I know, I know…I miss the rain. The rain in Spain falls mainly in Galicia, and while it can be pretty depressing sometimes — it rained most days from October through April while I studied abroad there — I can’t help but think of it as one of my fondest memories of my life in Santiago de Compostela. Rain was such an everyday occurrence we didn’t even bother planning around it. We just went out regardless.
Galicia is like its own country. The language and heritage there are different from the rest of Spain, and while most people in Galicia speak the national Castilian Spanish, everyone in Galicia understands the local galego. This unique aspect of Galician culture was a refreshing surprise on my arrival — the only problem being that I then had to practice two new languages, not just one.
The cathedral of St. James (Santiago), the patron saint of Galicia, is the final destination on the Way of St. James, or el Camino de Santiago. The Way is a Christian pilgrimage, traditionally starting in the Pyrenees.
As a student, I passed right in front of this cathedral’s gate on a daily basis, bumping into just a few of the thousands of pilgrims who flock there every year. It made me wish a little bit that I’d participated in the pilgrimage myself. But I was already at its final destination, so why bother moving backward?
Nothing was quite as satisfying as a cup of tea in the afternoon with a thick slice of dense almond cake. Also called tarta de almendra, this specific kind of cake is found everywhere in Galicia.
Being a foreign-exchange student with limited funds in my bank account, I needed to eat well on a budget, and Galicia was the perfect place to do so. In the heart of Santiago de Compostela there was no problem finding a menú del día, which includes a large, hot main course, drink, and dessert often for 10 euros or less.
I’d kill to have a comparable lunch here in the US for that price.
Being right next to the Atlantic Ocean certainly had its perks. Polbo, a Galician delicacy, is octopus boiled and then grilled with generous amounts of olive oil and topped with salt and paprika, served plain on a wooden plate with toothpicks for tapas. The first time I saw this dish, it looked so good I finished an entire plate by myself. You just can’t get good octopus when you leave the ocean.
Licor café, or coffee liqueur, defines the perfect night out in Galicia. Every tourist, local, and exchange student chugs it by the glass. It’s basically a glass of iced coffee with a kick that goes down super smooth. In the US it’s not very common to drink a glass full of coffee liqueur, so now I’m stuck with Long Islands or Millers.
I can’t count how many times I rolled into my apartment in the wee morning hours after dancing at all of our favorite bars. We’d go to the Old Town and finish the night off at Ruta, a club that only opens at 4am.
The US is so young it’s funny. Galicia is full of Romanesque buildings and architecture dating back centuries before the US was even conceptualized. In fact, Lugo, a larger city just a short train ride east of Santiago, is home to mostly intact Roman walls that surround its historic Old Town.
Galicians are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Even with my terrible Castilian Spanish, I managed to make friends with locals who could only understand the smile on my face. Just a bit of small talk went a long way with them. At the end of my year there, my photocopy guy even gave me a farewell hug!