Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Galicia, Spain: Semana Santa, Mariscos, y el Fin del Camino

Synopsis: Semana Santa is Spring Break in Spain, and I have 11 days free to travel. I've been planning to go to Galicia for a long time, and now I finally get my chance. This time I will road trip with some new travel buddies: Alberto, Cristina, Hugo, and Julia. I don't know them that well, and some of them don't even know each other, so this is going to be a really interesting trip!


1,857 miles (2.989 km) excluding the day trips everyday!
1,857 miles (2.989 km) including the day trips everyday
Galicia travel buddies!
(from left to right) Me, Cristina, Julia, Hugo (behind), and Alberto



Day 1: Alberto caught the train yesterday to go hang out with some friends, so I pick up everyone else and we set out on our journey. There's a notable amount of traffic, but it's the holidays. As we approach a very crowded exit, I get over at the last minute and a nice guy let's me in, but a few meters later a cop directing traffic, motions me to get off of the exit and rejoin the highway. I've never been unpulled over before! The cops in Spain really seem to have a grudge against me and my Belgian-plated car (be on the lookout for Sabes Qué Me Saca de Mis Casillas pt. 4: Cop Edition). 

A few kilometers later, we join the highway at a different location and it seems the cops have actually helped us, as we passed the long toll lines at that exit. We take a quick bathroom break just after the Palencia exit and then hit the road again to Astorga. We can see the Picos de Europa and they are a beautiful sight. Arrive in Astorga and it is crowded with pilgrims and tourists. We walk around the city and see choirs and the pasos (hand carried floats) for the procession tomorrow. Walk around some more and see the cathedral and Gaudí's palace. We stop for lunch at El Patio de Astorga and Hugo lets me try his cecina (cured beef), which is a local product, and is delicious. After Astorga, there are not many cars on the road, which makes for easy driving. We quickly knock out the last three hours before arriving in Santiago.

Upon arriving, we are met by Carlos, who is renting the apartment to us via Wimdu, and he and his family are super nice and give us a very friendly welcome, with maps, advice and recommendations for restaurants and tourism. They even give us a tarta de santiago, a local cake. We are the first people to rent their apartment and everything is brand new. We even have a garage. 

We drop off our stuff and then go Bar La Tita, where we get free pinchos with our drinks. The wine I try, Ribeiro, is delicious, but the tortilla needs salt. Alberto meets us at the bar and then we walk around the city a bit before grabbing dinner. I order vieira, who's shell is the logo for the Camino de Santiago. The food is way more expensive than it's worth, so I propose we go back to pinchos from now on. Everyone is tired, so we had back to the apartment. 

Thoughts: Great first day! It's nice driving with good weather, and it makes the trip seem shorter. We are all still getting to know one another, but I think we will end up getting along well. 


Road trip: destination Galicia, starting now
Road trip: destination Galicia, starting now

Watching the choir sing before they walk the pasos back to the church
Watching the choir sing before they walk the pasos back to the church

A helping hand-stand in front of Gaudi's Palace and the Cathedral
A helping hand-stand in front of Gaudi's Palace and the Cathedral

Bar La Tita gives a generous free pincho with your drink
Bar La Tita gives a generous free pincho with your drink

Camino de Tim's Stomach has begun
Camino de Tim's Stomach has begun

Our very thoughtful present from Carlos' family: a tarta de Santiago
Our very thoughtful present from Carlos' family: a tarta de santiago


Day 2: Wake up, do a quick workout and then cook breakfast for everyone. Of course it's raining. We get ready and then head out to Playa Las Catedrales. It's packed despite the horrible weather. The beach is very nice and we take lots of photos. Then, we walk above the beach, but along the coast, for some more impressive views. 

We head to Lugo to eat lunch and walk around. The highway is pretty empty and it's still raining. Lugo looks exactly like Santiago except surrounded by a huge wall, which remind me of Avignon, France. We are hungry since it is well after lunchtime, so we look for a restaurant, but it's not as easy as it sounds because everything is closed.  Finding bars here that give free pintxos is much harder than in LeonWe end up at a restaurant and the food is good, or we are just really hungry. 

