A Day Trip To Potes, Liébana in Cantabria

Potes is a small town pretty close to Santander, the capital city of the region of Liébana and famous for Cocido Lebaniego, a cousin of the more traditional meat/bean stew Cocido Montañés. I'm sucker for stews, and I initially wanted to take this trip just to have the Cocido, but it turns out this little medieval town was also famous for its magnificent views of Picos De Europa. I'm also a sucker for mountain views, so we arranged a day trip. Its a small enough town, and unless you want to hike and camp, you can get by with a day. There is enough here to keep the day pretty full, including a ride up the skyride to get a spectacular view of the mountains.


Potes has hints of being a medieval town, because it used to be a strategic location for the Romans, because its the location where two rivers meet. Because of its strategic location, its economy boomed and it eventually became the capital of Liébana


One of the things I've found interesting about these medieval tourist towns is that these aren't just showroom towns - there are families who live here throughout the year, who have kids that go to school and parents who hang out at the local bars, and have weekend parties, etc. Everyday scenes, like kids playing soccer (and having to fight for the ball with the dog that also wants to play) in this scenic town is sort of contradictory to me - I half-expect some Roman centurians to jump out from some tunnel.


The next part of the trip was to go up the funicular to National Park of Picos De Europa. To do this, you have to drive a little bit from Potes to a small area called Fuente . Fuente Dé is not a town really, its just the area where you take the funicular/cable car to the top. Fuente also has a Parador at the base of the cable car, where you can have an extended stay. Paradors in Spain are old historical buildings converted to be hotels, so they offer a unique experience

Once you take the cable car all the way to the top, you get a majestic view of the mountains. At that point, you are at the peak, and somewhat in the middle of the park. From here you're able to hike to many places for much more awesome scenery, but the views from here are not too shabby.


A Walk in the Historic Town of Comillas, Cantabria

I've been to Comillas once before almost 6 years ago, when I first visited Spain. It was also my first foray into Europe, and we didn't take it easy. Straight into the heart of Cantabria, or "Cantabria Profunda" (Deep Cantabria), as they call it is where we went, away from the big cities and tourist attractions. One of these towns, Comillas, was the perfect stop. I remember we went on a weekday, and it was a quiet little town that I always wanted to come back to. Last year when we visited Spain for Christmas, we got a chance to go again with Cristina's brother, who is a childhood friend of the "Primer Teniente de Alcalde" (Deputy Mayor) of Comillas. A walk with the Deputy Mayor of the town. It's about 1.5/2 hours from Santander, so it was too good to pass up.

Commillas is a sleepy little town in Northern Spain, in the Province of Cantabria. It is designated a historic-artistic site, and It has all the charateristics of such a site - cobbled streets and squares with ancestral houses, and has pretty well preserved medieval architecture. It's also known as the "Town of the Bishops" - as five prelates were born here who later went on to be the heads of several different dioceses in the Middle Ages. It has been modernized a lot, just like Segovia and Pedrazza, and there are a lot of modern amenities. Most of these towns all have a "Plaza Mayor" (Like a city center, or city center square) where there is usually the church and lots of restaurants and bars. We met Pedro, the Deputy Mayor of Comillas and he took us for a personalized walk around tour of his town.


Comillas is home to Comillas Pontifical University, which used to be a religious university, but it has since reformed and moved to Madrid. The institution in Comillas now serves as a foundation for research. It also has a lot of different programs for exchange and international students. Its an awesome place to spend your summers, with the beach as your backyard and say to sheep as you walk to your classes.


The Comillas beach is near the Oyambre Natural Park, and is very well preserved as well. You can go fishing from the pier, or chill out on the beach. It was a little cold to be frolicking on the sand, and the summer town was a little bit empty in January.


After the walk around, we went a place recommended by Pedro for some really good tapas, Restaurante el Pirata. Lunchtime is late in Spain, so we had some caña and tapas to hold us off till lunch.


In town square is the parish church of San Cristóbal, dating from the seventeenth century. The town is a stop along the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago, so you'll see signs all along the town. The church and town hosts all sorts of events when the participants of the pilgrimage arrive.


