September 20-26: Pontevedra, Isla de la Toja & Side trip to Porto
September 20 -23 Wednesday – Saturday: Wedding Preparations for Isabel
I had an incredible week with my Spanish adopted family. I quickly settled in a new routine i.e. getting up late, lunch after 3pm, dinner after 10pm and going to bed after 2am. The wedding of Isabel Abal Couceiro and Maricela Gavito would take place at the 4-star Talaso Hotel Louxo in Isla de la Toja. Maricela and her parents (Ricardo & Yara) and her sister and husband (Marisa &Jaime) would be arriving from Texas, USA on September 22 and fly to Santiago the following day. The two families would stay in the Talaso Hotel Louxo for the weekend. I would stay in the hotel with them enjoying a special rate of €70 a night. Ramón hired a 9-seater van and would pick up the party at the Santiago airport and drive them around before seeing them off at the Madrid airport on September 28.
Wedding is a labour of love involving a lot of painstaking work and organisation. During my time with the Abal Couceiro family, I felt I was part of the family and accompanied them on all errands.
September 20. We made a trip to Lalin to get Isabel’s wedding dress made. While Carmen and Isabel stayed with the seamstress, Ramón and his friend took me to a forest for a walk and photo-taking. We had a short walk in a town park in Lalin too.
September 21. We drove to Isla de la Toja. They discussed and finalised arrangements for the wedding day with a manager of the. Talaso Hotel Louxo. They agreed the venue for the ceremony in fine and wet weather i.e. a dry and wet plan.
We stopped at the Playa de la Lanzada to look at the expansive beach and its natural beauty. We had lunch in a nice restaurant called ”La Taberna de Toni” in Cambados, a lovely small town. Carmen and the own-chef discussed the dinner menu for the Gavito family on September 23. At 6pm, Ramón, Carmen and Isabel departed for Lalin to pick up the gown. I did not join them and spent the evening writing. They did not return till 2:30am.
On September 22, Ramón drove Isabel to Santiago around 4am to catch a train to Madrid. She would arrive in time to greet the Gavito family at the airport and they would spend a day in Madrid.
Ramón, Carmen and I had a busy time. Carmen took Maricela’s dress to a laundry and then looked for a pair of shoes for Ramón. In the afternoon, we drove along the coastal road PO-308 to find a florist near Isla de la Toja. Carmen placed order for two bouquets for the couple, and several orchid plants as gesturs of appreciation for a few friends. I took them to a restaurant named ‘Hong Kong’. The food is not bad but nothing compared with those in Hong Kong. Back at home, they continued to wrap up souvenirs for guests (a bottle of olive oil and coffee liquor).
On September 23, Carmen and Ramón got up very early in order to get everything ready before the arrival of the Gavito family. Ramón and I took a train to Santiago de Compostela and he greeted Ricardo,Yara and Marisa for the first time. But Marisa’s husband was not in the group. What happened? I later foundout that he got lost after having a few drinks and did not manage to find his way back to the hotel till early morning. As a result, he was tired and not in a good mood. He would take an evening flight.
Ramón picked up a 9-seater van and drove the group to Pontevedra. We had a late seafood lunch at his cousin’s restaurant. The food was excellent and we did not finish till 6pm.
Around 10pm, we were back in the van. I was tired and thought we would proceed to the hotel direct. I was wrong: we returned to La Taberna de Toni” in Cambados for a sumptuous 7-course dinner (4 seafood dishes, foie gras and two desserts) which did not finish till 1am. Jamie took a taxi from the airport and arrived around midnight. The food was excellent but I was so full that I did not take the foie gras and the chocolate dessert. What a waste! We arrived at the hotel at 2am and I did not go to bed till 3am!
September 24 Sunday: The Wedding
I did not get up till 10am as I went to bed after 3am. The sky was grey but views from my window on the third floor over the fjiod were lovely with sunrays breaking through clouds. I went out to take photos for half an hour before heading to the spa which has a heated sea water pool. Wonderfully good for arthritis and elderly people. I got out just in time to take a light breakfast before the restaurant closed at noon.
It started to drizzle. As a result, the wedding ceremony attending by over 110 guests including a dozen of children and babies, had to be held indoor instand of in a lovely outside. Shortly after 1:30pm, Maricela walked down the red-carpetted aisle with her parents followed by Isabel and her parents. Isabel’s eldest brother Alberto gave a speech. Though I could not fully comprehend his speech in Spanish, I gathered it was about how the couple met seven years ago when both watched were fans of a TV programme and met over the chat room. Like a movie!
The next person to speak was Marisa, Maricela’s sister whose first language is English. She said the couple has happily found each other. She is glad to have one more sister and they all welcome Isabel into their family. Then an university friend of Isabel spoke before Monica, her cousin. Monica was very emtional and cried with a smiling face several times. Very moving even I did not understand what she was saying. As a matter of fact, Isabel and Maricela married in USA last year and had a reception in Texas. But Isabel’s family would like to organise a wedding party in Spain.
We indeed had a great party which went on from 3pm to midnight. It started with a reception overflowing with tapas, cheese, fresh local octopus, ham from Cordoba, champagne and sine. A Galician band played local music while guests danced.
At 6:30pm, we proceeded to the banquet hall. I sat on an English-speaking table with Alerto and Magda, Marisa and Jaime, Monica and her husband. The dinner lasted over two hours. After the couple had cut a wedding cake, they went out but returned with a birthday cake. It’s Alberto’s 45th birthday the following day and the DJ had the “Happy Birthday” music on. The couple than like Santa Claus presented several pots of orchid to a few guests.
