Santander-Llanes on the FEVE train, 3 August

train Santander-Llanes 816.JPG

Early train from Santander to Llanes, 75 km further along the coast to the west.

pintxes women FEVE station cafe Santander 816 fruit machine.JPG

The FEVE station café at Santander is kept by a sharp-eyed pair of older men, white hair and moustaches and uniforms, serving up breakfast with keenness to travellers, like these women and like us.

SD man with bag FEVE station cafe Santander 816.JPGA gentleman with a red bag came in, walked around the café and went out. The TV showed 70s and 80s pop songs with Spanish videos featuring bizarre costumes.

RENFE (the national train operator) runs trains south from the coastal cities to Madrid, while FEVE runs along the coast. They have separate, adjacent stations. They merged, recently.

The FEVE train is slow. I prefer it to the bus because you can move about, and I can read, and not get travel sick. But it is true that it goes at half the speed of the bus.

train map FEVE station cafe Santander 816 2 stagecoach.JPG

This map, on the wall of the FEVE station at Santander, shows half of the journey from Santander (at the top right) to Llanes. I like how the stagecoach is held up for the train.

Although we were not the first to get on, we got the comfiest seats with plenty of leg room for the two hour journey. It turned out, however, that because our seats were fully at the front we got the full benefit of the train’s much-blown horn. It is used to draw the attention of any possible stagecoaches to our approach.

(In the Bob Dylan song, is it a futile or a feudal horn that the one eyed undertaker blows? Both would feel appropriate here.)

hills from train Santander-Llanes 816.JPG

Though the line parallels the coast, you rarely see the sea. There’s a fold of land between the mountains and the sea cliffs. that’s where the railway runs, with this picture looking towards the mountains. There are small rivers; the line crosses them more than it follows them.

river from train Santander-Llanes 816.JPG

Thin layer of brown river over bright white stones.

flats, tintoreria from train Santander-Llanes 816.JPG

Occasional towns.

house for sale train Santander-Llanes 816.JPG

House for sale.

Transcantabrico train Santander-Llanes 816.JPG

At Urqueno we came across the posh Transcantabrico. I’d love to travel on it along this long little line, dining and sleeping and looking out the window.

Llanes train Santander-Llanes 816.JPG

At Llanes you climb out of the train and walk across the track to get to the station. Less than a five minute walk, in heat, to our hotel.



  km mode of transport kph €/km
Brussels-Paris, 29 July 263 metro, metro, train, taxi 87 0,34
Paris-Santander, 29-30 July 764 walk, night train, coach, taxi 41 0,21
Santander-Llanes, 3 August 75 taxi, train, walk 25 0,15

Santander, 30 July-3 August

British children are taught that The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain.

It is not so.

Arriving from the bus station, we asked the bus driver what the weather had been like. “Mixed,” she said. “It depends on the weather.”

kiosk rain Santander 716.JPG

casino cafe rain Santander 716.JPG

Centro Botin, Santander 716.JPG

People at weddings and suchlike, at the Casino, at the Duluz restaurant, greeted each other in smart clothes and ignored the rain that was falling.

It wasn’t all rain. As a collector of numbers I was interested in this man’s shirt. If there were more like this, my task (I am currently stuck on 181) would be easier. For some reason, all the tops that you see with numbers have one or two numbers only. Because they have their origins in American sports shirts?

man with unusual number Santander 716 family.JPG

When it was hot, though, it was hot. This even though – like Simla – Santander was where the posh people from the capital used to come to avoid the heat of the summer. The town built a summer palace for King Alfonso XIII. Our hotel was in this part, a km or two from the town centre, with big villas and big beaches from which we swam while merchant ships passed in the distance.

columns, mosaic Santander 716 2.JPG

I liked it that there is still a newspaper culture here. When I got to the front of the queue, though, all they had in English was (that day’s) Financial Times. Later we found an old Le Monde and once – treat of treats – the previous day’s Daily Telegraph.

newspaper kiosk Santander 716.JPG

The Russian shop near the port even had posters in Russian stuck on the nearby walls.

Russian shop Santander 816.JPG

I went for a couple of morning runs along the seafront. The first day was so wet that my running shoes didn’t dry for a day and a half; still there were 26 other runners out – a good turnout – 24 men, one woman and one dog. Later, on a dry day, there were 25 men and 14 women.

