“The Misadventures of Las Mujeres Miserables” Thirty years after Maria lived a summer in Spain, and fifteen after Melinda completed her Masters in Madrid, we bring our 12-year-olds on a road trip. We have orthotics and enough NSAIDs to last a month.
  • Day22

    Picos de Europa

    July 10, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    “Picos de Europa” is Spanish for...”scariest roads ever”. 😂 We drove from El Bizarro to Covadonga. Covadonga is the site of the battle in which the Visigoth king, Pelayo, was victorious over the invading Moors. Covadonga is in the mountainous national park, Picos de Europa, and there is found the shrine to Pelayo and a modern cathedral. Covadonga is a beautiful site, and an important part of Spanish history.

    After some lunch and seeing Covadonga, we headed further south and east through the Picos to Potes. Potes is a gorgeous little village that was just featured in The Guardian’s travel section...so we knew we had to visit NOW before it got too crazy.

    Let Maria tell you about Spanish mountain roads. They are like New Mexican mountain roads...times a billion. You know the New Mexican trick of just drawing the line at the edge of the road in a little bit when it starts to erode away? Well, they do that here...especially when the rocky cliff impedes the road...however, the road in Spain is ALREADY tiny, so narrower is just ridiculous. Oh, and there are buses...lots and lots of buses...Maria is shocked that her heart is still beating and the Audi’s side mirrors still exist.

    We made it to Potes. It’s ridiculously cute. We walked around a bit, tried some restaurants out, and took a lot of photos...we also ignored Phillipa (our navigation system) a lot. She really wants us to drive down stairs. Maria thinks she hates us, and is trying harder to get rid of us.

    Yesterday afternoon, we went up to see Potes’ main attraction...Santo Toribio...a monastery that contains the largest part of the true cross of Christ. (Stop...they had it tested...) The cross was brought from Jerusalem in the 5th century. It was held in Astorga, but after the Moorish invasion of 711, they moved it into the mountains outside of Potes. They had the entire left arm of the cross. However, under the Benedictine monks’ care, the cross was chipped away by pilgrims on their way to Santiago who wanted a piece of the cross. (Franciscan friars are telling us this...throwing shade on the softie Benedictines😂)

    Maria has to say, to date, this is the coolest relic she’s seen. It even out-shines St. Stephen’s Holy right hand.😂 When the Franciscans took over care of the relic, there wasn’t a lot of the wood remaining. They took what was left and built a cross shaped reliquary for the cross. Towards the bottom of the cross there is a cut out exposing the place where Jesus’ left hand was nailed. The guy at the entrance to the monestary told us we could enter the chapel at 6 pm for an explanation and to touch (tocar) the cross.

    Melinda: “Did he say, ‘tocar?!?!’”
    Me: “He said ‘tocar’!”

    We walked into the chapel, and Maria whispered, “front row!” And there we sat listening to who is now our favorite Catholic priest ever. He actually was welcoming, and answered our questions (ie. half-understandings) and he apparently ignored the “no photos” part of venerating the cross. Had Maria KNOWN he was ignoring this...there would be más photos. Muchos más photos! The bad part about front row? We had NO idea what “cross protocol” was. We snuck behind others and let them go first. Most kissed it. We touched it. Hugging a saint and kissing a cross was too much for one week.

    Maria here: I’m kidding, but it was a very moving experience. I, of course, am skeptical of what the wood truly is, but it is a very, very old piece of wood from the holy land that has been cared for over centuries in these mountains. It feels bigger than us, and I think it’s always good to remember that there are things bigger than you.

    We decided to return today in hopes of getting a photo of Melinda kissing the cross. Apparently you are supposed to kiss it...Jesus enters your body through lips, not fingers...obviously. Today, sadly, favorite priest wasn’t there. It was a friar who seemed less photo friendly. Melinda still only touched the cross. Maria totally kissed it.

    Maria thinks Jesus loves her and is ok that she teases a bit. He may not like her, but he loves her😇
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  • Day21

    Our GPS system wants us dead...

