6-29 April 2009
Our third trip to northern Spain started in Santiago de Compostela, the destination of pilgrims for over a millennium. We had been moving in that direction during previous trips, which started in Bilbao. On our last trip we visited Asturias, Castile and León, the provinces just to the east of Galicia. This trip we stayed in Galicia, visiting each of its four provinces in a counterclockwise itinerary. The places we slept are numbered from 1 to 6.
- Santiago Cathedral Our first big sight was the cathedral. This is the
on Obradoiro Square, built in Renaissance style at the beginning of the
17c. To the left is the Archbishop's Palace, and on the right is the cloister. This is the
Romanesque nave, built in the 11-12c. The
is close to the transept, and is divided into two parts, with wonderful
horn stops facing each other across the nave. To receive the
Compostela, which certifies the completion of a pilgrimage, pilgrims must, among other requirements, attend a mass at the cathedral. There is a pilgrim mass each day at noon. Presumably
these pilgrims had no safe place to leave their packs, so they carried them into the church. These
looked tired and wet and glad to be anywhere under shelter. Their packs
were on their backs, under the ponchos. The Portico of Glory, one of the most renowned features of the cathedral and an exceptional work of Romanesque carving, was being restored, so all we could see of it was Saint James. The Portico surrounds the west door, now hidden by the 17c front I showed above. They have made modern reconstructions of the instruments used in the heavenly orchestra on the Portico of Glory, of which this
is one. It is a precusor of a hurdy gurdy, and requires one person to
run the crank and another operate the keyboard. This is a Wikipedia image of the two musicians on the Portico of Glory.
- Easter Mass with the Botofumeiro
We got to the Cathedral early (for us) on Easter morning, since it was
advertised that the 9:30 Mass would feature the Botofumeiro, shown here in the Cathedral Museum with Mariana. It is a large censer only used during special services. That 9:30 Mass
turned out to be a very simple affair with one priest, one nun and no
Botofumeiro. The next Mass was the big deal, and the tip off was when they
connected the Botofumeiro to the rope suspended above the crossing. Note the multiple knotted ropes, with allows multiple men to raise and lower the Botofumeiro as it is swinging, accelerating its motion.
A priest filled the censer with incense, the Botofumeiro was raised above the floor, a
sacristan gave it a mighty shove, and as you can see in
this movie, it was pumped higher and higher by raising it as it passed through nadir. Here it is
at apogee, almost touching the vaults in the north transept, and in
this picture it is slowing down and not emitting any smoke. After that, which was accompanied by a rather doleful wind band,
a reliquary was carried around the church, followed by the priests.
- Breakfast on the gallery at Hotel Costa Vella overlooking San Francisco
We stayed in Santiago for 6 nights at the Hotel Costa Vella, with 14 guest rooms, in the old town close to the cathedral and other sights. We ate in an enclosed gallery overlooking the
Rua Costa Vella with San Francisco at the foot of the street and hills covered with trees beyond.
- San Martín Pinario
You need more elevation to appreciate the complexity of this curving and recurving
staircase in front of San Martín Pinario which descends by multiple routes to the west front of the huge church. In Santiago it is second in size only to the Cathedral, and contains a dazzling wealth of retables, choir stalls, and other furnishings. This is
a retable in a side chapel. The
retable in back of the main altar hides the choir behind it.
This is in the south transept.
- Easter processions
During Holy Week there are 15 processions in Santiago, usually starting from the church where the processing organization is based and ending at the Cathedral. The earliest started at 11 AM, the latest at 11:30 PM. This is the
first procession we saw, starting at San Francisco, just down the road from our hotel.
The second procession we saw started near San Martin Pinario, and split into two. The float with a statue of Mary followed one route, and the one with Jesus another route, meeting in the Praza Platerias next to the Cathedral. Unfortunately, it hailed just at that moment, and the floats and people took shelter in the Cathedral. In
this movie the steel poles they are carrying are meant to hold the float up if they take a break. They bang them to keep in step. The third procession we saw was on Holy Saturday, and was fairly elaborate, with
two floats, a barefoot re-enactor of Jesus dragging a chain behind him and shouldering a very large cross, a military band in fancy uniforms with spiked helmets, and several units of what looked like
active duty combat engineers in fatigues.
- Streets of Santiago de Compostela
We did considerable tramping around
the old town of Santiago de Compostela. giving us a lot more exercise than we got when we later toured by car. Walking in
these streets is not easy, because of the many hills and the unevenness of the stone surfaces. We were immersed in the Middle Ages here.
