Spain - November 2005 Megamail

Spain - November 2005 Megamail

Hey everybody. Sam and I visited Spain and her family over Thanksgiving. This time we visited the northwest part of Spain including the provinces of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria. And here is a Christmas, New Years, Valentines, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Mother's Day present referred to as a MegaMail. Yep, it took me that long to write it so you better friggin' enjoy it.


Our flight to Spain was one of our more interesting ones. We had a 6AM flight from Richmond to Miami and then didn't leave Miami for Madrid until 6 PM. That left us 10 hours in Miami that we opted to spend at the beach instead of at the airport. That decision, as it turned out, was nearly fatal. Well, not literally fatal, figuratively fatal.

We took bus J from the airport to the beach and then transferred to some other bus to arrive at South Beach. The weather was randomly crappy so we couldn't actually enjoy the beach all that much. Thus we pretty much shopped and barhopped until 3 PM. There wasn't much exciting about his part of the trip other than to say that South Beach was way better than Hollywood, Florida, which we went to a few years ago.

Now, the bus ride to the beach took about an hour. The bus back to the airport took... a little longer. Well, actually over two hours. I don't know what it is about people in Miami, but rush hour was in full swing at 3PM already. That combined with the fact that they don't wake up until noon suggests not much actual work gets done down there. But I digress; the early rush hour coupled with the J route having one of its busses go out of commission make for an excruciatingly long bus ride through traffic.

I was convinced that we weren't going to make the flight and was absolutely sure we were screwed once we finally reached the airport and saw a huge line at the security check point. We went to the front of the line and pleaded with the guy checking photo Ids and he was nice enough to let us through.

We did just barely make our flight, but the ironic part was we ended up sitting in the plane for quite awhile because they apparently didn't load enough food the first time through.

This flight I got more sleep than any other overseas flight. I didn't see a single movie and arrived to Spain well rested. Sam, as usual, slept like a log. The only downside about the flight itself is that they are apparently screwing international flights of the free alcohol. Boo Hiss!!!! That and I swear the seats have less and less leg room each time.

After dropping off our luggage at Sam's parents we were pretty soon off to Claris's store. She recently started a business with a friend that will rent clothes and costumes to the movie and television studios. Sam and I got a nice tour of the shop, but I couldn't tell you where it is located because I fell asleep both going there and coming back.

Claris then dropped us off at El Corte Ingles so that we could do our Christmas shopping for their family.

After lunch, which included some outstanding paella that Sam's mom whipped up, we took a much appreciated siesta.

That night, Sam, her sister and myself went to Otto's around the corner to discuss all sorts of things over some beers.


We agreed the day before to meet up with Roberto somewhere in-between Madrid and Barcelona, which is where he lives. We, well, there was no 'we' about this decision, I just went along for the ride. Anyway, we decided to meet in a place called Alfajarin, which is a little pueblo just east of Zaragoza.

We ate at a place called Casa Paco and though the price was right, the food certainly wasn't. But that might just have been me picking the wrong dishes from the menu of the day because some of the other things people got looked good. They also did this thing with their wine where they would water it down with seltzer water. Ick!

Afterwards we took a long paseo up to an ermita (small church) that sits on a bluff overlooking the town. There were also some ruins of a castle up there. The views from up there were spectacular except for the interstate humming below. We were guided during our walk by one of the locals... a local dog that is. He was very friendly and made sure we arrived back to town OK.

Oh, one thing I should mention about this little side adventure. For the drive over there we used Sam's father's car. This is a new Saab with one of those GPS navigational systems. Now I've seen them before but this was the first time that we got to use them first-hand. Reviews on these guys were a mixed bag.

First, it is hilarious to hear Javi (Sam's dad) disagree, verbally, with the car as far as the recommended route. Second, if the directions it gives don't feel right, they probably aren't. This happened a lot when we were going from point A to point C via point B, but never actually quite arrived at point B so it kept us wanting to reach point B before heading to point C and gave us false directions as a result.

But in general, I think there are more pros than cons, especially when in unfamiliar territory.

That evening we had dinner with Sam's cousin Laura and her daughter Lucia. It is amazing how Lucia has maintained her scandalously high cuteness factor over the years.


There wasn't much going on Monday. Sam and I did some shopping in the morning. But this trip is remarkable for what we didn't do. This, I think, was the first trip to Spain that we didn't stop in at the Cris Car Stop, a bar a couple blocks down from Sam's house. How I can live with myself I'm not sure.

