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.

Cies ferry

On the Run [Race Day Edition]: El Medio Maratón Gran Bahía Vig-Bay

Porto de Panxón

Porto de Panxón (Port of Panxón)

Running is one of the best ways to see a new place, if for no other reason than for the sheer amount of ground you can cover. With organized races, though, you gain a new advantage: you, the runner, rule the roads cars once did.

Last month, I did some ruling of my own in the Vig-Bay Half-Marathon. This was my fourth half-marathon overall and my second one abroad. The first one, the Royal Parks Half-Marathon in London, England, left some big shoes to fill. It looped through Hyde Park, the banks of the Thames, and Trafalgar Square, to name a few of the sights. The Vig-Bay, located in Galicia and smaller in scale, was a different animal.

The race route connected Vigo to nearby Bayona, hugging the coast and including views of the gorgeous Islas Cíes. Though the weather was a half-hearted drizzle, it’s hard to complain when you’re running right next to the ocean. I was thoroughly distracted the entire time, gaping around every bend. There was even a Celtic band, complete with bagpipes, churning out just the screeching/heart-pumping tunes you need in a half-marathon.

As I have picked up on, though, running has not really taken off among the chicas here in Spain. The proportion of girls running was drastically lower than in any other race I’ve done – roughly ten percent of all participants (!). Let’s be real, though…that just made me feel like a badass. Especially when I made my personal best time (cue fist pump).

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Noncommittally drizzly weather, true to Galician form

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Runners soothed their muscles at the beach at the finish line (Baiona/Bayona)

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Flan, the recovery food of champions (Restaurante O Peirao, Panxón)

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A post-race visit to Vigo

Lace up those sneaks, folks!
MB

Carnaval comida

Now that Carnaval has been over for a solid month, I figured I’d talk about it. So much of Galician culture is expressed through food, and Carnaval is no exception. Due to some enormous generosity, even my gluten-free stomach got to partake in the festivities. There are two recurring elements in Galician Carnaval cookery: pigs and anis (a liquor made mostly in southern Europe). So without further ado, here are three staples of Carnaval cuisine in Galicia. Warning: staple two contains graphic images for vegetarians.

1. Orejas

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My ever-lovely carpool chauffeur shared this tradition with me. “Orejas” means “ears” in Spanish, and these pastries are so called because they are shaped like pig ears. The dough is fried in pork grease, which gives it its distinctive flavor. The taste of these light, crumpled triangles is accented with sprinkled sugar. Doing orejas gluten-free, however, was quite the challenge (to the surprise of everyone except me). In typical gluten-less style, my dough clung to the rolling pin like a toddler to his mom’s leg. When triangles were finally cut and stretched, they promptly broke in half. “Es otro mundo!” (It’s another world!) was the refrain of the day. As a result, my gluten-free orejas were a good deal thicker (and more troublesome to fry) than their toxic, wheaty counterparts, but I still managed to pack them away.

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2. Cocido

Once upon a time, I ate pig face. This act of barbarianism is a keynote of cocido, the Galician tradition of boiling and then eating all parts of the pig. Like every single part – ribs, ears, shoulders, etc. I experienced this tradition thanks to the professors of my school, who planned cocido as the “comida de entroido.” The meal was accompanied by boiled potatoes, grelos, chickpeas, and chicken. There was so much salt that I was dehydrated for a full two days after.

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3. Filloas

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Gluten-free filloas & rosquillas (another typical pastry made with anis)

Filloas are similar to crepes – sweet, soft, floppy, and round. They are served plain or with powdered sugar, honey, or a dash of chocolate syrup. The madre of one of my celiac fifth-years was kindhearted enough to make me a box of these, gluten-free style. We’re talking light-speed consumption, people.

The music teacher’s filloa

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A tent in Plaza Roja housed some serious filloa production during Carnaval (Santiago de Compostela)

Week {20} in review

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This past week has been brimming with sun, and I have been eating it up like chocolate. I have been positively glued to my Chacos, froyo, shorts, and the park. The Spanish do this odd thing where instead of dressing for the weather, they dress for the season. So even though it was sunny and 70 degrees outside, coats and scarves were everywhere, and my attire was met with choruses of “fresquitaaaaa!” (“chilly,” more or less). Because I care. Anyway, last week, I

  • Scandalized the teachers at my school by wearing Chacos in March. The temperature of my toes was of grave concern to everyone.
  • Cheered Escarabote on to second place at the Annual Boiro Primary School Smackdown (a.k.a. student foot race on the beach)
  • Witnessed a riot
  • Learned how to make gluten-free orejas (a typical Carnaval food) with a teacher from my school
  • Guided a couple of visiting auxiliar friends around Santiago
Gluten-free orejas

Gluten-free orejas

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Music in the streets of Santiago

The "carrera" (race)

“Carrera” on the Boiro beachside

Impromptu didgeridoo concert

Tea time

Tea time in the park

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A cloudless cathedral

Tuesday troubles

Approaching the riot on Rúa de Hórreo. The fence on the left surrounds the parliament building.

