Once I got past this obstacle, I was now only one of maybe a dozen people (out of hundreds) that have made it to this point. It was nice and quiet, and now I found myself in front of a few surprise arches as well as the triple arch that made As Catedrais Beach so famous.
Indeed, for a few minutes, I would wade towards the cove behind the first of the triple arches as well as another arch with a view of the thin arch in the distance through its span. And so I took what photos that I could for as long as I could before a handful of people started showing up.
I conversed with one guy who told me that this beach tended to have 10,000 people here at one time in the months of July and August. The fact that there was so few people right now, made this a very memorable and photogenic experience…
- Day 1: DON QUIJOTE Y EL GRECO
- Day 2: DEJA VU
- Day 3: LESS ABOUT SIGHTSEEING, MORE ABOUT EXPERIENCING
- Day 4: CHANGE OF PACE
- Day 5: THE MINI-PLITVICE
- Day 6: SERENDIPITOUS TIMING
- Day 7: NEW MEANING TO CORPUS CRISTI
- Day 8: PILGRIMAGES
- Day 9: COSTA TRANQUILA
- Day 10: FROM 10K to 12
- Day 11: CARING FOR CARES
- Day 12: OMG
- Day 13: SEEKING SHELTER
- Day 14: FITS AND STARTS
Day 1: DON QUIJOTE Y EL GRECO
It was 5:45am when I awoke. Julie got up at the same time too. We were spurred on by a sense of urgency that we wanted to maximize the amount of time available to us to visit Toledo. Since we were spending one night here, we wanted at least the half-day in the afternoon to do some sightseeing, then do some twilight sightseeing after dinner. We’ll see how it all plays out though as this trip has demonstrated that plans tend to change (and not all of the changes are voluntary).
It was about 7:25am when we loaded up the car and started to leave Cordoba. It felt like the city was already started to come to work somewhat bleary-eyed I’m sure. Julie and I still can’t figure out how Spaniards could stay up so late every night then come to work so early in the morning. Now we’ve heard about how siesta time would be the time to catch up on sleep, but we’ve also read about how siesta time could also be used to socialize and cherish time with loved ones and friends (thereby not addressing the apparent sleep deficit).
The drive out of the city was pretty uneventful and straightforward. Given the wide streets of Cordoba, it was just a matter of listening to the GPS, then getting onto the autovia going back the way we came yesterday.
At about 9am, we were back on the autovia going north-south between Madrid and Jaen amongst other cities. Julie made a phone call to the Hotel Santa Isabel to book a parking space so we wouldn’t be screwed out of a spot when we arrived (per the hotel’s suggestion).
We were somewhere not far from the Aldeaquemada exit (the one we took to go to Cascada de la Cimbarra a few days ago) when we went to pump diesel while Julie also picked up a breakfast on the go.
In particular, there was a jamon with fresh tomato spread on top of a toasted baguette-like bread. It turned out to be the breakfast of champions, and we had to discipline ourselves to not have more. But for sure, this was what we were going to look for from here on out when it came to Spanish brekkies.
After another poo break at 10am (Tahia was having an unsettled stomach like I was), we’d finally get off the autovia for another one headed towards the town of Consuegra. And at about 10:55am, we weaved through the city and ended up at the top of the hill where we were surrounded by a line of molinos (windmills) and the castle.
We were pretty castled-out so we had no interest in going into the castle though I’m sure it would’ve been interesting. However, we were trying to catch those classical Don Quijote (Quixote) fighting-the-windmills kind of shots though the race was on to get the shots as busloads of kids were on the march and it was only a matter of time before the peace would be disturbed.
In any case, the late morning sun was quite high on the horizon and it seemed like most of the windmills were against the sun. Only a few of them were lit up in the right way but harshly. Plus, the views of most of the windmills were too close (to fit into the camera frame meaningfully) given how big each one of them were.
Still, it was scenic given the windmills set in a backdrop of flat farmlands on one side of the hill as well as the town of Consuegra on the other side of the hill.
After having our fill of meandering about photographing windmills in the main area atop the hill (and trying to stay cool amidst the heat out here), we then went inside one of the windmills, which was converted into a shop and exhibit. Upstairs, they showed the machinery responsible for grounding wheat using wind power. There were also views out tiny holes towards adjacent windmills.
We had our fill of the windmills as more people were showing up and another group of kids had inundated the already cramped shop and exhibit. So at 11:50am, we left Consuegra and headed for Toledo.
The drive from Consuegra to Toledo was almost totally straightshot. In fact, it was so straight that I was starting to fight road fatigue again. Fortunately, we’d be into the city of Toledo where there were signs pointing to Hotel Santa Isabel. Then, we found ourselves on some very narrow streets in the Old Town, where we folded our windows in for good measure (i.e. more margin for error) before we’d finally arrive at Hotel Santa Isabel. Clearly a car in the Old town of Toledo would not be useful nor would it be much fun to drive as our experience had just demonstrated.
There was another couple also going to the same hotel. And when we showed up, we both had to squeeze in the very limited and tight parking space right beneath the hotel. I swore, it was parking garages that seemed to be the most dangerous for the health of rental cars. With the help of both the proprietor and Julie, the car managed to make it unscathed for the time being. I’m sure it’d be tight going back out.
Ultimately at 1pm, we got into our room and dropped off our luggage. It was a relief to make it to the room, especially given how easy it is to scrape or damage the rental car as our Cazorla experience attested to.
At about 1:25pm, we got back out of the room. But before going all the way down and into the Old Town, we actually went up for a few shots from the very beautiful rooftop terrace of Hotel Santa Isabel. It was from this vantage point that I could understand why people liked Toledo. After all, we could clearly see the grand cathedral, the royal alcazar (or military museum now), and more.
A few minutes later, we got our fill of shots but vowed to come back here later in the afternoon when the lighting wouldn’t be as harsh.
Next at 1:50pm, we then walked around to the next street, where we entered the restaurant called El Brocal. At this restaurant, it was the first time on this trip that I had to order completely in Spanish. We weren’t sure if we were going to have exactly what we wanted, but at least it was an opportunity to try something that only locals would have (though we had our doubts as we were the only clients in the restaurant when we showed up).
Well, it turned out that the menu del dia was pretty decent as our starter was gazpacho (always refreshing on a hot day) but the main was some kind of merluza fish, which was wonderfully prepared. Julie got some kind of smoked salmon salad, while we got a bonus appetizer as well. They had neither agua del grifo nor sangria so I just settled for white wine as my bebida from the special.
It wasn’t until about 3:15pm when we finally left the restaurant.
Next, we headed towards the cathdral. But before getting there, we checked out the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where it looked like they were setting up a stage. It was kind of in a hideous spot so we couldn’t get clear views of the cathedral from the square. There was even a gross-looking basin behind the stage that could’ve been a subject of photos as well.
Well, we were wondering where all the tourists were in the city as our hotel and lunch spot were pretty devoid of tourists. But we definitely found them around the cathedral.
After getting a little confused about where to enter the cathedral, we went to a pharmacy where we picked up some ointment for me ailing left knee. It didn’t do anything though but for 8 euros, it was worth a shot I guess.
The pharmacist eventually set us straight, and from there, we paid the 16 euros for Julie and I (Tahia was free), and then we entered the big cathedral, which was adorned with giant arches stretching all the way to the tall ceilings. Meanwhile, the main altar looked blinged out, and there were stained glass windows adorning a strip of the cathedral near the ceiling.
On the back side of the cathedral behind the altar, there looked to be some kind of scene that I might have confused for something we might find in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (at least based on the pre-trip research).
Now, while the lady at the ticket desk told us that a bunch of rooms were unavailable to us for the visit, we would find out later that those rooms were indeed available. So I figured that there must’ve been some kind of function going on, but now, it seemed like there were crews cleaning up and next thing you know, there were indeed open rooms to the Sacristy of Jesus, the treasure room, and the New Kings Room. The only thing that wasn’t open was the Cloister.
That said, Julie thought after seeing the Mezquita in Cordoba, this cathedral was kind of “meh” even though Rick Steves gave this the highest rating of three triangles. Nonetheless, this cathedral was still grand though I’d have to say that Julie and I were pretty churched out at this point.
At 4:15pm, we left the cathedral. It was pretty hot outside, but fortunately, there were a lot of shady spots to walk in.
As we meandered about looking getting oriented and trying to scope out places to eat, we’d eventually find the main throughfare leading to the Plaza de Zocodover. And on the way there, we found a bustling and charming commercial street flanked with lots of shots and also lots of visitors.
Once we were at the Plaza de Zocodover at 4:45pm, we just found a spot to chill out and enjoy an ice cream that we brought along the way. From there, we were just people watching, then we found ourselves in a pleasant conversation with a senior couple from Houston. They were also carrying Rick Steves, and I could see that he had quite a following amongst American audiences (even amongst a college friend of mine who was in Barcelona, then Cinque Terre in Italy, then the Swiss Alps).
It wasn’t until about 5:45pm when we left the Plaza de Zocodover. We had intended to try to go all the way to the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes at the other end of town (closing at 6:45pm), but Julie and I ultimately decided not to do it because we were just too churched out. Instead, we just headed back to the room to chill out until dinner.
By 6:30pm, we were back in the room as we had picked up a granizada and some cold waters to cool off. Even though it was now 29C (not as bad as the 40+ C in Cordoba yesterday), it was still hot enough for us to want to take a brief break before doing some twilight touring after dinner later on tonight…
At about 7:50pm, we left the room after I took a brief half-hour nap while Julie was busy looking up TripAdvisor for places to eat tonight. Apparently El Cuatro Tiempo Restaurant that she had coveted was closed on Monday nights so we were SOL with that one. However, she found this other restaurant called Adolfo Coleccion that was the backup plan, especially since it was pretty close to the cathedral and thus it was close to our accommodation.
But before going downstairs, we went back upstairs for another look at the cathedral and alcazar from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Santa Isabel. We figured that perhaps the lighting at this time wouldn’t be as harsh as it was earlier in the day.
As we were walking before the cathedral again, we could see that the stage that was set up on the Plaza Ayuntamiento just so happened to be for some musical act. Some guy was on there with a guitar trying out the microphone levels so it’d be ready to go when it would be time to get the show on the road.
At about 8:10pm, we entered the Adolfo Coleccion restaurant, where the waitress was very friendly (especially with Tahia) and we pretty much went with her recommendations on what were both popular and local to Toledo. So we ultimately got some tasty salad with prawns, a patridge main, pork stew (I forgot the Spanish name for it), and some complementary appetizers, which I’m sure Tahia really appreciated.
Finally, the dessert was really good, and Julie and I got the impression that the chef working here must be an understudy of an incredible chef. For all of us liked our dishes and nothing was left behind.
In addition to the waitress who was really friendly, now there was a waiter who was also smitten by Tahia. He called her “muneca”, which he said was like “top model.” That was some serious praise for our little girl, and it just seemed like no matter where we went, the reaction to her was universal.
It was about 9:15pm when we were done with the food, and then we continued to walk towards the Plaza de Zocodover. Just when we left the restaurant, the tower of the cathedral had a nice glow to it, so I knew that sunset was pretty much over by now.
As we were headed to the busy plaza, we could see that mostly locals were out and about doing their evening paseo on Calle de Comercio. Once we got to the square, Tahia and Julie had to use McDonalds for Tahia to go poo (again), so I guess the controversial restaurant in the square (note that BK was next door) definitely helped when it came to Tahia’s emergencies.
Next, we descended down towards the Old Bridge traversing the Rio Tajo at the bottom of the east side of town. Once we got onto the bridge at 9:50pm, we could see there was a full moon looking away from the city as well as nice twilight views of the lit up Alcazar at the top of the hill.
Looking in the other direction, we could see strands of red clouds from the post-sunset lighting. I always contended that clouds were what made sunsets, and in this case, it didn’t disappoint though I did with there was some nice famous building benefitting from the twilight magic hour.
As it was getting dark, we left while making some haste to climb back up to the Plaza de Zocodover then ultimately back to our hotel. We then walked the familiar Calle Comercio before turning left near the side of the cathedral where upon fully descending the road here, we could see there was a loud concert going on in that stage that was being set up to kind of ruin the views at Plaza de Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).
Now, there was a big crowd blocking the entire road we had to get through to get back to our apartment. In the mean time, the speakers were ear splitting and there were quite a few people even dancing and rocking over some beers to a rock band that appeared to call themselves Asfalto. They actually sounded pretty good, and I was digging some of the songs.
In my younger days, I totally would’ve just chilled at the scene and just take it all in. But everyone was tired, including Tahia, and getting back to our apartment was the top priority. And with the music being so loud, I wondered if we were going to be able to go asleep with all the noise.
When we returned to the hotel at 10:35pm, I learned from the female receptionist about the band Asfalto. She said that they were together for fourty years! The male receptionist who might be her husband said that he had never heard of this band. That said, it seemed like Asfalto was fairly well known in Spain, especially if they’ve been together for 40 years.
Meanwhile, the male receptionist also told me to go up to the terrace now that the important buildings have been lit up. It might also be a place to listen to the muffled sounds of the concert while the lights were on and the full moon was showing itself in the opposite direction.
At 10:50pm, I finally returned to the room. Tahia was pretty much out, and Julie and I dozed off for moments as we were trying to shower and tend to our oral hygiene. And so ended this eventful day that saw us spend most of our time going back and forth from the cathedral to Zocodover, but the rest of the city was pretty much ignored. I sure hoped that we didn’t miss out on anything we might regret.
Oh well, that’s life sometimes…
Day 2: DEJA VU
It was about 7:25am when I awoke. Julie was the first to wake up. Needless to say, there really wasn’t a sense of urgency on this day since it was about an hour’s drive to go from Toledo to Madrid. The real challenge to the drives were to get out of the tight alleyways of Toledo, then to deal with the maze of traffic and city streets in downtown Madrid.
After getting all packed and ready to go, we then headed downstairs to the cafeteria within the Hotel Santa Isabel for a Spanish Breakfast. After having the toasted sandwich with jamon and tomato spread in between earlier in the trip, we wanted that same experience again. So we were in the mood to fork over 5 euros per person in the hopes that they’d have this in the brekkie. Besides, we thought it was worth it in this case since we don’t often get a breakfast like this when we’re on the go.
The satisfying breakfast came with the aforementioned jamon with bread, but we also had some fruits (kiwis and apples) as well as tea and freshly squeezed orange juice (no added sugar, which was good).
It was satisfying, and by 9:30am, we had loaded up the car as we were taking our time. Eventually at 9:45am, we had gotten out of the car park after Julie had checked out. Both she and the receptionist helped me to get out of the tight garage without causing damage to the rental car, but then once we were out, we still had to navigate some narrow streets before making it out of the old town.
The alleyways were still tight enough for us to feel compelled to fold in the side mirrors until we were back on what looked like somewhat decent roads.
Eventually by 10:05am, we had stopped at one of the Ronda de Toledo overlooks on the other side of the Tajo River Gorge opposite the old town of Toledo. It was already pretty warm outside and we had doubts that this was the right place to pull over and take photos. So we didn’t linger here long.
Sure enough after a couple of minutes, we then found the real mirador, which was long and could accommodate many vehicles on the clockwise side of the Ronda de Toledo. There were also at least a half-dozen buses from the public transport variety to the private group tours.
In any case, we could clearly see that this was the more open and compact view of the old town of Toledo complete with Alcazar and Grand Cathedral. We had spent quite a bit of time up here along with throngs of tour groups and public transport folks, and we could definitely hear quite a bit of American accents out here.
We then continued driving, when we realized that there was another chance at yet another view of the old town of Toledo from the Parador above us. However, the road accessing it was only one way, which caused us to backtrack towards the proper orientation before stopping at one of the self-parking spots a short walk from the property itself.
From there, we promptly walked right through the lobby and then onto the terrace, which offered quite similar views as the miradores down below. However, we were from a higher vantage point. But if we wanted to see more of the river, it seemed like we would’ve had to have stayed in one of the upper floors.
Eventually, at 11am, we left the Parador, and then headed north towards Madrid.
The driving out here in the city was pretty straightforward (at least in terms of following the GPS to our apartment), and we’d eventually get to the proper address for the Eric Vokel Suites in downtown Madrid. Just given the sheer amount of time and distance we were covering since we had gotten onto the way to the Parador, I could see that Madrid was indeed a sprawling metropolis (given how it seemed like lots of development well into the outskirts of the city) as opposed to a compact charming old town like in Toledo.
By about 12:10pm, we had finally parked the car in the tight garage (though not as tight as the one in Hotel Santa Isabel in Toledo), got our belongings, and then promptly checked into our room by 12:30pm.
We had spent quite a bit of time recuperating from earlier in the day as well as figuring out how to use the self-help laundry in the apartment. So it wasn’t until about 2:25pm when we finally left the apartment and did some sightseeing of the main part of Madrid. We had targeted the Cathedral and Royal Palace on this day.
So we walked over to the Atocha Rail Station, which actually turned out to be a bit of a longer walk than we had anticipated. We then sought out the metro inside the station, where we then promptly took it towards the familiar Puerta del Sol.
We paid about 1.5 euros per person for a single trip (not trusting the 10-use combo ticket), and when working out the math, it didn’t seem to save you that many euros against buying single-use tickets a la carte.
Eventually at about 3:15pm, we were up and out into Puerta del Sol before we then showed up to a familiar money exchange on the way to Plaza Mayor. It was the same pedestrian route that we had taken at the very beginning of this trip, when we were laying over momentarily before retreating to the airport in anticipation for Morocco.
Well, that was then. We had gotten a decent exchange rate of around $1.14 USD for every 1 euro desired. However, this place seemed to charge a fairly high commission, which kind of negated that decent exchange rate.
Then, we meandered through the Plaza Mayor, which was much more wide open than it was on the day we had arrived. The key difference now was that the hideous stage didn’t dominate most of the open space of Plaza Mayor.
After passing through the square, we then went back to the familiar Mercado San Miguel, which was still bustling even this late in the afternoon. We tried all sorts of fish dishes on bread as well a cider, white sangria, and some bread and butter red sangria.
Unfortunately, securing a seat wasn’t easy. We’d eventually have to bring Tahia up to the table before we were eating together. There were practially no open seats where could borrow from adjacent tables or neighbors as they were all saving seats for someone. So we just made do with what was available to us.
After about 4:25pm, we were done eating. We then continued onwards towards the Cathedral and Royal Palace complex. We started with the cathedral where we felt like midgets against such a grand interior.
There were quite a bit of stained-glass windows at the top as well as a golden altar. Now while we thought some of the churches in Granada or Sevilla were better, there was no denying the grandeur of this cathedral, which Rick Steves gave three stars to.
The visit was brief so by about 5pm, we had left the cathedral, then we went up to the adjacent Royal Palace. At about 10 euros per person, it was a pretty steep price to pay. That said, Julie and I were looking for some shade and indoor AC, and we thought doing the tour through the Alcazar would be just what the doctor ordered.
We saw there were huge lines queueing up at about 5:10pm. However, most of those kids in line could visit for free between 6-8. It only applied for EU and Latin America citizens so we didn’t apply. Thus, we went straight into the visit, and promptly walked into chambers where photography was not allowed.
The self-guided tour path took us through ornate throne rooms, living quarters, mess hall, etc. The way the rooms were furnished, it really made it seem like we could put ourselves in the shoes of those who lived here for real. Julie really enjoyed the experience because she finally got to see how the royals lived in places like this.
I still didn’t find it that worthwhile if we couldn’t capture any of the experience in photos.
Anyways, as we went from one bling room to the next, it was very apparent to us that a lot of this show of wealth was what I’d characterize as a MuoF (mis-use of funds). Such was the case whenever we saw such concentration of riches, but I never found it practical. In fact, I was never one for endorsing royalty or this institution of man-made grandeur, and I’m sure the money earned here would cause the authorities to walk their way all the way to the bank.
Finally at 6:15pm, we were done with the Royal Palace, which was grand and kind of reminded us of the Palace of Versailles in France. We then ambled about in the direction of the Metro stop at Teatro, and that was when Tahia saw a playground.
So while she was busy playing with the apparati in the sandy playbox, I walked around more of the square we were in for a few more photos. But I saw that it didn’t amount to much out here so we then let Tahia play around a little more the playground before we then continued towards the Plaza Isabel la Catolica. That was when we decided to take the metro back to our apartment.
Once we got off the Palos de la Fronterra stop, we then headed back to the apartment while buying groceries along the way. Eventually at 7:20pm, we were back at the room. We were hot and drank cold water from the refrigerator. Tahia was really looking forward to swimming in the pool so we headed downstairs hoping to do just that.
But when we got down there at 8pm, we saw that the pool was covered. So I tried to figure out how to undo the cover so Tahia could play in the pool. That was when the receptionist told us that the pool had been closed since 6pm, which royally disappointed Tahia and made her cry. I guess we’d have to make it a priority tomorrow.
Eventually at 9pm, we’d finally head back down and metro our way back to Puerta del Sol. From there, we randomly walked the familiar busy street before settling on this Thai Restaurant at 9:45pm. Julie and I were sick of Spanish tapas and though this would provide a good change of pace. Unfortunately, the food was pricey for what we were getting. That said, the pad thai was good, the green mango salad was good, but the drinks were overpriced.
When all was said and done, we had spent about 34 euros just for two dishes. At 10:30pm, we walked right over to San Gines for the familiar chocolate con churros. This time, the service was much quicker than the first time around, so by 10:45pm, we were done with the churros and took the metro back to our apartment.
By about 11:30pm, we were back in our room, where it was time to call it a day. I wasn’t sure what our itinerary was going to be tomorrow, but I knew that at a minimum, we should visit Retiro Park as well as allocate the after-lunch siesta time for the swimming pool. I’m sure Julie would want to fill in more of the dead time with other things to do, but I guess we’ll just see how it all plays out.
Day 3: LESS ABOUT SIGHTSEEING, MORE ABOUT EXPERIENCING
It was 8am when I awoke. Knowing that there really wasn’t an agenda for today, I took advantage of being able to sleep in a bit. So both Tahia and I awoke at the same time, which was a rarity on this trip. Julie had been up earlier.
With no real sense of urgency of doing anything other than perhaps visiting a museum, then going to Retiro Park, and do all this before returning to the apartment so Tahia could finally enjoy the swimming pool, we took our time getting ready for the day. Julie had poached some eggs with the electric stove and with the sunflower oil that we had bought from the local mart down the street on Paseo de las Delicias.
