Articles about travelling to exotic places, roads less travelled, creating art and searching for amazing art, architecture, cuisine, history and culture for a particular place or region. Exciting adventures around the world combining my passion for art and travel.
We were greeted on our first morning by a glowing beetroot red and scarlet sunrise amongst a beautiful silence, only interrupted by the bounding of white tailed rabbits outside our bedroom window. This being my third visit to Aoraki National Park, I was excited to have a glimpse of Mount Cook this time as my previous visits were cold, rainy and misty.
Red Tarns Track
My very close friend from high school, Pip, now lives in the National Park and manages the local Alpine climbing lodge. Pip very kindly introduced us to the walking trails by taking us on the Red Tarn track with an extra ‘wee’ climb above the lookout to a local secret picnic spot. Mmmmm……. after an hour of climbing steps in the full sun, we finally reached the Red Tarns (lakes). Their redness is due to the pretty red algae growing throughout the water. The view to Mount Cook and other peaks was really worth all those steps.
Along many of the walking tracks within the park, there are many wild berries growing. However only the white and scarlet red are edible, the black dark red ones are poisonous………John tried to slip me some hoping I wouldn’t notice. He always does get a bit cranky around mountains.
I pretended to be taking lots of photos so I could catch my breath before the final ‘wee’ climb to our picnic spot…..
This is a sign of true friendship, after we scrambled up to our picnic location, Pip pulls out of her pack a burner to make coffee and tea to go with the peanut butter brownies she had just made…….
And the views were unbelievable………more lakes, only blue this time.
The walk inspired a few watercolour studies. We also repeated the walk a few days later at dusk in the hope of seeing some Keas, a local native bird…………we got lucky!
Tasman Glacier, Tsunami
The short walk to the Tasman Glacier is also a lovely one. The glacial lake is walled on both sides with loose rock and rubble rising up to 150 m where the glacier once sat, but has since receded by melting into the lake. During our stay, a 200 metre section of the glacier broke away and plunged into the lake causing a small Tsunami which washed away the boats on the shore. We couldn’t resist walking the track again to see the lake full of icebergs………..we don’t see that on the Sunshine Coast. It is difficult even when you are there to comprehend the scale of everything. The far edge of the lake where the glacier ends is 5 km away and about 30 m high. I thought it was only 200 m away.
Sunsets and Lake Pukaki
For our two week stay at Aoraki National Park, the weather was warm and sunny and the clear nights resulted in some of the best sunsets we have ever seen. As the light faded and the cloud formations changed, we were treated with some spectacular fireworks in the sky.
I have never seen so many clear sunny days in New Zealand before, the best way to view Lake Pukaki with its very surreal turquoise waters. The temptation to paint was too much….
Sealy Tarns & Mueller Track
After hearing that the walk up to the lookout of the Mueller Track would be 8 hours return, we decided that if we had had enough at the halfway point at the Sealy Tarns, then we would be happy to have experienced that and return home. It was a misty morning so the air was refreshingly cool when we started our journey of the 2,200 steps up to the Sealy Tarns. Shaded by the low clouds, we enjoyed the walk and reached the lookout of the Sealy Tarns in an hour. We stopped by the lakes and ate half our lunch while enjoying the incredible views down the Hooker Valley beneath the clouds.
Stupidly feeling confident after reaching the halfway point at the top of the stairs, we decided we would head on up to the top. Looking very much like Lord of the Rings, we began our climb into the clouds, where the track became a climb over boulders, whichever way looked easiest to us.
We checked the view while it was still visible, the Mueller lake, Hooker River from the Hooker Glacial lake……..it was an incredible sight.
I think we were lucky that the clouds were obscuring our view of the top, because we probably wouldn’t have gone very much further. After another 45 minutes of climbing we looked down into the abyss……..
After another half hour of climbing we knew we were getting close, but the climbing over boulders had become a very steep scramble over loose scree…….We were feeling our legs and also the heat from the sun trying to burst through the misty atmosphere. I was not feeling sure about my footing anymore and knew we still had a big climb down again. Resting on a rock to finish our lunch immediately lifted my mood, before we made a decision whether to push on up the last 15 minutes to the lookout at 1800 m.
We were even happier when a hiker coming down said that there is no view at the lookout because the cloud was lifting and obscuring what was clear earlier. Decision was made…..we wimped out!! Our jelly-blubber legs managed to carry us to the bottom again. John said he was going to pack his bags and lock himself in the car for the rest of our stay so I couldn’t drag him up any more mountains. Next trip is across the Nullabor Plains for us. I think we found our limits today!
Hooker Valley Trail
Even though I had already walked the Hooker Valley twice before, it seemed like a nice flat option to end our stay at Aoraki National Park. It is a very pretty 3 hour round trip winding up the Hooker River to the Glacial Lake with views to the magnificent Mt Cook/Aoraki. This inspired another painting study of the Hooker River.
It was such a privilege to stay in the Aoraki National Park for two weeks and really get a sense of scale of the mountains. I always find mountains very humbling; they make me realise my insignificance here and that we are a very minute part of existence, compared with a mountain’s seemingly infinite lifespan and grand presence.
The minute I read about the Alpujarras, I knew that we just had to go and walk through some of the Moorish white washed villages of the Sierra Nevada, Spain. We were in luck………we soon discovered there is a pilgrimage, the GR7, which passes through this section and read that it is highly likely you will not see anyone but the local farmers on the route. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? After a few weeks researching the track and best villages to see, I purchased the only guide book ever written about the GR7…….easy, no choices. Little did we know….
The only way to begin was by bus (Alsa) from Granada to Valor. Purchasing the correct ticket was challenging enough, hopping on the right bus nearly proved impossible, managing to wave down the driver just as he was reversing out of the terminal. We must have been speaking Latvian as none of the other drivers seemed to have even heard of Valor. Laughing, we climbed aboard the only bus service to that village until tomorrow. Still not convinced we were heading for Valor, we finally managed to relax when the enormous mountains of the Sierra Nevada rose up in the distance. Enjoying the shapes and colours of the rugged landscape as we wound around the narrow roads in a giant bus, the three hour trip seemed like minutes. The best bus journey I have ever taken anywhere. Arriving just before dark, we explored the roads we had to find to start our walk in the morning.
It doesn’t matter how much you plan in life, it is rare that your plans do not change or they are changed for you. Because temperatures were expected to be warm for the next few days, we set off early. We followed the detailed descriptions in our guide book and painted markings when we found them, but at the important junctions of the numerous paths through the Sierra Nevada, there were no markers/arrows or instructions in the book. After spending the first hour climbing up and down very steep slopes and already retracing our steps three times, stress levels rising we resorted to Google maps. Knowing we had 25 km to walk today with the hot sun already overhead, we navigated straight up towards the road. We were shocked to discover we had walked the equivalent of 200 m down the road from Valor, you’re kidding! To hell with the GR7 ‘marked’ trail and guidebook, we were following the road all the way now. Big smiles again, we relaxed and enjoyed the view along a beautifully smooth road with only the occasional car.
Due to the road already being at a fairly high altitude, we could enjoy expansive views of the mountain ranges. I have hiked in New Zealand and the Camino de Santiago which also have spectacular scenery, but never have I seen such extensive vistas as the Sierra Nevada. Along the road we passed an empty tourist office, where I ceremoniously dumped the GR7 guidebook……….seems quite fitting don’t you think?
After a challenging start, about four hours later our destination village for the day came into view. The village of Berchules, a stunning cascade of white densely built houses down a steep mountain.
Unfortunately, that village was just a teaser. As the road led us around the next corner we saw Berchules rising high above us. Ouch, another hour later we stumbled slowly up the steep windy layered village to our hotel. We must have looked a sight because the owner upgraded us to a 2 bedroom apartment overlooking the mountains. The Spanish just know how to be generous at the most needed moments. A few minutes later we were downing a couple of ice cold cervezas followed by tempura vegetables. We had read before we came that the Alpujarras are the home of Jamon and that if you are a vegetarian you will starve. Well, in life you can be continuously surprised. We had the best vegetarian meals throughout the Alpujarras, than we had for the last 5 months in Spain.
Knowing we had further to walk today, we decided to postpone our morning yoga routine to the afternoon so that we could leave at dawn. The good part about the villages being perched up high on the slopes is that when you leave you are walking down hill, for awhile at least. As we passed through our first village for the day, we were able to admire the sunrise over the ranges, warming the fresh morning air.
Around the villages we loved watching the elderly local villagers enjoying their morning stroll, all carrying a stick to help them navigate the tricky steep paths. On our way out of the first village today, a man about 80 years of age spoke a little English, combined with our little Spanish we managed a conversation. He walked with us for a few kilometers along the road then suddenly said ‘Adios’ and disappeared up a steep dirt road, appearing to be going nowhere.
