the nasty road, add a touch of french influence and white greek-looking terraces and you have Mundaka. (Can you tell that I liked it?) The water was the color of Lapis and Turquiose around the cliffs. The fact that the sun had finally come out and it was nice and warm also helped!!!!

From Mundaka we went to the lighthouse, then Bermeo and then to San Gaztelugatxe. If you are ever in the vecinity of this place, GO THERE!!! Stunning! Somebody must have done something reeeaalllyyy bad to have to pay penance carrying all those blocks up the cliffs to build that church. Even if you decide to skip the climbing, the view from the bottom is wonderful. But since good things happen to people that make the extra effort while on vacation-the view down is even better! I'll try to get some computer savy person to help me setup the pictures as a link.

Maribel had recommended stopping over at Restaurant Eneperi and once again she was right on the money. We thought about having a full meal but it was kind of an awkward hour and we still wanted to keep going and not colapse into a stupor so we decided to have something light from the bar menu. The bartender says he does not tend the tables, he gives you tablecloth and silverware and you have to fend off for yourself (but if you smile sweetly at him he will bring the food out ) I had a marvelous Cod with Tomato Sauce for 8 euros that would give any restaurant a good challenge at three times the price. I asked the bartender about local wine and he brought out some Txakolí. Gave me a pretty good tasting and then when I raved about it, he refilled the glass and did not even charge for it.

Now, the view from this place is out of this world. The terrace is covered with a tree pergola and looks over the cliffs into the ocean. If I had seen a picture of this I would have thought it was in Greece.

I has small regrets about not having had the full meal but well, we decided to keep going. Maribel was absolutely right, after Bakio the drive was not as nice and definitely could have skipped but we finally made our way to Castro Urdiales. We contempleted driving on to Laredo but decided to stay. We stoopped by the tourist office and they referred us to a hotel. As a Fodors thread currently going on would stated: it was just 'a place to sleep and shower' for under 40 Euros. They did have an elevator and the bath was very clean. We wandered around town a little bit and walked to the old church and castle and then to the end of the wave breaker. The place was packed with families enjoying the warm, sunny weather.

We walked into a little bar just in front of the Fisherman's Trade (lonja) and thought that we would get a little teaser before going to the restaurant mentioned in the guidebooks. Boy was I happy I did not have that big lunch in Eneperi.

We started out with a little, innocent shrimp with mayo pincho - and that was our downfall! We stayed and ate and ate and ate...Bonito Pinchos, Shrimp Pinchos, Six whole grilled squid, Pulpo a la gallega, mixed seafood vinagrette, mussels in tomato sauce and nine glassed of wine (I cheated and got the extra one). Thank God that early on I asked the bar guy how they figured out what the customer owed and he told me that I was the one supposed to tell HIM what we had consumed. We kept track on a paper napkin and we are almost sure that everything was accounted for give or take a pair of pinchos, even though there is a clear possibility that there might have been eleven glasses of wine and not nine. All this for 36 Euros!!!!! This was one of the best meals we have EVER had. I did not even care about the unattractive hotel room anymore! In order to attempt the initiation of digestion we walked back out to the wave breaker and back to the hotel to sleep (yes, yes, I will admit mit we just plain happily crashed again. I can soon see myself in a twelve step program - My name is Maristella and...)

next: Santillana del Mar
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Jun 6th, 2005, 06:05 PM
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Mari,

What a great adventure! I'm going to have to be courageous and rent a car( one of these days!!). Obviously that's the only way to do this kind of trip.
I'll start looking up those places in my map, just in case...

Looking forward to Santillana and the rest!
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Jun 6th, 2005, 06:05 PM
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I've visited most of the Cantabric coast and I'll never, never will say anyone to skip San Sebastian which is by large the most beautiful city in Spain (for me and I know a lot of people who agrees). All the coast is wonderful , really special but I cannot think about it without San Sebastian. Looks you have to turn back ))
I hope you also have visited San Vicente de la Barquera..the most wonderful place of Cantabria's coast !!
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Jun 6th, 2005, 08:23 PM
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To Mari, Many thanks for the note about the tour company; but I thought perhaps it would be fun to walk on my own, if I could find luggage transfer service as in U.K.

Enjoy your report very much, thank you for sharing.
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Jun 7th, 2005, 04:47 AM
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Day 5 - we left Castro in the morning. We were considering trying to reshuffle all of our hotel reservations since we had skipped a day in Bilbao but we figured that the distances were not that long and we could keep going on and then return to Santillana for the evening. This turned out very well.

We drove into Laredo and Comillas. The Gaudi house (el Capricho de Gaudi) was something to see. The restaurant was closed and even though the posted operating hours the place looked neglected so we decided not to wait. The place is needing serious maintenance work to preserve the beutiful tilework. With all the nooks and cranies I imagine that it is labor intensive.

Suddenly DH made a sharp turn into a non-descript restuarant and announced that we were having lunch there. Bewildered, I asked, why? The wise reply came back: the parking lot is full of service trucks and company cars. The place was 'packed' inside (please remember that this is a small road on the middle of nowhere),there were at least 20 people in there. He asked for a beer and I was presented with a full bottle of wine which was left at the table when I asked for a glass. I had a FABULOUS white bean and mussels cocido (soup/stew) followed by beef stew. DH had some pasta with shrimp and some lomo (pork) to follow. The total bill was 12 Euros, I dont think that the place even has a name, there was certainly no sign outside.

