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Sunday, 01 November 2020

Iberian Peninsula: Slow-Travel Road Trip in Spain and Portugal - Page 2

Written by Russ and Emily Firlik
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Another focus for discovery was to find the Livraria Lello, one of the ten most interesting and beautiful bookshops in the world. Opened in 1881, the two-story interior has the famous forked staircase, skylights, and painted glass windows along with books and bookshelves. Guide books indicate that this bookshop was frequented by J.K. Rowling when she taught English in Porto, and is reported to be an inspiration for her writing.


When in Porto, you partake in their famous fortified port wine. We had a very informative guided tour of a cave and a lecture on the history of port wine. Finished off the tour and lecture to sample the many different styles of port wines.


The glamour of “la belle époque” is the Majestic Café. This could not have been missed as it’s location was on Santa Catarina Street, within walking distance from National Theatre, São Bento train station, and the City Library. This was the most beautiful coffee house we have ever experienced. The façade was gorgeous, and inside we were overwhelmed with excitement by the Beaux Arts atmosphere. Reminiscent of 1920’s Paris’s sixth Arrondissement, this cafe served both coffee and absinthe and was used as the meeting point of the writers, playwrights, politicians, artists, philosophers and humanist thinkers.

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Friday, off early for our long train ride to Santiago, Spain. We were a bit concerned about how we change trains in Vigo (Portugal), and then catch the train headed to Santiago (Spain). Nonetheless, we were relaxed and enjoying the marvelous countryside, and forgot about the train changes, but fifty minutes into our travels the train stopped. No idea where we were, and only after an hour we knew that we must still be in Portugal? Only one passenger spoke a little English and told us that this occurrence happens frequently. We stood around for over an hour before we were told to hop on a bus that appeared from nowhere. To Where? Another 90 minutes until the bus takes us to another train station. We theorize that the train lines were obstructed somewhere and a diversion the result. Back on another train heading north for another hour and half where we arrive at Vigo. Here we change trains to Santiago de Compostela. We wait another one and half hours before our train arrives for our two-hour ride to Santiago, region of Galicia, Spain. A taxi ride (no Uber) to our first ever stay in a parador was welcomed. Total travel time: ten hours! What is to be learned from this unexpected adventure? Stay calm, and always travel with minimal luggage, have a loving partner, and continue to practice your meditation - It will be helpful.


Once we checked into our Parador of Santiago we immediately took a slow stroll through this magnificent city. The Parador of Santiago is the oldest hotel in all of Europe. We are staying in a hotel that was established 700 years ago. Santiago de Compostela became medieval Christendom’s most important pilgrimage center, along with Jerusalem and Rome. The grand Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is one of the most important religious structures in the whole of Spain, particularly because it marks the end of the 790 kilometers (490 miles) that make up the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Construction of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral began in 1075, on the site of an old church dedicated to Saint Santiago, or St James as he is known in English. So inspiring were the additions over the many years that they yielded various architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical.

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This is rainy March: More rain fails here than in any other region in Spain. However, the northwestern province of Galicia, Santiago might be the most magical city in all of Spain.


Its our final day in Santiago de Compostela and it is still raining today. Nothing to worry about as we head for the modern art gallery, the 11th century church and cloister, and the large open market with a variety of seafood (octopus, scallops, razor crabs, spider crabs, goose barnacles, and fresh lobsters). The Crustacean signature dish in the province of Galicia is “pulpo a galena.” These were tender slices of octopus tentacles sprinkled with olive oil, sea salt and paprika. Along with fresh baked bread and local beer, we enjoyed a marvelous lunch as an award to slow travelers and their journey.

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Interestingly, the exhibit in the modern art museum featured an artist from Connecticut.  The 11th century church- cum - cloister was of Romanesque style. This was definitely a working church, but nobody was in it this morning. An observation: There was little pomp about Easter here. The shops were not overly celebrating or representing Holy Week. I supposed that the folks celebrate in one of the 50 or so churches dotted around the small area.


Today we picked up our vehicle and drove four hours to our next stop in Leon, a city known for its architecture, history and museums. Our GPS and Google maps guided us to our hotel, which was located in a medieval square, and was part of a museum and cloister of the old church. Our very small room was a vast difference (as expected) from the one at the parador, but with free breakfast, Wifi (in the lobby) and parking, we were extremely pleased.

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Leon has a compact Old Town, hosts a major university, and enjoys a small town atmosphere. While we were in Leon we focused on the two important medieval sights within these many medieval European buildings and art styles: (1). Romanesque - the Basilica of San Isidoro Monastery, which is where our small hotel is located, and; (2). Gothic - Leon Cathedral with the best stained glass (painted glass) outside France, and the treasure in the museum of the 10th century Mozarabic Bible.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 04 November 2020

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