After taking an overnight train from Barcelona we woke up and opened our window to cute little towns filled with green mossy trees and lots of farmland, quite a change from where we had just come the day before in the big city! We loved the train, calling to have our beds taken down at night, and waking in the morning and passing through a couple of trains to arrive to the dining car. What fun!
As we arrived in A Coruña, part of the province of Galicia, in the furthest northwest part of Spain, our first mission was to find the car we would be renting for the rest of trip. As I have never been much good at manual shift transmissions, my mom was in charge of driving, and me, in charge of directions. We headed out in our Ford Fiesta to where we thought our first hotel should be located, and as we passed it 3 or 4 times as we went down itty bitty one way streets, we finally were able to find a parking garage near the beach and walked to the Pension Rías. We were now learning why everyone has such little cars here, much easier to maneuver their way through these cities.
Little did I know when booking our hotel, but ‘rías’ means sea inlet, and that is exactly where we were located. In between two ‘rías’ meaning we had sandy beach on one side and the marina walk on the other. What a great location, right?! Well…let’s just say that ‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain….especially in Galicia’. With all the wind and rain at our first stop made us wonder if we had made a huge mistake in coming north in January…but I am happy to report that it definitely got better! Our first afternoon out we were given a great recommendation for where to eat and headed to the main plaza to get some freshly caught octopus at the ‘Pulpería’, the great Galician specialty. As you can see from the pictures, they know exactly what they are doing with those things. It was absolute chewy deliciousness! Mom was a good sport and even tried it too!
With all the wind and rain on the coast, literally you couldn’t walk to the boardwalk without being blown out to sea or at least having your umbrella wrenched inside out, we decided to ditch the water the next day and headed down to Santiago de Compostela to visit the famous cathedral there. With umbrellas packed in the car, we made the 50 minute drive south to Santiago, and I knew it was going to be worth it. I had been doing quite a bit of research on the ‘Camino de Santiago’ because the pilgrim trail passes through Logroño and my intercambio Fermín had also explained to me all about the ‘flechas’ (yellow arrows) painted all through the town and the ‘concha’ (shell) plaques engraved on the street corners that the pilgrims follow as to not get lost on their journey.
May it be legend or fact, the story goes a little like this. The apostle James, after the death of Christ, went out to spread the word, and on his trip he passed through Spain, which was still Roman land at the time. He was later beheaded, but his followers were able to take his remains back to Santiago by ship and there, he was laid to rest. Since his remains were found and declared his in the 9thcentury by Bishop Theodemar of Iria, Santiago de Compostela has become an important landmark for pilgrims to visit. One hundred thousand people go walking and praying on spiritual journeys, some 30-40 days, coming from all over the world to finally arrive in Santiago to visit the cathedral that was built in honor of Saint James where his ‘remains’ now lay beneath the alter.
It was quite an overwhelming experience to walk through the cathedral thinking of all of the people that had spent so much time to get there, especially as we saw backpacks dropped at the door alongside walking sticks and rain ponchos, meaning these pilgrims had walked all this way in the rain and horrible weather to get here to see and experience this beautiful place. Very powerful to see! A great day spent honoring the people that had come before us as well as enjoying the small, walled city of Santiago.
Just a side note: The northern coast of Spain is very rich in culture and each province has it’s own language, differing cultures, and food specialties. I’ll be making note of that along the way….
Language: Gallego – close roots to the Portuguese language
Cultural extras: ‘Celtic’ roots and the bagpipes are the traditional instrument
Food Specialties: Fresh pulpo (octopus), other fresh seafood and awesome crispy fresh baked bread