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Published: February 3rd 2016
It’s been a while since I’ve posted something. I’ve gone on a few trips (which just might be posted about soon), but a lot of my life has been more just hanging around Ourense. So, I wanted to write about this 8-month home I’ve got.
I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in Galicia, so it’s difficult for me to compare this area to the rest of Spain, but one of the things I love is what Galicia is known for in the rest of Spain—the precipitation. It really hasn’t been that rainy here—unseasonably dry/warm weather most of this winter—yet the traditional stone buildings and stone walls are often covered with plants and moss. There’s something about moss-covered stones that’s just so beautiful.
While I’m on the topic of precipitation, I’ve never lived in an area that is so foggy. Ourense isn’t too bad right now, but there have been periods here that every morning it was foggy until 1 or 2 pm. On my morning drive to the village school, the fog in the mountains (if low-lying) is eerie and striking. If it’s high-lying (ie. in the road), it just takes us longer
to get there.
Ourense as a city is a great size, really walkable, and accessible. I, with no sense of direction, can find my way home from the old city (and it only took a few weeks to get to that point. Contrast that with even after 1 year in Daegu, I was calling friends to ask how to get from one specific bar to another. But I also didn’t have a smart phone then, and those help). There are a lot of landmarks, and because most of the old city is on a slope, I usually just walk downhill and end up in a place I know. The nightlife area is compact but usually full of people. As a sign of how walkable/small the city is, I’ve never used a city bus or a taxi here.
There’s a decent amount of infrastructure for pedestrians. I’ve never lived in a place where cars yield to pedestrians so often. I’ve also noticed that the crosswalks are usually painted further back from the intersection, which unfortunately causes pedestrians to have to walk further, but on the other hand makes them more visible to drivers. Along both
sides of the Miño River, there are walking/cycling trails, far away from car fumes. There are also well-built trails along the smaller creeks near me (the Barbaña and the Lonia are my favorites). The accessibility to walk near rivers is one of my other favorite things of Ourense.
And while we’re talking about water (yet again!), let me mention the “termas”. These are outdoor hot springs where people go to hang out and relax. Note: you wear a bathing suit here—it’s not a jimjilbang in Korea. The city has three relatively large termas that are free to the public, as well as two that you can pay for (less than $6 for 2 hours). Man alive, every time I go to Outariz, which is the biggest free terma, but also the furthest from the city, I am newly amazed at this awesome public facility. If you go when it’s “open”, there are free lockers, a changing area, and a bar/restaurant. You can also go at night when it’s “closed” (which my roommates and I tend to do), but the water system is turned off, so the water temperature gradually drops.
I heard before I
came that Galicians are “colder” than other Spaniards (the typical “Northerners are cold/Southerners are friendly” stereotyping). I’ve found generally that Galicians are kind. People hold the door open for you if they see you’re coming. If someone realizes I don’t understand them, they are generally patient and rephrase/speak more slowly. If you’re out at night, it’s not hard to strike up a conversation with a neighboring group of people (who could range in age from high teens all the way into the fifties or sixties). They tend to be friendly and may even ask you to join them for the next bar.
Although overall I feel settled here, in some ways Ourense has made me miss and appreciate Pittsburgh. A few of the things I’ve come to expect from living in Pittsburgh are lacking in Ourense. Ourense has got stuff going on, but I wish there was a bit more diversity in international food in grocery stores, international restaurants, and people.
Another of my longings is for social dancing. In Pittsburgh, after getting a bit bored with Latin dancing, I was getting into swing dancing. Here the only dancing I can find is more
formal dance classes, with very little free/social dancing afterwards, which is the real time I learn a lot. There do seem to be monthly Latin dancing events focused on bachata and kizomba (my least favorite Latin dances), which usually start
at 12 midnight. Meh.
There’s no shortage of bars here, but there is a shortage of interesting
bars and live music. Having lived so close to Lawrenceville in Pittsburgh last year, and gone to a decent number of free music events in Pittsburgh, I’d started to take live music for granted. Alas, here there isn’t much, but I’m slowly finding some places. Last week my roommates and I went to kind of an open-mic night at Auriense Cultural Café, but it only happens on the last Monday of every month (which also doesn’t bode well for work on Tuesday . . . ).
My last critique is something Pittsburgh also lacks. Having lived in Korea, I was spoiled by excellent transportation, even to smaller cities/villages. But even here in Spain (in Galicia specifically), it’s pretty difficult to get out into the countryside without a car. There are some bus companies that go to small
towns nearby, but they tend to only run during the week. And there may be one train/day to certain places. These factors make hiking/exploring daytrips much harder to do.
I’ve reached my half-way point of this 8-month contract, and I’ve come down with homesickness. I know the next four months will go fast, but right now, it’s kind of a struggle. That’s life when you’ve lived away from home. There will always be things you miss from the places you’ve left.
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