Spanish Road Trip – Day 4: Santiago, Ourense and Gijon

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Spain - Gijon, Spain - Ourense, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 08-12-2011


On day 4 of our Spanish road trip, we woke up late in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and met up with C for a pre-work wander and some brunch.  We wandered back into the old town, and found a great little restaurant hidden in an alleyway where we had some surprisingly good tapas and unsurprisingly good conversation.

Back to the hotel for hugs and farewells, and we were back on the road again…

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I’d read about a town reasonably nearby called Ourense that had some natural hot springs, and since I’m a bit of a nut for hotsprings, we doubled back a little to find the town.  It’s a small town that has a lot of hotsprings along the river, and had a lot of commerical spa development, but recently built walking paths up and down the river from the down, and had developed a number of public hot springs along the paths.  On a cold afternoon such as this, the entire city seemed to be out walking with their families, and stopping for a soak in the hot springs where they’d catch up with their friends and neighbors.  It was a great display of  public works development that fostered community and encouraged an active population (even in the cold of winter).  We spent a couple hours soaking in the various hot springs, listening to the vibrant spanish conversations around us, enjoying the view of the river, and generally letting go of any remaining stresses.

Tip: From the highway, go into town and take the bridge over the river. Turn right, and keep going up until you come to the white pedestrian bridge. Park and walk across it and you’ll find the biggest public hot springs.  Read the rules when you get there so you don’t get barked at in Spanish. You are not permitted to take photos in the hot springs, which the attendants rigorously enforce for the privacy of the bathers, which is why I’m not posting any photos.

Thouroughly relaxed, we got back in the car and headed north towards the coast along an incredibly treacherous, windy road which relaxed into highway once we hit the coast and pointed eastward.  We decided that we’d drive until about 10pm, which the GPS indicated would have us near the city of Gijon.  Chris pulled out his iPhone, did some research and booked us into the last room at what ended up being a fantastic, cheap, gorgeous old hotel right in the centre of town (Hernan Cortes Hotel in Gijon). It was just after 10, so we went out to find some dinner, and using our handy-dandy, mental how to pick a restaurant when travelling checklist, skipped over the tourist traps and ended up eating in a brilliant basque pub; they’d just keep refilling your cider and there were no english menus so we just pointed to the guys beside us and mimed lobsters, and ended up having a seemingly endless seafood feast for an incredibly reasonable price. Huge win!

After dinner (and many bottles of cider), we made our way back to the hotel, strolling along the beach, stopping into bars along the way (including one gay bar that had questionable artistic direction), and had a bit of trouble reading the map to find our way back to the hotel 😛

After a blissful day of friends, hot spring chilling, and good dinners filling happy bellies, sweet dreams came quickly…

Spanish Road Trip – Day 3: Porto and Santiago

Posted by jswt | Posted in Portugal - Porto, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 07-12-2011


On the third day of our road trip, we woke up in Porto, Portugal being made breakfast in the fabulous home of our friends M&M. We caffeinated our day, freshened up and then went out and wandered around getting a fantastic locals tour from M (he grew up in Porto and knew a lot about it).

We’d spent 2 weeks in Lisbon a couple years back, and we couldn’t help noticing that Porto doesn’t have the same sense of desperation and disrepair, but learned that’s a recent development. Porto has a lot of intense rent controls, and there’s a lot of old city apartments that are still being rented for 30 euros a month and the landlords aren’t making enough to pay to maintain the building, so the city was falling apart and as many are UNESCO heritage buildings, they were important to preserve. Rather than having all the buildings crumble, the city passed a law that requires the building to be maintained to a certain standard, or else it would be bought by the city, redeveloped and renovated, and then rented back out (at normal costs). This has caused a *huge* boom in construction in the city, and gives the sense that if they keep going in that direction, Porto is going to be a seriously hot place in about 5 years.

We bounced around the city, saw some amazing old architecture (including the nicest McDonalds in the world), tromped around pedestrian streets, did a little shopping, and stopped at an amazing old cafe for Francesinhas – essentially they’re a Portugese specialty sandwich that’s french toast filled with massive amounts of meat, smothered in melted cheese, and soaked in booze infused gravy! Not the healthiest thing ever invented, but insanely delicious and filling.

