Girls in Galicia

16 Aug
Lu, Barb & Berni

Lu, Barb & Berni

In a quest to finally catch up, here’s a summary of Berni & Barb’s visit to Two Choices in Galicia back in July.

Berni arrived on 7 July, in a state of near zombification having driven through the night to Stansted from Edinburgh to get her flight to Santiago. When PT and I met her at the bus station in Noia (5 miles from Portosin), she was hooked up to an intravenous espresso drip! It seemed to do the trick because she valiantly stayed up until very late in the evening to spend some time catching up with us both as PT was heading back to work in the morning.

PT duly departed on the 8th and Barb arrived in La Coruna on the 9th. She was a day late due to lightning and, as a result, she’d had to fork out the cost of another flight. Her journey to Portosin was not going smoothly at all as there was no way she was going to make the bus connection in time to get to Noia and an overnight stay in Santiago looked inevitable. But no! As her welcoming committee (i.e. me and Berni) were sampling the nightlife of Noia, a text came through to say that she’d got a lift and that she’d be with us in 20 minutes. No sooner had we begun to speculate about the calibre of ‘the lift’ and what he might be driving, than Barb appeared across the plaza, accompanied by Maria and her husband and her niece and her husband in attendance. Apparently, as soon Maria (who is a Galician lady in her 80s and is a long-term resident of Cardiff) realised that Barb was going to be stranded, she whisked her to the niece’s car and said “We’ll take you to Noia!” Galician people really are lovely!

We very quickly settled into a bit of a routine. Get up, go for a run, shower then breakfast…then elevenses, then maybe a wander to the shops to stock up on provisions, then lunch, then snooze, then supper, then cards… read a bit, chat a bit, laugh a lot…..all interspersed with beer, wine or cake breaks.

Refreshment time again for Barb & Berni

Refreshment time again for Barb & Berni

When the sun shone, we went to the beach; Portosin has two lovely beaches, one of which was only 5 minutes walk from the marina. When the clouds rolled over, we jumped on a bus and went exploring.

Our first foray took us to Muros, an hour’s bus ride away round the other side of the ria. The bus ride only cost €2.95 and was worth every cent because the scenery was stunning.

We timed our visit well, it was fiesta time and the town was buzzing. In fact, it turned out that the IX Encontro de Embarcacións Tradicionais de Galicia was underway – this was a traditional boat festival, quite similar to the annual event at Portsoy. The harbour was filled with a wide variety of vessels; there were exhibitions of traditional crafts and of the history of the town’s fisherfolk on the quayside and the narrow streets and squares were alive with traditional music, dancing, food and drink. Well worth the visit but we missed out on the scenery on the way home…a snooze is a vital part of the routine, after all!


Our next, and most significant, expedition took us inland to Santiago de Compostela. The name of the city means ‘St James of the Star of the Field’ preaching the gospel and that, after he was executed in Palestine, his remains were, at some point, brought back to Spain and discovered in 813 AD by a hermit who was led to the field by a guiding star. It is highly debateable whether the remains that are now housed in the magnificent Cathedral actually are those of St James. Nevertheless, thousands upon thousands of pilgrims have made their way to Santiago over the centuries in the hope of gaining salvation and avoiding punishment for their sins through indulgences. In the days when the pilgrimage was highly perilous, those who could afford it sent professional pilgrims to go in their stead rather than risk their own lives and thus paid their way to by-pass purgatory and go straight to heaven. Clever, eh?!

We also took the easy route. No long, hot, dusty road for us! We arrived in the comfort of an air-conditioned coach and immediately stopped at the first hostelry we clapped eyes on so that we could sample the signature cake of the city, Tarta de Santiago. Suitably fortified, we checked into our digs for the night, an hostal right in the centre of town (very reasonable at €24 each, with breakfast), and then set off to explore the labyrinth of alleys and plazas that make up the old town of Santiago.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

We opted to join a walking tour of the historical sites of the city. It was well worth the cost of €10 and, with an English-speaking guide, was so much more informative than blankly gazing at impressive buildings without knowing their history and context. The tour ended with a visit to the cathedral and to the silver casket alleged to contain St James’ bones. The cathedral also contains a gigantic incense censer or botafumeiro suspended high above the nave for use on high days and holidays. It is 1.60m high and weighs 80kg. Just as we were leaving we discovered that the censer was going to be swung into action at the very next mass so we decided to stick around and watch the show. (Apparently, someone had made a substantial donation to church funds in exchange for a blast of incense. Can anything be bought for the right price?)

I hadn’t been to mass since attending school in Malta a very long time ago and was expecting hushed tones and general reverence. Instead, there was a very relaxed atmosphere amongst the congregation, with lots of chatting, rustling of shopping bags and wandering around. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, when the main event started, i.e. the swinging of the censer, the crowd rushed forward with cameras aloft, even vaulting the pews to get a better view of the smoking censer swinging in a massive arc from one side of the cathedral to the other at up to 60kph! On the advice of our guide, we had positioned ourselves at the the end of the transept, so that we were directly in the path of the hurtling lump of metal when it was reaching its zenith. I must admit, it really was a sight to behold. As I ducked for fear of being whacked on the head, it was all I could do to stop myself from uttering that immortal phrase, “Holy sh*t!!”

Santiago is a beautiful, enchanting city. If you get the chance, go there. I’m glad we did.


2 Responses to “Girls in Galicia”

  1. Lindsay Elphinstone August 20, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    Lu, it’s been so good to see the development of such a wonderful and joyous experience for you. Your blog has grown and grown in its depth and colour and the pictures are great. There’s a book in there somewhere you know!

    Keep it going Lu! You ain’t missing nothing here and it’s the same old same old. Only Maggie’s amorous advances and tales of her sexcapades along with Arnie’s wit and repartee make work worth coming to (and the clients of course)!

  2. Andrew Petcher August 30, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    Interesting post. I visited Galicia last July and liked it so much went back again in September. Great place, great people. Have just started to post the visit on my blog.

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