In the Méson Rampalay we had patatas bravas (chips). At our request the waiter brought us salt and pepper. When he cleared the table for the next course, big prawns, he took the condiments away.

(Like me, my father loved puns. One Christmas my mother asked him to pass the salt. He did so, And the condiments of the seasoning to you, my dear.)

De Bellis Antiquitaitis is a perfect game for bar tables. This picture shows Fatimid Egyptians ready to take on Feudal Spanish.

DBA Fatimids Santander 816.JPG

One day we had lunch in the Plaza Cañadio, on the terrace of a restaurant called Cañadio.

flats Cañadio Santander 716 Santander 816.JPG

It was hot; these blokes maneouvred carefully so we could be in the shade.

adjusting table Cañadio Santander 716 Santander 816.JPG

I didn’t fancy the salmorejo, a soup made of bread and tomato which includes a blob of tomato ice cream…

salmorejo Cañadio Santander 716 Santander 816.JPG

… and was a little disappointed by the lack of a stronger taste in my red scorpionfish pudding, though I liked the look of it…

red scorpionsfish pudding Cañadio Santander 716 Santander 816.JPG

it’s fun writing these food words.

dry dock Santander 716.JPG

The city has a dry dock like the one in which L’Hermione was reconstructed at Rochefort (but less deep).

back seat of bus (not for under 16s) Santander 716.JPG

There’s an excellent bus service. On the back seats, under-16s are forbidden.

One thing I noticed, after Brussels, after Paris, was the lack of soldiers on the street with guns. The first time I saw such a thing – and I remember being shocked – was in Barcelona in 1979.

Here are a few of the interesting buildings: the cathedral, the post office, flats in town, the Centro Botín.

cathedral Santander 716.JPG post office Santander 716.JPG

flats Santander 716.JPG

Centro Botin Santander 716 3.JPG

I had hopes of finding another because a city guide said that “The square Plaza del Ayuntamiento…’s new bus shelter was designed by … Norman Foster… It is … clean, simple and elegant, like everything created by this British Lord.” I am interested in bus stops and looked out for it, but do not believe that the bus stop I found on that square can be it:

"British Lord" bus stop Santander 716 Santander 816.JPG

One more transport fact: the green man on the pedestrian crossing crosses with vigour. [Imagine an illustrative video; I can’t work out how to upload them.]


Statues and sculptures, Santander

We arrived in Santander last Saturday and stayed for four days. The city has many statues and sculptures; here are some of them.

 nun, public divers Santander 716.JPGBoys diving in the harbour…

public swimmers tunnel Santander 816.JPG and, in the tunnel from the bus and rail stations to the city centre, a painting of the same sculpture. 

public saint with dog Santander 716.JPG
Soulful saint with dog and tamarisk

public art villa Santander sculpture Santander 716.JPGArtwork in the garden of one of the big bourgeois villas in the Magdalena district where we stayed

 tree held up by bricks Santander 716.JPGThis isn’t an artwork, but I like the combination of natural and artificial. Magdalena district again.

 SD public people Santander 716 2.JPG public people Santander 716.JPGNear the port, two sets of statues that commemorate the city fire of 1941. I like how the second group of people stand in the grass. What is the relationship between the two sets? Are some of the people the same, for example?

 public head Santander 716.JPGA head.

public man Santander 716.JPGA head with an etiolated body. Makes me think of what happens in the end to the people in Doris Lessing’s The making of the representative for Planet 8.

public statue with starfish Santander 716.JPG A head with a starfish (Augusto Gonzalo Linares, founder of Spain’s first marine biology laboratory).

public ship of the line memorial battle of Trafalgar Santander 716.JPGIn honour of those who were killed at the battle of Trafalgar, 1805

Italian legion monument Santander 816.JPG
Monument to the Italian Legions, 1930s

Dos de Mayo statue Santander 716.JPG
Commemoration of the Dos de Mayo in 1808 (when Spanish people rebelled against the Napoleonic takeover of Spain)


Brussels-Santander, 29-30 July

office front doors 716.JPG

I set off for Spain from the office in sunshine after work.

The Thalys, as usual, took no time at all between Brussels Midi and Paris Gare du Nord.

security scanner for Thalys Paris 716.JPG

There was no security check at Brussels, but they were checking bags at Gare du Nord going the other way.


