Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Santiago de Compostela, day 1

It's a little after midnight on my first day in the office, having spent the afternoon looking for flats and having just come back from dinner at the house of a couple of students. Eating at 11 in the evening is something which I will have to get used to having spent the last two years regularly finishing dinner by 6!

I wrote the following on Saturday, the day I flew here, but have not had internet access until now.


I flew into Santiago de Compostela today with stories of rain and gloom and was greeted not only with stunning blue skies and temperatures around 20 degrees but also with simply one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. I spent the day walking round the old windy streets up and down the narrow alleyed hills, buying replacements for all the things I had to leave behind and throw away because of Ryan airs pitiful baggage allowance (total of 25 kilos for carry on plus stowed. My laptop and camera probably approach 10 kilos alone).

I had been told by Spaniards that this city was lovely and I was going to like it a lot, but I wasn't prepared for quite how stunning it is. It reminds me of Florence, of the back roads of Montmatre in Paris, and of small Tuscan villages. I sat having a lunch of chorizo and good bread - I've missed good bread so much in Beijing, though the wealth of other wonders never made me crave for it - in the Cathedral square as the sun moved around to illuminate the front of the wonderfully ornate building which Santiago is famed for. People having just completed El Camino - 'the way' - on foot or by bike made for a constant stream of tired but happy pilgrims.

Trying to find information on Santiago on the web is rather difficult because almost everything focuses around the Pilgrim trail and the Cathedral, so in my time here I hope to find out what else the city of 90,000 has to offer. Stunning countryside (excellent for hiking and cycling) is one thing which made itself abundantly obvious as the plane descended this morning.

After lunch I made my way to a small cafe, ordered an excellent coffee and started writing the extensive list of things to buy. I've yet to get a flat so I'm staying in the residence on campus until I have my own place, but there's still much to get in the meantime.

It being Saturday, only half the shops are open and I'm promised that all of them will be closed tomorrow - the man in the computer shop rolled his eyes, made the sign of the cross and tutted - clearly not one of the large percentage of the population who are still practicing Catholic.

The small restaurants stuck in the back alleys around the cathedral square decorate their windows with displays of some of the most impressive seafood I've ever seen and, though I thought I'd never say this, I think that Galicia may just give Japan a run for its money on the fish front! (Having now tried the octopus I can safely say that this is the best I've ever eaten).

One other thing which has greatly surprised me has been the scarcity of people who speak English. This isn't just the older people in the shops, but the administrative staff in the reception for my residence and even the students - I've been attempting to connect to the wifi and have asked half a dozen students, all of whom tell me they don't speak English. I think that having spent time in a scientific institute in China I have been somewhat spoiled for ease of getting around. It was compulsory for all of the students at the ITP to obtain a reasonably high standard of English to get into the PhD program and so all of them could hold at least a basic conversation, most of them a lot more. Here I have simply been greeted with 'no' from all those I've asked on campus if they could speak English. It seems that Spanish is going to be even more vital to learn than Chinese was. Thankfully it should also be somewhat easier!


There's a follow up post from Sunday but that will have to follow at some point tomorrow.

No comments: