So, here we are in Galicia -- another world in so many ways. It's in Spain, but not tourist Spain. Galicia is the northwest corner, that "bump" at the top of Portugal, fronting two seas. Its most famous city is Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage city with roads leading into it from all over Europe. Relics of St. James are said to be in this cathedral. But my husband and I stay in a tiny village called Trasulfe, about an hour and forty-five minutes southeast of Santiago, and about fifteen minutes away from a town called Monforte de Lemos.
We are sitting in a coffee shop in the Parador of Monforte right now. Paradors are former castles, monasteries, forts, or nobles' mansions that have been converted into hotels and restaurants. Monforte de Lemos's famous structure was once both castle and monastery and it sits at the top of a high hill, rising high above the center of town, visible for miles around. It also overlooks some of the most peaceful scenery you will ever see in every direction.
In Galicia, the main language is Gallego, a language similar to, but not a dialect of, Portugese. You can think of them as "sister languages". Of course, in Galicia, as all over Spain, the official language is Castiliano (Castilian Spanish) and is formally taught in schools. Thus, it is a Galician's second language, all though all are fluent in it. Few people here speak English, although English language schools are springing up to accommodate the English expats who have fallen in love with the countryside and the culture.
I can't say enough about the warmth and friendliness of the people. We come back again and again to the same region, partly because it's such a peaceful, tranquil setting, and partly because it's just so great to see everyone again and catch up on their news. I can't say enough, too, about the honorableness of the culture. People are trustful. This is a region where often business is concluded with a handshake, it being a matter of honor not to go back on one's word. The work ethic is wonderful. No matter how big the job, pay is refused until a job is completed and there is great pride (justified) in the workmanship. Often it's understood that the next time one is in town the finances will be taken care of.
As for the tranquility: This is a rural area, with layers of wooded hills and pasturelands in the foreground, and layers of mountains in the background. Because of the proximity of two sea coasts, blankets of fog and curlycues of steam rise from the valleys in the mornings, and blue skies fill with billowing clouds in the afternoons. Between times there are often light sprinkles of rain in late spring and early fall. In winter the cold rains come, and summers are hot. We come in the spring and the fall when the area is at its most beautiful.
Eventually, I know, we will make the rounds of the more famous cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo, Valencia, Granada. But for five years we've been content just enjoy what we call "working holidays" (since we both work from home); working part of the day on our computers, and hanging out with friends and neighbors the rest of the time, going to a fiesta or two, enjoying spectacular sunsets and homemade wine, the local breads and cheeses, and wonderful cafe con leche.