In Search of a Better Spain, Travel

In Search of a Better Spain: Santander

As I sat on a wooden bench along Paseo Pereda in Santander’s harbour looking out over the slightly rocky sea, I breathed with a sigh of relief; I was finally travelling again. I’d been cooped up in Sevilla for too long, almost two years since arriving, and I’d barely seen the country I’d set out to explore.

Santander - paseo pereda
Breathe in…ahh…travelling again! Paseo Pereda – Santander. Photo by Jose Miguel Martinez

I’d chosen Sevilla because I’d been told the lifestyle was chilled, the weather was superb, and it was a great hub for touring Andalucía. All that was true, but I was unsure it was for me; there had to be more exciting places to live in Spain than Sevilla. Since arriving I’d done nothing but reminisce about my adventure round the world through South America, Australia, and Asia. It had been such fun, roaming the world as a free spirit.

But something drastic had changed. I was no longer a free spirit; I had a girlfriend, a Sevillana. I’d completely fallen for her; there was no doubting that, but Sevilla? I constantly battled with myself about whether or not I should stay there, in such a traditional, tedious, blisteringly hot place. There was only one thing for it, to travel again, and see what else Spain could offer.

So that was my mission, to travel through North Spain, wandering about on my tod while hunting for that perfect place to escape to (with my girlfriend, of course), and trying to decide whether I was destined to settle in Sevilla.

The adventure would take me from Santander to Barcelona, stopping at Bilbao, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Zaragoza, and finally Barcelona, where I’d meet up with my girlfriend. Hopefully, I’d have news on where we could run away, to which, admittedly, she would need a serious amount of convincing. Both her and the mother-in-law.

So there I was; chilling on a bench while gazing out into the ocean, wondering whether Santander could be our new home. It definitely had possibilities. Getting from the airport had been a synch; I’d flown in from London and the bus had only taken twenty minutes to get to the centre. I’d checked into a hostel run by a friendly chap with a wobbly bouffant hairstyle and worrying fluffy eyebrows (for those who know me, yes, even fluffier than mine). As I left he showed me the best sights on a map.

Palacio de Magdalena - Santander
Palacio de Magdalena from the distance. Not my hostel. Photo by marcp

“There’s the cathedral, marvellous beaches, and you have to visit el Palacio de Magdalena,” he said, stroking his furry caterpillars.

“What’s that then?”

“It’s a palace, obviously, but it’s special because the royal family stay there on holiday.”

“What, you mean they don’t stay here?” He looked at me for a second, wondering whether I was serious. I kept a dead pan face, but when I broke into a smile he began to laugh.

“No, not yet, but maybe next time.”

I’d tour the city the next day. I just wanted to sit and stare out at sea. I’d lived in Salvador and Sydney and missed having the freedom to walk down to the beach. Being close to water made such a difference.

I loved Santander straight away: it was about fifteen degrees cooler than Sevilla, the sea air was fresh, green mountains dotted the skyline in the distance, and there was a lively jazz band jiving away on the promenade. Couples and families had stopped to appreciate the gifted musicians. Jazz was a refreshing change to the usual gypsy flamenco guitarists who seemed to pop up and annoy you with their unwanted presence whenever you sat outside in Sevilla.

I’m a massive dog lover, so seeing couples walking about with dogs were great too, especially as they seemed to be keeping the floors clean. Obviously the locals of Santander took pride in their city, and knew how to clean up the dog mess.

The sun was beginning to set and it was getting a bit nippy, unheard of in Sevilla in September, so I went for a walk in search of some tapas.

So far, Santander was thrashing Sevilla, but that soon came to a halt. Finding the best spots to eat on your first night in a new place is always a challenge, especially when you’re starving. I spent about an hour wandering round the bars and restaurants in the main centre, but there was no sign of tapas.

“Are you an English speaker?” asked a balding bloke in his forties as I leant against a bar scouring the menu for tapas.

“How did you guess?”

“Well you came in, asked for the menu, and then pulled out a guidebook, in English.” Was it that obvious?

“Yeah, so what’s the tapas like here?”

“Tapas? In Santander? No chance, it’s mainly pinchos or raciones – those are the bigger plates. I just had a cracking plate of black pudding, now I’m on the chicken. You won’t find any tapas round this part of the world,” he said, beginning to laugh. “Tapas, in Santander?” he muttered as he shoved in another mouthful of chicken.

“Cheers,” I said, necking the beer I’d ordered. I refused to believe there was no tapas in Santander. My guidebook said it was possible. Surely everywhere in Spain did tapas.

They look a lot tastier than what I had. Photo by crisblnc
They look a lot tastier than what I had. Photo by crisblnc

After another half an hour searching I gave in and ended up going into this crummy posh bar. I went for a pincho – which I thought would be a lovely meaty pincho kebab like the ones in Sevilla, but it was a tiny piece of sollomillo – pork, with a measly cube of pepper and a tiny prawn on a bit of tortilla. I was unimpressed and left hungry.