- Casa Marcelo: finally, a good restaurant
Near the end of our six days in Santiago, we had a good meal at
Casa Marcelo. This Michelin one star opened for dinner at 9:45, and though we ordered a la carte and ate three courses, not the tasting menu, we didn't get out until 12:40 AM. Dinner was served by the chef himself, with explanations. Marcelo is a member of Chef's Big Band, and we followed the map in
their brochure for the rest of the trip.
- Museo de Terra Santa
The church at the foot of Rua Costa Vella, San Franciso, includes a museum of the Holy Land, with artifacts collected by the Franciscans during their long service there. St. Francis went to Egypt in 1219 with the Fifth Crusade, and in 1342 the Pope made the Francisans the official custodians of the Holy Places in the name of the Catholic Church. Their long-term, on-site history gives this museum a special impact. Among the artifacts is
this model of Jerusalem in the 1c AD. The large complex in the foreground is Herod's palace, and the crosses outside the walls on the right are Golgotha, where crucifixions were held.
- A Bouza
Our nicest lodging was
this room at A Bouza west of Pontevedra. It is a 19c farmhouse converted to a
Turismo Rural, and we were the only guests. Breakfast was excellent and different every morning, the furnishings were charming, and the view wonderful. The owner discussed the Romanesque with us, lent us some of his books, and gave us 4 CDs containing about 3 dozen
TV shows about the Romanesque in Spain. We are watching an episode a day, at tea time. They made a fire for us in the living room, where we could read and rest after a day of touring. The owner's wife and her assistant carried our bags downstairs, packed the trunk,
and saw us off.
- Views of Pontevedra Ría
The coastline of Galicia is serrated with estuaries, like the fjords of Norway. Pontevedra, capital of one of the four Galician provinces, is at the head of Ría Pontevedra. You can see modern industries on the far (southern) shore, structures anchored mid-stream for shellfish harvesting, and
red tile roofed stone villages. This is
the view from our room at A Bouza at dusk. We never learned much about
these fishing rafts, but this
telephoto view shows they are supported on pontoons.
Combarro is a small fishing village between A Bouza and Pontevedra that has been developed for tourism. Everything old there is
made of stone: houses, streets, and horreos. These were orginally granaries and are now nostalgic links to the agricultural past that are maintained in many places in Galicia.
This one is distinguished by the blue sky behind it. It rained most days of this vacation.
- Lunch at Solla and visit to kitchen
At Solla, a member of the Big Band near Pontevedra, we visited the kitchen after lunch when it was being cleaned, and saw close up
this large sculpture. It's visible through the window into the dining room.
- Lunch at Pepe Vieira
Pepe Vieira has one Michelin star and is high on a hill near Poio. It was the most elaborate restaurant we visited, with the largest wait staff that spoke good English, and a large site to itself and its vegetable gardens.
The exterior from one side.
This is the view from our table.
Appetizer of grilled vegetables. We craved vegetables, which were lacking from most good restaurant menus. The chef is
Xosé Torres Cannas.
- Lunch at A Rexidora in Bentraces
We stopped for lunch in a small town just south of Ourense, a provincial capital, en route between A Bouza and Allariz. We were the only customers
in this dining room. Our meal
started with this freebie. The appetizer, which we shared,
was foie gras. We both had
My main caurse was
ray. Mariana had
salmon. We shared
this dessert. A little too much food!
We were told that Allariz had many industrial archological sites, one of which, a former tannery, had been converted to an
inn, the Torre Lombarda. Tanning took place in these vats, consisting first of depilation, then degreasing, and finally tanning. The plastic coated panels covering three vats in the foreground lead to the breakfast room. We shared that space with
this wheel, which crushed bark used in tanning. In the
entrance hall, the street entrance is on the right, the light is on the reception desk, and the guest rooms are up the staircase in the middle. Note the slope of the stone floor, which was where hides were washed after soaking in the vats, so the water would drain away. Footing was uncertain. The Torre Lombarda, like the many other tanneries in town, is located
on this river. The small buiiding on the left is a cereal mill, now a museum. There are many
picturesque streets in town. This house has an
old well in front of it. Upstream is a
Roman bridge. Allariz, a small town, has a surprising number of designer outlet shops, as well as
this more traditional shop selling liqueurs.
- Road into and out of the Sil Valley
Since she was sitting on the outside and doesn't care for vertiginous views, Mariana would not count the road down into
the Sil Valley her favorite exerience. The Sil meets the Miño, and this region is called the Ribiera Sacra from the large number of monasteries built on the hillsides. Both rivers have been
dammed for power generation.
