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.


Pit-stop in Vitoria to Meet Friends

Today was the last day on the road trip. After a rest at the Parador in Santo Domingo de La Calzada, we made our way to Vitoria-Gasteiz, a mid-sized town in the Basque Country. We didn't really plan to visit this place a destination, but we thought it would be a good meeting point for a few friends that we had planned to meet. They were already in San Sebastian for Christmas, so it was easy enough to get here. It was the second last stop before going home (last stop being Frias) so we were looking forward to relaxing a little bit.

Vitoria-Gasteiz is another medieval town in this mini road-trip of ours. Its a grungy town, with a lot of street art and old world architecture intertwined. Basque country is a pretty popular tourist destination, but whenever people visit this region, San Sebastian is usually their primary destination, so Vitoria is a little bit off-the-beaten path destination. There are plenty of things to do here, but with time being short, we decided to walk around Virgin Blanca Square, and then visit the Artium Museum, a modern art museum where they have a collection with works from some of the most important Basque and Spanish artists.


We met our friends around noon, just in time for some 'txikiteo' - if you didn't know already, 'txikiteo' is a Basque tradition similar to a pub crawl, the focus being mainly on drinks and pintxos/tapas. The Basque Country is one of the areas with the most bars per capita, so it seems fitting that this tradition started here. Our friends also brought their daughter along, and even though she seemed to not be too happy with the camera, I managed to get some snaps.


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.

An Even More Freezing Day in Pedrazza

After a cold and rainy day in Segovia, we were headed to Pedrazza, a smaller town in the same province, but not quite as popular. A lot of people have heard of Segovia, and the Alcázar of Segovia, but not too many people have heard of Pedrazza. Segovia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Pedrazza is not. Its not too big, and not very populated, which makes it a perfect little town to visit for a non-touristy feel. I really wish we had stayed over, but this was a pit-stop in our road trip, and we could only spend a few hours. But I think we will go back for sure.

An approach to Pedrazza via Bandas Sonaras

Like a lot of the cities in the world heritage site list, Pedrazza is also a Medieval Village. The village really was almost abandoned in the 70s and 80s, because there are no jobs nearby (other than tourism related) and so a lot of the younger people left to go to bigger metropolitan areas. Recently the economy took a upturn, as a lot of the urbanites have come back to purchase homes and have renovated them to be weekend escapes. 

Pedrazza falls in the province of Segovia and autonomous community of Castilla y Leon, but most of the visitors head towards Segovia; so when we went, it was almost empty. Not to mention, it was raining very heavily with a lot of wind and so most people were indoors. Nevertheless we got to walk around and take in some of the medieval architecture. Towns like these have always appealed to, because they are very different than what I am used to - growing up we heard many fairy tale stories about princes and warriors from medieval times, and walking through these town I can imagine what it would be like to live in one of these towns. They've been modernized since then with indoor plumbing and such, but the old school charm is still there.

After walking around a little bit in what turned out to be almost a ghost town, we got a little hungry. There aren't many restaurants around town, and it was off-season, and cold and rainy, and we didn't think any place would be open. But then we wondered into a small side street, and lo behold, we saw one small place with steamed windows, which could only mean they are cooking inside.

Restaurante Reberte sighted!

We found Restaurante Reberte, which looked like it just opened. It was small place, family owned, it looked like - it felt exactly like what you would want to find in a small medieval village. Spanish lunchtime - especially on a weekend - is really late, around 3PM, and it was still about 2PM, so when we walked in, we were still pretty early and they didn't look prepared. We asked nicely if they could feed us still, and Señor Reberte himself said "of course!". So then we sat down for a nice hearty meal of cordero (lamb roast), sopa castellana and flan. Reberte tended to us himself, all the while roasting and fetching.At the end of the meal (even though we couldn't really stand) he even agreed to take a picture with us. 

After the meal, we were warmed up a little bit, but really full. We walked around a little bit more to see the rest of the town, which included the town pharmacy, some other small bars, and the town prison (yes, a prison).

Sights around Segovia

When we visited Segovia, it was just bad weather all around. Drizzle and rain mist covered almost everything, and the cloud was just overcast and flat. It gave us time to visit a lot of restaurants and cafes, admire the establishments and enjoy some good food. 

Because of all the rain, I saw umbrellas everywhere. So - here is a collection of pictures of one of the main sights of the trip: Umbrellas!


Street Signs

Segovia being a World Heritage Site, its pretty touristy. There are signs all over the place, making sure the tourists don't get lost. Given that the tourists come from all over the world. I guess you expect the signs to be various languages. In Spain, almost everything is translated, and there are hardly any signs in english. So in Segovia, you would expect to see all the signs in Spanish, right? Yes, and also in - Japanese! My friend Francesco explained to me why that is - it seems Japanese tourists are crazy about World Heritage Sites, and they visit them places in this list more than any other destination. So it would make sense to cater to the Japanese. 



Starting with this post, I've decided that I want to incorporate some of my iphone pictures into this website. Sometimes the phone is just handy enough to capture a moment that I might have missed with the big dslr. So, throughout the site, expect to see SNIPPETS! in various areas.


Stalked Locals

Tapas at Duque Maestro Asada

At the top of the Aquaduct

The lobby of our hotel - 

Princess sighting at the post office

The view from the hotel balcony

Alcazar of Segovia

Wine from Restaurant Jose Maria restaurantejosemaria.com

Cochinillo - cooked so soft, it can be cut with a plate

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.

Alcázar of Segovia

Call it indoctrination of Disney, or just childhood fairy tales, but castles are yet another obsession of mine, that I just wasn't used to while growing up. Seeing castles up front is major treat and often it feels like when kids see their superheros in real-life for the first time. Supposedly the Cinderella Castle in Disneyland was inspired by the Alcázar Castle in Segovia and Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, but I think most castles would like to claim that credit. 


The interior of this castle is just as gorgeous and luxurious. I can only imagine what it was like to live in one of these castles in its heyday.