Afterward, we go to the cathedral and see the pasos for the procession tonight. Lots of beggars are taking advantage of the high traffic in the church, even coming inside the church to beg. We leave the church and wait in line for guided tour of an exhibition to see a Roman house, but only 20 people can go in every half hour.  It's pretty interesting. 

We walk the 2 km+ around the wall, which is free and has no line. People are even running. When we come off the wall, we look for the procesión de viernes santo. We end up in the plaza mayor where there are a lot of people, but we still never see the procession. We walk around the city a bit and find some free pincho bars.  For dinner, we go to a restaurant recommended by friends of Alberto and it's quite good. We head home and it's raining hard, but we make it back safely. 

Thoughts: The playa was very interesting as I didn't know what to expect. Thankfully, we reserved our free tickets online earlier because some people who didn't make reservations were being turned away. Thanks to Julia, we all can now successfully identify a eucalyptus tree.


There are some perks to traveling with the TMax
There are some perks to traveling with the TMax

Oh, look! A thing!
Oh, look! A thing!


Playa Las Catedrales on a rainy day in March
Playa Las Catedrales on a rainy day in March

Overlooking the beauty of Galicia
Overlooking the beauty of Galicia

Panoramic shot of the cathedral and the wall of Lugo, and the profile of Hugo
Panoramic shot of the cathedral and the wall of Lugo, and the profile of Hugo

A little bit of rain never hurt nobody walking on a roman wall
"A little bit of rain never hurt nobody walking on a roman wall" -TMaxian proverb

I just want to be a part of the agreement
I just want to be a part of the agreement

Day 3: Omelets again for breakfast. We also try Cristina's homemade peach and lemon marmalades and they're delicious. After breakfast we venture out into an even rainier day than yesterday, to A Coruña. 

We meet up with a friend of Alberto, Laura, who came to one of my workouts a few months ago (though I didn't remember... awkward), and have a free pincho. She gives us the low down on the city and what to do and where. Thankfully, the rain has calmed down and we walk around the city and find ourselves in the center, where it begins to rain quite heavily, just after we enter a bar. We eat at a few more places as we walk around the rain-drenched city. 

After walking along the coast, seeing different monuments and parks and people swimming in the ocean, we get to the city's crown jewel and UNESCO site - the Tower of Hercules. Just before reaching the tower, the sun comes out and welcomes us into its warmth and we bask in it as we witness a spectacular view of the tower. We arrive at the tower and pay 3€ to go up, but the balcony is closed due to strong winds, so we only go some of the way up, but still get to enjoy the museum inside. Later, we go out towards the sea  just outside the tower, and take more photos. 

We swing by the grocery store on the way to the restaurant where we have a reservation. Alberto's other friend, Noelia, joins us for dinner at Sosu-2, which Laura recommended to us earlier, and has every kind of seafood I want to try: nécora, perecebes, cigalas, bogavante, langostino, zamburiñas, navajas, y gambas. It is delicious! We eat very well and for a reasonable price. After dinner, we walk back to the center to have a crema de orujo (a galician liquor) before calling it a night and heading back to Santiago.

Thoughts: Today was all about being upside down - we did so many handstands and headstands as a group. We got back really late and we lost an hour to daylight savings. We checked later and according to my phone, we saw that we walked more than 20 kilometers. Today was the best day so far. Fun, food, and photos!  Seems the people from Galicia are just very nice people, including to strangers. 


Alberto went for a run and decided WhatsApp or pen and paper were too modern a way to communicate
Alberto went for a run and decided WhatsApp or pen and paper were too modern a way to communicate


Every day is like a road trip
Every day is like a road trip


Wind and rain are natural predators of umbrellas
Wind and rain are natural predators of umbrellas

Laura giving us the scoop on how to do A Coruña right
Laura giving us the scoop on how to do A Coruña right

Cristina beastin' a handstand in the main square
Cristina beastin' a handstand in the main square

Stonehenge? Not quite
Stonehenge? Not quite

Like some bosses!
Like some bosses!