I quickly window shopped my way round the bars. The vibe was decent and kicking in Santander. A lot of young people seemed to be out and having a laugh and there were a few guiris, some extra drunk ones seemed like the expat types.

Had my girlfriend been with me, I might have had a few beers and soaked up the atmosphere, but I wimped out, knackered after the flight and fresh sea air.

“Home so soon,” said Eyebrow man.

“Yeah, I’m done for the day.”

“You’re not like the usual British men.”

“Oh, why’s that?” I asked, feeling the nudge in my ribs.

“They normally come back later, drunk and singing songs, sometimes we have to throw them out the next day.”

“Yeah I bet, don’t worry, I’m not like that.” Anymore, I thought as I went up the stairs. I considered going back out and keeping up the reputation, but I guess a lot more than I realised had changed since being in Sevilla.

5 thoughts on “In Search of a Better Spain: Santander”

  1. Love this one really want to go there now just checked it out on google streetview and looks like a wonderful place. I reckon i would prefer more the seville weather but looks like you really got stuck into the place and now i will add it to my list -. like your bit at the end about the english lads, gave me a chuckle. thanks for bringing the food alive and sharing your story as always much appreciated — CELTA misery finally finished , what a nightmare 4 weeks but i really did love the student interaction and the actual teaching was so much fun — anyway full respect to you for another great story loved it as always and looking forwards to your next forgive my poor english post celta hangover

    1. Muchas Gracias. Thanks again for your kind words. Yeah I love google street view, sometimes I use it with my students to show them places I’ve travelled round the world. I also show them where I lived in England and the park where I used to get drunk when I was 14; probably not the best influence. Well done on finishing your CELTA. So where are you heading then?

      1. 14 in the park , you certainly are from North London , my area was Kensal Rise and Ladborke Grove and did some boozing about Kilburn also. Enjoyed it very much down the Archway and Holloway and by 16 it was all about the pub. No idea where to go post Celta , I am starting to find myself very interested in Barcelona, (via street view) , I have always been a Madrid man , and I had an amazing year in Valencia, but now I just reckon Barcelona is the place that is ticking all the boxes. Not rushing though , I am even considering DELTA , but would have to be over a year or longer, not sure Celta is enough to get a decent job in Spain. I have also considered Thailand and even middle east , truth is at 43 I am looking for a place to stay for the very long term , I have read all the horror stories about Delta but I ended up with a B in my Celta so I was happy enough about that in the end and I would never dream of trying Delta in an intensive way — anyway I reckon Barcelona would be a nice life , also giving very serious thought to Dublin , just been down there for a few days and i had the most amazing time down there, wicked good laugh and the best people in the world — there was a news story about a guy called Barry o Leary this week , he is the fella that gets all the foreign firms to set up in ireland (IDA) , if only his Seville namesake could do the same for down there —– anyway , wishing you well as always and just to say I am waiting for you to publish a Barcelona story to get a view I respect on that place , no doubt you have pounded the pavements there and have some good stuff to share from about the beaches and sidewalks — Watch out , we have a sunny day here in Belfast, might be the world is about to end.

      2. a Madrid man? So you’re a bloke? I had imagined you were a lady, not sure why, but thinking back I guess it makes sense haha. I’d love to live in Barcelona, but I fear that on TEFL wages it would be hard. A friend of mine is heading up there this year though. Surely if you could live slightly on the outskirts then it might not be so bad. There must be loads of jobs up there anyway. Yeah I get stories about that other Barry O’Leary all the time, I wonder if he reads about me, doubt it somehow haha. I’ve got a few Barcelona blogs on the way, but not for a while yet. I’m writing about a trip I did in the north of Spain and a few things happened to me while in Barca, so keeps your eyes peeled. Take it easy.

  2. Sorry Bazza, 100 % a geezer. I am not enough a remote bit feminine, a big old beer belly and just about all the traits you would never wish to see in a lady. I am looking forwards to your Barca stories, I have never been there and wish to really know that place so cannot wait for that. I must confess I made a big mistake with my CELTA grade, turns out not only was it a pass but a bare pass, got my wires very mixed up reading the school report , usual story cambridge cert will not arrive for 2 months — anyway mid june but still raining here, it never stops and never ends, endless rain must be 320 days per year , really tired of it — trying to see if I can get going some place with just my CELTA , maybe even Saudi , starting to apply , tired of the rain and need out of here — I would take a baking hot Seville day over this any time , better to be the Seville barry o leary than the other fella, reckon you would be more of a laugh down the boozer also —– anyway sending best wishes and full respect as always , many thanks for my vicarious life , will have to do whilst I am trying to dry my coat here in the rain forest —

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