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Spain 2010 – Day 7: Picos de Europa

We’re up to day 7! Today we pile onto the bus just outside of Santillana del Mar (unapproved vehicles aren’t allowed in the village proper) and head up the mountain to see the Picos de Europa (aka the Peaks of Europe). We’ll ride up the mountain in a cable car, lunch in a quaint little village, and visit a church that holds a piece of Christ’s cross.

NOTE: Click on any of the images to pop open a larger version with captions. You can scroll through the images by clicking on the right or left side of each image. Click away from the pop-up to close it.

After we got on the bus, we were greeted warmly by our local guide, Lee who is an Englishman who’s been living in this area with his wife since 1978 (think Leigh Teabing – without the double-cross). I knew instantly that he would be a great guide and I was right. He narrated nearly our entire winding trip up the mountain with bits of history, culture, and humor about the local area.

Once we reached the lower summit, we all got in line for the extremely steep gondola ride up to the upper summit. It was quite cold up there, but the views were fantastic. Check out the pictures!

An older cable car on display near where we went up the mountain A cable car descending down the mountain. Riding up in the cable car. This thing ascends 2 kilometers while only traveling 1 kilometer horizontally. That's pretty darn steep. My mom watching our ascent up Picos de Europa Me at the upper cable car station. It's pretty cold up there. The craggy peaks of Picos de Europa as seen from the upper cable-car station.

A view from the upper cable car station.

After getting our fill of the views, we drove down to Villa de Potes for lunch. This little village is quite scenic and is well known for its production of grape liqueur called Orujo. I ducked into a store where they had samples available and tested it out. It comes in 4 popular flavors: honey, herbal, crème de cacao, and the clear, start your car, brain-eraser version. The first three are quite good and go down smoothly (especially the crème de cacao). The clear unflavored version is like drinking gasoline. Naturally, I had to buy a combo-pack of the liqueur to bring home and share with my friends.

A cool looking tree I saw overlooking the river in Villa de Potes. The river running through Villa de Potes. A pretty house in Villa de Potes. My mother standing next to a monument to the distilleries of Villa de Portes. The village is well known for its production of the tasty brain-erasing liquor known as Orujo.

For lunch, Lee guided us to his favorite stop and recommended the lentil soup. We were very pleasantly surprised with the yummy and hearty soup. Lee went the extra mile to make sure we all got seats and our orders were put in. What a guide!

 Our wonderful lunch in a small village (Villa de Potes) near Picos de Europa. We had lentil soup and it really hit the spot. This is Lee, our absolutely wonderful guide for our day-trip from Santillana Del Mar.

After lunch, we piled on the bus for a short trip out to the Monastery of Santo Toribio which holds the largest piece of the Lignum Crucis (Christ’s cross). We had the entire monastery to ourselves for a good half hour and Lee showed us around the area and inside the church. Unfortunately, no monks were on hand to allow us past the gate into the chapel where the actual Lignum Crucis is stored. I still managed to snap a picture of the enclosure that holds the wooden piece of the cross. Lee told us that it actually looks very little like wood because of the polishing effect of so many pilgrims touching it over the years.

 The Santo Toribio Monastery where a piece of Christ's cross (Lignum Crucis) is said to be held.Lee giving us the lowdown on the Santa Toribio Monastery.The enclosure holding the Lignum Crucis. The gates to this area were locked, so I couldn't get any closer. Normally a monk is around to allow us in, but we visited on an off-day.The tomb of Santa Toribio who brought the Lignum Crucis to this area and build the monastery (which is named after him).

Afterwards, we went back to the village of Santillana del Mar for a leisurely afternoon. I chose to use the time working on my blog. For dinner, we went to a local barbeque restaurant. There was no barbeque sauce to be seen, but the ribs didn’t need it. They were delicious. So why on earth did I order the spaghetti? Pasta of any sort is a very bad idea in Spain. Their idea of spaghetti sauce is opening up a can of tomato sauce and dumping it on overcooked pasta. It tasted like canned spaghetti. Blech. Fortunately, my Mom and her friend Carolyn were willing to share some of their ribs.

Dinner in a local BBQ restaurant. There was no BBQ sauce anywhere to be seen but the ribs were so good, they didn't need sauce. We walked right by an open fire pit with tons of meat on it as we entered the place. 

The Asian gentleman in the picture is Jack. You can’t tell from the picture, but he is quite the character. He’s travelled to over 100 countries, lived in at least 10, and speaks at least 4 different languages (including Spanish). His love for drinking wine was matched only by my own on the trip and he always had an upbeat, energetic attitude about everything on the tour. It’s meeting people like Jack that make these travels so wonderful.

Tomorrow we spend a lot of the day on the road heading towards the region of Asturias and the city of Oviedo, famous for its apple cider. Along the way, we’ll be stopping in the historic town of Comillas (home of another famous Gaudi structure) as well as visiting the scenic port of San Vicente de la Barquera. See you then!

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