With the eggs, we also had croissants and an included (with our booking) pastry from downstairs. We also had frozen the water overnight so it should last us all day today when we’re out and about sightseeing.
It wouldn’t be until 10:05am that we had finally left the apartment. By about 10:25am, we were at the familiar Palos de la Fronterra stop, and we took this all the way to the Banco de Espana stop, which we got to at around 10:45am.
From there, we walked across the busy street towards the Palacio de Cibeles, which was a building with a grand facade. It was a bit too much to take in from close up, but it would be harder to take a photo from further away given how busy the roundabout here was as well as all the other obstacles that got in the way (other cars, trees, light posts, etc.).
It wasn’t until we figured out that we had to walk a short distance north towards the Library, but the Archaeological Museum (MAN for short) was on the backside of the building. So it wouldn’t be until about 11:05am when we would finally set foot into the museum and its relatively air-conditioned confines.
This exhibit was actually quite interesting in that they talk about early man, in which the Iberian Peninsula seemed to have played an important role in terms of evolution and migration patterns. Modern day Spain was actually easily entered given the relative narrowness o the Strait of Gibraltar between that and Northern Africa. The rest of eastern and southern Africa was where it seemed like the early people had evolved from primates like apes and chimps.
That story was played out on the 0th floor. We then went upstairs and checked out an exhibit on the history of money before skipping up to the 2nd floor to check out Egyptian exhibits since Tahia was impatient about seeing mummies.
We ended the self-tour with a visit to the middle floor, which talked about both Greek and Roman history as well as a bit about Andalucian history.
By 12:15pm, we were done with the visit. We then caught the metro to take it from Serrano to the next stop at Retiro. From there, we would be in the Retiro Park at 12:45pm.
As we had expected, the park was grand, and it was very Central Park-like in NYC. While the sheer size of the park could be overwhelming, we saw that the most interesting part of our visit was this area with lion statues and some dude on horseback at the very top of this seemingly Roman monument at the head of the large green water basin. This was probably roughly a five-minute walk from the Retiro train stop.
After checking out this monument, we continued walking to the other side of the basin, where we saw there were some outdoor cafes. We opted to chill out at one of these random cafes, where the food sucked and the granizado was fluorescent green with an overly sweet and artificial lemon flavor.
I guess this random stop couldn’t be counted as a culinary stop, but we just weren’t in the mood to walk a long ways in a search for a foodie place. Indeed, it seemed like our Madrid dining experience was an exercise in trying non-Spanish cuisine as we were already pretty tapas’d out by now.
So we lunched at around 1:10pm, and the shade and laid back atmosphere was just what the doctor ordered. We had an angled view of the impressive monument on the western side of the big basin near the heart of Retiro Park. There also seemed to be some filming of someone speaking in front of a camera that probably belonged to some local news here.
By about 2pm, we were done eating. The people watching was enjoyable, but this dude sitting on a table behind us took it upon himself to just talk aloud to himself. It wasn’t easy to tell if he was talking to us or just talking aloud incomprehensibly.
Finally at 2:40pm, after a slow amble back towards the metro (as well as a futile exercise in figuring out how Tahia could access the playground that was enclosed by fences), we caught the next train back towards our apartment. We’d eventually make it back by about 3:05pm.
Five minutes later, Tahia and I were dressed in stuff we could get wet, and we then went downstairs by the reception office so we could finally let Tahia have a dip in the pool.
At first, we were the only ones there, but eventually four folks from what I think the UK also went into the pool area. They didn’t go in the water while we were there, but they were relaxing on the reclining lawn chairs.
Tahia was so happy being in the water (though it seemed like she had forgotten all her swimming lessons as she was content to splash and wall walk) that she seemed to have skipped her usual early afternoon nap.
Julie joined us (not in the pool though) a little after 4pm. It wasn’t long after that that both Tahia and I went out of the water, and I managed to doze off for a little bit while reclining on the outdoor lay-down chair. Finally at about 5pm, we were back in the room to rinse off all the chlorine.
We were still trying to figure out what to do with the rest of today. Some of the suggestions we had juggled about were the Gran Via, Museo del Prado, and Museo de Reina Sofia. It turned out that we could visit the Museo del Prado for free between 6-8pm while the Museo de Reina Sofia was free from 7-9pm.
Since Julie was only interested in seeing the Guernica work by Picasso, we opted for the Reina Sofia Gallery, but since we ultimately left the apartment and showed up to the Reina Sofia at 6:10pm, we had about 50 minutes to kill. I told Julie that perhaps it would’ve been better to visit the Museo del Prado before Reina Sofia given that we could’ve gotten into Museo del Prado right away. But Julie decided that we should only pick one between the two galleries.
Tahia dozed off and took a nap some time shortly after we started to fifty-minute wait. Unfortunately, one inconsiderate young dude decided to sit next to us and go chain smoking thereby forcing Tahia to involuntarily breathe in the second-hand smoke.
Eventually after 7pm, we carried Tahia and our stuff together so we could get into the Reina Sofia Gallery. We made a beeline straight for the Guernica piece, and we’d finally see the surrealist work that was said to evoke powerful memories of the atrocities that happened when Francisco Franco might have allowed Nazis slaughter Basque people near the town of Guernica.
When Tahia was fully awake, she saw Picasso’s other works, and she found them to be so disturbing that she was scared of them. I guess she just wasn’t used to the idea that Picasso’s surrealist art was intended to be distortional. But Tahia saw these distortions as being so out-of-place and scary that she wanted out of the gallery. Oh well, at least we were glad that we didn’t have to waste money on the art gallery, especially since we weren’t art aficionados anyways.
I guess it was good timing because we then walked over to the exit, where we were back out on the street at about 7:20am. Next, Julie thought we ought to try to go over to the Prado Museum before they closed. When we showed up at around 7:40pm, we were turned back by the guard. I guess we were too little too late even though we had shown up somewhat well before they’re supposed to be closed before 8pm. So no baby strolling or child carrier in the post dinner twilight as we’d head back to our apartment.
When we accepted the fact that this stroll from Reina Sofia to Prado was kind of fruitless, we then tried to head over this pizza place called Reginella, which Julie found on a tripAdvisor review. The problem was that it was open pretty late (at 8:30pm) and that it was pretty far bit away from the city center.
But given how much more walking we had to do just to get to the nearest metro stop, then take several stops to get over to the Ministerios Nuevos stop, it just so happened to be about 8:30pm when we would finally arrive at Reginella, which indeed was a bit of ways away from the hustle and bustle of the tourism crowd as it sat well north of the city center.
Well, it turned out that the pair of pizza wheels plus an ensalada pretty much hit the spot. We also got a tiramisu for dessert given that the food quality was good, and Tahia actually did pretty well eating the pizza.
We learned that the authenticity of the Napolean style pizza was due to the fact that the entire staff on hand today had roots in Naples, Italy. We even heard Italian widely spoken within the restaurant though they also had a good command of Spanish.
At about 9:35pm, we were done with the excellent pizzas and capped it off with a tasty tiramisu. Next, we by 10:30pm when we’d finally make it back to the apartment to finally call it a day. That was pretty much it for this somewhat relaxing day in the city.
Indeed, this was a day that we focused more on experiencing the city as opposed to sightseeing it. On top of that, it seemed to be a good day for Tahia. I didn’t have to carry her and risk jeopardiging my knee any further, she got to visit an archaeological museum, she got to play in the pool, and she even finished her lunch and especially her pizza dinner.
This relaxed state and mood would change tomorrow when we have to do a long out-and-back day trip to both Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo as well as Cuenca before returning to Madrid. And on the following day, we have to make a very long drive to Segovia via Monasterio de Piedra and Chorro de Somosierra.
Until then, we ended off the day pretty relaxed, and glad that we had time on our side for a change.
Day 4: CHANGE OF PACE
It was 6:15am when I awoke to Julie’s alarm. When I went to the restroom, I was surprised that I had diarrhea. Was it the tap water from last night?
Anyways, we once again took some time to get ready as we were having a croissant and poached egg breakfast with milk as well as some fruits (all bought from the grocery store last night). Then, we had to wash the dishes and start the laundry before taking off for the day.
Before all was said and done, it was about 8:10am when we got into the garage and started leaving. The car park here was tight, but not as tight as we had seen in other garages (especially in Andalucia). So there wasn’t as much drama leaving this car park as before.
Then, we navigated our way out of the city center of Madrid, and headed east towards Valencia. Eventually, it was pretty smooth sailing on the autovia though we had inadvertently gone on the toll roads on the way out. But once we rejoined the main autovia, we could see that the highway was much busier than we had ever seen it as there were even pockets of congestion.
Eventually, we’d get onto the A40 autovia, which had also a 120km/h speed limit most of the way, but this one was mostly straight shot (as compared to the earlier autovias taken to this point), and so we were cruising along pretty fast eventually getting to the Cuenca vicinity before 10am. Then, we followed the mountain road towards Tragacete, and eventually after another hour of mountain driving, we’d ultimately make it to the car park for the well-signed Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo at 11am.
There was a cafe right across from the turnoff for the waterfall excursion, but we just went straight for the fairly busy car park by the trailhead. Then, a few minutes later, we started walking where some twenty minutes later, we’d finally start to see what was left of the waterfall.
The walk was only five minutes long in each direction (according to the signs), and we saw that there were even ramps set up near the falls for wheelchair and stroller access. In other words, this was a very family friendly excursion.
Unfortunately, the waterfall itself lacked volume and we were looking somewhat against the harsh sun. So with the dark shadows, the falls were hard to see let alone photograph. Plus, the falls itself was a mere shadow of itself when we had seen in the web that there should’ve been a larger wall of water percolating through the vegetation (kind of Plitvice or Jiuzhaigou style).
For all the trouble it took to come up here, it was a bit disappointing. So far, we only did the five-minute boardwalk to the Cascada del Rio Cuervo. There was a longer path that continued past the waterfall towards the actual birth of the Rio Cuervo. Yet with the low flow, I didn’t even bother to linger longer than we needed to here.
Well, earlier on while on the way to Rio Cuervo (passing through in Tragacete), there was another birth of a river at Nacimiento de Rio Jucar. There was even a photo of a waterfall for that one.
So it was decided that we would at least scope out that other waterfall just to see if it was a drive-to waterfall. Anything much longer than that meant we’d be missing out on touring in the town of Cuenca and/or the city center of Madrid.
So at 11:50am, we were back in the car. A few minutes later (12:05pm), we stopped at the signage for Rio Jucar and the cascade while passing through the town of Tragacete. When we saw that the road leading to the falls was drivable, we too went for the drive. Why not? It was only 5km from the city center.
Eventually, we’d get to the trailhead for the Cascada del Molino at 12:05pm. Then, we promptly followed the sign, then descended across a bridge over the river before going by a picnic area then finally climbing up to the base of the main part of the falls.
The waterfall itself seemed more impressive when partially viewing it on the same side of the road. Plus, it seemed like the further away from the falls we were, the better the apparent angle and photography parameters.
In any case, we were at the falls at 12:30pm. Next to the falls, there even seemed to be either someone’s house or someone had left it abandoned. Had it been open, the view of the falls might have been better. But instead, a lot of the most impressive view of the falls were blocked by foliage.
In fact, our experience at the Cascada del Molino was much better than the Rio Cuervo experience. Yet it was the Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo that seemed to get the majority of the larger signposts as well as more frequent occurances of Rio Cuervo distance and direction signs. I wondered why this was the case, but perhaps it was the percolating nature of the Rio Cuervo Waterfall that was its downfall in lower flow, whereas the Molino Waterfall was more classical and didn’t need as much waterfall to show off itself.
That said, the Rio Cuervo Waterfall had far greater potential, and thus we could understand why it had the infrastructure.
At 1pm, we were back in the car. On the way back, we saw another family parked by us and picnicked at one of the handful of tables near the bridge. Clearly we weren’t the only ones just finding space to park where it probably wasn’t sanctioned, but who would want to walk more than they needed to if there was a road shoulder with room?
Next, we drove back to Cuenca (nearly 80km from where we were at) with the intent of having lunch and a late afternoon self-tour there. But on the mostly uneventful drive back, we saw a large gathering of cars. It turned out that there was a little area for car parking for what was signposted to be the Ventano del Diablo.
There was simply too much commotion to ignore so we pulled over ourselves at 1:40pm, and then we went ahead and did the short walk to what turned out to be a small double arch with nice panoramic views through each of its openings. There was some degree of doubt as to whether there was some man modification going on here (for the path leading to it), but we just rolled with it, took photos (which wasn’t easy to do given the harsh lighting of the day), and enjoyed the nice shade within the arches themselves.
When looking upstream down below, we could see that people were canyoning. There was also a well-situated house high up on the cliff overlooking the impressive gorge. On the other side, there were views out to farmlands as well as some alcoves or semi-caves on the cliffs, which made us wonder if there was a history of cave dwellings or something in there.
Nevertheless, we continued on our way to Cuenca at 2pm, and it didn’t take long before we were back down the mountain and into the town of Cuenca itself. Now, it took a little time to figure out where was the best place to park, but we’d ultimately wind up at a car park a short distance beneath the cliffs supporting the Hanging Houses (Casas Colgadas), which seemed to be the town’s main claim to fame.
It was 2:40pm when we finally got out. Then, we took a guess as to where to go, and we wound up walking up this steep road where we saw other people walk. We could see there was also a bridge that pedestrians could cross, but we weren’t sure how far up the road to the Parador that we had to walk (in the hot sun), so we opted for the shadier and steeper path.
Eventually, we found ourselves beneath the Casas Colgadas, and really it seemed like there was only one of them that had was noticeably right on the cliffs edge with balconies draped over the vertical dropoffs. There might have been one or two other houses adjacent to it, but it seemed like the rest of the buildings in the old part of Cuenca just happened to be buildings on cliffs that were more set up and thus seemingly ordinary compared to other similarly situated buildings in other towns throughout parts of Europe.
The unfortunate part about the most scenic house was that next to it was a bunch of construction artifacts. It was almost as if they didn’t want you to take photos of the house. The scaffoldings and high fences kind of ruined the view, and I guess there was this sense of false advertising given the circumstances. That said, it seemed like the obvious truth of the matter was that the hanging houses probably weren’t that sustainable at all (despite it being built in the 14th century), and I guess it figured that they’d have to bite the bullet and do some maintenance on these cliffs and buildings to keep the cash cow going so to speak.
After a brief climb continuing further up into the old town, we’d eventually find ourselves at the Plaza Mayor of Cuenca. There, we saw there were a bunch of open-air cafes on one side of the triangular square with a trio of arches, while the opposite side was even more spacious with a cathedral facade. In between were colorful buildings that I’d imagine were homes or residences on the higher floors. The ground floor was mostly businesses and restaurants.
At 3:15pm, we just randomly picked this spot to eat called Restaurante San Juan Plaza Mayor. The food was mostly local Cuencan dishes with other classic tapas type stuff, and the curt service along with persistent second-hand cigarette smoke (despite this being open-air) kept the experience from being enjoyable. Still, the Morturuero (sp???) was very tasty, and it kind of hit the spot since we hadn’t had a full meal since our brekkie earlier this morning.
Eventually at 4:20pm, we were done eating, then we decided to go on a little DK tour (Rick Steves didn’t cover Cuenca), where we walked up a narrow lane leading to an old Arab Tower as well as a church. As we proceeded closer to the impressive tower, we could see that there was fencing all around it so there was no way we could walk up the tower for nice views.
Instead, we settled for the nice panoramic views on the viewing areas over what seemed to be a car park underground. In any case, the views along the river were impressive due to more vertical developments alongside the cliffs flanking this river looking both upstream and downstream. They looked like they were still part of Cuenca, but we didn’t recognize which part was he New Cuenca or whether this was some other town adjacent to Cuenca.
So we took our photos in the intensely bright sun, then left the nice panoramas at 4:55pm. As we returned to the Plaza Mayor some ten minutes later, we could see the cathedral there was open. We briefly went inside, which was refreshingly cool, but when we saw that they wanted 3 euros to proceed further, we kindly stepped back out (we were pretty churched out and didn’t need to spend more money on this cause), then headed back towards the car park where we had left the car.
On the way back, we saw there were a lot more people coming into town at this time. Clearly, siesta time was over. Then, we crossed over the San Pablo (I think) Bridge, which was a pretty scary bridge spanning the gorge while affording us views of the Casas Colgadas on one side and more of Old Cuenca on the other side with another church off to one side.
Now, as we looked back towards the Hanging Houses (again, it was more like 2 or 3 houses that were “hanging”), we were essentially looking against the sun. And as we descended the road to the Parador (not going to the Parador itself), we’d eventually be back at the car park at 5:45pm. There, we paid the pretty exhorbitant 5.65 euros (far more than any other car park where we parked for only 3 hours), and we could now understand why other folks parked somewhat illegally to try to avoid paying this hefty toll.
Nonetheless, this Cuenca and waterfalls side trip was just what we needed as we were all getting pretty tired of Madrid at this point. And indeed, this was the very thing that waterfalling benefits us with – the off-the-beaten path excursions that helped to balance the busy with the laid back and naturesque.
Anyways, we were cruising our way back to Madrid where the highways were a bit less crowded than they were in the morning. Plus, we avoided the toll road to boot. And by 7:45pm, we were back at the Erik Vokel Apartments, where lo and behold, our little parking spot was still there!
There were a couple of other cars parked in the structure at the same time as us, and when we were getting ready to head back up to our room, we were conversing with one of the folks who happened to be another American discussing the “craziness” of how tight the car park spots were. Of course, we regaled him with our own little horror story of Cazorla where we knocked off and dangled the passenger mirror, and we drew the conclusion that parking garages were surprisingly the most treacherous spots for rental cars, we reckoned.
Anyways, with that, we were back in our room at 7:55pm. And at about 8:50pm, we got on our street clothes and walked back down into town for dinner.
On this night, we were going for a tapas crawl spelled out in Rick Steves book. By 9:20am, we’d ultimately start at our first tapas bar in Calle de Jesus called Cerveceria Cervantes. It was the first restaurant mentioned in Rick Steves’ tapas crawl.
Well, after paying nearly 24 euros for a single racion of garlic shrimp, a toaste with spread on it, and a huge glass of sangria with an included tapa of anchovies and olives (disappointing), we then bounced and headed further down the street for another tapas bar.
We’d ultimately wind up at this place called Taberna de los Gatos, which had some little spreads out on display, and it caught Julie’s eye. So we went in there and grabbed noodle-like whitefish along with another one with smoked salmon.
It was good, but both Julie and I were getting pretty full by now, and we still wanted to bounce to one more place before calling it a night. We didn’t linger long and we insisted on standing up at some of the narrow counters (even with Tahia) so we wouldn’t feel compelled to stay much longer than we needed to.
Finally, while Julie was scoping out the last spot called Taberna Maceira (which Rick Steves said would be the best of this small tapas crawl), Tahia was happy playing in a playground at a street corner. So that helped her get her fix, and when Julie returned at 10:25pm (so Tahia had 15 minutes in the playground), we opted for this crepe place called Le Comptoir de la Crepe instead of Taberna Maceira.
By now, we were pretty tapa’ed out and having this authentic crepe place seemed to be the thing to do to cap off our crawl. Of course it wasn’t the way anyone would draw up a tapas crawl, but it seemed like when it came to Madrid on our trip, doing things that weren’t Spanish seemed to be surprisingly good experiences (like the Napolitano pizza last night).
Well, tonights Brittany cider and savory galette capped off with a beautiful sweet crepe really hit the spot with everyone. Indeed, we made room for it, and learned from the proprietor that he was from southwest France though his folks were from Brittany (hence the authenticity of the food).
While casually conversing with the proprietor, we also asked about how he copes with the Spanish schedule. He said that he eats dinner well after midnight and opens his restaurant at 1pm though he has to be in the kitchen preparing at 11am.
Indeed, you have to go by the Spanish schedule or you don’t survive in the restaurant business, we reckoned. And with that, we left at 11pm, and eventually got back to our room at 11:30am. We stopped by the Reina Sofia for night photos on the way back.
As we made our way back to our apartment, we made a brief stop at the plaza besides the Museo de Reina Sofia. There was a fairly open square here, which allowed us to take in the modern exterior. And even though it was almost midnight, there seemed to be a lot of activity no matter where we went in the city, including this square!
Anyways, once we were back in the room, everyone was tired and we all crashed knowing that we have to be outta here for another very long day of touring and checking into Segovia tomorrow…
Day 5: THE MINI-PLITVICE
It was 6am when I awoke to Julie’s alarm. Knowing that there was a long day ahead of us, I got right away to wrapping up the packing duties.
Eventually by 7:35am, I was loading up the car. Julie and Tahia eventually followed thereafter. And then, we were headed out the garage with keys dropped in the drop box for early checkout. As we were leaving the garage, someone from the staff also happened to be opening up the garage so she kind of saved me the trouble of dropping off the garage key in a box. We just gave it straight to her as we were leaving.
Next, we were navigating the city streets as we were headed onto the autovia bound for Zaragoza. Going through the city streets wasn’t easy (especially in tunnels where it was too easy to miss turns given the small signs). But ultimately, we would get onto the desired autovia and then it was pretty smooth sailing from there.
The long drive included one stop as Julie wanted to have another one of those bocadillos with ham and tomato spread (which seemed like a typical Spanish breakfast). Eventually, we’d have one of these though it didn’t come from a restaurant popular with truckers like last time.
It wouldn’t be until about 10:15am when we finally made it the Monasterio de Piedra, which was the first waterfalling objective of today. It couldn’t have come at a better time because I was getting serious road fatigue after driving for nearly three hours. This place was about 3km uphill from the town of Nuevalos, and the autovia exit was near the town of Alhama de Aragon where signs for Monasterio de Piedra were showing up thereby making it easy to navigate there.
It was already busy by the time we parked as there were multiple tour buses plus a bunch of self drivers. Clearly this place had a bit of a reputation. And we were about to find out why.
After paying 30 euros for our admission (fortunately, they counted Tahia as under 4 years old so we didn’t have to pay 11 euros for her), we then followed the suggested route, which brought us down a hill into a forested lawn area (complete with sprinklers to boot). Right off the bat, it felt as if we had stumbled onto some manicured park, and we were wondering if this waterfall was genuine or somehow contrived. We did see a reservoir on the way to the park, so we speculated whether the waterfalls here might be sourced and controlled by this dam.
