As some of you may or may not know, once yearly Liz and I take the kids and meet up Liz's mom, Nancy, and stepfather, Chris in Maine for our annual family vacation.
However, this year, as you already know, Nancy made good on the crazy idea that we should have our little shindig in Europe instead of our annual pilgrimage to Vacationland.
France, and Italy were initially floated around, but as it was, my undying love of Spain sort of steered the online inquires into that part of the world more seriously than the more well traveled "dream vacation" paths.
I'm sure it was a smidgen cheaper as well, but I'll take it anyway I can get it.
So after months of searching for the perfect spot in the many, many vacation-able spots in Spain Nancy forwarded a link to an adorable little converted school in the heart of Galicia, Spain's least populated region, and some would say it's most wild and most ruggedly beautiful.
The idea of going to Galicia was spurred on in part by John Barlow's book Everything But The Squeal, which faithful readers of the old Leftover Foodie may (or probably may not) remember I reviewed a few years back.
Mr. Barlow was even kind enough to offer some great travel tips and "where to go's" for the trip when I reached out to him on facebook.
Thanks again, John! You have a beautiful little slice of country there! I wish we could have made it up to A Coruna, but a week goes by quicker than we thought! Next time though! And if you're ever in NYC, please give a shout!
But back to my little story.
So Galicia for those whom may have never heard of it, is gorgeous. Mostly rural, a little backwards, and totally lovable, you get the sense when you visit there that you're stepping back in time a little bit, but when in actuality, Galicians just don't seem to care what time they're in other than their own.
It's one of the things I loved most about it.
Wifi and satellite television? Sure.
Working wells, streets just for ox carts, and common-to-find chickens in the backyard? Also yes.
Oh, there are urban parts of Galicia, for sure. Touristy parts that service most of the rest of Spain as well as Europe and beyond. But the real drawl for us was the small little towns that are just dots on the map. Close enough to the ocean for world class seafood, but small enough to not be anywhere else.
As far as that goes, Nancy nailed it, and when we eventually (after more than a few days) slowed down into Galicia Time, even came to enjoy it.
However, this particular part of the trip is wrought with peril and all the things that people find frustrating about Galicia.
I speak, of course, of the first two days. Two of the worst, most frustrating days of vacation I've ever been on.
Let's start by ruining the suspense and admitting right off the bat that the house we were in, and the little town of A Lama were as quaint and charming as advertised, and much more.
Yes, we came to eventually fall head over heal for it's charms. I still long for the slower pace of life and the rustic appeal of the land and the people that live there. But those first couple of days almost ended two marriages, nearly caused at least 20 car accidents, and had me within a hairs breadth of driving off a cliff to end it all in a blaze of glory fitting for the sheer anger and stress I felt over one hellishly horrible hour of my life that I'd trade at least one Redskins Super Bowl Championship to not have had to have lived.
Multiply it by two as Chris and Nancy went through a similar, but even worse experience.
It seems a little silly to talk about all this time later, but it's important to talk about as it was a major factor on the way the trip started off, which was on just about the worst foot possible.
First, our story (I'll make it as quick as possible as it does seem a bit trifle in the wholeness of what was an otherwise amazing experience).
We left Madrid early enough, and after switching cars and a slow learning curve of relearning how to drive a stick shift in the middle of a major metropolitan area with foreign signs with Liz telling me one way to go according to her cell phone, and the GPS telling me to go another for about 20-30 minutes (with at least 3 stalls, and 47 wrong turns in between) we made it out of the city and onto the highway for our little adventure.
In our awesome red BMW we drove through mountains and valleys and beautiful scenic countryside, and had an otherwise uneventful and pleasant drive through the middle of Spain.
As we entered Galicia we had a good radio station, and the kids were as happy as kids who have been in the car for 5-6 hours could be. Things were going great.
We drove into some breathtaking countryside and started up a steep mountain offering even more sightseeing. It really wasn't until our GPS had us get off of the highway and started us down the country roads that I started getting stressed out.
As the roads got narrower and narrower and the cliffs, inches off the road, got steeper and steeper I really started to wish we had gotten an automatic.
Up-shift, downshift, downshift, 3rd gear, 4th gear, 2nd gear. I was a wreck by the time we got to the bottom of the mountain and drove through the tiny little villages that we assumed were too small to be like the ones we would be staying in but were very wrong.
Through adorable one-street towns with cafes, and teenager hanging out literally in the street we trudged on. As we started to climb up another mountain, this time on a two lane highway that barely fit one car with ever more precarious turns and drops, I would hold my breath and tense as every car passed within inches of hitting us off the cliffs.
And then the horses and sheep started showing up.
On a random turn there's be five or six horses just sitting in the road, and always there'd be a car or two behind me that couldn't imagine why I'd slow down for them...
My nerves were shot, to say the least.
As we pulled into where our GPS told us was where we were supposed to go, we were forced to guess that it wasn't the middle of a one lane street with nowhere to turn around. So Liz went to a house that we saw along the way and, knowing about 6 words of Spanish to my 3, tried to find out where we were supposed to go.
