Published: March 3rd 2012March 3rd 2012 Ourense
, the best province in Galicia for Carnaval. It just so happened that we had planned to go there for our extended week of vacation during that same week. Later is when we heard that it´s the area with the oldest traditions and best festivals this time of year. We were not disappointed.
We stayed in the city of Ourense, the capital of the province with the same name. Originally, we had wanted to see Ourense for the hot springs along the River Miño. Around the same time we started planning this excursion, Shannon´s friend, Lisa, said she was coming to Spain! She wanted to meet up so we had many things to look forward to on this vacation. We made hotel reservations for 3 nights and arranged to meet Lisa and her friend that were visiting from the States. We arrived Saturday morning after a week of festivities in the schools. The previous week in Shannon’s school was celebrated with a different activity for each day. Traditions were carried on from previous years, including a water fight, costumes and parading the students through the town in Cervo. The festivities for Brian´s school included each class dressing up in a
Night on the town
Brooke, Lisa, Shannon, Brian
theme and performing a dance number as a group with each class receiving awards afterwards. The last day ended with a feast of all the Carnaval treats you could ever want. A whole table filled with deep fried doughy sugar covered goodness. Elephant ears and a version of crepes, called filloas
, are two that are the most prevalent. Our favorite was the filloa filled with cream. The filling tastes like our favorite pastry from Lisbon. Yum! Anyway, it was a fun and easy work week before a week off! That left about 9 days to travel.
We arrived in town in less than 50 minutes on the new improved train lines versus the nearly 2 hours it would have taken on the older tracks. We knew from glancing at Google maps before leaving that our hotel was on the other side of the river so not being able to find somewhere near the train station with a map, we headed in that direction. We came upon an old Roman foot bridge and crossed it and found the tourist office, but unfortunately it was closed. We asked a nice gentleman running a churro stand if he could point us in
the right direction and he told us to walk up the hill and take a left and we wouldn’t miss it. The location was fantastic, right off the old zone and connected to a main “paseo” or popular walking and shopping strip.
By the time we arrived to our hotel and got settled Saturday morning, it was just about time for the tourist office to open. We walked down the “paseo” and there were a number of people in costume, a couple of soapbox (literally) preachers that took turns standing up while shouting and waving their bibles, a large group of people circled around what looked like a live informercial, mylar balloon vendors and a ton of cotton candy, popcorn and candied apples vendors as well! We were so taken in by the spectacle and ended up walking right by the tourist office and didn’t realize until we were told to circle back 10 minutes later. We were excited to find out what events were happening in town and which were best to see in the more rural towns, known for some crazy traditions, like throwing ants or flour during parades. We discovered that leaving the city was going
One of the several bars from the night
to be difficult without a car and the outskirt areas didn’t have much going on, as far as the tourist office was able to tell. We weren't too disappointed because Shannon was excited to see and spend time with an old friend. And from what we could tell, it was going to be a beautiful city to explore. So after we left, with many brochures in hand, we walked into the old town to look for some free tapas. (Much later, to our dismay, we found out that Ourense does not do free tapas.)
We found a place where the menu looked good and the restaurant/bar looked comfortable and we went in to order some beers. No tapas came. We weren´t sure if maybe it was because it was too close to lunchtime and the place was starting to get full, or what. Well, we were comfortable with where we were, so we looked at the Menu of the Day that was posted outside and we liked what we saw. So we each ordered different offerings so we could share and we ended up with a fantastic meal. Our first course was a pasta for Shannon and a hearty
typical Galician soup for Brian; our second courses were ribs for Shannon and paella for Brian. The Menu of the Day always comes with 2 courses, bread, beverage and dessert...per person. This is typical every place we have been in Spain and always 9-12 euros each. We decided we really should indulge more in this luxury.
After lunch, we walked through the old quarter a little more before heading back to the hotel. It was a beautiful day, but we had friends that would be arriving soon and we were anxious to meet up. On our circular route back to the hotel we made a detour to walk past the cathedral and ventured to the end of a road which ended in a park with peacocks and swans and the largest duck we had ever seen! We took pictures and then continued on our way. We also passed the Fuente de las Burgas
, which is said to be near the origin and the true temperature of the hot springs. Finally, we made it back to the hotel. We had left a note for our friends at the front desk, so when we arrived we had a note waiting for
us. They had arrived early! They gave the number to their hotel room so we went down right away to say hi. Maybe we should have used the phone, because we got to their room and we woke them up. Oops. We hugged and chatted for a bit before we decided when we should meet to start off the night.
