Tag Archives: A Coruña

So long sweet summer…

 It’s been a while since I’ve written.  After my trip to the south of Spain at the beginning of the summer, my life in Spain (and in general) became such a busy whirlwind that it was impossible to sit for a little while, collect my thoughts, or edit photos.  But it was all in the best way possible – I was living in the moment, spending time with amazing people that I know will be friends for the rest of my life, and working towards my goals.  Never once did I feel homesick.  (Alright, except when my dear friend Colin told me how great Death Cab’s show was…THEN I felt homesick.)

Is it really over?  I can’t say for certain.  I can hope that I secure the internship of my dreams next summer and then no, it will be a continuation of what I have worked on this summer.  I just fear that if there is no such opportunity, that Plans B and C may not work out, and I’ll have to take any old internship for the sake of taking it.

 

After a full day of unpacking, assembling, hammering, and pretending like I know how to use a level at my new apartment in Chicago, all of this “hit” me.  It’s the end of the summer and I have no clue where it went.

 

But all of the 11am coffee breaks, aimless walks after dinner, Saltamontes, quests for about a sapling’s worth of paper to burn for San Juan, mojito-making, inside jokes about furancho employees, public transportation SNAFUs, an excursion to the Vigo Zoo, culiminating with pijama party on the eve of my departure – I will carry those memories with me always.

la gente de galicia…nos recibieron con las puertos y brazos abiertos

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My last day in A Coruna was more of an exploratory day – which is what I feel like Galicia in general is really all about.  It was less about one particular destination or a set of destinations for me (“We will go to the Alhambra” or “We will go to the Alcazar”), but more so a place to relax, to unwind, to be more spontaneous and to find things that I least expected to.  Most of the tourists here have been Spaniards looking to “get away from it all” and I cannot blame them.  Whether it be in Ourense, Pontevedra, A Coruna, and to a lesser extent, Santiago, I have felt so much more relaxed, calm, and more appreciative of what these cities have to offer.

 

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I am typing this entry on the Renfe Trenhotel (essentially, a night train) and the doors are about to close as we leave Galicia.  As cliché as this sounds, I am so happy and grateful to have experienced such a beautiful place.  What I felt here rivals how I felt when I went to Valencia for the first time.  I am sad to leave, however, because I have enjoyed myself a tremendous deal.  The last few days have brought a flood of thoughts, ideas, and emotions to me, as I would relax on the shore, or stand at the top of tower with nothing between me and the water.  In this moment, I liken my feelings and sentiments towards Galicia to that phase where you compare everything to your first love and how things could not possibly get better.  It was like someone took various bits and pieces of who I am and morphed it into a place, a physical location.  Without getting very personal, Galicia gave me something that I have needed for a very long time.  I am hoping that I will have the opportunity to return sometime in the near future.

 

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On a less “heavy” note, I asked a friend and learned what exactly some of the mysterious (not to mention, pricey) shellfish I have eaten are.  Percebes.  They are a type of barnacle, indigenous to Galicia, and a real delicacy served primarily around Christmastime.  Let me tell you: they are heaven on earth.  One twists them at the center, then the barnacle breaks, and then it is time to eat some of the sweetest pinkish-greyish flesh ever imagined.  At the risk of sounding nerdy, one of my most memorable moments of this trip was finding a little back alley and having the fishmonger/restaurant guy just steam these by the kilogram for me.

 

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On an even more lighthearted note, Jen and I wanted to stimulate the Spanish economy a bit by doing some shopping.  I found THE COOLEST baby pink shiny, slightly quilted blazer.  It may sound horrid to you, but it was SO Euro-chic and heavily discounted and fit me perfectly.  It worked!  Some hipster on the L Train would have tried to take this off of my back and claim they picked it up in some little thrift store in Pontevedra.  My dreams of becoming a fashionista and pseudo-hipster were razed when Jen shut me down and said how no one in America would wear such a jacket.  If Jen ever guest blogs or if you ever speak to her, give her heat about this one because I am experiencing a severe case of buyer’s remorse.

 

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And on a random note, I was reading La Voz de Galicia this morning and discovered that The Arcade Fire will be playing the MTV Festival in Santiago on September 5.  Umm, can I still get tickets to this?!  I’ve been saving up all of the entry codes from the bottles of Estrella Galicia I’ve been drinking…who’s in?

