Showing posts from January, 2016

Scenes from the Last Stage of the Camino de Santiago’s “Portuguese Way”

When I lived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and taught English, my bilingual coordinator, Fran, and I would carpool every day out to the small town of Boiro on the Atlantic coast. After leaving Santiago, we would exit onto a two-lane highway and pass through one farming community after another on our way to Padrón, where we would pick up the coastal expressway and blast through wooded hillsides to the school where we worked. That first leg of the commute never really sat right with me, as it involved a lot of stop-and-go traffic, steep hills, sharp curves, roundabouts, and low speed limits, and I was always eager for us to finally get out of Padrón and onto the autovía.

But these days I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to get to know this small slice of rural Galicia (albeit from the passenger window of a car) since the two-lane highway we would take each morning merged with sections of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. We would see pilgrims trudging along on the shoulde…

Photo Post: The Pont du Gard, Europe’s Tallest Roman Aqueduct

It’s no secret on this blog that I’m a big fan of Roman ruins—see my posts on the aqueduct of Segovia, the lost city of Pompeii, and the amphitheater of Nîmes, just to name a few. So it was only natural for me and my traveling friend Melissa to make a daytrip last year from Avignon in southern France to one of the most emblematic of all French monuments: the Pont du Gard. This Roman site’s elegant name (pronounced “pon dew gahr” [pɔ̃ dy gaʁ]) belies the fact that it simply functioned as a bridge to carry spring-fed water over the Gardon River to the Roman city of Nemausus (modern Nîmes).

This feat of Roman engineering left Melissa and me astonished at just how huge it was: 48.8m high (160 feet) and 275m long (902 feet) on the upper deck. Dressed limestone blocks still hold the structure together without any mortar at all, almost two millennia after construction, while the aqueduct’s channel imperceptibly drops an inch in altitude from one end of the bridge to the other. The same gravi…

Exploring the University of Santiago de Compostela’s Historic Buildings

As I began my final year teaching English and living in Santiago de Compostela, I decided I had better get workin’ on my “Spain bucket list” before it came time to move back home to Texas. One of the items on this list involved going on a guided tour of the historical buildings that belong to the University of Santiago de Compostela, the major university in northwest Spain. Although most folks know of Santiago as simply the endpoint of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route (and home to a pretty fine cathedral), the city also has a tradition of higher learning that dates back to the 1500s. This guided tour gave me a more complete look at buildings I walked past every day in the old town while giving me access to spaces normally off-limits to casual visitors.

College of Fonseca

The tour starts at the cradle of the city’s university, the Colexio de Fonseca. The college began as university founder Archbishop Alfonso de Fonseca’s family mansion but was converted into the first permanent …

Nîmes, France: Can I Have a Raincheck, Si’l Vous Plaît?

I wanted to like Nîmes. I really did. The day before, my traveling buddy Melissa and I had made a daytrip from Avignon in southern France to the neighboring city of Arles, famous for its Roman monuments and twice-weekly market. Rain showers in the morning gave way to late-winter sunshine in the afternoon that illuminated the Roman arena and theater that once again host shows and performances, as they did 2,000 years ago.

Enter Nîmes, another mid-sized southern French city bestrewn with Roman ruins. Pronounced “neem” [nim], this city was high on my bucket list for its Maison Carrée, an exquisitely-preserved Roman temple, and its Arènes, or Roman amphitheater. But frustrating our daytrip plans were the relentless winter rains; we felt as if we had simply caught Nîmes on a bad day, when all it wanted was to hide in bed with a good book and a cup of tea.

Nevertheless, after our high-speed train pulled into a grand, two-story train station that dates back to the 1840s (!), we opened our um…

The Saturday Morning Market of Arles, France

Arles holds a special place in my memory, not only because this southern French city guards a dazzling treasure trove of Roman monuments, but also because twice a week it puts on a huge show honoring local products and individual shopkeepers: Le Marché d’Arles. When my travel buddy, Melissa, and I visited Arles in February, we made sure to time our visit on a Saturday so as to coincide with the city’s huge market, which combines what we would call flea markets and farmers markets in the States.

Held every Wednesday and Saturday morning since 1584, the market of Arles takes place right outside the limits of the old town, alternating between the Boulevard Émile-Combes to the east on Wednesdays and the Boulevard des Lices to the south on Saturdays. Markets such as these make for one of the best ways to get to know a city’s culture and that of the surrounding region, and Arles’ was no different. We rubbed shoulders with longtime residents and recent immigrants, indulged hawking vendors and…

Photo Post: Santiago de Compostela’s Palace of Archbishop Xelmírez

Come to Santiago de Compostela in rainy northwest Spain and you’ll inevitably be drawn to the city’s alluring, sprawling cathedral. After all, as the supposed resting place of the Apostle St. James, the towering church draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year who trek the Camino de Santiago on foot. But another fascinating site hides in plain sight, leaning up against the cathedral’s walls in the monumental Obradoiro square: the Pazo de Xelmírez. Although in the Galician language the word pazo historically refers to a nobleman’s luxurious country house, in this case it simply means “palace,” as it continues to function as the official residence of the archbishop of Santiago.

Prehistoric Cave Art Along Spain’s Northern Coast

Note: Today I’m re-publishing a guest post that I originally wrote for John Schellhase’s Venture Spain blog back in March of 2015. It’s a shame he’s shutting down his excellent website for good, but he invited me to keep this piece floating around the Internet here. Hope y’all enjoy it!

The northern coast of Spain stretching from Galicia to the Basque Country offers a welcome change from the bold landscapes of the country’s meseta or central plateau as rolling, sunbaked plains dotted by battle-tested castles and soaring Gothic cathedrals give way to lush forests, colorful fishing villages, dramatic mountains, and seaside cliffs. But there’s more to this region than the green, rainy coastline. The communities of Asturias, the Basque Country, and Cantabria are home to some of the best-preserved cave art that has come down to us from the Paleolithic era.

Five times older than the pyramids of Giza, the rock art in northern Spain was painted by people who were just as human as you and I, b…