Sunday, February 27, 2011

Galicia: A Different Kind of Spain

"¿Pues...Dónde estamos?
Where the heck are we?"

These were the first words I heard my friend, Christie, sputter on the early morning she, Kelly and I stepped out of the A Coruña airport to embark on our first solo trip of the semester.

Palm trees.
Ocean cliffs.
Forest-covered hills.
Tall, fair-skinned, soft-eyed and kind-souled people.
Sing-song celtic-Italian sounding Spanish language?

Were we still Spain?

Simply put, I knew nothing about Galicia before I landed in the northern province. Okay, I knew there was a Cathedral, famous with pilgrims as the resting place of Saint James. I also knew that the weather and landscape were more akin to Ireland than my Sunny Sevilla. When researching study abroad programs, I had originally tried to find a program in Santiago de Compostela because of the advice from a relative and my University advisor.
As a result, the location was also in the back of my mind as somewhere I wanted to visit in the future. So, in January, when Kelly asked me if I was interested in making this trip during our first long weekend, I bought a ticket, booked the hostel, and said ha-lueo to Consuelo.
(That's Hasta Luego in an Andaluz accent, by the way).

When we finally got to Galicia, the three of us meandered through the city of A Coruña until we arrived at the end of our Spanish world. This site of the northwestern region of the Iberian Peninsula meets the ocean in rocky cliffs and green sloping grasses, as well as holds the oldest farro (light house) in Europe.
The fog had cleared, but we were still wondering at the strangeness of Galicia. Especially when someone nearby began to play the bag-pipes (gaitas). Laughing out loud by this point, we had no idea where the heck we were. However, I was not complaining at all.

After much photography near the glacial-blue waves, we boarded a train for our final destination. I, of course, pretended I was Hermione Granger the whole time. However, I only saw Galacian (gallego) commuters and university students and no one came by with a trolly full of sweets. The journey was still fun, though.
And beautiful.

Taxi, Plane, Bus, Train...
Finally, we had arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain.

I could sense a strange hint of Spain in the air, but the landscape and the people didn't seem like the I Spain I have come to know in Andulucia.

The landscape:

Spain+Seattle weather+Irish hills+forests of green=Galicia

The city of Santiago is green and white and stone and lovely. The large windows, seen on the building on the right, are unique to this area of Spain.

The people:

I love love love love their accents.
They speak Castellano (Spanish) but a little more slowly and almost like they are singing, an influence from this region's historical Gallego dialect. (As opposed to the Sevillano accents I fight to understand daily). I tried to mimic it as much as I could while I was there, talking with the people. But I think I'll just have to move there someday to really get the hang of it.

They look like Christie.
Christie, left, with one of her Gallega sisters, right.
Taller, paler skinn, lighter hair, richer brown eyes, or sometimes even blue. To add to the strangeness of our adventure, we seemed to be in a land full of my friend, Christie's, relatives. (She has somewhat distinctive features that make people at a loss for her ethnicity sometimes. As a Mexican-American, her ancestors came over from a different part of Northern Spain, so it really a little like we had come to her homeland).

Their souls shine in their voices.
What is more, these Spaniards were a lot kinder than their Southern countrymen.
I also found them marvelous to photograph, especially at the market.

I loved this woman. She sold us cake of Santiago and a wonderful pan de pasos (raisin wheat bread) and even some advice about men, which was free.
Pig heads, cheese, conversation were present at many stands at this market.
Grains and beans and flour in this panderia. I think Galicia has the best bread in Spain.

The sights:

We were lucky enough to have found a fantastic hostel near the center of Santiago de Compostela. And even more lucky, we knew a girl, Molly, who lives and teaches English in the city, and basically acted as our personal tour guide for the weekend! (She is from the same college as my relative who suggested Santiago for my studies! Small world, Midwest!) She showed us some beautiful parks and a museum with this amazing staircase and the Cathedral!

Cool picture, right?! I don't know how it happened!

