Once again the time of year to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection had come. Last year, I wrote about how Sevilla’s processions were known as the one of the best…however Sevilla does have a rival: Malaga. Now I haven’t seen a Semana Santa procession in person in Sevilla (I am not a fan of huge crowds, crying women, and 8 hours of following a wooden float), but Malaga spent two weeks preparing the Alameda principal (priniciple avenue) for the week of festivities, and there was even an Easter booklet that was circulated with maps and times of all the different processions. FUN FACT: Antonio Berdernez is in one of the hermanidads that participates in the weekly festivities. However, you won’t see him because he is underneath the floats…you know this because you can always spot his wife up in the stands.
For my Semana Santa holidays I decided to stick around Spain and experience the culture and food of northern Spain in Galicia. My best travel buddie, Christine, and her sister. Kara and I met up in Madrid and then we were off to Santiago de Compestela. You may have heard of it, it’s the end point of the famous Camino de Santiago de Compestela. Don’t even begin to think we even attempted the camino, we literally did the camino from our hostel to the cathedral (less than half a mile) …but it had the gold shells in the pavement…What is this camino you ask? Well, back in the day, Catholics would walk (yes, walk) from their homes all the way to Santiago to worship the Saint James. Now a days there are many different camino trails you can take, and you can decide how long you want to camino for.
So how was it decided that Santiago de Compestela was the end place for this camino? It is said that in 810 BC, the remains of St. James had been found in the area that will later be known as this city. Soon, peregrinos, pilgrims, from all over the world were traveling to Santiago to pay their respects. Along with these people came their cultures, which have been said to influence the culture of Northern Spain.
Santiago is famous for its huge and beautiful cathedral…and it’s literally breath taking. Even though I have spent the last two years in many, many, many churches, this cathedral is up there with Sevilla’s and St. Peter’s. The best part is that you can tour the roof of the cathedral! YES, THE ROOF OF THE CATHEDRAL. How many people can say they have walked on the roof of a cathedral? Fun fact: this cathedral is a World Heritage site and is said to be the burial place of St. James. According to legend, the apostle Saint James the Great brought Christianity to the Celts in the Iberian Peninsula. In 44 AD he was beheaded in Jerusalem. His remains were later brought back to Galicia, Spain. Following Roman persecutions of Spanish Christians, his tomb was abandoned in the 3rd century. Another legend says that later on a hermit rediscovered the tomb in 814 AD, when he saw a strange light in the sky. A bishop thought this to be a miracle and informed King Alfonso II, who decided a chapel must be built on the site. However, it wasn’t until King Alfonso III that the chapel became a cathedral and an important stop on the camino.
Of course at nights the Cathedral is the place to hang out. All of the Semana Santa processions would end. After following the nightly processions (yes, there are more than one), we would grab some beers and wine and just hang out by the cathedral. An interesting aspect of the processions in the North is that they include bag pipes. Now I should mention that Galicians refuse to admit that the Celts have influenced their music. However, the Celts were on the Iberian peninsula as early as 600 BC…but then the Romans came in and took it all. We also found it interesting that as the week continued so did the Jesus on the float. The first night we were there, Jesus was just a baby…and the procession actually included babies. By the last night we were there, Jesus had grown up and had real hair that blew in the wind as he traveled through the streets.
The other famous aspect of Santiago? THE FOOD. Of course a blog post wouldn’t be complete without some mentioning of all the delicious food I ate. Now, if most of you know me, you know I don’t stray much from my comfort zone of food. I have made leaps and bounds while living abroad and trying new and exotic foods. I’m not going to lie, most foods I enjoy…but there are still some that I down right cannot even fake it that I like it. Although Andalucía known for it’s amazingly fresh mariscos (seafood), Galicia is also known for some great delicacies. Such as, berberechos (sea barnacles), but honestly take a look below to see how scary these things are. Here I also had the best chorizo of my life…seriously I ate a whole ration by myself (no regrets, no shame).
Like I mentioned before Santiago is famous for being the end spot for the camino de Santiago de Compestela. Thousands of people walk from various parts of Spain (and even Portugal) to take part in this camino. Along the way some traditions have been created and now are considered normal. The one that surprised us the most was leaving coins on the walls of cafes and restuarants. Noooooo, the aren’t tips for the waiters…because many of the coins have turned green showing they have been there for many years. They are a form of offering to the local wights, which appear to have been very popular in Galicia in pre-Christian times. In the form of Lares Viales, the guardian spirits of pathways and roads, They were very popular in Roman Gallaecia, at least judging from the amount of altars dedicated to Them that have been found in the region and the still existing practice of pilling rocks on road sides.
A nice area to walk around is the parque Alameda. Here you can take a nice stroll and have great views of the whole city. A really touristy thing to do is to have your pictures taken with the Marias. It is a statue of two women, both named Maria, who would spend a lot of time in the park.
Our next stop on our trip was Porto, Portugal. After a nice 4 hour bus ride, we arrived to the home of the port wine and a giant cheese as which called a Francesinha, or as we changed it to FRANCHEESEY.
Porto gets it’s name from the wine cellars located by the river that make some delicious port wines. What is a port wine? Well its grape spirit and brandy mixed together. It’s normally consumed before or after dinner. It’s a bit fuerte, strong. Not going to lie, taste testing the wine was far more fun than learning about how it was made. Of course we bought hats for the occasion.
After you have had a little too much port wine, Porto has got the best sandwich: the Francesinha. What is the Francesinha? It’s only the best hangover cure ever. Other than that, I can’t see how it is possible to to eat such a monster of a sandwich. Now every restaurant does this sandwich differently. Normally it is this: bread, ham, sausage, steak or roast beef and covered in melted cheese and creamy beer sauce.
In between drinking wine and stuffing our faces with francheeseys and caracoles (snails) we did learn some history. Porto is one of the more well known cities of Portugal. It has a rich history that includes the Celts, Romans, and the Moors. The territory switched hands many times and was the site of many important marriages. It wasn’t until the 13th century did the port wines from the Douro valley did Porto gain some recognition. In the 1700’s a treaty was signed that allowed for easier trade with Portugal and England. This was a better trade for England because they could purchase items (AKA Port wine) duty free. Which is very interesting because during this time they were at war with France, and it was becoming more and more difficult to purchase wine from them. As usual, England became a little greedy and decided they wanted to control all of the port wine in Porto, so the Prime Minister signed a treaty creating a firm to control the quality. Well, the Portuguese were not happy and revolted against this. The revolt became known as the Revolta dos Borrachos, or the Revolt of the Drunks.
In my opinion, great name for a great event that has allowed the world to enjoy such delicious wine. With that said, it’s off to the beach for me! HASTA LUEGO!