Basking in the sun with a view of the tower. Are they sleep?
Basking in the sun with a view of the tower. Are they sleep?

"Oh that's very interesting." -Our faces
"Oh that's very interesting." -Our faces

Not sure if he is trying to show her how to do a handstand or how NOT to do a handstand
Not sure if he is trying to show her how to do a handstand or how NOT to do a handstand

Smiles are overrated
Smiles are overrated

Kinda looks like Hugo sabotaging our acrobatic feat. But he is actually helping. Or trying to at least.
Kinda looks like Hugo sabotaging our acrobatic feat. But he is actually helping. Or trying to at least.

"A tope." -Julia
"A tope." -Julia

It's. About. To go. Down.
It's. About. To go. Down.




Day 4: Wake up to a sunny Easter Sunday and after a quick pancake breakfast (Hugo and I tagged teamed) we head over to the cathedral to see the pilgrim's mass and botafumeiro (giant incense). There are lines at every entrance and beggars everywhere. We arrive at 12pm exactly, so I'm sure we have another 30 minutes before they start... I'm wrong. They actually start on time and we miss the launching of the botafumeiro while standing in line. We enter the cathedral just after mass has begun and can still see the botafumeiro hanging in the middle, and the way-too-many-people-in-one-place,  seated on the floor and all around; it's mostly pilgrims yet not one person resting in the third world squat. It still smells of incense. 

Not the most beautiful church I've seen, but still nice. After mass, we walk around the city a bit. The weather has already faded to a light rain. We pick a restaurant and when we enter there is a group of Japanese girls who ordered way to much food and they want to share their paella with us. Via broken English and Japanese from Google translate, we have a funny conversation and a good time. The food is pretty good too. 

After eating, Cristina and Julia head to the apartment and Alberto, Hugo, and I walk around the city and its biggest park, Alameda. As the rain picks up again, we head back to the house and relax. I take advantage of this time and do a TRX circuit and stretch. We enjoy Cristina's homemade cheesecake to celebrate Julia's birthday. 

Later, we head out to see the ciudad de la cultura, a cultural building (I still honestly don't know what it is) just outside the city... and it's closed. The girls head back to the apartment and the guys go out in the windy rain to have dinner. Coming back is worse as the rain and wind are just relentless. So I glad I bought a rain jacket before coming here! 

Thoughts: Santiago is a cool city because of what it stands for and it's history, but A Coruña and Lugo were both nicer cities, as far as how they look and feel. It was nice to relax and not have to drive today. 


Cristina making cheesecake for Julia's birthday
Cristina making cheesecake for Julia's birthday

Pancakes with whip cream afros
Pancakes with whip cream afros

At the pilgrim's mass
At the pilgrim's mass

Looks like they're still rehabbing it
Looks like they're still rehabbing it

Our Japanese dinnermates
Our Japanese dinnermates

The original Heisman
The original Heisman

Day 5: Late start today as we head out to Finisterre, despite a heavy wind and rain alert. The whole drive we have great weather. Arriving in Finisterre, the farthest end of the Camino de Santiago, still with beautiful weather, we go up to the lighthouse and the Cross of the Dead Coast. 

We find a quaint restaurant in town, Mesón Jacobeo (where I learn what jacobeo means: something about a year or something). We drive along the coast on the way back. Alberto has some friends in the area and we stop to say hi and then walk around the town of Muros a bit with them, have merienda, and then head back to Santiago. We grab a quick dinner and head home so the others can pack. We enjoy our last night chatting and reminiscing about the trip. 

Thoughts: I've eaten so much seafood this trip, but it's all been delicious. I don't want my travel buddies to leave. I still have three more days, and now I'll have to do it alone. "Better to have traveled with and lost buddies and then never to have traveled with buddies at all." -A lonely traveler


Cross of the Dead Coast at Finisterre
Cross of the Dead Coast at Finisterre

Climbing on the lighthouse
Monkeying around at the lighthouse

What a view!
What a view!