    July 9, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Well, maybe not dead...but stuck...forever. Phillipa, our posh GPS voice who cannot pronounce ONE SINGLE place name on the Iberian peninsula is trying to get rid of us. Potes is where we confirmed that. We really should switch to the Spanish voice because we would understand more, but Phillipa’s incorrectness and simultaneous condescension keeps Maria loyal to her. Here in Potes there are fine “two lane roads”...some even with painted stripes! and Phillipa tries to send us down the walking paths of these medieval towns. She’s a monster.

    Okay, there are two reasonable sized roads...the rest you can walk😂

    Melinda is suffering flashbacks constantly from...well, the parking garage in A Guarda, and well, pretty much every other day we’ve been driving in Spain. Tonight she said, “No! Go back!” As Maria was following a town sign to the town parking lot😂 Phillipa, the evil GPS voice, we blame you.
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  • Day19

    Galicia, we adore you

    July 7, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    After panicking about heat and parking garages, the Miserable Mujeres changed their trip plans from the wine country (HOT!) to the Galician coast and the Picos de Europa mountain range.

    First: Galician coast
    After Santiago de Compostela, we drove north and west to the Beach of the Cathedrals. This also has a Spanish name and a Galician name...and our GPS couldn’t find either (Thanks, Phillipa). Luckily, we were staying at a rural house just miles from the beach, and the proprietor was friendly and helpful. That first night we saw the beach at medium tide, had some pizza in town, and prepared for the next day.
    The Galician coast is known for seafood, so we went to find seafood the next day for lunch. We got lost (thanks, Google), found a random folk festival (they dress like Germanic tribes and do competitions???), and then had to wait for lunch...at 3:30 pm (total normal lunch time. Spain is not on Portugal or British Time even though it’s at the exact same longitude as those. Long ago, Spain decided to go with Germany🤦‍♀️, so now everything we do is at least an hour too late...but we digress...)
    Lunch was a fabulous mix of scallops and local tuna just recently brought in to the pier. We saw a guy grilling his own sardines as we were walking. Since he didn’t invite us in, we had to find our restaurant.
    After lunch we went to the “cathedrals”. This time at low tide. It was amazing the day before, but so worth it to see in all of its glory. You now have to get a ticket from the park system to enter the beach as it was becoming overcrowded and dangerous before. It’s easy to stick yourself somewhere past where the tide is coming in. Even at low tide, we had to wade through water to see the famous arches. Melinda, though she failed to catch it on film, had a favorite moment watching Maria wait for the perfect shot of waves crashing into the cliff...only to have the wave crash into herself instead...
    We did the beach, and headed into Ribedeo for their “Festival of the Indians”. It was another good time for the blog, bad time for the Mujeres as we drove into town. First we drove through the center where there were clearly people walking in from distant homes and parking lots, but...oh no...Melinda wanted to see if we could find the actual festival. “Turn here”, she says. Maria does so and the inevitable happens...within 2.3 milliseconds, we go from perfectly fine, two lane, paved road to...steep, cobblestone path. And don’t forget...that tiny little cobbled “street”...it’s full of festival goers. We try to go one way and a lady says, “Nope. You can’t go there. Go down to the pier and turn around.” But of course...No further direction. Finally, we are at a crossroads and Melinda asks the oldest man living in town. He tells us to drive down there, park at the port, and take the elevator up to town. Brilliant! We do so.
    Two hours later, we run into the old local and find out...he’s not from these parts😂 Just visiting. Just like us. For the rest of the night, we are thinking, “Hmm...was it legal to park there? Think they’ll lock that gate?!?!”
    The Festival of the Indians is a bit problematic. Everyone dresses like rich Victorians and celebrates the people who returned from the New World. We met a nice couple from Alicante, who agreed with us...why in the world would they celebrate how they stole from and killed the new world natives?!? Spain seems to really have little self awareness about the whole Conquistador thing.
    It turns out, although still a smidge problematic, it’s actually celebrating the Spaniards who returned from the West Indies. Spain is a land that loses people. People emigrate at a higher rate there than other nations. So, we understand the celebration of homecoming. Apparently there are some lectures held in town during the festival, so hopefully those are also educational about what happened to the natives of the West Indies after the Spanish conquered.😬
    Our friends from Alicante had seen us stalking a patio table to eat at and had waited for us to return to finish their dinner (love them😍). We talked for a bit, they went on their way, we ate.
    As we were finishing up, a group of semi-locals (from Galicia...”Gallegos”) were stalking the tables near us. Maria thought, “Well, they can have our table too when we are done.” And then we started talking...and talking...and sharing a drink. We never left the group. We were just folded into it. Now we have new Galician friends, and we stayed and talked until 1:20 am. Poor 9 year old Diego was about to pass out by the time we left. That’s pretty much how Maria felt every night she lived in Spain that summer of her 16th year...How do these people stay out so late?😂 We ❤️ España.
    Remember...it’s now almost 2 am and an elderly tourist (who has no car, mind you) has told us where to park.
    But the story ends well. The port was not locked up for the night. Audi drives another day.

