Two Gals in Galicia

Okay, so I went to Galicia a month ago. I wrote most of a blog post about it,  but I didn’t have my pictures organized at the time, and then I never got around to finishing it. Oops! Better late than never, I guess! Here are the pictures and here is what I already had written:

As promised, I am playing catch up and trying to fill you all in on everything that has happened in the last two weeks or so. There is so much more I want to write about- the food, my day-to-day, cultural things, cool places in Oviedo, classes I’m in- but if I wrote as much as I wanted to, I would spend all my time blogging and no time actually experiencing things. But, I do need to document and share my weekend trip to Galicia,so here it is.

Two weekends ago, we had Thursday and Friday off of class, so my friend Shannon and I decided to go to Galicia (the neighboring province) to enjoy the four free days. (My host mom says that this was a shame, because we should have used the time to go somewhere farther away in Spain. But she thinks a lot of things I do are shame, so I’m not too worried about it.) We chose Galicia primarily because I wanted to see Santiago de Compostela, which is the end of El Camino (a Christian pilgrimage, more on that later.) And when we said we were going to Santiago, everyone said we had to visit La Coruña too, because it was only thirty minutes away. And so we booked our bus tickets, a hostel for Santiago, and an Airbnb for La Coruña and away we went.

Now, the reason we had two days off was because of San Mateo. I mentioned this a few posts ago, but it is a 10 day  celebration honoring St. Matthew, the patron of Oviedo. On Wednesday night at midnight there were beautiful fireworks, and afterwards the whole city was out with music and dancing and such. One of our young teachers from our Spanish “intensive” classes took us as a group to enjoy the festivities. It was a great time. Unfortunately, as is the case whenever I stay up late or throw off my sleep schedule, I woke up Thursday morning with a cold. Perfect. Shannon and I were planning on leaving for Santiago that afternoon, and because we bought cheap tickets, it was going to take us about five hours to get there. So I sucked it up, got on the bus, and proceeded to get sicker and sicker. My head was pounding, my nose stuffed up, and my throat was super sore. I slept like a log that night, and Friday morning I got some nose spray and ibuprofen. After that,  it was manageable, even if I didn’t feel 100% the rest of the weekend. Despite my poorly timed congestion, we still had a fantastic time.

So, if you don’t know what El Camino de Santiago is, I highly suggest you look into it. I am completely fascinated with it. Long story short, it translates to The Way of Saint James. It is a very old pilgramge that has many different routes, and originally they all ended in Santiago de Compostela, which is where the remains of the apostle Saint James are interred. Pilgrims (or peregrinos in Spanish) can walk all the way from France, or start in Spain, and there are a million different ways to go. Peregrinos can stay cheaply in hostels or albergues, often get discounted meals at places along El Camino, and are generally treated with a unique level of reverence, care, and respect. Some pilgrimages last a week, others months. Many people do it for spiritual/religious reasons, others for physical or mental health, or simply to see beautiful countrysides. The Emilio Estevez/Martin Sheen movie “The Way” is a good (but sad) watch that gives a representation of El Camino that I have heard is fairly accurate. Doing El Camino (at least a short one) is on my bucket list, but for now, I am happy to have the city that ends the pilgrimage for most.

Shannon and I stayed in an albergue for peregrinos, although non-pilgrims are allowed to stay there too. It is actually a monastery that rents out the majority of their rooms. It was absolutely vast and very beautiful- not to mention super inexpensive. We decided on private rooms this time, just to ease ourselves into the hostel experience, which in retrospect I regret because everyone we met in the hostel was super, super nice. Initially we couldn’t find our room because of how huge this place is (as in, it took us about five minutes to walk from the door to our room) but a middle aged American man helped us out because his room was in the same hall as ours.  Again, I am fascinated with El Camino so to be able to see and talk to pilgrims from all over the world was super cool to me. (One day that will be me!!) Also the view from my room was incredible. It was late (and I was dead) when we got there Thursday night, so our adventure didn’t really begin until Friday morning.

Santiago de Compostela is unlike any place I have been before. The streets look like they were built one at a time, with no regard as to where the next one would go. They sort of ramble on and turn at weird places, and the buildings feel the same way. It creates a very interesting and beautiful effect, and I think it mostly a side of effect of being a very old city. Also, there is exposed stone walls inside nearly all of the buildings and I really enjoyed that look too. It looks very different from Asturias, even though it is only a few hours away. It is not a very big town at all, but because of the constant stream of pilgrims and  tourists, the businesses there thrive. The huge amount of international tourists changes the feel of the place too. As Shannon and I were eating breakfast Friday morning, there were two different groups of people speaking (British) English around us!, and a guy talking on the phone in what sounded like Russian. In Oviedo, nobody speaks English, especially not as a first language, so we were delighted to hear it. You wouldn’t think we’d be so excited, but when we were.

