Friday, July 12, 2013

Un poco de todo

I had a ton of smaller adventures the last two months in Ourense! I could probably devote one blog post to each trip, but I think it's in everyone's best interest that I consolidate them all into one post and give brief synopses of each one. Otherwise, I won't catch up with my blog for several years. All of these trips proved to be special in some way...whether it was the fact that they all took place during the Spring and the warm Spanish sun acted as the most beautiful backdrop of each adventure, or maybe just the realization that these were the last opportunities to enjoy Spain to its either case, they were all nice little trips that remain embedded in my mind.


Just a day after my dad departed, Anna's parents arrived to Ourense! It was nice to meet them, and hilarious to see how much Anna took after them :) One day they invited me to go to Pontevedra with them and I immediately agreed. Pontevedra was a cute city! It was a beautifully sunny albeit somewhat windy day. We started out with a coffee in one of the main plazas, where we witnessed SO MANY CHILDREN CHASING AFTER BIRDS. A quick aside: I don't know how many people I have shared this story with, but, several months ago I was innocently walking through a park when suddenly I felt something akin to a punch to my face and saw feathery wings flutter away....yes, a pigeon had slapped me in the face. I haven't looked at pigeons the same since. So, seeing the children enjoying themselves with the demon birds really affected me.

We spent a lot of time in Pontevedra just wandering...sometimes that is just the best kind of concrete plan, no rushing around, just cruisin' along at a happy pace. I can't say that the wandering was completely unplanned: I was traveling with Anna, afterall, and she doesn't do "unplanned" hahaha :D So we did stop along some awesome ruins, cute and weird churches, and nice palm-tree-lined parks! We had such a typical, delicious Spanish lunch in a frenzy of a plaza, which included pimentos de padron, tortilla, croquetas, queso, and chorizo (if I'm remembering correctly), all paired with some wine of course! Sitting in the plaza was an awesome little moment, and I remember trying to take the authenticity of it all in. As I lounged back in my chair, buzzed from some cerveza, I looked up at the sky to see this beautiful sight, which is now one of my favorite pictures from Spain! The picture brings back warm fuzzy Spanish feelings and will always give me pleasant reminders of Pontevedra :)

Ribadavia Wine Festival

This had to be one of, if not THE BEST roomie adventure Anna and I experienced!

Anna has always been pretty in the know of festivals and such that go on around Galicia...but when she announced this festival to me I was beside myself with excitement. Spaniards don't joke around with their wine, and so I knew a festival that was solely dedicated to wine could not be a let down!

Gaita bands galore!
The day here started out tame. We arrived early enough to get a coffee before the gaita (bagpipe) parade started. And there were gaitas GALORE. I lost count of how many different bands there were, but I'd say there were easily at least twelve different groups, each marching into the center of the plaza, playing a portion of a song, before marching off to the opposite side of the plaza. The gaita players seemed to range in age from 10-60, so that was awesome to see!

The parade went for at least an hour or an hour and a half, but after 45 minutes our skin was getting fried in the hot sun so we wandered around the city a bit. There were a lot of little shops set up, so there was a lot to look at. Additionally, Ribadavia is known for having of Jewish Quarter so I took advantage by buying cookies at a Jewish fact, I bought one of each cookie this cute little bakery owner had!

After all the wandering and fun and games, we finally got to the heart of the festival: las catas de vinos, the wine tasting. There was a nice guy selling the tickets, who carefully explained the set-up to us: there was both a cata for red wine and white wine, and each one cost 5 euros. So Anna and I thought, well shoot! For 10 euros each we can taste all of them? Count us IN. We bought our tickets then went over to our table to begin. We explained to the wine server that we each wanted to start with a separate white wine cata, and that we would do our red wine cata later. She stared at us, dumbfounded, and went to talk to the guy who had sold us tickets. Now, Anna and I had been in this country for seven months. I can guarantee you we had no problem communicating in Spanish. The woman came back with the guy who looked at us and said "You're each doing your own cata? And you're each doing both wines?" Ummmm, yes? Is this not a wine festival? We are highly festive individuals and really just like to delve into whatever it is we are celebrating. Well, apparently the normal thing is for a group of people or even just a pair of people to do one cata together...and not for individuals to go at it on their own. But no one told us! Whatever, we went along with our own catas anyway, chanting USA! USA! (just kidding) as judgmental Spanish someliers stared on at us. We enjoyed our white wine, and had an even more enjoyable time pretending we knew anything at all about what we were smelling/tasting, but Anna and I were surprisingly in agreement on what we thought about various wines!