    Tomorrow...”This isn’t a full lane!” Driving through the mountains meeting tour buses.😳
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  • Day18

    We came, we saw...

    July 6, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    We came to take more Pepto, we saw people hugging a statue, we conquered the low tide of the Cantabrian Sea. We hugged the statue too.

    Today started out “no bueno” as we like to say in these parts. Melinda has been battling stomach fun and Maria a little too. We blame Portugal😂

    We got on the road earlier than usual, if not as early as planned and headed to Santiago de Compostela. Santiago is a major pilgrimage site because it is claimed that St. James’ bones are interred in the cathedral. Maria gives it a 40% chance of that being true. Melinda thinks this is way too generous.

    Maria has always dreamed of completing the Camino until today. People ruin everything. Santiago has become the Disney of pilgrims. It’s a mass of people and why? Is it really a pilgrimage or is it a show? Why Saint James over all the others? Maria was underwhelmed by the show of it all. Also, she only walked 0.6 miles from the parking lot to the cathedral, so not quite ready for the whole 500 miles😂

    But Maria did hug a Saint. She thought she was in line to see Saint James’ bones. Melinda remembered going down to see the bones. She sent Maria down and there was a gold coffin holding the relics of St. James. Maria didn’t realize that’s what they were. So we stood in line another 20 minutes and then went up some stairs and hugged a statue (from behind, of course!) while a guy looked on so no photos were taken. We are sure we did the hugging all wrong, but hug we did...and then Maria asked, “Where are the bones?” “I think you saw them downstairs.” I’ll tell you what...in 1995, Maria and friends spent the equivalent of $0.25 to light up the mummified right hand of St. Stephan in Hungary...THAT is how relics should be done😂

    We left Santiago glad we were off to more calm environs. Now we are along the north coast staying at a place called Finca O Bizarro. Sadly, bizarro means “courageous” and not “bizarre”...because I wanted the translation to be “Bizarre farm”😂

    Just along the coast above us, the Camino or “way” to Santiago follows from France to Santiago de Compostela. We are here to visit the Beach of the Cathedrals. Amazing rock formations and arches that are only visible at low tide. We viewed some this evening at medium tide. We will return for low tide tomorrow.
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  • Day17

    One more time with feeling...Portugal

    July 5, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Maria’s dad taught her to be ridiculously cheap. Drive for gas that’s 10 cents cheaper. Never use more postage than absolutely necessary (actually, that’s her mom.) Portugal has the weirdest toll system around. In much of the country there is the normal toll booth and one can manually pay a toll, but on certain roads one can only pay electronically. It’s very confusing to figure out which roads have which system. You have to either enter Portugal at one of four designated entry sites or you have to set it up online. It took an entire morning to set up it seemed...Maria calculated the needed toll, paid it, and then drove on different roads🤦‍♀️.

