After having lived here for several years, we decided that it is about time that we saw more of this beautiful country, so we planned a trip to the north of Spain to see what it had to offer. We were not disappointed. This is what did.
Day one: We flew with Ryanair from Alicante to Santander. The plane was full of Spanish people and so you can imagine the noise level, but the flight was only just over an hour, so it was no problem. Santander has a little airport just outside the city and we walked straight of the airport onto a bus that took us to the Plaza de Estaciones where buses and trains meet. The fare was 2.10 euros each and the buses run every 30mins all day from 0600 until 2300. It was a short walk to the hotel we had booked.
|Day two: A short walk back to the station area to catch the FEVE train ( www.feve.es ) This is a narrow gauge railway on which you can go from Bilbao in the east, right through to Ferrol in the west. We went as far as Llanes, a small fishing town on an estuary, where the authorities are in the process of building a nice sheltered marina, on the first of only two trains in the day. The journey took about 2hrs and the fare was about 6 euros each. Some of the scenery, particularly as we got further west, was very impressive. Llanes is very much geared towards tourists. There were many restaurants, specializing in seafood, in the little streets and squares. The coastline is nothing short of spectacular, with big Atlantic rollers driving into small coves with beautiful, but small, beaches.|
Day three: Back to the station to catch the train we got off the previous day. This time we were going to the city of Gijon. The journey was just over 2 hours and included one change as we traveled to the new station in the city. Unfortunately the maps we had still showed the old station so we lost our bearings immediately. Eventually a local advised us to get on a bus that took us right into the centre, where the driver hailed us that it was our stop. It was only a short walk up a tree-lined boulevard full of restaurants to the hotel we had booked. It was a very grand, but not pricey, turn of the 19th century building, very near to the old town and the beach. Gijon is built on a little peninsular jutting out into the ocean. On the east side there is a wonderful golden beach which is at least 1500ms long and was full of bathers and surfers, whilst the other side of the old battlement area consists of a marina and further around the bay, a fairly new container port.
|Day four: Now that we knew exactly where we were, walked back to the FEVE station to catch the train to Luarca. This journey involved one change as we eventually caught the Oviedo to Ferrol train, having passed by the type of area we had never seen before in Spain. It was highly industrialised and included two coal fired power stations, an oil refinery and a steel mill. After the change we returned to beautiful countryside again, more reminiscent of Switzerland than anything we had seen in Spain before. However, as the train wound it's way around the hillsides the journey was considerably less comfortable than we had experienced so far and it started to rain. Once at Luarca, with the drizzle still driving down, we had a walk down a long hill into the town to find our hotel. It was still very dull the next day, so we didn't see Luarca at it's best I am sure.|
Day five: Back to the station to catch the train to Oviedo. The weather picked up here and as we had a three hour wait for the train to Madrid, we were able to have a leisurely lunch in the city which was very much a working city. We then caught a RENFE train to Madrid. We had booked Preferente class travel and were shown to our seat by a stewardess. The very modern train steadily passed over the mountains and eventually came into Leon in about three and a half hours, and we had only gone half way. However, after leaving Leon, we got onto high speed track and the remaining 250kms only took about an hour and a quarter, during which time a meal and drinks were served. Despite what we had been told, I don't think the extra cost of Preferente was justified by the added extras. We arrived at our hotel, a way from the centre of Madrid, too late to go anywhere that night, after a 25euro taxi ride from Charmartin Station. When I booked the hotel, I thought we would be going into Otocha Station and so had booked a hotel fairly near there.
Day six: The bus ride into Madrid took about 20mins and only cost 1.50 euros each. Once there we quickly found our bearings and started to look around, immediately impressed with the city itself. We decided that the best way to see the city was on the hop on, hop off buses. For 20euros each you can travel for as long as you like and there are 2 routes you can use to see all the main sites. We got off at several different places and the frequency of the buses meant that we never had to wait more than 5mins for one to come and pick us up again. The city is full of beautiful squares and open areas with fountains, as well as larger parks, and the buildings on the Gran Via were a tremendous spectacle. We will certainly go back for a longer visit. Click on the thumbnails for a bigger picture.
Day seven: We caught the bus back into the city and then the metro (1.50 euros) up to Charmartin Station again for our trip back to Murcia. This time we had opted for the cheaper Turistica Class travel and with our 'Tarjetas Dorardas" only cost 32 euros each for a four hour journey. The Golden Tickets only cost 5.05 euros each and are valid for anyone, resident or not, who is over 60 years old. They give either 40% or 25% reduction on fares, depending on the day of travel and are valid for a year. The journey took us over the flat, dry and featureless plains of inner Spain and it was a relieve to get to Albacete and see some trees and rivers for the rest of the journey.