We finished the cata and wandered back to the plaza to take some sun in. It was HOT out! The wine really took it out of us and we actually ended up resting in the shade in the plaza, watching kids run around playing antique toys, people eating on the patio tables set up on the plaza, the clock tower striking a glorious chime on the hour. It was another relaxing Spanish moment that I really enjoyed! We eventually had lunch, then made our way back to the cata de vinos to do our red wine tasting. Believe it or not, we were slightly less enthused for this round. After tasting 18 different white wines and 13 different red wines, we collapsed on a train, got back to Ourense, and SLEPT.

A Coruña

Yay waves!
 Anna and I had been wanting to visit Coruña together since we'd first arrived to Ourense. We'd heard a lot of great things about the city, including the fact that Marineda City in La Coruña is the 3rd largest shopping center in Europe. With this fact in mind, we arrived early on a Saturday afternoon and dedicated the rest of the day to exploring this wondrous shopping center. Marineda City was in fact huge... but with all its wonderful stores and after six hours of browsing Anna and I somehow managed to leave empty handed! (But not without empty stomachs ;) ) What can I say, we are mature shoppers and don't spend money frivolously on clothing unless it's really really worth it :) All the walking around really took it out of us, so we had a noche tranquila, opting to go out for a drink and pinchos but then heading back to the hostel for some much needed sleep.

The next day was quite the work out! We woke up early on a Sunday morning...The country of Spain is dead from 8-11am on Sundays, I would say (not that I have ever been awake at that time to confirm my statement, but it's just a guess!). People who are out partying until 7am make their way home by 8am...and those who didn't have crazy night still don't emerge to the streets until 10-11:00. I am a special individual who does not fit into either category, in the sense that whether I go to sleep at midnight or 7am, you will still not find me out of the apartment until 6 or 7pm. Sundays are for relaxing, man! So anyway, we're in Coruna and wake up early to hit an art museum as its opening, we are out of the hostel by about 9:00. And the streets are just absolutely deserted. There was one old woman we ran into who looked at us questioningly, perhaps wondering why such young blood was out so early on a Sunady. But we got to the museum and we really enjoy the heck out of it! It'd been too long since I'd been to a museum, and with pieces from Picasso and other cool artists, I felt satisfied. Sometimes you just want to wander around, uninterrupted, without a rush, enjoying and taking in all the artwork, and it is just a wonderful way to start a Sunday morning!

Torre de Hercules
After the museum we wandered along the coastline of Coruña for a bit. It seemed that a storm was coming in, but I still wanted to see the Atlantic! It had been too long since I'd seen real waves and I fully enjoyed being able to do that. We continued along the coast, finding a cute little restaurant that had awesome food and a clara de limon (beer mixed with lemon Fanta) that hit the spot! After lunch we continued along the coast, walking all the way to the Torre de Hercules! The tower was much bigger than I'd imagined, and it took quite a long hike to get there, but it was worth it! The cliffs that surrounded the tower reminded me of tamer Cliffs of Moher (Ireland) and it was really cool to see this awesomely gigantic tower sitting in the middle of grassland minutes away from a bustling Spanish city. This was our last stop in Coruña before heading back to the train station to go to Ourense. I'd give Coruña an A-. The experience was great, the weather cooperated, the sites were cool, and food was delicious, but come on man, the 3rd largest shopping center in Europe couldn't offer me anything I wanted??? :P


Garden Festival
As I've mentioned before, I've been fortunate enough to have been placed in a school that makes various field trips and always invites me along to them! This trip to Allariz was another one of those field trips. It was a short but fun trip! We were traveling with students studying to be tour guides, so the purpose of our trip was to get to know Allariz. We started off exploring the Festival Internacional de Xardins de Allariz, a garden festival, which was iiiiiiiiiiiinteresting. I didn't know such things existed... basically countries from around Europe submitted entries, which wasn't necessarily the prettiest garden flowers or designs, but each exposition was kind of abstact or had some deeply profound message. My favorite was the one dedicated to the had an array of orange and yellow flowers but also cool bee designs and quotes up on wooden boards.