Anyways, it didn’t take long before we started to see and hear cascades. A sign said something about Diana’s Bath, which was the plunge pool of some small cascades, but we could see through the trees that there was an even bigger waterfall just upstream.
And so we continued on going up the steps until we were right in front of a very large waterfall called Cascada la Caprichosa (I think). It was the very waterfall we had seen in a waterfall submission years ago to our website. And now we finally got to see it in the flesh.
Given the waterfalling disappointments of the last few days that mostly took place in the east-central part of Spain, we were quite surprised to see how much water we were seeing in the waterfalls so far at this park.
Yet even as we noticed this large waterfall, there was another waterfall with “character” just past some grottos. So we spent some time trying to capture the gracefulness of this so-called Cascada la Trinidad. If the Monasterio de Piedra park contained just these falls, we would’ve already been pretty satisfied with our visit.
Then, we went up some steps above the grottos where we found ourselves atop the big waterfall, and then we followed its stream further upstream towards more cascades with a bridge running across it. On the other side of this bridge, the trail then started descending but not before following yet another series of cascades running alongside the developed trail.
When we got to the bottom of the descent, we saw yet another graceful cascade called Cascada Iris. At this point, we now thought the waterfalling experience was pretty over the top. But then we saw that there were other trails going away from the exit trail. And with some exploration of where these trails were going, it became apparent that we were not only on top of a very tall waterfall below us, but this trail going through some tunnels were actually part of a larger loop!
As we followed the trail down some steps into a tunnel, there were some openings where we could see the very tall Cola de Caballo (horse tail) waterfall. As we descended the dark tunnel more, we could see a bit more of the falls as its height became more apparent to us the further we went.
The trail also presented a very tall and reddish narrow gorge, and we had this kind of deja vu feeling based on our Mooney Falls experience back in 2002. Except in this case, the trail was still well developed as opposed to the one at the Havasupai Indian Reservation, which was more of a wilder experience.
We then descended into yet another tunnel where it now took us behind the Cola de Caballo in a pretty large cave. Most of the light for the cave was coming from the backside of the falls and the daylight filtering through there. We could see there was a spur trail leading to spectacular views back at the falls along with a lot of dripping water coming down like mini waterfalls.
We then went through a long tunnel that took us well beyond the wet chaos of the backside of the falls. At this point, it was much quieter and it didn’t take long before we were back alongside the stream where we crossed over a bridge and were afforded a frontal view of the Cola de Caballo.
Even from as far away as we were from the falls (pretty well downstream from the narrow gorge), we could still feel spray coming from the falls. Plus, we could see that the very tall falls was dwarfing people doing down the very trail that we had gone down earlier.
After having seen this falls, now Julie and I were getting that giddy feeling like we did when we went to the Plitvice Waterfalls in Croatia. In fact, we were starting to think of the Monasterio de Piedra as a mini-Plitvice with the many cascades and impressive falls that started inducing waterfall fatigue in us.
Continuing along the route, we were now alongside a stream full of what appeared to be man-modified trout pools. There were heaps of trout in the pools, and we had a fun time checking them out. The trail then meandered along the bodies of water until it reached the Lago de Espejo, which was an even larger body of still but clear water backed by reddish cliffs against blue skies with plenty of green at the base.
It was the kind of photo op that started making me wonder if this place was too good to be true. I mean, we had two giant waterfalls, countless graceful character waterfalls, and now photo ops from this reflecting pool against seemingly red-cliffed backdrops? Such a place can naturally exist? Or did someone do some manipulation here?
It was hard to tell. But one thing’s for sure, it seemed pretty difficult to contrive the flow such that all of these falls could flow the way they did over all of these cliffs with karst-like characteristics.
After the lake, the trail then went by an old house before reaching an area of rest. There was playground here, and we decided to let Tahia have some time there at 1:15pm. We hadn’t counted on our visit taking three hours so far. But we were glad we allocated enough time for this visit even though we knew there was another waterfalling excursion on the way to Segovia. Would we have enough time on this day?
Next, we climbed up a series of steps and switchbacks that weren’t too terribly steep. The trail went by more graceful cascades before passing before the Cascada de los Chorreaderos. This one was kind of like a spring and something we might be seeing at Mossbrae Falls if we’re ever fortunate to see that one. Nonetheless, this was a pretty neat falls in its own right though we were looking against the sun so our photos probably didn’t turn out now.
Beyond this falls, we went through another long tunnel near some aseos, and then we found ourselves back at that confluence area by the Cascada Iris. Now, we took the path leading to the exit (ignoring the additional route, which seemed to head back to the Horse’s Tail in a different route) and passing by yet another falls called Cascada Sombria.
We’re quite waterfalled out at this point, and we really sensed that the 15 euros per adult was well worth the price of admission. In our experience, places that have charged this much per adult usually disappointed us and were kind of rip offs. But not so at the Monasterio de Piedra. Now, we could see why there was a hotel here, for this place certainly had a lot to take in.
It was 1:45pm when our tour pretty much concluded and we got ourselves a couple of different bocadillos (kind of like subs with different toppings but much better and fresher). We didn’t bother checking out the monastery that was here given that we still had more to do in terms of driving back towards Segovia.
At 2:05pm we were back at the car, which was still in shade. And at this point, we embarked on a very long drive that ultimately took us back towards Madrid before heading north towards the small hamlet of Somosierra for our next waterfalling excursion.
The nuvi GPS had us going across some mountain roads, but we didn’t buy that the estimated time there would be accurate. So instead, we opted to stay on the autovias (including a toll road that went around northern Madrid to avoid congestion), and we’d ultimately find ourselves passing through Somosierra after getting off the highway. But we somehow missed where we had to go to reach the falls so we had to resume on the autovia looking to find a way to circle back.
Yet while on the highway, we could see glimpses of the Chorro de Somosierra (Cascada de Litueros) Waterfall against the cliffs, and thus we knew that we had found the right place, but now we’d have to figure out how to access it. So after driving a few more kilometers backtracking to Somosierra, we then found ourselves at a gas station right next to the onramp for the autovia leading to Burgos a little after 5pm.
We weren’t sure if we were in the right place, but upon asking the attendant there, he told me that I should take a road just before getting onto the autovia, and the trailhead access would be there.
So without further adieu, I did just that, and we found ourselves on what seemed to be an old road with worn out lines. It was wide enough to support bi-directional traffic, but it didn’t seem like this road was very well-used.
Then, we saw a pair of cars parked next to what appeared to be a trailhead at 5:20pm. So we stopped next to them in the limited parking space, and asked one of the people if this was the falls. He confirmed it that indeed it was the falls, and that we were supposed to get to the second creek crossing in order to access the base of the falls.
So the two cars that were here had left and we pretty much had this trail to ourselves. Of course, there was an air of unofficialness about this “trail” as we were walking on sort of a 4wd road where I thought I saw something about the road being “privado”. So were we trespassing?
Yet after going through a pedestrian gate on the side of a road gate, we then walked in the open air up to the first stream crossing as the guy had said. This one was easy to rock hop to get across. Then, we reached the second stream crossing, but from there, the trails that followed the stream up to the falls seemed very overgrown and I wasn’t comfortable proceeding.
But I did recall seeing a climbing path on the hill adjacent to us between the two streams, and so we went back to there, did the climb, and there was some mild overgrowth but the path was relatively easy to follow. Clearly, there had been a few people that had passed by here before so we were essentially on a trail of use.
At 5:50pm, we finally made it to the front of the Chorro de Somosierra! And like the pre-trip research, it was as advertised with a tall tier followed by a three-pronged lower tier flanked by cool rock formations next to it. Getting up to a satisfactory viewpoint was a little bit of a scramble. In fact, there was nothing signed about this waterfall at all! It was pretty much a locals attraction.
Julie and Tahia eventually made it up here a few minutes later. But Julie didn’t feel like doing any people shots here. It was also a bit hot and the sun was bearing down on us in our exposed position. I saw there was a short scramble down to the pool at the base of the falls, but I was a bit nervous about leaving our car at the trailhead (with a lot of stuff in there since we were in transition between accommodations), so we didn’t linger here for too long before turning back while avoiding getting sunburnt.
We were back at the car at 6:10pm. Just as we were getting the GPS set up, another car pulled up and it looked like they (looked like a trio of ladies) were about to enjoy the falls with a dog. Clearly, this place was not unknown in these parts despite the unofficial nature of it.
Then, we followed the N-110 southwest to the city of Segovia. As we were driving up to the Plaza Mayor, we could see the impressive Roman Aqueduct towering over people, cars, and a few buildings on the approach. Then, there was a very busy roundabout in front of the aqueduct where a lot of cars had to wait for pedestrians thereby clogging the roundabout itself.
Once we were past that, we then drove through the restricted zone until we finally found the Plaza Mayor and the Hotel Infanta Isabel. There, we promptly got our stuff out of the car, then checked in, dropped the keys for the valet service, and we were in our room by 7:30pm.
The room was actually quite spacious, and it commanded a nice top down view of the bustling square of Plaza Mayor. On one side, there was an impressive cathedral. Meanwhile, there were other old-style buildings surrounding the plaza. The sun was against the cathedral so it was hard to photo in that direction.
There was also a band with some dancing girls (probably all college age) entertaining and busking on one corner of the plaza. It provided for a festive atmosphere as it seemed like the square came alive with locals and tourists alike doing their evening paseo. And we got to see it all unfold before us down below.
At 8:15pm, it was finally our turn to join the paseo. However, we strolled down the Calle de Isabel la Catolica (turning into Calle Juan Bravo), which itself was also a bustling pedestrian lane of lots of people walking back and forth on their paseo. Eventually at 8:45pm, we’d reach the target place to eat called Meson Candido, which was right next to the impressive Roman Aqueduct.
There was a bit of a late afternoon glow on the aqueduct though there were also shadows. We took our time just soaking in the ambience of the moment before it was time to go in for a dinner, which we knew we were gonna have the cochinillo asado, which was the specialty of the Segovia area.
It was a very pricey meal (about 56 euros for everything, including 4.5 euro bread), but we figured we were paying for the aqueduct view and the reputation (since celebs apparently were here before).
When we left the restaurant at 9:50pm, we were now out and about trying to capture twilight photos of the ambience of the evening paseo along with the attractive aqueduct itself. And we pretty much just basked in the magic of the Spanish twilight in Segovia as we slowly made our way back to the Plaza Mayor amidst the evening paseo.
Julie and Tahia were back at the room while I was going to scout out the Alcazar while there was the last bit of twilight before it went completely dark. Actually, the walk to get there was fairly long by Segovia standards, and it was very quiet. Clearly, hardly anyone comes out and about in these parts this late at night.
When I finally got to the Alcazar, I was disappointed by the views as I wasn’t getting the Disney view I was hoping for. It seemed obvious at that point that we’d have to drive back out of the old town and look back at the Alcazar from the bottom in order to get that view of the Fantasyland Castle.
To add insult to injury, my nose was also starting to bleed quite a bit while I was photographing the Alcazar (or what little of it I could see through the trees). So I was trying to keep my head up while walking back to the Plaza Mayor so no more blood would be dripping down my nose. I guess I was suffering from dehydration from the saltiness of the food plus the lack of water.
Finally at 10:50pm, I was finally back at our room. It was definitely bustling outside, but fortunately our windows were double-paned so that did a lot to filter out the noise. Meanwhile, we all showered and slept as we were exhausted from the long but successful waterfalling day. We can’t wait to explore and experience more of Segovia tomorrow…
Day 6: SERENDIPITOUS TIMING
It was about 5:15am when Tahia woke me up because she said that she had poop in her pants. I knew that she was battling a bout of diarrhea, and when I dragged myself out of bed to go check, it was pretty clear that it was sludgy and mostly liquid.
Disgusting as it was, I had to do the duties since Julie was too tired to get up. Once I had washed off the stains from Tahia’s underwear, I then tried to hang it up to dry while taking down the already dry clothes. Unfortunately, one of the hangers got stuck, and when I had to stand on Tahia’s standalone bed to reach for it, a few of the planks holding up her mattress gave way and I crumpled to the floor.
Breaking my fall was my left arm, but I think I had jammed my shoulder in doing so. Fortunately, I didn’t dislocate or break anything, but that mishap pretty much got Julie awake. We then spent the next few minutes trying to fix the plank on the standalone bed, but we weren’t successful. We just rested the planks across the bed to support her.
It was now about 5:30am and I thought I could just wake up for the day, but Julie didn’t want to hear the keyboards clicking so I eventually just gave in and went to bed even though I wasn’t really feeling like sleeping anymore. That said, I found myself back in bed and asleep for a couple hours more before Julie woke me up at 7:40am.
As we got up out of bed, Julie had started to notice hot air balloons over Segovia. When I finally looked out our window, I noticed many more of them. I don’t think I had ever seen that many hot air balloons over any place at one time let alone the old town of Segovia.
At about 8:30am, we went downstairs for our brekkie that Julie paid extra for. We knew that these types of brekkie came few and far between. But we at least looked forward to the baguette-like bread with tomato spread and jamon on top.
Eventually, when we were done with our pretty full breakfast, we then went back upstairs to get ready for the day. Then by 9:55am, we were now in our touring garb ready to head straight for the Alcazar.
Now, Julie and Tahia got to do the walk that I had scouted out late last night. It was still pretty quiet, but we could see some shopkeepers were starting to set up shop. By about 10:15am, we made it past the gate and towards the front entrance of the Alcazar. From this side of the building, we didn’t get any of those Fantasyland castle views, but we did see an interesting turreted tower.
Promptly thereafter, we went into the Alcazar, which was delightfully quiet. As we went from the courtyard to the room-by-room self-guided tour, we could really sense the medieval feel of each room even though we knew that the rooms and hallways were recreated after a fire gutted the place in the 19th century.
There were lots of models of knights in shining armor as well as elaborate tapestries on the side walls and even frescoes on the ceilings. In some of the rooms, we could see dining tables as well as bedrooms, throne rooms, guest rooms, etc.
This was the type of experience that Julie embraced so she could envision what life was like inside these walls. We knew that Rick Steves wasn’t a big fan of the Alcazar giving it only a single triangle, but it seemed like he had set our expectations low so we could be pleasantly surprised by our visit.
Eventually, we’d get up towards the outside where we could see there was a garden maze on one of the terraces (probably a Moorish influence) as well as other artifacts of a Mudejar or Moorish past with intricate woodwork, Arabic arches, and the courtyard with fountain that had become so familiar to us in Andalucian Spain as well as in Morocco.
By about 11:05am, we had concluded the Royal Palace part of the tour (good thing we had the early start because now the huge tour groups had shown up), and now we were going up to the top of the tower.
About five minutes later, we had ascended the 152 steps, and now we were on the hot and exposed top where we could see all around us in relative peace as the tour groups hadn’t made it up here yet. Indeed, this Alcazar was on a very strategic location where a gorge pretty much prevented access to the castle on three sides, while the only access was from the fourth access through the old town.
Still, we knew that the Disney view of the castle would be from down below, and from our lofty vantage point, it was clear to us where we needed to go later on in the day.
At 11:25am, we were done visiting the Alcazar. Next, we continued the loop walk along the southern streets towards the Plaza del Socorro, where there was a cute gate there.
Then, we walked up towards the backside of the Cathedral, and eventually we’d make it back to the Plaza Mayor. By 11:55am, we had the bandwidth to go check out the interior of the grand cathedral that was pretty much staring us in the face since we’d arrived in Segovia yesterday.
Inside the cathedral, it was the usual tall arched and cavernous main hall with some side rooms that were available for looking as well. In one particular side area, we got to go around another courtyard where there were more rooms showing treasures and other interesting artifacts, but we couldn’t take photos there.
While the cathedral was said to be elegantly simple, we were pretty cathedraled out by now. So we left at about 12:20pm and we decided to have a lunch just to enjoy the ambience of the Plaza Mayor over the meal.
We ended up eating at this place called Meson Mayor at 12:30pm. We went there largely because this other place called Concepcion was crowded. We knew that if it was that busy, it would mean no service, and we’d be sitting there forever. I guess that was the Rick Steves effect. The other restaurant we went to only had a few people, and it turned out that we were pleasantly surprised by the food, which consisted of a roasted pig salad (with garlic), solomillo, gazpacho, and sopa castellana.
We were done with the lunch at about 1:20pm. Julie made a good call to go with this other restaurant. Though we still paid nearly 36 euros for the whole meal, which would’ve constituted a pretty expensive dinner when we were in Andalucian Spain. It seemed like the further north we went, the more expensive things became…
At 1:50pm, after getting ready to drive back out of the old town for the afternoon, we showed up to the lobby as we waited for the valet guy to show up. At 2pm, we finally got the car back, we notified the receptionist of our early departure tomorrow, and then we drove out of the plaza though we had to navigate through a lot of pedestrians as we slowly made our way out of the Old Segovia town.
At about 2:15pm, we made it down to the road going alongside the river across from the hill containing the old town. We eventually found a pullout yielding a pretty nice view of the backside of the Alcazar looking very much like the Disney-inspired castle that we imagined it would be. However, the lighting was a bit on the harsh side at this time of day.
A few minutes later, we then parked at a large lot near the Iglesias de San Marco. There were a couple of wedding couples taking photos before the Alcazar here, but there was plenty of space on the lawn to take our own photos.
Once that was done, we then got back in the car and immediately drove towards La Granja for a visit to the Palacio de la Granja de San Ildefonso. We’d eventually get there at 3pm after driving less than 15km of local traffic roads. It took some time for us to find parking though as the free lot closest to the Palace and the old town was very busy.
We actually had to make a few loops before finally stalking a handful of people headed in the direction of the car park hoping we’d get lucky. Ultimately, we’d finally find a spot though one guy went the wrong way to try to get it while we were waiting for another car in front of us to wait for yet another spot that had just vacated. If we didn’t act decisively, we could’ve lost out to the guy going the wrong way!
At 3:10pm, we had just walked under the nearest gate and onto a pretty happening market flanked by a lot of tented stands selling various things. However, what really made this place atmospheric was that there were many people on the street between the stands, and many of the folks were actually dressed in period clothes.
Julie thought it was as if we had stumbled onto some kind of Renaissance Fair, except this one seemed to feel a bit more authentic than the ones we’re used to back at home. There were even people playing instruments and marching as if they were in the medieval period.
Since Tahia was napping, I had to carry her without a child carrier until we eventually made it to the Plaza de los Dolores. There, we found a tented teteria, and decided to just chill out there over Moroccan tea and some sweets. Tahia slept no longer while at the teteria, and she especially got up when she saw one of the sweets had chocolate topping on it.
We had left the teteria about 20 minutes later, then I looked around for the tourism office. When I found it, the office was closed, but there were print out copies of town maps, and we grabbed one. From there, we then followed a different street towards the Plaza de Espana, right in front of the Palace. The street we had walked was also atmospheric with more shops and people dressed in period garb.
At 3:35pm, we eventually entered the palace. We had to use the consigna to drop off the safari bag though so we only had one bottle of water to share between us. Meanwhile, most of the Royal Palace rooms didn’t allow for photographs so it wasn’t like we could take home any memories of the place. That was a bummer, but I guess there were some tapestries, frescoes, and lots of bling that I guess they didn’t want to random pictures to spread on the internet.
Once again, Julie was digging this palace part of the visit as she got to gawk at the accumulated wealth of royalty or aristocracy. Like with the Alcazar, she felt like she got to envision what life must have been like here.
It wouldn’t be until about 4:10pm when we were done with the royal palace part of the visit and then entered the extensive garden. After reading about seeing the Chorro Grande from the gardens at La Granja, I was on the lookout for the waterfall from the complex. However, I wasn’t seeing it in the general direction of the falls so I finally asked the guard about it.
She said to keep going straight past the fountains towards the far eastern end of the garden. I wasn’t sure if she misunderstood me for the waterfall up in the mountains versus fountains or something else, because she mentioned something going on at 5:30pm later today.
So with that, we walked through the really huge gardens in the general direction that she said. The fountains here were quite attractive, and there were like one fountain and pool after another. Those alone could’ve easily distracted us and kept us happy snapping photos.
But we kept going. The path gradually went uphill as we went past the fountains, then we walked past what looked like a spring leaking onto the trail. There was water bubbling up out of the ground, but if it was a real spring, I’d imagine some infrastructure would’ve been put around it. Instead, it could just be a broken pipe that was now bursting up water through the ground by pressure.
Eventually at 4:45pm, we ended up at a lake where there were open views past trees towards the mountains to the left (north). At that point, I drew the conclusion that the Chorro Grande must be at the rocky part, and when I took a photo of it in the best zoom that I could, then I zoomed in on the capture to see if there was anything there, I did notice a thin stream in the groove of that rocky part of the mountain. That must be the falls, but it wasn’t that visible to the naked eye.
Indeed, it required a spotting scope or telescope or something to even notice it. So that was kind of disappointing, and I guess I’m on the fence about whether to even make mention of it on the website.
To round out this part of the trip, I had noticed that there was a small pair of waterfalls spilling between some grottos on the other side of the lake. So I walked over there to investigate whether those waterfalls were real or man-made.
When I got to the gruta, it was obvious to me that the falls were fake. There was no way that the feeding creek could be below the height of the falls, which was the case. I didn’t see any telltale pumps or anything, but it was pretty obvious to me that the falls were fake.
At about 5:15pm, we left the lake and headed back the way we came towards the fountains again. When we ultimately got back to the fountains, we were surprised by how many people were surrounding some of the fountains now. It was crazy! But it didn’t take long for us to figure out that there were employees by some spigots on the ready about to turn on the fountains.
So that was what the guard was telling me about that was going on at 5:30pm. Sure enough, right on time, the fountains were activated. And next thing you know, there were a bunch of fountains going off at the same time spewing like geysers. That seemed to delight the huge crowd of people surrounding all the fountains here. I was still incredulous that you could have hundreds or even a thousand or so people show up just to watch a contrived fountain go off.
Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Then, the crowds were dispersing trying to improve their views as the fountains were going off. But ten minutes after the fountains went off at 5:30pm, the fountains started to stop and gurgle.
It wasn’t until about 6:10pm when we finally came back to the consigna to pick up the left bag. When Julie and I were at the courtyard near the consigna, we noticed the same rocky outcrop in the distance from here. So technically speaking, we didn’t have to go all the way to the far eastern end of the garden to see the Chorro Grande (or whatever was left of it).
