Allariz {Warning: may contain pulpo}

The towns of Ourense are famous for their rich (and rather strangecarnaval traditions, so my friend Kaitlyn and I posted ourselves in the capital city to partake in nearby celebrations and to do some explorations of our own. Phase one of exploration was, at the suggestion of Kaitlyn, Allariz.

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Never heard of Allariz? That makes two of us. Allariz is a bitty town (in the neighborhood of 5,000 people) located about 15 km from the city of Ourense. Along the coast of Galicia, towns melt into one another seamlessly; in the interior, separation is more distinct.

Due to some…complications with our Couchsurfing host, we arrived in Allariz much later than initially planned. Peppered with Galicia’s typical indecisive drizzle, we stared blankly at our new surroundings and started walking.

I have long held a suspicion that my nose operates reflexively; that is, it receives sensory input and routes it directly to my legs without first passing through my brain. I don’t hate it. So where did our first directionless steps lead us? To food, of course! Before long Kaitlyn and I found ourselves wandering up a hill and into a clearing of tents filled with pulpo (octopus) and churrasco (barbecue) stands. And so we ate.

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This marked the first time I saw the entire prep process for pulpo a feira, the octopus dish Galicia is so famous for. Using long, metal rods, the cooks submerged and then removed whole octopi from large metal boilers, placing them on a wooden planks lying across the boilers.

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Then, taking scissors, they snipped the tentacles into discs and piled them on round wooden plates, sprinkling the final product with aceite de oliva (olive oil) and pimentón (paprika). You will rarely see pulpo a feira on any other kind of plate, because (1) of tradition and (2) the wood absorbs water, but not oil.

The final product:

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This random square of tents in random Allariz gave me the best octopus I had in Galicia, period. The teachers at my school often told me that the province of Ourense boasts the best pulpo, and I wholeheartedly agree. Accompanied with a crusty loaf of pan rústico and a bottle vino tinto, Kait and I felt as fluid as octopi by the time we were finished.

As the town sank into its daily siesta, we slipped down by the river for a post-feast coffee. We settled into Café Bar A Fábrica, posting ourselves by the floor-length windows so that the Río Arnoia gurgled just feet below our feet.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon walking – by the muddy banks of the river, through the cobblestone streets of the casco viejo (old zone), up a grassy knoll overlooking the town.

Puente de Vilanova

Puente de Vilanova, a Roman bridge

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Iglesia de Santiago

Iglesia de Santiago

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Beautiful towns do indeed come in small packages.

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See the Sea from the Cíes

Hopping on a boat in Vigo, Galicia will take you to one of Spain’s best-kept secrets.

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I had already decided Galicia was one of the most underrated provinces in Spain before I laid my eyes on Las Islas Cíes (the Cíes Islands).

These tropical-looking islands, with vivid, turquoise water and fine white sand, are scattered just off the coast of a mainland that treated this girl to 61 straight days of rain. Step on the island, and in one fell swoop, your eyes can take in craggy mountains, lush greenery, and pristine beaches – a landscape trifecta. Never have I seen a place that so seamlessly melts the three into one. As a matter of fact, the archipelago, made up of three individual islands, was listed as one of the “Top 10 beaches of the world” by British newspaper The Guardian.

Anyhow, the first weekend of June, several friends and I left drippy Santiago and headed to the Cíes for a final hurrah as the school year ended. After a ferry ride from the port of Vigo, we spent our daylight hours hiking to the island’s main lighthouse and lolling about on soft beaches, returning to our furnished tents only when food necessitated it. True to Galician form, the water was frigid and the night air cool.

As you can see, the Cíes were, quite easily, the best parting gift the country could have given.

