I am currently living in Ourense, Galicia, Spain. The city is nestled in the mountains with the steady Río Miño flowing through it. There is an old center that fits the quintessential European appearance of open squares, stone buildings, cobblestone streets, winding alleys, and layers of different development added each year for centuries. If you peel them away there's no telling what you would find. There are few dilapidated buildings being torn down to reconstruct new ones and when I walk by I can see several feet under street level--I'd love to know what the construction workers uncover! My favorite time of day here is around 6:00 when everyone is out strolling the pedestrian-only "paseo." This main street stretches the length of the old center and is all stores and cafes on the first floors of all of the buildings. I so much enjoy walking slowly through the crowd of people. Many walk arm in arm, often with 2-3 generations in each group. Window shopping seems to be a favorite here. People do go in stores, but the window displays are intricately designed because most people just stroll by them checking out the new styles. Several people have commented to me that the citizens of Ourense are known for how fashionable they are. Zara, H & M, and Zara Home might be the death of my checkbook. Wait, let me re-phrase: the death of my cashflow. I don't have checks here and it seems like no one else does either. They surely have to have checks here, but everyone uses cash for everything, or credit cards for large purchases. I've yet to see someone pay for a meal with a card. It's so nice that there isn't additional tax. So when your pizza costs 5 euros, you pay 5 euros and aren't expected to tip. It makes group meals so much easier! Outside of the old center it feels more like any urban city with loud streets, traffic that makes me feel like each street crossing is a suicide attempt, and apartment building after apartment building. Since everyone here lives in apartments, the obvious lack of yards means that there are parks interspersed throughout the city that at night become the city's "front porch." They are always filled with kids on the playgrounds, moms in heels chatting, dads with strollers, and old men watching the world go by from their bench perches. The park by my house has a few resident peacocks which always charms me when I come across one in the middle of a city. More on Ourense as I put my exploring senses to work...
My favorite cafe in Ourense, Cafe Real.
The famous Camino de Santiago goes through Ourense (one of the trails...this one is not the main one from France that travels through northern Spain). I love walking out of my apartment and seeing a trail marker like this one that mark the camino for pilgrims. It reminds me that I'm living on a camino (journey, adventure, path) everyday. This one is on the city's old Roman Bridge.
So far my favorite piece of graphic design from Ourense. (Sorry for the terrible photo...it was from far away. These photos are more so just to show you what it looks like, not really to capture some great artsy subject!)
A church in Ourense. It's washed out up top...didn't realize this when I took it...just thankful for a sunny day though ! Everyone loves to keep reminding me how rare that is here. (It think the foggy air here makes every photo look over exposed).
Millennium Bridge in Ourense. The next bridge down from the Roman Bridge. Two thousand years of history between the two.
Spain's old peoples' favorite things seems to be sitting on benches people watching. (Bad photo because I obviously didn't want to be rude and take this photo where they could see me. I was very far away and inconspicuous!)
Part of Ourense's old center. Note the palm tree (and I see sea gulls out my window all the time). I guess it makes sense because I'm only an hour from the beach, but it sure does feel like I'm too much in the forested mountains to have palm trees. When everyone here tells me repeatedly that winter will be cold, cold, cold I rest assured that if there are palm trees it hopefully can't get too cold (fingers crossed!).
Ourense's Plaza Mayor with it's town hall.
Plaza Mayor, view two.