Friday, December 25, 2009

Portugal Trip Part 3 - On to Lisbon!

Merry Christmas from Richmond, where I finally arrived on Tuesday evening after many trials and tribulations, which I may or may not write about later. But for now let's stick to happier topics, like the continuation of our ongoing serious about my voyage to Portugal. When we last spoke I was on the 10:52 train from Porto to Lisbon, where I arrived around 2 PM. I mostly slept on the train, since I was still pretty tired after the restless hostel night, and when I arrived I took the metro to the Lisbon Old Town Hostel and checked in. Although I (obviously) didn't know it at the time, this was the best hostel I stayed in on my trip. It was really well located in the middle of the sights in the Baixa-Chiado (Buy-shuh Shah-dough) neighborhood, the staff was very helpful, and they had computers with free internet and Skype. After getting situated I got directions from one of the people at the front desk to the National Museum of Ancient Art, and he also recommended that I check out the Museum of the Orient while I was in the area. It houses relics from all of the various places in Asia (Macao, India, Japan) that Portugal colonized or had contact with during the years that they dominated the spice trade and the sea routes to the Indies by going around Africa. The Museum of Ancient Art was interesting but it was so large that after a while it just got overwhelming. I did see some interesting art and furniture by native Portuguese artists, but pictures weren't allowed like in the Museum of the Orient. Let's get into this first batch of pictures.

Picture from the train to Lisbon - first time I've seen the Atlantic Ocean from this side

Guess which building is the Lisbon Old Town Hostel?

Freaky Indian costume, I forget what it was used for but I'm pretty sure it was designed to be scary. I think it was a representation of Shiva, which would be fitting given it's terrifying appearance.

After the Museum of the Orient it was getting dark and I didn't feel like walking back the considerable distance to the hostel, so I took a bus that unfortunately was very indirect. After 30 minutes on the bus I still had to take the metro two stops to get back to my neighborhood, and I went to a local mall food court to get dinner. I actually called this mall the "Devil Mall" in my head as I was walking around it, because there was only one escalator to get to the food court on the sixth floor, and of course all of the signs informing patrons of that fact were in Portuguese. After what seemed like forever I found a restaurant that sold some sort of pork and potato dish, and the employee and I exchanged Spanish and broken English, along with a few euros, to finally get something on a plate. I left the Devil Mall and went back to the hostel and talked to my dad on Skype, who recommended that I go out and take pictures of Lisbon at night.
I left the hostel and headed straight down the hill towards the river and then over towards the Praça do Comércio, which is a huge square on the riverfront surrounded by a former royal palace that was historically used as the point of entry to the city for distinguished visitors. On my way towards that area, however, I looked down a side street and saw the bar pictured below, which anyone who knows me knows I had to make a detour to check out. Hilarity ensued?

The Bar Oslo! On a very sketchy back street in a very sketchy neighborhood of Lisbon. What surprised me more when I came down the block were the neighbors, though.

The Bar Copenhagen! Is there a Bar Stockholm and a Bar Helsinki somewhere around here?

The third and final Nordic-themed establishment within a 50 yard radius, the Viking Discoteca, which was unfortunately closed.

Naively, I didn't realize that Little Scandinavia was also the prostitute district of Lisbon, despite the multiple "ladies" standing against the walls and in the doorways of various buildings, until one of them approached me, informed me that she spoke English, and tried to show me the available merchandise. I took that as my cue to leave the Nordic District and continue on to more scenic destinations. The Praça do Comércio (Commerce Plaza) was just down the street, but unfortunately it was undergoing some sort of major renovation and was completely surrounded by walls. That was a disappointment, but the main arch of the palace was still very pretty, and the surrounding streets of the Baixa neighborhood were really nicely decorated.

The main arch of the former royal palace in the Praça do Comércio.

Awesome street decorations. These presents are actually 2-D, but you can't tell until you get right under them.

What would have been a pretty picture of the plaza, if not for the giant construction site.

