Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Camino de Santiago, September, 2016
Walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela has become very popular over the years.  One can do the whole camino by starting in St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France or wherever you like.  There are many routes ending at the same place.  In order to get your Compostela certifying that you have walked the camino, you have to have walked at least 100 km, i.e. starting in Sarria where a great many people begin.  You need a Pilgrim Passport which allows you to stay at pilgrim hostels and receive your compostela which you can obtain in your first hostel.  You will need to get at least two stamps a day in this pass in order to prove that you have walked along the camino.

The traditional pilgrim way is on foot, carrying all your “worldly goods”.  Some people have their backpacks transported to their respective hotels which might be a good idea if you are planning to walk for the 30 or so days it takes from St. Jean to Santiago.  What you take depends on how long you will be walking and what you feel you will need.  There is a wonderful book that almost everyone on the camino seems to carry with them called “Camino de Santiago” by John Brierley which outlines everything you need to know about walking the camino.

MY camino started in Piedrafia Cebreiro at As Miguinas do Cebreiro about 4 km from O Cebreiro, a little pueblo on the camino.  I had taken the 7:30 a.m. bus from San Sebastian which stopped for 1-1/2 hours in Valladolid where I walked into the center to get some lunch.  There was an open air market that day with food trucks, craft tables, etc. which was fun.  I picked up a tuna skewer and wandered around a bit before getting back on the bus.

Arrived about 7:30 p.m. and my host drove down to pick me up.  I checked in, got my pilgrim’s pass and took a taxi into O Cebreiro where there was a festival going on.  That is why it was suggested to me that I stay out of town a bit as it would be a very noisy night for me.  I wanted to visit the Santa Maria La Real Church and the cemetery and was fortunate as a service was going on as well.  The town is very old and quaint with handsome stone buildings.  I enjoyed the festival and then had a tuna empanada in a little café before returning by taxi to my hotel.  I took a hot shower, unpacked my little belongings and got a good night’s sleep, ready to begin my long walk towards Santiago in the morning…

Caught the 6:30 a.m. bus into O Cebreiro which stopped in front of a little café which was already open even though it was still dark out.  Had some toast, jam and delicious strong coffee while I waited for the sun to come up.  Checked my camino book which told me where to start my walk and followed the yellow arrows and scallop shell camino signs to Tricastela.  I walked through old villages, into churches and cemeteries, etc. stopping along the way to eat my peach, get my pilgrim’s pass stamped and use the WC.  There are many bars and cafes to stop in along the way if one gets hungry or thirsty or just needs to sit awhile. 

After 5-1/2 – 6 hours I arrived at Albergue Complexo Xacobeo on the camino where I spent the night in a quiet little room with hot shower and comfy bed.  Had a delicious grilled salmon/salad in the restaurant next door and then walked to the church nearby dedicated to Santiago.  Took a shower and a rest before coming out later to walk through the little town and pick up an orange for the next day.  Traditional torte de Santiago for dinner at the outside restaurant next door.

I got myself on a schedule after that, i.e. up at 7:15 a.m., breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and on the road by 8:00 a.m. when the sun was up.  That morning I had toast and jam/coffee before taking the Samos road leading to the monasterio founded in the 6th century.  Took an hour tour (in Spanish) and enjoyed what I saw very much; although I didn’t understand everything that was said.   Well worth the extra hour’s walk.  Continued on until the road caught up again with the traditional camino and arrived in Sarria about 3:30 p.m., stopping, as was my schedule, about 11:00 a.m. to eat my orange/peach at an outdoor café.  Casa Baran was on the Calle Mayor on the camino so as I walked up towards the churches there it was.  A very nice hotel, perhaps a bit too expensive for a pilgrim…Had a peach and ice cream for lunch.

Sarria is the second largest city in Galicia and it is where the majority of pilgrims start the camino so it was pretty busy.  Visited some of the churches and the monastery before taking a shower and relaxing a bit.  Walked into the center for dinner at Roma Restaurant, a great bustling place packed with people having fun.  Had to wait a bit for a table but it was well worth it.  Had some delicious grilled vegetables and grilled salmon before heading back for a deep sleep…

There are many accommodation options in the cities we stop in, i.e. dormitory-style rooms with 3, 6 and 9 beds, elegant hotels and simple rooms with or without baths which is what I booked.

Croissant and coffee at a nearby café in the morning and then back on the camino up towards the Monasterio de Madalena, to the Ponte Aspera and on to Portmarin where I stayed at the Ferramenteiro Hotel.  Had booked a single room but it was too noisy so I upgraded to a double room which worked out fine.  Walked into town to have lunch on the plaza and then visited the Romanesque fortress Church of St. John and walked around the town.  It was supposed to rain the next day so I picked up a waterproof cover for my backpack.  Had dinner later that night at O Mirador next door to the hotel, i.e. platter of grilled vegetables and grilled tuna – both delicious.  I sat outside on the terrace and enjoyed the evening.

