The ferry from Portsmouth to Santander is a marvel - the Pont Aven - a beautiful modern vessel, beautifully run. It's stylish, sparkling, with excellent restaurants and bars, a pool, spa, shops, thousands of tiny but well-designed cabins and an ageing but cool clientele. The lifts are very swish. It helps having sunny calm weather (unlike our infamous cruise on the Balmoral a few years ago in the same waters). But we met nice folk, sat about, I had a massage (swoon), we ate and drank nice things and arrived on time despite leaving late. Our first acquaintances were the mysterious Irish couple, then we met an aeronautical engineer and his wife from the Hamble, then an electrical engineer and his wife from Birmingham. Very good chat all round.
No-one really much under 40 apart from a few families. Those with dawgs had their pets in a special kennel suite, with dog-walking space right up away from anyone else. Loads of motor-bikers. Some cyclists. A discerning bunch on the whole. The cabins are minute but very adequate and we slept ok apart from the juddering of the whole thing due to the engines.
The food was exemplary - delicious, classy and cheap. Puts that Thatch place to shame. We gave the restaurant a miss, and loved everything about the cafeteria. I totes forgot to mention my purchases in the shop - some spidery-looking things called Beffra - which you can use to put your satnav or phone up onto the dashboard of your car, or make into legs for the gadgets...made of sturdy pipe-cleaner sort of rubberised wire. Genius.
We saw hardly anything on the trip across the bay. Arriving at Santander was intensely romantic, with distant mountains shimmering into view, clouds piled up over the land, and eventually rocks, islands, headlands, the police and the pilot out to help us come in. Weirdly, although the port is on the north coast of Spain the city actually faces south, as it's on a sweeping headland (complete with palace and parks) which swerves towards the east, creating a huge sunny natural harbour away from the open sea, with beaches and villages and attractive developments all around.
The Pont-Aven edges in sideways. We clear our cabin, get to the car, say goodbye to the Dublin couple, and eventually get away. Andrew has booked us into a place which is a training hotel on the hill overlooking the city. We drive round in circles for a bit as the satnav is out of date, my phone-map can't get a signal, and the printed map we brought with us is a bit lacking in detail. But - glory be! We find it Las Carolinas! Super private house from the 1920s, pretty garden of trees and lawn. The front is entirely done out in white marble mosaics. A friendly man (tutor?) explains how it all works. Our room is large, blood-red, with full bathroom, twin beds, lots of class. The floors - like the stairs - are all made of beautiful old wood, and highly polished. Our friendly concierge directs us to a local restaurant for supper…. We call into a bar along the way and take in the scenery. The district is rather like Swiss Cottage - some traffic flowing through, lots of shops and bars. Old people, young people. A meteorological building. Views between apartment blocks.
The restaurant - la Radio - is BANGING. Bar, tapas, quick meals or smart restaurantat the front. The waiter speaks no English but helps us to choose two tuna dishes - one a carpaccio, the other a tartar… These are divine. We eat, slowly, watch the waiter serve some other diners a whole huge turbot using only two spoons to divide it. A family on the next table has three little children - all happy to be up and eating at 9pm. We walk back to the room, marveling at how civilized it is. Tomorrow we head west to Galicia. I am looking forward to seeing those Picos mountains. It is worth noting, we are in Cantabria - I am sure this is the same word as our home country - Kent. It means, the edge.