Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Santiago de Compostela

The walk from Paza de Galegos into Santiago de Compostela is 10 miles. It starts in the woods outside the Pazo, goes through small villages, turns into areas of Spanish “country homes” and gradually becomes the outskirts of Santiago. We finished right around 2:00 in the afternoon.

A quick aside on the phrase “country homes” which is totally my own. Marty and I walked by a lot of them, on the outskirts of villages and towns. So I guess maybe they're typical, at least for this area. They are nice homes, nicely landscaped and well kept, on a couple of acres of land. They have some form of small farming taking place, but they aren't farms. The edges of the property have grapevines and fruit trees. The house is surrounded by a stone wall with a fence on top, a gated driveway, and one or more dogs (usually large) inside. They give the impression of security. Not sure if that's because of actual crime rates (it doesn't seem so), or of a need to feel secure behind the walls.

Once in Santiago, we went directly to the cathedral, went inside, and contemplate what we'd just done. That contemplation will take more time than I gave it in the cathedral, and have given it since. So that part of this Camino isn't finished yet. But even so, there's a great feeling of accomplishment that goes beyond just the walk. Something about knowing you're walking down the same paths and over the same Roman bridges that some individual did a thousand years ago heading the same way you are..

Right – no pictures from me on this stretch – Mr.Lumix was out of service.

Bandeira to Pazo de Galagos

We left the Hotel Victorino around 9:00, on the next to last day of our walk. Bandeira was a strange little place. It looked like it had sprung up from nowhere in the middle fifties. The architecture was all similar – kind of drab, plain buildings that made me think of pictures of Soviet Union cities. And many of these buildings were empty.  If I were to generalize, I'd say that the old Spanish villages we've seen, and the old parts of larger villages we've been through, are just as attractive as what we've walked through in Ireland. We haven't seen a lot of it, but my take is that modern Spanish architecture is real attractive. But there's a period in between that's pretty drab. I think it's what was created in the Franco era. I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm thinking John Nelson might have some insight on this. John?  

But leaving Bandeira we were quickly out into the beautiful Spanish countryside. High clouds, and a cool breeze.

Later in the morning we were going through the outskirts of a little village and saw a little delivery van stop in the driveway of a home in front of us. She got out of the van, walked up to the front door, and hang a bag with a large loaf of bread from the doorknob. Then she got back in the van, drove down the street a few houses, pulled over in front of a driveway, and beeped the horn. The lady of this house was home, she came out and spoke with the bread lady a minute, then went back inside. The bread lady drove on out of sight, but for the next ten minutes or so we could hear the occasional beep as she made her morning deliveries. We've learned that bread is an important staple in Spain – you sometimes get half of a large loaf with your meal.

Our route for the day took us across the Riu Ulla, crossing at the Ponte Ulla. As we got close to the river we started dropping down to the river on a pretty steep, curvy lane. Really glad we weren't going up this route, it was as steep as our uphill out of Ourense was, and longer.

We crossed an old bridge (the Ponte Ulla), into a little village of the same name, then started a long but gradual uphill toward our place for the night.

The Camino de Santiago is extremely well marked. At every intersecting road, lane, or trail, there is a yellow arrow. Sometimes the arrow is on a Camino marker, sometimes it's on the. I side of a wall or barn, but there is always a yellow arrow. I brought along some maps and a trail guide to make sure we didn't get lost, but reallly haven't used them much. It's really really hard to lose the way on the Camino de Santiago.

Just outside of the little village of Ponte Ulla, we lost the Camino.

But the advantage of following a trail that has markers on every intersection is that when you come to an intersection and there is no marker, you know something is wrong. So when we came to an intersection with a road going off to the left, and no marker, we stopped. We only had to backtrack about a hundred yards to where we could see a yellow arrow pointing up a narrow lane that we had missed. 

Climbing out of Ponte Ulla, the fireworks started. Literally. Not far off in the distance. This was a Sunday afternoon, and we suspected it was a festiva. We spoke to a man by his yard and were able to glean that it was a two day festiva

that would last into Monday. Spain is a country of many festivas.