- Santa Cristina
Santa Cristina is all that remains of a small monastery halfway down the hill above the Sil and 4.5 km from any town.
It is overgrown with trees, and is open for visitors, with no guardian but many signs in English. As is the case for many of the other small, remote churches we think of as highlights of our trips, getting there was half the fun. Even when the church is not beautifully ornamented, the difficulties we surmount in getting there makes it a special experience. Also, finding a relic that has survived almost 1000 years and is a tangible artifact of that distant time, still in use, is affecting. These little churches are more than postcards; they are orienteering prizes and peeks at the Middle Ages.
- San Pedro de Dozón
Searching for this church, we were held up by a
small herd of cows, a common situation in our travels on Galician back roads.
San Pedro de Dozón is in a little dell, surrounded by farm buildings. This is the
west front, and this is
the east end. As we drove out, we passed a group of cows in a pasture, guarded by two dogs. One of the dogs decided our small, red car was a stray member of his herd and tried to head us back into the pasture. Not having a nose to bite, we were not convinced.
- San Estevo de Ribas de Miño
The views near San Estevo of the hillsides above the Miño are spectacular. There is evidently a lot of wine made here, in the Ribiera Sacra district. The bare land you see between the treeline above and the far side of the bridge below is filled with vineyards like the one in the foreground.
San Estevo was built on a steep hillside, and is surrounded by farm buildings. There is very little room in front of the west end, so it is difficult to photograph
the fine doorway.
- San Pedro Felíx at Hospital de Incio
This church has been recently restored, and has a
statue in front of a politician who supported the project. It also has a reconstructed
side porch, illustrating the function of the corbels that we saw on so many other churches.
Lugo is a pleasant town surrounded by
remarkable Roman walls designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They constitute a 2.5 km walking path that we used to
walk off lunch one day and which was being used by several women in walking gear. There are
attractive 18-19c buildings, a large Gothic cathedral with
this west front, and a handsome
Town Hall. We had lunch in Lugo twice, and admired
the scallops displayed in the window of one restaurant. These are specialities of Galicia and symbols of the pilgrimage to Santiago to Compostela.
We saw this fence in Sarriá, south of Lugo and 5 days march from Santiago on the Camino. The Camino is marked in many towns with
brass scallop signs, like this one in Lugo.
- Santa Eulalia de Bóveda
The most unique and exciting thing we saw in Galicia was a subterranean vaulted room next to the village church in Santa Eulalia de Bóveda, a tiny farming village of perhaps 2 dozen houses 14km west of Lugo. It was discovered by the parish priest and first excavated in 1926, and restored recently. It is now thought to have been a Roman nymphaeum (temple to a water god), with a central pool fed by a spring. The wall paintings were added later, at the end of the 4c.
The entrance is exposed to daylight but protected from birds by wires.
The 4c doorway arch is horseshoe, a form found several places in Spain before the Moorish invasion of 711.
The triangular windows (part of the original structure) are unusual, as are two sets of carved panels
of dancing wowen. The higher panel
shows a line of women. The
vault and wall paintings are the most marvelous feature, having survived so long despite their apparent fragility. There is a
niche beyond the pool
There are many castros in Galicia, which are settlements that preceded the Roman period, and feature buildings with circular stone bases on which wooden walls and roofs were built. Viladonga is a castro 22 km northeast of Lugo. This
mosaic was shot from the tallest, innermost wall surrounding the settlement; but there are multiple ditches and mounds protecting Viladonga. None of the literature identified the threat making these defenses necessary, but in the absence of a central power (e.g. Rome or Castille) internecine fighting was endemic in Spain. Though Viladonga is not a Roman settlement, with a rectangular grid of streets, it existed during the Roman period and displays some Roman features. This is a
map of the site. The museum is at lower left.
Portomarin is 4 stages (days of walking) east of Santiago, and we saw quite a few hikers and bikers following the Camino de Santiago outside town and hanging around in Portomarin. Sarría, one stage east, is 118.2 km from Santiago, just over the minimum distance for a hiker to qualify for the Compostela.
This attractive, arcaded street leads up from the Camino and the Rio Miño to the town and to
the church, San Juan o San Nicolás. The town seems to be largely devoted to servicing pilgrims, and is lovely.