    The short story is...I had 7 dollars of prepaid toll burning a hole in my pocket...so we went back to Portugal! This time to Vila do Conde...a lovely seaside town known for ship building during Portugal’s Age of Discovery and one of the earliest known settlements in Portugal. It has a river that runs into the sea, some lovely beaches, and it’s not known well outside Portugal.

    Again, we didn’t get a super early start. Luckily Portugal is an hour behind Spain, but even with that, we barely made lunch before it closed😂 A walk around the center square, a visit to a tiled chapel, and a drink on the beach, followed by a stroll, completed our day.

    Tomorrow: Great plans to wake before 10😂 and travel to the Beach of the Cathedrals! It’s already 2:30am, so Maria needs to get off to bed!
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  • Day16

    You can walk to the top...

    July 4, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    A few truths have been revealed from our internet searching whilst here in Galicia: 1) There are twice as many sites listed to visit than truly exist. This is because things are often known by a “Gallego” (Galician) name and a Castilliano (Spanish) one and 2) People reviewing lodging options (especially Brits and Americans) want a. more toaster availability with breakfast, b. more English TV channels, and c. wider, flatter roads. Me? I would just like the crazy squawking bird to STOP it outside my window at 4 am...well, and maybe wider roads. I think I’ll write a review of the Convent hotel complaining of birds😂 But my point is... People, when traveling, try to be more flexible and open minded.

    But about those roads...There is an ancient Celtic settlement two miles from town straight up a mountain. The guide books all say you can walk😂 We read that you can drive but the road is really narrow and steep. So, of course, we planned to just miss the entire thing😂 Finally a Brit reviewer told it how it is...He walked it...his wife refused to go...he said a 10 Euro taxi would have been “well worth” the trip, so we drove. The entire drive Melinda kept saying, “WHY would anyone walk this???” Those people who reviewed that the road was “steep and narrow”? They are clearly new here. That road was a four lane highway compared to what we’ve been on.

    So, we made it to the top. Monte Santa Trega (Castro de Santa Tecla) is perched above A Guarda on a hill that overlooks the Miño River and Portugal. It comprises 6 of the top 8 things to do here by being listed by different names😂 It’s kind of a big deal. Castro De Santa Trega was a Celtic Village of about 3-4,000 people. We made it to the site near sunset and through the fog, the views were amazing.

    Earlier in the day (and by earlier, I mean 6 pm😂), we visited a winery of the Rias Baixas wine growing region. They produce white wines, often from Albariño grapes. We took a tour, did a tasting, and bought more wine than likely will fit in our suitcases. It was a good day.

    Tomorrow: Back to Portugal because Maria was taught to be really frugal.
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  • Day15

    Porto

    July 3, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Last year the Gairs crashed a lovely wedding with Alice in Porto, Portugal. We had a tour, tasting and dinner at Graham’s Port Lodge in Gaia. We drove up through Portugal Sunday and Maria thought we could stop on the way. Luckily, She changed plans and decided to make a day trip instead. First, we were too late on Sunday...and secondly, the “parking garage incident” would have been even more tragic. Melinda is already having nightmares about that night. Imagine if we had been hours later...shudder.

    We are staying about an hour and a half north of Porto. Graham’s let us park the car at the lodge before our tour and dinner reservations, so once we found the place, we left the car and caught a bus into town.

    Maria wanted to show Melinda the train station. Melinda was all, “what?!?!” But then Melinda saw the entire interior covered in painted tile. She understood. The São Benito train station is a masterpiece. We then headed to the Majestic Café (Art Deco from the 20’s) for a snack, saw a pretty church, and wandered a bit before heading back with the bus to Graham’s.

    Graham’s was how I remembered...a great tour, fantastic tawny ports, and we stayed for a four hour dinner at the Restaurant. Ah, Porto...you are a lovely city. We are now trying to figure out how to fit that bottle of Port (pictured with Maria) into our suitcase. I mean...Maria read that each adult can carry one bottle home!

    Next up...some wine and a Celtic ruin.
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