A few minutes later we saw the most incredible sight…..the elderly man with the stick was running up the dirt road with no stick and his shirt off. Inspired by this, our pace suddenly quickened. We were also beginning to feel very hungry as we approached the next village of Juviles, our breakfast stop. After a satisfying tostada and hot chocolate we set off down the road again, the sun giving some nice warmth now. Many more pretty vistas along the way, with no more villages until Trevelez.
After a few more hours walking, the village of Trevelez popped into view. Sometimes places can look very close and you begin to think about what you may order for lunch, only to be dismayed when you wind around the next corner of the mountain and see that the gorge takes you another 5 kilometers before you can cross the bridge to the village.
With a storm brewing above we give it all we’ve got to try and beat it, there is absolutely no shelter along the road. It was a good excuse to walk into the first restaurant, once across the bridge. After some delicious trout and cold beer we are very relaxed until we see the incline we have to climb up to our hotel………the very top of the village. The pain was worth it when we eventually found it, a view to die for. We were looking back at Mulhacen’s peak, being the highest in Spain at nearly 3500 m.
We were to climb higher than Trevelez to reach Pitres today, but after such a wonderful day yesterday, we eagerly attacked the gradual slope of the road out of Trevelez. The early morning fresh air and stillness before others awake, is when we felt most energised.
Not long after the village was out of sight, we spotted a black mulberry tree with very ripe berries which we had to ignore due to the slippery climb down to reach them. Not far along the road there was another tree, which just happened to be hanging down within easy reach. After the first taste sensation there was no stopping us. They were the most delicious berries we had ever tasted. Soon there was so much juice running down our hands and arms one would think there had been a mass murder in the Alpujarras.
We were walking at an altitude between 1500 and 1800 m today with no great slopes to contend with, crossing the occasional Roman bridge, now thinking strongly about breakfast in the village of Busquitar. When we arrived the only cafe/bar in sight was closed…….disappointment was setting in as it is a tiny village.
After asking an old lady where we could eat, she promptly led us down a steep windy road to the bottom of the village and finally pointed to a house with a closed front door with a tiny sign ‘bar’. As we walked in, we were amazed at the size of the bar, full with locals and a pretty outdoor deck overlooking the mountains. Well, the tostadas were the best we tried anywhere in Spain. Too huge baguettes dripping with butter and home made strawberry jam. So good we ordered another two with our hot chocolate……..total bill 5 euro, ridiculously cheap. We were on the road again, stomachs full with only 12 km to reach Pitres, a very easy day. Here are some photos of the stunning scenery during our walk today.
We soon were approaching the next village of Portugos, which was one of the prettiest in the Alpujarras. Most of the villages only have between 300 and 500 people, with a mostly aging population.
Another spectacular walk through the Alpujarras today, mostly under the shade of many oak and chestnut trees. We were early arriving at Pitres, so decided to relax in a restaurant and absorb the surrounding mountainscape over a jug of Sangria.
After enough beer and sangria to blur our vision, we crept along to our Faulty Towers hotel, where guests were a complete inconvenience to the owners. ‘Basil’ handed us our room key without a word, while his son ‘Manuel’ looked at us with disgust when we dared to ask for the WIFI code. We had many laughs about that one. Aside from their overstated welcome, it was a lovely hotel in a very cute village.
Our final day of walking through the Alpujarras, we decided to be adventurous and follow Google Maps ‘off-road’. We were almost regretting that decision after the first hour of steep climbing, creeping around the outside of houses looking for the next bit of track. Luckily, the fabulous views made the effort worthwhile.
After an hour of steep climbing from 1500 to 2000 m altitude, we were nearly at the top and thankful to take it a bit easier. We stopped to admire some more of the views, secretly we were wanting to catch our breath but neither of us wanted to admit that……pathetic really.
After enjoying such magnificent views, it was time to follow Google maps into the forest to cross the mountain into the pass towards the village of Capileira, in the Alpujarras. We walked along some scrubby tracks and happened to glance sideways into the bush and saw some kind of marker. After a closer inspection we couldn’t stop laughing, we had found one of the elusive GR7 signs, quite elaborate, even including an arrow for direction. This was very useful, especially being almost totally concealed in the bushes, placed well off the track.
No ambiguity about which direction to take, we proceeded to walk through some lovely pine forests where the shade was welcoming. We were surprised some of the trees had a stunning crimson coloured bark, also the occasional flowering chestnut tree………check out the hairy balls on this one!
We finally walked over the pass between the towering rocky outcrops to see the villages ahead. In this final region we were visiting, there are three Moorish villages close together; Capileira at the highest settlement point, Bubion 2 km below and Pampaneira at the bottom. Even though the walk over the last four days had been spectacular, we were happy to see the familiar splash of white dwellings all hugged in together. My pack horse ahead of me was starting to slow as much as I was, it was time to put our feet up for awhile.
After a busy six months travelling and painting throughout the region of Galicia, I am finally ready for the opening of my exhibition celebrating the Galician culture, people and landscape, in the city of Santiago de Compostela. A collection of 19 paintings depicting the stunning scenery, agriculture, food, wine and simple lifestyle of Galician people are on display until September 22, 2018.
Below is a copy of my Artist Statement in Galego, Espanol and English. Also, some videos and photographs from the opening night. For images of individual paintings, find ‘New Art Work’ in the menu bar. For Press Release, newspaper articles, find ‘Press ‘ in the menu bar. To read about previous exhibitions find ‘Biography’
Videos below, press play arrow in the middle, then arrows to the side to see next video and photographs….
The preparation and organisation for a solo exhibition cannot be achieved without the help and support of many people. Firstly, I would like to thank the Fundacion Araguaney for providing this opportunity for me to exhibit and learn so much about the culture and people of Galicia. I could never have imagined the richness of this whole experience and I know I will enjoy many special memories forever. The help Monica and Miguel have given and continue to give me, including visa applications, storing paintings, translations and the marketing of this exhibition, is overwhelming…..thank you.
I also send many thanks to Alicia from Decor & Art, for storing my very large paintings for the last few months. A hire car soon runs out of room with all our luggage and painting equipment too. Much support has come from local businesses in Santiago by displaying my exhibition flyers, for which I am also very grateful. This already has been an extremely successful exhibition for me, receiving many positive responses from the local Galicians, including a few sales already. The general comments seem to confirm that I have indeed captured the important elements of the culture of Galicia. I look forward to hearing more feedback over the next two weeks until September 22 on closing.
Lastly, I could never complete this experience without the love and support of my husband, family and friends…..thank you. It was extra special to share the celebrations with my son and his partner, who stayed with us for a few days from Australia.
For those of you who would like to know more about the Fundacion Araguaney, their website is: www.fundacionaraguaney.com. Last week the Fundacion coordinated a cinema festival in Pontevedra which was a wonderful success, check their website for details.
Born in Lalin, Galicia, Laxeiro emigrated with his mother and brother to join his father in Cuba in 1921. After returning to Lalin in 1925, he worked as a barber while continuing his drawing and dedication to nature. His return to Galicia coincided with the beginning of the Renovating art movement, which included artists such as: Souto, Torres, Maside and Seoane. The ‘Renovators’ were characterised by a return to figuration with an approach to Modernity, using simple structured forms. In relation to the nationalist sentiment, they were expressing their visions and solutions for Galician society.
A series of paintings by Laxeiro depicting myths and legends of Galicia, consisted of volumetric forms using expressionistic brushstrokes with the aesthetics of Romanesque sculpture. These forms were heavily influenced by the classical period of Picasso during the first World War. The above painting is from one of his most experimental stages and was included in the exhibition of 2008 at the Museo do Pobo Galego in Santiago de Compostela.
In the 1940’s Laxeiro featured characters moving between reality and fiction, relating to the world of mythology. They generally represented a joy to life and living…………leading to colourful narrative compositions.
ART GALLERY/MUSEUMS SANTIAGO de COMPOSTELA:
If you want to see more of Laxeiro and other Galician artists, these are two very good museums/galleries located in Santiago de Compostela.
1. Galeria de Arte Jose Lorenzo: Praza do Toural, 9 Santiago de Compostela.
This is a lovely large gallery with a comprehensive range of Laxeiro’s paintings and drawings, including publications.
2. Museo do Pobo Galego: San Domingos de Bonaval, s/n Santiago de Compostela.
This museum is housed in a beautiful 13th century convent, displaying letters, a library and contemporary exhibitions. This week contemporary dance performances and workshops were available.
La artista profesional australiana Leonie Walton expone su obra pictórica en la Fundación Araguaney-Puente de Culturas. Durante los últimos cinco meses, Leonie ha estado en aldeas, tanto de costa como de interior, pintando lo que en su opinión constituyen los elementos esenciales de la cultura gallega. Esta exposición es una muestra de Galicia vista a través de los ojos de una visitante interesada en debatir acerca de estos elementos y de sus inolvidables experiencias con el público.
