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Journey To A Dream

In May 2002 my wife and I journeyed from Huddersfield in England's industrial north to rural Galicia. Join us on our journey and immerse your senses in the sights, sounds, and tastes of this remote and little known region of Spain.

Name Dropping
28 May 2014

The luxury of a lie in before scooting off to the airport has become a rare treat. It’s seven years since Ryanair opened a route into Galicia. Their operation began by overwhelming a small regional airport with frequent and regular flights. The airport in question was Santiago de Compostela; but no sooner had the competition been forced into submission than this once regular route was slashed to the bone. What survives is a shadow of its former glory: an infrequent service occupying the least popular flight times. Not that I’m complaining: without Mr O’Leary’s intervention the numbers visiting this idyllic corner of Spain would be far less.

The sole exception to this out-of-hours timetable is the Wednesday flight from Stansted. It arrives just after lunch, plenty of time for a leisurely drive to the airport to meet my sister Julie and brother-in-law Jem.

Since moving to Spain, we spend far more time waiting for arrivals than we ever did waiting to depart. All this hanging around provides a great opportunity to admire these cathedrals of modern architecture. Where once I found stress and irritation I now find beauty and imagination. In short, I’ve become a closet admirer of these contemporary structures. They’re the building equivalent of prehistoric dinosaurs.

The new terminal at Santiago is a perfect example. In the centre of the building, running from top to bottom, are clear glass lift shafts. As the lifts rise and descend they remind me of the pistons of a giant combustion engine. It’s almost as if they’re pumping life into the building. The glass walls, running the length of the building, provide a living landscape: an old master changing with the seasons.

My daydream was quickly shattered as Julie and Jem pushed their way through the crowds. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, we left this modern-day cathedral and headed for another. The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is somewhat more traditional and considerably older.

The walk from the city centre car park to Plaza del Obradoiro, location of the famous cathedral and the city’s Parador, took us along Rua de San Fransisco. This mainly pedestrianised street is lined on one side with souvenir shops and retail establishments selling Santiago’s famous almond tart and the less famous, but equally delicious, piedras de Santiago: clusters of toasted almonds, coated in milk, plain or white chocolate. Julie refuses to leave Galicia without a box or two.

The sellers entice passers-by into their chocolate emporiums by offering seductive free samples. We’re old hats and weren’t moving on until we’d sampled a few tasty choccies. Our emporium of choice was Casal Cotón. Besides a not so famous author (that’s me by the way, just in case you were wondering) this chocolate shop of distinction counts among its patrons such global celebrities as tennis star Rafa Nadal and Hollywood A-lister Martin Sheen. I think the latter must have called in on ‘The Way’ past.

By the time we reached the square we were ready for a drink. During spring and summer the Parador offers an al fresco alternative to its busy café. It’s a wonderful location for watching determined hikers hobble towards their goal. Other pilgrims just relax in the square, reflecting on their achievement: and then there are those I refer to as train spotters: one more experience ticked off the bucket list of life.

We’re far too sensible to contemplate such physical torture: to say nothing of our personal fitness or to be more accurate, lack of it. That reminds me, I must dust the cobwebs off my bike. Until next time, have a great week.

Vine Watch – week 8

Not much to report this week due in part to the unseasonable weather. Thankfully, the frost we had on Sunday night/Monday morning was light. The forecast is pretty good but a thick frost now would be devastating.

I spent the week dodging the showers, cluster thinning, and keeping on top of the weeds. The dog spent the week in the vineyard digging holes in an attempt to catch moles. It’s hard to know how successful she’s been, although the other day she did come into the house with dirty paws and licking her lips. I’ll let you decide what might have happened.

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

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Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit our website getaway-galicia

Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.

Find out more about Craig, and Galicia or look him up on Facebook

 



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Living the Highlife
21 May 2014

The rooftop tour of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela has been high on our list of, ‘must do tours’ for quite some time. Ever since guests to our holiday rental property left a glowing recommendation in the visitors book. A favourable weather forecast and a return trip to Santiago airport were the only excuses we needed to book.

The online booking procedure and 12 euros per person payment couldn’t have been simpler. We printed out our ticket and away we went. At the weekend, guided tours are conducted hourly from 10:00 until 1:00 in the morning and 4:00 until 7:00 in the afternoon. We booked the 6:00 p.m. tour. This gave us plenty of time to drop my sister and brother-in-law off at the airport before making our way into the city.

Being a Sunday afternoon the streets were busy with weekend tourists as we made our way to Plaza del Obradoiro, location of the cathedral in the heart of the old town. Unfortunately, the building is undergoing extensive restoration work to its iconic façade. A muraled tarpaulin of the north tower is not quite the same as seeing the real thing. We consoled ourselves in the knowledge that we were witnesses to this once in a lifetime event.

