Monday, August 30, 2010
Some decades back, the town commissioned an artist to paint the square concrete breakwaters in front of the port – to create the so-called "Cubes of Memory", making a colourful work of art out of something that's normally dull and boring.
There's not much to the town, apart from some pretty pedestrianised streets and rows of restaurants and bars. As Asturias is cider country, and every second building is a Sideria, we thought we'd better join with the locals and try out a bottle. Asturian cider has to be poured at arms length from the bottle into the glass from a great height to give it some froth – this method spills a large proportion of the cider onto the floor and gives the Asturian streets a permanently alcoholic aroma, like a squad of hard boozing winos has just staggered past. However, from the bottle that we tried, the more that went on the pavement the better – it was like paint stripper (maybe they pour it at arm's length because the smell's so bad). You could feel your stomach instantly rotting away, as soon as it passed your lips – we won't be trying it again!
On our final night in Ribadasella, we felt very old and boring as we cooked dinner and ate cards on the campsite, while the majority of our young fellow campers got dressed up for a big night out on the town. There was an open-air rock festival going on in town, with the sound system cranked up to eleven, so we fell asleep to the deafening sounds of Eurorock blaring across town, then to be woken up to the cider induced shouts and boozed-up laughter of our fellow campers as they staggered back to the site in the early hours.
We'd definitely recommend Comillas to anyone who wants to spend a week waiting for a spare part for their injured campervan.
The town is on the Camino de Santiago, so we passed lots of pilgrims along the way, and we then joined them on the climb up to the castle and the church on the hill above town, to enjoy the fantastic views of the estuary and green countryside below us.
So, you build yourself a haunted-house-a-like Neo-Gothic pile on the hill overlooking the town to remind everyone how important you are. This was a bit of a nouveau riche attempt to buy some class with its over-the-top Gothic austerity, but it was interesting to see how the other half lived in the 19th century.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
The town is set in the middle of some beautifully green Cantabrian countryside, and was built around a shrine to Saint Juliana – a Roman saint who supposedly captured the devil himself, there's lots of faded carvings of Juliana proudly leading the goat-like devil round on a chain. We explored the basilica with its Romanesque cloister, and wandered around the medieval streets, before having a surprisingly cheap Menu del Dia for lunch – they include a flagon of vaguely drinkable wine with each meal.
We ignored the sunbathing and went straight for the waves – being too mean to buy any body boards, we improvised with cheap lilos and rode the pounding surf. A wave was judged to be a good one, if it managed to pull down Anita's by now de-elasticated bikini top and bottoms, and treat the astonished sunbathers to a full moon in the day time.
More Mondernista architects from Barcelona were summoned to design another hugely impressive, but again over-the-top monument to his wealth. The opulent interior was designed by Montaner, and it must have seemed a strangely palatial environment to learn about God for the young seminarians who'd just taken a vow of poverty.
In the mid 19th century, this was just a fairly ordinary fishing village, until a poor local family, the Lopez y Lopez's went to South America to make their fortune. Their son made a huge amount of money as a businessman in Cuba, and decided to move back to Spain, marry an even richer wife, befriend the King, get himself made a Marquis, and spend lots of money on his home town (this was the first town in Spain to have electricity).
The new Marquis de Comillas cleverly married into the wealthy Guell family of Catalonia, who happened to be the patrons of a young architect called Antoni Gaudi, and so this is one of the few places outside Barcelona, where you can see some of Gaudi's fantastical architecture, along with some other Catalan Modernista masterpieces.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
The city's main feature is its wonderful beach – a long stretch of beautiful clean sand – according to my guidebook, the beach is the 8th cleanest in Europe; and despite being a ferry town, it's actually a very pretty place, backed by rolling green countryside.
Over the past few days, Tracy has resolved to become a fully fledged hippy - she is now making her own organic yogurt and growing her own mung beans in the van. I'm looking forward to her announcing that we're going to be raising free range chickens at our next camp site.
In our time here, we did lots of cycling up and down the hills from the campsite into town, did some lovely coastal walks, ate some delicious tapas, went to the beautiful beach, swam in the warm(ish) waters, and in contrast to these aforementioned fun activities, had to deal with an extremely annoying electrical problems with our van. There was an overnight power surge which somehow managed to blow the circuits on both ours and James and Rachel's transformers, leaving both of us without lights or water. Tracy did some excellent detective work and managed to get us some power back, but the upshot is that we have to order a new transformer at a cost of £120 – very irritating!
On a sunny day (and there aren't as many as you'd think of a place that's just 15 miles from the glamorous resort of Biarritz) there can't be many more pretty places as this. We had lunch in a beachside café, and then it was time for the beach for the sun worshippers and bed for those in need of a siesta, before an early evening swimming session getting buffeted by the surf.
We immediately filled our boots with pintxos and got stuck into the beer and rioja – Spain is a lot more reasonable for going out than France – and then we walked it off by going for a bracing walk alongside San Sebastian's surf beach where the waves were rolling in nicely from the Atlantic.
Then it was time for yet more pintxos, before the half hour train ride back to France.