La exposición, titulada “Celebrando a Cultura Galega”, se inaugurará mañana martes, día 4 de septiembre, a las 20:00 horas en la galería de arte de la Fundación (Hotel Eurostars Araguaney, calle Alfredo Brañas, 5) y se podrá visitar hasta el próximo 22 de septiembre.
“A pesar de la dureza de su paisaje, durante más de dos mil años los gallegos han forjado una increíble forma de vida a través de su agricultura, pesca, gastronomía, música y leyendas”
Tras completar el Camino de Santiago en 2017, la artista regresa a Galicia para crear una amplia colección de pinturas en la que rinde homenaje a la cultura y paisaje gallegos. Mientras estuvo peregrinando por el norte de España durante seis semanas, Leonie no dejaba de asombrarse con los increíbles colores del campo. A medida que el Camino progresaba, sintió una intensa conexión con la naturaleza y un profundo respeto por la gente que conoció en las aldeas rurales. Cuanto más caminaba, más lento pasaba el tiempo y tuvo una revelación: cuando la vida es demasiado ajetreada, pasamos por alto y perdemos la esencia de vivir.
“En Galicia todavía hay un sentimiento de permanencia, donde mucha gente vive como hace 50 años. Una vida sencilla, con tiempo para valorar la importancia de la familia, la naturaleza y preservando su cultura tan especial. A pesar de la dureza de su paisaje, durante más de dos mil años los gallegos han forjado una increíble forma de vida a través de su agricultura, pesca, gastronomía, música y leyendas” –explica la artista–.
My solo art exhibition for Santiago de Compostela is finally ready. After five months of painting in Galicia, Spain, I have completed a collection of paintings which I feel are a celebration of the unique culture of the region. The works will be exhibited in the Gallery of Hotel Araguaney in Santiago de Compostela……..the home of the Camino. My paintings will be exhibited between September 4 (opening 20:00) until September 22nd, opening hours and address are on the invitation below. If you are a local Galician, I am looking forward to meeting you and discussing what elements of your culture are important for you. If you are a visitor to the area, like myself, I hope you can enjoy learning about the culture and landscape of Galicia, which I love so much.
I will be available for the opening on September 4 and all the opening hours of the gallery, if you would like to discuss my paintings of the wonderful region of Galicia.
SANTIAGO de COMPOSTELA
The city of Santiago de Compostela is a beautiful city with many historic buildings and museums to visit. Because the older centre of town is a confusing network of narrow and busy streets, it has taken me many visits to find some interesting art galleries for inspiration.
Next post, I will give you a list of great galleries and places to visit, even if you are only here for 2 or 3 days. I will also discuss some remarkable Galician artists of the past and current time.
In the past few weeks we have enjoyed many walks in the area of Panton in the heart of the Ribeira Sacra region of Galicia. An area rich with vineyards terraced up impossibly steep mountains (400-500 m high) on both sides of the Rio Mino and Rio Sil. Ribeira Sacra means Holy River bank, I am confident in confirming the region is sacred and the crown jewel of Galicia.
This wine making area dates back over 2000 years to early Christian times, where hermits and then monks settled in the vicinity. In Australia, we wouldn’t even consider walking up these steep slopes, let alone building our home with a vineyard. Here, the first terraces were carved out of rock by the Romans’ slaves and the grapes were carried up these steep terraces twice per day. Following the expulsion of Islamic invaders in the 15th century, monasteries gave renewed energy to wine production, encouraging people to re-settle here. Apparently, wine was made especially for the Pope. The combination of the native Mencia grape, slate and granite soils, and the micro-climates within the gorge, produce the right conditions for the distinctive and smooth red wines, unique to Galicia. We can confirm that they are the best red wines we have tasted anywhere in the world……….perhaps a little too easy to drink!
Traditionally, the wine is served in a ceramic jug, so to make our experience more authentic we managed to get completely lost in a maze of back country lanes to eventually find Gundivos Ceramica, who still manufacture traditional Galician pottery. We loved the ceramics as much as the wine, so our luggage has just become three kg heavier. The experience inspired another still life painting for my exhibition in September.
You will see after watching the video below about Gustivos Ceramica, why we just had to go……so will you. The narration is in Galego, a beautiful depiction of the property and surrounding area and the life of a potter. They are purists, making their own clay, climbing into a large pit for firing and a finishing blaze of fire for the final aesthetics.
Another day we decided to explore further up the river near the town of Pesqueiras, where we were in search of the Monastery Santo Estevo, but were distracted by this ‘picture perfect’ scene on the Rio Mino. We wandered down amongst the endless terraces of grapes passing gorgeous little homes, some of which were nearly swallowed up by their vineyard with only their roof tiles emerging. Eventually we crossed an old Roman bridge to the other side of the river and thought we must be close to the Monastery so we may as well walk from here. After no sign of any such structure, we sensibly back tracked and walked further down the same side of the river to the small village of Belesar.
Our thoughts were about lunch, so it seemed logical to walk to the nearest village. What?? No bars or cafes? Well that was a first in our experience of Galicia. We were so hungry and inspired by the spectacular scenery, the last hour uphill of the four hour walk back to our car didn’t hurt at all….ha ha. We then drove to the 12th century Monastery Santo Estevo which was mysteriously hidden in the forest.
When we first arrived in Galicia towards the end of April, we started to see the first sign of Spring with a few leaves sprouting from these ancient vines. It is difficult to believe that two months later, the vines are straining from the huge abundance of grapes plumping up ready for the picking. Being able to stay in Galicia for seven months has enabled us to witness almost every season and the changes in nature and agriculture. I know that I will not want to experience a Galician Winter because I don’t own enough clothes……….I think 7 layers in Spring was enough.
MAGOSTO: CHESTNUT FESTIVAL
Unfortunately we will not be here in November, when the Galicians celebrate the new wines of their harvest alongside the star of their traditional Magosto festival, the chestnut. There are many areas of Galicia where we have walked and noticed entire forests of Chestnut trees.
They have distinctive long flowers like yellow ribbons and some of the trees being so ancient, have trunks over one metre in diameter. It appears in some areas, they have been substantially lopped in recent years but have come back with a vengeance and can still have the strength to hold thick branches with a completely hollow trunk.
The Magosto festival (roasting of chestnuts) in Galicia was originally a pagan one of fertility, where the fire represented the sun and the earth was the God of fertility. Magosto is now celebrated at home or in parks, however the Celts traditionally held theirs on a mountain in a clearing of the forest.
When I have travelled in Asia, I have loved the aroma of roasting chestnuts but never tried them. I have previously heard about the chestnut jam made in Galicia and have been searching since we arrived. Finally I found ‘creme de castanas’ in the local supermarket which tastes like a hazelnut butter………..delicious on hot toast! Well worth the wait.
GOODBYE TO TANQUIAN ORGANIC FARM
The month went very quickly staying at Tanqian Organic Farm in Ferreira de Panton. We had some very funny moments here. Apart from the donkeys chanting with us during yoga, my other favourite moment was during our daily walk into town for our chocolate supply. On our return down a narrow bend, a few goats came leaping up the road at us like gazelles out for their daily exercise. They had cut loose from their 90+ year old owners who could barely walk and were busy waving their sticks at them. In Europe we have noticed that age does not stop anyone here; people just keep on doing what they have always done until they can’t walk anymore. It’s fantastic to see. Much to our surprise, within 30 seconds the lady had her goats back inside the gate again………..
Very sad to leave the Ribeira Sacra and everybody at Tanquian farm, most of all I will miss Jungo
Although we have loved the coastal areas of Galicia, we were excited about heading to the countryside for some serenity and to explore the magnificent steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra region. While driving from the nearby city of Ourense to Ferreira de Panton, we were speechless as we wound our way around the mountains along viaducts which seem impossible according to the laws of physics. The Spanish seem to be able to construct whatever is required to travel from one place to another. There’s a village or a river in the way……….”we’ll just go over it!” There’s a mountain in the way……..”we’ll just put a tunnel through it!” Amazing engineering; nothing stops the Spanish.
With detailed directions from the Tanquian Organic Farm, we squeezed through tiny villages, slowly and unsurely down narrow country lanes barely wide enough for our car, desperately hoping we would not come across another vehicle. After then passing through an old oak forest, we were warmly welcomed by Manu and the Tanquian team and led to our lovely 17th century tower apartment which would be our home for the next month. Having such a lusciously green scene from our balcony (image above), I just had to paint it. With the exhibition just over a month away now, I needed to get busy with my brushes to complete another 4 paintings while on the farm.