At this time, we slowly made our way back to the happening streets, where signs indicated that this was the Mercado Barroco (Baroque Market). In any case, it was even more happening now at the market than it was when we first showed up a couple of hours before.
We really wanted to linger here a while longer and soak up more of this ambience. We even stopped for a real tasty crepe filled with nutella. And it turned out that it was amazing!
But we still needed to get back to Segovia where we were determined to get another aqueduct view as well as a dinner at Jose Maria’s since we had read that it had the best cochinillo asado in town. Plus, we didn’t want to stay out so late that it’d be too late to return the car with the valet courtesy of the Infanta Isabel Hotel. I guess we couldn’t be in two places at once.
At about 6:50pm, we finally made it back to the car. The drive back was pretty uneventful though the GPS had us go on a route we hadn’t gone on before. We ultimately made it back to perhaps the best Sleeping Beauty Castle view (which was less formal than the lawn area by the San Marco Church), and this was where we got a few more snaps of the Disneyland-like Alcazar before continuing on.
I noticed a dead snake near the lookout (worrisome since I was wearing Chacos and poisonous snake bites would be bad), but other than that, we took our people shots, but didn’t get the late afternoon glow we were hoping for thanks to the persistent thunderstorm clouds muting the colors. Plus we wouldn’t be staying out here for twilight either.
So at 7:45pm we were back at the hotel, but the GPS had us take a different way back to the Plaza Mayor. This seemed to be a more direct route though there was a narrow alleyway that we had to negotiate to get back to our hotel near the big cathedral. At least it wasn’t as bad as it was in Toledo, but it did scare us a little.
After getting ready for dinner and hopefully a twilight tour of Segovia one last time, we finally headed down at 8:40pm. We went straight for dinner at Jose Maria’s five minutes later. At first we thought we might have shown up pretty late due to how crowded the bar in the front room of the restaurant was. But it turned out that there were tables in the back so we were promptly seated.
The food of cochinillo asado as well as duck foie were too much. I bet they’d easily feed four people instead of two plus our picky daughter. Add to that a Mediterranean-type salad, and this was simply way too much food.
We thought the roast suckling pig was a bit heavy on the skin and fat and light on the meat so we didn’t like it as much as the place yesterday. Plus, this place was even more expensive at nearly 64 euros!
It wouldn’t be until 10pm when we were finally done with the dinner. But not before Tahia got yet another free spontaneous gift from a stranger. This time, it was a piggy bank (instead of candy) from one of the waiters.
With it being a bit late now and a looming early wake-up to get to Salamanca and Pozo de los Humos Waterfall, I decided against getting twilight shots of the aqueduct again. I guess our aqueduct viewing was yesterday and our alcazar viewing was today. And so ended our busy yet satisfying tour of Segovia.
Indeed, we did it right by spending two nights here. Our original itineraries had us not spending any nights here and doing it as a day trip from Madrid. Boy were we glad we opted to spend a couple nights here. It made the experience more relaxing and atmospheric. Plus, we were already tired of Madrid, and driving through the city streets of Madrid were no fun either.
Hopefully, we will have done Salamanca right tomorrow, but it all starts with an early start…
Day 7: NEW MEANING TO CORPUS CRISTI
It was 6am when I awoke to Julie’s alarm. I had woken up groggy, and it seemed like it had been a while since I had had at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. And as I was getting my stuff together, I noticed that the Plaza Mayor still had quite a few people meandering about probably coming home from all night parties or clubs. No kidding about the Spanish being night owls.
Julie and Tahia had gotten up much later. So I knew that getting out of Segovia by 7am would be a pipe dream at this point. I wasn’t sure how this would impact our ability to tour Salamanca, especially since I was worried about closures to key attractions on a Sunday. That said, the typical schedules for both the Old and New Cathedrals and the Salamanca University meant we had nothing to worry about as they’d open continuously until early evening. However, you never know if there’s some kind of celebration or mass or something that might conspire to mess things up.
It wouldn’t be until 7:30am when we finally loaded up the car, checked out, and were ready to go. Unlike the previous times I had driven in the Old Town of Segovia, today was indeed a Sunday so I didn’t have to contend too much with congestion or squeezing through tight streets in bi-directional traffic.
The drive out of Segovia passed by some grassy hills where it seemed like hot air balloons were parked. After having seen these things yesterday morning, it seemed like this was a pretty common occurence in Segovia in the early morning hours when the air would typically be cooler (perhaps to improve the life of hot air balloons).
Afterwards, we zipped along mostly autovias on the way to Salamanca. Once again, we were rolling between fields of what Julie thought were mature olive trees. And these farms seemed to be everywhere in rural Spain.
We actually passed through Salamanca at around 9:30am, but we knew this was way too early to drop off our luggage then continue touring. So we held onto our stuff, kept on going towards our waterfall trip of the day at Pozo de los Humos, and essentially head towards the border between Spain and Portugal without actually crossing it.
In my pre-trip research, I couldn’t tell which trailhead we were supposed to choose – Masueco or Perena de la Ribeira? We had a 50/50 chance of getting to the mirador with the frontal view of the falls (which was the more desirable one). And I ended up routing to the town of Masueco, hoping there’d be further guidance on getting to the trailhead from there.
When we got to Masueco, there were signs that helped point us the way to Pozo de los Humos. Unfortunately, the access road from Masueco to the trailhead for Pozo de los Humos was on a pretty dodgy unsealed road. I guess as long as I took my time squeezing between the sides of the narrow roads, or trying to dodge or minimize the impact of potholes and/or ruts, I knew we’d eventually be there. I just hoped that this road wouldn’t cause us a flat tire.
Sure enough by 10:30am, we finally made it to one of the car parks for Pozo de los Humos. When we got out of the car, we could hear voices. But since we were the only ones parked here, we wondered whether there were other folks that hiked here from town. And from what we could tell, there was no one on the trail nor at the overlooks below.
Speaking of the overlooks, that didn’t seem promising as the viewpoints were only near the top of the main plunge of the waterfall. When I scanned my eyes further up across the gorge (suspecting that the other viewpoint was the one yielding the frontal view of the falls), that was when I saw a group of folks checking out the falls from where we probably should’ve been in the first place had we known better.
That was when I realized that the voices that I had heard came from those folks across the gorge! Given the relative silence of this place, it was amazing how clearly we were able to hear them!
And so we all walked past the barricade then went down a couple of switchbacks along a pretty wide 4wd road. Given how long and steep this descent was, we knew it was going to be an ass-kicker on the way back up.
It was about 11:25am when we finally made it down to the mirador. There were some clearly designated overlooks that turned out to be mostly partial views of the waterfall. Perhaps the most somewhat satisfying view came from a platform that was literally hanging over the abyss that was right below us. The two drops of the 50m waterfall were visible, but they were really awkward to try to capture in photos.
While the views were awkward, they were also butterfly-inducing and scary. We definitely had to keep a close eye on Tahia even though there were railings and barricades. We also noticed that there was some kind of stone hut that was also here near the overlooks. We weren’t sure what it was for, but there was something written in Spanish that I figured I could translate later on.
Anyways, this pretty much confirmed my suspicion that we needed to somehow get to the other side of the gorge for the more satisfying frontal view of the falls. All the effort it took to look at the waterfall from the Masueco side was pretty disappointing.
We didn’t take long before we decided to head back up to the car park. Just as we were doing the long climb back up, the somewhat overcast conditions started giving way to the hot and intense sun. So by 11:50am, we were quite the hot and sweaty mess.
We encountered a few more people coming down to the overlook so we were no longer the only ones on this side. In fact, there were three other cars that were parked here when we had returned. Now, it was time to figure out how to get to Perena de la Ribera, which I knew was the town providing signs for the other access to Pozo de los Humos (Well of Smoke – though it was a far cry from a smoking waterfall on this day).
The road back from the trailhead to Masueco went in a slightly different direction thereby forming a loop. The route was equally bad (if not worse and even scarier than on the way in) thanks to the even narrower road with vegetation brushing up against both sides of the rental car while continually negotiating potentially tire-popping rocks and some potholes and ruts.
As we finally went through the sleepy town of Masueco, we then saw that there was a signposted turnoff that headed towards some other towns. It didn’t explicitly say it was for Perena de la Ribera, but I took a punt and explored it anyways. Julie was already antsy about going to Salamanca at this point, but we still had to complete our Pozo de los Humos experience since it remained incomplete. Had we started with the alternate viewpoint, then I wouldn’t have felt compelled to do the scarier route from Masueco.
Finally after reaching Perena de la Ribera, we saw brown signs for Pozo de los Humos. I figured the brown signs were always a good thing because that pretty much confirmed in my mind that this was the more popular and sanctioned (and probably easier) way to experience the falls.
Sure enough, the road going from town to the sanctioned and shaded car park was much easier going than from Masueco. Even though the road was still unpaved, it was wider with fewer potholes, big rocks, and ruts. Eventually by 12:30pm, we parked the car, but Julie and Tahia decided to stay in the shade given their energy was already pretty much exhausted from our little adventure from Masueco.
So without further adieu, I headed out solo. After walking past the vehicular barricade, I was then on a trail that went downhill, but in a much less steeper grade than on the Masueco route. I was pretty much walking in complete exposure to the sun as there was hardly any shade. Plus, it seemed like I was walking on a continuation of the road we had just used to drive in.
After walking beneath a couple of stretches of power lines, I noticed there was some kind of private residence that looked like it was unoccupied. I wondered if this road must’ve been made to accommodate whoever lived at this house, or if was to help the workers gain access to the power pylons. Whatever the case, there was still no shade and I was a pretty hot mess already.
At about 12:50pm, not long after this house, I noticed what appeared to be the original car park for this hike! Now, it became obvious to me that this hike shouldn’t have been as long as it was. It should’ve only been 400m in each direction! But upon closer inspection at those persistent signs I kept seeing regarding the restricted access, I now worked out the translation such that it was saying that the route was closed to vehicles to protect endangered species from February 15 to June 30!
So that pretty much explained it. I guess whenever the falls would be flowing, you could pretty much count on doing the longer hike and not the easy and much shorter walk by using the closer car park given this restriction. Oh well, it was what it was.
At 12:55pm, I had finally gone the last 400m, which descended a little more steeply than the gradual road I had walked to this point. Now, I found myself nearby a power pylon that connected across the gorge with a power pylon that was probably closest to the car park from the Masueco side. Speaking of which, I was able to see both that car park from this vantage point (though I was also able to see Masueco from much of the trail as well).
As expected, the view of the falls from here was much more satisfying albeit distant. Given the struggling flow of the falls, it certainly wasn’t a well of smoke (which was how Pozo de los Humos was said to be translated). Instead, it was a stringy two-tiered falls, which the lower falls and plunge pool being much more impressive.
I pretty much had this overlook all alone, and it wouldn’t be until about 1:10pm when I finally left this spot and headed back up to the trailhead.
Again, the non-trivial hike (probably about 2km in each direction) was totally exposed to the sun. Now, the return hike had the additional challenge of being somewhat uphill than the way in.
It wouldn’t be until 1:30pm when I finally returned. Julie was waiting and knew that I had gone on a longer-than-expected hike. That was when I explained to her about those signs that actually lengthened our excursion. So now with this out of the way, we could finally head towards Salamanca albeit a little later than we would have liked.
Both our Nuvi and the car’s built-in nav had me go on some obscure route in the middle of nowhere that took me through some sleepy towns (one was Cabeza). I knew from the twistiness and narrowness of the road, this was not the better way to go, but it was too late and we had already made the commitment. In hindisght, we should’ve gone back the way we came, then take the more straighter shot roads into Salamanca.
To make matters worse, in one of the towns, we had to drive through some kind of farmers market, which complicated things in terms of reaching the SA-302 road that was more significant and straighter than the unnecessary twistiness that we had encountered to this point.
Finally, it wouldn’t be until 3:10pm that we’d ultimately get to the car park for the NH Hotel. We were concerned about reading about how difficult it was to find the car park so our mindset was to find the hotel first. However, it turned out that we wound up finding the car park first! On the way in, we somewhat followed the yellow signs. I guess we were lucky to have found the car park first, because now we didn’t have to concern ourselves with finding the hotel.
It wasn’t until 3:35pm when we got into the room. The receptionist said that the last admission to the Old and New Cathedrals was 7:15pm typically, but he caveated that by saying there might be some kind of celebration going on today.
Anyways, it wasn’t until 4pm when we finally were ready to walk into town. Upon passing by the ornate cathedral entrance, we noticed a paper sign saying that the tourist visiting hours were reduced from 10-15:45 today due to some kind of Corpus Cristi celebration! What?!?!
That pretty much screwed us out of visiting the cathedral as we had missed our window of opportunity by a few minutes!
So we started looking for alternative sights immediately to fill out our afternoon, and that was when we also learned that the University of Salamanca was also closed at 2pm today! Double whammy!
Well, we couldn’t do anything about those things right now, but now it really felt like everything’s timing was off by a few minutes. There were plenty of “if only” scenarios playing in my head now – from the 30-minute delay in our departure of Segovia to the 50/50 chance that we started with the wrong overlook to the GPS improperly putting us on a bad path on the way to Salamanca.
Now, the word Corpus Cristi had a whole different meaning to us. I guess it was supposed to mean Body of Christ and not necessarily the name of that town in Texas. It was more about this celebration that was going on this moment on the Sunday that we happened to show up. Funny how our trips always have mistimed moments like these, and it was the thing I had feared when we moved our itinerary back a day to accommodate the flight to Morocco via Iberia instead of Royal Air Maroc at the very beginning of our trip.
Anyways, we then walked to the Plaza Mayor, and found this random place called Restaurante Gonzalo at 4:25pm. Like the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, this one was surrounded by old-school buildings. But it seemed like the Salamanca one had a bit more character to it. Perhaps it was the plethora of arches on each side of the square.
The food was pretty creative tapas, which was what we tended to prefer. The traditional tapas seemed to be heavy on the salt and bread, we thought. So while we weren’t filled for this lunch, we at least got to try things out that were a bit different than before. And that was welcome because we were getting tired of Spanish tapas at this point.
At 5:15pm, we were done eating. While we were trying to figure out alternatives, we noticed that the Ieronimus experience by the cathedral was said to be open until 8pm so we decided to look for that one. But we were fearful that it was closed because it was attached to the cathedral so we weren’t counting on it. Perhaps the only thing available to us on this day was the Scala Coeli (at the Torre de Clerecia).
As we were eating, we could hear distant thunder from the dark clouds that were budding above us. We tried to soak up the ambience and figure out how to take photos of this place before we headed to those towers.
While on the way to the towers, we cluelessly bought some Jamon Iberico from this place called Viandas de Salamanca. That was when we learned that the best part of the ham was the rump, which was typically called jamon. Other parts of the ham were from other parts of the pig, and those were given some other name that I forgot.
So we paid some 11.75 euros for a pretty small package that underscored the priciness of those slices of pork. Julie was hoping that we could try a fresh one at the time, but I think the language barrier kept that from happening.
At 5:50pm, we finally arrived at the Scala Coeli. We paid the 3.75 euros per adult, then walked up the creaky wooden steps up to the twin towers that were both accessible. Indeed, the views over the city from here were quite nice, and it actually included the big cathedrals next door from where we were staying at the NH.
There were definitely those butterfly-in-the-stomach views for sure given our lofty vantage points!
At 6:40pm, we had our fill of these views (still disappointed we didn’t get to see the main attractions of Salamanca and having the terrible dilemma of delaying Santiago de Compostela over this if we do decide to wait until they re-open tomorrow).
Then, we noticed that there was a lot more commotion going on in the Rua Mayor now. Quite a few of them were headed to the Cathedral whose doors were now open again. So we went inside at 6:55pm, took a look at what was going on (it was busy with some clerics doing chanting and involved in some ceremony), and I was discreetly taking photos even though signs were saying tourists were not supposed to be here.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one doing this, but I figured that this kind of salvaged a half-assed visit to the New Cathedral. We wouldn’t be seeing the Old Cathedral at all on this visit.
It was 7:10pm when we were back outside. It looked like the outside of the cathedral was still quiet on the side (not the front) so we looked for the astronaut and the ice-cream eating dragon (or devil), which seemed to be out-of-place. It was funny to see them.
At about 7:25pm, we were back at the room, but I noticed that the door to the Ieronimus (which happened to be right in front of our NH Hotel) was partially open. When we poked our head inside, we learned that it had just closed! The worker said it was closed since 7pm. So this was yet another instance where we screwed ourselves out of a visit thanks to this whole Corpus Cristi thing as well as a little bit of our ignorance of what’s where and when they closed. None of this was well advertised until we showed up at the door.
At 8:15pm, we had our rest, and now we were headed back out into town. We first walked out to the Roman Bridge, which had fine views back towards the Old Town of Salamanca. It was interesting but muted thank to the overcast skies of the threatening thunderstorm.
At 8:35pm, we left the Roman Bridge and headed back to the old town. As we passed by the cathedrals, we saw that there was still a large crowd but it was now at the side door where there were the out-of-place astronaut and dragon. And apparently we happened to show up right when the ceremony was about to conclude and the people were dispersing.
Again, the timing couldn’t have been worse because now every restaurant was busy. And while Julie was busy chasing specific restaurants, they all came up empty, and it wouldn’t be until about 9:30pm when we finally settled on the Don Mauro Restaurant back at the Plaza Mayor. Even this place was busy, but they accommodated us.
This was said to be a Michelin restaurant, but the T-bone steak that I had was way too raw and chewy. Julie’s cod was tender though. I guess we should’ve stuck with medium instead of trying to figure out how to say medium rare in Spanish. This was one instance where the menu translator that a coworker gave me for this trip would’ve been beneficial.
We happened to be sitting next to large group of American students learning Spanish. So I guess that kind of reinforced the somewhat American uni vibe that we got while being in this university town.
It wouldn’t be until 10:30pm when we finally left the restaurant. We were hit by yet another 54 euro dinner (like about $70USD). I wondered how many more of these pricey dining experiences that we could take for the rest of the trip…
At this point, I seized the moment as the fading twilight magic hour was just about to conclude at the Plaza Mayor. I did this while Julie and Tahia were headed to the Carrefour Express on Rua Mayor to stock up on stuff. But I knew the window was closing so I managed to get a few snaps before I rejoined them at the grocery run.
We dropped off our groceries in our room at 10:55pm, and it was only then that our night tour of Salamanca had begun. As we were strolling about the city, we could see that there seemed to be an element of the city being well-designed as the historic buildings were well-accented with lights and they seemed to be strategically popping up around one corner after the next.
That was when Julie figured out that what made Salamanca a pleasure to tour by night versus other cities we had been to was the lights. They seemed to have strategically placed them in all the alleyways and roads throughout the old city. And then the important buildings were accented with even more intense lights so they’d show up in night photos.
Indeed, it was a real treat seeing the city at night. And we just meandered about intentionally getting lost (we weren’t as concerned about getting mugged thanks to the presence of these lights) before we found our way back to the Plaza Mayor again. Without the twilight glow, it wasn’t as magical as before, but it was still charming and bustling this late in the evening.
Finally at 12:05am, we were back at the room. Exhausted from today, we went right to bed. Since we had already paid to have brekkie on this day, we mind as well sleep in a bit to recover from this night of near misses…
Day 8: PILGRIMAGES
It was 7:15am when I had awoken to Julie’s familiar iPhone alarm. Funny how it had a greater effect on me than it did on Julie because I think she snoozed or turned it off and then stayed asleep for a little while longer before she finally woke up.
We took our time knowing that we mind as well wait out the opening of the Ieronimus attraction since we had narrowly missed out on it last night. So it wasn’t until about 8:45am when we had our paid breakfast, which turned out to be the best brekkie of the trip so far.
We basically pigged out on an assortment of fruits, cured hams, cereal, and even cooked egg omelettes. It was all buffet style so we could pretty much have as much as we could handle. And since Julie anticipated not having a lunch given the long drive from Salamanca to Santiago de Compostela, we mind as well pig out and treat this as a brunch.
The brekkie took us to about 9:55am when we finally had enough, and then we retreated to our room to wrap up on some last things to pack before I started going down to the garage to load up the car. By about 10:15am, we were done loading up the car, and then we promptly headed upstairs and right out the door of the NH (saving the check out for when we return) and right to the Ieronimus entrance.
After going in and paying the 3.75 euro per person (Tahia was free), we then proceeded to go up the stairs and onto the start of the self-guided tour.
Right off the bat, we were led to a room (I think it was the Governor’s Room) which displayed some artifacts, but more importantly, it led us to a balcony high up on the Old Cathedral where we could look down at the main chapel looking towards the ornate altar. I guess it turned out that by doing this excursion, we pretty much didn’t feel the need to pay to go into the Old Cathedral (another one of the things we had missed out on yesterday).
After visiting this room, we then went up some more steps until we were led up to the rooftops of the Old Cathedral. Up here, the morning sun was right against us as we looked towards some of the ornate pillars and ornate roofings as we walked the catwalks towards a different re-entry point.
Upon re-entry into the cooler indoors, we then found ourselves atop a very high balcony overlooking the New Cathedral. Upon looking down at this impressive look at all the main parts of the interior of the main cathedral, Julie and I couldn’t help but wonder what a spectacle this place would’ve been had we managed to get in while the mass was about to start. That was because I’m sure the atmosphere would’ve been remarkably different with the plethora of people gathering around the altar with some of the ministers doing their thing around the altar in celebration of Corpus Cristi.
We were also able to pay more attention to some of the decorations closer to the roof that we would otherwise not really pay much attention to had we been down at the bottom. Indeed, this was a perspective of the cathedral that I don’t think we had ever been able to experience in our past visits to other cathedrals. Even the blinged out one in Granada at San Juan de Dios didn’t let us get this high.
After that, we went to a different part of the roof of the New Cathedral this time, where we got some different impressive vistas of the Old Town of Salamanca. We could even see across towards the Clerical Towers, which we had ascended yesterday.
Then, after obeying some traffic lights, we went up some more steps that eventually led us up to the Bell Tower at 10:55am. Up here, it was impressive, but there was netting on all the openings so it wasn’t really conducive to taking photographs of any panoramas up here.
Eventually, we would go down the spiral steps (especially as we noticed some kiddie groups started to show up) and ultimately leave Ieronimus at 11:10am. Indeed, Julie and I thought that this visit pretty much made our Salamanca visit during the daylight hours. For the night visit we did yesterday night was also a different highlight.