After lunch, which was Sam's favorite of huevos y patatas con salsa verde, we started our grand adventure of Spain's northwestern territory. This involved driving to Santander, a 4-5 hour drive to the northern coast of Spain. By the time we got to Santander it was dark so it was difficult to see how mountainous and beautiful the area was, but judging from all the accelerations and decelerations Sam was making the roads were pretty curvy meaning the scenery was probably gorgeous.

In Santander, which was immediately charming, we found a nice cheap hotel, the Santemar, near the beach. It was cheap because this was definitely a tourist hotel in the off-season.

But hey, we didn't come to Santander to stay in the hotel so we drove the short drive back to downtown in search of some place for some tapas and drinks. I was disappointed in Santander's nightlife. We were probably just in the wrong area, but it was a challenge to find anything, much less anything open. It was Monday, true, but hey, this is Spain and I have expectations to be met!

Yet, we managed to get some delicious tapas with wine and then afterwards stayed out until I don't know while drinking beers and talking about all things big and small, good and bad, sugar and spice.


The daylight showed us just how spectacular Santander was. After checking out of the hotel we walked down to the beach for a quick snack and then began our tourism activities in earnest.

This involved walking from the beach towards El Sardinero. This provided some excellent views of the city and the sturdy folk that live there. For example, on the beach we saw people playing 'palas' Sam indicated that this game was very typical of the region. What wasn't typical is that one guy was shirtless and wearing shorts... and I was in my winter coat buttoned up to the top and with my gloved hands in my pockets. It was cold and windy and this guy obviously had some very thick blood moving through his veins.

In El Sardinero they have a very cool, though very small, zoo. Just a few penguins, seals and sea lions. But what was cool about it was the setting and the exhibits. The exhibits were large and natural looking, but you couldn't beat the view with the ocean roaring in the background. The seals in particular lucked out with actual ocean tides rising and falling within their habitat.

El Sardinero and the palace that it contains was the former stomping ground of King Alfonso XIII who resided here at the turn of last century. Apparently the king and his family liked coming to Santander so the city built them a little beach house where 'they lived just like one of the neighbors' Anybody who sees this place knows 'they were not just one of the neighbors.'

The palace sits on a peninsula that separates the beach from the downtown portion of the city, thus offering it the best views Santander. But it was a little too far to walk to downtown given what else we had planned for the day so we walked back to the car and drove downtown.

After we parked, we got a call from Sam's parents. You see, they would have loved to come to Santander with Sam, Claris and I, however they had a court date on Wednesday. Check out how screwed up the law is in Spain:

Once upon a time there were several landlords that would boot out their current tenants if they found new tenants who would pay more for the same apartment. Rightfully, laws were passed to protect the tenants in such cases. Unfortunately, the law swung too far in their favor.

In Sam's parent's case, they are the landlords and they rented the unit to some renters that we will call The Assholes. Now the Assholes have never paid a cent in rent. However, the laws are such in their favor that they don't have to pay rent for an entire year before they can be legally evicted.

The day of their eviction was to be tomorrow (Wednesday). But alas, they claimed that Sam's parents have been placing undo stress upon them and therefore are dragging out the legal process. So basically a family of professional thieves has more privileges than anybody else? What a joke!

Anyway, this phone call explained that the Assholes were still winning the war and everybody was upset all around. This was definitely the low point of the trip.

We skipped lunch, which I know would have aroused Javi and Josefita even more, but hey, we had a lot of stuff to do that day. First we drove out to Cabo Menor, a peninsula that bookends the beach with El Sardinero. This was just for a quick view and a Kodak moment. Afterwards we were back in the car for the drive to San Vicente de la Barquera.

Along the way we took a slight detour to Santillana del Mar. This place was definite worth the detour. It kind of reminded me of Toledo, which has that 'stuck in the Middle Ages' serenity about it.

There are lots and lots of restaurants, lots of stores, lots of craftspeople that still make things the old fashioned way. And the buildings and streets really make you feel like you were just dropped into the 14th century. That is until a car speeds by almost running you over. We didn't have much time to spend here because we still had a lot to do that day so off we went to San Vicente de la Barquera. But, if in the area again, I wouldn't mind to stop by Santillana del Mar once more.

We drove along the coast to San Vicente de la Barquera, passing through a lot of charming little puebos... the best of which as Comillas. This town had a huge university building (Universidad Pontífica) sitting on top of hill overlooking the town and the ocean. We took a quick detour to scope it out.

