As part of the Vassar-Wesleyan Madrid program, I’ve spent the last two weeks in Galicia’s capital, Santiago de Compostela. Galicia is one of Spain’s seventeen states, something I embarrassingly didn’t know until I arrived. However, after living here since August 18, touring a ton of cathedrals (some multiple times), frequenting way too many bars, and eating way too many tapas—I’m basically an expert.
Just kidding. However, I have fallen into the rhythm of everyday living here, and all of us on the study-abroad program have settled into somewhat of a routine (albeit one that’s only sustainable because we’re 20-year-olds studying abroad). On that note, instead of writing a laundry list of all of the sights I’ve seen during my time in Santiago, or just writing about my favorite adventures so far—which would be almost as long of a list—I thought I’d relate what a typical day in Spain is like. Aside from the weird toilets (every single one has a different way to flush it, I swear), figuring out how to order correctly in restaurants, and learning not to cringe when I think about how many American dollars I’m spending because of the shitty exchange rate, one of the things that took the most getting used to was definitely the daily horario, or schedule.
I’m completely aware that I’m somewhat of an anomaly in that I grew up eating dinner around 4:30 p.m. every day, and I’ve never been a napper. Though these two things are often antithetical to college life generally, they are in even more opposition to the Spanish lifestyle.
When we arrived in Santiago, exhausted and jetlagged, our program director Ana said that she wasn’t going to let us sleep—she had a full day planned. “Tonight you will sleep like babies and wake up like Spaniards,” she said. I put my faith in her, but after being awake for upwards of 30 hours, the eight hours of sleep we got that night didn’t do much for me.
But then I discovered the beauty of the siesta.
Like I said, I’m definitely not someone who is good at napping or is excited about the prospect of napping (I think it’s the Type A part of my personality), but siestas have been both wonderful and completely necessary in order to assimilate into Spanish culture. Most stores are closed during the hours of siesta—any time between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m., I’d say—and the tradition of siesta began for entirely practical reasons. Because there are so many daylight hours here, the hottest part of the day is during this time of rest, which is, of course, no accident. The siesta was intended for relief from what can be unbearable heat during the summer, as well as a way to help you digest your lunch—the biggest meal of the day.
Here at Burgos das Naciones, a hotel-style dormitory part of la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, we have two classes in the morning—a language and culture class and a Spanish history class—followed by lunch and then a siesta, if we like. I usually take an hour-and-a-half nap, and then most days we meet around 5:00 p.m. for either an organized group excursion or to just go into the main part of the city for tapas and drinks. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the dorms into the main plaza, la Plaza de Obradoiro, where the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is located. Passing by on any given day, you’ll see a slew of peregrinos, or pilgrims, completing their spiritual journeys at the cathedral to the tune of a chorus of bagpipes. Yes, bagpipes. Galicia was originally occupied by Celtic peoples and you can still see many vestiges of their influence—unfortunately, the bagpipes represent the louder and more irritating of their contributions.
Nonetheless, at this point it’s prime time for a drink and some tapas. Almost every bar will give you free tapas if you come with some friends and order a few drinks—it’s just a matter of finding the one that will give you the most bang for your buck. Most bars will give you peanuts and potato chips, but it’s a little more challenging to find the ones that will give you olives and mini sandwiches in addition to the peanuts and chips. However, after much scouring, we’ve finally uncovered the hidden gems of Santiago.
Dinner in Spain usually happens after 10:00 p.m., which is why you can imagine that so many tapas would be necessary at this point. Santiago is really well known for their seafood, because it’s a city so close to the coast. The most common seafood is pulpo, or octopus. I’m a big fan of calamari and I’ve even gotten over my aversion to eating the bits with the legs still attached, but these octopuses (octopi?) have suckers. SUCKERS. It actually tasted really good though! Other than pulpo, my main food groups involve bread, olive oil, and a lot of pork.
After dinner, we’ll usually go to a few bars for some more drinks. One of our favorite bars that we’ve discovered is called El Momo. During the first week we were here, our monitores—students who’ve volunteered to take us under their wing—brought us all there in the evening after a big group dinner. There’s a nice garden in the back where you can sit and there was a band playing when we got there. The real catch, however, is that every third drink is free.
On Sunday we leave for Madrid where we’ll meet our host families and undergo yet another orientation. Hopefully my next blog post will be about how much I like my host family and how much they like the sangria-scented candle I got them. Until then Vassarinos!