About five minutes later, I was in the car while Julie was checking out. And by 11:20am, we could finally begin our long journey to Santiago de Compostela.
The long drive was kind of like a mini-pilgrimage if you will. I knew that Santiago de Compostela was typically the end point of the nearly 500-mile journey from the French-Spanish border on the western side of the Pyrenees, and that was the Camino Frances that many people did on foot as the typical pilgrimage that had been done centuries before. There was also the similarly lengthy Camino de Santiago though I wasn’t sure if that was the same thing as Camino Frances or not.
Of course in our case, we’d cover probably about half that distance in a span of four hours or so. And indeed, we were cruising along a couple of long autovias, which was something I wasn’t expecting because my pre-trip research made it seem like we were in for a long six-hour drive.
Thank goodness for the autovias (though there was one stretch of going on the N-631) where we pretty much gunned it at 120km/h. The drive pretty much went uneventfully with a little break at 1:50pm (lasting for about 10 minutes near A Gudina) before we got off the AP-53 near Silleda. Then, we followed the N-525 Road towards the town of Bandeira, where we then took the local PO-204 road when we started seeing signs leading us to Fervenza do Toxa.
The road ultimately degenerated into an unsealed road with some ruts and potholes. We got down to one switchback that had a really deep set of ruts (looking almost like craters) that I didn’t think the rental car would be able to clear. So I backed up into a pullout at a previous hairpin turn. And from there, we would go on foot. The time was now 3:45pm.
As we got out of the car and did the walk continuing along the road, we started to notice how humid it was down here. Not only that, but it was also much greener here than in another other place in Spain that we had been to. We even noticed there were ferns growing alongside the road while some of the trees had moss growing on them!
Were we all of the sudden in the Pacific Northwest?
Well, the mugginess was already wreaking havoc on us as we were pretty much sweating bullets. And even though we were mostly in the shade, I couldn’t imagine how much killer it would’ve been had we been exposed to the sun at the same time!
The walk itself was longer than I was hoping, and it was probably on the order of 1.5-2km in each direction. At about 4pm, I finally managed to arrive at the official trailhead though I wasn’t sure where the car park was supposed to have been. There was a vehicular barricade for those vehicles that would make it down here (obviously that didn’t apply to us).
Then, for the final fifteen minutes, the trail descended a little more steeply and even had a few steps until finally I managed to get to a small area with a handful of picnic tables as well as a view of the impressive Fervenza do Toxa Waterfall. The falls was much taller than I had anticipated and so I wasted no more time getting right up to the base of the falls.
The path looked like it could’ve led right up to the plunge pool, but it looked like the water level of the plunge pool was a little bit higher so some of the stone steps were under very shallow water (only enough to leave some stones dry so we could rock hop a little to get up to the edge of the plunge pool itself).
Julie and Tahia would join me about ten minutes or so later. Julie told me that Tahia encountered a snake, and now she was scared. Fortunately, nothing came about that incident, but it would have to serve as a reminder that we were back in Nature, where we would have to be cognizant of our surroundings.
It was too bad that the late afternoon sun was in a terrible position as it was almost on top of the waterfall. I think this falls had to have been at least over 50m or so tall. It wasn’t easy trying to get the entire falls in a single frame. Plus, there was a lot of foliage above us conspiring to obstruct the view of the falls thereby forcing us to get closer to the falls and risk not getting it all in.
At about 4:30pm, we had our fill of the impressive waterfall, and now we had to make our way all the way back up. With the humidity, we knew this was not going to be an easy slog. And sure enough by 4:55pm, we were back at the parked car a sweaty mess.
Well, at least now, we could drive the remaining distance to Santiago de Compostela.
It wouldn’t be until about 5:45pm when we managed to find the car park San Clemente. We entertained the thought of driving all the way to the Hotel Montenegro to drop off our luggage and have the receptionist tell us how to get to the car park, but we figured it would be easier to just park the car and walk the rest of the distance with our luggages.
We had a feeling that driving in the Old Town wasn’t going to be fun.
And sure enough, as we were getting oriented and finding ourselves in a happening lane full of restaurants, we then followed the advice of the Tourism Office person, who ultimately led us to the correct lane containing the Hotel Montenegro. It was a bit of an uphill walk, especially with all the luggage I was carrying, but we’d ultimately get to where we needed to be at 6:10pm.
It took some time for the busy receptionist to tend to a previous client before getting to us, but we’d ultimately get to our room by 6:30pm. There, we found out that we had a pretty small room and all three of us would have to share a bed (kind of like what happened in Ronda).
At about 6:55pm, we were pretty much settled in and then we decided to tour the town. As we were walking the pedestrian lanes, we’d get to one of the plazas (or prazas) surrounding the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and once we went inside the free cathedral, we could see there were some hanging botafumeiros (incense dispensers).
I wasn’t sure if we happened to miss the show of this thing swinging or not. But it was still impressive to see this thing hanging over the altar area. Anyways, this cathedral was pretty simple and since Julie and I were pretty cathedraled out, there really wasn’t anything all that special about it from what we could tell.
That said, we did manage to go into an area where there was the tomb of St James as well as another area where we could embrace a statue facing the altar. Other than that, it didn’t seem like the mass that was about to happen would have the botafumeiro swinging. Oh well, maybe a tour group might fork over the 300 euros to do it tomorrow…
We got out of the cathedral at around 7:30pm, where we checked out the remaining three plazas surrounding the cathedral of St James. We’d finally then check out the grand Praza do Obradoiro, where we then finally saw the grand facade of the cathedral. Unfortunately, half the facade (including all of one of the towers) was completely covered in scaffoldings, and it was a real eyesore.
That was a real shame because this cathedral looked to be one of the more decorative and ornate ones from the exterior. Even Tahia could see for herself how ugly the scaffoldings looked.
Then, I noticed people going in and out of an entrance at the bottom of some of the scaffoldings. It turned out to be the Museum of the Cathedral, but we were turned away from it at 7:50pm as we were told it was too late for a visit at this time. So we made a mental note to come back here when it opened at 9am tomorrow.
Next, we just meandered about the giant plaza while Julie was looking for a place to eat. When that came up empty, we ultimately decided on a whim to eat at this place called Bodega Enxebre, where we noticed that there were quite a few Americans eating here. We knew they had to be Americans because no one on the Spanish schedule would’ve started eating before 8:30pm and it was 8:10pm right now.
It turned out that we had a bunch of Galician dishes (including octopus and soup with fresh seafood in it), and I also preoccupied myself trying to decipher some of the Galego words against the English menu.
During the course of the dinner, we happened to converse with a group of four Americans who happened to be sitting next to us. It turned out that they had just completed the long Camino Frances, and they were celebrating their accomplishment. In fact, they had just met each other while doing the Camino Frances, which underscored the people element of the long pilgrimage.
It kind of made our little motorized pilgrimage seem like cheating compared to going by foot while carrying your own pack. Come to think of it, I was actually surprised by how many Americans we had heard and seen in this town. It was as if Spain was a pretty popular place amongst Americans.
Anyways, we were out of the restaurant at around 9:30pm. There was still quite a bit of daylight outside, which I suspected that since we were further north, it would get darker even later than it had been while we were touring Spain’s more southerly regions.
So we meandered into the happening restaurant row that we had chanced upon while we were lugging our luggage from the car park to our hotel. This time, we meandered far enough to get to this gelato place that served up a nice quality gelato and sorbets that brought us back to the time we were in Italy a couple of years ago.
And as much as I wanted to continue our twilight tour (though it hadn’t gotten to twilight just yet), Tahia had to poop. That meant we had to go back to our hotel to get that deed done. And only then continue on our twilight tour.
Well, when we got back to our room at 9:55pm, we all chilled out on our bed together. Then, it wasn’t until about two hours later when at least Julie and I woke up. With it being pretty much midnight, I guess that nixed any plans of continuing our twilight tour of town.
We’ll have to see if we’re up for doing a twilight tour again tomorrow evening, but that would happen if we could come back from Ezaro, which we planned to visit as well. Santiago de Compostela’s old city center seemed to be quite compact so I couldn’t imagine that we would need to spend all of our time in the city tomorrow. Hence, the Ezaro visit, which would also include another waterfall…
Day 9: COSTA TRANQUILA
It was 7:25am when both Julie and I awoke. Neither of us had a very restful sleep as Tahia was sharing a pretty small bed with both Julie and I. And she tended to toss and turn and kick both of us throughout the night. She even woke us up sometime around 5am complaining that her doll went missing, when in fact, it was hidden under the sheets. Neither Julie nor I looked forward to having to spend another night like this.
It was about 8:30am when we went downstairs for the brekkie that Julie insisted we have through the hotel. The breakfast was a very simple affair of a few pastries, bread, sliced hams, cheese, and a hard-to-pour tomato “jam”, which was really crushed tomato salsa acting as a spread.
Obviously, it was way on the basic side, especially when compared to the NH breakfast we had yesterday that was by far the best brekkie of the trip.
So it didn’t take long for us to finish our brekkie at 9:05am. About ten minutes later, we headed down for a quickie tour of the town. We ultimately decided to go for the Museum of the Cathedral, which we wound up doing another ten minutes later (9:25am). We were looking for something similar to the Ieronimus experience in Salamanca, but when we bought the ticket, a closer inspection of the signage there said that the tours taking us to the Tribuna and the rooftops were separate tours, and the only one we could self tour was just the museum itself.
So that already brought our expectations down, and it costed more than the 3.75 euros per person to go up the Ieronimus while this one costed us 6 euros per person. To make matters worse, most of the museum exhibits could not be photographed. Basically if there were rooms where people were standing guard, you couldn’t take photos.
Perhaps the only places we could take photos was of the impressive courtyard in the middle of the complex as well as a balcony overlooking the Praza do Obradoiro. Once again, the scaffolding completely covering the second tower of the front facade of the Cathedral of St James was a real eye-sore. Meanwhile, we could see pilgrims making the long voyage on the Camino Frances essentially taking photos of each other or straight up congratulating each other on their accomplishments.
Anyways, we went through the various rooms pretty quickly. And by 10:30am, we had left the cathedral. Julie and I both agreed that we probably could’ve done without this visit, despite Rick Steves giving this two triangles.
At 10:35am, we had returned to the room so Tahia could potty again. Then, when she was done with her deeds, we then headed back downstairs to check out the Mercado de Abastos. It was only a couple of blocks up the hill from our accommodation. And at 10:45am, we were there.
This was basically a combination of tented fruit stands just outside of the buildings, while the buildings themselves house mostly butcheries containing fresh seafood as well as fresh meats. Other rows contained other produce like fresh fruits as well as fresh veggies.
What made this market kind of neat from a sightseeing standpoint was the presence of old buildings juxtaposed with all the stands. But aside from that, we had bought some white nectarines as well as some rainier cherries for on the go.
At about 11:15am, we returned to our room at the Hotel Montenegro, but we were interrupted by the receptionist saying that they’re offering to move us to a larger room so Tahia could be accommodated in her own bed free of charge. Apparently, one of the receptionists said that she took a second look at Julie’s email and said that it was their mistake they misunderstood or overlooked Julie’s original request.
So they said that all we had to do was to pack up our stuff and be ready to allow them to move our stuff when the room was ready. Meanwhile, we could go out and about and do our stuff. They were gonna move us up to the 4th floor, which also meant that we’d be a little further removed from the noise from the streets as well. Naturally, we accepted and obliged.
By 11:40am, we started walking to the car. Once we were back at the car park, I walked up to the manned cashier on the first sotano and showed him the stamp we had gotten from the Hotel Montenegro. That essentially reduced our two-day fare to 20 euros total (instead of 16 euros per night). Plus, he rigged our ticket so we could go in and out of the car park for the next two days.
Anyways, we wouldn’t be leaving the car park until 12:05pm. That was when we could finally be headed out of Santiago de Compostela and towards the seaside town of Ezaro for a bit of a break for something off the beaten path.
The drive out was interesting in that it was actually raining for a bit while we were driving near the town of Noira. I think that might have been the first legitimate rain we had seen on the trip since Ronda (on our very first full day of touring in Spain). Anyways, Julie was lamenting that we hadn’t brought any umbrellas or rain coats on this day trip, so whatever was gonna happen out at Ezaro, we’d just have to suck it up.
The GPS had us drive on some local mountain roads to cut right across to the town of Ezaro. I thought that it might’ve been nicer to take the coastal route, but since we had committed to the GPS route, I just stuck with it. However, I kept a mental note to follow the coastal route along the A-550 when we were to return to Santiago de Compostela.
Eventually, we’d get to the Mirador do Ezaro at 1:25pm. While we were up at this mirador, I was fighting the strong winds and did a little rock scrambling to get even higher up. The rocks up here seemed to have some interesting formations like potholes, curvatures, and other pac-man-like formations. And to boot, I was able to get some nearly 360-degree views that included the dam, the gorge carved out by the Rio Xallas, the bare rock cliffs opposite of where I was standing, and of course the two sections of attractive parts of the town of Ezaro.
We also noticed that there was a lower overlook with picnic tables that also seemed to be a little better than the sanctioned upper overlook platform. In between the two sanctioned overlook spots and car parks, we noticed a hydroelectric facility that was off limits to visitors.
Eventually at 1:45pm, we showed up to the other mirador. There were a handful of other people visiting as well. Though most of the folks already here had left, we had a few minutes to ourselves at this overlook.
From both overlooks, we could appreciate the close proximity of Ezaro to the ocean, which had hints of nice blue-green colors when the sun had showed itself.
About ten minutes later, we all were back in the rental car, then we made our way down towards the town of Ezaro. Along the way, we saw a signposted turnoff leading to the hydro facility at the base of the falls as well as access to the base of Fervenza Rio Toxa itself. And given the volume of water on the falls, it was certainly impressive even from as far as we were while looking for a parking spot.
Eventually, we got as far as the blockade allowing only authorized vehicles to proceed further. So instead, we turned around and found a non-shady spot to park. There were actually plenty of spots but the most sought after spots were in the shade of trees, and those were clearly all taken up.
So at 2pm, we were at the car park. Then, we proceeded to walk along the road until we got to some building where the continuation of the path descended down some narrow steps before getting onto a walk affording us some partial views of the falls. But as we kept going further, we could see that there were steps leading down to the rocks surrounding the plunge pool of the impressively gushing waterfall.
In a bit of a first of this trip, I managed to finally make use of the tripod we had been carrying all along. So we spent a bit of time taking family photos as well as sightseeing photos of the Fervenza Rio Ezaro. In addition, we had another first of the trip as we anticipated spending time at the beach here (which we had seen from the miradores earlier on). This would be our first time spent on the beach on this trip as well.
While we were chilling out here at the falls, I also noticed an otter scurrying on the other side of the river. I wasn’t able to get a decent photo of it, but I did see them and capture them in video footage of the falls. With the falls gushing as much as it did, Julie and I felt like this waterfall was deserving of at least a 2.5 but no more than a 3.
It was about 2:50pm when we had returned to the car. In another five minutes, we were driving towards some place in the town of Ezaro that would be willing to serve us food regardless of which table got most of the sun (or lack thereof). Indeed, Ezaro was a pretty sleepy town and it appeared that most restaurants had already been closed for the siesta.
While I was driving towards town, I saw a more distant view of the Fervenza Rio Ezaro from somewhere near the boats. This was where the view of the falls was more comprehensive though I definitely needed all the zoom that the camera would allow.
Eventually at 3:10pm, we finally settled on this place called Pension La Morada. It was the only place we could find in town that was actually open for a late lunch. We were also hoping that we could capitalize on its location so when we were done eating, we could head right to the beach so Tahia could enjoy playing in the sand a little bit.
The food itself was a simple affair of bread, Mediterranean salad, a pasta, and some kind of local fish. It was plenty of food. The ordering of the food was almost completely in Spanish so it was good that this particular meal worked out.
Finally at 4:05pm, we were done eating. The food was fresh and delicious even though they were simple. Now, we walked onto the extensive sandy flats, which I think resulted from the fact that this beach happened to be at low tide as the extensive sandy flats seemed to have recent evidence of being wet earlier in the day.
So Tahia and Julie were busy by the water as their feet felt cold from the very cold temperature of the water. Perhaps that was the reason why this beach wasn’t that popular. Still, the fine sands, the serenity, the lovely scenery (as bare rock mountains backed the colorful homes of Ezaro), and some rock stacks nearby made this a very tranquil and peaceful beachgoing experience.
In fact, it seemed like our European beach excursions tended to be this quiet and secluded. It was a very stark contrast to the crowded and expensive (for food and parking) beach experiences we tended to get back at home.
Anyways, we could see that it was starting to become high tide and the water was starting to creep further up the sand with each passing minute. So it was time for us to leave. By about 4:50pm, we were back at the car.
As we drove back to Santiago de Compostela, I opted to ignore the persistent Nav and GPS (which once again advocated that I take the twisty mountain approaches) and instead go with the A550 route that followed along the coast. It was actually a very charming and relaxing drive as we’d pass by town after town with beaches, dunes, and coves. And Julie was busy comparing our Ezaro experience with how the other beaches and towns turned out (some were quite busy but the water looked less clear than at Ezaro).
Eventually at 6:20pm, we had returned to the familiar San Clemente car park where my parking ticket still worked (as the clerk had said I’d have in and out access for the next two days), and then by 6:35pm, we’d finally be back at the room to unwind, chill out, and wait out for a place to eat for dinner.
In the mean time, Julie and Tahia skyped Julie’s mom so Tahia and Julie’s mom could converse with each other for the first time on this trip (a period of nearly three weeks so far). That said, we were enjoying the new room, which was definitely more spacious (there were actually two rooms) so Tahia could have her own bed again. The only drawback was that this room was definitely warmer than the previous room. But with the silence and the spaciousness, we could live with its shortcomings for our last night in Santiago…
It wouldn’t be until about 8:30pm when we headed back out in search of dinner. We headed out this late because Julie thought that the target restaurant called Casa Marcelo wouldn’t open until 9pm. But when we showed up in front of the restaurant at 8:50pm, there was no indication that it would be open today.
We could’ve waited another ten minutes to see if we’d be the first ones to be served by them, but if there was no activity going on ten minutes before opening time, that would mean there wouldn’t be enough time to prepare anything decent for any of the restaurant clients.
Then, we noticed that some people were coming in and out of this other restaurant called Restaurante Las Huertas. There was this Swiss guy standing outside suggesting that we should give this place a try. And since we didn’t want to go on another futile restaurant chase, we finally decided to take this guy for his word and go inside to be seated.
So after getting seated at 9pm, we were handed menus that were only in the local dialect called Galician (or Gallego or Galego). In any case, we couldn’t really make much sense of Gallego so the waiter ran down the list of menu items translating them in real time into english, which was very helpful. In the end, we picked up various tapas dishes as well as a salad and a main.
We had a couple of blue fish dishes as well as pork ribs that were pretty much fall-of-the-bone.
We also had a bonus tapa as well as some truffle-infused oil and fresh olive oil to be spread on our tasty salad and/or bread. The dinner took nearly 110 minutes because everything was made fresh.
Eventually, we would leave the restaurant at 10:50pm. When all was said and done, we considered the meal we had at this restaurant to be the best we’ve had in Spain so far. And since we’ve had at least 2 weeks to evaluate all the foodie places we’ve been, saying that this dinner spot was good (probably the best, which was definitely saying something about the quality of this brekkie.
As we left the restaurant, the weather really turned from being hot and humid to being intensely cold with gusty wind chill winds. None of us were prepared for this turn in the weather as our cold weather clothes remained in our lesser-used luggages.
Julie and I were actually ready to call it a day, but Tahia wouldn’t let go of an obscure promise we had made. So after putting on jumpers and long sleeves, we headed back down to the main part of the Old Town at around 11:15am, then we walked right towards the gelato place we had seen yesterday evening. Unfortunately when we showed up, the door was closed.
And so with that, we didn’t feel the need to linger in Santago de Compostela since the street ambience was pretty much gone. Tahia, however, was really disappointed.
At about 11:30pm, we were back at the hotel empty handed. I guess we’ll have to make up for it on the way to Ribadeo, which was where we were going tomorrow. That pretty much concluded today’s happenings, and now we had to get all cleaned up then prepare our luggages for the haul to our parked car and then before heading out of town on the autovia…
Day 10: FROM 10K to 12
It was about 7am when both Julie and I awoke to her alarm as well as to some church bells that we could hear outside (probably from the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral). It was a typical get up and go kind of day so I made the first go at loading up the car once our luggages were packed and ready to go. This didn’t happen until 8:05am when the larger suitcases, my backpacks, and some bags full of fruits, food, and water were all loaded up. And this followed a roughly ten-minute hike through the city streets of Old Santiago through the start of what looked like another busy day in the city for the locals.
It was about 8:15am when we finally left Santiago de Compostela. We didn’t have time to stick around for the 8am breakfast, but the lady at the hotel was nice enough to let Tahia grab a yogurt free of charge.
The drive out of Santiago de Compostela was pretty uneventful as it was mostly on autovias (a small stretch was toll road). Eventually, we’d show up in the town of Mondonedo, which I knew was the nearest town to the waterfall excursion of the day at Salto do Coro. However, I was having a hard time finding any signs indicating the presence of the falls while in town.
So the next best thing I tried to do was to look up the Oficina de Turismo, which I managed to find a directional sign pointing one way, but when I followed it, it seemed to have disappeared and I found myself turning around at a couple of dodgy-looking streets.
So at 10:20am, I stopped the car at some car park (though it didn’t seem like a public one), then walked around in search of the visitor center. Something that got my attention was some kind of fountain as well as a small sign showing Salto do Coro. However, that sign indicated it was a 9.5km walk, which there was no way we were going to attempt that.
Next, I walked into a car park next to some cathedral. I’m sure the building was grand and it was probably a main attraction of the town of Mondonedo, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. Indeed, as I started to give up hope on finding the office of tourism, I asked a couple of ladies having a smoke near the Praza da Catedral. She told me in Spanish that it was just right around the corner to my left.
I didn’t follow everything she told me, but it sounded simple enough to just hang a left and look carefully. Sure enough, I managed to find the tourism office, which had a really small and unassuming door with an even smaller sign. It was so easy to miss that there was no chance I could’ve found this place by driving (as if the narrow streets and dead-ends wouldn’t have stopped me in the first place). In any case, I practiced my Spanish some more and ask about the Salto do Coro. That prompted the clerk to give me a map as well as explain to me (in Spanish) where I should be able to reach the Salto do Coro by car.
