Thursday, October 3, 2013

Galicia, the Northwest of Spain

August in Madrid is priceless. If you’re lucky like we’ve been, it’s nearly an entire uninterrupted month of, somewhat mandated, vacation as companies, cities and services alike shut down, and people escape the hot city for the cooler (or at least wetter) coasts. This year, Luke and I kicked off our awesome August with a much anticipated, yet completely unplanned, road trip to Galicia.

We rented a car on Wednesday, August 7, packed up that night, and hit the road on Thursday. We had a vague idea of places we’d like to see/stop, but we didn’t book hotels or anything in advance in order to give ourselves the most flexibility possible.

On Day 1, we left Madrid and made brief stops in Avila, Salamanca and Zamora before settling for the night in Ribadelago near Lago de Sanabria.  Our first day on the road, and we were already thankful that we didn’t book hotels in advance.  Although we thought we’d make it a bit further the first day, we got curious when we saw the exit sign for Lago de Sanabria  and decided to make it our first overnight stop of the trip. We easily found a cozy, cabin-like little “hostel” and celebrated our four-year anniversary with a dinner at a Sidreria (where they serve Luke’s favorite Spanish cider) in the tiny lakeside village of Ribadelago.

P8074094We’ve visited Avila before, so a brief photo op at the 4 points was all we needed.

P8074099A brief rest in the grass. We obviously had a full agenda. Smile

P8074101Pretty church in Salamanca.

P8074110Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor.

P8074120The cathedral in Salamanca.

P8074127The cathedral in Zamora.


P8084153Fancy anniversary dinner spot.

P8084154Picking apples in Ribadelago.

P8084155Lago de Sanabria

P8084157Couple’s pic before hitting the road.

Day 2, we drove from Ribadelago to Ourense, where we stopped for a good, cheap Italian lunch and walked around for a bit. We contemplated checking out the natural hot springs that Ourense has to offer but ultimately decided that they didn’t sound that great during the heat of the day. (On a side note, it was much hotter here and in all of Galicia than we had expected. It wasn’t until the end of our trip, when we were a little further East and very near Asturias, that we found the cool, misty weather we’d been hoping for. ) After leaving Ourense, we made a quick detour through the medieval town of Ribadavia. Though it was quite sleepy and empty while we were here (right during the siesta hours), it had a nice medieval charm and curiosity that Luke really enjoyed. From there we ventured to Pontevedra, where we stopped for the night. I think that this ended up being Luke’s favorite city that we stopped in (though he’ll have to confirm; I can’t remember for sure.) It was buzzing with people and alive with activity yet felt very friendly and local at the same time. We found a nice room in time to have a quick rest and shower before dinner. After dinner, we walked around, enjoyed the breezy cool evening and made a few stops for fro-yo and drinks.

P8084163Medieval church.

P8084164Sir Luke.

P8084168Medieval castle.

P8084169Anybody home?

P8084172Quiet plaza in Ribadavia.


P8094185Lively plaza in Pontevedra.

P8094188Cathedral in Pontevedra.

P8094194Cute plaza where we had dinner.

P8094201 Luke’s homey.

On day 3, we boarded a boat and spent the day on Isla de Ons. Our original plan was to go to Isla Cies, but all the boats were full by the time we called to reserve tickets. However, Isla de Ons didn’t disappoint, and I imagine the two islands are very similar. We checked out several different beaches where Luke met an octopus “hunter” and I gawked pretended not to stare at the nudists. Despite the blazing heat, the water was frigid, but believe it or not, we both braved the cold temps and went all the way in. Had I not been pregnant and afraid of getting too hot, I probably would have never gone in that water. I swear my toes froze! After a day at the beach, we made the short drive to Santiago de Compostela for the night.

P8094206Pulling away from the shore, en route to Isla de Ons.

P8094209Tiny, old Spanish man.

P8094214Bag full of octopus.

P8094215The Octopus hunter.

P8094223It was a hike to get to the beach but well worth it.

P8094225A couple of nudies.

P8094230Such clear, cold water.

P8094245Luke indulging in our newest Candy Crush addiction on the boat back from Isla de Ons.

