In Search of a Better Spain, Travel

In Search of a Better Spain: Santander, a perfect place to live?

“So are you going to el Palacio de Magdalena today?” the hostel owner asked as I went to sneak out the front door; I was still half asleep and not quiet in the mood for a morning chat. He was shaking his head in excitement, as if he’d designed the palace himself.

“I’m not sure.”

He stopped still, frowned and scrunched his eyes slightly. “But why? You must, it is the most prolific attraction in Santander.”

“I don’t know, it sounds a bit boring, any way it can’t be anything like Buckingham Palace.” I tried to keep a straight face, but he’d already cottoned on.

“I see, that is a British joke again, very funny,” he said, wagging his finger at me.

Sunset from Palacio de la Magdalena. Photo by Jose Miguel Martinez
Sunset from Palacio de la Magdalena.
Photo by Jose Miguel Martinez

Of course I was going to see el Palacio de Magdalena. Any place where Spanish Royalty stayed had to be worth a ganders. Besides, I’m a ‘view man’ and the palace was situated on a hill right on the edge of the city and the views across the Bay of Biscay had to be amazing.

I went on a wander round the centre first though. The sun was shining and the weather was perfect for a stroll. I popped into the Modern art museum, which was a mistake because I’m not a fan of modern art, nor museums really.

The expositions were a bit weird: tribal dancers, indigenous totem poles, and pink umbrellas. Just as I was about to take a photo of the twelve umbrellas hanging from the ceiling I heard a cough from behind.

“Excuse me, no photos,” said a boisterous woman in a sexy grey uniform. She reminded me of the babushkas I bumped into while on the Trans-Mongolian railway.

“Oh sorry, no one said I couldn’t take photos.”

“No photos,” she grunted. I wasn’t going to mess about with her so I hid the camera in my bag and continued. Who would want to see a photo of twelve pink umbrellas anyway? There were some excellent drawings of Paris and back streets in Cuba though. If you like modern art then it’s worth going. Check out the address here.

After a quick look at the cathedral, which wasn’t in the same league as the one in mighty Sevilla, my feet dragged me towards the sea.

The Paseo Pereda was becoming my favourite part of Santander. Walking along the promenade breathing in the salty sea air was relaxing. There were four statues of young lads facing the sea. Each was in a different position, one standing, two sitting and one crouched down as if about to dive in. They are known as the Raqueros, or wreckers. These monuments were made in honour of the young lads who used to dive in the sea to collects the coins that tourists had thrown in. Lucky there weren’t any wells in the city.

I continued along the sea front for a while until I got to the Playa de los Peligros, the Beach of Dangers. As I sat down a huge cloud blocked out the sun, typical I thought as I stretched back. I’m not sure why it was called the Beach of Dangers; there were no waves, or shark fins darting about, which was just as well because the life guard was asleep on the top of his mini tower. The only ‘dangerous’ aspect was a couple of old ladies’ saggy boobs flopping up and down as they paddled in the calm sea. Definitely not Baywatch.

View of Palacio de Magdalena from Beach of Dangers. Photo by VIENN
View of Palacio de Magdalena from Beach of Dangers.
Photo by VIENN

In the distance I could see my goal for the day, el Palacio de Magdalena. It was just poking out the top of a forest on a hill. I thought of the hostel owner jumping about behind his counter and how excited he would have been sitting beside me; a lot more than the lifeguard no doubt. The following beach was called Bikini Beach, in honour of the foreign students who wore bikinis there back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but, unfortunately, it was deserted.

Making my way up to the palace was inspiring. As I’d hoped the views out towards the bay were spectacular. As I walked up the Avenida de Magdalena towards the palace I could see why the Royal Family had chosen such a lovely spot for their holidays. The whole area emitted peaceful energy: the breeze rustled through the trees, seagulls flew about squawking, and couples walked along hand in hand. It was a romantic spot.

The Palacio de Magdalena was as grand as the hostel owner had said. The huge modern white building had three floors and a tower in the middle. It was built at the start of the 20th Century specifically for a summer residence for the royal family. I wonder what Spanish tax payers thought of that (touchy subject at the moment so I won’t dwell on that). One of my favourite Spanish series was filmed there too: El Gran Hotel.

After a wonder round I sat down on a bench and took in the atmosphere. I remember distinctly listening to the radio and the guy going on about how fantastic Joni Mitchell was. I’d never heard of her before. He played For Free, a song about a man playing the clarinet for free, and it made me think of my girlfriend. I’d been thinking about her most of the day, truth told I hadn’t stopped thinking about her; taking mental pictures of everything so I could tell her that evening. Suddenly I wanted her next to me, to be able to share the views across the bay, breath in the fresh sea air, and laugh about the topless old ladies we’d seen on the beach. I had to wait until I got to Barcelona though.

The more I explored, the more I considered moving to Santander. There was so much more to see and do than in Sevilla. I wandered back down the hill towards some outdoor pools where some seals and penguins were splashing about having fun. I continued along towards the beach front, stopping now and then to watch the men fishing and the surfers battling with the waves. By the time I’d got to the other end of the bay and had walked right to the end where only the sea lay ahead, I was convinced that Santander would be the perfect place to live.

As I made my way back towards the centre I seriously considered phoning my girlfriend to tell her we were moving. I’d only been in Santander twenty-four hours and already I felt more alive than I had in Sevilla. Living by the coast made such a difference. The gardens were all well kept too and there was hardly any litter on the floor. Lots of people were out enjoying the evening, families strolling along and joggers running keeping fit. I could see myself in Santander, setting up an English academy, having a family, and living in a climate which never reached 50 degrees.

That evening I kept up the British reputation and had a few beers in one of the lively bars in the centre. It was Friday night and the vibe was kicking. Young men and women were out having fun, dancing salsa and living the life.

“So?” said the hostel owner as I stumbled in the door.

“I love your city,” I slurred.

“Did you see the palace?”

“Oh yes, the palace, bloody lovely.”

He smiled and gave me a bottle of water from behind the counter.

“I think you might need this one. Decided to continue your reputation after all?”

“Something like that,” I muttered, stumbling past.

3 thoughts on “In Search of a Better Spain: Santander, a perfect place to live?”

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