Our goal for the day was the Pazo de Galegos, about a kilometer off the Camino. We had pretty good enough maps that took us off the Camino to the Pazo. Turns out “Pazo” means “manor house” and this was the manor house of Antonio Lopez Ferreiro, a canon of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and discoverer of the tomb of Saint James. Today it's restored, and a hotel an restaurant that's part of a winemaking estate, that specializes in alborinos – really nice albarinos. And the whole place is beautifully restored. Since we're staying here as part of our package with MacsAdventure, I can't tell you specifically what we're paying. But I looked at their published prices and I'm guessing you won't find a nicer $80 room anywhere.... which could lead me to another discussion about the awesome $2.00 glasses of wine and $15 meals we're experiencing. But I'll leave that for another time.

We came down early for dinner (8:00) and met Manuel, the owner of the estate. It was awesomet listening to him talk about his winery (this year's harvesting of the grapes begins Wednesday, when the sugar content of the grapes should be perfect) and the history of the estate. Great experience. One of the vines on the property has been inspected for age by the University and is certified to be over 500 years old. That means this place has been producing wine for at least that long.

When we went into the restaurant we heard a strange sound – American voices. Just a couple of them. We'd heard Hungarians, Italians, French, and Spanish all speaking or attempting to speak English over the last several days. But the last American voices we'd spoken to were a couple of ladies from Oregon, struggling their way up Gammy's mountain outside of Ourense the first morning of the walk.
The voices we heard were coming from – you might guess – a couple of ladies from Oregon. And not the ones we'd passed on the hill. These gals are driving around Spain, one of them going to a wedding shortly in Austria, one for whom this is a planning trip for walking the Camino next year.

Marty and I are now full of advice on the Camino, so we had a great meal at the Paxo, shared our hard earned expert advice, listened to some American being spoken here, and made some friends.

Monday, September 22, 2014

About Mr. Lumix

You'll see that this post is out of sequence, because I'm behind on a couple of days' walks. But you're going to have to cut me some pilgrim slack on that.  I also want to tell you more detail about our arrival this afternoon in Santiago de Compostela. Yep, Marty and I said goodbye to Pazo de Galegos this morning, and walked the last ten miles of the pilgrimage into Santiago de Compostela. More details on all that later.

But there's something about today's walk that I need to share - even Marty doesn't know about this yet.

When I put my pack on this morning, Mr. Lumix, my trusty Panasonic point and shoot,  fell out of my pack, and landed flat on his lens on the pavement. I tried for several minutes to bring him back, but the lens cover was dinged and wouldn't open. So, any pictures from today were taken by Marty. (If you look carefully, you'll see that there aren't any pictures with this post.)

But here's the thing. When Marty and I got into Santiago, we went straight to the cathedral and spent some time, then finished up the process to officially become peregrinos with papers and everything.. Great way to end this walk, and like I said, more to come on this.

And now, I'm unpacking in the hotel, I take the camera out of my pack, and, unbelievably, MR.. LUMIX LIVES!  His lens is open, it opens and closes, and seems to be taking pictures fine.  As good as new.

I'll assure you that, at the end of the walk, when I was in the cathedral, I did not say a prayer for my camera. But, still, this is the place of miracles. Could it  be...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lalin to Silleda and on to Bandeira

After a couple of long, wet days, today looked like the weather would improve, and our walk was only 9 miles to the rather large village of Silleda. Easy day, and we needed it. After the last couple of days, Marty and I each have a couple of body parts that could use a break.

The weather did improve, and was partly cloudy, cool, and with a light breeze as we started an easy climb out of Lalin. Both Marty and I took a lot more pictures today since it was safe to have the cameras out where we could reach them. What was also out today seemed to be a lot of dogs. Probably because of the weather. They were pretty much all behind fences in the yards of homes, but pretty much all wanted to give us some kind of greeting.

The walk today was largely on trails and back roads (paved and otherwise) , and we made pretty good time, looking to finish early.

The historic highlight of the day was the Ponte Taboada, an old Roman bridge built in 912 (don't ask how they now the exact year, but I guess the Roman's kept pretty good records). It's very much intact and original, and the Camino and it's pilgrims cross it as they've been doing for 1100 years. That's hard to get one's head around.

A few miles later we were in Silleda, ready to end the day's walk.

Now, when I got the itinerary for the walk, the Hotel Victorino was described as “right in the middle of Silleda”, but with an address of Bandeira, another village further on. I caught this confusion and asked the planners if the hotel was in Silleda or not. Their answer was the the hotel was “right in the middle of Silleda.”