Rossio Plaza, a major gathering point for tourists

At this point, after seeing most of the attractions in downtown Lisbon by night, I headed back to the hostel for the night. This didn't really work out for me though, because I thought I saw a shortcut on my map, but when I tried to follow it I got lost in the maze of cobblestone streets for a little while. Eventually I figured out where I was, but it turns out that where I was was back in the prostitute district. I don't know how many of you have ever been harassed by Portuguese prostitutes before, but the second time they see you walk down their street in the same night they apparently really think they're getting close to closing a sale. So I basically ran out of there, got back to the hostel around 11:30, and went to bed. I didn't sleep great, again because of the noise from my fellow hostel guests talking in the hall, but I didn't want to wear my earplugs for fear of missing my alarm. I planned to get up early the next morning and get out to explore Lisbon more in depth. So we'll see if I did that or not . . .

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Portugal Trip Part 2 - Porto (Oporto?)

OK, I know I began the last post with an apology too, but I have actually been pretty swamped with schoolwork lately so it's hard to justify giving priority to working on something that won't be graded. But since I presented a play to my class yesterday I am gonna take a break for a little while and do my best to recount the first stop of my Portugal voyage, the lovely city of Porto. The title of this post refers to the fact that in Spanish the city is called Oporto, while in Portuguese (you'd think they'd know) it's called Porto - and according to Wikipedia both are used in English. I guess we'll go with Porto, since it's one fewer letter to type and I'm all about efficiency.
Porto is Portugal's second-most important city (after Lisbon, obviously) and is the capital of the Norte region of the country. It's a two and a half hour bus ride from Vigo, but since Portugal is in a different time zone than Spain the clock went back an hour when we crossed the border bridge, even though we were traveling due south. I got to Porto around 10:30 in the morning on Saturday and immediately went to the train station to buy my train tickets for the rest of my journey. The salesman was very helpful and spoke excellent English, but unfortunately he turned out the be the exception, not the rule. He even knew that Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy! I felt a little guilty for knowing so little about the history of his country, even though I was in it. Leaving the train station, the second thing I had to buy was an umbrella. Porto, being in the northern part of Portugal, has a climate very similar to Galicia, where you may recall my other umbrella was destroyed by obnoxiously strong winds and rain. As such, rain is very common in the fall and winter, which I experienced firsthand. With my newly acquired essential items in hand I headed to the metro to check into my hostel.

My first encounter with Porto. That's the train station on the right, the umbrella store is over there on the left, and you can't really see the metro stop in the middle of the photo, since like many metro stops it's mostly underground. Also notice the church in the background with th azulejo tiles, this was a fairly common decorative style for Porto.

I checked into the hostel without any problems and got settled into my 10 bed dormitory, then asked the girl at reception where would be a good place to go eat, because I was getting really hungry. She recommended the waterfront area in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is just across the river Douro from the main part of town. On my map it didn't look that far, and who am I to ignore the advice of a local? I decided to mosey that way, taking some pictures along the walk. Unfortunately it continued to rain pretty steadily during my trip, so the stroll around town was not as pleasant as it could have been. But hey, at least I got to see Porto in it's typical climate, which makes for a more authentic visit I suppose.

Another church with azulejo tiles.

Cool park with crazy Portuguese trees.

I have another picture that I took where the tower isn't crooked, but just look at that bird in flight that I managed to capture. Seriously, how could I not show you guys this one? Also, this is the tower of the Igreja dos Clérigos (Church of the Clergy), on of Porto's landmarks which can be seen from many parts of the city.

"Borracho" means "drunk" in Spanish, so I thought "A Principal Da Borracha" might be some kind of awesome bar, but it turned out to be a fabric store. This wouldn't be the first time the Portuguese language would get the better of me . . .

Characteristic street of Porto showing the hilly topography of the town. And by hilly I mean many of the sidewalks were actually staircases. Exhausting.