We quickly began our exploration of the 5 acre property in Panton, firstly to find out what organic produce was available because we have not been able to find much anywhere else in Galicia. We tried bunches of vibrant red currants, nisperos, blueberries, beans, zucchini and lettuce. Such a luxury to have beautiful fresh food and even better……….freshly baked German style bread.
Nisperos, also known as loquats, originate from China and have the texture and taste of an apricot with some extra tartness. We loved them on our salads. In one of the veggie patches we found one of the best looking scarecrows, who has lost a bit of muscle mass over the years, carefully guarding the produce.
There was much inspiration for my painting on the farm. Look at this handsome Cock!
Manu and Paul had family visiting from Denmark and we were treated with an invitation to their family bbq feast around the fire pit. Beautiful salads and BBQ meats with a large quantity of red wine of the Panton area were shared, later followed by the beating of drums and Spanish singing. We had such a fun night and felt very privileged to be there.
One of my favourite parts of our stay on Tanquian Farm, were the donkeys. There are 6 indigenous species of donkeys in Spain, all nearly extinct, being as emblematic of the country as a bull or flamenco dancer. Mostly only seen now in rural Galicia and Andalucia, they have been used for carrying goods, people and pulling carts since before the recording of history. They are highly intelligent and friendly, however their stubbornness is now known to be a highly developed sense of self preservation. If they are not confident about their next step, they won’t take it. They are more suited to steep terrain and love to walk along the edge of cliffs and look down as it gives them more confidence. (I will definitely never ride a donkey)
I have never had any experience with donkeys (apart from reading ‘Winnie the Poo’ books), or heard them calling……..they sound like a cow having a party then possibly having an asthma attack. We have managed to keep up our yoga early every morning and a few times when we have started the chanting, the donkeys decided to join in, leaving us in fits of laughter. Of course, John smartly replied, “Good morning darling!”
FERVENZA de AUGACAIDA
We have had many beautiful walks in the immediate area surrounding Tanquian farm of Panton, but the one to Fervenza de Augacaida was definitely the most memorable. This day, we packed a light snack and water for a 2 to 3 hour walk to one of the highest but least known waterfalls in Galicia.
Very soon into a walk through a stunning forest, the raincoats came out of the backpack and we descended the very steep mountain on an easy road in the occasional shower of rain. After two hours of descent and only seeing two cars, we finally reached the beginning of the track down to the waterfall. We then knew we were in for a total of 5 hours of walking, nobody told us we could drive to the start of the walk……ha ha.
The actual trail to the waterfall was gorgeous, passing an endless network of old rock walls and ruins. Thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we carefully climbed down the final 200m of track which was very slippery in the now extremely heavy rain – can’t turn back now! By the time we arrived at the bottom, we were so wet and hungry. Here is a short video clip of us enjoying the Galician Summer in Panton!
As soon as we started our climb up again, the crashing sound of thunder echoed around the gorge making us lift our pace. Hoping we would be fairly safe in the thick forest, we still came close to running up the track which soon became the main drainage route for the torrential rain. We were now trudging through a fast flowing river that was zigzagging its way down the slope. This proved too much for our raincoats and waterproof shoes. As if that wasn’t enough, suddenly a fountain of mud spurted over the rocks across the path……….only one way to go. All we could do was laugh at ourselves, which ended abruptly with more crashes of thunder roaring through the forest. We made record time for that hill climb……squelch, squelch, squelch. By the time we made it home, we ate everything in sight.
I thought it may be interesting and perhaps beneficial to outline my complete painting process.
People often ask what motivated me to become a painter and where do I find my inspiration for the creative process. I think my love of art was always present, with hours spent drawing in my childhood which was abandoned for maths and science later in high school. Sadly, I gave up the only part of school I enjoyed. It wasn’t until my mid 30’s that I began drawing classes which led me to dabbling in paints and borrowing “how to paint” library books. Painting is like a drug; difficult to stop, yet so frustrating I question why I keep coming back for more torture. I cannot believe how many people say to me, “Oh how beautiful, what a relaxing and indulging thing to do.” I just smile.
It is not called “Pain….ting” for nothing!
I love one of Renoir’s quotes, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.” Yes, the pain eventually passes, sometimes beauty remains while other times the paint all gets scraped off……….a lot of that lately.
Another quote that resonates with me, “Art is about emotion; if art needs to be explained it is no longer art.” The art academics probably wouldn’t agree, as I discovered when studying fine art that there is so much emphasis about the ‘concept’ rather than learning any skills. Why can’t we encourage both? I prefer to create art that directly connects with the viewer, they can make up their own story. Most of my inspiration comes from nature. I will refrain from writing you a 20 page essay.
After sketching a variety of possible compositions for a painting idea, I roughly plan which techniques will suit the image most and quickly cover the canvas with thin washes of paint. I try to cover most of the white, except where I leave some exposed to represent light shining through the final layers.
Once the canvas is mostly covered, I am able to make better decisions about what is working and not working.
I have a basic system of working, however I can paint intuitively as I build up the entire painting as a whole, establishing lights and darks early in the process. Some of the underlying colours start to shine through already and I make adjustments to colours which are too bright or dull.
Once I am happy with the overall development, I begin to use bold impasto brush strokes or palette knife applications to give an impression; not an exact image of the subject or scene.
This is an effective way of adding textural elements to the painting. I may use layers overlapping and then sometimes scratch back into the layers with oil bars, which work like drawing with a crayon.
Many oil painters paint the background first while working with dark tones, then add the lightest highlights at the end. Whereas, I am more unpredictable, sometimes leaving the background until last. However, with oils you do need to remember that you cannot put dark tones over an already dried light layer that is applied thicker than a wash, because it will eventually cause the paint to crack.
Having multiple decisions yet to be made on how to complete a piece, with much angst, I proceed with what will hopefully be the final touches. If all fails, I walk away for awhile so I can gain from a fresh look. I am always surprised when I finally put the paint brushes down and declare, “it’s finished!” I usually leave it for a few days before I sign it, just in case I change my mind…….which is every single time.
Although painting is the most challenging and frustrating thing I have ever done (apart from website design), it is rewarding and I know I will never stop learning…….that is the fun part! Many people give up on painting because it takes so long to learn, but I believe anyone can. They just have to have a desire and be prepared to spend endless years developing their skills and be warned……you will never be completely satisfied. This is where the desire comes into being.
Our last weekend in Cedeira luckily coincided with their annual music festival. We happened to be retracing our favourite walk from town along the series of coastal cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, climbed the steep track through the bush and felt like we had walked onto a movie set. Carefully making our way between families sprawled over picnic rugs, we headed towards the sound of bagpipes (gaitas) and tambourines. It was a perfect warm sunny afternoon for a siesta on the grass…….and those in need were taking the opportunity, bellies out for baking! We stayed for awhile on the cool windy coastal cliffs which were ringing with the sounds of six bagpipers………I had goosebumps, it was very surreal.
I don’t think this part of Galician culture will disappear in the near future; there are over 5000 registered bagpipers in the town of Ourense. This reminds me of the very famous Galician bagpiper, Cristina Pato who was one of the team of musicians in the brilliant movie, ‘Music of Strangers’. If you haven’t seen the film, it is about the world renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma who gathers musicians from all around the world, who are masters of their instruments. Some play very unusual instruments of which you may have never heard before. Their individual life stories are fascinating and inspiring, overcoming extreme life situations and still pursuing their passion. They are called the ‘Silk Road Ensemble’ and there are some videos on YouTube if you are interested.
Here is a link to listen to some of Cristina Pato’s music, she’s a dynamo…….and no, I am not doing a painting of bagpipes for my exhibition.
PRAIA DAS CATEDRAIS: Ribadeo
On a gorgeous sunny day, this was our last chance to drive towards the town of Ribadeo and see the surrounding sights. Once again, the coastal drive from Ortigueira was, as we Aussies say ‘Gob smacking’ (‘fantastico’……just in case google translator fails on that one!). Just stunning beaches and coastal cliff tops again and again for hours…..yawn, yawn! ha ha
We then found the cutest little fishing village by complete accident, so we had to stay for lunch. Another narrow, steep and windy road down to Porto do Barqueiro just passed the town of O Barqueiro. An amazing amount of infrastructure for only 10 boats.
What a life! I am glad that my hair has grown a bit since my shearing in Santiago nearly 3 months ago, I no longer look like a Buddhist monk.
One tip for visiting popular spots in Spain, go early before everyone wakes up (about 10) or mid afternoon while they are having lunch and siestas. The Praia das Catedrais, claimed to be the jewel of Galicia, receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. In three months we have barely seen any tourists, so we found this hard to believe but arrived mid afternoon just in case. Yes, there were many tour buses, but thankfully most people were in the cafe. There are substantial timber boardwalks along this coastal strip for enjoying the views, my favourite area was an extensive area of vibrant wildflowers stretching like a velvet carpet over the cliff tops.