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sharking

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The one time Eugenie realized they buried the beer in the oceanDSC_0622

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Things to Remember:

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  • Check the weather. Obviously your trip will be better if it’s sunny, but regardless of the sun’s status, it gets cold at night. Pack accordingly.
  • Camping is an awesome way to spend your time on the island. Make sure you reserve ahead of time, though, and note that you can only camp on the island during Semana Santa (Holy Week, usually in March-April) and summer (June-September). That said, the amenities are excellent. You can decide to bring your own tent, or do what we did and rent one that contain beds with mattresses. The campsite even boasts showers, a cafe, and restaurant.
    • Prices
      • Bring your own tent: 10 euros/person
      • Rent a tent
        • Two-person tent: 39 euros low/48 euros high season
        • Four-person tent: 65 euros low/73 euros high season
  • Buy your ferry ticket ahead of time. Visitors to the island are capped at 2,200 each day. Ferries leave from Vigo and Cangas.
  • For more information, check out Vigo’s official tourism site.

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Málaga {time for Finnish lessons}

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I spent a lot more time in Málaga than I had initially planned, mostly because I realized on the train halfway to Cádiz that I’d left my trench coat and scarf in the hostel (next to a sign that said, in essence, “Items Left Behind Are Lost Forever”). I immediately stress-ate three plums and resolved to return.

In Málaga, I befriended a clan of Germans with a penchant for shisha; a Finn with a penchant for pre-dawn language lessons; and an American engineering student with a penchant for yoga. With them, and the aforementioned processions, I got to know Andalucía’s second biggest city.

Sights worth the seeing:

  1. Alcazaba – A gorgeous example of Moorish architecture, this fortress is located next to the Roman amphitheater, and is particularly striking near sunset.
  2. Castillo de Gibralfaro – It’s a climb, and there isn’t much left besides the ramparts, but the views of the city and port are breathtaking. 
  3. Catedral de Málaga. Cathedrals are not usually my thing, but for some reason, Málaga’s Cathedral struck me. Unlike the gray, gothic cathedrals I’ve been used to, this cathedral had color accents that set it apart: a mint-green organ with gold accents and an exterior facade with red marble, for example.
  4. Playa Malagueta. Dotted with straw umbrellas and infused with the scent of pescado frito (fried fish), Málaga’s main beach is a refreshing escape and within walking distance from city center.
  5. Pablo Picasso Museum. I’ll admit, this was not initially at the top of my list. I’m not Pablo Picasso’s biggest fan – his work is a little jarring for me. I ended up going to this museum when I realized I could get in for free with my Spanish student I.D. I’m so pleased I did. Picasso’s portfolio of work is way more extensive than I realized, stretching beyond the the cubism I knew him for. My respect for the man skyrocketed. Just as powerful as the artwork was the narration of the museum. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“A good painting – any painting! – ought to bristle with razor blades.” – André Malraux

Playa Malagueta

Playa Malagueta

Alcazaba de Málaga

Alcazaba de Málaga

Catedral de Málaga

Catedral de Málaga

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Climbing to Castillo Gibralfaro

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros & Porto de Málaga

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La Playa de Catedrales {Beach of Cathedrals}

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Playa de Catedrales

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The beach’s most iconic rock

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Playa de Catedrales

Playa de Catedrales A couple of weekends ago, an overstuffed car of auxiliars and I headed to La Playa de Catedrales (English, Beach of Cathedrals; Gallego, Praia das Catedrais). It’s about two hours northeast of Santiago de Compostela. The sky was clear and blue (what now?). And y’all. This place was glorious.

For thousands of years, nature’s been hard at work, pounding arches and chambers into Galicia’s coastline. The wind was ferocious and whipped up the biggest waves I’ve ever seen. Smooth and serrated rock stretched as far as the eye can see. It looked as though someone had taken a comb to the sides of the rocks.

We explored the beach from below, sloshing through water and scrambling up rocks, before being chased away by the tide. The greenery cresting the cliffs made for the perfect picnic place. Un sábado de lujo.

Cheers!

-MB

Go go go:  La Playa de Catedrales is near Ribadeo, in the province of Lugo. You’ll be hard-pressed to get there without a car. Those views, though…worth it. Make sure to time your visit at low tide so you can properly ogle the rock formations from below.