Hey I found the Portuguese Chik-fil-a! Actually these turned out to be pork, as I found out when I had 3 of them for dinner.

As the steady rain turned into more of a downpour and I was only halfway to my destination, I decided my best option was to take the metro the rest of the way. Unfortunately, when I got off the metro on the other side of the river I found myself at the top of a hill, with the restaurant zone at the very bottom. I stood there for a while seriously contemplating whether I wanted to go down there, and if it would be worth having to climb back up the hill afterwards. In the end I did make the trip, and I'm glad I did, because you just can't let laziness keep you from seeing stuff in another country, no matter how tired and hungry you are.

Funny mistranslated sign on the metro train. Got to make sure you know that Emergency Plant! For safety, you know.

View of Porto from the top of the hill I seriously debated not descending.

Some rabelos, which are the boats that were traditionally used to transport port wine from the vineyards up-river to the warehouses in Vila Nova de Gaia were it was aged. Vila Nova de Gaia remains the center of port wine production, and a wine can only be called a port wine if it is grown in the designated growing area in the Douro Valley and aged in Vila Nova de Gaia.

I looked around the waterfront of Vila Nova de Gaia for a cheap restaurant, but it's kind of an upscale area, so I splurged and went for a traditional Portuguese meal (when in Rome, right?). The following four pictures will chronical this experience.

I was famished, so I ordered an appetizer of Portuguese hams and cheeses to nibble on while I waited for my food. The cured ham and sausage (chouriço) were very similar to their Spanish equivalents, and the cheese was very strong. I haven't tried much Spanish cheese though, so I can't really compare them. In the photo, the cheese with the white outer layer was much easier to spread on bread and didn't have as much of a bite as the other, so it was the one I preferred. I didn't get the names of the cheeses though.

I asked for the national beer of Portugal, and this is what I got. Pretty tasty, and I did see it everywhere for the rest of my travels, so I guess the waitress didn't just bring the stupid tourist the most expensive beer on the menu like I originally thought she had.

Well it turns out the most typical Portuguese food is cod (bacalhau), and even though I don't really like fish I decided to see this thing through and ordered the Bacalhau à Portuguesa, which according to the menu was breaded and fried and came with potatoes (fish and chips?). It was only when the waitress took away my normal knife and fork and brought me these that I realized I had no idea how to eat cod.

Bacalhau à Portuguesa. Pretty delicious, it didn't even taste that fishy. I guess you could say I like cod? Weird. I particularly enjoyed how the breading was really crunchy, until I looked closer and realized I was eating a bunch of tiny fish bones. Oops!

I finished the rest of my meal, with the fear of terrible stomach complications looming over me, and headed back out into the rain. I placed a 2 euro, less than 2 minute cell phone call to my dad to see what he thought about the possible ramifications of eating a bunch of cod bones, and was reassured when he told me that it's common to eat the bones of some fish. Before heading back across the river I had to check out a port aging warehouse, because how can you go to the capitol of port production and not see how it's made. It amused me to imagine what my parents would think of me voluntarily touring any kind of wine making facility, but it was only 4 euros and there were samples at the end, which was motivation enough for me.

I chose the Sandeman cellars to tour, mostly because of their giant sign and the large groups of foreigners standing around outside it. They also have a sweet logo, it reminds me of Zorro! Fun fact: port wine is made by allowing the wine very little fermentation time, so that more of the natural sugar remains and the wine stays sweeter. Then they add neutral grape alcohol (used to be brandy but now it sounds like it's something similar to grappa) and let it cure in barrels for multiple years.

Our caped tour guide explaining how they use the hydraulic pressure inside the tank to show how many liters it contains. Boooring, what is this, Fluid Mechanics? I already learned and forgot that junk like two years ago. Bring on the wine.

