Santiago de Compostela, Porto, and Salamanca

While the first half of our Northern Spain trip was full of relaxing and beach time, in the next three days we visited three different cities and made it back to Madrid. The driving trips were all very long, so we had to fit a lot into those days.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

We started off Monday morning in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia and the destination of the pilgrimage route el Camino de Santiago. The Catholic pilgrimage originated in 9th century and still continues to this day, so we saw a lot of pilgrims and signs pointing out the way along the drive to the city and even throughout our time in Asturias before then. Naturally, the main monument in the city and the main thing we saw was the cathedral, which acts as the endpoint of the pilgrimage and was built on the reputed burial site of one of Jesus’s apostles, Saint James. Though we’ve visited many churches by now, it was actually very cool because almost our entire visit was spent climbing on the roof of the cathedral and walk around it. The church has a long history of pilgrims, and this also adds a little more to the visit. For example, we got a chance to see the Botafumeiro, the biggest censer in the world that, according to our tour guide, is 54 kg and swings at speeds of 60 km/hour! The alleged origin of such a huge swinging incense dispenser is that it was needed to mask the stench of the pilgrims during the Middle Ages who used to sleep in the upper level of the church.

Other than seeing the church, we also spent a lot of time walking around the city. Santiago has a similar climate to Oregon and Washington in the United States, so there is usually some amount of precipitation. This gives it some of Spain’s highest rainfall and gives the city buildings a green and worn look that’s very distinct. Galicia is another one of the places where they use another language in daily life, gallego, so it was interesting to get some glimpses of that on the signs and hear it when we visited the other areas like the market and shops. Because it used to be the same language as Portuguese before the two languages split, it helped us gain some practice for our next stop: Porto, Portugal. Before we got to Porto, though, we stopped at the Mar de Frades Bodega, a winery and vineyard, where we learned about wine production and got to taste a few of them.

It turned out that our hotel in Porto wasn’t too far from the place we tried the francesinhas at on our last visit to the city, so we went exploring a little that night and got drinks at the café frequented by the students. We were a little surprised by how well we remembered the way, and it was fun to show people the things we saw. The next day we had a laid-back walking tour of the city and luckily did a few things that we didn’t get to do last time, like climbing to the top of the Clérigos Tower and a boat ride on the Douro River, but also showed them the main sights we had already seen like Sirius Black’s house and the famous bookstore, Livraria Lello. Funnily enough, we also randomly ran into our old tour guide from the two walking tours we took when we were there last time — we were very surprised he actually recognized us! The hazing by the Harry Potter-robed older students still continued, which we were also surprised by, but someone told us that it ends in a week, meaning that that week was probably their hell week.

Boat ride of the Douro River

Boat ride on the Douro River

We all got very sunburned that day, which kind of made me look like a lobster when we went out that night, but at least the sunburn is testament to the great weather we had that was much different than the constant rain from last trip. That night we celebrated our friend Max’s 21st birthday, but because it was a Tuesday night not much was going on, so we actually ended up at a very cheap place frequented by students that was right next to our hostel from last time. Nightlife doesn’t start until late, so we weren’t sure if things would pick up on the main streets, but we had to get up at 6:45 the next day so we gave up after a while at the cheap bar. We definitely didn’t regret that decision the next morning.

Plaza Mayor of Salamanca

Plaza Mayor of Salamanca

On Wednesday, we had a lot of driving, but stopped for lunch in Salamanca, one of the biggest college towns in Spain. The University of Salamanca is the oldest university in the country and the third or fourth oldest in Europe and its 30,000 students make up a very large percentage of the town’s population, giving it an interesting dynamic. Other than free time for lunch, we also saw the outside of the city’s two cathedrals (Old Cathedral and New Cathedral), the main façade of the university rector building, and the Plaza Mayor, which looks a lot like the one in Madrid but even prettier and whose use as a main meeting point of the city makes it almost like the main quad of the university. After lunch, we got back on the bus for the last time before wrapping up our last trip on study abroad.

Overall, the trip to Northern Spain was definitely the trip of the beauty, but it was also a relaxing and reflective trip too where I feel like we bonded a bit more. It was our last hurrah, so there were definitely lots of feelings on the bus ride home. It was pretty sad to think that was the last time we’d be traveling and having an experience like that, and we wouldn’t really all be together in the same way again. While obviously we don’t all love each other all the time and not everyone is best friends with everyone because it’s a large group, we’ve still been living and traveling with each other and experiencing a new culture for 5 months at this point. We all go out together, share drinks and food to let people try things, get into crazy arguments and discussions, etc., and in the future we’ll mostly just be traveling in small groups with close friends and family. Despite the large group, there’s definitely a feeling of intimacy because of how we’ve gotten to know each other. It’ll be weird as everyone starts to trickle out over these next few weeks, but I’m sure we’ll all look back fondly on our study abroad experience and this last trip.

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About Casey Brown

Student at American University in Washington, DC, studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. News addict. Traveler. Linguaphile. Volunteer. Techie. Movie lover. Networker. Learner. Casey.
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