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But back to my exploring – I went down by one of the main ports, where a lot of locals will take their bikes or go for a run.  I just walked along the shore; it was a shame it was a hazy day because I would have gotten many beautiful photos.  I wandered back towards the Tower, to enjoy my last day of breathing in the salty ocean air (it has such a calming effect) and feel the breeze.  I wanted to enjoy my final hours in A Coruna, so instead of taking siesta, I headed towards one of the busy streets for some Estrella Galicia on tap and my final serving of pimientos de padron and percebes.  A bit more wandering, and it was time to head to the Renfe station.  At the station, I talked to one of the employees who said that he has family in New York and got all excited when I told him when I was from there.  What I’ve definitely noticed, relative to the rest of Spain, is that the people in Galicia are much friendlier and more willing to stop and talk, share things about themselves with you.  It’s a very refreshing change from the “avoid eye contact at all costs” approach that I take daily when I ride the subway.

 

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Because this is a long-haul train, I have some more Random Thoughts on Renfe to share with you…

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Roman Empire archeological finds at Castillo de San Anton, A Coruna (Galicia).

I really don’t want to leave Galicia; I could stay here the rest of my trip and be perfectly happy.  The last thing I recall before drifting off to sleep last night was the sound of seagulls crying outside my window.

Before then we had made a wish, that we would be missed… 

when you get to know me, you will love me (Santiago y A Coruña)

Jen and I “slept in” until 8am today and headed to Santiago de Compostela to see the cathedral. The Catedral de Santiago de Compostela is the burial site of St. James the Apostle, and as result, pilgrims from all over Europe make the trek and have been doing so since the Middle Ages.  The cathedral itself is built in the Romanesque style; construction started in the 11th century.

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Although I am not the most religious of people, seeing the pilgrims’ dedication and devotion, with nothing more than their backpack and walking stick as personal belongings, was both moving and inspirational. Here I am, some brat who took the air conditioned Renfe to Santiago, and these pilgrims have bandaged feet, sunburn, a 20+lb backpack strapped to them. Proof that if you believe in anything strongly enough, you will make the sacrifices and do whatever it takes to get there.  It doesn’t matter if it’s religion, what you do for a living, or a hobby that you have – just make sure that you have something that gives you meaning.

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The ambiance of the cathedral sent chills down my spine. First of all, it is HUGE. In addition to the cathedral itself, there is a museum with relics, paintings, statues, and other artifacts from the church.  Secondly, when in the crypt, vying for a spot to view the remains of St. James, a rush of second grade Catechism class memories came to me. It also strikes an emotional chord to see people crying, praying fervently, so intense in all of their actions.  (I did not take many photos of the inside of the cathedral, as Masses were underway and I wanted to be respectful of this.)

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And to turn the truly profound and spiritual experience for these pilgrims on its head – there are a million and one souvenir stands hawking everything from magnets to shotglasses to t-shirts to jewelry. (“Santiago de Compostela Hottie” t-shirt, anyone?)

It was interesting – I was reading an article in “El Pais” (Galician edition!) this morning about the sheer number of shops in the Santiago area but locals complain that most of the goods sold, with the exception of a few baked goods such as Tarta Santiago (which shopkeepers will hand-feed you and then pressure you to buy, almost like the way you’re ambushed with counterfeit handbags on Canal Street), are made in China. On the other hand, without the influx of pilgrims and tourists, the area would be fairly desolate and undeveloped and other business owners, such as restauranteurs, would struggle.

(Tangent: Another interesting article I read in “El Pais” this morning: young professionals, fresh out of college, are now eligible for rent assistance if their salaries are below a certain threshold. Can we have this law enacted in NYC?!)

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So it was back on the Renfe to A Coruña.  I meandered over to the Castillo de San Antón, which was built in the 1500s as a fort to defend the city.  When the British attacked in the late 1500s, the castle provided defense for the city – many of the weapons are on display within a neat little museum.  Up until the 1960s, the castle served as a prison.  After the prison was closed, the site was dedicated to housing archeological finds, which there are plenty of.  The view from the top of the castle is beautiful. One can stand as close to the edge of the wall of the grounds surrounding the castle as possible and see all of the aquatic life swimming in the clear blue water.

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I walked around town for a bit and found a feria, which is the equivalent of a festival or street fair.  Some are huge productions, others are small in scale.  This particular feria was an international steet fair, with a band performing in the center of the square and vendors representing many countries selling their products.  Most of the people were flocking around the Peru tent, interestingly enough.  It was an unexpected, yet much-welcome, twist to my walk.

