Spain – Day 7

May 19, 2017 – Friday

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It was time to say good bye to Gijón. After another long night of noise in our apartment I was ready to go somewhere else. We packed up our suitcases and wine boxes and brought everything down to the front door of the building. It had started to rain as I held a rare parking spot while Craig ran and got the car from where we had finally found parking the night before. We loaded up our suitcases and found that they fit much better in the new “Teepee” (who thought that was a good name for a vehicle?) Craig drove us out of town under grey clouds and we followed the coast westward once again.

Leaving Gijón

Looking at the Atlantic

There was some nice infrastructure in Spain

Socialist-style housing was not uncommon

We noticed blocks of apartments all over this area of Spain and, I assume, they extend to the rest of the country, too. As I later learned, buildings of this style increased in popularity with the rule of Franco in the mid-1900’s when the rural population streamed into the cities in order to find work. Even now, almost 75 years later, the Spanish occupation of apartments vastly outranks individual homes, with 8 out of 10 people preferring the closely-knit life of flat ownership. I found a great (but short) article about it here

There was a lot of evidence of a busy forestry industry in the lush hills of Spain

Lots of wind turbines on the hillsides

There were no random stops along the way. Instead, we drove directly to the town of Lugo for lunch and some historical sights. Lugo is known for having a fully intact Roman wall that encircles the heart of the town. We were going to see it!

While the heart of Lugo may be surrounded by a Roman wall, there was a LOT of Lugo outside of those walls! It took some tricky navigating with the GPS to make it through the maze of streets and find a parking spot relatively close to the wall. We walked up the street and suddenly there it was: a Roman wall built in the 3rd century. It was black with dirt and soot and stood imposingly next to a busy road It is considered “the finest example of late Roman fortifications in western Europe”, according to the UNESCO listing. We circled around until we found one of the ten existing gates in order to enter the interior of the city. The gate we found was an unusual gate in that its construction did not have linear arches that rose up in parallel. Instead it was a twisting arch that gave me pause to appreciate the engineering that went into creating such a masterpiece. Of course, only five of the ten gates are original to the Romans and I do not know when this one was built. Still…good engineering is good engineering, regardless of the century constructed.

Lots of derelict buildings near the walls

Looking at the built-in shelves in a razed building

The city behind the wall was relatively unimpressive. It was clean and tidy and the buildings that were’t abandoned were in very good repair. We quickly found one of the many stairs that led to the top of the wall and climbed up to walk along the wide path, giving us a view both on both sides. But neither side was outstanding and after about a quarter of the way around we descended back to ground level. After all, that’s where all of the restaurants were.

And despite being in a relatively touristy area of a city encircled by a massive Roman wall, finding a restaurant turned out to be harder than we thought. We walked down quite a few streets before we found something – O Mercado. There was a picture of the cow on a skateboard and outdoor seating – what more was there to ask for?

We sat at a table on the curb of a quiet street and the waiter enthusiastically came over to take our order. He made some recommendations, we agreed and then he disappeared back into the kitchen. What had we just ordered?

Some fun inside on the bathroom door

What we ordered was goodness: a massive platter of beef ribs, potatoes, and cabbage appeared at our table. The waiter indicated that if it wasn’t enough food, he could get us more. Oh, but it was plenty of food. We ate it all and could not have eaten more. Lugo did not disappoint.

Post-lunch remains

Random scenes from Lugo

Roman wall (exterior)

Smaller gate at Lugo

St. James’s Way – it is everywhere! (Scallop sign on left)

We were on the road again with me behind the wheel due to the boys’ enjoyment of some local wine during lunch. Of course, the lunch wine was only a warm up: we were headed to the Abadía da Cova winery in O Saviñao. Our GPS was the hero of the day again, giving us turn-by-turn directions to our destination. It was odd, though, that a winery would be located on such a tiny, twisty and narrow road. I was more than a little curious as to just where we were headed.

And then we broke out of the forest and before us was a grand view across lush green slopes and a wide, lazy river below (the Encoro Dos Peares). We had reached the winery. I pulled the car into the long, empty drive and we looked around; the place was quiet and no one was in sight. Two old stone buildings sat on the uphill side of the drive and a new, squat modern building overlooked the valley to the left. Below the new building were rows of vines stretching out of sight towards the river. Just then a middle aged woman walked out of one of the buildings and greeted us.