A Taste of Porrón

A porrón is a traditional Spanish wine vessel, used to store and drink wine. It is no mistake that the word, pronounced “pour-OHN,” contains the word pour, because that is exactly how you drink from it. It resembles a cross between a wine bottle and watering can; the top is narrow and ends in a spout. Since it is also used to store wine, the top usually has a cork or a stop - its almost like wine ready-to-go. To drink from it, you tilt the porrón with the spout pointing at your mouth really fast, drink and then tilt it straight really fast again. The wine jets out really fast from the spout, so you never have to touch it with your lips. You really have to do this with no hesitation whatsoever, otherwise you can expect to have a lot more wine on your shirt than in your mouth. It is a festive device meant to facilitate communal activity, so you pass it around in a group and drink together - a little bit like how the Native Americans used to pass around the smoke-pipe around the fire. Its an awesome ice-breaker in a big group and a lot of fun. It’s nearly impossible not to not enjoy a porrón pour, unless of course, you're George Orwell.

Porróns mainly hail from Catalunia and Aragon, but they can be found all over Spain. They were designed originally to take the place of wine skins or bota bags and made with ceramic, but at some point switched to being made with mouth-blown recycled glass. This vessel originated in the middle ages and was used when there weren’t enough glasses for the guests. The design has a logic as well - It’s shaped this way so that the wine will have minimal contact with the air, which quickly ruins it. Porróns are most commonly filled with regular wines, either white or red, but are also used to drink Cava. Because you ingest a mouthful at a time, young wine is most suited for the porrón.

Porrón drinking is a pretty old tradition - and even though the ritual remains a symbol of Spanish sociability, as well as fine evidence of the country’s characteristically unpretentious approach to wine - being an old tradition in a modern world, it is dying. The young generation in Spain don't really drink from a porrón much, and if you go into a regular bar and ask for a porrón, they may look at you funny. I first saw a porrón being sampled by Anthony Bourdain while he was traveling through Northern Spain, and ever since then I've been wanting to try it. So my last trip to Spain, Cristina's Aunt Mili and Uncle Alejandro decided to take us out to an off-the-beaten path place, Bar Ruiz. This was really out of the any tourist zone and embodied what I would think would be like to drink at one of these places. The patrons were all local, and they all knew each other. The place was no-frills, but had a soul, like it had seen many things. It didn't pretend to be anything other than what it was. The only food you could get there is embutido, or charcuterie and cheese. We ate a bunch of chorizo, salchichón and manchego and enjoyed the experience of drinking from a porrón.


Some places to drink porrón in New York City:

157 E. Houston St.
(between Allen and Eldridge)
New York, NY

El Porron Restaurant
1123 First Avenue (btw. 61st & 62nd Streets)
New York, NY


A Break in Lerma

After the rainy stay in Segovia and a cold and freezing pit-stop in Pedrazza, we made another little stop in Lerma to take a break. Lerma is a small town in the Province of Burgos, known for its bread and morcilla (blood sausage), and the Parador de Lerma, which is housed in The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace is of course the most interesting construction of the city. This beautiful Palace was constucuted over the ruins of and old XV castle, and was designed by the Architect Francisco de Mora in the traditional Castilian style with four towers. The building is situated at the Plaza Mayor, a huge plaza surrounded by arcades. This building is now the Parador de Lerma. Paradors in Spain are special hotels, that are housed in heritage buildings. It so happens that a lot of these historic buildings are in towns that are small and without much economic activity, so the Parador is a novel source of income for the town. There are Paradors all over the country, in mostly remote locations, so its a destination in itself. Not to mention, staying in one of these is a very cool experience, which I will get into when we stay in Parador de Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

A Rainy Day in Segovia

Segovia has been on my bucket list for a while now - ever since I saw the picture of the Alcazar of Segovia - so it was pretty awesome when I was finally able to go there. Segovia is one of the cities in the World Heritage Sites from UNESCO, so we expected it to be crowded, but less crowded in December. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative. It rained the entire time we were in Segovia and it was freezing. It was the drizzly kind, and not torrential downpour, so we were able to walk around a bit. When we first got there, we could see the aquaduct from the street approaching. We stopped for a bit to walk around the famouse Aquaduct of Segovia for a bit, climbing all around it, and getting a nice view of the city.

The next day wasn't any better. Drizzle/rain mist all day, and overcast sky. We walked all around town, and it was a good day for some cocido and bean stew. We walked all around town, admiring the architecture and town center.Amongst the aquaduct, which is one of the most important Roman construction in Spain, the architecture is influenced by Romanesque style.