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Showing posts from February, 2015

13 Maps That Explain Galicia

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You may not know it, but I am a HUGE nerd when it comes to maps. On family road trips, I would pass the miles by browsing the jumbo-sized road atlas, and I even memorized the regions and provinces of Spain…for fun. So I thought I would combine my love of maps with my love for Galicia, this unique region in Spain’s northwestern corner. I hope you enjoy staring at these thirteen maps as much as I have!

1) Galicia from space Even in the satellite view you can tell how green and forested Galicia really is—a stark contrast from the Castilian meseta or flat plateau to the southeast that is mostly covered in rolling plains.

2) The Roman province of Gallaecia By the 1st century BCE, all of the Iberian peninsula had come under Roman rule, and its northwestern corner belonged to the vast imperial province known as Tarraconensis. Years later, during the administrative reforms of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305), this region was cordoned off into a province of its own called Gallaecia, the name th…

Photo Post: Cangas de Onís, Gateway to the Picos de Europa

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On the road trip that my roommates and I took across Spain’s northern coast this past fall, we divided up our sightseeing into four manageable chunks: one day we would focus onCantabria, the next on the Picos de Europa National Park, the following day on the region of Asturias, and on the way back home we would stop off in Oviedo for half a day. We aren’t normally this organized at home, but since our days off from work and holidays miraculously aligned, giving us all the same four-day weekend, we decided to aprovechar or make the most of this fortuitous turn of events and strategically sight-see in Asturias and Cantabria.

Cangas de Onís was the first stop on our excursion into Spain’s most beautiful mountain range, the Picos de Europa. You can think of this small mountain town as the gateway into the national park, kind of like Jackson Hole is for Yellowstone or Estes Park for the Rocky Mountains. Although there wasn’t much to Cangas except for two or three major streets, it was the …

Santillana del Mar: NOT Spain’s Prettiest Village

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After killing an hour or so in the Cantabrian town of Comillas by seeing a house designed by Gaudí, we hopped back in the car to continue our Roommate Road Trip and drove a couple of minutes further east to Santillana del Mar, just inland from Spain’s northern coast. This village has a reputation of being el pueblo más bonito de España—“Spain’s the prettiest village”—so our hopes were high as we cruised around tree-lined country roads, passing among fields that smelled of manure and a few shuttered-up hamlets.

Unfortunately, Santillana didn’t live up to its fame.

Before I continue, it’s basically required of me to repeat that stupid joke that everyone tells whenever this town’s name is mentioned in passing. Santillana is known as la villa de las tres mentiras (“the town of the three lies”) because it isn’t holy, flat, or on the sea. Ha ha ha, so funny, right? Wrong. I’ve never really got the joke because not only does the village claim to hold the remains of una santa, St. Juliana of…

Gathered Thoughts From a Trip to Southern France

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A couple of days ago I made my way back to Santiago de Compostela after spending four nights in southern France over my school’s long weekend for the Carnaval festivities. My friend Melissa and I set up base camp in central Avignon (home of the popes in the 1300s) and took daytrips to the colorful, bustling Roman city of Arles, rained-out Roman Nîmes, and Europe’s tallest Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard.

We came to Provence ostensibly for two reasons—to see as many Roman ruins and eat as many French pastries as possible—and we left the region impressed at how kind and mannerly the French are.

Apart from the old walled city of Lugo or A Coruña’s refurbished lighthouse, Galicia isn’t a region known for its Roman heritage, so it was a real treat to encounter such monumental reminders of the Roman Empire in plain sight, from amphitheaters and theaters to temples and aqueducts. Since studying Latin in high school left me with, for better or for worse, a lifelong fascination for all thing…

Photo Post: El Capricho de Gaudí in Comillas, Spain

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Today I’m finally getting around to writing about the road trip my housemates and I went on along Spain’s northern coast…in October. Sorry, guys! I’m so far behind, but I’ve got a long backlog of posts to work through. Our first stop along this tour of Spain’s most beautiful cliffs, beaches, mountains, and countrysides was the seaside village of Comillas in tiny coastal Cantabria. After warming up with the last fall rays of sunshine over a short cortado coffee, we packed in to our rental car and headed out of our base in San Vicente de la Barquera to Comillas.

This town wouldn’t even have been on my radar had it not been home to one of the three buildings that architect Antoni Gaudí designed outside his native Catalunya. In fact, it was one of his first: El Capricho de Gaudí. Earlier in the year I had visited the other two commissions he took outside Catalunya, the Casa de los Botines in León and the Episcopal Palace in Astorga, and really enjoyed getting to experience some unique Mo…

Photo Post: Mondoñedo, a Galician Ghost Town

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On the way back from our daytrip to Praia das Catedrais, the “Cathedrals Beach” along Galicia’s northern coast, my friends and I stopped in the small village of Mondoñedo, hidden away in a mountain valley deep within Lugo province. By chance of history this tiny town has been home to a cathedral for a thousand years, although the one we can see today dates to the 1200s. The cathedral isn’t anything too exciting, just par for the course in Galician church architecture: a Romanesque foundation with a flowery façade added in the Baroque era.

A little interesting factoid: the cathedral guards the Virxe Inglesa, the “English Virgin,” a decorated Gothic statue of the Virgin Mary that was made in Tudor-era England. When the iconoclastic English Reformation blew through in the 1500s, this statue was saved from the destruction that befell similar religious artwork. It’s remained in Mondoñedo ever since 1555.

Praia das Catedrais: Galicia’s “Cathedrals Beach”

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Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia is known for its medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, its seafood, and its (often never-ending) rain. In contrast to other parts of the country mostly made up of endless fields of grain and olive groves, green Galicia is home to several natural wonders, including the Cíes Islands off the coast of Vigo, the Sil Canyon outside of Ourense, and, perhaps most famous of all, the Praia das Catedrais along the northern coast of Lugo province.

In Galician, it’s literally called the “Cathedrals Beach” because of the weathered rock formations that happen to look like the flying buttresses of a Gothic cathedral jutting out into the ocean. Going along with this theme, the official name for this beautiful beach is actually Praia das Augas Santas—the Holy Waters Beach. Whatever you want to call this wondrous stretch of coastline, the Praia das Catedrais makes a great daytrip from Roman-walled Lugo…as long as you can get here during low tide!

Traipsing Through Toro, Spain

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On my way back up to Santiago de Compostela this fall after flying into Madrid, I took a pit stop in the gorgeous but anonymous northern city of Zamora for two nights. I spent one of these days I was in the province daytripping to the nearby village of Toro, home to barely 9,000 souls. Yep, I visited “Bull, Spain”—it doesn’t get more typical Spanish than that. However, this town turned out to buck tourist stereotypes and had a cultural offering that was much more impressive than its lowly population might suggest.

The area around Toro has actually been one of Spain’s most prestigious wine-producing regions for centuries. It gained an elite reputation in the Middle Ages (bottles of Toro were even stored onboard the Pinta ship when Columbus & co. sailed to the Americas), but for most non-Spaniards it often gets crowded out by Rioja or Ribera del Duero labels.

Fellow Spain blogger Kaley of Y Mucho Más has talked a lot about this quality but affordable variety on her blog a lot; I’ll …