Unfortunately, our camera was dead by the time we reached Santiago, and although I was positive that I packed the charger, I couldn’t find it anywhere. (Until we made it home, of course, and I pulled it right out of a pocket of my suitcase…we’d had it all along.) Luckily, we were able to take a few pictures with the iPad, so all was not lost. In Santiago, we sampled lots of Galician seafood, watched all the pilgrims arrive as they finished their journey from the Camino de Santiago and went to Mass at the famous Cathedral.

imageSaint James

image_2Santiago’s Cathedral

image (2)Weary pilgrims resting in front of the Cathedral after finally having reached the end of the Camino de Santiago.

image_1Plaque that marks the true end of the Camino de Santiago. Every pilgrim touches it at the end of his/her journey.

After soaking in some of Santiago, we headed East along the Northern coast of Spain, made a quick stop in Lugo for a walk along the ancient wall that encircles the city and then stayed the night near the water in the little town of Ribadeo. Ribadeo is the only stop where I got a bit nervous that we might not find a room and would be counting sheep in the rental car for the night. We checked a hotel or two with no vacancies, and then found one with one room remaining. Instead of taking it right there, we dilly dallied around with making the decision and by the time we went back, the room was gone! We drove around and around the city before finally finding a couple more options to check. Luke ran into the hotels while I waited in our illegally parked rental car, needing to go to the bathroom worse than I ever have in my entire life. Finally, after what seemed like hours due to my extreme need for the restroom, he returned with hotel keys in hand!

image_1 (2)The ancient city wall in Lugo.

image_2 (2)A cool old bridge we passed on the drive from Santiago to Ribadeo.

image_3Couple’s pic on the bridge.

The next day was, by far, my favorite of the trip and maybe Luke’s too. Most importantly, we finally found the cool, misty, overcast weather that I’d been craving! Then we set off in the direction of Oviedo, which is actually in Asturias instead of Galicia.  However, when we stopped for gas, we made a spur of the minute decision to detour to a beach that Luke had heard of, Playa de las Catedrales (Beach of the Cathedrals).  Not only did the gas station attendant assure us that the beach was nearby and point us in the right direction, she also told us where to go to lunch after our beach visit. I’m so glad we listened! Although the beach was crowded with people, we arrived at the perfect time (low tide) and were able to explore all the natural arches and caves. It was beautiful, and then the lunch was, by far, the best meal of our trip. We detoured to a tiny fishing village called Rinlo, where we set outside for a fabulous lobster soup. The soup was absolutely perfect in the chilly weather, and we enjoyed every bite and moment in the litte fishing village.

image (5)Some of the natural arches.

image (7)

image_1 (6)

image_2 (5)

image_2 (6)

image_1 (7)Percebes in their natural environment.

image (6)Luke taking a closer look.

image_1 (5)A closer look. Who knew we’d be eating these for lunch just a short while later?

image_1 (4)The wonderful restaurant where we ate lunch. We made it just before the lunch crowd and snagged one of the last outdoor tables.

image (4)Scallops to start.

image_2 (3)They brought us a plate of percebes when our stew order took longer than expected. Look familiar?

image (3)Tomato, rice and lobster stew. Warmed us right up on this chilly day. So messy but oh so good.

Stuffed with lobster, we took off once again in the direction of Oviedo. Although Luke was the best “pregnant” husband for almost all of our trip, joining me for sparkling water with lemon instead of cerveza, when we made it to Oviedo, home of his favorite Asturian cider, he had to partake in the cider. We found a hotel, did a quick little hotel room workout to get moving after all our lobster and driving, showered, changed and headed out in search of cider, which wasn’t hard to find. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any great pictures of the waiters pouring the cider since we didn’t want to carry the iPad with us, but they were experts in Oviedo. However, they had a hard time keeping Luke’s glass full. Smile

image_1 (3)Picture in Oviedo before heading out in search of cider.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and did a bit more walking through a big, green park and around the old center of Oviedo before starting back to Madrid. Our trip was everything we’d hoped for, and we enjoyed every minute of our relaxing start to August!

With our time in Galicia, I think we’ve now seen just about every area of Spain that we wanted to. Of course, there are many more incredible sites and places to check out, but it’s good to know we’ve checked off just about every spot on our Spanish checklist just in time to welcome Baby Matthews!

Next up, a recap of the Matthews’ family trip to Europe!(Hopefully to be finished before Baby M makes his/her appearance!)

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