Australian invasion

Walking Galicia through the Camino de Santiago gives the opportunity to see endemic vegetation and trees like chestnut and oaks trees. They contrast with the introduced Australian species of the eucaliptus. Much like the heated debate that has been foregoing for years in the Spanish country. Eucaliptus was introduced on the XIX century and since then it has adapted and spread to the Galician soil. The controversy is between the paper industry and the ecologists fighting for better forestal planning as this foreign species threatens to kill this beauty.

Follow the yellow arrow

The most famous of the trails to Santiago de Compostela is the French way which starts in St. Jean de Pied du Port and expands 800kms.

The French way comes in to Melide through the village of Santa María do Leboreiro. In the Calixtinus Code of the XII century, it appears as Campus Leporarius, which means “field of hares”.

Along the way, yellow arrows and scallop shells mark the turns, paths and direction of the Camino. The signs can be seen everywhere: on sidewalks, walls, trees, rocks and tile dotted throughout the routes.

Pilgrim’s insignia

It has been more than a thousand years, that pilgrims have walked the many kilometers and many ways that lead to Santiago de Compostela, seeking penance, forgiveness, solitude, enlightenment, and some, adventure.

The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way). This shell is commonly found in the shores of Galicia and often pilgrims wear or attach them to backpacks to show that they are walkers on the trail. The origins of this tradition is uncertain. Some say it was given to the early pilgrims to prove they had reached Santiago de Compostela. Others say that additionally it was given to pilgrims for their walk back home to be used as a drinking device in lakes, rivers, waterfalls.

Whatever its beginings, all pilgrims use it nowadays and are easily identifiable than the hundreds of tourists in this area of the world.

Urban legends

Wandering and walking Barcelona never seizes to surprise me. This Catalan city is full of history, old buildings and leyends, like the Modernista Torre de les Aigües building designed by architect Josep Domènech i Estapà in 1907. The octagonal 45m shaped tower has a brick roof, ornamented with Trencadís made of tile fragments. It was built to allow the pressure of the water to increase.

Being an architect Josep Domènech i Estapà didnt know how to carry a pumping installation so he contracted his friend to do the designs who in turn had no time and delegated to a student. The engineering student took this project for two years.

It is said that due to delays, equipment that was ordered and used from England was not able to be tested in time for the inauguration of the tower. When trying to set up the pumping station, it failed. The newly graduated engineer could not handle the supposed humiliation and died of suicide throwing himself from his first and only work: the tower of the Waters. It was discovered, days later, that the design was perfect and the fault was in a valve as being from England, the opening direction was in reverse than the ones from Europe. It is also said that when the area is in absolute silence you can hear the work of an engineer banging his hammer and scrambling with his toolbox inside the Tower. Another urban legend says that the British who visit this site can never see their real colours.

Really a Castell?

Sitting on top of Monjuïc, in an ideal place for a defense vantage point, sits the Castell de Montjuïc. With wonderful 360º views of the city below, this place was built in 1640 during the Reapers’ War. Since then it has served as a fortress, military prison, weapons museum and now used for cultural activities and displays.

The castle can be reached by a funicular and cable lift, which offers a magnificent view of Barcelona.

A notable death was the execution by firing squad of the president of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys, executed on the 15th October 1940 at the castle after being deported by Nazi Germany and handed over to Franco’s troops.

The only real question is, has it ever been used as a castle as its name suggests?

Twice a month

Right in the city center, in the midst of Ciutat Vella, lies a plaza that can be traced to the X century. Once a cementery of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, the plaza nowadays hosts (and from 15 years ago) a little market for artists, craftspeople and artisans on the first and third weekend of every month. All products are handmade and range from cheese and honey to sausages, wine and biscuits. Next to the plaza, a painters display is set.

The Plaza del Pi gets its name from its literal meaning, Plaza del Pino. The story says that a pine tree was planted in 1568 and lasted until the war. Since then, a new pine is planted when the current one gets sick or dies. The one currently standing in the plaza was planted in 1985.

A regional (not national) dish

Paella is originally from lake Albufera, a lagoon in Valencia and dates back to the mid-19th century. In Spain, paella is considered a regional dish and not the national dish we all think it is.

According to Valencian tradition, paella should be cooked over an open fire, fueled by orange and pine tree branches along with pine cones which imbues the rice with the aromatic smoke. Said to be a dish of poor peasants due to its filling and cheap nature from ingredients from the countryside.

Paella, above anything, is a rice dish which means when the rice is cooked well, paella will be good, no matter what is in it. Normally “bomba” rice is used and stirring is definitely forbidden. 

Its name comes from the pan where it is cooked in and from the Latin word for ‘pan’ or ‘dish.’ People eat it straight from the pan. 

Well cooked paellas have a lightly toasted layer that remains at the bottom of the pan once finished. This layer must be crunchy but not burned and never burnt. The socorrat, as this layer is called, is a privilege for whoever gets to eat. 

Italian or Catalonian?

This 60 meter high monument, the Christopher Columbus Monument, was built in 1888 in homenage of the explorer and discoverer of America. The monument is in Plaça de la Porta de Pau (Square of the Gate of Peace) and took 6 years to complete. The 7 meter tall statue of the standing Columbus points towards the sea, thought strangely enough, it is not in the direction of the “new world” he discovered. 

Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. However, some historians in the nineteenth century claimed that he was Catalonian and thus a reason why this monument is placed in Barcelona.

The monument has caused some debate as whilst with Colon’s discovery of America the exchange between America and Europe began, it also meant slaughter, suppression, enslaving and destruction of the indigenous people, their culture and the theft of their treasures.

The most popular amongst tourists

One of the main tourist attractions in Lisbon is, in fact, a public service: its six tram routes, three funiculars, and one vertical lift. 

Funiculars climb and descend the city’s steepest hills and given their age they have been declared national monument since 2002. Ascensor do Lavra is the oldest, inaugurated in 1884. Ascensor da Bica is the youngest, inaugurated in 1892. And this one, Ascensor da Glória is the most popular amongst tourist.

The best kept secret worth eating

A recipe now considered a national treasure has been kept secret for 200 years. It is said that only 6 people know the recipe for the Pastéis de Belém a Portuguese egg tart pastry (similar to pastéis de nata except made in Belem). It is incredible to think that these cakes that are only made of egg yolk, milk, flour and sugar end up being crispy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside.

It is said that to keep the recipe a true mystery, not only do all bakers have to sign a non disclosure agreement but they also work inside the secret  factory – Oficina dos Segredos. A recipe invented by the monks that lived in the Monastery in Jeronimos in the early 19th century to bring income to their home and to use up the leftover yolks from starching their habits with egg whites.

Be sure to buy more than one because these mouthwatering tarts sprinkled with cinnamon are too good to be on a diet. It is no surprise that this place sells on a daily basis around 20,000 tarts; number which in the summer gets doubled!