According to the guide, there are three types of port wine: ruby, tawny, and white. Ruby is made from just one vintage and is aged in the bottles; it is sweeter and the most expensive variety. Ruby also has the most tannins, so it's the least "smooth" of the varieties. Tawny is made from a blend of grapes and aged in barrels for a long time, which makes it lose the fruity taste and have a more spicy or nutty flavor - this is the most popular type and is what most people think of as port wine. And white is made from white grapes, and is also very sweet, though I don't remember what they age it in, probably barrels. The sample on the left is a tawny and the sample on the right is a white.

I took a bus back across the river so I wouldn't have to climb that evil hill, less because of laziness than because of fullness and drunk-ishness at this point, and got back to the city center of Porto. The rain had mostly let up at this point, so I continued to walk around and see the sights. I explored the newer part of town and then went to the Cathedral and the oldest part of the city, in particular to a very sketchy part of it with many abandoned buildings and Portuguese people looking at me with a "what are you doing here" expression.

Avenida dos Aliados, kind of the main drag in Porto, with many Neoclassic and Romantic buildings. This road reminded me of the Calle Uria in Oviedo, which has a lot of similar looking buildings.

Me in front of the Porto City Hall

Wait a minute . . . What are you doing here?

View of part of Porto from the terrace in front of the Cathedral. Notice the tower of the Igreja dos Clérigos, one of the tallest buildings in the city.

The Cathedral of Porto, or the Sé do Porto. The Portuguese word for Cathedral is , which means "seat of a bishop", so later on we will see the Sé do Lisboa. This particular is the oldest building in Porto, having been completed in the 13th century.

Street in the old part of town, remember when I told you that some of the roads were actually stairs?

Another cool view of the , from the neighborhood below it's terrace.

Goodnight, Avenida dos Aliados

As the sun went down over basically the same picture I showed earlier in the post, I was content that I had seen pretty much everything that Porto had to offer and headed back to the hostel, stopping along the way to buy some pork sandwiches and a coke. I read the book I had brought for a little while then ate and used the hostel computer, discovering all the fun Portuguese letters I could type. As I was going to bed I met another girl in my room who had also come from Oviedo for the weekend only, and we chatted for a while. She is an English teacher at one of the local elementary schools, but it doesn't pay very well. She and her friend left Oviedo an hour after I had and changed buses in Salamanca, which if I had taken the time to think about it was probably a better idea than Vigo even if my bus had existed. Oh well, lesson learned. I also met a really weird old guy called "The Professor" because he's a Portuguese teacher in England, who was sleeping on the bunk below mine. He was the oldest person I've ever seen in a hostal by at least 20 years, and between the sound of him snoring and the cars on the cobblestone street outside the window I didn't sleep very well.
I got up the next morning and showered before heading down to the complimentary breakfast (cornflakes!), where The Professor proceeded to weird out me and everyone else in the room who spoke English by having a long conversation with me about American terms of endearment. I heard my last dialogue was a bit of a hit, so let's see if I can reconstruct this one for you guys.

The Professor (with a very strange, kind of flamboyant sounding accent): "When would you call someone 'honey' in English?"
Patrick (trying to concentrate on cornflakes): "What?"
The Professor: "When would you call someone 'honey' in English? I went to the United States and the woman who was picking me up said 'Hello honey!' So I said back 'Hello darling!'" (The professor pronounced both of these phrases in a very drawn out and enthusiastic manner, with the facial expression to match)
Patrick: "Oh, some people say that to be polite. Especially in the South, where in the United States were you?"
TP: "Texas. I was just confused because I thought it was something you only said to people you know."
Patrick: "Generally, but in the South people have a reputation for being very friendly and women may call people they don't know honey to be hospitable."
TP: "So would you call someone you didn't know honey, or only people you know?"
Patrick: "I don't call anyone honey. It's really more of something an older woman would say. I don't think young people say it."
TP: "Do you call your mother honey?"
Patrick: "No. I don't call anyone honey."
TP (getting up to leave the kitchen): "Ah ok, I find languages so interesting." (to the room) "Goodbye, hunnies!" (leaves)
(Patrick shakes his head, exchanges looks and stiffled laughter with the rest of the Americans in the room)