RER gare du nord Paris 716.JPG

We were heading for the Gare du Lyon on the RER. After fifteen minutes standing on a hot train (the one on the left in the picture) we learned that trains there were suspended – security alert. We didn’t find it easy to find the taxi rank; when we were there we were “helped” into a taxi by a local woman who banged the door angrily when we wouldn’t give her a tip.

People call taxi drivers aggressive, said our taxi driver, but it is Madame Hidalgo the mayor who has changed the traffic layout at this station so we lose so much time. Is it true, then, that taxi drivers are aggressive in Paris?, I said. Yes it is true, but we have to be, when cars take our place, to which they are not entitled, in the bus lanes. Like that car ahead of us… oh, he has a Danish plate. If not I would have sounded my horn. The fare to cross Paris – €16 – was less than I’d feared.

We ate at the Européen, opposite the station. It has much in common with the Brasserie du Terminus Nord, opposite the Gare du Nord – except that the Terminus Nord is darker, folded in on itself with mirrors. They took our baggage out of the way when we arrived; asked if we had a train at a particular time; the food came quickly. I enjoyed tomato-mozzarella salad and cold lobster with mayonnaise.

cheese l'Européen Paris 716.JPG

When it came time for cheese, though, they seemed to have an ‘everything must go’ mentality, and the cheese was cold; we ended up taking away a mousey bag.

We caught the 2152 night train to Irun from the Gare d’Austerlitz. I’ve caught night trains from there a few times before, to go walking in the Pyrenees. I always thought the station was in the west of Paris, but in fact it is 15 minutes walk, across the Seine, from the Gare de Lyon in the south-east.

building from bridge Seine 716.JPG

I liked this strangely shaped building as we crossed the bridge.

gare d'Austerlitz 716 3.JPG

The part of the station from which our train departed has been turned into a fairy tale space: subtle lighting, petrified tree columns and SNCF staff on segways. Sadly French night trains are the least fun that I have travelled on – no meals, no bar, no pretence that your compartment is for anything other than sleeping, no folding away of bunks, no table, no frilly doo dahs and biscuits and TV magazines on the table (but there I’m thinking of Russia). It was a pleasure even so to rattle out for a fair distance under the streets of Paris, to emerge by the Seine…

Seine from train Paris-Irun 716.JPG

and to wake up in time to see revellers’ tents at the Fêtes de Bayonne

tents and parking on outskirts fête de Bayonne night train Paris-Irun 716.JPG

(where I met up with my walking friends last time we walked together in the Pyrenees); to see the sea for the first time, after coming into Biarritz;

people at St Jean de Luz waiting for a bus to Bayonne for the fêtes night train Paris-Irun 716.JPG

and to see people in the red and white colours of the fêtes queuing for a bus at St Jean de Luz.

We were nostalgic for holidays past at St Jean de Luz, and happy as we arrived at Irun, just over the Spanish border, at 9.30. Even if we had croissant and coffee, it was different from France immediately. The orange juice was squeezed in front of us and the people in the station café talked enthusiastically. You feel more left out as a foreigner (but that’s also because I don’t speak this language).

protected bells church Irun 716.JPG

I’ve been reading a book (Agents of empire) by Noel Malcolm about the Venetian empire in Albania in the sixteenth century. In the siege of Ulcinj the commander, Sciarra Martinengo, is – according to accounts – hit by a falling bell. No danger of that in Irun: the church bells have useful screens to them.

We’d looked into going on to Santander by train, but it takes seven hours, so we caught a bus. The Spanish long distance bus network is a fine thing, I have to accept that, but it is still less fun to sit for hours on a bus than a train, all the more so if the bus has smoked windows so the worsening climate looks worse still, and if it turns from an express into a stopper half way through the journey.

car advert bus Irun-Santander 716.JPG

And why does a bus company show its passengers adverts for cars?

public art surfer bus Irun-Santander 716.JPG

We drove through a surfing town (Debo) and arrived in Santander at 3.30, hopped into another zippy taxi with a female driver (How has the weather been? Mixed – it depends… on the weather) and arrived at our late 19th century hotel on the Avenida de la Hotelas at 3.45. Glance at the beach and we ate pintxes on a café terrace as the rain came down.

pintxes Santander 716.JPG

  km mode of transport kph €/km
Brussels-Paris, 29 July 263 train 87 0,34
Paris-Santander, 29-30 July 764 night train; bus 41 0,21