A classic sailing ship in northern Spain

sailing ship, Santander, SpainIf you’ve been following my travels here at Gadling, you know I’ve moved to Santander in northern Spain and am busy settling in. I’ve had my first of many hikes in Cantabria and have even ventured into the chilly northern surf. I need to buy a wetsuit.

One advantage of living in a port is you get to see sights like this, a reconstructed sailing ship from the Golden Age of Sail. Called the Nao Victoria, it’s a Spanish ship from the 16th century and is currently on tour around the coast of Spain.

A nao, also called a carrack, was a type of sailing vessel used by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was a precursor to the galleon. The Nao Victoria was the first ship to circumnavigate the globe on Magellan’s voyage from 1519-22. Magellan didn’t survive the voyage and the commander to bring the boat back to Spain was Juan Sebastián Elcano. I saw his hometown while hiking the Basque coastline.

The Fundación Nao Victoria also manages a second ship, a reproduction 17th century Galeón Andalucía.

The reconstructed nao is a floating museum where you can see how a ship was run back in the olden days. It had a large storage capacity and could handle rough seas, important for long voyages to unknown parts of the globe. It’s not a completely faithful reconstruction, though, what with its flush toilet and electricity. I suppose the folks sailing this thing shouldn’t be expected to suffer from the filth and scurvy the old sailors did!

Downdecks is an exhibition on Spain’s first constitution, adopted in 1812 as Spain and her allies were busy pushing Napoleon out of the country. The constitution allowed for universal suffrage for men, extended numerous rights to citizens, and ended the Inquisition. The constitution was abolished two years later with the reinstatement of absolute monarchy. It came back a couple of times in Spain’s tumultuous history before other constitutions were introduced in later times.

The project is funded by various regional and municipal governments and government institutions. The stress they put on the Spanish constitution appears to me to be more than just celebrating the bicentennial. Deep fissures are appearing in Spanish society as various regions, especially the Basque region and Catalonia, are pushing for more autonomy or even outright independence. In Spain, any emphasis on national unity carries a political message.

If you like old sailing ships, be sure to check out Madrid’s Naval Museum.

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Hiking the Basque coastline

Basque, Spain
While the Sierra de Toloño offers some amazing trails and views, the most alluring sights I’ve seen in the Basque region are along its coastline.

The coast of northeast Spain and southwest France along the Bay of Biscay is part of the Basque heartland. Inland villages played a key role in keeping Basque culture alive, but it’s the ports–Bilbao, San Sebastian, and many smaller towns–that helped the Basques make their mark on world history.

Today I’m hiking a stretch of Spanish coastline east of San Sebastian and within sight of the French border. Much of my trail today corresponds with the famous Camino de Santiago. This pilgrimage route stretching from France to Galicia on the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula became popular in the Middle Ages. It’s still one of the most popular trails in Europe, with a record 200,000+ hikers last year.

I can see why. Our route takes us past little towns where churches once offered medieval pilgrims spiritual solace, vineyards growing on steep slopes leading down to the sea, and wide views of the water. The coastline here is rugged, with jagged rocks jutting up from the foamy surf and numerous little islands, some topped by churches and homes.

%Gallery-124603%One of these islands has an important history. It makes up part of the little port of Getaria, home to Juan Sebastián Elcano, the Basque people’s most famous sailor. He was one of Magellan’s officers on the explorer’s circumnavigation of the globe.

The journey started in 1519 with 241 men. That number quickly dropped due to malnutrition, disease, mutiny, and storms. When Magellan was killed in the Philippines in 1521, two other officers took joint command. They were killed by natives soon thereafter. Another officer took over, but he proved unpopular and when his ship sprung a leak, some men decided to follow Elcano in the only remaining vessel. They finally made it back to Spain in 1522 with only 18 of the original crew.

His hometown, shown above, isn’t very big and probably wasn’t much of anything 500 years ago. I can imagine Elcano climbing to the top of that little mountain on the island that dominates Getaria and looking out over the sweeping view of the Bay of Biscay. It’s not surprising such a place produced one of the world’s greatest sailors.

Continuing along the coast we find a slope covered in thick grass. Looking out on the sea, there’s a good view of Getaria to our left and to our right, almost lost in the distance, we spot the coastline of France. It’s a perfect place for a picnic and we feast on Spanish tortilla (a bit like a thick omelet with potatoes), cheese, bread, and fresh cherries. I’ve been on a lot of hikes in Spain and I’ve eaten well on all of them. This picnic takes the prize for best view, though.

This coastline made much of its wealth from whaling. Whale oil used to be the petrol of the world, lighting up the streetlamps of Paris and London and used in a variety of products. While whales enjoy some protection today, they were hunted by the thousand until early 20th century and came close to going extinct. Basque whalers were some of the most adventurous. When stocks were used up in the Bay of Biscay and other parts of the European coastline, Basque whalers went further afield to Siberia, Iceland, Greenland, and even the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, they may have arrived in the New World before Columbus!