That's pretty much how it went, but the conversation was actually much longer. I feel like I might come off to you guys as kind of a jerk, but that's only because I can't do a good job of conveying The Professor's strange personality in this format. And I'm not knocking him for trying to learn, I admire that. It was just an unusual conversation with a very unusual person. Shortly afterwards I left the hostel and took the metro to the train station, where I caught my 10:52 train to Lisbon. More on that sometime in the hopefully near future.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Portugal Trip Part 1 - Getting There

Sorry guys, I have really been putting off writing about my trip to Portugal because I saw so much stuff (came back with 900 something pictures) that writing about it seems really daunting. So I'm gonna ease into it and give a little preface about what I had to go through to actually GET to Portugal.
So even if any of you have looked at a map of where I am it still may not have occurred to you that Oviedo is kind of out of the way, which is part of why I chose it because I didn't want to go to a place that was really touristy. Even though it's the capital of Asturias, Oviedo isn't really a major transportations hub and as far as Spain is concerned there isn't a whole lot of stuff up here worth making it better connected. Asturians have no problem with this, in fact most of the Autonomous Communities of Spain have their own independence movements, with some (Catalunya, Basque Country) more serious than others (Asturias). Anyway, I digress. And I got a little bit ahead of myself too. Let's regroup in the next paragraph.
The main bus company in Spain is called ALSA, and they service most cities I have tried to go to so far, as well as some international routes. The ALSA website is pretty informative and you can look up bus routes between any two cities and see when they run, with one major flaw - if there is not direct service between those two cities, the website won't tell you how to make your journey possible. Therefore, when I searched for routes from Oviedo to Oporto, Portugal, the ALSA website pretty much told me "you can't get there from here". Not one to be defeated, I picked a few cities in Galicia that were closer to the border with Portugal that connected with both Oviedo and Oporto, eventually settling on Vigo, as it gave me the quickest journey time. I went to the bus station the Wednesday before I left and bought the tickets in person so I wouldn't have to pay the 1 euro surcharge on the website, and everything went off without a hitch. I had a ticket from Oviedo to Vigo at 3:45 on Friday afternoon, arriving there at 10 PM, and then a ticket from Vigo to Oporto leaving there at 11 PM. I also bought a ticket on the overnight bus from Lisbon to Madrid for the following Friday, but we're not even close to it being time to talk about that yet.
So I packed up my new 30 liter backpack with everything I thought I would need for a week in Portugal and headed off to the bus station Friday afternoon. I got there a little early, and I realized something interesting as I was looking at the Arrivals/Departures board - although I was going from Oviedo to Vigo, the bus line I was traveling was the Gijón-Pontevedra route. This made me worry that when I got to Vigo I wouldn't know which route to look for, so with my extra time I went to the information desk to ask. Unexpectedly, the lady at the desk told me that the ticket I had purchased was for a route that only runs on Sundays. I asked her why they would have sold me a ticket for a bus that didn't exist, and she told me that I should take it up at the ticket window, but in her computer it said that my bus didn't exist. I went over to the ticket window but there was a long line, and I had five minutes before my bus to Vigo left, so I reasoned with myself that she was wrong and there was no way that they would have sold me a ticket for a bus that didn't exist, and got on my bus.
I was disappointed to find out that the majority of buses don't have bathrooms onboard, not because I found myself needing one at any point during the ride, but my anxiety likes to have that option should the situation arise. The buses stop pretty frequently, although they only stop for longer than like two minutes every two hours or so. The ride to Vigo took about 6 hours because we went due south and then due west like a giant backwards L. At one of the longer stops in Ponferrada (Templar Castle, remember?) I had the chance to talk to someone at their booking office and she looked up my bus to Oporto in her computer and assured me that it existed, and that there were only 8 people booked so I could probably sit wherever I wanted.
Imagine my surprise, then, when upon arriving in Vigo I checked the departure board and couldn't find any buses to Portugal, much less the one I had paid 10 euros to ride. My stomach sunk, but I still figured there might be some kind of mistake and went up to the information desk (which was closing, because it's 10 PM, mind you) and asked them what platform the bus to Oporto would be leaving from. I kind of feel like doing this part like the dialogue in a play, instead of relating what I said, then what he said, etc.