The Spaniards are jolly and they talk loud like the Chinese. After Isabel and Maricela had their first dance, guests, old and young, took to the floor. They danced and sang in high spirit. Sometimes, they had line dance and I joined in a couple of times. At 9:30pm, a large group of guests left as they took a pre-arranged bus to Pontevedra. The second bus would leave at midnight. I stayed on till and had gin and tonic and ham till 11pm. I had too much to drink and eat. Time to retire before the party ended at midnight!
2 Days of Post Wedding Party
September 25 Monday: A Sailing Day
I had a nice sleep and got up around 9am. We had a beautiful sunny day with blue sky. I hurried out with my camera and spent over an hour strolling around. The mist over the fjiod with the silhouette of distant rolling hills and mountains was romantic. I had a picture of the reflection of the sun surrounded by clouds on the flat sea surface. I also visited a chapel made with seashells which is typical in Galicia.
I prefer a hot spa in the morning to a wholesome breakfast. Hence I returned to the spa for half an hour. It’s relaxing and helps my back. I checked out before having some fruits and a cup of coffee before meeting up with the group at midday.
Ramón’s 9-seater van was full now. We first returned to Pontevedra where Ricardo, Yara, Marisa and Jaime checked in a hotel. Ramón, Carmen, Isabel, Maricela and I returned to their place to drop off stuff brought back from the hotel. After 2:30pm, we headed to Combarro for a cruising in the fjiod in Alberto’s 39m-long sailing boat. He is a friend of Ramón and Carmen.
The weather was perfect for leisur sailing: sunny with a gentle breeze. Ramón loves sailing too. After sailing with the wind for about 20 minutes, we moored close to a beach of a small island for lunch. We had Spanish omelette, paella, wine.and coffee. What could I have asked for more!
After lunch, Alberto asked Jaime to help to pull the sail up. Poor Jaime does not like to be at sea. This’s the first time he was aboard a sailing boat. He put on a brave face and soon seemed to enjoy his role as an amateur sailor!
This fjiod is an important area for mariculture of mussels. Gigantic structures are flowing across the channel. It’s like an obstacle race and the boat almost crushed into one of the structures. Thank God, it;s a light kiss and no harm was done!
We disembarked after 6pm. Back in Pontevedra, we were ready for a tapas dinner in the old town to celebrate Alberto’s 45th birthday. Tonight, they ordered a few dishes to share as we all had overeaten in the last two days.
September 26 Tuesday: Day Trip to Porto, Portugal
Tonight, I would be taking an overnight bus to Madrid before catching a morning flightto Nice, France. I therefore put my luggage into Ramón’s van when we set off for Porto at 11:30am. Ramón thought it was not necessary as we would be back in good time. It was lucky that I had been cautious.
Porto is only 170km from Pontevedra. We had a pleasant drive and arrived in Porto for lunch. As I had already spent two nights in Porto in early September, I had a home-coming feeling.
Ramón planned to take us to a restaurant close to Praca da Liberdade. Unfortunately it does not take reservation for lunch. By the time we arrived, it was full. Raymond asked suggestions from a policeman who suggested a local restaurant nearby. We had fish and steak. I would say the food was average especially after the gastronomic week in Pontevedra.
After lunch, we walked up to the Sé Cathedral, one of the city’s oldest monuments. First built in the 12th century, it was finally completed during the Baroque period in 1737. Flanked by two square towers, it has an austere Romanesque form of fortress-church. There are lots to see but we hurried on.
At the square outside the imposing cathedral, we had stunning panoramic views of the old city below and River Douro. We walked downhill and met up with Ricardo and Jaime who had been waiting for us. We stopped at Sao Bento Train Station a beautiful building on the way to the car park.
It would be a pity to visit Porto without standing next to the river. As Ricardo cannot walk too far, Ramón parked the van close to Rúa Infante D. Henriqu. We walked past Casa do Infante where Henry the Navigator was born in 1394. I could not believe I was in the same spot twice in a month. It was about 6pm and we had to return to Pontevedra as my bus would be leaving at 10:30pm.
It was rush hour and the traffic was bad. Ramón took the wrong turn and we drove over Douro River twice. The scenery with mist and a setting goldne sun was unearthly beautiful. It took us over half an hour to get on the highway. But we had a most beautiful ride over the river!
Then something was wrong with the engine and Raymond had to stop the van in a petrol station next to the highway. I started to get anxious as I did not want to miss my bus. Fortunately after putting in more engine oil, the yellow warning light was off and the engine seemed to function normally. Around 7:15pm (ie 8:15pm in Spain), we resumed the journey and we finally arrived at the bus terminal at 9:45pm. I was relieved. I am indebted to my adopted family for having me and treating me as a member of the family. I kissed Carmen, Raymond and Isabel good bye and said I would return one day. I wished Isabel and Maricela a happy future in Austin (Isabel will departure for the States in early November).
I had a gastronomic week . Galicia, a green, rainy region in Spain’s northwest corner, is famous for its shellfish including octopus, goose-neck barnacles, velvet crab, spider crab, shrimp, lobster, clams, cockles, razor clams, mussels, scallops and variegated scallops. It serves arguably the best food in the country.
I had two seafood feasts on September 23. At lunch at O’Rueiro (restaurant belonging to Raymond’s cousin) from 4 to 6:30pm, we had excellent wine, three full plates of all types of shellfish and steam fish. In the evening, we had another 7-course dinner in the ” La Taberna de Toni”. We started after 11pm and did not finish till 1am. I was so full that I did not touch the foie gras (5th course) and a splendid chocolate platter (7th course)
I had a new home at Pontevedra. Though I could not communicate with Carmen and Ramón in Spanish, we had a great time using sign language, my broken Spanish and dictionary. Carmen repeatedly tells me to take her home as my home. They are sweet and most welcoming. I now know many members of their family and friends.
I have a real taste of the life of a Galician family. I also have no excuse not to learn Spanish!