At the world's end
At the world's end

Stretching in the 3rd world squat, to which a local boy asked me "¿Que haces?"
Stretching in the 3rd world squat, to which a local boy asked me "¿Que haces?"

Walking along the port in Muros
Walking along the port in Muros

¡Qué majos! What nice travel buddies!
¡Qué majos! What nice travel buddies!


Day 6: The others leave in the morning to catch their trains and I do a workout and stretch. Then I eat in the apartment before heading over to my hostel. As I'm leaving the apartment I run into Carlos, the owner, and we go grab a coffee and chat a bit. He gives me some more travel advice and compliments me several times on the level of my Spanish, and then pays for my coffee and churro. 

I head over A Casa de Dora, my hostel, and there is only one other person staying there, so I have a room to myself. Manuel, the caretaker, is super friendly and gets me squared away. He and Carlos both highly recommend I go to the island of Cies, by Pontevedra, so I change my plans and head to Ourense today. 

First I stop at the monastery in Oseira, which Manuel recommended, and as I approach it, it is a sight to behold. Only thing is I show up at lunch time, so it's closed. I walk around a bit and then head to a local bar to get out of the rain until the monastery opens. I'm the only person there in the bar, so I make small talk with the bartender, who kindly and patiently waits for me to leave. 

I head over to the monastery and, surprise, I'm the only person there for the guided tour. Let's see how good my Spanish really is. Understanding like a jefe! The tour is actually quite interesting and I'm really surprised the monastery doesn't get more press, because it is definitely worth the stop. 

Next, I continue on to Ourense. As I arrive, I see the famous Roman bridge, plus it stops raining. I love the Spanish expression perderse (get lost on purpose in order to discover new things) because that's exactly what I plan to do in Ourense. I walk around and see the cathedral and several plazas. I end up at Fontes As Borgas, a natural fountain that produces hot water. There's a random guy there making hot tea from the spring. Right beside the fountain is a free public bath and I don't have any of my stuff. I go in anyway and Joel,  the guy working there, hooks me up with a suit, sandals, and a lock! Joel is the man! The baths are amazing and so relaxing. Old dude strikes up a conversation with me and tells me the location of all the baths. Despite his thick Gallego accent, I understand him. 

Walk back to my car to top up the parking and then walk around some more until I end up at Parque Posio, where you get a 3,000€ fine for molesting the animals (hehe, yay for immaturity). I go back toward the center to eat, but end up walking to the Roman bridge. On the way back to the car I stop at a bar to get free pintxos while enjoying a local Ribeiro before heading home. 

Thoughts: Ourense is not the most well kept city, lots of building facades look awful. But those thermal baths were the highlight of my day. When I got back to the hostel, it was so quiet. I literally have the whole hostel to myself. Today, the Gallego accent was definitely noticeable in Ourense, though I haven't noticed it much in the other areas of Galicia. And Gallego, the language, is incomprehensible to me, and I heard it spoken a lot more today.


Front of the monastery
Front of the monastery

Back of the monastery and the view you first see when arriving
Back of the monastery and the view you first see when arriving

In the cloisters of the monastery. The fountain in the middle is a replica
In the cloisters of the monastery. The fountain in the middle is a replica (scroll down 3 pics)

You know you're good when you can take a pictures and do a handstand at the same time
You know you're good when you can take a picture and do a handstand at the same time

The garden of As Borgas, with the fountain and the thermal bath
The garden of As Borgas, with the fountain and the thermal bath

In Ourense is the original fountain from the monastery
In Ourense is the original fountain from the monastery (scroll up 3 pics)




'Tis a beautiful city at night
'Tis a beautiful city at night

Day 7: I have breakfast and chat with the other girl in the hostel, Eva, from Oxford. Manuel shows me a route for rias baixas that I plan to do. We discover the ferry to the island of Cies is only during Semana Santa and then doesn't start again until May. Oh well. On the road again and it's raining. Quick stop in Pontevedra, and it stops raining, and I walk from the Convento de San Francisco to the park by Plaza de España. Walk around for an hour and a half before hitting the road again. 