The place is even bigger than it seems from down below. In fact it is so large that they aren't able to maintain it. At one end is an immaculate and well-maintained structure. But as you pass along the building, it gets progressively more run-down to the point where the building is obviously abandoned and has broken windows and overgrown shrubbery. Strange.

San Vicente is another coastal town that booms during the summer but remains kind of sleepy during the winter months. The town has an excellent location through. Think of a bay with an island in the middle, but the island is so large, it almost touches the shores of the mainland. And on that island you put downtown. That kind of sums up San Vicente, with the one additional detail that the island is more like a big rock so it is taller than it is wide. So in other words, it is a much smaller, but more natural version of Manhattan. Well, my analogy really isn't doing it justice so I guess I'll just include a photo.

Historically, it made for an excellent location for a castle and sure enough, it is still there. The castle pretty much covered the entire island in the past, but the walls have been reallocated for other purposes over time. It is still an impressive site nonetheless.

We took the tour of the castle and then followed that up with some tapas at one of the restaurants in town. During this break we decided our fate for the evening. We could either stay in San Vicente or drive onwards toward Gijón. We opted for the latter, but with the condition that we would stop for the night somewhere that seemed nice along the way.

That place was Ribadesella, yet another coastal resort town. This one is famous for some annual kayak race. Also, this one is in Asturias province. Previously we had been in Cantabria. The difference is worth taking note.

After some looking we found a very charming, but very cold hotel for the night. We then went hunting for a place for dinner. We quickly found one just down the street. It was like Monday Night Football in there because everybody was watching a soccer game... except us. We were hungry, plain and simple, so we ordered a lot of food.

That turned out to be a mistake because the portions were tremendous. We got a plate of cold cuts that included boar, a first for me. That plate was huge and was followed by an impressive platter of at least ten different cheeses. We couldn't even finish it all because our entrees were soon upon us.

One interesting thing I learned about Asturias, and later on in Galicia too, is that most of the business owners and landowners are women. This has developed because all the men have historically been fishermen and are at sea all the time leaving the women to take care of everything else. Very interesting.

After dinner we found a sideria, which is very common in Asturias. Sidra, or cider, is the drink of choice in the region. I've had it once before, but couldn't really remember it. What I did remember was the pouring technique where the server will hold the bottle as high as they can and the glass as low as the can and then proceeds to pour.

Now, the time before, I was separated from the bartender by a... you guessed it, a bar. I figured that this bartender was very experienced because from my point of view he was hitting the glass dead on without spilling a drop.

This trip revealed to me the awful truth. In all the bars I saw these rather ornate looking milk cans. I thought they were ash trays at first, and then I saw it happen. The bartender, serving one of his customers, held the glass over one of these milk cans and proceeded to pour. A significant amount of sidra went to waste into what I now realized was a glorified slop bucket. Of course, I soon found out that these buckets are not for the exclusive use of the bartenders as numerous customers poured their own in the traditional manner over these buckets.

Now, I imagine you have two burning questions: What does this stuff taste like and why do they pour it like they do? Taste is easy... sour apples. Why is to simply add some carbonation.


If you thought Tuesday was full, just wait for Wednesday, which started out with us not wanting to get out of bed. This had nothing with being tired or sore, though a less intrepid traveler might have employed those excuses; it was just that cold in that little hotel that getting out of bed was like walking around Antarctica naked. Not pleasant.

Eventually we did though and grabbed some churros around the corner and then began our trek in earnest. The night before we talked with Sam's uncle and he said that if nothing else, we should see Desfiladero de la Hermida in Los Picos de Europa.

This posed a little of a dilemma for us as we had already went further west than that road so we would have to double back if we wanted to see it. After a little bit of debate, we figured out a flight plan and headed back east with a destination being Potes, a sleepy mountain town at the other end of the Desfiladero.

The drive through the Desfiladero, which is basically a long and winding ravine, is truly impressive. The sun is rarely present and looking out the windows one sees nothing but rock. It is a not a place I would feel comfortable during an earthquake. Because of the lack of light, it is not a place that affords many Kodak moments so one just has to soak it in while there.

Before when I said Potes was sleepy, I wasn't really serious, but it is definitely a mountain town. I will say this more than once during this MegaMail... it was like from the Lord of the Rings. With the magnificent mountains in the background, the cobblestone streets and Roman bridges, you do feel like you took a step back into an older and simpler place... once again, until that guy on the motorbike whizzes by you tooting his horn.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay long in Potes because we had a lot to do. But if we had more time, there was a road that went further up into the mountains that apparently offers some stunning views. No, we had to head back the way we came and then take the north road west around the Picos.

