Monday 8th August Well here we are in sunny Spain (Bilbao). We had a reasonably good crossing of the bottom half of Biscay. Day 1 was Anne's kind of sailing day, sun bathing on deck with the autohelm doing the work and the odd glass of wine to keep her company. During the night the wind decided to veer from Northwest to East and increased in strength to force seven, we shortened sail and with a double reef in the main and genoa stormed along at 7 to 8 knots. The distance from La Rochelle to Bilbao is about 200 miles so the speed was a welcoming aid although it made for a bumpy ride (no sunbathing today). Bilbao is a large commercial city and is the home to the Guggenheim Museum, one of the main reasons for our visit here, it also retains a charming old city quarter, some of it dating back to the 15th century. The marina is about 10 kilometres from the city centre so we used the Metro as our mode of transport. We have found public transport excellent in France and our first experience in Spain indicated it was to a similar standard (maybe Britain could learn a lesson here!).
The front of the Guggenheim Museum. The cat is made from flowers
We made for the Guggenheim Museum as it was reasonably early and we thought we would beat the crowds, wrong, on arrival we found a two hour queue, so we decided to have a look at some other sites and double back once the rush had died down. Wrong again, on our return about two hours later, the queue was now out to three hours, so sadly we decided to give it a miss. We would suggest if you were going to visit the Guggenheim, you would need to set aside a whole day. To offset our disappointment the old city with it's cathedral, narrow streets, bars and restaurants more than made up.
The world's oldest Transport Bridge
Close to the marina was another of Bilbao's attractions, the world's oldest transporter bridge dating back to 1893. The bridge is still in use today and carries cars and pedestrians from one side of the river to the other.
Friday 12th August. We departed Bilbao for Santander 30 miles west along the coast. The sun was shining and we had a very pleasant sail arriving in Santander late afternoon. We anchored of the yacht club for the first night as the marina is quite a bit further up the river and has a very shallow approach. In the morning we motored up river to the marina and booked in. To our horror, we found this the most expensive marina we have been in so far charging us 51 euro per night (like being on the south coast of England). The marina is a 20 minute bus ride from the town and the route passes a very large hypermarket, so this was a must for the first stop. Here you could buy almost anything on one of it's four floors, although we found prices were slightly more expensive than we would have expected to pay in Scotland. This was to be Festival Weekend in Santander with Monday a public holiday, but we found none of the normal festive activities you would expect and were a bit disappointed at the lack of any activities.
Santander by night anchored off the Yacht Club
Monday 15th August We left Santander feeling we had missed something but not sure what! We were now heading for Ribadesella, a small seaside holiday town 60 miles distant. We had a good sail with the wind from behind although it was a bit rolly polly. There is no marina in Ribadesella and you just tie up at the town quay. On arrival (LW + 1 hour) we had only about 1 foot of water below the keel coming over the bar at the entrance and a long curving approach to the quay. Once in and tied up, we were delighted with what we found, it reminded us of an up-market Rothesay on a warm summer's evening. Ribadesella turned out to be everything we had looked for in Santander with a number (about 10) of different countries performing song and dance in different parts of the town during the day and in the evening everyone came out to promenade along the seafront and harbour.
Wednesday was market day, so we thought we would stay for that and stock up with some fresh fruit and veg. In the afternoon we went to visit some caves which have cave paintings dating back some 15 to 20 thousand years but unfortunately we couldn't get in as the number of visitors is limited to 400 per day and that day's allocation had gone. However, there was an excellent museum focusing on the caves on the same site and we found that very interesting. Next stop was to be 7km away (a short stroll), a small village where you negotiate a natural tunnel to get to it. The walk was hot but enjoyable and we weren't disappointed when we arrived, the tunnel was about 150 metres long and more like a cave with an entrance at both ends. In the village, we found a small rustic cafe/bar and rested there before tackling the return journey by a different route. We both slept well. We left Ribadesella next morning heading for Gijon a further 30 miles West.
It was dark in the tunnel But there was light at the other end