Before you know it, it was time for dinner and I ate like a queen.  So much seafood – shellfish, lobsters, crabs, merluza, bacalao…you name it, they brought it to my table.  All of it caught a few hours ago.  My stomach was in a state of euphoria – I don’t know if I have ever eaten food this fresh before and if I ever will again (unless I find a reason to be back, of course!).  I am going to miss my Galician diet.

As promised, here are some photos from the Torre de Hercules (yesterday’s adventure).  More photos of Galicia tomorrow, it’s 1am and time to get the party started:

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Yes, the empanada came up the tower with me also.

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Overall, today was a fairly tumultous day in that I felt many unexpected twists, similar to my encounter with the street fair.  It’s amazing how certain sights, such as seeing the line of pilgrims wrap around many street blocks, or interactions, can invoke such feelings.

estoy en estos momentos disfrutando el sol…

You guys will have to pardon the lack of photos over the next few days, as the internet connection that I have at the moment makes AOL 56k dialup circa 1996 seem like Fios.  From this post, you can tell that I gave up after a bit.  I do have lots of beautiful photos to share with you of both the flamenco performance back in Sevilla and also of all of my adventures in Galicia so far.  It’s so beautiful, not to mention inexpensive; I think I’m in love.

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In true Galician form, I headed to a panaderia first thing in the morning to get breakfast, an empanada de atun.  Full disclosure: I only wanted an empanadilla, which is a small empanada, a portion for one.  But I had the nicest little conversation with a sweet old lady who owns the bakery and wound up buying a huge (1.2 kilogram) empanada.  I know.  Jen and I have our work cut out for us.

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After savoring every bit of my empanada, I headed towards the waterfront.  There’s a local who takes tourists out on his boat for an hour to take photos of A Coruña’s beautiful shores and it only costs 7 euros.  It was so relaxing to be out on the water.  The ocean is bluer than the Pacific and the hills are of such a rich, emerald green.  For those of you who say I spend too much time in an ultraviolet coffin back in NY…apparently not.  I am so sunburned now and have extremely odd tan lines from the shirt that I was wearing.

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What intrigues me the most about A Coruña are all of the little side streets and how nothing is “developed” in the American sense of the word.  It’s so neat to turn down a side street or alley way and catch a glimpse of the ocean at the very end.  I spent a bit of time wandering around aimlessly without a map (I refuse to pay for something that Google can provide to me at no cost, plus my sense of direction is not half bad) and found all sorts of wonderful little places and things: a café, a woman who makes handmade soaps, a gummy candy shop (yes!!), a churros stand, a shoe store, and a fruit stand.  The fruit stand was my weakness and I bought 0.5kg of cherries and saved them for lunch.  (And these were the best cherries ever, just for the record!)  I also walked past an archaeological dig in progress – apparently it has been pretty common in the past 20 or 30 years to uncover all sorts of ruins from the Roman Empire.

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After I had my fill of wandering around, I headed towards El Torre de Hercules.  Galicia was once occupied by the Romans, mainly for its natural resources.  The very original portion of the tower/ lighthouse was built in the first century AD.  Over the course of many centuries, either the tower was built up, or people took stones from the tower for other public works and city development.  Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the tower was used as a lookout post during Medieval times.  The view from the tower is simply breathtaking.  The ocean, the waves, the cliffs…the sky and the ocean form this beautiful blue gradient as your eyes wander along the horizon.  Even as the waves crash against the cliffs, the water turns from azure to cerulean to teal, before finally foaming up and receding.  Photos do not do the view any justice.

I decided to sacrifice my siesta for some quality time at a café, drinking Estrella Galicia and people-watching: young couples, little old ladies pushing their grocery carts down the street, tourists, groups of locals looking for a beer to cool down with.  The grounds surrounding the tower are extremely hilly and there’s even a cable car to transport people around the immediate area…remember I said this place reminded me of Northern California?  This could have been the European version of Telegraph Hill!

We ventured over to a more residential part of town for some salad and beer.  One of my local friends had raved about the place, but it really wasn’t that great – my salad had all of the necks of clams and scallops, but no actual seafood.  Ugh!  We headed to a tapas bar, where they were airing the Valencia friendly from the other day, and I got some super greasy Pimientos de Padron.