This drive provided the standard mountain viewing pleasure, with massive granite peaks jutting out here and there. Along this drive we passed through the main point of origin for Cabrales cheese, which kind of tastes like a sturdier Blue Cheese and is made from ewes milk. If you haven't had it, you should try it out.

One comical story that Claris shared with Sam and I was about some cows in Argentina that got loose several years ago. So, they got loose and survived just fine 'on the lamb' (I crack myself up) even though the terrain is very rocky and dangerous. In fact, they have become adept as mountain goats in jumping from rock to rock. But they have also become adept at raiding farmer's fields and then retreating back to the safety of the mountains.

So adept in fact that hunters have a hard time tracking them and keeping up with them so the only solution that has evolved to handle these terrorist cows is to hunt them via army helicopters. Now those are some nubile cows if you ask me.

When relating this story to one of my co-workers upon our return to the states he said, 'Hell, I know dozens of people in Tennessee who would pay thousands to hunt those suckers.' So there you go Argentina, turn that pesky negative cash flow problem into buku bucks of hunting fees income.

Our final stop in the Picos was the shrine of Covadonga. Now, if you remember your history, for hundreds of years the Moors overran Spain. Back in the 700s (it seems like just yesterday, doesn't it :) Spain was pretty much at its end and had just one stronghold left and that was at Covadonga in Asturias.

The Moors sent out a legion to wipe out the Spaniards but lost and so started 700 years of reconquest by the Spaniards. It wasn't until 1492, the same year as Columbus, that Spain finally kicked out all the Moors.

So, as you might imagine, Covadonga has some serious meaning for all Spaniards. As naturally impressive as the rest of the Picos were, Covadonga was a marriage of natural and man-made wonders. Again, it reminded me of something out of the Lord of the Rings.

How the heck they built such a marvelous cathedral where they built it, and without it looking like suburban blight I do not know. However I wish city planners of the modern era would take notice of what worked in the past.

Unfortunately (you'll be sick of this word before the end), as it was lunchtime, we did not get to enter the cathedral. However, we did see the shrine that was chiseled out of the mountainside though, and that is a treat onto itself. Think of that temple in the desert in the final Indiana Jones, but with waterfalls here and there. Way cool.

We were desperately hungry, but were too late for the lunch hour, so we had to settle for some sandwiches at a bar in Cangas de Onis before we headed onward to Oviedo.

By the time we arrived to Oviedo, it was dark and solidly within the paseo hour. That meant a lot of traffic and a lot of pedestrians. We quick became some of those pedestrians as we hustled through the downtown area on a Kodak Moment quest.

A thing I've noticed about Spanish towns is that there are frequently pedestrian only malls. This, I think has been done best in Oviedo... as far as I have seen. Though Bilbao takes a close second. This area is huge and covers the old part of town and is full of bars and stores... the perfect location for a paseo.

Our paseo didn't leave us time for shopping... we just wanted to take in the sites, take a few photos and do it all in under an hour. Believe me, an hour is not suitable for taking in Oviedo. Another place I wish we spent more time.

Our last stop for the day was Aviles. Aviles is along the north shore of Spain, but unlike our other destinations thus far, this place was solidly a major and active port. After taking many wrong turns, we finally found the parking for our hotel, which was graciously paid for by Sam's parents. In fact, they arrived from the plane just an hour or so before we did so it was nearly perfect timing.

The hotel was possibly the best I have ever stayed at. And by that, I mean the structure itself was truly marvelous. It seems that it was once a monastery or some other religious building and had been recently transformed into the hotel. But the care that was taken to merge the antique common areas with the sleek modernism of the guest rooms is something to see.

Other than that, it is just another snooty high-priced hotel, but a respectable snooty high-priced hotel.

The hotel was located in the center of the pedestrian district in Aviles (which is why finding the parking was such a chore). Therefore, once we met up with Sam's parents, we took the obligatory paseo, even though we were getting well to the end of the paseo hour.

Aviles pedestrian area is unique in that there are a lot of covered sidewalks with the supports being ancient (by my standards) arches. Of course the arches are different for each building which adds to the charm. The covered sidewalks evolved due to the significant amounts of rain the northern coastal regions of Spain receive.

We first went to a bar to partake in some sidra and then found a rather charming restaurant whose dining room was decorated like a ship at sea. Javi was immediately impressed given his marine background. I think that most of us had fish, which was pretty good, but still not as good as Josefita's.


