Firstly to Bilbao arriving, as newly accustomed, by night and wandering through the Old Town that seems to have been taken over by hard-core rockers. Long hair, weed and black slogan t-shirts as far as the eye could see.
I mostly wanted to go to Bilbao to check out the Guggenheim, and not even the inside at that. The building is spectacular. Just look at it. Lovely. The collection? Ahem. Dave valiantly attempted to be cultured and brush cynicism to one side but it’s a hard job. There’s a lot of shit in there. We did see Sophie Okonedo though, who had nipped after discharging (gross word – sorry) her duties as judge at the San Seb film festie.
It’s not wholly rubbish. One installation piece shows a semi-destroyed supermarket, knitted largely out of pink wool by a bunch of Greek women. The inspiration came from a google search that the artist made for ‘sex bomb’ (it is not explained why he was conducting this search) which came back with a female Palestinian suicide bomber. Another showed an unremarkable couple of spheres on the floor and series of photos on the wall. The piece is said to be produced in collaboration with an agency, which in reality is one artist. So what? It is designed to question the concepts of memory and accepted ‘truths’ received via trusted media channels. Thought-provoking.
And then of course there is Koons. Oh Koons. Famous for his intimate statues of him and his porn star wife, and a piece of Michael Jackson and Bubbles the chimp. Me, I think he’s massively hit and miss, not to mention funny looking. The Guggenheim has a giant puppy floral arrangement out front that is utterly shit and one of his claims to fame. By contrast, you’ve got these lovely stainless steel tulips that are high-gloss, graceful and pretty to look at.
Passed a lovely day with mi tia y mi tio before their holiday drew to a close and they boarded the ferry back to the motherland. Not before dispensing some top tips though. ‘Go to Picos Europa’, they said. Ok.
So off I went. Bussed via Santander to Potes through dramatic gorges before emerging into a pretty, rugged national park. After a few phone calls in broken Spanish and French, I found me a bunk, in a basement, next to the bins, on a campsite just up the road, La Viorna. Perfect. Blissful setting and just lovely proprietors. Isabel and Mariano. Pop in and say hello to them and grab a local cider while you’re at it – it’s a cross between proper scrumpy and that lovely sweet French cidre. Turned out to be a bit of a Little Britain with campervans, tents and caravans stuffed with Brits, even a couple of bikers from Bristol. Schucks.
Spent one afternoon lazing by the pool soaking up some rays before deciding I needed to expend some energy and climbing up to the hill behind with the cross on top. Didn’t take the orthodox route. I imagined that, it being a cross, the monks in the Monastery up the road would be into it and that I would find a path leading twixt the two. I was sort of right.
If you head upwards from the God Squad, there is a seldom used track, more akin to a goat path than a footpath and traversing some slippery pebbles, ferns and giant poo-like slugs. Not the conventional way up, but lo! A deer! Worth it for this and the UBOPs (Unidentified Bird of Prey) circling casually in the evening sun at the top. You should know by now how happy these make me.
I should mention that this monastery allegedly houses the biggest remaining bit of the cross, saved and protected here for 100s of years. And if you believe that, I have a Nigerian uncle who I’d like you to meet who just needs a little help freeing up some capital.
Another day I caught the cable car up to the top of Fuente De and stomped/ran back down to the valley. Met some cyclists at the top who spoke to me in rapid-fire Spanish, of which I understood approximately 10%. Something to do with there being mines in the area before and using donkeys to bring the stuff down to the bottom. And something else about the two rivers and various mountain massifs in the park. Nice blokes anyway. By the time I arrived at the lovely little village of Mogrovejo, the new sock experiment had gone wrong and the footpath had run out. ‘Walk back along the road’, said the miserable old bruja in the café. <Sigh.> Ok. But I got no further than the edge of the village before a lovely family from Madrid comprising of Fernando and a couple of Marias picked me up and dropped me right back at my door. ‘Oh mi niña! You were going to walk all this way?’ Hell yeah.
Had seen this pic in a magazine on a train. Doesn’t it look like South America. Resolved, impulsively, to find it.
It is in fact the Rio Sil and lies somewhere between Lugo and Ourense. Too. Difficult. Decided after a day on the buses (again) that Europe really is better explored with a car, a band of friends and a tent. So instead I tucked the magazine article in my file and headed to Santiago de Compostela to marvel at the pilgrims.
Very pretty medieval town with nuff Christians milling about with staffs and shells. Soaked it all up, sampling many of the cafes and bakeries on the way. Despite all the walking, Iberia is making me fat.