The best advise the guy could give us was to go back down the road a ways and there was a place with a information desk that might be able to help us.
This place turned out to be a high security prison.
One of the guys there, whom spoke as little English as we did Spanish, offered to drive us into town. He wasn't sure where the house was we were staying in, but he could get us into the center of town and we could call Liz's mom from there to get us the rest of the way.
Simple enough, right?
Well, now begins one of the most stressful hours of my life.
We pull into a supermarket parking lot and call the woman who is renting the house to us. She offers to have us wait there for a couple minutes while her house keeper comes to get us and show us the way, but Liz, in all her terrible-decision-in-hindsight glory decides to just have this woman direct us.
While on the phone.
While I'm driving.
Go here, turn right there... no not there.
Turn here? No? No! Back there!
Go right here and then stay left here? No! Not here? Over there?
Mind you there are cars behind me honking and I'm not even a little bit comfortable driving stick on these narrow, super steep streets.
Okay, I got it this time. Turn left at the church then stay right, then go down a hill to a bend? No?
We end up on a dirt road for ox carts.
Okay, so at the bend go right this time? ...no? Oh.
Alright, so stay straight at the bend until you see a blue house then turn left? We passed a blue house about a quarter mile ago. Yeah, that one? Oh.
This goes on like this for a little bit until eventually:
Okay, go left at the church and down a small hill and wait there for your house keeper to come get us and drive us the rest of the way?
And we wait for her housekeeper to come get us to show us the way to go.
Which is what I'd been saying we should have done all along.
Mind you, Liz is on the phone the whole time describing what she sees to this woman who doesn't speak english very well, waiting for her to tell Liz where to go so she can tell me where to go.
It took forever to just get the wrong directions.
That's when I wanted to drive off the cliff and end it all right then and there.
So after about 8 hours of driving, the last hour of it being one of the worst hours of my life stress-wise, this tiny little lady pulls up and asks us to turn around and follow her.
As we follow her we pull into a steep turn right up against a wall and I lose it.
I just can't do it.
The car's beeping at me that I'm about to hit the wall, I can't get into first gear without rolling backwards, I'm stressed beyond anything I've ever been, and I've worked in the restaurant industry for the past 16 years.
I just couldn't do it any more, I'm done.
You just pop it into gear, it's easy.
"I can't," I tell her "I'm too close to the wall."
You just pop it. Fast. Like real quick. It's easy, Nate...
"Liz, I can't. I'll hit the wall, I don't have any room."
The car's screaming at me from two sides saying I'm centimeters away from the wall.
Fine, you want me to do it? I'll do it then... It's so easy, this is ridiculous! She says as snotty as can be.
I do want her to do it because I can't.
We switch seats, and she proceeds to stalls the car four times in a row without getting into first gear.
I feel better, but still want to throw up and then murder everyone in Spain.
Finally the housekeeper comes up to the car and say's she'll do it.
The first time.
I feel better. And ashamed.
Mostly better though, by a long shot.
Here's a picture of the wall that almost caused a divorce and at least several murders.
Seems harmless here, but for about 15 minutes of my life it was the biggest foe I'd ever faced.
I still hate that wall, and to top it off, there was never any reason for us to go near it as the house we were staying at wasn't anywhere near that street.
So we get to the house, it's gorgeous, but I'm ruined to the world for anything other than murderous rage.
Come to find out that the same thing happened to Chris and Nancy as well, and it also happened to the other family that was staying at the cottage.
So needless to say, despite the lack of food, even with the knowledge that the local super market would be closed that sunday and monday for a holiday (this was a saturday), no one wanted to get back into the car for all the money in the world.
What's worse is, despite Liz and I's pleading, Chris and Nancy didn't get a GPS for their car and spent not just that day, but the three previous ones similarly lost and stressed.
It wasn't a great way to start the trip.
Tension in the house was high, stress levels through the roof.
Eventually jet lag set in, nerves were calmed with wine and beer and a meager dinner of pasta was made.
We had hoped to find an open super market in a bigger town that sunday, but after another harrowing car adventure which got Chris and Nancy lost even though they were supposed to be following us, and exactly zero open anythings, we made it back to the house the second day with provisions from a gas station and another shitty day.
But at least I took pictures the second day! So here are some of them, and then after this the trip gets significantly better...
Here's a picture of the house we were staying in.
It's an old school that was converted into a vacation cottage, and it's as ridiculously adorable as it looks...
And here's just a few random ones...
And here's a little friend we made along the way, Juceby(?).
Now let's put this bit of unfortunate business behind us and focus on the better, brighter days ahead...
And by that I mean next time.
After the second day we find open markets, we find seafood, we use the grill, and we explore the southern coast of Galicia and beyond.
But these are adventures you have to wait for as this posts is well past long enough and I'm tired of looking at it!
So until then my little chickadees...