- Parador at Vilalba
We chose Vilalba as our last stop because it was close to some churches we wanted to see, to some Chef's Big Band restaurants, and to the airport at Santiago and because it had a Parador. We didn't stay in Paradors usually, finding them a little pricey, though palatial, and staffed by professionals rather than Mom & Pop, whom we preferred to meet. The price was right at Vilalba, though, and the Parador had all the comforts which the smaller places we'd stayed at had lacked one or more of: space, lots of electrical outlets to charge our gear, a waste basket in the living room, two armchairs for reading, a desk chair for writing, drawers, good lighting, and two sinks. It also had a passable dining room and a nice bar where we had small plates and a drink for supper. Paradors are both hotels and architectural rescue projects, and this one was housed in part in
a tower from the 15c. Our room, the dining room, bar, and reception were in a newer wing.
- Mondoñedo Cathedral west front
The west front of Mondoño Cathedral has Gothic portal arches and windows from the 13c and Baroque towers from the 18c.
- Lunch at O Castelo near Sargadelos
Sargadelos, home to the Galician ceramics firm with shops all over Galicia, Mariana found a restaurant in the Michelin Red Guide, rated one knife and fork, called O Castelo. Finding it on the ground was a lot more difficult, and we drove in great, widening circles around Cervo for 45 minutes before we saw it. Ed's digestion was not in good shape, so we picked a steamed seafood called lubrigante that turned out to be what the doctor ordered: steamed lobster. We were in hog heaven.
- Cuckoo calls We first heard a cuckoo at Augas Santas, after the proprietor of a closed
Turismo Rural had treated us to tea and conversation. Walking back to our car in the rain, we
- Busking musicians in Santiago The number of street musicians was augmented during Holy Week by visiting groups that appeared at numerous free concerts around town. These were not bums with musical instruments; most of them were good musicians. My favorite was
this guitarist in Praza de Praterías. (You might have to wait some time for the whole file to download.) He is wearing a stocking mask with a rubber mouth holding a cigarette for some reason. The camera pans to the right and looks down the Rua do Vilar before coming to the Casa do Cabildo. After passing the Fountain of Horses you see the Treasury facade, part of the Cathedral. Continuing to the right the stairs lead up to the Platerias facade, which is the door into the north transept. To its right is the clock tower.
- Stone houses Stone continues to be used widely in Galicia, and we saw numerous
villas recently built of stone, with stone balustrades and stone fences. This
storage building or garage has walls made of many stone staves. This is
an artful old style stone wall. Making walls by
staves of thin stones was fairly common. Note the long stretch of such a fence in the background.
- Economic downturn There were many residences partially built or built but not yet occupied (such as the stone villa above.) Evidently the Galician housing market has tanked, too.
- Alternative energy I saw
photovoltaic arrays several places, some on tracking devices that kept them pointing at the sun. These were small enough to be individually owned. There were also
long lines of windmills on ridge lines in a few places. The biggest power generators were probably the dams we saw on the Sil and Miño rivers, though.
Sil Valley windmills
- Light traffic Traffic on the highways was light, fortunately.
- Few travelers We had no trouble finding accommodation, and were the only residents some days in our lodgings.
- Variable food Galician food uses a lot of oil and salt. The quality varies from very good (at the Big Band) to inedible. Ed won a family award, the "Mickey", for a dish of pulpo al feira (boiled octopus in paprika oil). We both were served a vino de la casa once, actually made on the premises, that was the worst, most acid wine I've ever tasted.
- Fresh squeezed orange juice This was the norm; we were served reconstituted OJ just once.
- Wine is cheap A good glass of white wine or a glass of sherry at Sarria cost €1.50 ($2). I could have bought a bottle of Vina Godeval for €12 at a restaurant. I wish American restaurants did not gouge us for wine as they do.
- Lots of smokers Though some restaurants banned smoking, many bars and restaurants were polluted.
- Turismo Rural instead of hotels We stayed in two conventional hotels, our first and last stops. In between we stayed at Turismo Rural accommodations near Pontevedra, in Allariz, and in Sober (north of the Sil valley). We liked the contact with the proprietors, especially at
A Bouza, near Pontevedra.
- Paper towels were only slightly stronger than Kleenex, except at Paradors.
- Church yards filled with graves Sometimes the graves were marked by large horizontal stones flush with the ground. Other times they were stacked up in apartment houses. I noted at
the church at Barbadelo near Sarría that
these structures were all built after the 50s and 60s. They made it harder to get good photos of the church, and detracted from the beauty of the older churches.
Graveyard at San Martiño de Sobrán near the coast west of Pontevedra.
- Eucalyptus I first noted eucalyptus forests in Santiago, as our cab drove us from the airport. We saw substantial amounts of this exotic tree elsewhere, too.
- Broom Much of the vegetation on mountain sides was
yellow and white broom. There was another, purple flowering shrub, too.
- Calla lilies Calla lilies were common in Galcia, growing wild and cultivated.
Comments and questions