Now, if you thought Wednesday was full... well, Thursday was also pretty full, but maybe not quite as much.

After an awesome breakfast at the hotel, we took a walk along the harbor in Aviles. They did, and in fact, all places we visited this trip, made the waterfront very accessible for pedestrian usage. Unfortunately for Aviles, the natural beauty of their harbor has been somewhat overwhelmed by the shipyards and warehouses that support such an active port. But I definitely give them kudos for trying.

Next we took a drive to Sam's parent's new vacation home. Well, it isn't built yet, but we got to see the real estate office for this new golf course development that has a combination of homes, apartments and a hotel to support the golf resort. We got to see a model of development as a whole, as well as a model for the home that Sam's parents bought.

It's pretty slick with a bathroom for each bedroom, an underground garage for two cars and wine cellar. The only thing I noticed that worried me was that their house was going to be directly next to the golf course itself. I can just imagine some day a year or two from now, I'm driving off the ninth tee and for the first time in my life, hook it right through their house's big window. Just wait... it'll happen.

Then began a driving tour west of Aviles along the Atlantic coast. First we went to Salinas which is the beach that services Aviles. It looked like they recently renovated the whole beach area because it was immaculate and had nice walking paths all the way to the cliffs overlooking the beach. Yet another nice place to be during the summer.

We further continued our drive west to Cudillero. This was a treat. It is a fishing village, but it is built up along some very steep hillsides and the houses are primarily white, but with strong, colorful accents. It is instantly charming.

Just off the harbor is a plaza filled with restaurants and bars that have large amounts of outdoor seating, even in winter! We opted to snack on some assorted seafood appetizers, which were all delicious, while we overlooked the plaza and the ocean from an upper floor dining room of one of these establishments. Yet another place I wouldn't have minded to spend more time.

But time we did not have for we had to drive to Miguel's house in Galicia for dinner that night and we had several hours of driving ahead of us.

I would have preferred to linger along the coast and take the road less traveled, but that was not to be. Sam's dad likes Interstate driving so we took, in my opinion, a very long way around back southeast through Oviedo and then further south to León and then west northwest to Vigo. Vigo is pretty close to where Miguel lives along the western coast of Spain.

Along the way, we took a few wrong turns and I got to hear some very colorful Spanish arguments as a result of that and our arriving during rush hour, but we all arrived in one piece to Miguel's sanctuary. And I am not overstating the word sanctuary here because I can easily see anybody who sees the place would not want to leave.

But all sanctuaries require a fee for entry and that fee was Sam's dad taking a tumble. Not 30 minutes after we arrived, Sam's aunt and uncle joined us from Bilbao. They brought several cases of wine to be drunk over the course of the weekend. Ha! Got you. No, we didn't drink that much but we certainly made a go of it.

So, while we were carrying wine from to the car to the house, Sam's dad stepped on a drainage grate that went across the driveway. It wasn't well placed and so he took a spill into the stone wall nearby. He had a nasty bruise on his head. Yet, despite the violence of his fall, I don't think a single bottle of wine was broken!

OK, back to the sanctuary... it was pitch black so I couldn't really take in the setting that evening, but don't worry, you'll get the full tour in Friday's notes. But I can definitely talk about the inside of the house now and that was spectacular. Although the house was only built in the 70's, it has a much older feel to it on the inside. The walls are made of huge granite bricks.

Now, to be fair, most of the structures in the area are made from huge granite bricks because that is what they have for building materials. But the first time you see this, you will be impressed.

The floors of the house are those large wooden plank floors that were used in centuries gone by. There were also lots of windows and fireplaces and lots of wood in general. So, it kind of has that cabin in the woods that has been around for an eternity kind of feel.

Now, something you need to know about Miguel. He was the son of a famous doctor in Spain. Similar to today where famous people tend to hang out with other famous people, Miguel's dad hung out with famous people. Famous people like Picasso, or Buñuel, or Miró.

So, it is quite probable that you pick a book of the shelf and will find it signed by Alberti, and that if you look at that painting over the fireplace, you will see that it is an actual Picasso, with a message on the back from Picasso to Miguel's father.

The place is a shrine, really. Lots of artwork is playfully arranged around the house and books are everywhere. Delightful, simply delightful!

Sam and I stayed in the study during our stay, which had a futon type bed in the corner. This study is the quintessential author's writing nook. It has a huge window overlooking the sea and in front of that window is a simple desk with a computer. Why would you ever write anywhere else?