On a more random note…

One of my long-term goals is to be completely fluent in Spanish.  Not-bat-an-eyelash-able-to-hold-a-technical-conversation fluent.  The concierge at the hotel is a pretty cool guy, and although he does have knowledge of English, he makes me speak to him in Spanish for practice.  He’s asked me all sorts of mundane things: how was my workout at the gym, did I enjoy exploring the neighborhood, do I like my room…just so he gets me talking, has me practicing.  The conversation switched from the stereotypical “let’s learn Spanish” topics to topics that were more personal.  We were talking about how I learned thus far, my travels, how the past few years my learning had accelerated due to a variety of factors, some of which are hard to speak about in English, let alone in Spanish.  But he listened very intently, nodding his head here and there and telling me that the outcome of an unexpected series of events is that I have this whole new window open to me (kind of cheesy, I know).  He told me that the best way to ensure that I am fluent is to spend a few months living here, in order to be fully immersed.  And that it would be less risky while I’m still young.  Although it would be a dream to do so in Valencia, the cost of living is through the roof – it’s no wonder all of my friends in their late 20s and early 30s still live with mom and dad.  The cost of living in A Coruña is much cheaper.  Just something to ponder if I do pursue this goal more seriously…

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Isn’t it sad that I’ve had more instances today where I’ve “lived in the moment” than I have over the past two years?

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Plaza de Maria Pita, A Coruña.

Oh my god, it was a million years ago…

Estrella Galicia – como se dice “amazing?!”

…De puta madre!  PS – that’s slang for awesome, not something else. 🙂

What a day.  I needed that beer.

Our flight departing from Sevilla to Madrid was delayed and as a result, we had to hustle to the gate to make our connection to Santiago.  Running to the gate was my exercise for the day.  Because we had checked luggage, I was PRAYING our luggage would make it to the plane in time.  Of course, this is the one time when the plane closes on time…

And we’re off to Santiago a Compostela.  Today’s stop in Santiago was just for the airport and the Renfe station, though – we’ll be spending a day or two in A Coruña before we make our way to Santiago to see the cathedral (and hopefully make some new friends as there’s a large university nearby).  While driving the highway of Santiago at 190km/hr (speed demons, yes!), to see all of the forests, rolling hills, and little cottage-type houses made me think one thing – “I love Spain.”  The scenery on the drive reminded me so much of northern California.  It was also pretty neat to be exposed to the Galician regional dialect.  Most regions of Spain have a regional dialect that they speak, in addition to Castillian Spanish.

After a minor spat in Spanish with our Renfe train conductor (our luggage is too big for the commuter rails and no, I did not go Bronx on him), we were bound for A Coruña.  (In Castillian, I believe it’s called La Coruña.)

Oh, A Coruña.  I don’t even know how to describe how much I love this city already.  It reminds me so, so much of Viña del Mar in Chile with the ports, sidestreets along the ocean, and charming little shops and cafes.  I love the smell of the ocean and how drowsy and relaxed it makes me feel.

Of course, I cannot write a single blog post without mentioning my affection for food and drink.  Tonight, I’m going to share and educate you in a topic most of you will appreciate: beer!

As some of you may know, Cruzcampo is one of my favorite beers (a lager for someone who drinks only IPA and other bitters…weird, right?) although I have had San Miguel and Estrella Damm as well.  Anyway!  In Valencia, we had Mahou, which basically tasted like Bud Light.  No thanks.  In Granada, we had Alhambra beer.  And now, in Galicia, I have been exposed to the amazing-ness that is Estrella Galicia (completely different than Estrella Damm).

At dinner, we had incredible Galician dishes, second only to someone’s mother and her home cooking.  We had pimientos de Padrón, some of the best croquetas de bacalao ever, merluza prepared with paprika and oil, and turron helado.  What a feast; I had no trouble sleeping at all…

Except that’s when the infamous Blackberry ring tone goes off and Jen and I spend 45 minutes trying to give directions when the directions are so simple as “take a left, go straight, cross the street and you’ll be there.”  Literally 5 minutes worth of walking.  But of course, it turns into some huge production on the other end and I was in such a mood that I didn’t feel like uploading my photos.  (I’ll get some of them up here later.)

While in Galicia, we’ll also try to squeeze in trips to Ourense and Pontevedra, as both cities have a lot of medieval influence.