medieval madness revisited!

I can’t believe that this time last year I was in Spain spending the day at a medieval festival in the little town of Hospital D’Orbigo.  Or that a few short days will bring the one-year anniversary of the start of my Camino in Sarria.  The first weekend in June each year is a weekend of celebration in fabulous Spanish medieval style in Hospitale and people come from miles around to participate in dressing up, shopping, dancing, traditional games, displays of medieval life, fabulous food, jousting and general merriment overlooking a bridge steeped in history (and scaffolding along with most of the rest of Spain’s wonders that have seen a lot of history) – part of that history is said to have inspired the tale of Don Quixote.

Never having been to a medieval festival before (well, Australia doesn’t date back that far so it’s not a huge tradition here) I wasn’t sure what to expect but hoped it would be marvellous and I certainly wasn’t disappointed!  Here is a picture of the roving clowns performing a tale of the Camino – I got that much out of it at least even though I couldn’t understand most of it!!

The small town evolved into a riot of colour and sound and I spent several hours happily exploring all the festival had to offer.  My biggest dilemma of the day was what, out of all the beautiful things on offer, should I buy to commemorate the occasion and my Camino that I wouldn’t mind carrying with me for the 100+ kilometres of my journey on foot through Northern Spain.

I finally settled on a beautiful copper colour enamelled scallop shell necklace on a leather chain which I then wore for every step of my journey until I returned to Paris and family where such things are not really en vogue (in Paris that is, I don’t think my family would have cared!).

Looking through the windows today at the miserable weather, strong wind, rain and a gloomy, never-ending white cloud cover it is not hard to wish I was back there again in the sun and heat of the Spanish spring/summer but I have those memories and I plan to go back soon and make more – probably the same time of year again so I can visit Hospitale on that first weekend in June and re-live one of my favourite festival days to date! Here’s the original post from a year ago.

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10 things to love about Spain

There are probably about a billion reasons to love Spain but here are the top 10 things that left a lasting impression in my heart on my recent trip.

  1. The people.  I’ve said it before (and posted this picture before) but Spain runs on a different wavelength and at a different pace to the rest of the world.  It is quiet, relaxing, beautiful and quaint whilst being at the same time loud, hectic, frustrating and full of life.  This is not a place for the obsessive compulsive among us, who have to have every minute of their day planned to the second because Spain has an uncanny ability to change plans at the drop of a hat.  The people are loud, everything they do is loud and their soap operas are ridiculously melodramatic.  They are also incredibly helpful and friendly and will help you understand (through excessive repetition, hand gestures and occasionally call over a friend or five to do the same thing) what they are trying to say even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish.
  2. The scenery.  For such a small country (when compared to Australia most countries are) it boasts a bit of everything and all of it is beautiful in its own way.  From old stone town centres to quaint fishing villages and the vast stretches of land in between it is a land that stirs the imagination.  As the younger generations move in to the cities leaving behind the traditional family homes that lacked what we think of as the basics like plumbing and electricity or build new houses on the property the old ones are left to fall down over the years adding their own kind of beauty.  Old stone fences that have seen better days and now guard nothing track through the countryside and make you wonder what they once held, sometimes they contain the remnants of a garden that now grows wild.
  3. Food.  It had to come in somewhere!  Tapas, tapas, pinchos, more tapas, chorizo, croquettes, calamares, tapas, everything!! And everything comes with bread whether you want it or not – the Spanish love their bread, it’s not a real meal unless there is bread and they get concerned if you don’t eat it and the serving sizes for meals are huge – you can’t leave your appetite behind when you go to Spain.  Every region in Spain has is speciality and Galicia is no exception.  Galician restaurants and bars are well known for their seafood, particularly Pulpo (octopus) and Paella.  But I found the cheese to be particularly delightful – I’m not a huge seafood fan though I could appreciate the variety available.  If I could have taken 5 wheels of Galician cheese home with me I would have but our customs restrictions are too tough – oh well it just meant that one wheel had to be consumed within 4 days.
  4. Wine.  Normally I’m not a huge red wine drinker but it’s different in Europe.  The red wine there is a joy to drink, so smooth and well-rounded and cheap!  Even a 5 Euro bottle is highly drinkable which is lucky when you’re carrying all your possessions on your back each day and don’t have much in the way of funds to spare.  And one of the best things about bars in Spain is that most drinks no matter what or where you are are accompanied by tapas (or pinchos depending on where you are) that range from peanuts to olives, slices of chorizo, bread and more adventurous things like pigs ear.
  5. Fashion.  The Spanish love scarves and so do I.  Ok, there are also lots of other things to buy and many, many wonderful shops to buy them in but come on – scarves!!  They’re everywhere!  Everyone wears them, it is very Spanish and because there is such a great variety it is the perfect place to buy them.  Not even Paris (famous for its fashion) comes close to Spain when it comes to scarves.  Did I mention I love scarves?!
  6. Architecture.  Chances are that when you go into a larger town in Spain it will have an old part.  That is where the magic is.  That is where you will find your old stone cathedrals with spectacular stained glass windows and enough angels and cherubs inside to make you never want to see another pair of wings in your life.  You will also find all manner of charming old buildings often with stone carvings and magnificent doors that just ooze history.  The streets are paved with huge stone blocks that take a lot of maintenance and get a bit slippery when it rains but hey, if you were several hundred years old and had several million people walking over you in that time I’m sure you would be too.  It is hard not to appreciate such beauty and history particularly coming from Australia where 100 years is considered old.
  7. Culture and History.  Every region of Spain has its own culture and I was lucky enough to experience some of the Galician culture and history.  There is a fantastic little museum in Melide along the Camino de Santiago that can trace the history of the region back to the time when people lived in dwellings in the ground with a stone slab for a roof.  It was one of the best collections I’ve seen – maybe because the museum was smaller and it only focused on the lives of people so everything was carefully selected because of limited space (ie no overkill).  Galicia is the area of Spain most like Ireland in its culture and climate.  It has an Irish heritage and much of its culture is similar to that of Ireland, right down to the traditional Galician bagpipes.
  8. Music.  Spanish music is like Spain; loud and full of life.  It provokes toe tapping and hip wiggling in even the most uncoordinated, so even if you can’t salsa I challenge you to hold back!  Just a warning, most Spanish people appear to be quite good dancers, thankfully they don’t hold it agains those of us who aren’t so fortunate!
  9. Festivals.  Spain throws some ripper festivals and I was lucky enough to be there at the right time for the medieval festival at Hospitale de Orbigio.  The bridge  into town has been rebuilt/fixed several times but it is supposedly the site where the story that inspired Don Quixote unfolded.  A knight spurned by his lover vowed to prevent anyone from crossing the bridge until he had broken 300 lances (jousting) in his way of getting over her.  Knights came from far and wide to take up the challenge and when he had finished he completed the pilgrimage to Santiago.  In honour of that story that makes the small town famous they hold a festival on the first weekend of June every year and it is a sight to see.  Everyone dresses up in medieval garb and there are all sorts of entertainers and activities for people of all ages to participate in.
  10. The Camino de Santiago.  This has to have a mention as it was my reason for going to Spain.  You don’t have to be religious to want to walk a pilgrimage, I’m not and I met many along the way who shared my views.  There are countless reasons to attempt this walk through history and the Spanish countryside that countless thousands have walked before you.  It is an experience the like of which you will not find anywhere else on earth and completely worth it if you are so inclined.  But I would do it sooner rather than later if you are able – it is getting more and more popular by the day (for good reason).  As they say; Santiago will always be there (but now there are more people trying to get there).

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