Patrick: (forcing optimism) "Excuse me, I didn't see the 11 PM bus to Oporto on the departure board, what platform does it leave from?"
Information guy: (hesitating) "There is no bus to Oporto tonight. That bus only runs on Sundays."
Patrick: (disheartened) "But they sold me a ticket for it in Oviedo." (shows ticket)
Information guy: (mulling over ticket) "There used to be Friday buses but they stopped starting the fourth of this month. But they sold you a ticket, huh? They shouldn't be doing that anymore . . ."
(long pause)
Patrick: (defeated) "When is the first bus to Oporto tomorrow?"
IG: "The first ALSA bus leaves at noon, but there is another one that leaves at 9 AM."
Patrick: "Can I sleep in the bus station?"
IG: "No, it closes at night. But that cafe across the street stays open all night, you can probably sleep there."

Well I went over and checked out the cafe in question, and decided I could probably find a place a little more comfortable and less smoky to spend the night with some effort, so I started walking down what appeared to be the main road leading away from the bus station looking for a hostel. As I wandered I called the hostel I had booked in Oporto and told them of my misfortune so they wouldn't cancel my reservation entirely, because I still needed to spend the following night there. I finally found a hostel for 20 euros, which was more than I wanted to spend, but I did end up getting a private room with it's own bathroom. I told the lady to wake me up at 7 and I also set both my phone and watch alarms for that time.
The next morning I got up to my alarms and showered, then headed to the bus station to try to get my money back from ALSA and buy a ticket for the 9 AM bus. Unfortunately ALSA doesn't have an office at the Vigo bus station, so I was informed I'd have to take up my refund with them back in Oviedo. Oh well, I bought another 10 euro ticket and had a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice while waiting for the bus to leave, which it did promptly on time. On the bus I decided that at least I had gotten all of the b*llsh*t out of the way early, so it should be smooth sailing from there on out. And it pretty much was.
So there you have it, in a very wordy and rambling fashion. My adventure was definitely underway, for better or worse. (Does that make it sound like the whole trip sucked? Because that's not what I was going for, it totally didn't.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Galicia Excursion

Surprisingly, this week I am updating you guys about some adventures less than a week after they happened. There may be a reason for this, but more on that topic later. Last weekend I went on a trip with AEGEE to the neighboring region of Galicia, which is in the north-west corner of Spain, due north of Portugal. On the first day we visited Santiago de Compostela and on the second we went to La Coruña (or A Coruña in Gallego, which may actually be it's official name . . . Oh well, most people just call it "Coruña" anyway). Santiago de Compostela is famous for being one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Christians in the world, as it is where the remains of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) are entombed. It is the terminus of the St. James Way, a pilgrimage route that runs from France across all of Northern Spain, which I believe I have mentioned at least once already. Anyway, although Galicia is right next door to Asturias it's still a bit of a haul, so we left Oviedo at 8:30 Saturday morning and arrived in Santiago around 1 PM. We dropped our belongings off at the hostel, which was actually more of a hotel, and headed out into the city to see some sites and eat some lunch. As you can probably imagine from what I just told you about Santiago de Compostela, the main attraction is the Cathedral de Santiago, which I didn't hesitate to take TONS of pictures of. Side note - Galicia is notoriously rainy, especially in the winter, so don't expect to see any sunshine in any of the photos in this post.

First sighting of the Cathedral, although this is not the main entrance it's still very impressive.