We figured that since it was Saturday that this would be the night we would dress in costume. If we haven´t explained it before, Halloween is to kids, what Carnaval is to adults. By the time we were out, all the kids were at home and we got to see grown men in baby costumes, grown men as Brittney Spears, men dressed as women and more. Of course kids love and celebrate Carnaval too, but the most fun for us was to see the adults living this tradition and having fun.
Before we went out for the night, the California girls went out to find something to wear and we met a bit later at the hotel ready to take on the town. We were all starving when we reconvened, so we walked the way we had walked
Roman bridge at night
On the way back from a midnight soak
earlier for lunch where it was known for wine and tapas, albeit not free tapas. We found a small plaza with a fountain and several bars that were starting to become crowded. We found a table outside that might have offered the best view for us to enjoy our surroundings. We were greeted by a waiter offering us something to drink and returning with a very large empty plate. This plate was for all the tapas we would be grabbing from the waiters that would walk past with rotating tapas which they kept track of by the amount of toothpicks on your plate at the end of the night. We were in heaven. The table was actually a large wine barrel and we sat on stools as we watched all the crazy costumes walk by. We ordered several bottles of wine from the local Designations of Origin,Valdeorras
, and we especially enjoyed the Mencia
. We had a blast at this place!
Looking for a change of scenery, we asked one of the revelers where another interesting place was and he pointed us to a restaurant/bar called Orellas (translation from Galician = Ears). All you vegetarians out there (as
Breakfast in the sun
well as all you less than adventurous eaters) will cringe hearing about this place because it was all about eating pig parts, especially in pig ears
. We had eaten pig ears here a handful of times and it definitely takes some getting used to eating them. They´re chewy, fatty and crunchy all at once. I think we´re getting more and more comfortable eating them as we try them and Orella definitely did them the best. We ordered a plateful because of the reputation of this restaurant but mostly because our visitors needed to try them. They didn´t go over so well....
Earlier in the day while at the tourist office, the man behind the counter told us that a must have experience is to soak in the hot springs in the middle of the night. He told us that only one stayed open until 3am. We left the Orella around 11:30 with the intention of heading back to our hotel and grabbing out suits and heading in the other direction towards the hot springs. We made it about two blocks before somehow ending up in an Irish bar tended by The Village People (or maybe they were just regular
bartenders dressed like everybody´s favorite disco group) for a drink and a shot of Galician made coffee liqueur. We made it back to to the hotel, grabbed our gear and headed for the termas (hot springs). We crossed the Roman bridge again and were distracted by a live band playing on the bridge at the opposite side from us. We grabbed another drink at the bar that was sponsoring the music and ended up spending nearly an hour there chatting and listening to the tunes.
We finally left the bar and another 10 minutes we found ourselves walking up to Termas Chavasqueira
around 1:15 am. We each payed less than 3€ for 90 minutes of time in the pools. There were 3 pools side by side with the elevation going slightly down as you walked further into the pool area. The nearest and highest pool was very hot and the following two tubs were a little cooler as the water was coming down waterfalls into their following pools. Despite being pretty stinky with sulfur, the water was very relaxing and there weren’t more than 10 other people in the whole place. We left around 2:30 and by the time
Mostly men dressed like women on this one.
we got back to the bridge at 2:45 the band was still going strong. We ended up staying at the bar until the band wrapped up which was approaching 5 am. We were all pretty tired and headed back to the hotel. We crashed almost immediately and didn’t learn until the morning that the other two girls were famished and went out and found some very early breakfast at a cafe before turning in for the night.
The next day none of us were feeling terribly motivated to do anything - being old and staying out late was stifling any motivation to do something with the nice day. So until we heard the sound of drums and a crowd forming below our window, we tried to stay in bed. It continued to get louder and louder and soon a trumpet could be heard as well. We looked outside and this giant crowd of people were following the small group of musicians playing. The group stopped right below our 7th floor window and the strange music continued while a couple of people set up speakers and a microphone. The music stopped and someone grabbed the mic and we had a
front row seat to a rally. Of course, we didn't have a clue what they were protesting.
