Galicia, Spain

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Exploring Rias

Galicia occupies the northwest corner of Spain, hugging the Atlantic, with sandy beaches and sunny days. Unlike most of coastal Spain, the primary economic engine is fishing, not tourism. Octopus, shellfish, and flat fish are on every menu.

For a sailor, Galicia provides great cruising. You don't have to spend too much time in the Atlantic Ocean (there's a reason this area is called the "Costa da Morte" or Death Coast). Instead, you can dart from one ria to another. Rias are river valleys that were submerged when sea levels rose following the Ice Age. For us, we can visit coastal towns and cities sheltered from the winds and seas, and stay in marinas or anchor in protected waters just a dinghy ride from medieval towns.

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Finisterre
This promontory of rock isn't the westernmost protrusion of Europe, but it's the symbolic end of the world. Don't believe it? Its name is Finisterre, or "end of the world."
Castro de Santa Tegra
The Castro de Santa Tegra is an ancient settlement, built by the Celts in the first century BC and used by Romans. Excavation was begun in 1913, and about half of the dwellings have been excavated so far. You can see the reconstructed roof and recovered dwellings all around. It's likely that up to 5000 people lived in this strategically important location.
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
It's believed that the remains of the apostle James were brought to Galicia. Legend has it that in the ninth century, a shepherd watching his flock at night was led by a bright star to a site, and when that site was excavated, they found the body of the apostle. This cathedral now stands on that spot, and Santiago has become the third most important Christian pilgrimage site after Rome and Jerusalem.
Horreos
These hórreos are a common sight in Galicia. Originally a Roman conception, they're used for grain storage. Slits on the sides provide ventilation, and the storage unit is lifted off of the ground to prevent access by rodents. Yum.
Cruceiro
Cruceiros are large crosses, and you find them in plazas, road junctions, or other places. They serve as a religious symbol, of course, but they're also valuable navigational tools. In fact, cruceiros are a part of the system of symbols guiding pilgrims along the Way of Saint James to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.
Santa Rita festival
Our visit to the medieval town of Combarro coincided with the Santa Rita festival. The people poured out of the tiny church to follow Saint Rita around the narrow streets of town. Then there was a dance performance outside the church, with the musical accompaniment of the bagpipes you can see behind the dancers. This instrument, called the gaita, is a reminder of the original Celtic settlement of the area.
Knife sharpener
This gentleman makes his living from the restaurants around the streets of Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage city boasts many eateries, and this man keeps their knives sharp by honing them on belts powered by his bicycle. We were told that he used to do this on a motorcycle, but times are tough now.
Paragliding
What do you do when there's a mountain on one side of you and the sea on the other? It turns out that these natural phenomena create the perfect conditions for paragliding. The land heats up and creates thermal disturbances. These thermals work with the wind and cause updrafts. A pilot can fly around with a contraption strapped on, without an engine or a parachute, and go in any direction (into or away from the wind, up or down) and land right in the same place as takeoff. Actually, when someone is hanging from all of those strings, he looks a little bit like the curmudgeon from the movie "Up".