The Cathedrals Beach is a series of rock formations which remind me of the cliffs in the Great Australian Bight, with extra sculptural shapes that make it unique. We would not agree that this area is the jewel of Galicia; as I have said before, the whole of Galicia is one very large jewellery store.
JOHN’S COOKING CORNER:
Well I have to say, ‘John’s kitchen rules!’ We haven’t seen any paellas in Galicia, but compared with elsewhere, I think John managed to create the perfect paella, packed with seafood and asparagus. It was so delicious, I don’t think there was much chewing going on….
As you can see we make friends easily with the locals. There wasn’t much action in the local bars of Cedeira, but our friends by the river showed us how to shake their tail feather….
And these ones spoke English………..your kidding!
We are always sad to leave each region, however our next stop is the city of Lugo for five nights which will be different from the coastal villages we have been enjoying.
Despite scepticism from the rest of the Celtic nations as to the authenticity of Galicia being part of the Celtic League, Galicians take great pride in their heritage; bagpipes and folk songs being a key part of cultural life. The modern city of Lugo still bears the name of a Celtic god. One of the best things about Lugo is the entire historic centre is ‘car free’, resulting in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. The old town is enclosed by one of the best preserved Roman walls constructed in the 3rd century, spanning over more than two kilometres of which you are able to walk along the top and view the city and surrounds.
Our apartment was opposite the very beautiful 12th century gothic style, Lugo Cathedral.
On our first evening we heard the familiar sound of bagpipes, so we followed the music into the Praza Santa Maria. We were privileged to join in the fun of a local Galician festival, where families were gathered to witness the outstanding performances of their friends and relatives from the age of 5 up to 60’s?? Aside from the talented musicians and dancers, the costumes were exquisite.
Unfortunately, this week John was struck down with ‘man flu’……..probably recovering from me dragging him up and down mountains. There are many beautiful walks in the surrounding areas of Lugo, but we will have to wait for another visit to Galicia. Next, we are venturing into the countryside for four weeks staying on an organic farm.
Galicia has a history of many very strong, almost superhuman women, witches who still have an ability to inspire even today’s modern hard working mothers of the world. If you think your day is busy and stressful trying to juggle too many things, spare a thought for the women of the past. These women were as tough as they come. There were no washing machines, dishwashers or daycare centres so they could have the privilege of a career. In between hand washing clothes in the river, digging potatoes and preparing meals, some were required to fight battles with their husband…………all in a days work! Our recent trip to the large city of A Coruna on the North Coast of Galicia, revealed one outstandingly brave woman from the 16th century.
A Coruna has many historical sites, my favourite being in the Praza de Maria Pita where there stands a beautiful monument in her honour. The English fleet were trying to gain control of the waterways from England down to Portugal. Maria Pita was one of the few women who fought the battle of A Coruna alongside their husbands. Unfortunately, Maria’s husband was killed by the shot from a crossbow which inspired her to overpower and kill an English soldier, then succeeding to climb to the highest point of the wall. From here she called to all the soldiers with honour to follow her, with renewed strength and inspiration they successfully defended their city. For this, Maria Pita is recognised as one of the most honourable women of Spain.
The other most popular location in the city is to visit the Tower of Hercules. I don’t want to bore you with another lighthouse, but this one was built by the Romans in the 1st century and is the world’s oldest functioning lighthouse. However, it has been renovated many times and I didn’t see much of the original still visible. It was still worth a short stop for a picnic lunch.
Galicia has been long known as the ‘land of witches and superstition’. The most famous of Galicia’s witches is Marina Solina, who lived in the 17th century and somehow managed to avoid the stake during the Spanish Inquisition. Being the mad artist that I am, thinking of witches conjures up visions of ugly, cackling women stirring cauldrons with body parts poking out of the brew. While these fantasies are intriguing to some degree, I am relieved to hear the Galicia is not spooky, just mysterious. These women identified as witches in the past, due to their apparent supernatural powers, appear to have been simply, enlightened beings who had developed much higher than normal levels of perception. Sure, the likes of Marina Solina admitted she practised certain rituals, but only used her skills to help and heal people. Her heightened sense of awareness enabled her to see and know things that others couldn’t. Born in the wealthy fishing village of Cangas (Vigo area), Marina owned many farms and properties, upon which the Catholic church located some of their churches and colleges. She was well loved for all her help and care.
Because the Ria de Vigo was thriving economically, it was also a victim to many attacks and robberies. At the time of the attack by the Turkish fleet, Maria motivated a large group of women; their forces combined with her wisdom, enabled them success in defeating the Turkish. This event then attracted the attention of the Inquisition. Sadly, Marina was then captured and tortured in the prison of Santiago de Compostela and there is no evidence as to what happened thereafter.
FRAGAS DO EUME:
In Galicia, they give the name Fragas to areas of dense forest which allow a dappled light through the trees. Fragas do Eume located around the Eume river south of A Coruna, is supposed to be the best representation of an Atlantic forest, covering an area of over 9,000 hectares.
Both John and I were enthusiastic for a bush walk after spending the last few months in coastal regions of Galicia. The man in the tourist information hut gestured where the walk started and that it was 6 km to the Monastery of Caaveiro, which I really wanted to visit. I told John that it was only 12 km round trip; we could do it easily. So off we walked across the swinging foot bridge, into the luscious green forest with our picnic lunch. The moss covered tree trunks, strongly reminded us of the South Island, New Zealand. Again, we walked for about an hour without seeing anybody and had come to the conclusion, everyone else must have driven to the Monastery. The track was quite wet and narrow, following the course of the crystal waters of the rio Eume…..but no hills! We guessed we were within half an hour of the Monastery, perfect timing for lunch.
Suddenly, our lovely path came to an abrupt end and as we looked up the mountain beside; there we found a little hobbit track which involved slippery rocks and we were so lucky………….they had so kindly provided ropes to hold onto for the climb. Now we knew why all the other tourists had driven, something may have been lost in translation, I think?? John took a deep breath and said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding!’ Up we went. Half way up, we saw the huge rock which was the reason for our climb.
What a stunning view though. With legs of jelly we continued all the way up and then all the way down again and an hour later arrived at the bridge near the Monastery………or so we thought. Ha ha
After consulting the map on the bridge which was quite useless, we made the decision that we had to climb straight up a very beautiful slate constructed road to the Monastery. Another mountain………….John didn’t like me very much!
We admired the beautiful slate work, mostly to take our mind off the hill climb. Finally, the 9th century Monastery of Caaveiro was in sight. Of course there were more stairs to climb inside the Monastery, which leads you to some very special vistas through the surrounding mountains and forest below. Definitely worth the walk, we are on talking terms again. Needless to say, we walked back along the road to our car……….we know our limitations!
After winding around endless mountains through heavy fog, we arrived very late in the village of Cedeira which will be our new home for the next few weeks. We were impressed by yet another lovely beach at our doorstep. Our expectations were of a more touristy town full of holiday resorts……we were so wrong! Cedeira is another fishing village, but a serious working port with fishing boats large enough to cross any sea in the world. Legends tell of the men and women of this coast originally descending from whales and fish. We have eaten so much seafood, we should be looking like fish and I know if I don’t stop eating all this bread and patatas, I will soon definitely resemble a whale.
We usually spend our first day in a new place just walking as far as we can in the immediate area to gain a feel for the place. Enjoying our first stroll around the stunning harbour, which is almost enclosed by continuous cliffs towering 600m above the charming village of Cedeira, we really thought that the scenery couldn’t get any better than this.
Of course, we were wrong again!
I am not one for photographing every monument and church I walk past, but this one was lovely and quite moving. A tribute to a fisherman who lost his wife, unfortunately there is minimal information about it. It seems to me that this monument contains more meaning.
The promenade around the harbour seemed to end at the wharf, until we spotted some stairs hidden in a corner…….so what do you do? You climb up them! A bit of grunting on the way up, then behind the cliff’s edge we found an old fort with cannons placed inside, unfortunately it was all locked up. Further along the cliff, we looked down into what looked like old Roman baths which we later discovered were used in the past as a live fish holding area.
Venturing further around the cliff tops we found a small area carefully excavated, which we assumed was a discovery of some ruins. An investigation of the internet revealed it was a very recent discovery; only 6 months ago. To date, they have found a monument with oven and a sauna bath (not so sure if the translation was so accurate here…..ha). It looks like it could be some more hill forts (castros), which are prevalent along the coastal regions of Galicia. I am constantly amazed by nature, when man abandons his constructions how effectively the natural environment can bury or camouflage these structures for centuries. We can think our inventions and architecture are so very important, but when we are gone the environment will just carry on without any fuss like we never existed.