Some after lunch snacks and patio coffees left us with the sense that we needed to get moving, so we said fond farewells to M&M (who were *amazing* hosts) and loaded back in the car, cranked up the happy hardcore on the stereo, hit the highway and zipped along at 200kmh northward towards Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

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We arrived in Santiago late afternoon, checked into our hotel, freshened up and went off to meet our friend C who was in town with the show she manages. Chris and her have been great friends for ages, I adore her sassyfunk, and we hadn’t seen her in ages so it was fantastic to see her again. We had dinner with her in the backstage catering and saw some other familiar faces, and then went out to catch the show (which was stunning! Fire spinners, hell yeah!). Afterwards, we had a backstage tour, C finished up her work, and then we bounced back to the hotel and popped a couple bottles of champagne to wash down a surprise birthday cake. Many giggles later, we realized it’s spain and that going out for more drinks at 2am was the obvious next step in the evening, so we wandered into the old town, drank red wine, met the town drunk, and rubbed shoulders with locals drinking in the street out front of the bars. Late night stumblings back to the hotel, and more drinks in C’s room, but I was falling asleep so I went back to the room to let C and Chris catch up while I fell asleep in an instant.

A note of reflection: We’d been through Santiago de Compostela back in 2010 (see post here), and I realized that with all the forward momentum, this was the first city that I’ve returned to in our travels. It was interesting coming back to a place with a couple years of euro-travelling under my belt, and integrating the initial novelty of the place with a more diverse view of cultures. Also interesting to be standing back somewhere you’ve stood once before and putting the time in perspective: what’s changed, personal growth, experiences, parties, losses, and all the evolutions in constant flux. It’s cool that our minds can time travel.


Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - San Sebastian, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 25-04-2010


[Note – pix to follow – USB cable in checked baggage… doht]

Currently on an 11 hour train ride from Santiago de Compostela, along the north coast of Spain towards the final city this trip: San Sebastian.

Had a pretty fantastic week in Santiago though… The weather was nasty a few days which I took to lock myself indoors and catch up on work, but luckily the nice ones overlapped with Chris’ days off so we got to wander the city by day and go out at night.

Santiago’s centred around this massive stunning cathedral in the centre of town that’s unlike any other ones I’ve seen – it’s stone, but instead of looking carved from the earth, it looks like it’s of the earth itself. This cathedral is the final destination for a 30-40 day, 100km+ pilgrimage across Spain, so there’s a constant stream of eccentric and well worn travellers wandering into and trough town – my favourite was the surfer dude walking along with his donkey carrying his packs along a busy street.

The town is a university town, so there’s a huge young chunk of the population here to get educated and party, and it lent itself to a really neat nightlife in the old town. All of these tight mazes of streets come alive at night, and you find at least one bar on pretty much every block. The bars are small, and with that many people out, people just pour out into the street with their drinks chatting and being merry. The density and intensity of the partying was kind of unlike anywhere else I’d been – such a great and accessible nightlife that just lets you wander from bar to bar to bar popping into the ones that sound fun or that ya like the look of the crowd in the street our front.

During the day the old town’s windy roads made for good wandering, lunching, snacking and shopping. At one point we somehow ended up trapped and thought we could cut through a building under construction to get out the other side. No one stopped us from going in, so we just started wandering through this ancient giant building. Of course, even though we’re both normally pretty good with directions, we got even more lost than we started. After finding our way out of the maze of classrooms and halls and strangeness in the basement, we got back to the front desk, where the attendant who should have told us not to come in had returned from her break. We explained we were lost, and needed to find an exit and she laughed and started leading us down a hall and explained that the building was the second largest monastery in Santiago and is being renovated. She turned to go back to work and said the exit was straight ahead, but we couldn’t find it… ended up going even deeper into the monastery to a private square with a fountain, residential quarters and maintained gardens. We finally ended up having to pick a lock on a giant 30ft tall wooden door to escape. Interesting wander that it’s unlikely most people get the chance to see.

Otherwise, a pretty standard week… we both worked, wandered when we had the chance, ate together when we had the chance, and just continued loving the relaxed pace here and the feeling of getting two days in one… “I love it here” was repeated more than a few times 😛

Heard good things about San Sebastian, and looking forward to exploring it and maybe even getting some beach time if the weather holds (fingers crossed)…