This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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In the Sil river canyon

galicia-2Deep in Galicia, the river Sil squiggles through a canyon with walls up to 500 meters high. Somehow the Roman settlers discovered that the steep canyon walls produced excellent wine, as long as one had the energy and perseverance to maintain the vine plants required. galicia-6It seems that not only winemakers liked the CaƱon del Sil, as there are a number of hermitage monasteries scattered along both riverbanks. galicia-7Oaks, chestnuts, ferns, and even Galician pine make the Sil river canyon lush surroundings for hiking – as long as one can keep up with the changes in altitude.galicia-8Along the cliff edge there is also a viewpoint curiously named Balcones de Madrid, even if one cannot see Madrid from it. With a little help from Google I pulled up stories about women choosing the viewpoint to see off their trader husbands traveling to Madrid: they had to climb down the canyon on one side, cross the river by boat, and climb up on the other side. Although whether it were the women or the men who built the laid rock walls still remains a mystery to me.galicia-9(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)

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In the middle of nowhere, a monastery (part II)

galicia-3In the middle of the forest lies yet another over thousand years old monastery. Galicia is practically littered with these cute resting places for body and soul.

The Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil was first annexed to the Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil monastery (now a fabulous Parador). Later, when the Spanish government carried out a lengthy confiscation and resale of various religious assets around the country (for varying reasons, during nearly two centuries), both monasteries ceased their spiritual operations.

In a way it is unfortunate, as I am sure the Benedictine monks (and perhaps a limited amount of lucky visitors) would have continued to feel contented in this charming little monastery, for another thousand years.
galicia-4(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)

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In the enchanted forest

galicia-1Hiking in Galicia feels a little like what I presume hiking in Middle Earth (or of course New Zealand) would be. Lush, green forests, small streams, rounded boulders, and mountains everywhere.galicia-12It is as if one could expect the head of a little gnome peeking from behind the rocks lining the path. galicia-13Alas, the only unusual thing we saw today was a flower growing right out of the ground. Without stem or leaves. As if the ground itself were in bloom.
galicia-14(Galicia, Spain; September 2019)

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Making druid firebrew at 1 am

galicia-11Galicia is old Celtic country, with druid customs. Such as cooking up firebrew or queimada in the middle of the night, throwing in both spices and secret ingredients as well as empowering it with a druid spell.

The incantation that gives queimada its power is impressive and nearly impossible to remember word-for-word: a seemingly endless litany of evocations directed at spirits, crows, witches, demons, Satan, and even the scent of the dead and “the mutilated bodies of the indecent ones”. Fortunately the aim is not to conjure up these evil forces but to banish them away as the boozy brew is consumed in the proper way.

For sure, Galicians are no sissies.galicia-15(Parador Santo Estevo, Galicia, Spain; September 2019)


A most fabulous monastery

galicia-19Deep in the mountainous Ribeira Sacra forests, by the Sil river canyon, stands a thousand-year-old monastery. There are stone cloisters, a green courtyard, and a stately chapel. Outside lie chestnut groves and hazelnut groves, where wild boar dig and grunt at night. The views from the guests’ lounge balcony are spectacular.galicia-20And it gets better still: to become a guest here only requires checking in at the reception desk, as the monastery Santo Estevo is today a Parador, or government-run hotel. There is a small but lovely spa which feels welcoming after a day or sweaty traipsing around the Sil river valley hiking routes (of which there are many – and they’re mostly long!). galicia-16Staying at Santo Estevo does not mean staying in moldy cold rooms, sleeping like a dusty bottle of wine on a wooden shelf. The rooms are fabulously spacious, with wooden window shutters and luxurious bathrooms. galicia-18Eating at Santo Estevo does not mean chestnut mash and gravy from old wooden bowls, but a first-class al fresco dining experience, as the night descends over the valley and the moon rises above the mountaintops. galicia-17(Parador Santo Estevo, Galicia, Spain; September 2019)

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At the university

galicia-34Born in 1495, the university of Santiago de Compostela is one of the oldest still functioning universities in the world. Initially it was the local archbishop Fonseca who thought that knowledge should be properly cultivated in his local hoods. And so he opened his swanky family palace to serve students and education. That was obviously not good enough as he ended up founding an entire university. The Fonseca college is still functional today – and a charming place to visit.

(Santiago de Compostela, Spain; September 2019)

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Peregrination is pop

galicia-24Tired trekkers stumble into the main cathedral square from a side street. In twos, threes, and sometimes alone they throw down their packings, with scallop shells on string tinkling, before seating themselves on the cold cobblestones. Dusty shoes come off. Hats are pushed back. Many lie down for a nap in the shade. As the day grows warm the square fills up with exhausted pilgrims who have made it all the way.galicia-21The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St James, ends in front of the Santiago de Compostela cathedral. Why do people walk for weeks, often all the way from the South of Spain, Portugal, or France, to sit down on a church square in a small Spanish city? It is hardly to go inside to worship what is believed to be the remains of the saint James. Perhaps some walk in order to rediscover their Christian faith. Or to just jump off from the daily squirrel wheel to reflect on life and bearings. And perhaps some do it for health, because one can only earn the certificate of the compostela after walking for at least 100 km, on an official route. And the popular route from France, across the Pyrenees, is around 800 km of step-after-step. galicia-25Walking the Camino requires organizing, following the route, staying at official lodges overnight, and collecting stamps on a pilgrim’s passport. And choosing the right season and route, as the number of pilgrims has more than doubled in the past 10 years. Now it easily tops 300,000 pilgrims per year – and everybody needs to eat and sleep somewhere every day.
galicia-23(Santiago de Compostela, Spain; September 2019)