I could probably go on for much longer about how cool Miguel's house is, but I'll spare you for the moment.

Instead I shall lavish you with details about the dinner we had that night.

Miguel had prepared for us a spectacular dinner featuring seafood unique to Galicia. I am now writing this months after our visit so I cannot remember everything, but I recall the main portion of the mean to be made up of Centollos. Mean, hairy, ugly looking crabs.

Now, I am not an experienced seafood eater by any means. I was confused by the proper eating style for this type of seafood. Supposedly everybody else said that they too were amateurs at eating this type of seafood, except Miguel of course. I can tell you for a fact, they weren't amateurs.

The way they dove into that shellfish with all the sucking and slurping noises, well, I was not in Virginia anymore. I did my best, but I could tell they were all thinking, 'silly Americano'.

The most interesting thing was something called crab brains, which was like a gazpacho served in the upside-down shell of the crab. It was very rich and tangy. Quite tasty, but so different than anything I've tried before my stomach didn't know what to make of it.

The after dinner merriment continued as Miguel brought out the local poison... ahem, I mean moonshine. As I recall, this was made out of the leftover grapes that were using in making wine.

Every Galician family should have a bottle of this stuff on hand. They probably have a lot of flavors too. There is the basic, which I think is just called white, and then the makers will steep that with whatever they have. Pine needles, lemon, orange, peach... you get the picture.

It was quite good and quite dangerous and it made an appearance after every meal we ate at Miguel's house.


Friday was a lazy day given the days leading up to it. I tried to sleep in late, but was sabotaged by some dolphins swimming in the inlet outside Miguel's house. Claris was screaming to Sam for her to go see them. I contemplated getting up, but quickly collapsed back to bed.

The day yielded a wet and cold experience. In fact, much of the time in Galicia was wet and cold. Not like freezing, but because it is so windy there, that combined with the nearly constant rain leads to some serious Pacific Northwest type weather. I imagine that is the only down part of Galicia, that the weather is kind of like Seattle. Never too warm and never too dry. Of course, this might have just been winter, so don't hold me to that criticism.

After finally rousing myself up and joining the others, we familiarized ourselves with Miguel's property. We also met the dogs, Bernardo, Patai, and ???. As nice as the house was on the inside, the outside complimented it in every way. I'd like to think that it is a marvelous house in a spectacular location.

Working our way out from the house, we found the dog kennel, the tennis court, the guest house, and finally, the private beach with underground boathouse. Looking back at the house you see a three-level granite masterpiece trimmed in wood with large balconies overlooking the sea. A simply sumptuous site.

We then all took a stroll to the preserve that is right next to Miguel's house. Venturing to this location, which takes you to a point that is at the true edge of the sea, I saw what I imagined Maine must look like, though I've never been. Very green, but with lots of granite outcroppings. Somewhat barren along the immediate coast, but then tons and tons of pine trees.

As we circled around back to Miguel's house, we encountered two small ponies. These guys are native to Galicia and are a protected species. They are incredibly cute looking given their long hair and small, stout frame.

Before actually returning to Miguel's house, we went to the 'locals' beach, which had a view, sort of, of Bueu, the local fishing village, which was also to be our next destination.

After a brief driving tour, during which Miguel pointed out all the houses owned by global crime operatives (no, I'm not lying), we went to a bar to try the wine special to the region, Albariño. Now, you can find this in the states rather easily, but Sam and I have found it to be a little overpriced so we usually turn to our lower-priced Rioja alternatives.

Albariño is a sweet white wine that is traditionally poured from a ceramic pitcher into almost sake looking ceramic cups. Ah, I think this is a case where the tradition is in place just to keep a few more ceramic shops open.

The bar we went to celebrated the history and tradition of Bueu, which of course means it had a maritime theme, complete with several tanks of live seafood. Here I got to see all the varieties native to the region, including the lobster, which is blue, bigger and badder than it's American cousin. I forget the name of the local crab variety, but it had a name similar to Nicholas, which is what I called them all the time. OK, Sam tells me they are called Necoras, but I think Nicholas or Little Nickys sound better, don't you?

During our time at the bar, Miguel regaled us with some of the local folklore and customs. One in particular was about the lobster hypnotist, which I will discuss later. Another that I fondly remember is how the local fishermen have traditionally gone about their profession.

Basically, imagine a one-person rowboat and that fisherman will row out to sea for a couple of hours. Then they will fish for a few hours. Meanwhile, on a granite slab that they have between their legs, they can build a fire to keep warm and cook up their lunch. Then they row back to shore for another couple of hours. And they are all doing this in the middle of the night.