I'm actually not sure what this building was, because all of the writing across the top was in Latin, but it's really big and it's right across the main plaza from the Cathedral.

Now this is what I came here to see! This is literally one of the most famous Cathedrals in the world, and along with the Aqueduct of Segovia that we saw a few weeks ago is one of the most popular things to put on the cover of a high school Spanish textbook. This is also the only picture with me in it from this trip, taken during one of the few moments when it wasn't raining.

Like many Cathedrals, it was hard to get the whole thing in one picture - not for lack of a huge plaza in front to back up as much as possible, but because this building is enormous.

Everyone went out to restaurants for lunch, but I had brought ham and cheese and pitas from Oviedo, so I sat on the cold stones under some colonnades and made myself a few sandwiches. It was worth it for the view.

My solitary lunch also left me enough time to explore the inside of the Cathedral on my own, as I was worried that the guided tour might not come inside. Although very pretty, I honestly was expecting a lot more magnificence given the amazing facade and the significance of this Cathedral for Christianity.

The crypt of St. James, under the altar. You can't take pictures in there, but I bought a postcard that shows the small silver sarcophagus. I'm guessing it only holds his bones, because I really doubt he was that short in real life. Also, you can kind of see a pilgrim in this picture. There are a ton of people in Santiago with huge backpacks and walking sticks with shells on them. I always felt a little sad when I would see one of them walking out of the Cathedral, because they had walked all the way from France to get here and now their trip was over. Kind of like the sad people leaving Nags Head, if Nags Head was a lot harder to get to . . .

This is the stained glass window (and cross of Asturias?) over the holy door of the Cathedral, that they only open in years when the holy day of St. James, July 25, falls on a Sunday. The number of pilgrims spikes in these years, and 2010 is one of them, so if you are looking to visit Santiago next year book a room well in advance.

I met back up with the group and we went on a guided walking tour of Santiago de Compostela, which was better than I had expected because it was lead by some people who were actually from the town, instead of by our own guides using materials they had printed off the internet. The old town of Santiago is very picturesque and medieval looking, and much larger than the one in Oviedo, but there are no really impressive monuments of note other than the Cathedral. Also, my umbrella broke on this tour, which would turn out to be catastrophic for me in the following 24 hours.

These statues of crosses were often places at crossroads in medieval times to offer spiritual protection to travelers. I also really liked how this one looked covered with moss and other vegetation; you can tell we're in a really wet climate just by looking at the condition of the stone.

Apparently this street is really famous in the Spanish motion picture industry, but I didn't quite catch why. It might be in the opening credits of a popular show, or perhaps they use it in a lot of movies for background shots of a typical old Spanish town? Sorry to my readers, sometimes it's hard to hear on the tours because people are always talking amongst themselves, and some guides speak Spanish more clearly than others.

Hahahaha OK story: Galicia has it's own official language, called Gallego, and it's kind of a mix between Portuguese and Spanish. One of the guides said it's like Portuguese, but written with the Spanish alphabet. Anyway, this is the sign for the "Silversmith's Square", which is in front of yet another entrance to the Cathedral and in Spanish would be "Plaza de las Platerías". As you can see, in Gallego they have substituted the "l's" for "r's", leading me to conclude that Gallego is actually just what Spanish would be if it was spoken by Chinese people.

The aforementioned "Praza" - that's actually a very narrow house in the background, only 12 feet wide at it's widest part. It was built so that the plaza would have an impressive facade on that side, instead of the sides of other buildings.

This is another entrance to the Cathedral. Notice the kind of patchwork colors of the carvings; this facade was actually constructed with the remains of another facade that was falling down, so they recycled some of the parts that were still good into this one.