After breakfast, we went to the museum of El Camino, and then to the Pilgrims’ Mass at noon. This is held in the Catedral de Santiago, which I think is the largest cathedral I’ve been in since we’ve been here. I’m not sure how many people it can fit, but it was standing room only. We got in line to come in 25 minutes before mass started, so we at least got seats at the base of a pillar, if not a pew. Mass was actually said by the Bishop of Los Angeles, which was funny, because his Spanish pronunciation was practiced, but clearly American. We made friends with a lady from New Jersey sitting next to us, and translated the psalm for her because she didn’t speak any Spanish. Mass was cantered by an adorable nun, and she lead all the responses, which makes it a lot easier to say them in Spanish. As you might know, there is a butafumiero in the Cathedral, which is basically a giant dispenser of incense that hangs from the ceiling and requires 6 or 7 people to operate it. I thought we would get to see it, because the schedule said ” butafumiero on Friday”, but apparently it only happens on some Fridays, when a group has specifically requested ahead of time and their request has been approved. It also happens on some special holidays. Apparently it cost a lot of money to operate, which is why they don’t do it all the time. (Again, watch The Way if you’re interested.) So, we were a little disappointed we didn’t get to see that, but it will give us something to look forward to when we come back to do El Camino! After mass, we went downstairs and saw Saint James’s grave, which was interesting to say the least. It’s not often you get to visit the remains of an apostle. All in all, the mass was beautiful, and I’m so glad we got to participate in it.

Afterwards, we spent the rest of the day exploring the city. There were beautiful parks which we did a little photoshoot in, and everywhere we turned there were more churches, more plazas, more beautiful sites. Everything here is beautiful, but in such a different way than Oviedo. We stepped into an old bookstore, and it was like we had opened the portal to another world. It was damp and dusty inside, there were the exposed stone walls, full of old books. Old music was playing, and the old lady at the counter was reading and paying us no mind. I took a video of it to remember how interesting it was. I think Santiago is fulls of weird little gems like this. As the sun was getting low in the sky, and golden hour was upon us, Shannon and I found ourselves in one of the ancient parts of town, looking at a palace, at a church, at restaurants built into the bottom of old buildings. As we marveled at the Palacio de Rajoy, the sun was aggressively golden. It made an already beautiful place completely indescribable. Shannon said to me that she was glad I was with her, because otherwise no one would believe just how beautiful it was here. And as we were standing there, basking in this moment, wondering how it could be so beautiful, a harpist started playing. Like, seriously?? A harp?? Are we in a movie right now?? I went over and gave them some money because their music was the icing on the cake, making this scene almost too perfect to feel real.

I wish I could bottle the essence of Santiago de Compostela and keep it with me. Shannon said it first, but the place makes her feel completely at peace. I had this feeling too. The city has a vibe that is hard for me to put my finger on at first, but I think I have it partially figured out now. The city is full of peregrinos. These are all people who have just finished a journey that has mostly likely been a turning point in their lives. They have pushed themselves to the limit physically, mentally, and/or spiritually, and now they are here. They are all happy, all at peace with their lives, all of them are in a good place. And everyone who is not a pilgrim is treating the pilgrims with utmost respect for what they have just done. This makes for an extremely peaceful city, full of peaceful people. You can feel the spirituality of the place in the air.

And that’s all I wrote. I didn’t post it because I wanted to add something about La Coruña, but now I feel like I don’t have much to say about it. La Coruña was a bigger city than the ones we’re used to seeing here, and I didn’t find it particularly pretty. It’s a port town, but I didn’t like it as much as the seaside town of Gijon, which is only 30 minutes from Oviedo. Because we booked this trip pretty last minute, we had to stay in an Airbnb instead of a hostel, which was comfortable but poorly located and it didn’t have wifi. The old part of the city was pretty, and we got to see an old prison/fort thing that was very interesting and had a good view. We did go to a few science museums which were interesting and cheap, so that was nice. All in all, I don’t regret coming here, but it pales in comparison to the gem that is Santiago de Compostela. Again, I’m sorry for the delay in this post, but I hope you enjoyed it anyway. I’m going on a very exciting trip this weekend that I can’t wait to tell you about!