Monday, July 1, 2013

June Monthly Update: Coming Home Edition

I’m writing this from my childhood bedroom, which means I’ve finally come back home to America after nine months living abroad in Spain. Whoa. It seriously feels like I just left Texas the other day, but this blog, of course, would say otherwise. Over this past month I’ve gone from one corner of Spain to another and back, hiked 204km (125 miles), explored two cities that celebrate their Roman heritage, and been reunited with friends from Spain no fewer than three times.

Woods west of Santiago de Compostela

Mérida

The Roman theater in Mérida
One of the places in Spain I had been longing to visit for a while was Mérida, the capital of the Extremadura region just east of central Portugal and a treasure trove of Roman ruins. This city’s got temples, forums, aqueducts, bridges, theaters, amphitheaters, circuses (and bread, too). To be honest, I exhausted all of the big Roman sites (sights?) in one day, but the oldest Moorish castle on the peninsula, free tapas, and a TEX-MEX restaurant kept me in town for two nights.

Camino de Santiago

The compostelana or certificate for finishing the pilgrimage
The Camino de Santiago is what got me interested in Spain in the first place. This ancient pilgrimage route starts in the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France and runs across northern Spain before ending in the city of Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the Galicia region to the north of Portugal. The full route (i.e., the “French Way”) is 800km (500 miles) long, but since I had only a few weeks from the last day of work in May until my flight home and because I had limited funds to gallivant across the country with, I decided to start in the village of Sarria and hike the last five days’ worth, or 115km (72 miles). After all, the Catholic Church requires that you complete the last 100km on foot to receive the fancy certificate.

The hike itself was wonderful; I made walking buddies within minutes of arriving in Sarria, I took full advantage of the six-euro-a-night state-run pilgrim hostels, I got over my fear of public showers, and I got a lovely introduction to the region I’ll be working in next school year. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back and hike the whole thing, but I’m so glad I can say I did it.

Camino to Fisterra

The fisterrana or certificate for completing the pilgrimage
Because I wanted to keep on truckin’ after finishing the Camino (but mainly because I’m a completionist), I decided to continue walking from Santiago for the three-day, 89-km (55-mile) hike to the Atlantic Ocean. This pilgrimage ends at the coastal village variously called Fisterra, Finisterre, or Finisterrae, the Spanish equivalent of Britain’s Land’s End.

This trek was much more of a challenge than the one to Santiago was; far fewer pilgrims were on the trails than on the main route, the weather was god-awful with unending, windy torrents of rain, and the stages were much longer with fewer pitstops. I was super cranky when I arrived in Fisterra—not to mention a little creaky in my legs—but getting the fancy certificate was that little gold star that cheered me up.

Lugo

Flashback to September 2012: I was on the plane from Philadelphia to Madrid and who else would I sit next to on the overnight plane ride than a fellow language assistant named Annie! We became friends (which was a good decision, since we had to share nine cramped hours next to each other), but after convalescing in a café in the Barajas airport, we went our separate ways for the school year; she up north to Lugo in Galicia and me down south to Andalucía.

But! Annie was kind enough to let me leave my luggage at her apartment while I went off Camino-ing for eight days and then let me crash at her place for a few nights in Lugo, the capital of the northeastern province of Galicia and famous for its mostly-intact Roman walls. I happened to be in town during the annual Arde Lucus festival (“Roman Lugo Burns!!!”), which was a weekend-long celebration and reenactment of the city’s Roman and Celtic heritage. I really enjoyed getting to meet up with this cool friend I met by chance on the plane and exploring her adopted hometown.

Madrid

Whimsical trees in the Parque del Buen Retiro
Prior to this “proper” visit to the capital city of Spain, I had actually been through Madrid no less than four times—in September, when I first arrived, in January, when returning home from France, in January again, to get to Toledo, and in June, while criss-crossing Spain from Mérida to Galicia. But each of those times I had only spent a couple hours in transit and hadn’t done any “touristy” things.

So in my last four days in Spain I went out with a bang running across Madrid, hitting up all three of the city’s famous art museums, and winning at a bilingual trivia night with my friend Alissa. A second visit to Madrid is definitely in order when I come back in the fall; hopefully the National Archaeological Museum will be open by then!

Finally, on June 21 I caught two flights back to the Great State of Texas where I currently am residing. It’s really good to be back but I am looking forward to returning to Spain in the fall and doing it all over again.
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