Talk about a rough life!

Some other interesting stories included the island that sits in the middle of the bay. Now think of this island inhabited by near mythical people similar to The Others from Lost. During WWII a German submarine grounded itself near the island and the crew had to abandon ship. In a couple of days they returned to rescue the sub only to find that it had disappeared. Upon closer investigation it was discovered the islanders completely scavenged the sub for their own purposes! There was a trial, which the islanders won by claiming that 'Iron floats', and that the submarine must have floated away... This was one of those 'rare' cases where all the islanders bound together and no one gave anyone else away, so therefore there was never proof of what they suspected had happened to the ship.

To this day, the island is without utility supplied electricity. Reminds me of an episode of Lost.

For lunch we had the 'meat and potatoes' meal of Galicia, which comprised mostly of, well, meat and potatoes and a sauteed lettuce. Everything was excellently prepared and delicious. For dessert we had variety of cheeses and Tarta de Santiago, which is kind of hard to explain. I guess it is kind of like a cookie, but not as sweet.

I think siestas were the order of the day for the afternoon.

That evening though, we lit up the town! We all went to a bar or two for some tapas and then we ended up at a bar called O' Farrol for the remainder of the night. I loved this place!

First, the atmosphere reminded me a lot of the Rathskeller in Madison, kind of old world drinking hall. Second, much like those old world drinking halls, they had an excellent selection of German, Belgian, and other European beers. Third, it was a pizza place so we ordered several very excellent pizzas.

The whole night was fabulous... it was probably the best night during the trip. After the bar we returned to Miguel's house for some more moonshine. Yikes!


We had one more solid day of tourism ahead of us. If you ever find yourself in Galicia, you have to visit Santiago de Compostela. Haven't heard of it? Have you heard of the way of St. James? Nope. How about Mecca or Jerusalem? OK, so we have a starting point then. What do those two places have in common? They are destinations for pilgrimages. Santiago is the destination for another pilgrimage.

Here follows my horribly inaccurate interpretation of why this pilgrimage is such a big deal. St. James, one of the apostles, had the duty to spread the word of Jesus (after his death) in the Iberian Peninsula so he took the Roman roads from the Middle East to Spain. There he preached and generally had a good time of things until somebody disagreed with his religious views and had him whacked.

I believe he was taken care of in the Middle East and somehow his body was transported back to Spain (probably via the same Roman roads) and buried, oh right about where Santiago is presently located. There his body was lost for about 800 years.

Then, miraculously, because nothing is done unmiraculously in Catholicism, right? His body was discovered just as the Catholic need was the greatest as it had to expel the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula. Strange how those coincidences occur, right? So any way, hordes of Catholics flocked to Santiago using the same Roman road that St. James himself walked some 800 years earlier... They just don't make roads like they used to, do they?

Anyway, from that point forward, Santiago became a pilgrimage for all Catholics across Europe, some as far away a Norway. To this day, pilgrims still make the several months journey across the northern stretch of Spain to reach the cathedral built over the tomb of St. James.

We just had a morning available to us in Santiago, which wasn't nearly enough time, so pretty much all we got to see was the cathedral, which as far as cathedrals goes, is pretty impressive. Certainly, there are bigger and better ones, but the cathedral in Santiago definitely holds its own. In particular, it is flamboyant both on the exterior and the interior.

At the main entrance is the wailing wall of sorts, in which pilgrims (and non-pilgrims alike) place their hands inside a crevice to signify their arrival to the cathedral after such an arduous and lengthy journey. Expect a line.

The rest of the cathedral, besides being well decorated, is much like all the other cathedrals in Spain in form and function. The museum that is customarily apart of the cathedral, which costs extra and normally isn't worth it, is also in Santiago, however this vast museum was definitely worth it and provides a thorough history of St. James and the pilgrimage.

The little of the rest of Santiago that I saw is very similar to other cities in the northwest part of Spain. Wet and wild! No, seriously, although it rained almost continuously in Galicia, the cities provide ample pedestrian walkways on cobblestone streets. Very nice.

We had to be back in Bueu for lunch that day. And what a lunch it was, let me tell you. You better have eaten before I tell you about it because this is gonna be good. OK, Galicia has a big fishing industry, so as you might expect, we went to a seafood restaurant.

