Annie came to Spain during her spring break from law school, and it was a DREAM. Be prepared for many descriptions of our moments together as magical, because thats exactly what it was. Here’s what we did:
Last time Annie was in Spain, she was ten years old. Even though she has already been to Galicia (Coruña), she was a great sport, and came all the way back to Galicia so I could work before we jetted off to Andalucía for the weekend.
Annie flew from Madrid to Santiago, and I picked her up at the airport. It was one of those magic moments, as I stood at the arrivals gate, waiting for my very best friend in the world to walk through the doors. Home came to me, and everyone else waiting at the arrivals gate could see that I was getting very emotional as I waited for her to come through the doors.
Fatigue when traveling is just a reality of most Fulbright placements. It is never just one flight to arrive. Instead, it’s two flights US -> Madrid -> Santiago (unless you’re coming from Omaha, then it’s three), one bus from the airport to the train station, one train from Santiago to Ourense, and one taxi (I walk most travel days to save 10 euros) to my apartment. Annie was exhausted, and she fell asleep on the journey back to Ourense. But first we stopped by La Galiciana, a food court in Santiago that I have been very curious to try. Annie ordered a pulpo (octopus) quesadilla, which was just as bad of an idea as it sounds. I ordered us some huevos rotos to salvage the situation. We also stopped by the Cathedral of Santiago before Annie left Galicia.
When Annie and I arrived in Ourense, I had not yet been home since my UK trip. I tucked Annie into bed for a long nap, and I rapidly did THREE loads of laundry and lesson planned for the week while she slept. I woke Annie up from her nap once all my ducks were in a row, and we went on a walk to the roman bridge so that she could see one of Ourense’s beautiful sunsets over the river. We then walked to Los Vinos, a popular eating and drinking area in the city, and we ordered pulpo (octopus) in the traditional Galician style. Following dinner, I took Annie for a dessert of chocolate and churros. We went to bed early, but not before sending our momma a photo of ourselves in matching pajamas.
During the week, Annie spent her mornings at cafes working on her law school homework while I taught. I brought her to school for a few hours, but overall, it was a little tricky to balance teaching full lessons while having a guest in the room.
After school, I met Annie, and we went out for lunch in search of the best menu of the day. At Casa Toñita, we found a VERY Galician lunch menu. With first plates of traditional Galician stew and pasta, main plates of paella and ribs on fries, and dessert of “cheesecake” and flan.
Following lunch, I took Annie to Ourense’s biggest selling point: the natural hot springs. Even in mid March, Ourense is sunny and warm nearly everyday, so it was a little toasty at the baths. Annie and I found ourselves bathing amongst the retirees of Ourense.
Post soaking up all the natural minerals of the hot springs, Annie and I came home, showered, and got ready to go to dinner. On our way to dinner, Annie insisted that we go shopping at Bimba y Lola so that she could buy a pair of sneakers that she was eyeing. We also stopped for a pre-dinner ice cream. I brought her to my favorite ice cream shop, Bico de Xelado (kiss of ice cream). Following ice cream, I took Annie for my favorite dinner in Ourense: undercooked tortilla and red wine. Annie wasn’t the biggest fan of the soupy tortilla unfortunately.
An Afternoon in Ribeira Sacra
The following day, Annie and I resumed our pattern of Annie working on law homework in a cafe while I taught at school. However, in the afternoon, Annie and I were lucky enough to be invited by my coworker Javier to explore Ribeira Sacra, the sacred valley of ancient monasteries and the region known for Galician wine.
Javier drove us through winding roads in the hills surrounding Ourense, taking us to various lookout points, including Balcóns de Madrid. Our final destination was a Parador, which is a historic building converted to be a sort of hotel subsidized by the government.
Below you will see photos of Parador de Santo Estevo. Once here, Javier gave us a tour, and then we sat and enjoyed a coffee before returning to the road.
Once we returned to Ourense, I repacked my suitcase to prepare for both Andalucía and Berlin. Annie and I both got ready to head to Nova, the Michelin Star restaurant in Ourense.
The meal began with 3 types of bread, and then was followed by TEN courses.
Annie and I left the restaurant uncomfortably full and headed to bed before our travels to the South.
Annie and I flew from Santiago to Sevilla. Because we arrived in the afternoon and only had 24 hours in the city, we ran to the Real Alcázar de Sevilla at 4:00 p.m. knowing that it closed at 5:00 p.m. Turns out the doors closed to new visitors, but Annie and I were able to enjoy the gardens for hours to come!!
The Real Alcázar was nothing short of a dream. At first, we rushed from room to room of the palace thinking we only had an hour to take it all in. Once we realized that there was no rush, we slowed down. We walked through each courtyard, fountain room, and peacock grove in awe of our surroundings.
As Annie and I turned a corner discovering a fountain that flowed into a small channel running down a few steps then to another fountain, a peacock entered my line of vision. Annie and I were silent, taking in the beauty. And as I turned my head, I saw at first a second peacock, then a third, fourth, and fifth sharing the courtyard with Annie and me. As we continued to explore the gardens, I stumbled upon another peacock friend. After a few minutes of photographing the vibrant male, he jumped up on a large stone directly in front of me, and posed. With his tail falling down behind him, he turned as if wearing a gown with a long train. He posed for many tourists until jumping down and returning to eat bugs in the grass.
My experience at the Real Alcazar was magical.
While in Sevilla, Annie and I were forced to change our travel plans because I had received an email the day before that a school wanted to Skype me for an interview. Panicked, we cut our exploration plans short and turned our hostel room into an office. The interview went flawlessly, and I would happily receive good news two days later while sipping sangria and eating the final lunch with Annie in Granada.
Before leaving Sevilla, Annie and I explored the twisty streets, the grand cathedral, and the Plaza de España (A MAJOR HIGHLIGHT). We wished for more time, but happily headed onward to Granada.
Annie and I arrived in Granada in the afternoon and headed straight to La Alhambra, once again on a time crunch. We had three hours to take it all in, but days and days could be spent admiring the beauty of Alhambra.
The road to Alhambra
Annie and hiked straight uphill to reach La Alhambra. We first saw some archeological ruins and grabbed a bite at the Parador on the grounds.
Our first stop was the Alcazaba, one of the oldest parts of Alhambra with ruins from the military. This location has one of the best lookout points in the city over the white houses with the mountains in the distance.
One of the highlights of all of La Alhambra is Palacio Nazaríes, containing three different palaces from different rulers during the 1300s.
Palace of the Lions is the most iconic of the three palaces due to the intricately carved arches.
Our final stop at La Alhambra was El Generalife on a hill facing the rest of the palaces. We ran to the Generalife with only about 25 minutes until closing, but were still able to see the iconic waterways often shown as an example of La Alhambra in high school Spanish classes.
The following morning, Annie and I climbed the hill opposite to La Alhambra trekking to different lookout point, enjoying tiramisu with a view of the palaces, and discovering many small shops along the way.
My time with Annie was so joyous, refreshing, real, and comforting. There was absolutely nothing like having home come to Spain. I will cherish this week together always.
I am so grateful to have had this time together, to explore beautiful corners of the world with my best friend, and for the constant and fierce support we offer each other in all of our endeavors.