I almost dislocated my shoulder trying to pat myself in the back, once more congratulating myself for making such a good spouse choice!!! A man that can fix broken luggage with a swiss army knife, drive for hours while his wife relaxedly looks out the window and can pick good restaurants out of nowhere is just about my description of perfect!!!!

We then drove to San Vicente de la Barquera. This was not in the original plan but those hours gained away from Bilbao certainly paid off!

This is a wonderful town. The long bridge leading into it sets the stage for the castle and church on top. We wandered around for a bit. I loved walking around the old walls and looking at the old houses and hidden gardens.

We made our way back to Santillana del Mar. This is one of the most photogenic towns I have ever been too. Every place you turn there is a balcony overflowing with flowers, a wall sagging just a little bit to make it interesting, little streets turning just the right way...many pictures were taken! I LOVED our hotel, Casa del Organista. It was small, cozy, charming, beutifully decorated and incredibly cheap. When I walked by the Casa del Marques I experienced a little pang of jealousy but then I thougth about our 50-something rate at Organista I let it go. We did have dinner at the Marques restaurant which was very good (assorted grilled fish for me and leg of lamb for DH). Slept like babies!
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Jun 7th, 2005, 06:25 AM
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Mari,

I'm new to this board and have been excitedly following your posts. Any chance that you remember any more details of where I can locate that restaurant find of yours in/around Laredo?
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Jun 7th, 2005, 07:35 AM
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Hi Abu,
if I am not wrong, the restaurant mentioned by Mari was near Comillas. Laredo is not exactly a great place of culinary delights (if you don´t count the ice-cream of La Valenciana, heaven in earth, or the "rabas" at a small non-descript bar near the tunnel), I should know about it, too many summers and weekends spent at its beach ...

Mari, great idea to drive along the coast , much better than spending the day in SS. It certainly gave you a glimpse on the country. BTW, when talking about San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, think that there are weddings there in the summer One of the biggies last year was the wedding of one of spanish TV star anchorwoman to a great ballet dancer, Igor Yebra. Ane wore her high heels all the way up And the dinner was at Eneperi. I have been there both for weddings and for simple food, and it is a great place.

And now, please, MORE

Cova
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Jun 7th, 2005, 01:06 PM
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Day 5 – We got an early start and went up to the Colegiata in Santillana del Mar. I could have stayed the entire day just looking at the sculptures in the cloister columns. The Pantocrator in the church is amazing. Absolutely loved the place, I am into medieval stuff so I would have been happy with one or maybe even two full days in Santillana. If you don’t care particularly care for the period then a few hours would certainly be enough.

We headed out to the Altamira museum to see the reproduction of the caves and paintings. I was happy that I did it and the museum exhibits are OK but it leaves you with an empty feeling L It does not FEEL like a cave…

By the time we left it was raining steadily. Since our next destination was Cosgaya in the Picos de Europa, we debated which route we should follow considering the rain and fog. We were planning to follow the yellow dots in the Michelin map that indicate scenic roads. We started driving towards the highway but finally our true adventuresome selves came out and we headed for the tiny mountain roads.

In the fog and rain the drive as marvelous, in a sunny day it must have been stunning!!!! Not for motion sickness suffers but I must say that the road was decent troughout the drive. We crossed through Potes and made our way to Fuente Dé. When we got of the car the top was visible but by the time we made it half way up the cable car was going through ‘solid’ fog.

This is where cultural differences strike – DH is Swiss and I am Puerto Rican. To him fog and snow are just something to be avoided at all costs and for me they are a total novelty. He wanted to just turn around and ride the cable car back down but I wanted to venture out in the fog. It was cold and the visibility was intermittently between twenty to hundred feet. We started walking towards the Refugio de Alivia through the snow and mud. There was a group of hikers coming down from who knows where (think full gear, snow suits, real hiking boots) and I innocently asked if that was the way to the Refugio de Alivia. The older guy actually SNEERED and SNORTED and kept walking, one of the younger guys laughed out loud and said yes but that he did not think it would be a good idea to walk that way in the fog. He was just being polite since I was wearing jeans and Clark’s suede walking shoes (along with everything else that was available in my daypack (i.e. sweaters, scarf, etc)) and wishing again for gloves! Neither of us was wearing anything remotely suitable for snow hiking. We must have advanced 300 meters when the snow just got too deep to keep going. The top of the path signs was barely visible over the snow so finally I gave up and we turned around (my feet were getting cold).

At this precise moment the fog rolled away for about twenty seconds and the sun illuminated the snow-covered peaks. The view was soooo beautiful the DH did not say anything about walking in the cold, wet slush There was no time for a picture before the fog returned with a vengance. We had a visibility of about 5 meters by the time we made it to the cable car station. DH could have skipped this, I had a blast!!!

We returned to Cosgaya and checked into the Meson del Oso. The setting of the hotel is beautiful with flowers everywhere. They even had two San Bernard dogs outside to complete the alpine setting. A stream runs through the garden so we had a great view from our room. I proceeded to take over the bathroom and took a looong, waaarm shower. Again, we had somehow missed lunch again and dinner was not being served. Cosgaya does not have many dining options so we crossed the street to the other hotel (there are two and that is why there was actually an option for a few tintos, potato chips and olives.

Finally we had dinner at el Oso. I was disappointed since the cocido Liebanes was only served for lunch and that was what I wanted. I don’t particularly remember that dinner so it must have been OK- neither rant nor rave (or maybe it was the tintos on the empty stomach The sunset over the mountains was orange so we got some hopes for nice weather the following morning.

Next: Bulnes and Cangas de Onís
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