You don't belong in here, beast!!
Afterward, we walked through the typical Spanish skinny streets, getting to know the small city. Allariz first came onto my radar because it has some great designer outlets (which I still haven't gotten to visit!), and my fellow professors have continually urged me to go visit, knowing that shopping is one of my favorite past times. Allariz is also known for their famous museo do xogete, toy museum, but it was closed for the Spanish tradition that was also taking place that day, festa do boi! That's gallego for ox party. Oh, Galicia, you crazy province. This festival is not quite as extreme as the typical running of the bull in Pamplona. However, they do let a bull 'loose' (one person has it on a dinky little rope) through the small streets. People mostly run AFTER the bull though. The teachers and I sought refuge in a bar that looked out into the main plaza, only to realize that we weren't so safe there! The people guiding the bull got him to come in to the bar, while everyone in the bar including me tweaked out, jumped behind the bar counter, ran outside, etc. HILARIOUS.

The other professors and I went on a little 'drinks' crawl, going to 3 or 4 different bars just to take a beer and sit in the sun. Allariz is also super cute because it has a little river that runs through the city, where people like to take romantic little boats. To add to the romanticity of the experience, the river has numerous swans that reside along the banks of the river :) I am making a note to go back to Allariz the next time I'm in Galicia, not only for the cute boat rides but also for the outlets of course!

Las Islas Cíes

White sand beaches at las Islas Cíes
There are islands off the coast of Vigo, whose beaches have been named "the most beautiful in the world", so ever since I'd heard about these islands when I first got to Ourense, I've been wanting to go! Eddie and I had been planning to have one last fun weekend just the two of us, so we decided to explore these islands the second to last weekend I was in Spain.

We took a train out of Ourense to Vigo early Saturday morning. We made it to Vigo, checked into our hotel, then set off to explore the city. The weather was tooootally cooperating with us; the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. Eddie and I walked around, did some clothes shopping, and happened upon an outdoor market! It went several blocks long, and had everything from antiques to jewelry, as well as books and clothing and even a couple of stalls specializing in cupcakes, a rarity in Spain! I took advantage by buying some souvenirs for my family, and then we gobbled down some cupcakes :)

The Vigo experience was only enhanced by the awesome restaurant we found for lunch! After searching for half an hour for an appealing restaurant, we went down a side street and happened upon an awesome place with only two other couples dining. We ordered our food and then waited. We probably weren't waiting for more than ten minutes when the waiter came over to us and said "We're soooo sorry about the wait. Here, have these pinchos." Oh, free food? Don't mind if we do. Five minutes pass. The waiter returns "Hey guys, the food will be out soon, I promise. Meanwhile, here's this." MORE PINCHOS.  Finally our food arrived after an *exhausting*, *unbearable* twenty minute wait and it was AWESOME. And after our meal, the waiter apologized again then set down a bottle of licor cafe on our table and invited us to have at it. You have to understand that Eddie and I are two of the biggest cerditos you will ever meet, so, we were in paradise with this abundance of food and drink.

I'd like to take a moment to mention that Eddie had ordered something called erizo. He got really excited about it, and when I asked him to explain to me what it was he said, "Well, you know that animal that's spiky and goes into a ball?..." Ummmm...yes.... I ate the concoction and enjoyed it but when I got home I looked up erizo and found its translation: hedgehog. Yikes. I googled pictures and felt a little guilty after seeing the cute beady eyes!

We went to bed fairly early. We were catching a boat in the morning to get to the Island!

We spent a good seven hours at the beach the next day! It was definitely beautiful, relaxing, warm, everything you would expect from a beach. The only downside? The water temperature. Literally after having my my feet in it for 6 seconds I went numb. What the heck!! It was an enjoyable day there nonetheless. We brought food to have a picnic, and brought some tinto de verano (wine mixed with Fanta) and we got our tan on! One strange thing I noticed at this beach was that probably 70% of the women were topless. Even in Ourense you could see lots of topless women laying out by the river. You'd never see that at North Avenue beach in Chicago!

Eddie and I made our way back to the mainland to catch our train back to Ourense. Turns out, our scheduled train got canceled that very day (how very inconvenient and Spanish) and we had to wait around a few hours for the next train. I was beyond pissed, but we made the most of our extra time...we found a Chinese buffet. We entered and proceeded to have a joyous 90 minute eating frenzy. Oh man did we have the time of our lives. I was especially dying of laughter when it was time for dessert and Eddie went up four times and filled his huge dinner plate with various puddings, cakes, fruit, ice cream, and foreign Chinese dessert who's identity was unclear. And he finished it all. The whole while he had this manic look on his face, growing stronger and happier with each bite of cake. Ohhhh it was glorious. So, in the end it wasn't such a bad thing that we had to hang around Vigo longer. Overall, it was an awesome mini-vacation and I'm glad I got to spend it with Eddie :)

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