He explained that I pretty much had to go straight up towards a bridge crossing before I should be able to find signs pointing to the falls. Unfortunately, there were no such signs inside the town itself (unless he was referring to the info sign by the Fonte Vella). In any case, I thanked the man, then I promptly walked back to the car.
So at 10:40am, we resumed the search. Now, I wasn’t totally oriented where I was from where he was explaining where I was on that map. I just latched onto him saying “todo recto” from the cathedral. However, after about another 15 minutes of a futile search, I backtracked, and it turned out that the road I should’ve taken in the first place was the one next to the fountain pointing to Barrio Dos Munios. That was the key.
Once there, it was pretty much as the clerk at the tourism office said it would be. Once I saw the signs for the falls, it pointed me onto a pretty dodgy single-lane road with grass growing in the middle of the lane. There was quite a bit of overgrowth on this real narrow road and I kept hearing the underside of the car brushed by these grass.
Finally at 11:15am, we made it to the car park for Salto do Coro. There wasn’t any real car park spot to begin with, so we just parked at the real narrow trailhead, where I’m betting that it could only fit one or two cars tops. Another sign here said it was only 10 minutes walk from here (which echoed what the visitor center guy had said).
I started the walk while Julie and Tahia would catch up to me at the falls. The walk was defined but quite overgrown. Once again, it was very green around here, and with the threatening rain (it definitely rained lightly on the drive to get to Mondonedo from Santiago), I kept thinking we were in a different climate (like that of the Pacific Northwest) from what we had been experiencing in the rest of Spain.
At 11:35am, I finally made it to the Salto do Coro after going up some overgrown and slippery steps. The falls was much smaller than I was hoping for, but at least now I have a waterfall excuse to talk about things like As Catedrais Beach as well as Mondonedo and even Santiago de Compostela.
Indeed, it seemed like a lot of trouble for such a tiny falls (maybe 10m high or so), but the one thing this waterfall had going for it (besides the naturesque scene) was that it was quiet and peaceful here.
Julie and Tahia made it up to the falls a few minutes later. And with that, we took some people shots as well as documented the experience through photos and videos. Now that we had the waterfalling excursion out of the way today, we could pursue going to Ribadeo so we could drop off our luggage, then figure out what to do to kill time before we could check out the sea arches and caves at As Catedrais Beach.
At 12:45pm, we arrived at the Parador de Ribadeo. While the accommodation seemed to be a bit away from the old town of Ribadeo, it was convenient in that there was a dedicated car park. Anyways, we were inside our room at 1:05pm, and we wouldn’t be leaving the room until about 1:45pm as Julie was TripAdvisoring what would be good lunch places in town.
Well, when we headed out, we decided to drive. However, the car park that we found in town was just as far away from the old town as the Parador was (if not more). So it was like the car parking here was kind of useless to us. As it was 2:05pm, we were running out of time for having lunch at a reasonable hour, so we just decided to drive off and not force the issue in Ribadeo itself. We figured that we could check out the Old Town later in the evening around dinnertime when we’d come back from As Catedrais Beach.
So we drove off towards the beach, but then along the way, we saw there was a place called Rinlo, which was said to be known for good restaurants. And so we spontaneously disobeyed the GPS and took the Rinlo turnoff from the N-524 before seeing that there were a couple of busy restaurants with people in them in town.
After crossing a narrow bridge, we managed to find impromptu parking alongside the narrow road, which seemed to be informal yet convenient for the restaurant Julie had targeted called Cofradia, which was just on the other side of the bridge from where we had parked.
At 2:25pm, we found ourselves in the busy Cofradia Restaurant, and we promptly went upstairs to the comedor. Most people were downstairs having tapas or just having drinks and chatting. It was much quieter upstairs, but that peace and quiet quickly went away when a busload of people showed up and sat at other tables.
It turned out that this place specialized in fresh seafood. And the dish to get was some kind of Seafood Rice Stew that we saw pretty much every other table around us having. According to Julie’s TA research, it confirmed that in this restaurant, that seafood stew was the must have dish here. We also got some langostinos cofradia (which turned out to be giant prawns) just to make it easier for Tahia to have her lunch. Both Julie and I didn’t think she would want the big seafood stew that was real popular here.
When all was said and done, we finished our dinner at 3:45pm. It turned out that our lunching experience here was much better than expected as the seafood stew not only contained shrimp, but also big lobster pieces as well as clams. The rice was infused with the seafood broth so it was a very fresh and very fragrant paella-like dish though it was a much wetter stew than the Valencian dish.
After paying for our bill and getting back to the car, I decided to just follow the Ruta das Praias, which was basically the Beach Route. Since the As Catedrais Beach was only 6km away from where we were at, we mind as well take our time and enjoy the coastal drive past some farms as well as other beaches and coves.
Finally at 4pm, we made it to the car park for As Catedrais Beach. It was a very busy car park, and just as we had parked, we saw a tour bus drop off a big group of people.
The tide table said that the lowest tide was slated for 5:34pm today, but it was still a little over an hour early here. And when we went onto the beach, we saw where there was a significant amount of water inundating the route to get to the triple arches that made this beach so famous.
While we made this observation (essentially making Julie realize that her and Tahia probably weren’t going to make it to the arches given how rough it was), there was a nearby cave where I had heard bagpipes coming out of a cave. Sure enough, there was a bagpipe busker inside it, and apparently she was taking full advantage of the acoustics of that cave.
As more people were crowding onto the beach (from other tour buses just arriving), it was pretty clear to me that she knew what she was doing to earn some propinas. Nonetheless, the striking thing about this observation was that there were even bagpipes at all!
Now while I did do some reading about bagpipes in Galicia, it was still a trip to realize that this was part of Galician culture, which was something I’m sure most visitors to Spain wouldn’t even realize existed let alone observe in person!
I wasn’t sure what the Celtic connection was to this region of Spain with places like Scotland and Ireland, but it still felt special nonetheless to experience this something unexpected.
With Tahia in tow, we turned back and went up to the cliffs instead, hoping that the lower tide might make the scramble easier. So at 4:25pm, we were back up at the cliffs, then we followed the cliffs until we could confirm the location of the triple arches. That said, we saw there were other impressive arches and caves along the way though they were hard to photograph from up here.
At 4:55pm, Julie, Tahia, and I realized that even with the lower tides, getting to the best part of the beach would require getting wet. Julie and Tahia wasn’t going to do it, but they were going to watch me from the cliffs. So I unzipped the lower part of my pants, gave my wallet and keys to Julie, and then was on my way down. The only real sensitive thing I was carrying with me was my DSLR camera.
It didn’t take long before I made it down to the bottom, then out to the part that turned us around. Now, it was pretty dry here, but there were still people slowly trying to scramble across the slippery and wet rocks. Since I was in Chacos and shorts, I was undeterred by getting my legs wet.
Beyond this, I saw there was a really nice arch (possibly on the verge of collapsing since its top was so thin), which I gladly photographed. Julie and Tahia also saw this arch from the top of the cliffs.
Next, I continued onto the next hairy part of the scramble. This time, there was a bit of a longer and more involve wade through knee-deep tide pools and rocks. Again, since I was prepared to get wet, I trudged forward.
Once I got past this obstacle, I was now only one of maybe a dozen people (out of hundreds) that have made it to this point. It was nice and quiet, and now I found myself in front of a few surprise arches as well as the triple arch that made As Catedrais Beach so famous.
Indeed, for a few minutes, I would wade towards the cove behind the first of the triple arches as well as another arch with a view of the thin arch in the distance through its span. And so I took what photos that I could for as long as I could before a handful of people started showing up.
I conversed with one guy who told me that this beach tended to have 10,000 people here at one time in the months of July and August. The fact that there was so few people right now, made this a very memorable and photogenic experience.
Since it was now about 5:30pm, I knew that we only had a few more minutes before the tides would start rising again. So I did what I could to seize the moment.
Eventually at about 5:40pm, I headed out. And at 5:45pm, I had scrambled past the obstacles again (watching other people taking a spill on the slippery rocks), and I had rejoined Julie and Tahia in the “safer” zone. The sun was definitely out at this point, instead of the ominous overcast skies that were here when we first showed up.
There were also many more busloads of tourists here. In fact, when we got back to the car at 6:10pm, we saw at least a half-dozen tour buses (possibly more). Some tour buses just showed up, which I knew was probably too late for some of their clients to get to the best part as the tides would continue to rise for the next six hours and essentially be inaccessible until nearly 12 hours later.
At 6:25pm, we were back at the Parador, where we changed our clothes, and chilled in the room for a bit before we were ready to head into the Old Town of Ribadeo. This would be the first time this day that we’d finally get to check it out…
At 8:05pm, we finally headed out of our room and into town. We pretty much meandered about as we crossed the Plaza de Espana, which basically featured a park backed by some impressively old school buildings. They seemed compelling enough to linger around, and they seemed to hint at an even more interesting old town behind them.
However, Julie was on a mission to find this restaurant that she found on TripAdvisor. And so she kind of turned a blind eye to the attractions around town, and ended up crossing the Praza do Espana in the wrong spot. Eventually, we’d get oriented and find the road we should be taking, but that for the most part skipped much of the old town as we headed towards Restaurante La Soldana.
I wasn’t sure if we were going to regret not passing through the Old Town on the way here, but Julie didn’t seem to show the least bit of interest as far as Ribadeo was concerned.
At 8:20pm, we got into the Meson Soldana, where we were the only ones in the restaurant who weren’t working. We pretty much indulged in a dinner consisting of very fresh langostines (really giant prawns) as well as some kind of fish that was a substitute for this dish that Julie saw on a TripAdvisor report on her iPhone.
The food was simple yet very fresh and tasty. We capped off the very filling dinner with a little chocolate lava cake flanked by a couple of whip cream mounds. It was a very satisfying meal, and it was similar in spirit to the one we had at Rinlo in that it was very seafood focused. However, Julie thought this place here had fresher seafood.
It wouldn’t be until 10:10pm when we finally left the restaurant. Instead of walking through the streets of the old town of Ribadeo, Julie wanted to walk along the waterfront on the way back to the Parador. I wasn’t sure if we were going to regret not checking out the most charming part of the town as the walk along the waterfront was mostly industrial.
Anyways, at 10:45pm, we made it back to our room. We learned that the supermarket in town was already closed at 10pm. So I guess to stock up on supplies (especially water), we’d have to find a place to buy food and water along the way from Ribadeo to Cain de Valdeon. For the priority of tomorrow for sure will be the Cares Gorge…
Day 11: CARING FOR CARES
It was 6:55am when we awoke. I didn’t have a very restful sleep because it seemed like all last night there were mosquitoes buzzing around my ear making things unnerving. I probably ended up falling asleep at around 2am so I didn’t exactly feel like I was in good shape when I finally did wake up.
We did the usual routine of getting our stuff all packed up and ready to go, and by 8am, I had loaded up the car.
Next, since Julie had read good things about the breakfast at the Parador in Ribadeo, we decided to stick around and do the brekkie, which began at 8am. It turned out that the breakfast was pretty much as advertised. There was a lot of variety in the buffet that was there. So we got jamon, tomato spread, all sorts of breads, fruits, pastries, and even a churro (not hot chocolate fudge though). There was even freshly squeezed OJ as well as eggs, spanish omelette, sausages, and more.
It probably beat out the NH in Salamanca for the best brekkie of the trip. And so the 12 euros per person (Tahia was also charged) was probably worth it in this case. We pretty much stuffed ourselves silly so we didn’t feel the need to have a lunch. So if we were running behind on time, we could still get into the Cares Gorge hike immediately upon checking into Cain de Valdeon. The Cares Gorge hike could take a long time as it would be 24km round trip if I traversed the whole 12km distance from Cain to Poncebo and back.
So finally at 9am, we were done with brekkie, checked out, and got into the car. We left town at 9:15am. Now this was a later start than I had planned for given that I anticipated a five- to six-hour drive to get all the way to Cain. But I also knew that it tended to stay bright pretty late into the evening so if I was somehow caught out late, I’d still have enough daylight to see where I’m going.
However, the bigger threat was the weather. The clouds looked dark and it appeared that it was going to rain, just as the receptionist at Santiago de Compostela had predicted. Given that the Cares Gorge was not only long, but it had a lot of dropoff hazards, the potential for a lot of rain could make the trail both slippery and riskier.
Anyways, the drive out of Ribadeo went right onto the A8/E70 autovia, which had us zooming eastwards out of Galicia to Asturias, and then we’d head south into Castilla y Leon in the mountains known as the Picos de Europa. I had followed the car’s navigation, and somehow it had changed its mind on the route to take (as opposed to what I had planned earlier when we should’ve gone south of Gijon then east from Oviedo instead of further east of Villaviciosa).
So after our last gas/toilet break at 10:45am, we headed south into the mountains, and the AS-260 road the nav system had us take was narrow and steep. Not only that, it took us into the clouds where visibility was poor. It was yet another instance where either the GPS or nav system had failed us. And I was kicking myself for not trusting my instincts and taking a more tamer road south from Oviedo.
Thus, we were forced to go at a more deliberate pace. The 12:30pm estimated arrival time was definitely not going to happen. We’d eventually get down to a busy town called Cangas de Onis, which looked like a busy and full-fledged tourist town. While passing through the town, we then followed the N-625, which was a much more reliable road. However, as we headed south, even this road started looking more like the AS road so there was no way we were going the 90km/h that the GPS said we could go.
The weather started turning into more consistent rain as we headed south. We’d eventually get to a signposted turnoff leading to Posada de Valdeon and the Picos de Europa. The access road was surprisingly wider than the N-625 road we had just taken. But once we got into the picturesque Posada de Valdeon, the last 9km of road leading to Cain was back to being narrow, steep, and scary.
That said, the scenery at Posada de Valdeon was like something out of the Swiss Alps. There were giant peaks looming over the town with its stone buildings topped with those reddish Spanish tiles. If we weren’t in such a hurry, I really wished I could’ve stopped and taken some photos here because it really was Sound of Music-like.
Anyways, we continued on the road to Cain, which had bumpy stretches, but I had seen worse roads than this. We did make one stop that looked into the valley containing Cain de Valdeon, but other than that, we made a beeline for Cain until we finally managed to get into the small hamlet at 1:20pm.
At first, we were going to park in one of the spots signposted for parking. However, there was a dude there that wanted 3 euros for us to park there. And since we thought our accommodation had dedicated parking, we declined. Then, Julie found that I could squeeze between a lamp post and someone’s van (a very tight spot), and we did that so we managed to park free of charge.
Finally at 1:40pm, we lugged our stuff up two flights of stairs before we got into our cramped little room. I guess when you’re out in the mountains like this, you have to make do with basic accommodations more often than not. The guy who showed up the room said there was no dedicated parking spot for the hotel so it was a good thing we did manage to park for free.
Anyways, I loaded my day pack with water, a couple of bread rolls we had swiped from the Parador Ribadeo’s brekkie, and then at 1:45pm I was off on the hike after giving Julie and Tahia little farewell kisses. Indeed, I was going to do this hike solo while Julie and Tahia would go about the hike for a much shorter distance and at their own pace.
It looked like the weather had significantly improved now versus the drive in when it was raining. So some of the peaks were showing themselves amidst the shroud of clouds. Anyways, finding the hike was pretty straightforward (though there was a British couple who asked me if I knew where the trailhead was earlier when we were checking in). But since I knew the general direction, it didn’t take long for me to find the right trail, cross over the bridge over the Rio Cares, then be on my way working my way north from Cain.
One interesting thing about this hike was that the Rio Cares flowed northwards from Cain to Poncebos. However, according to the signs, the hike I was doing from Cain to Poncebos (or somewhere near it) was mostly uphill (albeit gradually). Then, when I’d return, it’d be mostly downhill from there.
I pretty much hiked then stopped frequently to take pictures. Normally, I consider myself to be a pretty fast hiker, but on this day, it seemed like I was the slow one as people (including elderly types) were passing me. That said, it was difficult to capture meaningful photos without subjects on the trails for scale or even just nature shots as there was simply too much to take in.
The first notable section was a dam with two artificial waterfalls rolling down the dam wall. The trail then went through a bunch of tunnels as it went further from the dam.
By about 2:30pm, I had reached La Puente de los Rebecos, which featured an alcove right above me as well as the bridge spanning the gorge. Five minutes later, after seeing an artificial waterfall fed by canals, I had reached the Puente Bolin.
Speaking of artificial waterfalls, I was hard-pressed to find the natural ones. Most of the waterfalls were caused by overflow of the canal banks. So these waterfalls didn’t count even though many were in pretty scenic spots and could easily be photo subjects if the photos of the gorges and peaks became a bit much.
After the Puente Bolin, I started seeing a thin but more real waterfall. I wasn’t sure if there was yet another canal on the other side of the gorge, but this falls certainly seemed more legit than the ones I had seen before it.
Next at 3:10pm, the trail then passed by yet another waterfall spilling out of a canal. In this case, the canal spillage left a opening in the cliffs. So when photographed together, it created the illusion that this waterfall was coming out of a cave or hole (which was clearly not the case here).
At 3:45pm, I saw some people chilling out near a house. Speaking of houses, I think this was the first building that I had noticed since the buildings near the dam.
The trail continued to pass through more tunnels, hug alcoves and ledges, and a few more suspension bridges. The gorge seemed like it was getting deeper the further north that I had gone. At this point, most of the scenery was pretty “featureless” except for the odd building here and there.
That said, though there was plenty of gorge scenery even though clouds were threatening, the gorges and cliffs started blending into each other for me. As it was getting later and later in the afternoon while I was still on the lookout for a natural arch in Cares Gorge, I’d finally reach the natural arch at 4:45pm. I was really glad that it was there at this time because I had a hard 5pm deadline so I wouldn’t keep Julie worrying about me.
Anyways, with my mission accomplished, I opted to head back the way I came. There were still some people who had made their out here and continued past the arch going up the switchbacks then back down to Poncebos. I was really glad that the arch was present without me having to do the arduous climb that I could clearly see from my lower vantage point on the trail.
So I had my little bread break along with some water before heading back to Cain. The weather was now producing some very light drizzle though the clouds here were definitely threatening. Even though I was still taking photos on the way back, I was moving along at a comfortable pace.
By 5pm, I had made it back to a house near some irrigation canal as well as a small stream going under a bridge here. I was starting to notice people going the other way (towards Poncebos) also happened to be some of the same people I had encountered near the start of thike.
At 5:50pm, I had made it back to another house near a junction with Covadinga (sp???). Nearby this house, I saw a trio of goats along the trail that I believe were the same goats that I had photographed earlier in the morning.
At 6:30pm, I was back at the Puente Bolin, where now there were condors soaring high up on the cliffs.
Finally at 7:20pm, I had made it back to the hamlet of Cain. The town was very quiet now, and I had noticed that the tight free parking was now mostly free of space. I was really glad that we didn’t pay the guy 3 euros because that would’ve been a waste of money.
At 7:25pm, I rejoined Julie and Tahia at our room, where Tahia was pretending like she was camping. And so ended a pretty crazy day of long driving, then long hiking. Still, I managed to see all the things that I had intended to see on the Cares Gorge hike, and so I felt like it was a good and worthwhile bit of exercise.
After our 8:15pm dinner downstairs (the trout was really good), we were back in our room at 9:30pm. It was pretty much the earliest that we had been back at our room intentionally all trip long. Maybe, just maybe, we could leave early since tomorrow was going to be a packed day consisting of Cascade de Nocero, Leon, and Burgos.
Indeed, the vagabonding part of the trip was well underway…
Day 12: OMG
It was 6:30am when Julie’s alarm went off. As we woke up, I was able to see through the window on the roof of our tiny room. And as I looked, I momentarily saw some silhouettes of the peaks that we had missed out on yesterday due to the cloud cover. Anyways, this momentary parting of the clouds didn’t last because then the clouds covered up those elusive peaks.
Since we had pre-loaded much of the loose stuff in the car last night, we only had to get Julie’s big luggage together before I could finally lug everything down the stairs for a couple of flights then load up the car. By 7:15am, we were leaving Cain.
We the relatively early start, I was more conscientious of deer dashing out on the road than I was on the curves and steep inclines. Even then, there was one local who was gunning the roads so we pulled over and let him pass.
As we were leaving, I was hoping to make some quick stops at some of the lookouts that we had noticed on the way in. We didn’t stop for them given that we wanted to allocate more time to do the Cares Gorge hike, but it turned out that when we reached the Mirador de Valdeon at 7:45am and the Puerto de Panderruedas at 7:50am, there were too many clouds obscuring the sharp peaks that we had momentarily seen yesterday.
The drive out of Picos de Europa seemed to be much straighter and easier to drive than the road we had taken yesterday. We even passed by some pretty scenic small towns, including this one by a man-made lake called Riano, where there were Torres del Paine-like exposed sharp peaks backing the lake.
At 9:05am, we had arrived at an unsigned trailhead for what I believed to be the Cascada de Nocedo (at least according to the GPS waypoint that I had put there). Given the unsigned nature of this excursion (it was not signed at all even as we drove up through Valdepielago to the trailhead), I wasn’t even sure if we were in the right place. But there was infrastructure like the fairly large stone pullout along with bridges that were built that made me believe that there was indeed something here.
Julie and Tahia didn’t think anything of it so they stayed in the car. Meanwhile, I put on my hiking boots and scouted out the trail. It turned out to be a very short trail bridging the creek a couple of times before the grated footpath went into a narrow chasm. As I rounded the corner, the sound of falling water grew louder as I saw the small but pretty waterfall before me.
Since the mist had nowhere to go but out my way, I had to be cognizant of that mist getting onto the lens. Nonetheless, the falls was definitely something I was sure Julie and Tahia would appreciate. So I took my photos and documented the falls in a video (showing that indeed there was a natural bridge spanning above this falls), and so I wasted no time in getting back to the car and showing Julie what I had captured in my camera about 30 minutes after I had gotten started.
Sure enough Julie and Tahia put on their shoes and went to the falls. And they managed to see the falls, take people shots, then get back to the car at 9:55am. Now, we could head over to Leon for a brief half-day tour before continuing on to Burgos. Indeed, I had anticipated this to be a pretty busy day, but it seemed like we were making good on time.