Our hike ends when we make it to the beach at Zarautz, an old whaling port turned resort. People are surfing and swimming, the smart ones wearing wetsuits to protect them from the cold water. When whaling died and the iron industry faltered, the Basque coast reinvented itself as a northern resort paradise for rich Europeans. San Sebastian, which I’m visiting in the next installment of this series, was one of the best. When you see the photos you’ll know why.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Beyond Bilbao: Hiking through the Basque region.

This trip was sponsored by Country Walkers. The views expressed in this series, however, are entirely my own.

Find undiscovered America using your GPS

By now, I’m guessing every single one of you has access to a GPS unit. Some may even own two of them. In the past decade, automotive and portable GPS units have dropped from about $800, to well under $100. Some even appear for under $50 every now and then. With prices that low, you really can’t afford to not own one.

Most of you probably use the device for the occasional journey in an area you are not used to, others use it for fun, and plot their daily commute on it. In this article, I’ll describe how you can use that GPS device, and turn it into a fantastic way to discover parts of the country you’d never know about without the use of a guidebook.
Every GPS unit comes with a “points of interest database” – this database contains things like banks, gas stations and restaurants. The categories on your device are usually fairly limited, but one advantage of most modern GPS devices is the ability to add your own custom POI files.

The process of adding custom points of interest is actually quite simple, and the majority of these files can be downloaded for free.

Adding a custom “POI file” starts with finding a source of good quality files. My personal favorite is poi-factory.com.

This site has 1000’s of community built POI files, with content varying from Waffle House locations, to a database containing over 2800 offbeat tourist attractions.

Before you can download a file from this site, you’ll need to register for a (free) account. Once registered, simply download the file to your computer and take note of where you saved it.

The next step involves loading the POI database onto your GPS device. Users of Garmin GPS units are in luck, because Garmin developed a free Point of interest database loader called “POI Loader“.

With POI Loader, you simply connect your GPS unit to your PC or Mac, start the program and tell it where you saved the file. Ten seconds later, the new custom POI file is on your device.

If you have a TomTom unit, you’ll need to go through a couple of extra steps, but the general process is about the same. Poi-factory has a great guide on their site for TomTom GPS owners, as well as Magellan owners.

Once loaded on your device, you can browse the database, but the real fun begins when you are on the road, and want to find something of interest around you. Simply browse to the list of locations, and let your GPS unit lead you to the weirdest and wackiest tourist attractions the nation has to offer.

Epic round-the-world cruise follows in the wake of famous explorers

In March of 2010, an adventure cruise of epic proportions will get underway from Singapore that will send travelers on a round the world expedition, following in the footsteps of some of history’s most revered explorers.

Cruise West’s Voyages of the Great Explorers will send 120 luck passengers on a 335 day cruise aboard the Spirit of Oceanus, the flagship of the Cruise West fleet. Departing from Singapore on March 6, 2010, the ship will sail west, and eventually return to its starting destination on February 3, 2011. In between, passengers will be treated to 24 individual voyages, encompassed by six defined “chapters”.

Each of these six chapters correspond to a historical figure who explored the world by sea. The first chapter follows the path of Marco Polo, while the second takes the route of Odysseus and the Phoenicians merchants. Subsequent chapters follow the adventures of Lief Eriksson, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, and Ferdinand Magellan. Each cruise within each chapter will follow historical routes and offer insights into what the explorers experienced as they went about their own voyages.

Through the course of the cruise, travelers will experience 242 ports of call spread across 59 countries. They’ll aslo visit 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites, cross 14 seas and oceans, and traverse the Suez, Corinth, and Panama Canals.

So how much will this epic cruise set you back? Good question! You can book any single cruise or combination of cruises starting at $4995. But if you want to do the whole thing, spending all 335 days circumnavigating the globe, it’ll set you back a cool $233,995. I wonder what Marco Polo would think of that.

For more information on the cruise read the press release here.

Daily gear deal – refurbished Magellan 3000T GPS unit for under $50.

Today’s daily deal is the first time a brand name GPS unit has dropped under $50.

The Magellan 3000T is a slightly older GPS unit, but despite its age, lack of features and general outdated look, it is still a solid navigation system. Sure, it is not as pretty as some of the current models, and it won’t speak street names or connect to your mobile phone, but at $49.99 you really can’t complain too much.

Of course, the low price means it has been refurbished, but it is still backed by a 90 day warranty, and you get it shipped for free. Included in the box is the unit itself, a windshield mount and a charger cord. The pre-loaded maps cover all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The device even has an MP3 and photo player built in, so if all else fails, your $50 will get you a really big music player.