The following weekend, we decided to drive beyond our first walk as we had a lot of ground to cover. My obsession with lighthouses has not yet ended, our first stop after winding down another road wide enough for a cow, was the Faro de Punta Candelaria. A gorgeous setting, tucked between rocky cliff faces with the most divine coastline as far as the eye can see with the occasional horse and cow wandering passed.
I decided not to paint this particular lighthouse, however I am painting a series of faros and this is what my preliminary sketches look like prior to commencing a painting. The sketching allows me to capture the true perspective of a scene because a photograph shortens all the perspectives and you lose a lot of form and sense of space.
SAN ANDRES de TEIXIDO
We continued on the narrow road to a spectacular lookout point, where we could see the village of San Andres de Teixido at the bottom of the cliffs, nestled amongst deliciously green hills. It didn’t look far, so I suggested walking down an inviting grassy track and then we would have earned a big boozy lunch. I have no words to describe the scenery from the lookout and a photo cannot possible capture this………….
So we began our pre-lunch walk…….it was all downhill, can’t complain!!
The very steep grassy path turned into a rocky downhill climb resulting in legs of jelly and a few back pains for some. I had also a few passing thoughts about the uphill climb back to the car later….help! Our village was in sight again, hunger pains pushing us on.
The village of San Andres de Teixido is a pre-Christian pilgrimage site with a holy well with a current population of approximately 45 people with the occasional tourist. This region is known as the “Sea of Barnacles” because there are many locals who risk their life daily, often suspended from cliffs down to the lower rocks to collect percebes (goose necked barnacles). Being a speciality for the area, we promptly ordered a serving of percebes to try with our beer. They are quite interesting, resembling a prehistoric crab claw attached to a tube of rhinoceros skin. Before I started gagging at the sight of them, I quickly gestured to the waiter to demonstrate how to eat them. There was no way my mouth was biting through that!
Eating percebes is an easy technique where you hold it near the head and snap it just a little and pull the contents out.
Be careful not to break it right through, because if you blow it……then you are going to have to suck it!
Oh, we could have had hours of fun with this – they were delicious. After staggering uphill to the car, we continued north along the coast to the lookout from the highest cliffs in Europe. It was the most incredible coastal scenery I have ever seen, enhanced by the cattle wandering everywhere – lucky there were only a few cars along this stretch.
After feeling completely satisfied from lunch, the scenery leaving us speechless, and spending time with some very happy cattle, we drove further north wondering what we would find next. Galicia is such a special region and we suggest to anyone interested to come and visit soon, before the rest of the world realise how amazing it is too.
Our day finished at Faro de Cabo Ortegal, the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Cantabrian Sea. While the lighthouse is nothing special, the drive out to the headland was absolutely divine, including the view from the lighthouse.
This week I will take you on a journey to the end of the world, amongst the wildest and most rugged headlands of the Costa da Morte, in the land of shipwrecks and witches. Needless to say, I have developed an obsession for lighthouses; each having their own unique character. There may be one or two featured in my exhibition in September. Here is my favourite one at Corrubedo, in operation since 1854. However, its presence still failed to prevent numerous shipwrecks and the loss of over 600 lives.
Last weekend we explored the Costa da Morte (Coast of Death), which has a fascinating history aside from its shipwrecks. Beginning in Muxia, at the Shrine of Virxe da Barca (The virgins boat) and A Pedra dos Cadrís (kidney rock) where it is believed to have healing powers for rheumatism and kidney related ailments. There are many rocks, fountains and streams through Galicia which are believed to have miraculous powers or assist with fertility. The council have had to put a stop to people testing the authenticity of such beliefs……they could set up fertility tents and make a fortune!
After a mandatory seafood lunch, Cape Fisterre (end of the world) was our next destination. My visit here exactly one year ago after completing my Camino Santiago, was a cold and gusty day; a war at sea crashing the most Western point of the Iberian Peninsula. It must be very rare to experience the Atlantic Ocean on such a perfectly sunny day without even a ripple in the water. I was finding it difficult to believe it was the same place. Traditionally, this is where pilgrims come to reflect after completing their pilgrimage and previously would participate in the cleansing burning of their belongings……usually old clothes and boots (preferably, their walking poles).
It was a tough walk back into town, having to continuously look at this magnificent scenery. You could easily walk for days. There is a Camino dos Faros (The Lighthouse Way), linking Malpica in the North to Fisterre hugging 200km of pristine coastline. I am very tempted to come back another year in Summer for this walk……..John is groaning, but deep down he knows he will love it.
In addition to the breathtaking dramatic coastline of the Costa da Morte, it also has high ecological value in its National Parks and a Protected Bird life Reserve on the Sisargus Islands, which we hope to visit in the coming weeks on the Northern Coast of Galicia.
We followed the coastal roads all the way home, with the deep blue sea on our right and the sculptural rocky mountains hovering over our left. The large port of Corcubion was one of the first charming towns we entered, but were surprised to find on the Southern side a very ugly coal fired power station boldly dominating the beautiful harbour. We later discovered it had been a coal station established as a refuelling point for the many steamships travelling off Cape Fisterre, necessary due to the regular storms the ships would endure.
In the next bay, we were welcomed with this special scene….
From here, we passed through the prettiest little villages then one deserted sandy beach after the other. Because Europe is so heavily populated compared with Australia, we just didn’t expect to find anything like this…..
Through the estuaries from Corcubion down to Muros are rated as some of the most dangerous of all the Costa da Morte. On this day, you could travel them on a stand up paddle board. I would say travelling through Galicia is very much like looking in a gem shop……full of surprises and you cannot say which one you like the best. We love it all!
While seeing the familiar blue-green of the Eucalyptus trees scattered through the hills of Galicia was initially warming to an Australian, reading of the disastrous effects from Eucalyptus crops in Spain and Portugal soon changed my feelings. The Eucalptus tree was first introduced here in the 19th century by a Galician monk who had been a missionary in Australia. Unfortunately, there are 2 to 3 million acres of them growing in Iberia for the production of mainly paper pulp. Farmers and environmental groups have protested at the large scale planting of Eucalyptus because it is drying up water sources, causing soil erosion, destroying wild life (local fauna cannot feed on it), and driving the small farmers from their land. These small farmers still use mainly man power instead of machinery, thus providing much employment.
It is another example of man interfering with a perfectly created world. Each area has its own unique flora and fauna in correct proportions, which belong together and are interdependent.
JOHN’S COOKING CORNER
During various cafe stops, we have tasted some delicious empanadas. They are usually filled with mince meat or tuna between pastry; Spain’s version of a pie. When we saw empanada pastry for sale in the supermarket, John decided to create his own style of empanada…………..onion, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, pimientos, baby squid and cockles. Yum!!
Well, either our Espanol has improved a little, or we are just getting better at sign language. Each little meeting with locals expands from using the occasional noun and verb to almost completing one sentence. When someone walks backwards from us, we know there is a possibility we have offended them using the wrong word……lo siento (sorry)!
While preparing our applications for our visas to Spain last year, we met a young English student (Natalia) from Madrid visiting Noosa for a few months, who came to our aid in translating the application forms. We stayed in communication and recently met with Natalia and her family in Vila Garcia for a lovely lunch. They had spent the weekend there for a wedding and it was fantastico and very special to meet again. Thank you Natalia.
The fishermen with their brightly coloured boats, mussel farms and lighthouses have been a great inspiration to my painting. We sadly left the gorgeous village of Porto do Son yesterday to travel to the North Coast of Galicia. Who knows what we will see next!! I know we will miss the stunning sunsets over the Ria de Muros and Porto do Son now has one less witch.
NEXT EXHIBITION: Santiago de Compostela 4 to 22 September, 2018
Staying in Porto do Son is the perfect opportunity to investigate the roots of Galicia’s intriguing Celtic heritage. During my pilgrimage across Northern Spain last year, I passed through a small village O Cebreiro, consisting of very cute circular stone huts (castros) set on top of a mountain overlooking spectacular countryside. It was unfortunately very touristy, so I did not linger for long. When I discovered what these circular buildings were and that there were ruins of a similar settlement near Porto do Son. The Castros de Barona was one of our first destinations in the area.
Castros (hill forts) were fortified enclosures surrounded by ditches and walls in which circular stone buildings with thatched roofs were constructed in settlements along the coastal areas of Galicia. Usually located on mountains and elevated coastal positions for defence purposes, they also have breathtaking views. The location of the Castros de Barona seemed like a fantastic excuse for a Sunday walk from our new home town. We ambled along our favourite coastal walk, checking if the surf was beckoning……….no, still too cold! Venturing around the next bay and down someone’s driveway, which thankfully led down a goat’s track into the bush, we climbed up and down rocky paths passing more barking German Shepherds and were beginning to wonder if we should have followed the road. Luckily John enjoys adventures as much as I do. About two hours later, we stumbled down another very steep and rocky (bouldery) path and we had our fort in sight….