So we walked through Silleda, got to the middle, didn't see the Hotel Victorino. We walked to the other side of Silleda, and still no Hotel Victorino. Then we asked a gentleman on the street who, like most of the people here, spoke no English, "donde esta Hotel Victorino."  He pointed down the road, and the only thing I could understand was a word that sounded a lot like "Bandeira." I confirmed this out by calling the hotel and learning that the hotel is easy to find. It's "right in the middle" of Bandeira, 5 miles away. After thinking we were at the end of a short day, we had another two hours to go. Let's just call that a disappointment. (There's an email to the trip planner being drafted.)

Anyway, we did what any disappointed pilgrim would do when they learned the day's walk wasn't over. We found a nice little restaurant and had a really good lunch and some really cold beer.

With the necessary fortification we got back on the trail (it was hard not to call a cab), and after a couple of hours we found the Hotel Victorino right in the middle of Bandeira where it's been all along.  The end of another long (14 mile) day.


Cea to Lalin

We started the walk today at Oseira, a medieval monastery (12th century) that was continuously used until the monks left in1835. They returned in 1929 and it's still being rebuilt and restored.

Today's route was long – 16 miles – with a lot of up and down, starting with a 20 minute climb from Oseira to the nearby ridge. From there, we were off road for most of the next three hours as the trail wound up and down into and through a valley. The trail was pretty overgrown and wet in a lot of places.Finally the trail climbed out of the valley a joined a highway. The highway may not have been as quiet, but it had some great views down into the valley. And we could eat up some miles walking on the shoulder. 

BTW - because it was so wet, there aren't many pictures from today's walk.

The weather for the first part of the day was overcast, cool, and threatening. But the rain didn't start until we were about 10 miles into the walk. From there, it was a steady rain until we got to the endpoint – the Lalin train station. By then we were as wet from walking in the rain for two hours as we were from walking in the rain all day the day before.

Couple of funny things we learned about the Lalin train station. First, it's not in the town of Lalin – it's about three kilometers outside of the town. Also, it's no longer a train station. It's boarded up.
Fortunately, the Restaurante Estacion was a short walk away. Marty and I both desperately needed a roof, a seat, a beer, and some tapas. Any order would have been fine. And it was fine.

We were an hour and a half early for the cab that had been arranged to pick us up (in spite of the weather, we'd made pretty good time}.
We called, told him where we were, and he picked us up and took us downtown to our hotel.

We had great luck at dinner later that night. Restaurante Parillada Villanueva was highly rated on tripadvisor and was a short walk from our hotel. Marty had the day's special of octopus, and I had probably the best pork ribs ever. Along with a really nice vino tinto..

The dinner was a great way to finish the day, but we were both pretty beat from the long miles and the rain. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Professor Higgins Had it Wrong

This pilgrim is here to tell you that the rain in Spain does not stay mainly in the plain. For today, anyway, the rain in Spain stayed mainly on the route between Ourense and Cea, our route for the day.

We left the hotel this morning in a light rain, with our rain gear and pack covers on, and faced a light to steady rain pretty much the whole day. I say pretty much, because the rain had slowed enough when we got to Gammy hill outside of Ourense, we were able to shed the rain gear long enough for the trek up the hill.

The climb we'd been thinking about (read: dreading) started a couple of miles outside of Ourense, right after a one way tunnel. This tunnel, about 100 meters long, ran under a train track, and had stop lights at each end for vehicles to take turns going through. It had a separate walk button for pedestrians that kept the green light on longer (I'm thinking), to let us walkers have the time we needed. moved through this pretty quickly to make sure we were outta there when the light changed.

That's where the uphill started. Think of walking up one of the streets in San Francisco (maybe Lombard street, but without as many curves), for 35 minutes. With crazy Spanish drivers heading down the hill toward you twice as fast as you'd like to see it. But we did it, and only stopped once.

We stopped briefly part way up to talk briefly to another pair of American pilgrims, a couple of ladies from Oregon. They had stayed in Ourense the night before, in the hostel (alburgue, in Spanish.)
This is the more traditional way of doing the Camino, and it sounds like the accommodation equivalent of being massaged with a cat o'nine tails. The two women spoke of a room with 24 bunk beds, paper sheets, and a kitchen facility without utensils or coffee cups. I couldn't bear to ask them about the shower facilities. But I did try to commiserate and told them that although the hotel we stayed in the night before had four stars, there was no sign of a turn down service.

We then proceeded quickly ahead up the hill, not giving either of them any chance to draw a weapon.