It wasn’t until 10:55am when we finally found parking near the Plaza Santo Domingo. This was after spending about 20 minutes or so circling the city streets of Leon in search of a car park that wouldn’t result in too much of a hike to get to the city center. Fortunately, we pulled out Rick Steves just in time so we knew to park somewhere near the Santo Domingo Square. Luckily, we happened to find the underground parking even though I knew that it wasn’t going to be a cheap lot to park in.
After parking the car, we then went upstairs where we found ourselves in the Santo Domingo Square. There were some interesting buildings surrounding the square, but we saw a sign pointing to the cathedral so that was where we went. After a few more minutes of walking through what seemed to be a pretty busy street flanked by restaurants, cafes, and shops, we then found ourselves in an open area before one of the sides of the Cathedral of Saint Mary. There were also tents set up as there was apparently some kind of market going on as well.
Naturally, we wasted no time going into the cathedral, paid the 10 euros for Julie and myself (Tahia was free), and then we marveled at the dark interior highlighted by all the stained glass windows adorning most of the upper reaches of the cathedral.
Even though Julie and I were already pretty cathedraled out at this point, the unique aspect of this cathedral being very decked out in stained glass windows and moody lighting kind of set this one apart. I was glad that we did the detour out to Leon as well as the Cascada de Nocedo because this wasn’t on our original itinerary.
Eventually at 11:55am, we were done with the Catedral de Santa Maria. Julie had read good things from Rick Steves about the Basilica de San Isidro so that was where we were going next.
As we slowly meandered about the busy street Calle Ancha, we made a brief stop at this dessert place called Valor. I guess the pictures of chocolate con churros kind of renewed our craving for this unhealthiest of desserts. But when we stopped in there at 12pm, we got ourselves a small helping of the churros as well as a fruit crepe. Upon eating the indulgences, the churros was pretty average. However, the crepe was terrible. It was like a pancake mislabeled as a crepe. I can’t recall the last time we had crepe that bad.
Anyways, we were out of there by 12:15pm. About ten minutes later (after having walked by one of Gaudi’s buildings, which looked ordinary compared to the pictures of his famous works in Barcelona), we made it to the Museo San Isidro de Leon.
We paid for the admission, but then we had to wait. Apparently, they controlled entry based on time, and I guess we were on the 12:30pm tour. With every passing minute, it seemed like the waiting area got busier and busier especially with what appeared to be a large Spanish tour group inundating the waiting room.
We wouldn’t get in until 12:35pm. That was when we went up some spiral stairs leading up to some treasury room. The larger group followed us soon thereafter then one of the employees gave the tour in Spanish. One other employee asked if we wanted to listen to the Spanish tour or not. When we said we weren’t good enough with our Spanish to follow along, she then allowed us to tour the remaining rooms before they’d get to it.
So we then checked out more treasures and other artifacts. No photos so we could only gawk and take mental notes.
Then, we went downstairs where we then went into the so-called Pantheon. That was where we saw a room full of sepulchers with frescoes on the ceiling. Apparently, these were the original frescoes though I was curious why the frescoes on the ceilings were better preserved than the ones on the upper walls. In any case, they wouldn’t let us take pictures of these impressive frescoes.
That said, we were able to go onto the courtyard adjacent to this room where we could look towards a tower that now housed a replica of a golden rooster sitting atop the tower. There was the original golden one sitting in a glass case in a separate room accessed from this courtyard.
So this pretty much concluded our visit of this museum, when we left at 12:55pm. Before we went for a lunch spot back at the Calle Ancha, we did make one brief stop in the basilica next door to the museum. People were seated there quietly as if anticipating something was going to go on. So we discreetly took photos until we saw a white robed man head up to the podium and the audience starting to stand. That was our cue to leave.
Back at the Calle Ancha, we headed back in the direction of the cathedral. We had no real agenda for visiting Leon so chances were that after lunch, we’d be headed back to the car then head to Burgos.
We ended up eating at this place called La Trastienda del 13 at 1:15pm. We chose to eat indoors since they (and other places) charged an extra 10% for sitting outside. But since we were one of the few people eating at this hour, we were still able to somewhat people watch as well as checking out the cathedral from our vantage point.
We ended up with a simple but expensive lunch that consisted of a salad, a small cut of cochinillo, and some kind of tuna tartare salad. Julie was really trying to force the issue with some kind of fusion food since she was really tired of Spanish food at this time. We ended up paying over 50 euros for this lunch, which kind of reinforced this theme where food was noticeably much more expensive the further north in Spain you go. I recalled being pretty well fed when we were in Andalucian Spain.
In any case, we were done eating at 2:15pm. And by 2:30pm (after paying over 6 euros for the parking), we were back in the car and ready to go. For the next couple of hours, the drive out of Leon and towards Burgos (opposite the general direction of Camino Frances) was pretty uneventful and featureless. It was that way because we could clearly see that this corridor was nothing but long stretches of farmland. It was kind of like the drive up the Central Valley of California along either the I-5 or the CA-99.
This stretch lasted for over 150km, and now we could appreciate why some people doing the Camino Frances by foot would opt to skip this stretch.
Anyways, we’d eventually get into Burgos city center by 4:35pm. Along the way into the city, we saw that there was some kind of a huge celebration going on. We weren’t sure what this was about, but they did close one of the access roads into the city center that ultimately would’ve made it pretty direct for us to get to the Hotel del Cid near the city center.
Once we found the parking garage, we were buzzed in after Julie contacted the intercom, then we found ourselves in yet another tight garage. Indeed, I still contend that parking garages in Spain were amongst the most hazardous places for rental cars. Anyways, Julie helped me navigate through the tight turns before we finally got to our assigned parking spot.
Ten minutes later, we dropped off our luggage in our room, and then a few minutes later, we went downstairs and towards the reception to finish our check-in. Immediately after that, we headed right to the Burgos Cathedral, which was conveniently next door to our hotel. Now it looked dead on the hotel side, which made me wonder whether we might get shut out again due to a holiday closure or something. However, when we continued going down the steps into a large plaza flanking one side of the impressive cathedral, that was where all the action was regarding the people traffic as well as the tourist entrance to the cathedral, which was still open!
At 5:15pm, after we had bought our two-adult-admission at 14 euros for Julie and I (Tahia gratis), we then went around and up the steps into the entrance. That was when we walked the self-guided maze that took in the bright interior of the cathedral. Like Leon, it also featured its share of stained-glass windows (though not nearly as many as Leon’s). But unlike Leon, this one was much brighter and cheery than the dark mood lighting in Leon. This cathedral also let us look into other rooms as well as a lower area where there were more corridors and displays.
“Oh my God!” said Julie as she was wondering whether we should’ve bothered with both Leon and Burgos’ cathedrals. Clearly, she was really cathedraled out, and she felt that our trip could’ve been cut by a week had we skipped both Leon and Burgos as well as Santiago de Compostela.
Well, I guess she was getting homesick, and having already seen both the Alhambra and the Mezquita, these medieval cathedrals felt pretty ordinary, especially since we had seen cathedrals in other parts of Western Europe.
We’d eventually leave the grand Burgos Cathedral at around 6:05pm. Another five minutes later, we had climbed back up to our room where we chilled out for a few minutes as Julie was looking into TripAdvisor for places to eat in Burgos city center.
Julie eventually found this place called La Quinta de Monje, which was one place with a lot of TripAdvisor reports. Once she had her mind set on going to this place, we headed back down at 6:55pm. I was glad that this place was on one of the restaurant alleyways near the Plaza Mayor. So this gave us a chance to see a little bit of the most happening parts of the city center before calling it a night.
Indeed, when we got to the Plaza Mayor, we saw that it was a charming open square. I’d argue that this was even more charming than the Zocodover Plaza in Toledo. In any case, we’d eventually find La Quinta de Monje and eat there at 7:20pm.
Once we saw the menu, we saw all the creative tapas that were on offer here. And then we went nuts ordering up all sorts of dishes as well as getting a bottle of sangria. In hindsight, we probably overordered, but we realized as we were trying out all the different tapas that they had that this was probably our most satisfying tapas experience in the country to date.
This was probably as close to the Jose Andreas Bazaar experience in Spain that Julie and I seemed to favor the most. And so we left fully stuffed but very satisfied at 8:40pm. Indeed, we had pork cheek burger, ox tail burger, tender T-bone steak “monk” style, cod and prawn tempura, some anchovies dish, beef steak topped with foie gras, and many other things.
When we left the restaurant, it seemed like the cloudy weather made a turn for the worse as it was now drizzling outside. Yet even still, this didn’t stop the locals from having their evening paseo as most of the lanes and alleyways were busy with people. It was the kind of post-dinner atmosphere that we were becoming accustomed to during our month-long stay here (we were into our third week now).
Plus, the drizzle didn’t stop us from trying having an ice cream on the go as well as strolling around a bridge near the ornate gate opposite the square from the Burgos Cathedral.
Ultimately by 9:10pm, we were back in the room. I guess the early dinner (not many restaurants would even open before 8pm) meant we could go to sleep a little earlier as well. And as we were chilling out in our room, we could see outside that the rain really started to come down a bit. This prompted Julie to comment how the weather up here in Northern Spain was very much like the rest of our European trips, except in this case, we had largely avoided rain for almost the entire time we had been touring Andalucian Spain. So much for the warm weather and the sunshine…
While the timing of our return was practically perfect, we were concerned about Bilbao and San Sebastian in the coming days as the forecast called for chance of rain in each of the next three days. That might ruin Tahia’s anticipated beach visit in San Sebastian. I guess we’ll have to play it by ear. That said, some of the other waterfalls might be doing better than they had been doing in the recent past like Nacimiento de Rio Ason, etc.
As evening faded into night, I took a few more snaps from the convenience of our hotel room. We had a nice view of the cathedral being lit up first with late sunset glow (albeit faintly) then with city lights under twilight.
And so ended this rather successful day…
Day 13: SEEKING SHELTER
It was 7am when we awoke. Although it had been raining last night, this morning looked cool and moist, but there was no rain. So we did our now-usual routine of getting ready for the day, then getting all packed before lugging our stuff into the garage to load up the car by 8:05am.
Then, we headed back to the reception area of the Hotel del Cid so we could have a brekkie. It was now Julie’s MO to stick around for the brekkie since she knew that when we were on the road, the munchos in the car weren’t good enough to fuel us for the day. Plus, there were no guarantees that we’d find something good anyways.
And so we had the brekkie, which included some cooked stuff like spanish omelette (basically eggs mixed with potatoes) as well as scrambled eggs, bacon, and an assortment of breads that we could toast. We tended to gravitate towards the cured ham to put atop the toast though there was no tomato spread at this place.
The sweets and pastries were definitely fully stocked at this place. There were plenty of chocolate-covered doughnuts (one that was both chocolate covered as well as having nutella filling) as well as a churros sprinkled with cinnamon sugar (almost like the way you see the Mexicans do it at carnivals or parks) though there was no warm chocolate to dip that in.
Anyways, we once again left brekkie fully stuffed so that meant that lunch was optional. And it would need to be given the full spate of activities that we were planning for today.
At 9:05am, we were back in the car and headed out of Burgos.
The drive north into the mountains didn’t take long though we were struck by how some butte-like formations totally reminded us of something we might see in Utah except there seemed to be a bit more green in this area (probably because it sees more rain) than what we’d be used to seeing in the deserts of the American Southwest.
Eventually by 10:15am, we’d enter the village of Orbaneja del Castillo. Just as we had crossed a bridge fronting an attractive waterfall (and there were already a handful of people enjoying it), we noticed a pullout with a view of a natural arch across the gorge but atop the cliffs above us, which was where we seemed compelled to stop the car. Just as we did it, there’d be a few more cars packing this pullout that might have also acted as a car park for checking out the town.
I was nervous about seeing broken glass on the pavement (a sign that this place had a history of break-ins), but when a local was setting up some kind of stand to sell stuff, I had confidence that we could park our car here (especially with our luggages and stuff in it).
Anyways, we immediately headed towards the bridge crossing over the stream containing the falls. When we looked upstream, we could see an attractive main tier of the falls followed by some cascades over travertine formations. There were old-school buildings flanking the upper portions of the falls giving this place a bit of a very unusual feeling to it since it’s not often that you see waterfalls running through charming old villages like this.
As we looked downstream from the bridge, we saw more attractive blue-green pools before tumbling over more tiny cascades. It was almost like the Plitvice experience again. With the sun mostly concealed behind thin clouds, the colors of the pools were apparent but it vascillated between being pronounced by the sunlight or just bright by the haze of obscured sun.
After taking what photos that we could of the falls (it wasn’t easy since it was tall enough and wide enough that we couldn’t get the whole thing on our cameras), we then walked up the steps alongside the falls and up between some of the village buildings above us. It appeared that was some kind of accommodation alongside the falls, which made us wonder whether this would’ve been a real relaxing place to stay to hear the sound of the water as we’d doze off overnight.
Anyways, we’d then get to a break in the stairs where we were pretty much at the top of the falls. There appeared to be some kind of water control valve flanking the channel responsible for the falls. And it was here that I wondered whether the big travertine falls was here to begin with, but then during the history of the town, they built around the stream then decided to control it so the village would stay intact. I doubted that they diverted the stream to create an artificial falls through town as it seemed like too much trouble to do that here.
Once we were at the top of the climb, we were in the center of the tiny village of Orbaneja del Castillo. It looked like no tourists could drive up here so we did the right thing in parking down there and walking up. In usual European style, it was charming just to meander about the small alleyways here as well as walk along the source of the stream, which seemed to go towards some excursion here called the Cueva del Agua (Water Cave).
It wasn’t open when we showed up (which was still before 11am when the sign said they’d open) and we weren’t really leaning towards doing this excursion anyways as we had seen plenty of caves. Further upstream, it seemed like the stream was coming from somewhere, but we couldn’t tell from where. It was clear that this stream was fed by an aquifer running through these Water Caves I’d imagine.
Since I was motivated by our internet research prior to the trip to find a good overview of Orbaneja del Castillo with the buttes and arches as the backdrop, we continued to follow the local road between a few more buildings that climbed higher above town. The first turnoff steeply went towards some alcove against a steep cliff that offered some more views over the village though the tall trees in the foreground kept it from being a sublime view.
We then went back down to the local road and continued a few paces further up it before we reached some hiking signs. From there, we decided that we probably were going to get as clean of a view over the village towards the rock formations across the gorge above the cliffs. And that ended up being where we’d take some people shots then turn around and head back down.
If we had more time, we probably would’ve had lunch and chilled out in this town for a bit before continuing on. But we still had a bunch of things to do on this day so by 11:35am, we were back at the car.
By now, there was a tour bus parked at the big pullout we were at, and when we looked for a place to turn around and head back to the main N road, we saw even more cars parked up the road where there were more signs as well as a ramp that went up to the village though as I had suspected, it was locals only.
The drive out of Orbaneja del Castillo and towards Puentedey meandered between more interesting cliff formations before momentarily flattening out. There were some huge birds (were they some kind of brownish eagles?) that were near the road at one point, which caused one of the cars in front of us to stop so as to not hit one of the birds swooping across it.
There were a handful more of these really big birds, and I wished that we could’ve photo’ed them just to show how huge they were (kind of like the black eagles that we saw in Western Australia back in 2005 and in Tasmania in 2006), but that wouldn’t be possible while driving.
Ultimately, we’d arrive in the village of Puentedey by 12:30pm. Parking was tight, but we managed to secure a spot across the bridge (where there was also a view along the stream from there towards the natural bridge that we had targeted for a visit). What made this place stand out in our minds was that this natural bridge also supported parts of the village of Puentedey above it.
We wondered how stable having buildings and infrastructure above a large natural bridge like this would be, and I even noticed some vertical lines in the cliffs above the span of the bridge suggesting that some fractures where water and ice could get in to expand and contract the fracture had already been forming.
Nonetheless, this strange juxtaposition of charming European village and natural attraction was in itself a worthwhile diversion. The only tricky thing to our visit here was that it looked like the rain was starting to come down as we were nearing the village. At least the rain somewhat let up as we were taking pictures and doing our brief visit of the natural bridge.
Now there was also a sign saying something about Cascada la Mea here. So after doing the Puentedey Natural Bridge, at 12:45pm we then continued driving on the narrow road we were on for parking. Then, after a few more minutes of going a short distance out of the village, we’d find a pullout with a real tiny sign indicating that it was the trailhead for Cascada la Mea. There were still some room to park the car even though there were already two other cars parked here.
And so at 12:50pm, we stopped and went ahead and did the walk since the sign said it was 270m away.
It turned out that the walk was on a pretty established but somewhat narrow path. The path was also climbing a bit so it wasn’t as trivial as we had hoped. It was not a good sign that we didn’t see the creek below us having any water, and a few minutes later, we were at the falls, which was only trickling at this point.
There was another family here, which we had a good time learning Spanish and conversing with them. Unfortunately as far as the falls was concerned, it was like the Yahoo Falls experience in Kentucky and Slave Falls experience in Tennessee all over again.
One interesting thing about this falls, which featured a free fall over a lip leaving behind an alcove, was that there was a stalagmite at the bottom of the falls where the water struck. It showed that there was a lot of calcium carbonate in the water, and that the stalagmite would grow as long as the water deposited its minerals. Not only that, but as the mound grew, it seemed like the freefalling part of the falls would shrink over time. I don’t think we had ever experienced such a falls that could shrink its plunge over time in such a way before.
So after documenting the falls, we then headed back down to the car (noticing now the windmills atop the hills in the distance), where we’d return at 1:15pm.
Next, we drove towards Pedrosa de Tobalina seeing how we were making pretty good on time before settling in at Bilbao today. The drive now was through some rain as we were leaving Puentedey. The rain got even more intense (complete with lightning and thunder) as we reached the town of Medina de Pomar, where Julie noticed a big Mercadona Supermarket and decided to make a spontaneous stop there so she could pick up some supplies at 1:45pm.
Ten minutes later (leaving at 1:55pm), we continued driving in the heavy rain until we’d eventually make it to the tiny town of Pedrosa de Tobalina. Fortunately for us, not only did the weather seem to let up in this town, but there were also obvious signs near the town center along the main road showing where the falls were as well as having a lot of parking alongside the main road. So we pulled over at 2:25pm, then Julie and I took turns checking out the falls while Tahia was napping in the car.
The Cascade de Pedrosa de Tobalina (which also seemed to be called Cascada El Penon) was basically a wide horseshoe-type falls though it wasn’t tall, and during our visit, it seemed like the thunderstorms didn’t affect this watercourse as the falls was pretty much split into to falls with a lot of bare rock between them.
I’m sure under higher flow, this falls could’ve been the impressive mini-Niagara Falls that some of the best shots seen on the web had shown.
I was back at the car at 2:40pm, then Julie made her turn, which included a stop at a tavern to pick up a bocadillo. She told me that the bar was very happening with generations of families crowding within just enjoying each others’ company. She even said one guy kissed a waitress on the cheek while being served the food. Indeed, it was that kind of place where it seemed everyone knew each other and the family-orientation of the Spanish was on full display here.
Julie and I didn’t notice such a pronounced family orientation in the UK on last Summer’s trip though we were there when all the Brits were out and about in August with their families. So perhaps it was just a timing thing or something. But when it came to just random Spanish folks taking to Tahia, we surmised that the family orientation had a lot to do with it. We definitely weren’t getting that warmness feeling with Tahia from random strangers in the UK last Summer.
At 2:45pm, we left Pedrosa de Tobalina and we were headed for Bilbao. It seemed like the weather out in this part hadn’t really been touched by the looming thunderstorm just to the west of here. So the drive was quite smooth. However, we were distracted by an attractive falls leaping off of some cliff just as we were leaving a tunnel not far from a waypoint I had pinned for Cascada de Penaladros on my pre-trip markings on the GPS.
Fortunately for us, there was a pullout where we stopped at 3:10pm to take in the falls as well as the valley down below. We didn’t know if this falls had a name, but it was attractive and too significant to ignore. Even Tahia noticed this falls when she awoke from her nap.
Minutes later, I saw a brown sign for Cascada de Penaladros, which veered to the right. So figuring that we mind as well do this falls to get it out of the way since it was already on the way, I just made the turn and followed the narrow road for about 4km into the quiet village of Cozuela before we’d finally see a couple more signs putting us on an even narrower road near Las Cabanas de Penaladros (which looked like someone’s accommodation).
Just past las cabanas, the road seemed like a single-lane driveway descending then ascending towards who knows where. The road was so narrow that I wondered what you would do if there would be a car going the other way. Who’d back up? And how skilled would you have to be to back up on such a narrow road looking for a pullout? Luckily for us, we wouldn’t have to find out.
When I realized that I had overshot the falls (after seeing that on the GPS), we then backtracked where there I finally saw the falls as I was driving. There was no obvious sign pointing out where to stop the car, but there was a very rough and rocky pullout besides the single-lane road. So that was where we stopped the car at 3:35pm, and then got out to get our views.
This falls had a pretty healthy flow, but what really made this one standout was the interesting cliff formations backing the falls. While there was a lot of vegetation around the falls making it somewhat non-trivial to capture and enjoy (especially since there were some insects gravitating towards us here), we got our views briefly, then headed back up. The haste was partially because we wanted to get all the way to Bilbao as well as the uneasiness of being on this single-lane road with the potential of someone going the other way.
Finally, we were back in the car and headed back up to the N road where we then continued on into Basque Country (we could clearly see the non-Spanish signs in the place names), and then we’d eventually be going into Bilbao where we were slowly navigating our way through the city streets until we’d get to the easy-to-miss car park by the Hotel Arriaga (since we were staying in the Old Town where there was no vehicular access).
We’d get there at 4:40pm, and as Julie was figuring out what to do as I was in the car, a lady came out and helped us out. I guess she happened to be the parking attendant. Anyways, she opened the garage, then both her and Julie helped me navigate the tight corners before we finally got into our parking spot. And like other car parks before, this one was definitely a hairy one to both park and navigate through so I appreciated the help from both people.
Finally at 4:45pm, we parked. Then at 4:55pm with our luggages in tow, we arrived at the Hotel Bilbao Jardines as we walked a couple of narrow alleyways (that were happening at this time) en route to the hotel. Then, after checking in, we finally got into our room at 5:05pm. And now we could finally get into our city clothes and do some touring of the city for the rest of this afternoon and evening.