This ancient Celtic village was built approximately 2500 years ago, however was apparently not discovered until 1993 due its isolated position. We took the time to wander around the constructions and take in the stormy ocean views. John paid close attention to the basic cooking facilities to determine whether they would be adequate for making his tortillas…..
Visiting such ancient places reminds me of how easy life is today and yet people complain more than ever before. Imagine having to hunt for your food every day, while also defending yourself from the enemy, not to mention bracing yourself from the harsh elements of the Atlantic. The housework would be easy though……….I would be a good housewife and stay at home by the fire, while John did the ‘hunting and gathering’ in his fox skin attire. A sight to see!
DESASTRE DEL PRESTIGE 2002
Since the weather has been warming up, we have loved an after-dinner walk along the headland to absorb the sunset. We noticed an interesting modern stone sculpture and kept wondering what it was about. Finally, I searched the internet and sadly discovered it was in memory of Spain’s biggest ever ecological disaster.
In 2002, a single hulled tanker, larger than 2 football fields, loaded with 77,000 tons of oil sank 250km off the Coast of the Costa da Morte, with lethal effects on birds and the marine ecosystems. Thousands of volunteers dressed in protective clothing and masks cleaned up the coast numerous times over subsequent years. While the long term effects on the environment and local people are unknown, the memories of such a tragic event for one of the best preserved coasts of Europe will remain forever.
Seeing the Castros and then reading about the ecological disaster was a reminder to work harder on reducing our environmental footprint. A simple life is the only way.
On a lighter note, we are very lucky to be experiencing such a pristine area at its very best; sunny skies, white sandy beaches, enveloped with crystal clear turquoise water.
RIO TAMBRE AREA
We have enjoyed many walks and country drives around Porto do Son. Close to the gorgeous town of Noia, the Rio Tambre feeds into the large Ria and flows past old villages built amongst luscious green mountains. We found a large dam on the map, and decided to head into the mountains in search of another adventure. After winding around steep narrow roads for half an hour we ended up back where we started………I was navigating again! Second attempt, we climbed steadily in a large circle looking down into the abyss for two hours without seeing another car. We couldn’t believe that we had such stunning rural scenery all to ourselves. Eventually returning back in the vicinity of Noia, we couldn’t resist taking photos of this amazing Roman bridge, Ponte Nafonso. Although the true antiquity of the bridge is unknown, it is thought to be of around the 12th century and previously the only way to cross the estuary.
Trying to think of new ways to use our very large bag of white beans, inspired these vegan patties:
Mix together all the following ingredients; mashed white beans (2 hours cooking), chopped onion, garlic, peppers, grated ginger and zucchini, pinch of rosemary and thyme, sprinkle of sunflower seeds. Bake in hot oven until brown on top.
Optional: add a tin of chopped chicharrillos or sardines
They were delicious with salad, but John (master chef) thought a bit of jamon would have made them even better!
Heading North toward Muros, after a very picturesque drive North of Cambados from Vilagarcia de Arousa along the coast, we arrived in the small fishing port of Porto do Son. Well, we were sure we had reached heaven! When we chose to book accommodation here, we just picked a spot on the map not really knowing what to expect. Our apartment overlooks the marina with extended vistas down the mountainous rias de Muros and Noia and 5km across to the opposite side. We decided we really didn’t need to venture far from this piece of paradise. Um…..did I mention the surf beaches? John’s eyes lit up on our first drive around the immediate area and this is what we found…………
We were both very excited to see the surf (3 to 4 foot, not too big for me) and there were other surfers out riding them very well. I was keen to go in and John suggested putting my feet in to feel the water. I immediately rolled up my pants and ran into the water………..you have got to be kidding, my feet are still blue 2 days later. Can you surf in Ugg boots?
Porto do Son is a genuine working fishing port, with no leisure craft to be seen. It is a very small port compared with those of the Rias Baixas, which has made it more inviting as a visitor to wander around the marina and have a close look at all their brightly coloured fishing boats, nets and crab pots. As we move to different regions of Galicia, we enjoy new experiences which allow different insights of the Galician culture, giving me much inspiration for my art. Here are some inspirational photos:
Through the eyes of a visitor, fishing and the preserving of seafood, seems to be the main industry in the coastal regions of Galicia. Of course, we have had to sample every type of seafood…..John is growing extra arms every day, he has eaten so much pulpo (octopus).
WILDFLOWERS IN GALICIA
All through the region, you cannot help noticing the Maio (May) flowers which are the most intensely vibrant yellow. While walking around town, we have been surprised to see bunches tucked under handles of front doors and between the front bumpers of cars…..such a lovely thought. I then decided to do a series of small wildflower paintings, including one installation on someone’s front door. So then commenced our quest through the entire town of Porto do Son, for that perfect rustic timber door. Lucky John is a very patient man!
We have had many spectacular coastal walks from Porto do Son. There seems to be endless magnifico white sandy beaches with dramatic rocky headlands winding around charming villages. Oooh, I am so sick of it! Ha ha ha
Here are some more views from our walks. Some of the scenes of flowers creeping up rocky walls remind me of Gustav Klimt’s absolutely delicious landscape paintings.
BAR Moreira del Ria
Last night, we had some surprise visitors from the Sunshine Coast in Australia. John’s cousin (Craig) and his wife (Anne) drove 800 km from San Sebastian to see what we were up to in Porto do Son. Being too wet for walking, we decided to introduce them to our local friends in the Bar Moreira del Ria opposite the marina, where one beer turned into two. The warm and bubbly owner Delores and her patrons, have made us feel very welcome. Through dramatic sign language and very slow speaking, we have managed to converse…….we find our Espanol improves after the second beer! Previously one lazy sunny afternoon, we met a friendly retired fisherman who insisted in attempting conversation with us at the bar. We were hopeless in understanding him, however he persisted. After much laughing, he spoilt us with a beautiful rendition of a well known Mexican song “volver volver”. It was a very special moment. John being a pianist, I suggested they hold a concert and Delores can collect the money at the door. Hearing the song, reminded us of the movie “Lucky” which we saw on the flight over, starring Harry Dean Stanton. If you ever have the opportunity, this movie is a gem and a magnificent performance by Stanton. I hope we meet our fisherman friend again; he was quite a character and I would love to paint a portrait.
We had lots of fun and laughs with Craig, Anne and Delores and sadly said goodbye to Craig and Anne this morning as they headed back the 600km to Bilbao.
John topped off the family visit by presenting them with his version of the Spanish Omelette for breakfast before their long journey.
We were keen to visit Vigo, but we discovered that four weeks living in Cambados was never going to be long enough for us. The town has a very welcoming vibe, while keeping a serenity which allows us to relax in its ambience. One of our favourite elements of Galicia is definitely the food. Twice a week we have collected a lovely array of fresh produce from the local market (enormous for a small town), despite mustering all our will power, we could not resist the fruit and nut wood fired bread particular to this region. Each loaf is big enough to feed 50 people, so fortunately they cut you off a section.
Apart from eating all the abundant fresh seafood, we have been enjoying our own Galician style cooking too. John is becoming an expert at making the tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette with potatoes). Another favourite of mine is the Galician white bean soup, to which I added grated ginger. Only problem was with the nut sprinkle I added to the accompanying salad………….it was a tooth breaker, I actually added raw lentils – I didn’t have my glasses on!
Exploring the Ria Baixas included a visit to the energetic city of Vigo, which is well known for its art scene.
I was not disappointed; stumbling immediately upon one of the most awesome public sculptures, monumento de trabajo, one of the key figures of Galician art of the 20th century. This was created by a sculptural group in dedication to the many extraordinary fishermen of Galicia. It is also by far, the best depiction of the gluteus maximus I have ever seen.
I then struggled passed many fabulous shoe (zapatos) shops, along the very ornate promenade of Vigo down to the main plaza. We could not resist the great selection of vibrant cafes packed with locals dining alfresco, soaking up the first sign of sun in Galicia in the previous two weeks. It was still a little ‘alfreezo’ for us Aussies, so we sat inside. More kind thoughts for the fishermen who risk their lives daily in the Atlantic Ocean, as we devoured the most succulent octopus (pulpo) we have tried anywhere. Galician style slow cooked pulpo is then seared in butter with potatoes and sprinkled with paprika. I think we are getting the hang of the long boozy Spanish Sunday lunches.
Stomachs satisfied, we climbed up to the highest point in Vigo within the Parque Monte del Castro. Here, we took in the 360 degree breathtaking views over the Ria Baixas and city of Vigo. The park and city contain historical elements of over 2000 years, too much to detail here. Vigo’s fishing port rivals some of the biggest in the world, the Ria also being full of mussel rafts. The Rias of Galicia contain over 3000 mussel rafts and supply over 50% of the world’s total mussel production. Guess what’s on the menu?