After we were shown around the inside of the Cathedral by our guides, we had about 4 hours to get dinner on our own and go back to the hostel to get ready to go out on the town. I elected to go to a cafe that I had read about online that is located in a former casino from the early 1900's. The cafe was very elegantly decorated but unfortunately none of my photos came out that well, however I did drink an expensive concoction of coffee, Bailey's, and cream. Then I walked around on my own for an hour or so, because I had the strong suspicion that they were going to illuminate the Cathedral at some point and I wanted to get a few pictures of that before going back to the hostel and leaving my camera in the room for the night. I had a huge dinner of veal, french fries, pasta salad, and beer, and then got the shots I wanted before heading back to watch the first half of the Spain vs. Argentina soccer game. That night the AEGEE people threw a party for us in one of the local guys' apartment complex with a ton of sangria, and it was a lot like every other apartment party I've ever been to - people got wasted and loud, and some threw up, and then we had to leave because the neighbors threatened to call the cops. I skipped the post party expedition to the bars and went back to go to bed at 1:30 because I was in a room with the two French jerks who had already promised me that they were going to wake me up when they came back from partying, so I decided to try to get some sleep before that happened (Wow, that may have been a run-on sentence, sorry). Anyway here's some pictures from my wanderings.

Specialty of the house at the Cafe Casino

"We have octopus" - Oh goody!

Octopus is a very popular regional dish in Galicia, and is served in most restaurants. It's also displayed like this in many windows, clearly because it looks so appetizing . . .

HA! I knew you guys would light that sucker up. Goodnight, Santiago de Compostela.

Well luckily for me the French dudes were very considerate when they came back to the room at 6 in the morning, so although I woke up briefly I fell right back to sleep. We had breakfast in the hostel and then got on the bus to go to Coruña, about and hour and a half away. It was a very rainy, windy day in Coruña, all the better since I had broken my umbrella the day before. It was still usable, but I had to hold it very near the top, which made my arms pretty tired after a while. Our first stop in Coruña was the Torre de Hércules, a 1,900 year old Roman lighthouse that is the oldest Roman lighthouse in the world still in use.

Maybe this is Hercules, but it doesn't really look like him to me . . .

The Torre de Hércules

The insides of ancient Roman lighthouses are much classier than their modern North Carolinian counterparts. Stone steps? And check out that banister!

The sea was very stormy that day, my friends. Also, I got rained on at the top of the lighthouse because I left my broken umbrella at the bottom. Oops.

Another view of the Galician coast, with violent waves.

Our next stop was the Aquarium Finisterrae, named after the spit of land that Coruña is on, and which I believe literally means "end of the land" in Latin. It was a pretty cool aquarium, but I got the impression that it was more for little kids and their parents than grown-ups. Maybe all aquariums are that way though, now that I think about it.

One of the big tanks, this aquarium was only a little bigger than the one on Roanoke Island

I see you, eel! Trying to hide from me . . .

Hahaha I don't know what language this is, or what that fish is called in English, but someone calls it a "Boops boops" and I think that's awesome.

Aquarium overview

Oh no look out it's A SHARK!!

Up close with those waves, pretty cool to watch if you don't mind being out in the freezing rain.

Fun fact learned in Galicia - the Spanish word for seal is "foca".

Sadly one of my batteries wasn't fully charged when I left and died shortly after arriving in Santiago, and the second one I had died right after I took a bunch of pictures of seals, so I don't have any pictures of the town of Coruña. It's not a huge loss, it wasn't a really pretty town, but there were some cool buildings with walls of glass that are kind of the symbol of the city. We left Coruña around 5 PM and we got back to Oviedo on schedule just after 10, so I was happy not to have to eat dinner at midnight again. Sorry if this entry has seemed a little rushed, I am trying to get my blog all caught up because I am about to go to Portugal in a little over an hour. Yeah, you heard me right, on Tuesday I found out that most of my classes are cancelled next week, so I am going to Portugal until the 28th and then meeting up with my already scheduled excursion in Madrid. That's what I was referring to at the beginning of this post. So hope you liked this entry, feel free to leave a comment as I enjoy reading them, although I won't see these for over a week so you have plenty of time to think of something good to say.