It wouldn’t be until about 5:30pm when we left the hotel for some late afternoon touring. The big item on our itinerary was to go to the Guggenheim Museum, and since it was the only excursion we had targeted (as well as the only site with closing hours), we made sure to hit this one first. The rest would be icing on the cake.
We’d first head over to a tram stop so we could take the Euskotran for a few stops until we’d get to the Guggenheim. After buying single-use tickets for each of us, I had read from Rick Steves that you’re supposed to validate these tickets even though they had already been bought. But we didn’t understand how you’re supposed to validate these tickets since it wasn’t obvious to us where you were supposed to do this.
So the tram showed up, and when we got on, Julie spent some time walking back and forth trying to figure out whether you do the validation up here. She was unsuccessful, and eventually we got off at the Guggenheim stop at 5:45pm or so. Fortunately, no one asked to see our tickets.
Anyways, we approached the Guggenheim Museum, and at 5:50pm, we were at the main entrance. We then paid for the entrance admission to check out the art exhibits inside. It turned out that the featured artist here was some guy named Jeff Koons. There was a bunch of modern everyday stuff like appliances, toys, etc. And it was really helpful to read some of the interpretive verbage shown on the walls.
At least reading those things helped me to better understand what we were seeing as we went from room to room. Otherwise, I really didn’t have a clue.
I think Julie and Tahia really enjoyed this art exhibition, but Tahia really enjoyed her visit because she could identify with all those oversized toys or pieces. I personally didn’t really understand what I was seeing, but I did read those interpretive signs, which helped. They also allowed us to take pictures of the various exhibits as long as none of the pictures was going to be used commercially.
After having gone through all the rooms of the second floor, we then went downstairs where we checked out the remaining rooms, including a large maze.
Meanwhile, we also went out the door where we could take a few photos of the pool between the public walkway and the one in the paid admission area. We also heard quite a few American accents while strolling around. So indeed, Bilbao also seemed to be on the tourist radar (as we had previously thought this was going to be a quiet late afternoon self-guided city tour).
It was about 7pm when we left the paid part of the Guggenheim. Now that we were out, Tahia finally got to get her playground fix as there was one nearly in a part near the visitor center. Meanwhile, I walked in front of the Guggenheim towards that familiar spider fronting one side of the main building. This was going to be part of a longer loop that crossed two bridges and straddled the river.
In the distance, there were dark clouds practically looming over parts of the Guggenheim building. So now it was a race against time to try to get as many decent photos in before the storm would be completely over us and drop its buckets of rain.
I managed to get across to the other side of the river when the dark clouds finally delivered its load. It was a squally rain where it was easy to get drenched without shelter. I saw Julie and Tahia waiting at the playground across the bridge, but I wasn’t sure how much longer they coul just stand there while the rain was coming down.
Meanwhile, I made a quick run towards some tree cover until I saw a larger group of people already waiting under the bridge for some more reliable shelter. It was about 7:25pm when I was under the bridge waiting out the now heavy rain. There was no way I was going to cross over the unsheltered bridge like this so I had to wait out the rain.
It wasn’t until about 7:35pm when the rain had finally let up and I was able to quickly make my way back to rejoin Julie and Tahia. Julie’s red jacket looked drenched as it took her some time to get to the shelter under the bridge on the opposite side of the river from where I was hiding.
Anyways, we took the Euskotran back to the Old Town of Bilbao, where by 8pm, we were finally back to our room. The tram ride back was quite busy as I’d imagine most of the people who were out and about were caught in the rain, and no one had any interest in walking all the way back from the Guggenheim while the weather was this unstable. It was still raining at this time, but at least it wasn’t pouring like it was earlier when we were seeking shelter from the rain while we were at the Guggenheim.
By 8:25pm, we went back downstairs from our hotel in search of some place to eat as well as perhaps a twilight self-guided tour of the charming Old Town area. We ended up going to this place called Gorbeia which was just a few paces from our hotel on the exact same walking street.
It turned out that this restaurant was really hit and miss. The garlic prawn dish we got was very tasty. Since prawns was something Tahia liked to eat, neither Julie nor I would be able to have as much shrimp as what we’d normally be getting from the restaurant.
However, the mains were ordinary and not very good (despite the fact that they were the most expensive things on the menu). That said, we still had ourselves a pretty expensive dinner at nearly 70 euros total, and this became perhaps our most expensive dinner of the trip so far.
Anyways, after dinner was over at 9:40pm, we then did our twilight tour of the Old Town as planned. There were mostly empty and dead streets but we happened to stumble upon the handful of streets packed with people. Most of these folks were just outside having a smoke, a drink, as well as some good conversations. We initially thought the food must’ve been excellent at these places, but in the end, these folks weren’t even eating in the first place!
We’d eventually find ourselves at the small plaza before the St James Cathedral before we meandered about a couple more alleyways. It wasn’t until about 10:20pm that we were finally back at our room. And while our hotel was quite centrally located, it was also pretty close to the noisy action. Yet even though it wasn’t exactly the quietest room in the hotel, we were so exhausted from the day’s touring that we crashed in bed anyways.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be until the following day before we would wake up again…
Day 14: FITS AND STARTS
It was 7:10am when I awoke. After the very busy day from yesterday, none of us felt like getting up too early. Julie and Tahia were still asleep and they wouldn’t get up until 7:30am. Meanwhile, it wasn’t raining now even though the forecast had called for thunderstorms on this day. In fact, it was actually bright and sunny as I could see the sun’s rays penetrate right through the quiet and narrow alleyways of the Old Town.
We had a very busy day today, but I knew that the longer we begin, the later we’d be checking into San Sebastian. I very much looked forward to it because for the first time in about five days, we’d have no itinerary once we’re in town. It was planned to be a relaxing stay, and I really looked forward to not having to drive for a day.
Anyways, it wasn’t until about 8:25am when we finally went downstairs for Julie’s breakfast. But when she looked inside the brekkie room and didn’t see any hot breakfast, she decided not to have it. I was secretly glad that was the case so we’d be saving at least another hour on this day.
That said, it still took us until 8:45am when we finally got into the car after doing the short walk (with our luggages) to the Hotel Arriaga and summoning the guy who’d help us get out of the parking lot.
As we were driving out of town, we were further delayed by the car’s nav system as I had mistakenly thought it’d get me to the autovia quickly. It turned out that it was out of date compared to our Garmin Nuvi (a real rarity since the nav saved us while we were in Madrid and other urban areas, but for some reason it didn’t cut it while we were in the Basque Country).
So it took a little while for us to get out of the city of Bilbao, but then as we were headed out of the city, Julie wanted me to stop at the next service station because she wanted a place to buy brekkie on the go, especially after the pastries place in the Old Town of Bilbao (one of the few places open this early on a Sunday morning) gave us chocolate croissants that were too messy to be eating in the car. She wanted a place to clean Tahia up after she had chocolate all over her face and her clothes.
Indeed, there would be hardly any momentum on this morning as it seemed we couldn’t get any traction on what we had to do, and there was no real sense of urgency. So at 9:15am, we stopped over at this service station in this place called Barrio El Haya, and let Julie do her thing. That was when I had my turn at the sweets that we had bought earlier, and I could see what Julie meant by having to eat while the car was stopped as the chocolate filling was getting everywhere since the croissant wasn’t fully enclosed. It was already all over the insides of the bag.
It wouldn’t be until about 9:30am when we were finally leaving to start the day. This was definitely at least 90 minutes later than I would’ve liked to have gotten started.
Anyways, the drive out to the first falls we had targeted (which was the Nacimiento del Rio Ason – the source of the Ason River) was said to be some 30 minutes away from where we were at. But I had some GPS doubt when we got into the town of Ramales de la Victoria and the GPS had me go one way when I saw a sign pointing in a different direction headed to Los Collados del Ason. The sign had an “i” on it so I figured I could trust the sign instead of the GPS since I wasn’t sure my GPS waypoints were any good for this part of the trip, and then ask someone at the info center about where the target waterfalls were.
Well, that decision ended up taking us on some twisty roads that wound up getting us to this town called La Gandara, and Los Collados del Ason Interpretive Center, which was inside the town. We wouldn’t get there until about 10:35am, which was a bit later than I would’ve liked to start the day.
Anyways, Julie and Tahia were napping in the car so I went into the interpretive center alone. I spoke with the lady working there, but her English was very limited. I’d imagine it would’ve been how I would be speaking French or Spanish (though my Spanish was way more functional than French) to a native Spanish-speaking person. Yet in any case, we understood each other switching back and forth on the languages (whatever worked at the time or on the sentence we were trying to communicate).
To make a long story short, she told me that the Cascada de la Gandara was some 50m from the visitor center, but it wouldn’t have much water despite the storm that came through yesterday. I figured I could walk there, scope out the mirador, then be back at the car. She also said that the viewpoint to see the Cascada del Rio Ason was about 3km drive further past town. She said that one was roadside, which would help our cause in terms of doing all the waterfalling on this day so we wouldn’t have to drive while in San Sebastian (so I could finally relax).
She also volunteered that the Nacimiento del Rio Gandara was about 500m from town. She said that was nice, though I sensed it probably wasn’t worth the time investment given the lack of water she had warned me about. In fact, she had warned me that the Rio Ason Waterfall was also going to have slightly more water than the Rio Gandara.
So I got back to the car, grabbed the camera, then walked out to the Mirador del Rio Gandara. It turned out that I could’ve driven out to get closer to the mirador, before walking the last few paces to the overlook, which was a pair of circular platforms hanging over the abyss below. The view was looking down at where the cascading waterfall was supposed to be while the gorge was surrounded by gorgeous idyllic scenery and shapely peaks.
As far as the waterflow of the falls was concerned, the lady was right. There really wasn’t much water to see, but I was able to hear the river down below. It just wasn’t photographable as there was a lot of bare rock with some wet streaks on it. The sounds of the river were probably the collection of these streaks making what sounded like a river further downstream with enough water to make it as audible as it was.
It was definitely the kind of lookout that would induce butterflies in the stomach. And even though the falls wasn’t flowing, I figured that Julie and Tahia should at least check this out.
At 11:05am, I got back to the car, told Julie and Tahia about the mirador, then drove them over there. It’d be about ten minutes later when they returned to the car so we could get on to the next waterfall – El Nacimiento del Rio Ason.
Five minutes later, we found ourselves at a mirador looking down into a dramatic U-shaped valley. Hoping that this would be where we’d see the waterfall in this kind of a backdrop, I was disappointed to see no water in the scene. Perhaps we weren’t at the right overlook, I thought.
So after taking a few snaps, at 11:25am we got back in the car, then continued down the steep road with tight hairpin switchbacks, and then at about 11:30am, we were at a reddish sign saying “Mirador del Nacimiento del Rio Ason”. There were bicyclists already here pretty much soaking in the view so we kind of parked as far into the hairpin as we could without blocking traffic.
Once we got out and checked out the sight, we could see the falls across the valley plunging off the cliff but it had clearly seen better days earlier in the year. Still, we could at least see the falls and photograph it, but man would this have been an awesome sight had the falls been flowing normally.
So we took some time to check out the mirador and walking up and down the road a bit to see if the views would improve. And it would be about 11:40am when we’d be back in the car then continuing.
As I drove down the Trollstigen-like road, we stopped at the next hairpin turn as I noticed that perhaps there might be the kind of views showing both the falls and the valley together. I knew on the web such views existed, but it eluded us so far.
As we got out of the car, I noticed there was a directional arrow (for hiking) leading to the base of the waterfall. So I decided to follow this path, which left the driveway then went onto a rocky path that crossed a stream before getting me a few minutes right to the base of the impressively tall waterfall. It was too tall for the falls to fit into the view finder of the camera, but I got my views, then headed back.
As I was near the start of the rough trail, I saw Julie and Tahia heading the other way. However, I convinced them that in the interest of time, it wouldn’t be worth their time to get down there. So at 12:05pm, we were back in the car. Then, we could continue on and try to fit in the next two waterfalls – Salto del Nervion and Cascada de Gujuli, which were pretty far from the two falls we were at now.
In fact, the original plan was to go to those two falls tomorrow from San Sebastian, but I felt like we could fit in these falls, then make tomorrow a non-driving day… So we would continue to push through this plan for the rest of the afternoon no matter how late we’d be checking into San Sebastian on this day.
Now as we had returned to the car, Julie pointed out to me that the two front tires of our rental car had really worn out treads. She was very worried that we might have tire complications while out in the mountains driving, and given our luck with tires (even our last trip to the UK had a flat while in Wales), we didn’t want to take any chances when we were headed to the Pyrenees on the way to Barcelona at the end of this trip. So that was something we had to keep a close eye on.
And so we wound up driving back to Ramales de la Victoria on the original way that the GPS had intended (thus we drove a loop). I’m sure that could’ve saved a few minutes had we gone this way originally instead of driving the loop on these narrow and twisty roads.
Anyways, we drove off pretty much the way we came. Then Julie wanted to make another stop. And ironically, we showed up at 1pm at the same service stop we had stopped at earlier this morning (in Barrio El Haya). So she went in there to go to the toilet then to buy some bocadillos for a lunch on the go.
It wouldn’t be until 1:10pm when we’d be leaving again. Again, it was hard to gain momentum on this day, and it seemed like we kept getting delayed for one reason or another.
So the drive continued on high speed autovias, then we would be going on a toll road due south of Bilbao. We’d ultimately be getting off near the town of Gujuli, and on the way there, we’d stop at a signpost pointing the way to the Cascada de Gujuli. We’d get there at 1:55pm, where there were already a handful of cars already parked here.
A sign here said it was a 0.5km walk to get to the mirador, and we wasted no time getting our stuff together and making the walk on a very developed trail passing by some cow pastures with some dark clouds looming over us. Indeed, the fair weather we had been seeing this morning looked like it was going to give way to some rain this afternoon.
It was interesting to see that signs were both in Euskara as well as Spanish. In fact, I was under the impression that Gujuli (or Gojuri as I had seen on other signs) might be a Euskara word.
In any case, by 2:10pm, we were at the mirador for the falls. Like the other falls we had seen on this day, this one was wispy. It was a shame because this one was also a cliff-diving attractive falls. But there was a lot of overgrowth surrounding the mirador so the foliage kind of made the falls look more partial than it could have been.
At 2:25pm, we were back at the car just as it was starting to sprinkle. Once again, Julie looked at the treads on the tires and compared them to other cars parked in the lot. And indeed, we had really old and worn out treads on our front tires, and we had in our minds to try to rectify the situation on our free day in San Sebastian.
As we were making our way towards the next GPS waypoint (for Salto del Nervion), we were going down a narrow road with switchbacks as the road was hugging a cliff on one side of the valley. Then, Julie noticed a big waterfall on the opposite side of the cliff. That must be the Salto del Nervion, and it definitely had more significant flow than any of the other falls we had seen on this day!
It was 2:45pm when Tahia had to potty, and we wound up at a hairpin turn going up a cliff on the opposite side of the valley we were in. While they were doing the deed, it was starting to pour rain.
Near the top of the switchbacks, we would make a stop at a mirador at 2:55pm. The skies looked ominous but the views from up here looked quite impressive.
Anyways, we continued on.
Next, we turned off the N road and onto a signposted but unpaved road full of some potholes. This would persist for the next 3km. Eventually, we’d park at a fairly busy car park near the Casa del Parque. We weren’t sure if this was the right place, but the GPS still said we were some 1.2km from our destination.
Well, upon stopping the car, getting our stuff out, and committing to the walk, there was a sign by the Casa del Parque saying that it was actually a 1.8km hike to the Mirador de Salto del Nervion at this point.
So I took the lead in making my way quickly to the overlook as fast as I could while Tahia and Julie were busy getting ready. The walk itself was quite straightforward as it was on what looked to be an old unpaved road that used to allow vehicular traffic. But now, it’s pedestrians only unless a local or rancher was to access it by car.
Along the way, there were interpretive signs in Spanish talking about why they were protecting various aspects of this park. There were also some historical ruins, which gave this walk a little bit of a different dimension than a typical nature walk. Of course, if this was a nature park, I did find it strange that they let cattle and horses graze in the lands. It begs the question, what is being protected?
Anyways, as I was making my way on the old road, the dark clouds continued to loom and threaten to storm on us. There were a couple clasps of thunder, suggesting what was about to come.
Undeterred, I carried forward quickly as I was passed by a family on bicycles. It wouldn’t be until about 3:45pm when I finally caught up to the bikers and arrived at the mirador of the Salto del Nervion. Like with the La Gandara viewpoint, there was a viewing deck that dangled over a cliff. Indeed, it was butterflies-in-the-stomach-inducing, but the difference here was that we were able to get a gorgeous top down view of the tall falls leaping off of a cliff.
What really made this falls stand out was that it was being scattered by the wind. Some of the mist was going upstream above the falls. Down near the base of the falls, the plume was scattered all over the place, but it was pretty clear where the river continued on its course down into the valley.
Dark clouds were still looming overhead and it wasn’t lost on me that out here in the open, I could easily become lightning fodder since the lookout itself was made of metal. And so I was up here capturing both the view towards the valley as well as the falls while waiting for Julie and Tahia to catch up. What they missed out on was that there was a rainbow near the base of the falls when I first showed up and the sun was still piercing through the clouds.
But soon enough, the sun was obscured by the dark clouds, and from that point, the rainbow wouldn’t show up again.
It wasn’t until 4pm when Julie and Tahia finally made it out here. We took some people shots although it was a little on the awkward side since the falls was well below the lookout platform. Plus, the more we were taking photos from the platform, the more I was nervous about Julie dropping her iPhone and it falling down the abyss.
At 4:10pm, we left the overlook. It was getting late, and we knew that it wouldn’t be until at least past 6pm when we’d arrive in San Sebastian. But as we were leaving, I noticed that there was a spur trail to the left that crossed the stream a little upstream from the falls, and then would arrive at the fences surrounding the cliffs on the opposite side of the falls. I knew that the view from there would be better as it would be possible to see both the falls as well as the valley down below in one shot.
So as Julie and Tahia were on their way back to the car park, I quickly took the detour past some horse pastures. There were some colored sticks indicating that indeed there were sanctioned hiking trails in these pastures. So that gave me more confidence to follow the overgrown 4wd roads past the stream crossing, and then up to the plateau that I had been eyeing since we’ve been standing at the lookout platform.
I arrived at the alternate lookouts at 4:25pm. And as I had expected, the view showed the precipitous valley down below with the Salto del Nervion leaping off the cliffs to the left. It was hard to show the entire contour of both sides of the valley in one shot, but at least I managed to get the views I was after. I guess I could’ve kept on walking to get a more direct view of Salto del Nervion, but since we still needed to go to check into San Sebastian, I couldn’t linger here any longer.
At 4:30pm, I made the hard decision to leave. It was starting to rain gradually but persistently so I donned the rain poncho again. In the mean time, I was making haste as about 15 minutes later, I was back on the main trail. Then, I was moving as fast I could on the wide former unpaved road.
At about 5pm, I was back at the car where Julie and Tahia were already waiting. And from that point on, we would route straight to San Sebastian though both GPS’ were in disagreement so we once again had to make an evaluation on which GPS to listen to.
By the time we decided that the route the car nav was taking us on was too slow and incorrect, we wound up backtracking towards the AP-8 though it wouldn’t get us go north. Instead, we headed southeast before continuing on the N224 before going onto the tunnel-laden AP-1 all the way to San Sebastian (Donostia). All that indecision and wrong routing by the GPS’ took us on a another 20-minute or so delay, but in the end, we’d eventually make it to San Sebastian at 7:10pm.
But it wasn’t like we could just park the car and go in right away. We still had to let Julie get in contact with the receptionist while we were illegally parked somewhere just past the Hotel Niza where we were staying. So it wouldn’t be until about 7:20pm when we were told to park across the street from the front of the hotel and drop off our bags, then with the stuff dropped off in the room at 7:35pm, we then finally dropped off the car in the tight parking garage at 8:10pm.
Indeed, it was much later than we had hoped, but now we could finally enjoy the Playa de la Concha where there was late afternoon sun while the clouds had momentarily parted. We started walking along the crescent beach at 8:25pm though the real motivation for going out now was to join the evening paseo (now in progress) in search of a dinner place.
Since San Sebastian had a reputation for great food, we were looking forward to the experience. However, as we entered the charming old town’s crowded alleyways, we went from one place to the next as each place was either unsuitable for having Tahia sit and eat with us (i.e. it was a bar) or it was a sit-down place that was booked solid.
It wouldn’t be until about 9pm when we would finally sit at this place called La Muralla. Clearly this place was a fine dining establishment and it wouldn’t be the legendary pintxos. And so we decided that we’d do the pintxos bar hopping thing tomorrow when it wouldn’t be as busy as it was right now.
In any case, with all this rush to try to find a place to eat, I got the sense that we could’ve tried to seize the moment a bit more and enjoy the good weather and the beach. I knew that when we’d leave the restaurant, it would be dark. And with the weather tomorrow, there’s no guarantees in terms of what the weather would be like.
Well, as far as the dinner was concerned, we tried the cider from the area (which was served poured real high to aerate the drink I guess) and they let us have the bottle as the included fixed price menu that Julie and I each got with different items. We got the duck breast and monkfish with prawns as the starter preceded by a bonus pintxo to start. The other main was another fish dish. And the dessert was a chocolate cake with mango sorbet while Julie ordered a traditional Basque honey cake with vanilla ice cream.
We wound up switching ice creams so the chocolate could go with the vanilla (a timeless and classic combo that works all the time). But regardless, Julie really enjoyed her dessert.
We left the restaurant at about 10:35pm. On the way out of the old town (which was now quiet as most of the people went inside to eat; we learned that the aperitifs were part of the locals social life as none of them would eat until at least after 10pm), it was pretty much dark and well past the magic twilight hour.
We slowly walked our way back to our room, while along the way, we let Tahia play in the playground (hoping that tomorrow would be beach day for her). In the mean time, I was busy taking what night shots that I could of the Playa de las Conchas, and eventually at 11:10pm, we would be back at our room.
Totally exhausted yet again, we all fell asleep, while sporadically taking a shower and brushing our teeth when we were momentarily conscious between catching our z’s. The outside (our room was facing the street instead of the beach) was still busy well into 3am so that kind of kept us from falling asleep sooner rather than later.
We were going to have a busy day tomorrow, especially with the looming car tire situation. I was hoping to have a restful day (which was why we did all the waterfalling today), but it certainly didn’t look like it was going to work out that way…
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