The meeting point for the start of the tour was the visitors centre situated directly below the main entrance. After a short wait we were introduced to Fabiana, our tour guide for the afternoon. She began by telling us that there were over 100 steps to the roof.

‘Call out if you’re struggling’ she added, before ushering us towards a door at the back of the centre.

 

She led our party of thirty or so through the door and up a narrow stone staircase to the first floor nave. We paused for breath while she instructed us in the cathedral’s architectural history. Five or six metres below us, visitors to the cathedral went about their business. Tourists snapped photos and the devoted knelt quietly in prayer. Her hushed tones made listening difficult but we managed to get the gist of things.

Construction of the current building began in 1075. Records show that the final stone was laid in 1122 although it’s universally accepted that the building had not been completed by then. In 1495 a university was added and further additions were made in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. All very interesting but we were keen to get onto the roof.

From the nave she led us through another door and up another flight of stone steps. Without warning, bright daylight angled into the narrow staircase as Fabiana pushed open a door. A cool gust of wind whistled past us as one by one we stepped out onto the roof. The thick granite roof tiles formed a natural staircase as we climbed to the ridge of the roof. Just as I turned to look over the city, a gust of wind threw me off balance. My heart skipped a beat as I steadied myself.

‘Take a seat,’ instructed Fabiana.

We were happy to follow her suggestion as she continued with the narrative. A combination of a stiff breeze and her quiet voice made hearing impossible but it really didn’t matter. We were here to take full advantage of this unique view of the city.

The tour of the roof continued for almost an hour, taking in every aspect of the amazing views. Finally we made our way back down, emerging in the corner of the cathedral.

If you’re ever in Santiago and have an hour or so to spare, I can highly recommend this unique and interesting tour – with or without the painted tarpaulin.

Vine Watch – week 7

A few breezy days have led to a number of broken shoots but this is to be expected throughout the growing season. Overall, growth is progressing well and the new shoots are loaded with fruit clusters. Over the next few days I’ll be thinning these clusters to increase the quality of the grapes and protect against over-cropping. It’s a simple if painstaking task. Using a thumb nail I’ll nip off the unwanted clusters. Up to half of them will be removed this way.

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

*************************************************************************

Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit our website getaway-galicia

Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.

Find out more about Craig, and Galicia or look him up on Facebook.



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Pagans, Dolmen, and a Drip under Pressure
14 May 2014

With visitors soon to arrive, we’ve had quite a busy week. You know what it’s like: all those, ‘I’ll do that when I get a minute’ jobs that you’ve been putting off in favour of more interesting things, all need finishing at once. But despite doing a bit of this, a bit of that, and not much of the other, we still found time for the odd adventure.

 

We began the week by visiting Monforte de Lemos, the town closest to home, to watch the Concurso Os Maios. This pagan celebration is thought to date back to the Celts. It celebrates the May cycle of fertility, associated with spring. In many parts of Spain, Christianity hijacked the celebration and renamed it fiesta de la Santa Cruz (Celebration of the Holy Cross).

The event took place in the centre of town in Plaza España. To celebrate, local community associations and youth groups had built strange looking floral arrangements. Unlike traditional flower arrangements these were made with all manner of woodland vegetation; twigs, leaves, heather, as well as a selection of wild flowers. However; when I say “floral arrangements”, I’m not talking table-top decorations: one of the displays was well over three metres high and had to be wheeled into the square on a cart.

The attendees were mainly school children and their mothers. One exception was a small group of curious looking elderly folk wearing flora headbands and keeping a beady eye on proceedings. Like many local traditions, its significance is easily lost on ‘outsiders’. I’m sure my neighbours would think the same about a group of unsynchronised youngsters careering around a May Pole.

Later in the week we bumped into Pablo. Besides being a neighbour, in the village where our holiday rental property is situated, he’s also the pump attendant at the local petrol station and an all-round good bloke.

‘Have you been to see the dolmen yet?’ he asked.

Last month, while we were filling up, he’d mentioned the discovery of a megalithic monument in the village of Vilatan. Dolmens are prehistoric burial chambers consisting of two or more upright stones topped with a stone roof. The one discovered in Vilatan was quite unusual as its roof, a single large stone, was still intact. When Pablo first told us about the discovery we thought it would be an interesting attraction for guests staying at our rental property to explore.

‘Not yet,’ I replied, ‘we’re hoping to go later in the week.’

Not for the first time, I’d opened my mouth before engaging my brain. I now felt duty bound to fulfil my commitment.

The following day we set out to discover this ancient monument. Earlier in the month I’d seen a sign for it in Escairon, the nearest village of note to Vilatan. That would be our starting point. The sign read, ‘Dolmen de Abuime’.

‘They’ve even given it a name,’ I remarked, as we headed out into the countryside.

