Monday, 1 September 2008

4: The never-ending hunt for porridge oats

Well I hadn´t intended to be providing weekly updates, I thought perhaps I might have done it by country instead, but at the speed I´m moving at people would probably forget the blog address in the interim. I also have an hour to kill before my Scottish cycling partner for the coming fortnight, Kirsty, arrives in on the ferry from Plymouth. I´ve got Rocinante tied up outside, but within view, here in downtown Santander where I´ve been taking some time off the bike for the past few days. Having had some pre-arranged dates made with friends for meeting up in Santander, I had several days to make the 250 km journey from San Sebastian to Santander and so I could take my time. This was fortunate as the hills themselves would have forced me to take a slower pace along this mountainous coast, but I would probably have been frustrated if I had tried to push a quicker pace. The exertion required to bring myself and the bike to the top of the hills was more than compensated for, however, by the spectacular coastline. The towns and villages in between held less appeal, especially those which have been blessed or cursed, depending on your point of view, with a fine beach. Such a feature ensures that your town will be inundated with those seeking to worship the sun-gods and will ensure your town´s urban arteries will be clogged with the daily migration from the town to the beach. The northern coastal resorts tend to attract an overwhelmingly Spanish clientele, probably driven away by the high cost of the more developed Spanish resorts along the Mediterreranean. The roads between these seasonal resorts offered sanctuary, however, and were for the most part surprisingly quiet and bereft of traffic.

Guernica is today a somewhat drab collection of modern architecture, but the town holds a very special place in the heart of many Basques. Not only was this the site where Basque elders held court in the past under an oak tree, the remains of which stand outside the present Basque parliament buildings, but it was also where Hitler´s airforce bombed the town in 1937. The facists, under General Franco, wished to destory the bridge in the town centre that provided a vital supply route for the Reds during the Spanish civil war and so they orchestrated the bombing and requested the Germans, eager to test their military equipment, as well as support Franco, to destroy the bridge. Carried out during the busy Monday afternoon market, however, not only was the bridge destroyed but so was most of the town and a total of over 2000 fatalities. This was the event that later inspired Picasso´s depiction of the bombing, now kept in Madrid.

One thing that I hadn´t understood whilst I was traveling through Euskadi was how, if the region had been so repressed by Franco, had the economy been so well developed and how northern cities, such as Bilbao, had been at the forefront of industrialisation in the mid twentieth century. A fellow I met in Santander, however, explained how Franco´s policy had actually been to develop and industrialise the Basque region to such an extent that it would be brought into the fold of Spain. This was also achieved by a type of latter day settler colony and by encouraging workers from other regions in Spain to migrate to these northern industrial areas to work and live and ultimately to breed out Basques from their own region. A very simplistic assessment of the situation, of course, and still just reflections from an ignorant passerby, but its certainly an interesting place to spend some time.

Thirty kilometres from Bilbao I crossed into Cantabria and left the Basque flags and language behind. While Santander doesn´t get much of a rating in the dog-eared photocopy I have of an out-of-date travel guide, I have really enjoyed my last few days in the city, catching up with some friends and spending time getting to know a place a little better and finally managing my first swim in the Atlantic since leaving Ireland. Destroyed by a fire in 1941, the city does at first seem to lack the old worldiness that has usually been present in the centre of cities that I´ve been passing through, but for me there is a relaxed and unpretentious charm to the city, boasted no doubt by the fact that I´ve found my first bag of porridge oats since central France.

Hasta luego!

Santander, Spain

Trip distance: 2285 km

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jo and Trisha here!
Jo and Charlie have just met and the little one didn't cry when she met JR so that's always a good start! Charlie is a LEGEND and Momma Bear is playing a blinder!
We sitting in the kitchen reading your blog and we got to thinking - surrounded by 1990s furniture - why is Maynooth not the capital of this fine island.
Great updates sir and impressed by your millage!
Hope your rear is doing ok (T was worried!)
Trisha and Jo xxx
p.s. Trip distance: table to the kettle and back!