“And are you going to Santander?” my dad asked when I told him about my trip to Basque Country.
I didn’t know anything about Santander except that they have an airport there. “Should I?”
“It’s a beautiful town on the coast. It was your Abuelita’s favorite city in Spain.”
I felt like it would be shame to come all the way to Spain and not see my Abuelita’s favorite city, especially when it was only an hour and a half from Bilbao by bus. It’s not actually part of Basque Country, it’s just over into the next region, Cantabria.
It was originally mean to be a grey rainy day, but it turned out absolutely gorgeous. (So gorgeous that I went home with a rouged nose and a band-aid tan line as a souvenir. Man, band-aid tan lines are not cute.)
I had done minimal research. My plan was to bike up the coast, see the famous summer palace, wander around a little, and go home.
I ended up having such a great day, I can’t believe I almost didn’t go. Here are some highlights from my day in Santander, in chronological order:
I fell head over heels for Gallofa & Co. cafe
You know me, paint anything turquoise and I have to have it. This cafe was so cute and delicious that I wanted to move to Santander just so I could become a regular. I went back three times. They were even nice enough to charge my phone at the end of the day.
Biking up the coast
I rented a bike at a blue public bike station for a few euros and road up the coast, growling at lethargic pedestrians stringing across the bike path. The beaches are a bit of walk from the city center, so many people drive, bike, or take a ferry. I passed three bike stations before I found one with an open spot. I was cranky about it at the time, but later I was glad that I had ridden further up the coast.
I strolled along the beaches until I reached the Península de la Magdalena. (I shared more photos of the breathtaking coast in my last post on Santander.)
Península de la Magdalena
This little peninsula has a lot going on. Not only does it have the royal summer palace overlooking the ocean, but it also has a nautical museum and a small marine zoo with penguins, seals, and sea lions. Apparently the seals and sea lions can swim in and out freely.
The wind was blowing so hard I was worried it would rip the iPhone right out of my hand. I circled the Palacio de la Magdalena and gazed down at the waves crashing into white foam on the rocks.
All of a sudden, I realized time had grown short to catch my 5 o’clock bus back to Bilbao. I decided to walk back, but vowed to take fewer pictures in the interest of time. (That was a challenge.)
Speedwalking down the coast
This part would have been better if I hadn’t been in such a hurry. But I still stopped to put my toes in the water and snap some colorful murals.
The bus station miracle
I had thought five hours in Santander would be enough. (That was back when the weather was going to be gross.) It wasn’t nearly enough time, and as I hurried back I wondered if it was worth it to just buy another bus ticket for later in the evening. I got to the station ten minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. I didn’t think it would be possible to exchange the ticket, but I asked anyway. The gentleman behind the glass looked at me incredulously.
“No, no. For five o’clock? Not possible. You have to change your ticket two hours before departure.”
I felt deflated. I could have changed the ticket that morning if I had known! I asked him if there was availabilty to leave later if I bought a new ticket.
He looked at me. “When do you want to go? Seven, eight?”
“Umm… how about eight?”
“Vale. It’s 60 cents to change the ticket.”
I was thrilled. I had three extra hours in Santander! Not enough time to go back to the beach, but enough time for a good wander (and some more juice from Gallofa).
Wandering in Santander
The city of Santander is really charming. There are loads of little boutiques and cafes.
Watching the storm roll in
Soon I realized that 8 p.m. was the perfect time to leave. The sea had become choppy and the wind whipped the map out of my hand.
No one seemed terribly bothered. Everyone carried on strolling and eating ice cream. (6 p.m. is apparently ice cream o’clock in Santander.)
I stopped by a local artisan fair and then grabbed one last Gallofa snack before grabbing the bus. I was tired. It was just the right time to go home. Home for the night, anyway. The next day I was off to San Sebastian.
The bus ride from Bilbao to Santander was an hour and a half and cost around 6.50€ with Alsa, a major bus operator in Spain. The tourist office in the bus station provided me with a map. I got the idea to bike from this post by Christine in Spain.
Sorry about all the pictures – I’ll restrain myself next time! Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end. Thanks for reading 🙂