So, any chance of sleeping was out of the question. Lisa was also awake, so we all decided to take a walk and see if some food would help us feel better. We walked to the Plaza Mayor, where we sat in the sun and watched a group of men set up a stage for a presentation that they would be having later in the evening. After 5 orange juices and some carbs, we returned to the hotel and took a nap to relieve the rest of our headaches and sleepiness. A few hours later it was time to see the parade. Shannon had been eyeing the candied apples since we arrived to Ourense, so before the parade started we went to the corner stand so everyone could buy something to munch on while we watched the parade go by. Shannon grabbed a candied apple, Brian scored himself a bag of multicolored popcorn and Lisa got her hands on an unnecessarily huge helping of cotton candy and then the four of us headed to claim a spot on the side of the
street to watch the parade. There were a great many floats and groups marching in the parade. There were men in drag and floats with techno music and suggestive dancing on them but then following right behind them were school children in smurf costumes and live jazz bands and old women in ballroom gowns. It was quite an eclectic mix of participants and the whole audience was loving every minute of it. As the parade was ending we made our way back to the old town to find some authentic Galician food for the girls to try. We found a very small, one-table, restaurant that had two of our favorite items. We ordered Pulpo a la Fiera
(scroll down to 3rd photo), also called Pulpo a la Gallega, chipirones
and wine. The pulpo (octopus) dish is very popular in Galicia and always served on a round wood plate. It’s usually served with potatoes on the side and it’s ALWAYS eaten with toothpicks. The chipirones (squid) are served battered and fried, or grilled. We had the grilled here - served with lemon on the side. Both dishes are served with hearty bread to absorb all the leftover tasty flavor from the
plates. In this situation, we (Brian and Shannon only) ate most of the dishes, as the girls both tried the dishes, but preferred the bread. When we left we were still hungry, so we were happy to end up at the same bar as the previous night. We were ready for Round Two. The evening was a little chillier so we sat inside, downstairs and ordered wine while we waited for the tapas to flow our way. We split several bottles of wine and ate until we were content, but the lot of us was out of steam from ¨too much Spain¨ the night before and we headed back to the hotel before 11pm to call it a night.
The next day was to be the California girls last day in town before jumping on a train to head east towards Barcelona. We had decided to hit another hot spring during the day since their train didn’t leave until 7pm. So we got up earlier than usual and we ran to the store to get some fruit, juice and pastries to tide us over until lunch. We gave half of our booty to the girls and parted ways again
to finish getting ready. We left the hotel around 10 that morning and walked to the train station so we could help them with the Spanish involved in buying their train tickets. We picked up the tickets no problem and even helped them get a discount they wouldn’t have gotten if the tickets were bought online. As planned, we started working our way to a different terma and we easily walked over 30 minutes along the river before we encountered the deluxe spa. We were all pretty famished so we sat down at their restaurant and ordered some sandwiches and a personal pizza. By the time we finished eating the other two girls unfortunately didn’t have time to go for a soak and had to head back to the hotel to check out of their already extended check out time.
We paid our 5€ each and got our flip flops, towel and locker rentals and walked into the Termas de Outariz
for a relaxing soak in the hot water. That was exactly what we got. It was wonderful and the sun was shining which really helped getting into a bathing suit in February. Japanese-inspired, with numerous styles of tubs
and soaking areas, made it a great experience. There was the soaking cave, a good number of waterfalls, really shallow pools, individual tubs, huge massage jets and a sauna. Some tubs were definitely more hot than others and one was even too hot. We enjoyed almost two hours there and before we headed for the bus stop to go back to the hotel. We returned back to the hotel relaxed and stress free to find the girls almost ready to go shopping.
With the last few hours of our time together, the girls went out to take advantage of the last days of ¨Rebajas
.¨ After the Magic Kings Day in January, there are some serious sales until the end of February. Mostly on clothes and accessories. Brian stayed back and relaxed and took in some Spanish television. After only an hour or so, the girls returned back to the hotel and grabbed their gear from our room. Soon we said good-bye and they were on their way to the train station leaving us one last night in Ourense to check out the town by ourselves. It was sad to see them leave, but Shannon was happy to see a familiar face so far from home. After they left, it was just about time for an early dinner. Again, we headed out towards our stomping grounds and couldn’t pass up our favorite tapa bar. Our waiter, for the 3rd day in a row, was pleasantly surprised to see us and when he noticed there were only 3 stools, he began looking for a 4th. We told him it was just the 2 of us tonight. We ordered a bottle of red and he was back soon enough with a plate of tapas. We had our fair share of tapas from the dressed-in-costume waiters that were circling the bar and then it was time to go home and pack for our early train. What a great long weekend we had! Fortunately the vacation wasn’t over though. When we found out we could both take off our Thursday classes we decided to jump on a train and check out the city of León!