Head down just past the Portuguese border to the Valença fortress. As I cross the border, the sun comes out. The fortress reminds of the Ciudadela in Pamplona, except inside the fortress everyone is selling souvenirs - and I mean everyone. As I walk around I'm wondering why I don't understand anyone's accent, but then I realize I'm in Portugal and it's a different language here. A guy tries to get me to eat at his restaurant and in perfect Portuguese I say no obrigado and I'm pretty much offered a job as a interpreter by the Portuguese National Language Society Association of Random Job Offerers (better known as PNLSARJO). 

I walk around the city/fortress and go into Saint Stephen's church, which is the first church I've even been inside of in Portugal. I packed my lunch so I find a nice area (plenty to choose from) and eat while enjoying the beautiful landscape. I walk around the rest of the fortress before hitting the road again. 

I head back into Spain, on to Castro de Santa Trega and as I go up the hill, the fog is so thick you can't see anything. I stop to look at two of the castros (ancient houses) before going all the way up to the museum. I super fail a handstand and guy driving by stops to check on me. After brushing myself off, I go inside the castros and I'm impressed how warm they are inside, with no fire, an open door, and no one actually living in there. I continue up in my car to the museum at the very top of the hill, which I see in 15 minutes, since I'm completely alone in the museum. 

Drive up the coast toward Vigo. Arrive in Vigo during high traffic time, and I decide to just park in a garage. Walking around the old town, it's raining so hard that I stop in and check out an exhibition about ancient gallego clothing. Then, I stop in a bar for pulpo and Albariño. Still raining pretty hard, but I walk up to the fortress of San Sebastian, which is a sixtieth of a wall, just in front of an office building. Major let down. Walk back to the car, along the main street, and then drive back to Santiago. 

Thoughts: I'm quite excited that I heard and understood a little bit of Portuguese today, since I studied it briefly during Christmas break. If the weather wasn't so terrible I would have stopped at Monastery Oira, beautifully situated on the coast; also at Faro Sillero, also with a nice coastal location; and in Baiona, a port city with so much to see. 


I saw a guy with a high-tech phone and I asked him to take a photo, and he did well
I saw a guy with a high-tech phone and I asked him to take a photo, and he did well

Beautiful scenery of the fortress in Valença, Portugal
Beautiful scenery of the fortress in Valença, Portugal

First time inside a church in Portugal, 3,194,426th time inside a church in Europe
First time inside a church in Portugal. 3,194,426th time inside a church in Europe

These mini-altars were all over the town, usually outside churches, for giving money offerings
These mini-altars were all over the town, usually outside churches, for giving money offerings

My view while eating lunch
My view while eating lunch 

What Castro de Santa Trega is supposed to look like
What Castro de Santa Trega is supposed to look like (not my photo)


What I saw at Castro de Santa Trega
What I saw at Castro de Santa Trega

The handstand that I failed, which must have looked so painful that it solicited the attention of passer-by
The handstand that I failed, which must have looked so painful that it solicited the attention of passer-by

Nothing like some good pulpo
Nothing like some good pulpo (octopus)

The disappointment when I saw what was behind the castle wall
The disappointment when I saw what was behind the castle wall


Day 8: Today I head home. I plan to drive along the northern coast today and see what I can see. The weather today seems ok and I wanted to go to Picos de Europa (Manuel recommends Covadonga) but don't want to not be able to see anything like last night. Guess I'll see when I get there. I was going to make a few stops but Thatiana (Gijón trip) is sick, Barbi (Santander trip) is in India, and Iuliana (Bilbao trip) is busy, so it looks like I'll just be heading to the Picos and then home. 

