The Holiday season in Europe is loaded with Christmas Markets. Absolutely, positively, drenched in them, really. But the one with the biggest light show around, certainly in a lights per square meter perspective, is nearby to us – the town of Vigo, just across the border from us in Spain. It still tickles us that we now go to another country with the same ease that we might have gone to Portland not so long ago. That said, for all the we’ve been poking around all over Western Europe we have not actually made this simple trip before. Two birds with one stone! So, we gathered up a couple of our good friends here, rented a car and hit the road!
Since we don’t tell a lot of driving stories, indulge us for a moment while we tell you of the wonder that is Via Verde. This is a national pay service for cars that puts a sensor thingy in your vehicle (you may be familiar with this tech if you have turnpikes or other toll highways in your area), but a surprising variety of services are also tied into it. Municipal parking lots? Sure. Charging your electric vehicle? Why not! Ferry crossings? But of course. Paying at drive-thru pharmacies? Weird, but also sure! It’s a pretty cool thing, especially since it covers the entire country. Should you ever rent a car in Portugal and the agent asks you if you want Via Verde, the answer is “yes.” And if they don’t ask, probably because they don’t enjoy explaining this to Portugal noobs, make sure to ask for it. You’ll pay a few euros up front, and then a couple of invoices will roll in a month or two down the road once Via Verde settles up with your rental agency. Totes worth it.
Aaaaaannyway, armed with a Via Verde-enabled rental, we pointed ourselves northward and beat feet. The drive itself is nothing special – it’s national highway all the way to the border and then similar roads on the other side. The whole drive is only an hour and a half give or take depending on the traffic. There aren’t even any interesting connections, as Vigo is right there on the highway. This meant that it was easy to get our first look at this quaint little town… which is significantly more metropolitan than Braga! It’s funny, the only time that Vigo has ever come up in conversation for us it’s been people talking about getting away to the beach or else visiting the “charming Christmas market”, and it somehow never entered the picture that the population is significantly larger while, at the same time, the population density is nearly triple that of Braga. The net effect is that compared to our home town’s almost suburban vibe, Vigo comes across like a big-boy city. Whoops. This doesn’t “matter” of course, it was just a funny realization.
We scoot through part of downtown on our way to our hotel and start to get glimpses of the market. It’s early afternoon at this point so there aren’t any lights, and being just past the lunch hours a lot of the sidewalks are rolled up. It was kind of like being in Las Vegas at 10 AM on a Sunday – yeah, things are still going on, but it’s pretty mundane. We make it into our digs at a Marriott right on the water, which might sound lah-dee-dah but we were along the part of the waterfront that doubles as a perpetual county fair, complete with bumper cars. Think less Club Med and more Atlantic City. We got settled in and then made the short walk to one edge of the market.
Confession time (from John at the moment): I had no idea what to expect from a “Christmas market”. I’ve never seen one, I’ve barely talked about them with anybody. Braga does one but by all accounts it’s pretty modest. So color me surprised but a little giddy that my first exposure to the market in Vigo was… a half-mile lane stacked with street food vendors, craft vendors, street food vendors, pop-up wine tasting “rooms” and, dare I say, street food vendors? We were actually pretty hungry and dinner wasn’t until 9 or so (hola, Spain :p) so we dove into these amazing … um… things. Basically, take “pigs in a blanket” only use full-size chorizo and scale up the bun accordingly. It was bonkers good. Lisa had an empanada variant that she also super enjoyed (our friends both joined me in hot sausage & bun goodness). There was a lot of other nummy-looking goodness, but the one thing that left a lasting impression were these giant palmiers. Like, as wide as my forearm giant. Crazy good.
Since dinner was going to be so late (hola, Spain) we all went back to the hotel to reset and relax a bit. Oh what a difference a couple of hours makes. Our walk to Marabu (the restaurant du dinner) went through a couple of major avenues in town, and now the lights were on. [pictures]
Dinner was at Marabu, courtesy of a recommendation from good friends who spend a lot of time in Vigo. Short version: our friends are good at recommendations. Although, we almost didn’t find out. Despite our late reservation (hola, Spain) we were actually the first people there, and the restaurant gave almost every appearance of being closed. After a few minutes we were ready to bail but one of us spotted movement in the darkness inside so we abided with something resembling patience. Eventually they did open, and we were sooo glad that we stayed. The star of our meal was a slow-cooked ribs (“slow” as in “twenty-six hours”… hubba hubba) shareable entree. When it was brought out our server broke out these wooden Wolverine claws and gently shredded the meat, which was obligingly sliding off the bones by that point. Thus prepared, we rolled tacos at the table and had little bites of heaven for awhile. The atmosphere was cozy and elegant, the service good and unobtrusive… I’d say we give it an eight-thumbs-up recommendation, just don’t make a reservation close to opening. We lingered over dinner so long that, combined with being a Sunday, we actually had the lights mostly to ourselves as we made our way back to the hotel. It was nice to be able to linger over the displays without feeling like we were blocking traffic.
And with that, our little one-day excursion to Vigo was over. We made it back with no problems the next day and (bonus!) we had a car to do some bulky shopping for a day. All four of us came away from the trip already brainstorming what our next, longer visit would be like, so it’s safe to say we had a gay old time.