Sept. 8: Guernica- 17 miles
Today we walk in rural countryside through forests and alongside flowing streams. It’s very hilly, but the sound of the rushing water is soothing and a stop at the the Zenarruza monastery provides a cool, peaceful place to rest.
We are heading towards what we think is the hotel, but once again, there is no signage. It’s been a long walk through the town and we’re hot, tired and very grateful to have arrived at Hotel Gernika. The classic hotel has an air of old world elegance and air conditioning! After showering, we enjoy a glass of wine in their beautiful solarium and wonder how we will be able to handle U.S. prices for a glass of wine, when we return, after paying anywhere from €1.60 to €3 here (exchange rate to U.S. dollar is almost equal).
Guernica is considered the spiritual center of the Basque Country and was the site of the aerial bombings of its civilians in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. In downtown Guernica, large black and white blowups of photos of the damaged city are front and center, serving as a reminder of the atrocities on that memorable day.
Sept. 9 – 10: Bilbao- 19 miles
From the city streets, we quickly find ourselves on an intense, narrow path through the woods. The ascents and descents are much more treacherous due to the slippery wet rocks and the mud. For miles, the smell of the eucalyptus trees is our only comfort and the only sound we can hear is our heavy breathing.
It wasn’t easy to find a mid price hotel in such a big city, so we splurge and stay at the Hotel Abando. Unlike all the other hotels to date, the staff hardly looks up when we arrive, is not very welcoming and is no help at all in finding us a laundromat. We are so happy to hear from our Danish friend, with an invitation to try a restaurant that has been recommended to him, we forget about our hotel experience. Our new mantra is “Es lo que es,”- it is what it is.
We spend most of our rest day at the Guggenheim Museum. Designed by Frank Gehry, its cutting edge design also reflects in its modern art exhibits. The main exhibit entitled “Motion- Autos, Art, Architecture” celebrates forty of the most distinctive cars in relation to beauty, rarity and technical progress. My favorite part of the exhibit is a vision of the future of cities presented by a number of universities from across the world.
Sept. 11: Santurzi – 12-1/2 miles
The bad news: today’s walk is along a river, industrial areas and rundown towns. The good news: it’s all flat! Not having to worry about every step you take gives us more time to a relax and think.
As we enter Santurzi, the juxtaposition of the two sides of the city is startling. The old neighborhoods we’re walking through transcend into a couple of blocks of modern condos and lovely mansions before our eyes.
The UHR Palacio de Orio is magnificent, but we’re disappointed the rooms are rather plain. We take some time to explore its nooks and crannies and imagine it in its heyday.
Sept. 12: Castro Urdiales- 18-1/2 miles
The city streets soon lead to a walking/bike path. There’s not much to see, but we’re grateful it’s flat…for now. We follow the yellow arrows (the official Camino way markings) past a very unusual site; cows grazing on a vertical pasture so steep that it appears they are hanging on with their hooves. This keeps us entertained until we arrive on a boardwalk that follows along the Atlantic Ocean, the crashing waves lulling us into a walking rhythm. Then, it’s up 120 stone steps and then we’re looking down at the ocean.
We follow a shortcut to the road. Luckily, there’s little traffic and a small shoulder we can walk on, single file. The gas station we stop at does not sell water, but a kind gentleman hears our plight and insists we take his cold bottle of water. They say the Camino provides and today we are blessed with more than one example.
We’re all set to walk the short distance to our hotel. Our app says only one and a half miles, but it also says it will take 43 minutes. What?! We’re done! We stop at a bar, order two beers and ask the bartender to please call a taxi, while we sit outside and wait. A few minutes later, she runs out to tell us a bus will be arriving in three minutes right down then block that can take us. With stealth like precision, we dump the water out of our water bottles, fill them with beer and run for the bus.
It takes me a minute or two to realize that all the passengers at the front of the bus are discussing where our hotel is and where we should get off. We are told to exit, thank everyone and are escorted by a woman passenger, who insists on walking us to our destination, after her long shift at as a waitress. We part company, but not after hugs all around.
Castro Urdiales is a popular seaside resort on the Bay of Biscay. The Las Rocas Playa Hotel’s large windows frame the lovely white stucco, red tiled roofed homes that line the street to the beach, mostly second homes. The hotel’s tranquil ivory and beige color scheme reminds us that our walking for the day is almost done. Just a quick visit to the beach (with just enough time to get our legs wet), then we’re enjoying dinner in their dining room, looking out those big windows and wishing we could stay just a bit longer.