The Cathedral:
This trip originated with my friend Kelly's undying desire to travel, like the pilgrims, to the Cathedral of Santiago. Last semester, after researching and completing her 15 page Medieval Christianity paper over this sight, she was beyond excited. I loved the mossy stone walls of this magnificent building.
People have traveled to this sight for centuries, only to glimpse the tomb of Santiago (St. James) and light a candle, which you can even do via text messaging, if you really can't make the journey, and hug some golden statue. (Not even going to expound on my opinion of that... I'll just say that this is a very Catholic country).

I enjoyed seeing this place, but I hate going to a church feeling like a tourist. But we are his children whether we are sight-seeing, traveling, praying, eating, sleeping, learning, dancing, running, walking, or dreaming. In that fact and in the Resurrection of Christ, I take comfort.

Galacian food:

Food, the best part of traveling? I'd say so. When we were hungry and looking for some authentic Gellagan food, Molly hooked us upppppp.
Cafe solo y pan con pasos, y las noticias. Coffee and Raisin wheat bread.

Gambas con aceite y ajo. Shrimp in olive oil and garlic.
Patatas y pulpo. Potatoes and octopus. Pulpo is SO GOOD. I think I probably ate about 6 of the 8 legs this guy originally had.

Texture of these got me (Erin, take note). Though, I did try one.
Seafood is very typical to Galicia. Most all of the bars give out free tapas with drinks as well, usually cheese and types of pork or tortilla or types of seafood.

(Want to know a secret? Molly even let us use her kitchen to make a little Mexican food from the ingredients we bought at the market. Glorious Guacamole! It did help that Christie did most of the cooking...)

Even with the Mexican food, this trip had a distinct Galician flavor. I loved the people and the green rain and the slow pace of this city. It reminded me of a very small, very Spanish Seattle without Starbukcs. In comparison to Sevilla, Santiago de Compostela is a more relaxed city of the North.

Where ever I travel, it seems that small-town, northern people are a lot more lax about style. Not many people in Santiago seemed to care that I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, where as in Sevilla it isn't appropriate attire for a Saturday night out. In Santiago, we got a kick out of the fact that the bars and cafes played classic rock or 70's disco music, not Lady Gaga or Justice Beaver.
Free tapas tell many tales about the character of a people. (Granada, another wonderful city, had free tapas, too). In Santiago, the air is misty-different and many people sing hola to each other as they pass, even to us Americans who don't have a clue. I feel like this place is a secret that the world hasn't discovered. You should visit there, too.
As we left to return to the airport, by train, I heard a woman's cell phone ringtone alert her that she had a call. It was a gaita ringtone of some traditional Gellaga música. A last little bit of Galician culture before our journey back to the land of Flamenco.

Every time I travel to a new place, I see myself living there. And it looks wonderful.
As for now, I am home in Sevilla and excited to be back in my city of warm orange color and the river. But I think there may be something Gallego in my future. Yes, indeed, I hope so.


  1. That looks like an amazing Cathedral. The only Cathedral I have been to is the one that we visited in New Orleans. I think it's so interesting that there is such a huge difference in the accents of the people in Spain. Just like the differences that we see in English in the United States. I wish that all Spanish speakers would talk in the slow singing way. That would make them a lot easier to understand!

  2. i love each and every picture! how fun to just go discover a new land within your spanish world! i bet it was fun to buy ingredients and cook with friends! Bahaha Justice Beaver! and thanks for the clam tip- i'll stay away! i especially love your first picture of the lighthouse... the colors... it's stunning! lastly, remember everything you see, taste, touch, experience! love you.

  3. Haha, Justice Beaver. I love that picture of the butcher at the counter. That path in the second photo looks like the perfect place to ride a tepid little motor scooter. Also the photos of the foods are absolutely mouth-watering.

  4. So many thoughts! Agh! Lighthouse. Cathedral. Staircase. Beautiful photos. Wonderful descriptions. I envy your companions. It should have been me with you on this trip.

  5. I shall say that Galician is not a dialect, but a language that actually is official in Galicia and has a lot of speakers and own literature. You could say "the Galician dialect talking Spanish" referring the way they speak Spanish.