This stretch of the way is a combination of backroads with little traffic, dirt roads, old, long disused roads, and trails. But a common trait of all of them today was that they all pointed pretty much in a line to the northwest, straight for Santiago de Compostela. Other roads would cross, and our way would join and leave other roads, but our direction was pretty much in a line. I can imagine this is the route created by early pilgrims focused on getting to Santiago at a time when there was no other infrastructure like farms, houses, and towns, to cause them to change direction.

Around halfway through the day, we started seeing handmade signs along the path for “Casa Cesar.” When we got into a little village of maybe a half dozen homes, there was Cesar, waiting for us outside of a small room on the ground floor of his house. He motioned to us to drop out packs and rain gear and come into his peligrino room.

Cesar has apparently been welcoming pilgrims and offering some rest and refreshment for some time. The walls of the room are covered with pictures of previous guests. His offerings were Coca Cola, some pastries, homemade cabbage soup, and his homemade wine. Between the two of us we tried some of each. Soon after we arrived a couple of Cesar's local friends came in. Between Cesar and his friends they probably had as much English as we do Spanish. So, we had a great time sharing Cesar's wine, gesturing, and saying “si, si, si” when one of us understood a word someone said. After a while another pilgrim came in, a lady from Hungary, and she happily joined in our “conversation.”

When we got ready to leave, I asked Cesar how much we owed him for his hospitality, and he motioned to a small milk can that said “donations” in a few languages. “For the milk” Cesar smiled and said. What a great experience.

We went back out into the rain with another two hours to go, straight up the road and trail to the village of Cea.

Pista de Magia

Trail Magic” is a notion I've most heard associated with the Appalachian Trail, but I've also heard it in reference to things happening when backpacking and hiking in general. It refers to unexpected nice occurrences, or special actions by people you meet along the way. Marty and I experienced the Spanish version of trail magic (Pista de Magia) this afternoon in Ourense, before we've even started on our trail.

We were exploring Ourense, getting our heads around the walk starting tomorrow. I was on the lookout for a place for dinner, hoping to find a restaurant called “a Taberna”, which I'd found on Tripadvisor. I thought we'd check it out, and maybe we'd make reservations later on.

After a couple of wrong turns, we found it, down a cobblestone street. It was closed as I expected in the middle of the afternoon. But the door was ajar, so we went inside.

Down the hallway was a gentlemen who looked like the chef/owner, so I approached him and asked (in English) if we could make reservations for dinner. Turns out, he didn't understand English at all. But through the magic of Google Translate (isn't technology grand?), I was able to communicate what we wanted. But by this time he was on the phone, asking his wife to join him, as we found out. When he put down the phone, he added us to his reservation book for 9:00, when they open for dinner.(!)

When we moved to leave, he motioned for us to stay. Not sure for what, until he put a couple of wine glasses on the counter and brought out a bottle of good Spanish red. Then he went over to the ham hanging one the wall, cut some slices, got some bread, and put a couple of plates of ham and bread (pan y jamon) in front of us. By this time his wife, who spoke English, had joined us. The bread and ham, she explained, was to help the wine, “so it doesn't have to travel so far” to the stomach.

We spent the next half hour enjoying our lunch, and talking with the owners (mostly the wife) about her visits to the United States. And, of course, when Marty offered to pay, they would have none of it.

What a great introduction to the people of Spain this was. And what a great meal My sense so far is that this is very typical of the people in this region. We're really looking forward to dinner tonight.

Several hours later... Yes, dinner was outstanding. Great service in a little old building, and excellent local food. I know I'll cause some jealousy when I describe our meal, but I'll just say, it was Marty's fault.

We had a very good local red wine, some Portuguese mineral water from a spring not far away, and a salad of four different goat cheeses, with greens and peppers. We had another appetizer of salmon in a yogurt sauce.The main course was sea bass, baked in a salt crust. Pat and I first had this in France, and it's a favorite. We've made it for Christmas. The salt keeps flavor and moistness in. Part of the presentation is the cracking of the crust and peeling away the salt and skin, leaving moist chunks of fish behind. It came with fresh vegetables. We didnt have room for dessert, but when I asked about single malt scotches, our waitress brought out a selection of four and apologized. But the selection ranged from a 12 year old MacAllan to a 16 year old Llagavullin. Would that most restaurants had a selection like that. The Llagavullin was a great ending to a meal.

I don't want to sound crass by talking about money, but lest anyone think these pilgrims are getting carried away, the total bill was $70 each, and they would not accept a tip even when we tried to force the issue.

This pilgrim thing has some potential.