All through Galicia, even the smallest village, you will find stone crosses created on long thin shafts. They are mostly found in the town central plaza and may be used to denote a social or religious area. Each one is unique and it was in the park of Vigo where I found an exquisite cruceiro.
DONON: Faro de Carbo Home
It was a long and windy road in to the coastal town of Donon. No direct route, but we now know to avoid trying to drive through the maze of narrow lanes in villages, where you can easily end up down someone’s driveway with nowhere to turn around. Barely noted on the map, we drove until the end of the road in hope of finding a headland with lighthouses (faros) of which we had seen enticing photographs. Where every road ends, fortunately in Spain, you usually find a cafe. After John had his caffeine fix, where the road finished we began walking with a picnic on our backs. Eventually, we came across the most rugged, gnarly mountains towering over the threatening ocean, protecting the land behind.
I love the wildness of the Atlantic Coast, being exposed to every element. It was refreshing to hear and see all the bird life here; just gliding gracefully while we were bracing ourselves from the incessant icy wind gusts. We walked to both the light houses, then randomly made our way along bush tracks to the more protected side of the headland, hoping for a sheltered picnic spot.
As we came over the crest of a hill, we knew we had found our picnic paradise.
The drive and walk well exceeded any expectations…..Galicia is full of surprises and we look forward to many more! Unfortunately, we said ‘adios’ to Cambados last week and have headed North to the Costa de Morte (coast of death); the land of shipwrecks and witches…………John said, ‘they don’t know there is another one on her way.’
I won’t tell you everything about Cambados, because you really should visit here to experience this enchanting place yourself………..and you will need some surprises! Sadly, we are only staying here for four weeks and it would take a year for me to be of any use. Luckily the weather for the last 10 days has been superb, so we have taken the opportunity to appreciate some of the surrounding countryside which holds so many wonderful treasures. We soaked up the sunshine while strolling through local vineyards, narrow country lanes and through wetlands adjoining the river. The beauty and intensity of the spring flowers is beyond words.
Cambados is packed with streets of charming architecture and medieval churches. Not a day has passed without a stroll along the bay and through town, taking the occasional opportunity to listen to comic banter across a bar. The locals seem to enjoy teasing one another as much as Aussies do……….you won’t get away with much here either!
During the week, I have been flicking my brushes around, preparing for my exhibition in Santiago de Compostela in September. The fine weather of late, has allowed me some time to sketch my compositions at some lovely locations. We are having such a busy time being tourists, painting, learning Spanish and 2 hours of daily yoga practice…..but we love it all!
RIA de BAROSA, BARRO
Last weekend we drove 30 minutes inland from Cambados to a powerful waterfall (fervenza) cascading over a rocky landscape, with a series of 17 old watermills arranged along the fervenzas. As we climbed, we explored the gorgeous old mill rooms, many being in various states of ruin. The mills comprised of two large granite wheels which were powered by the rushing water to grind grains. Until only a few decades ago, every town had at least one still in use as they were an extremely important part of their economy. Apart from the historical interest, the “Ria de Barosa” park is a very beautiful nature reserve with lovely walks at the top along the river which feeds the fervenzas.
FERVENZA de SEGADE, CALDAS
On the same day, we decided to visit another waterfall only 15 minutes from Barro, near the town Caldas. This one proved a little difficult to find……….I was the navigator of course! After driving in circles for half an hour, we decided to park in this tiny village where I happened to see a tiny sign hiding amongst trees. The path led us passed a terrifying (not happy) German Shepherd who seemed quite determined we were on his property. Hearts pumping, we traversed the side of another mountain along a goat track and found a very quaint, old Roman road passing over a very old Roman bridge (reconstructed in the 17th century).
We diverted off the track and found more ancient infrastructure with rickety old steps over aquaducts. After another 30 minutes of following a path up and downhill, we finally found the Fervenza de Segade, Caldas. Apart from the thundering 30 metre waterfall, there were also the remains of a hydroelectric centre build around 1900 and again, old water mills following the course of the Umia River.
Mi esposo, John obviously thought he fitted in well with the ancient scene.
This week we have explored the Rias Baixas from Combarro to Pontevedra. I would like to firstly, introduce my husband John, who has joined me on this exploration of Galicia; he happens to be an excellent cook and is immersing himself in local recipes to keep the fuel up to the worker! We are both loving everything we have experienced so far. Although we only speak a little Spanish, we have managed to make friends with some locals “the Allcocks”. I don’t think they speak Spanish either!
The weather is warming up and Spring is here. Grape vines are all sprouting leaves which seem to grow an inch every day. Now the rain has stopped, we are enjoying evening walks and spectacular sunsets over Cambados.
Last year after my Pilgrimage, I treated myself to a bus tour of the West Coast of Galicia, where I learned about these gorgeous, rustic little buildings dotted around the landscape called Horreos. Traditionally, horreos were used for storing grains to keep them dry and out of reach of rodents. Due to today’s large scale agriculture, they are no longer practical and are mainly used as a decorative store on many properties.
For my next painting, we decided to travel between Combarro and Pontevedra in search for that special horreo. Almost always when you look for something, there are none to be seen! Finally, one captured my attention just outside of Combarro which just happened to be close to a lovely restaurant overlooking the bay of Pontevedra. We could not resist enjoying an extremely generous lunch with the most stunning views.
About 2 hours later, we waddled off our lunch through the old town of Pontevedra, which is full of historic buildings and churches. Situated in the rias baixas (lower bays) of Galicia, Pontevedra thrived for centuries, prospering from fishing, farming and trading. By the 16th century, Pontevedra had become an international trading port.
However, the city was nearly destroyed as a result of wars, political unrest, the plague, and then long term erosion clogging its estuary. The city has since recovered and boasts a very charming medieval centre.
There is also the contrasting of old and new with the Los Tirantes bridge and the 12th century Burgo bridge over the Ria Lerez.
On our way home I tested my driving skills, changing gears with my right hand was downright scary……fortunately, I only found myself on the wrong side of the road once. I can only improve from now on…..
I am Leonie Walton, an Artist from Australia travelling for 6 months in Galicia, Spain. Here, I will be creating a series of paintings celebrating the unique culture and beauty of the region, which will be exhibited in Santiago de Compostela (home of the Camino de Santiago) in September 2018.
I have been painting for 15 years in between work and being a mother. Last year I was able to retire from my previous work and take an exciting step towards following my passion for painting and becoming a full time artist. Without any expectations, I began an 800 km Pilgrimage across Northern Spain, seeking solitude and a new direction for my art. The immense beauty of the Spanish countryside and forests were overwhelming. As each day and then each week passed, my awareness of time diminished to the point where I didn’t know what day of the week or how many days I had been walking. I did notice that I had all the time in the world to just walk and observe nature, an artist’s dream. It was such a privilege, I promised myself that I would never allow my life to become so busy that I couldn’t spend time appreciating the creation of life.
When I returned home, I had renewed enthusiasm for my painting and soon created these paintings below. They are two of my favourite memories of the Camino de Santiago.
I decided during my walking that I would return to Northern Spain and just paint!
Now here I am, back in Galicia living my dream as an artist. My intention is to take you on an incredible journey through one of the most beautiful regions in the world. I will introduce you to some of the locals, giving you interesting insights into their culture, food, history in the land of witches and myths……………but are they??
My first home in Galicia is in the small fishing town of Cambados with a population of only 14,000, in the Rias Baixas. With a history which may have begun in prehistoric times and ruins throughout Cambados dating from the 12th century, there will be many places of interest for me to visit.
So far it has rained every day since arriving in Galicia and today was no exception, with the addition of gale force winds. Before having a chance to investigate any historical sites, the sounds of 100 women chatting excitedly grabbed my attention outside. Quickly donning my raincoat (my seventh layer), I braved the weather to see what all the excitement was about. In the harbour, women were gathering in waders, wetsuits and coats, pushing baskets on trolleys towards the water. Most were talking like you would expect from any other group of women in the world. However, I will never forget the look of dread of one young woman as she was pulling her coat on tightly. These women are called “Mariscadoras” (shell- fisherwomen). Every day at low tide, they trudge out as far as the eye can see to collect shell fish in their baskets.
Later I strolled out over the long walking bridge to get a closer look at the action. I felt so privileged to be witnessing such an event, even though for them it was their daily job. I felt so much admiration for these women, facing the wildness of the Atlantic Ocean, working together for a common goal. I would never have the courage and strength to do this! How will I ever capture these incredible women in a painting?
After only two days of exploring in and around Cambados, I knew, being an artist, I needed to stay here for 6 years…..not 6 months, to even scratch the surface of a region so rich in culture.