An area of Central Europe north of the Carpathian mountains. It stretches roughly from Cracow in the west to Bukovina in the east.

Galicia was a province of Poland from its earilest days until the first partition of Poland in 1772, when it was handed over to the Austrian Empire. Its principal city was Lviv (aka Lemberg). A sliver of territory between Cracow and Katowice was an independent "Free City of Cracow" until 1846, when the Austrians absorbed it.

In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles made Western Galicia part of a reconstituted Polish state. Exploiting the Russian Civil War of 1918-1920, Poland invaded Western Russia and took territories where Poles were not the dominant ethnic group, but which had been part of the medieval kingdom of Poland-Lithuania: Eastern Galicia and parts of what are now Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania.

When Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin divided Poland between them in 1939, permitting World War II to start, Galicia was permanently divided. The Soviet Union kept most the half of Poland it took in the partition. When it broke up in 1991, Eastern Galicia became part of Ukraine.

Western Galicia is essentially the Polish voivodships of Malopolskie and Podkarpackie. Eastern Galicia now consists of the Ukrainian Oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk.

Galicia is a synonym for Heaven. Or so I feel, after passing a month there with a friend I met over the internet. Galicia is situated on the northwestern corner of Spain right above Portugal. While most people associate Spain with bullfights and flamenco dancing, Galicia favors the bagpipe and deep-rooted Celtic traditions. The people speak Castillian Spanish, but also have their own language, Galician (gallego). If you want to piss off a Galician, tell them that their language is a dialect. You will learn more about Galician linguistic history in the ten minutes that follow than you ever cared to know.

Galicia’s largest city is Vigo. There was a saying in a tour book that I had bought that said, “Vigo does not end, but it stretches into the sea.” That is an accurate description of this ocean paradise. I spent my month in Nigrán, a small town, or pueblo, on the outskirts of the city, but we would take the bus into town almost every day. One afternoon we took a drive to the top of one of the mountains that the city is surrounded by and gazed at the mammoth city below. Nestled in a sea of green mountains floated a city that melded with the blue Atlantic Ocean. The crisp air smelled of nature and held none of the aromas that have overworn their charm on this New York City native. As I gazed over the blue Atlantic, the very same waves that had touched my own country, I realized that Americans take for granted what living is. We rush and never take the time to notice the beauty that nature and tradition hold. We turned the three tones of blue that Galicia’s Atlantic Ocean holds to one tone of brown that our end holds.

The Galician people are considered a bit backwards by other parts of Spain. Even after the Spanish Civil War, the Galicians continued to live on farms and only live based on what they could produce. Many migrated away from Spain to escape the poverty they lived in. A very common Galician saying that came about from this migration is, “There’s a Galician on the moon.” In some Latin American countries, the words Spaniard and Galician are used interchangeably. See, Spaniards name their heritage as being of their province before their country and since the only Spaniards they had come in contact with were the Galicians, many people considered all Spaniards to be as such.

My experience in Galicia was made perfect by an amazing friend I met on a message board. She helped me coordinate my trip and if it weren’t for her, I would not have had the nerve to travel there. She introduced me to a new culture and a new way of life. We ate three meals a day as a family. Everyone came home from work to sit around the table and talk from 2-5. Our eggs were fresh from the chickens in the backyard; our oranges and lemons were handpicked from the trees that morning. And every glass of coke had a lemon slice in it!

I can’t put into words any more how beautiful Galicia is. It holds a very special place in my heart and I pray it stays the way it is forever. Each time I call my friend I practice my Spanish and my Galician and I long to return soon. If you are ever planning a trip to Spain and just want to relax in a small fishing village, Galicia should be your first stop.

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