To start off my parents’ visit to Northern Spain, we decided to check out the Cantabrian interior as Andrew and I hadn’t yet visited and we’d both heard exceptionally positive reports about what they both had to offer. Both Bárcena Mayor and Carmona are traditional Cantabrian farming towns that still maintain a way of life from over a hundred years ago. The most obvious indication of this fact are the homes. They are made of thick stone walls and timber framing. This is typical architecture for farm houses and many times, we noticed that what served as a barn was actually attached to the home itself. The streets are paved in cobblestones and each town feels like it is located at the end of the earth. (Bárcena Mayor is where the highway ends.)
We stopped in Carmona on a sunny, sleepy Saturday afternoon. I think we all felt a little strange, traipsing as tourists through the town, quietly observing the townsfolk going peacefully about their daily business. We could look from our vantage point on the street and see their life, like observing an exhibition at a museum, but the scene was taking place in real time. The man in his overalls brandishing his pitchfork, standing ankle deep in hay looked curiously out at us. A woman butchering a carcass laid prone on a wooden cart smiled while taking a pause in her work. Two elderly men wearing black berets sitting on a bench bathed in sun light took a cat nap. The black speck on the bright green hill, a shepherd with his dog herding sheep barely inched along. It was beautiful scenery and it was eerie all at the same time, to stare so blatantly at someone’s reality, as if it were a curiosity purposely left in a remote place for city people to come along and wonder at.
One of my favorite moments of the day was while walking through Carmona, we saw a farmer working in the hay wearing traditional albarca shoes. They are carved from wood and used primarily to keep farmers’ feet dry from the humid conditions and are supposed to be practical to traverse stables and fields. I’ll let you take a look at the shoes and decide if they look like they’d facilitate an easy stroll through a field bombed with cow patties, but I think I’d struggle to stay upright for long if wearing them.
To end our tour for the day, we motored over to the seaside town of Comillas. The town had the privilege of being patronized by a wealthy duke in the late 1800’s. Not only does a private teaching university financed by said duke tower over the town, but he also had a palace and a summer home constructed in Comillas. Not to mentioned he commissioned El Capricho by Gaudí. To round out our visit to Comillas, we passed by the massive cemetery guarded by a winged angel and checked out the main plazas in the city center.