Arriving at the winery

The approach to the winery

Aaron, in his continual quest to make sure that we got the most out of this vacation, had made reservations for a tour of this particular winery. It was such a small-looking place, and with such a remote access road that I wasn’t surprised that we were the only ones here. The woman was friendly and (thankfully) her English was clear. She immediately started the tour by taking us into the squat modern building, which turned out not to be so squat. The building took advantage of being on the side of a hill and although we were in one massive room. It was broken up into three open levels, stepped down with the slope of the land with the lowest floor level packed with shiny, silver vats and pipes intertwined among them. The ceiling stretched out over it all. Our guide was very thorough in her descriptions of the types of grapes used and the sorting and fermenting process. I admit that my lack of wine appreciation meant that most of it went in one ear and out the other. But I was interested in the physical mechanics of “how it works” and looked on with interest at the sorting conveyor belt on the upper level and how the grape processing went “downhill” to the different levels. It was an efficient way of moving materials.

The tour then continued into a formal tasting room which looked like it was used to present various wines to prospective wholesalers. The walls were covered in certificates, plaques and awards. Here, our guide indicated which varieties they were currently working on and the subtleties of each one. This is also where we learned that we had arrived by “the back way” and there was indeed much faster and more navigable road access to the winery. Silly GPS! Our guide led us out a small back door to a tiny balcony. From here we had an unobstructed view across the valley and could see that some of the slopes were covered by thousands of vines. The ancient stone walls that terraced the land really were ancient, as we were informed that some of them had been constructed by the Romans. Ah, those Romans! They were everywhere!

Terraced vineyards

The tour took a quick stop in the barrel room, housed in one of the stone buildings on the other side of the road, and then ended with a tasting in the other, smaller stone building. Our guide asked what we would like to taste and smiled when I said that I was driving and therefore could not partake. That is such a great excuse when you have to tell someone who’s whole life is “wine” that you don’t want any wine. She was very accommodating and brought me a little bottle of local grape juice to sip while the boys tried three different types of wine. They were impressed enough to buy a few bottles, and Dan even picked out a bottle of gin. We still had room in our suitcase – why not?

Friend’s photo of the barrel house (it was too dark for my lens)

As we were finishing our tasting a large group of people came strolling down the driveway. There must have been twenty or so in the group, all older “retired”-looking people. Our group of four looked at each other and mutually agreed that we were glad that we had our tour to ourselves. We finished our grape-based drinks and, after a short tour of the neighborhood, decided to continue on our way.

Tonight’s lodging was the NH Hotel in Ourense. The hotel was one of those “we want to look Modern and Hip” places and, for the most part, they succeeded. Our room was comfortable and well appointed, but the WiFi was almost useless and the rooftop bar was empty until Craig ran down to the lobby to ask if someone would be able to serve us. Quickly someone came up to take drink orders and we relaxed on the garden furniture. The weather was perfect for sitting on the roof and watching the sunset over the city tucked between the hills. And then the sun was gone and it was time to eat.

Each city had its own man hole cover design

NH Ourense

Rooftop view

Rooftop sunset

If you take a minute to think about that last sentence, you will realize that it was May and the sunset was around 9:30 pm, and we were just now going out for dinner. Yes, we had fallen into the Spanish time table. We got up around 9 in the morning, and finished the day after a 9 – 10 pm dinner. This was quite a change for me, who usually ate around 6 – 7 pm. But hey, when in Rome….or Spain, as the case was…

We used the kitschy tourist map from the hotel to figure out where the old part of town was located, happy to see that it was just a few blocks away. We made our way there and as soon as we crossed some invisible border, the streets narrowed and filled with outdoor seating and people. I hadn’t seen so many people on the entire trip! They thronged around the restaurants, sitting inside and outside while the servers wormed their way through the crowds with trays of food and drinks. Clearly it would be easy to find some place to eat tonight!

But first we took advantage of the dying daylight to explore more of the area and get a sense of the architecture and layout of the old town. There were some beautiful and huge buildings to see, but the light faded quickly and soon we were enjoying them by street light only. There was a quick stop for just a drink at a wider, less crowded section, but then we headed into the chaos and chose one of the many small restaurants that lined the crowded streets.

Ourense

People were a lot taller back then

Dinner didn’t take very long. It was a noisy, chaotic scene and not one that I found very enjoyable for a length of time. As the plates were taken away it was agreed that we’d go back to the hotel and take advantage of the luxuries that were available to us. We went down to the hot tub and I was really looking forward to it. I love sitting in the hot water and feeling the pressurized jets of water massaging my legs and back. I climbed into the tub where the guys already waited and was shocked to discover that the water was not hot. It was tepid, at best. The guys played with the wall controls but the only effect was to have cold water trickle down the artfully made stone wall on one side of the room. I was disappointed, to say the least. But hey, there was still a sauna – let’s try that! So we left behind the lukewarm tub and went into the sauna room: cold. Well, so much for luxury! Craig ran off to ask the hotel staff what the situation was and soon came back with an employee. He could do nothing about the hot tub, but the sauna could be activated and we would have heat in about ten to fifteen minutes. Well, we were already here so we might as well wait it out. So the four of us sat in the tiny sauna (there would not have been room for a fifth person) and discussed the trip so far, and what was to come.

Day 8