Some things about this restaurant you should know. The owner, is also the fisherman. Every morning at some outrageous hour he gets up and fishes for what he will be serving at the restaurant that day. Now, if you plan ahead, you can call in your order the day before saying what you would like to eat the next day and he will go out and catch it for you.

Isn't that cool?! This goes way beyond picking which lobster out of the big tank that you want to eat. This is like saying, could you pick me up a lobster over by the Hogs Head Reef and get me a fish from Angry Atoll. Well, my names could be better, but you get the idea.

Also, this is one of the fishermen who can hypnotize lobsters and we were provided a demonstration on this after lunch. But first, the meal itself.

Every good Spanish meal has a healthy dose of appetizers before the main course, and this was no exception. Two of the appetizers require special recognition. First, were Percebes. These are completely foreign to anything I've ever seen before so I'll try to explain them as best I can. Think of something like a small, hard mushroom. You then snap off the head of the mushroom. Leaving a fleshy member sticking out of the stem of the mushroom. You then suck out this fleshy piece and eat it.

It is a lot of work for a little chunk of meat, but they are certainly tasty. But before you go out to look for them, know in advance that they are not cheap. Caviar is like bread sticks compared to this stuff.

The other appetizer of note that we consumed were called Santiaguiños. These are like small, compact lobsters that you eat like a shrimp. They kind of looked like the little mind-controlling insects that were on that episode of Star Trek, but they were absolutely delicious! Now I said you peel and eat them like a shrimp, but you really have to put some effort into that so be warned.

Actually, I'm not sure if you'll ever be able to find these at any restaurant because I was told that they are on the protected species list and thus illegal. Mmmm, yeah, so, like, I'm busted... but they were sooooooooo good!

After the appetizers we had some sort of garbanzo soup I think and then the main course consisted of some delicious fish, prepared in way that Sam's mom has done before I think. Anyway, pretty stellar. We naturally had some dessert that was as scandalous as the rest of the meal.

After lunch we went down to the bar and got our lobster hypnotizing demonstration. Now, the reason this is such a big deal is because people who eat seafood like to eat fresh seafood. Thus, the fisherman make considerably more money when they bring in live seafood instead of dead seafood. However, lobsters can only live a few hours out of ocean so something had to be done to keep the little buggers alive until they reached the market.

The solution, as it turns out, is to put them to sleep. By putting them into basically and headstand, and then massaging their back, the lobsters quickly become less frisky and eventually fall asleep. They react to nothing until they get knocked over, at which point, look out!

It was a site to see, for certain. One that required me to sleep on it as I took an extensive siesta after such a terrific lunch.

The rest of the evening I can't remember what happened anymore, but I'm sure we had some dinner which involved an assortment of tapas.

Sunday & Monday

Sunday involved driving back to Madrid from Miguel's house. We stopped by a few fishing villages on the way to soak up some glorious views, but pretty much it was all driving.

However, this being Sunday in prime soccer season gave me a taste of the craziness of the Spanish version of College Football Saturday. Of course, I didn't understand everything that was said on the radio, however it sounded typically Spanish: fast-paced, on edge, LOCO!

For lunch, Sam's uncle promised us we would enjoy this one restaurant outside of León... if he could just remember where to find it. After driving for a considerable distance, we eventually did come across it, but unfortunately it had closed down somewhat recently. Thus, we stopped at the Spanish version of a 7-11 to get some sandwiches and other assorted tapas.

That evening was the pseudo-Christmas dinner so we had a delectable feast prepared by Josefita and we gave Sam's family their presents.

Then we packed up our suitcases... It should be noted that we arrived with two suitcases for the both of us, however we left with two suitcases each. Hmm, some serious gifts and other staples such as cheese and olive oil must have been added without us knowing about it.

The flight back to the states also passed through Miami, but we did not dare leave the airport. The rest of the journey was as typical as they come so I'll spare you the details.

So, if you are sick of Spain Megamails, I have a bit of good news for you. Soon (and by soon I mean hopefully this year) you'll get a Maine Megamail and an Italy Megamail. Don't ask where in Italy as those details haven't been decided yet, but probably either Rome, Venice or Florence. It's a tough call any which way you look at it. We're taking a poll, so chime in on your recommendations.


Another stunning view in Santander.


Castle in San Vicente de la Barquera.


Small church along the Desfiladero.


The Cathedral of Covadonga.


Cathedral in Oviedo.


Colorful houses in Cudillero.


Sam in front of Miguel's house.


Miguel's neighbor


The end of the Camino de Santiago.


The Bilbaos take a break in a small harbor.