Had a croissant and coffee for breakfast in the hotel’s café and started walking in the pouring rain.  Had my waterproof jacket and luckily had bought the waterproof cover for my pack so I just ploughed along.  Stopped periodically to get in out of the rain and finally stopped in A Brea at Meson A Brea for some delicious cream of vegetable soup and torte de Santiago and café as I was getting pretty cold.  Took another 30 minutes or so to reach Palas de Rei and Complejo La Cabana where I was staying.  Really nice little “cabin” facing the green parkland and very quiet.  When the rain stopped I walked into town, stopping by the church and some monuments and also picked up a poncho for the next day “just in case”.  Dinner was included so after taking a nice hot shower and resting a bit, I enjoyed a delicious baby greens salad with white onions, tomatoes and hard cooked egg and nicely grilled salmon on the bone, finishing with a flan for dessert.  Washed out a few things which dried by morning.

Buffet breakfast was also included so had a chocolate croissant, coffee and a pear.  My longest walk, i.e. 7 hours, was from Palas de Rei to Arzua but, although it rained off and on, it wasn’t all that bad... Stopped to visit the church of Santa Maria de Melide and cemetery along the way.  Decided to take a break for lunch at Café Manuel near Ribadiso about 3 p.m. and enjoyed a delicious salad of tomatoes, lettuce, onions, hard cooked egg and nice local soft cheese plus torte de Santiago and café. 

Arrived in Arzua and checked into Casa Teodora where I stayed which was in the center of town.  Even though it was raining, I wandered around the town, finding a pastry shop for breakfast the next day and also Café Nene recommended by trip advisor just around the corner.  Made a reservation for later that evening and had a wonderful dinner.  Started with a grilled vegetable platter with eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes, followed by a half portion of grilled octopus with potato puree and finished with a warm chocolate “coolant” cake with ice cream – all fantastic!!!  Perhaps the best meal I had on the camino.
Chocolate croissant and café at the nearby pastry shop and on
to O Pedrouzo which only took about 4 hours.  Beautiful day for walking through the trees, up and down hills, etc.  Lovely…Arrived in town and stayed at 9 Avril Pension.  My room with private bath was very noisy so I opted for the room without bath across the hall which was quieter and I could open the window for some fresh air.  Walked along the main street to Galaicos which trip advisor had recommended for a salad and then walked to the church on top of the hill.  Returned to Galicas for grilled octopus and potatoes later that evening, finishing with a warm chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream, both delicious.

Chocolate croissant and café and then headed to Santiago de Compostela, my last stop on the camino…Before I reached the cathedral I found A Tafona do Peregrine, my hotel and checked in.  Later I continued walking into the old town towards the cathedral, stopping first for a delicious cream of vegetable soup and arugula salad with goat cheese, pears and walnuts at La Flor. 

Spent a couple hours in the cathedral in all its glory.  Walked up to the high altar to ascend the stairs and hugged the Apostle, who presides over the main nave, thanking him for a safe camino, as tradition requires.  Beneath the altar, in a silver reliquary, which you pass as well, lie the relics of the saint.  Wandered the streets of the old town, enjoying its uniqueness.  Went to the 7:30 p.m. pilgrims mass at the cathedral and saw the famous swinging of the giant incense burner and heard the words from the priests from around the world.  It was very moving.  Had dinner at a tafona restaurant which was a bit “out there” but the chef was well acclaimed so perhaps I just didn’t appreciate her cuisine…

Breakfast in the hotel wasn’t particularly exciting, i.e. peasant toast and fruit but the coffee was delicious.  Walked to the Pilgrim office to get my Compostela, i.e. a certificate proving that I walked at least 100 km of the camino.  Walked back to the big market housed in and outside of an enormous building across from my hotel and enjoyed seeing all the fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc. on display.  Picked up some cheese and jamon for the train trip the next day and then walked to the train station to see how long it would take me…

Went to the 12 p.m. pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral and then had a wonderful “celebration” lunch at Casa Marcella, where I had eaten about 5 years ago and it was just as wonderful as before!!!  It is now more casual and all seating is at the counter or a communal table but the food is remarkable.  I had bonito skewers with marinated olives and peppers, maki roll with spicy tuna, duck with pear chutney and finished with coffee and a “tiramisu” shaped like a little ball filled with mascarpone cheese – too good to believe!!!  Wandered some of the main streets, i.e. o franco, novi, villar, etc. and then went back to rest up for the evening.

About 7 p.m. I went back into town to enjoy the evening’s wander.  Stopped at La Flor again on my way back for the delicious arugula salad with goat cheese, etc. and a chocolate dessert.  A really cute little restaurant where I sat by the window and enjoyed being there.

Took a nice walk in the morning around the old town, passed by the cathedral and then back for breakfast.  Walked to the train station, arriving in plenty of time to board the train which departed for San Sebastian at 10:06 a.m.  Won’t arrive until late that night so had plenty of time to reflect upon my camion and savor the experience…

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