Friday, September 18, 2009

Last Hurrah in Santiago de Compostella

While we were definitely ready to leave Seville, we had mixed feelings about returning to Santiago de Compostela. On one hand, we loved Santiago from our fall trip and were excited to return to Elena's apartment in the Plaza de Mazarelos, which was a great place in an ideal location close to the center of town. On the other hand, Santiago was a known entity, and a lot of the excitement had worn off now that there was little left to "discover". But we arrived there with no issues and immediately began to settle in. The kids were thrilled to explore the place as the memories started to return to them. We wasted no time taking advantage of the colorful local outdoor marketplace (Mercado de Abastos) and I endeavored to cook up some fresh Galician seafood and wonderfully thick juicy steaks that were so famous in this region of Spain. We also enjoyed the deliciously fresh and crunchy Galician raisin loafs and the handcrafted local cheeses - most of which were impossible to find anywhere outside of this region. The produce was also fabulous and I took advantage of the local favorite - pimientos al Padron. But the kids seemed to prefer keeping it simple. By far their hands-down favorite place to eat was the Bar Candelejas, directly below our apartment. They loved the grilled jamon y queso sandwiches (sometimes served with a fried egg) washed down with a Fanta limon. Although the meals were not very spectacular, it certainly was affordable! While Santiago is certainly one of the most picturesque cities in all of Spain, it also holds a dubious distinction as one of the wettest and least sunny (second only to Vigo) in Galicia. However, given it was the middle of summer, we were fortunate to only get a few days of rain, and overall it was spectacular during our time here. Being a college town, summertime also is a time for events and festivals. Of note was a cross-town festival of tapas where local bars would make 2-3 of their signature tapas in the hopes of winning various awards, and a music festival which hosted world-class concertos in intimate venues (churches, monasteries, palaces) throughout the town. Many of the concerts were free and we managed to catch a few really good performances (violin/piano, spanish guitar) while we were there. Galicia is also a region fabled for witches and dark magic. One evening, we took part in a local custom, the preparation of the "Queimada" - a bizarre alcoholic brew made with a grappa-like alcohol to which is added sugar, orange rinds and coffee beans. The concoction is then set alight and stirred whilst the participants say a chant to ward off evil spirits. Suffice it to say that the resulting drink was not particularly tasty, but it did make for a memorable experience!

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