Tourism in Galicia tends to be a bit hit and miss; generally more miss than hit. Imagine my surprise when we came across another sign and then another. Unfortunately, each sign took us further away from Vilatan. Eventually we entered a village called Abuime. All of a sudden the penny dropped, this was not the dolmen we were seeking. Who’d have thought it, two dolmen’s within a stones throw of each other.

The last of the signs pointed down a grassy track. Having come this far we decided to take a look. I parked up and we continued on foot. The track led into a field where we found another sign. This one showed a graphic of a dolmen, complete with a roof, and the distance in metres.

‘This must be the way,’ I said, pointing at the sign.

The route took us through several fields of knee length grasses. Given the fact that, less than two years ago, Melanie had been bitten by a snake in very similar surroundings I had to admire her spunk. Eventually we found it. Four great stones jutting out of the ground: a roofless tomb to a forgotten nobleman.

Our search for the dolmen of Vilatan goes on – I’ll keep you posted on any progress.

 

Vine Watch – week 6

The new shoots are now growing by at least 2cm every day. Secondary shoots have started to develop from the leaf nodes. The locals call these secondary shoots nietos (grandchildren). They systematically remove them believing that less foliage will benefit the grapes. Although this theory has no basis in fact, removing them doesn’t harm the vines and in my opinion it makes managing the vine’s growth easier; allowing for better airflow which is proven to help reduce mildew.

Hark at me: I’m beginning to sound like an expert. Well you know what they say about experts, “An ‘ex’ is a has-been and a ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure”.

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

*************************************************************************

Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit our website getaway-galicia

Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.

Find out more about Craig, and Galicia or look him up on Facebook



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FREE E-BOOK
13 May 2014

Payback
To say a big thankyou
for all your support
and for one day only

(13 May 2014)
Please help yourself to a

FREE e-copy of

Journey To A Dream
just follow this link:

http://bit.ly/188lOj2

 



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Beer, Butties, and Breathtaking Scenery
07 May 2014

The opening of Bar Terraza heralds the start of another Galician summer. To celebrate this momentous event the owners, Alex and Keka invited patrons; past and present, to share in a feast of free pancetta.

Saturday had been one of those uplifting days, the sort of day that reminds me exactly why we chose to live in Spain. The weather was idyllic: bright and sunny without being over bearing. I’d spent the afternoon in the vineyard tilling the soil and tending the vines; and to top it all Huddersfield Town had won their final game of the season 4–1. Could life get any better?

‘Have we to take the dog?’ I asked, as we readied to go.

‘Yeah, why not.’ replied Melanie.

If only we’d given it a moment’s thought, we would have known exactly why not.

The road to Os Chancis took us through some beautiful countryside. Rolling hills set against a backdrop of distant, lilac mountains; but nothing prepares the uninitiated for the breathtaking beauty on arrival.

The ancient river Sil meanders its way through a steep sided canyon. From the dark waters to the summit of the highest peak is over a thousand metres. Our early arrival gave us pick of the seats. We ordered a beer, my favourite, 1906 Special Reserve and soaked up the scenery.

A river cruiser appeared in the distance, gliding slowly downstream with its complement of early-season tourists. Its gentle wake rippled out across the water like the opening of a giant Spanish fan. Bright sunshine bathed the mountain tops and barely moving wind turbines reflected the still evening.

The arrival of a few more people prompted the lighting of the barbecue. Stomach-rumbling aromas of sizzling pancetta drifted across the terrace. Since arriving, Slawit had sat quietly without a care in the world; all that was about to change.

It’s impossible to imagine a sense of smell tens of thousands of times more sensitive than our own. The fatty aromas sent her olfactive senses into overdrive, resulting in uncontrollable fits of joy. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that far behind.

Soon the first rashers were coming off the grill. Despite our readiness we waited patiently, eager for someone else to make the first move. It didn’t take long and we quickly followed. Slawit’s demeanour rapidly changed. With food in sight she sat, eyes focused on every hand movement, waiting impatiently for the smallest morsel.

More beers were ordered and another butty collected. By now the bar was buzzing. More seating was brought onto the terrace to accommodate the swelling crowd. Suddenly and without warning, a chap on the next table jumped to his feet and whipped out his gaita (bagpipes). Within seconds he’d filled the bag and the distinctive skirl of the pipe filled the valley.

The evening could hardly have been more representative of Galician culture: warm and friendly people, awe-inspiring scenery, local beer and roasted pancetta; entwined with the distinctive sound of the gallego gaita. What a brilliant start to the summer.

Vine Watch – week 5

A week of warm, sunny weather has seen the vines flourish. The new shoots are developing well and look strong and healthy. The vineyard has been tilled again and the soil is weed-free. Melanie planted six tomato’s plants along one wall and all but one are thriving.

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

*************************************************************************

Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit our website getaway-galicia

Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.

Find out more about Craig, and Galicia or look him up on Facebook

 

 

 



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