Great sunny weather as I pass by Playa Las Catedrales. Get pulled over by guardia civil because I have Belgian plates. The cops just won't leave me alone! These two are actually nice and after my N.I.E. was mistaken for some Moroccan guy, they let me go. I continue on for awhile, and once I exit the highway, I have a beautiful view of the Picos de Europa. 

Pass through Cangas de Onís (has a bridge like in Mostar) as I drive to Covadonga and park at the bottom of trail. Then walk up through the forest to a waterfall where I eat my sack lunch. Continue up through the Prince's Garden to Santa Cueva (Sacred Cave) where the waterfall starts, and it is a breathtaking sight. It feels like an adventure movie except with a black guy as the main character, and not as a quirky guide who sacrifices himself in the end to save all the white people (2016 Academy Award nominee maybe?). 


I walk under the waterfall to a small fountain, fuente de los siete caños, and according to legend I'll be married within a year. Then back out and up the stairs to the Santa Cueva, where the la Santina (relic of the saint) is located. From there I walk through the cloisters of La Colegiata de San Fernando, to the basilica, Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Covadonga (which has a slight reddish color, common in the stones in this area, so that all stones from this area carry the same name: Covadonga). 

When I come out it is raining and because it's so cold there's even a bit of hail, but it doesn't last but 5 minutes before the sun comes back out. After taking some more photos, I had back down through the gardens and forest to the restaurant by where I parked, to grab a coffee before hitting the road. 

On the drive back, there are many intermittent rain and hail storms. In Bilbao, the toll road is closed, so I get redirected all the way around the city to another highway, which is also closed, only to be redirected again and arrive back at the toll both I just paid when I was forced off the toll road the first time! I have to pay again. I decide to just stop and eat in Bilbao. Bad decision, since it's 8pm and the traffic in the city is slower than me trying to come up with a clever metaphor for how slow traffic is. 

Drive around the city, find no parking, waste a bunch of gas, and never even eat! Stop at a gas station to pee and then relax for a few minutes before jumping back into traffic, all redirected to a national road to get home. Finally out of Bilbao and I miss my exit to Vitoria, on a toll road, I can't turn around, I'll have to pay more when I exit, and I'm driving in the wrong direction. I get home about two and half hours after I anticipated - the adventure just doesn't want to end.

Thoughts: Today really tried to not be great, especially with my police and traffic woes, but the experience in the Picos de Europa was more than enough to make up for it all. Manuel is 3 for 3 on recommendations! 


Selfie panorama. I know, I'm really good at this
Selfie panorama. I know, I'm really good at this

Eating my lunch with a rushing waterfall at the bottom of the Picos de Europa. You know, just a normal day
Eating my lunch with a rushing waterfall at the bottom of the Picos de Europa. You know, just a normal day

This pic has it all: handstands, waterfalls, sacred caves, churches, nature, and more!
This pic has it all: handstands, waterfalls, sacred caves, churches, lions, and more!

Santa Cueva and the waterfall below
Santa Cueva and the waterfall below



In the Santa Cueva sanctuary
In the Santa Cueva sanctuary

The basilica on top of the hill with a statue of Pelayo
The basilica on top of the hill with a statue of rey Pelayo

Kings' pose
Kings' pose

Hail storm in Bilbao
Hail storm in Bilbao


Final thoughts: This was an amazing trip and I really enjoyed the company of my new buddies. So many instances where the Galician people demonstrated a level of kindness and hospitality I've not experienced in the rest of Spain. "Homes" is the men's bathroom in the Gallego language. Santiago has no tall buildings. 

Spoke Spanish the whole time during the trip, which was awesome for me. I did a handstand everyday in at least one of the cities I visited. The theme of all of my Spanish travels is now "free pinchos", because that's what I'm looking for! There are a thousand tolls in Galicia. Outdoor tourism is best done during mealtimes in Spain. The 20€ I spent on a rain jacket before coming was totally worth it. 

I'm already planning my next trip. Who wants to go to the Picos de Europa with me?

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Location: Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Spain

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