I would categorize yesterday among the oddest of days. Why now? Yesterday, I witnessed my first riot. I kid you not, I was photographing daisies in Belvis Park fifteen minutes before I was photographing burning trash cans. (And, speaking of photographs, what even is the protocol for posting pictures of riots to Facebook? I legitimately googled “wrong to post riot pictures to Facebook” and there doesn’t seem to be a strong precedent.) I followed a cloud of smoke up a street bordering Santiago’s parliament buildings, and found myself in a scene of heavily armed police, smoldering plastic, and wayward flying glass bottles.

So what was the issue here? From what I’ve gathered, it was a protest of marineros (sailors). The European Union has imposed certain quotas on how many of each species of fish sailors can catch. They left it up to Spain to divvy that quota up between the different regions. Galician marineros are unhappy with that allocation. It’s politics, people. The sailors say the Spanish government screwed them over and gave a much bigger cut to regions like País Vasco, which doesn’t have nearly the amount of shoreline as Galicia. If the amount you can fish is cut, so is your salary, and so is your ability to live. Spain in crisis.

It’s sad. People are desperate.

Tonight in one of my English conversation classes, we discussed the riots. Hearing the opinions of the students, who are Ph.D. and Master’s students, I am starting to come to terms with how shattering this economic crisis has been for Spain. Though the majority of them are against violence in general, several of them also expressed that there was no other alternative. The democracy, they explained, was not working for the people.

I came away startled. I’ve always, always accepted that violence is never the answer, and I assumed every other rational person was on board with me. It’s times like these when I realize how both insulated and blessed I’ve been. It’s one thing to see riots in the paper and on TV and judge violence from a distance. It’s another thing entirely to listen to your students grapple with and hesitantly accept violence as the last course of action for a very real situation.

Anyway, just so no one is worrying, I am fine, and Santiago is perfectly safe. Tuesday was an anomaly, but a weighty one at that.

MB

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The police form a barrier between the protestors and Parliament

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Police surging after protestors

A fireman puts out the smoldering remains of garbage bins (protestors had lit them on fire and shoved them at the police)

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Week {19} in review

Parque Belvis, Santaigo de Compostela

Parque Belvis (Santiago de Compostela)

THE SUN IS OUT.

Are you as confused by that as I am? This week, Santiago’s rain decided to cash in its vacation days. I had no idea so many people lived in Santiago until I saw them overflowing from the terrazas outside every restaurant, café, and bar in sight. I scrambled for my sunglasses (that antiquated word for the things you need when there’s, like, sunlight), and celebrated with a picnic in Belvis Park. There were bare feet and strawberries and even tinto de verano with lemon slices. And to cap it all off, last weekend’s rain meant Pontevedra moved their carnival parade, so a few friends and I headed there to catch the festivities and some rays on the beach (pics to come). It was a total contrast to Santiago’s umbrella-clad affair. Fingers crossed the sun is here for keeps.

To Vitamin D!

MB

By the Rio Sar (Santiago de Compostela)

Real flamenco dancers use umbrellas (Carnival parade, Santiago de Compostela)

Parque do Monte de Almáciga

Parque do Monte de Almáciga (Santiago de Compostela)

La Playa de Catedrales {Beach of Cathedrals}

Playa de Catedrales

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.

Week {15} in review

A few blessed hours of sun at the Playa de Catedrales.

The perfect coffee spot to watch the rain: Hotel Costa Vella.

Rainbow

A half dozen “arco iris” (rainbow) sightings, including this one on my way to work.

Monte Pedroso

A run up Monte Pedroso (…I use the word “run” loosely).

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Churrasco y patatas with the English profe.

Oh yeah…and this.

All day, every day:

This week’s biggest news is that I am drowning. It’s been raining for FIFTY-TWO DAYS. Did you get that? Fifty-two. Every day, Galicia wakes up and grumbles, “Today is going to be a bad day,” pulls the clouds over its head, and proceeds to cry. It is just.inconsolable. In the past week, the wind has also joined the fun, pushing the rain (and me) in all directions.

I am tired of being cold and I am tired of being wet. But Galicia compensates for its weepiness with incredible natural beauty, and for now, that is enough!

Stay dry!

MB