around northern Spain

when – 20070925-20071002, where – around northern Spain

i’ll skip nasty details and just write that getting holidays was not an easy part but i managed to get 5 days off. i had very short time to decide where to go – i was considering flights to Madrid, Barcelona and Marseille. flying to Madrid sounded a familiar [ i’ve started my journey thought south of Spain in spring this year ], but also tempting. i’ve decided almost on the spot and booked flight and a car. fortunately one of my friends – slifka – was crazy enough to join me.

25th – Tuesday. ryanair was kind enough to be late, but flew us safely anyway. bad luck that we’ve reached Madrid at 4am next day instead of midnight. no metro and no buses at that time – so we couldn’t have used only booked accommodation we had – in hostel in center of the city.

26th – Wednesday – 3 hours spent sitting/laying on airport’s floor and hertz’s office opened. i queued politely for 30 minutes – fellow at the car rental counter was waking up really slowly. after some paper work we got keys to the car. thrill of excitement – what am i going to crash into this time ? ;-]. we took off – in grey peugot 207. direction – Avila. being hungry for rural landscapes [ read: cheap and not willing to pay highway tolls ] we chose route through road 505 – quite hilly and worth driving ~50 instead of 120kmph.
but landscapes ware not the first attraction – we stopped in some village to do shopping in hipermarket [ which apparently is my addiction whenever i have a car at my disposal – so maybe twice a year ]. after 2 years of visiting netto next to my Goteborg flat.. well any hipermarket gets me impressed with choice.
shopping done – we drive through hills on crooked road and around noon reach Avila – city with part of old town surrounded by fortification wall and towers. using typical [ learned from previous trip to Spain ] method we :

  • found center of the city [ centro ciudad as i remember ]
  • found free parking place nearby
  • found touristic information
    • [ sometimes order of last two is swapped ]. equipped with mini-map we walked around, got some pictures and after ~1h took of.
      destination for Wednesday was Salamanca – we reached around 3pm. parked a car bit far from center, took just cameras and walked searching for touristic information and some place to sleep. second one turned out to be easy one – we got quite cheap room in ** hotel at plaza mayor – main square of old town – it was pe
      rfect location. with information it was a bit more tricky – they had some enormous siesta, but finally they reopened at 5pm. in meanwhile we took our backpacks from the car to hotel. after 5pm – equipped with map and list of things worth seeing we walked around old town – taking a look at maze of narrow streets, old university, even older cathedral. old town was fool of [most probably] students just starting they tuition and getting through some kind of initiation for those who just begin next step in education. they ware walking across town dressed in unusual way, shouting and pouring water at each other, later on there was
      set of crazy competitions at the plaza mayor. around 7pm we got back to hotel, plan was – to take a nap and wake up around 10pm to continue sightseeing. andthat was a plan, allegedly it was impossible to wake me up. after all we’ve been awaken for over 36 hours.

      27th – Thoursday – destination: Porto, Portugal. thanks God we haven’t took highway and route suggested by google maps. instead we drove to Vila Nova de Foz Coa and then to Porto. we took road 517 and then 222 – that was worth it. hills, narrow road, tight turns, beautiful sunny weather and stunning surroundings: g
      rape and olive plantations, small wine making companies. Original plan was to see archeology park at Villa.. but when we reached it we: learned the hard way that there is siesta in Portugal, which means things are generally speaking closed between ~12 and 2-3 pm. things: shops, bars, touristic information… guided
      tour was anyway to late for us. Portugal differs – it seemed abandoned – villages with no people, not renovated buildings, roads with almost no signs. when we reached Porto it was quite late already, additional session of shopping in supermarket at the edge of the city did not helped neither. anyway – we drove to the old town, found some reasonably priced hotel in no time, parking place, some small supper and we’ve been ready for night sightseeing. walk across narrow streets, few shots of pictures of churches and old buildings and good night sleep after that. honestly i didn’t felt so safe in Porto – lot’s of youngster sitting on the curbs, drinking beer.

      28th – Friday – we leave Portugal behind and stop by at Santiago De Compostela. we had quite a problem finding a place to leave the car and ended up on paid underground parking in the very center of the city. we had a proper dinner in a restaurant, visited famous cathedral [ actually one of very few open churches o
      n the way ], took walk in old town and drove away – to A Coruna. in my opinion A Coruna was 2nd nicest city we visited, or maybe it was Friaday that make old town so crowded and quite friendly. we found our accommodation 1 minute away from plaza mayor, left our bags and drove to seaside – to the Tower of Hercules – post-roman lighthouse erected in 2nd century. weather was great, sunshine beautiful. if only my lenses ware clean … [ but about dirt on it i’ve learned next day, so Friday photos have some nasty mark ]. another sight i liked was modern building of ‘centro de control de trafico maritimo’. when we got back to old
      town – it was bursting with party life – it was difficult to tell the difference between streets and pubs. funny thing – on plaza mayor – there ware sculpture of heads and parts of human body – very similar to those i’ve seen year ago in old town of Krakow, Poland. sculptures in Krakow and in A Coruna ware done by
      polish chap – Igor Mitoraj.

      29th – Saturday. Gijon – another city at the seaside. actually most interesting thing there was gallery of front-page pictures from National Geographic magazine.

      30th – Sunday – on the way to Bilbao we get lost and found, we see beautiful seaside with high cliff shore full of caves, stones and a bit of sand. there is a bit of rain, but not much. we park in center of Bilbao and fail to find ‘working’ church – what we found was permanently closed. J. Clarkson was right [ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/article868880.ece ] – Bilbao’s building of Guggenheim art museum is indeed stunning. we took off and continue – to San Sebastian [ we take 634 instead of toll road – again – it’s slowe but worth – views – especially along the coastline – are really great ].

      1st – Monday – target: Segovia. last time i promised myself – no more car journeys without gps and some mapping. i have not kept the promise – as result we drove to Segovia via Pampelona – which is ~1.5h of wasted time. around 4pm we reached Segovia – already by driving to the city over road 110 we got stunned by beautiful view of city surrounded by fortifications, with castle on the edge and cathedral in the center. Segovia is absolute winner of this trip, without questions asked. besides old [middle ages?] town – there is even older attraction – part of post-roman aqueduct. this masterpeace of engineering was providing old
      town with water carried above ground level for over 14km.

      2nd – Tuesday – beliving in rule – better be to early rather then late [ for the flight ] we woke up to early, drove to Madrid to quickly and after all had ~4h of waiting on the airport for our flight. equipped with backpacks full of: seafood in cans, spanish sausage: chorizo and salami and some alcohol we flew back to Goteborg.

      we spent not more then 20E / night for accommodation – and all of them ware quite good, ~150E for car rental, another ~120E for fuel, ~12E/day/person for food. not bad. definitively was worth it, i’m already looking forward to go back to spain – maybe Barcelona and Valencia next time ?

      map with our route

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