Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday, June 3 - Madrid

Now the sun is out, the weather is hot and dry and so it was a perfect day to walk around this beautiful city of Madrid. Our only goal was to find again the tapas marketplace we had visited four years ago. We had confidence that it would not be hard to find because we knew it was near the Playa Mayor...and it was exactly where we left it four years ago. Tapas, wine and this time there were even a couple of vegetarian options!
Madrid - a little busier than the Camino.
Tapas Market
Yogurt Shooters!
Central Madrid is a beautiful vibrant city that mixes busy high traffic avenues and wide tree lined boulevards with all these twisty turny narrow streets which every few blocks open out into a lovely welcoming square and the squares are usually rimmed with lots open patio restaurants and cafés. So a day of touring Madrid is a day of drifting from one café to another and we do that very well.
In another Camino coincidence as we were walking along one small boulevard we ran into Fransisco and Jeanette, the two American hospitalero volunteers we had recently met in Santiago at the Pilgrims' Office. Now what are the chances of being tourists, foreigners in fact, in one of the largest cities of the world and meeting someone you know? Serendipity!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sunday, June 1 - Santiago to Madrid - by train

One last morning strolling through the streets of Santiago. It was a perfect walking day; sunny, dry and quite cool but the only hiking we had to do was a fifteen minute walk to the train station to catch the train to Madrid, the first stage of our trip home. Of course we arrived at the train station three hours too early but you know that old adage, 'if you aren't at work 15 minutes early, you are late'. Well with us and travelling, 'if you aren't three hours early you are late'.
The train ride was so easy and comfortable and we had booked 'preferente' so there was lots of room, movies and a cafeteria for snacks. Preference didn't mean on time however; we arrived 45 minutes late and I was worried about checking in to our hotel at 11:30pm but in Madrid that was no problem and not even a problem going out to eat a late night snack at midnight.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Saturday, June1 - Santiago

What a crazy day and a crazy way to relax. A perfect example of carpes diem or just seize the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry. Dayton and I followed up a breakfast of fresh hot churros and tea with a visit to the pilgrims' museum and a tour of the rooftops of the cathedral. So far that was not the crazy fun part of the day. The rooftop tour was in Spanish and as boring as it was cold. Seriously the tour guide did not take a breath for one hour and all I got was a few 'nosotros' 'más o menos' and 'romanticos' and not one idea of what he was going on about. So much for my Spanish lessons.
Afterward we met up with Paige and Janice. Paige took us to a local market, that she discovered tucked away in the labyrinth of streets in the old town and there they all had a most unique culinary experience. This market had a myriad of stalls of fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood surrounded and mixed in with lots of patio style tables and 'eating perches' and cocinas (kitchens).You order your seafood from the market stalls and then have the cocinas cook it and serve it to you. The waiters bring you back your cooked food with their bread and wine. There is a minimal service charge for preparing and serving, maybe 3€ a person and of course you have to pay for your wine. Dayton, Janice and Paige enjoyed, in order, octopus, barnacles, razor clams, raw oysters and then langoustines while I ate my weight in fresh rustico bread. There were a few glasses of vino tinto consumed and the sun was not over the yard arm yet. This will go down as a wonderful Camino memory.
Another interesting Camino moment was later in the afternoon as Dayton and I were wandering the streets and shops. We were walking and heard someone call out, "Hey you, from London, Ontario"! We responded appropriately, "Yes, that will be us", and this couple introduced themselves and mentioned that they had remembered us from the Sunday afternoon talk at Novak's outdoor store that we had done in March the year before. They had come to learn more about the Camino and here they were in Santiago having just finished their Camino Frances. Interestingly enough this is how we first met Janice as well and all three were in Santiago at the same time as us.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Friday, May 31 - Muxia to Santiago

Four years ago today, my birthday, I was celebrating the completion of our Camino Frances at 'the end of the world' Finisterre, two years ago we were finishing up our seventeen day stint as hospitaleros in Estella, Spain and this year I am back at the end of the world in Muxia at the end of another long walk. Synchronicity? Symmetry? I don't know but it's a neat connection for me.
It was a lazy morning in Muxia, a 'sleep in morning' if not for all the stray cats caterwauling outside our hotel terrace. We packed up our backpacks and had nothing else to do but enjoy a leisurely breakfast and chat with all the other pilgrims who were 'done' as well. We walked the harbour and then backed to the hotel. True to her word Paige arrived, shortly after noon hour, having walked the 29kms from Finisterre. Paige is a good fast walker but she said it was a tough day, a 'call a cab' day but like most pilgrims you just gut it out. We had a lively lunch with her and anyone and everyone else sitting in the hotel bar, as everyone was in a friendly meet and greet mood, and then went to catch the bus to Santiago.
In Santiago, we had made arrangements to meet up with a fellow Londoner, Janice, who was finishing up her Camino Frances and my little birthday celebration turned into wine and tapas, Mass at the Cathedral, followed up by wine and tapas and dinner. All in all a pretty good day and a pretty good birthday. And I just love reading all the Facebook and email birthday good wishes. Love it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday, May 30 - Olveiroa to Muxia

Terminado! We are done! We have completed the Chemin d'Arles from Montpellier to Somport, the Camino Aragones from Somport to Puente la Reina and the Camino Muxia from Santiago to Muxia. Thirty eight days, 959.8kms, 1,372,140 steps! And we finished in sunshine!!!! It took a while, ha, almost thirty eight days but the sun finally came out as we were walking along the beach boardwalk into this Atlantic coastal town of Muxia. Another milestone is that, although tendinitis teased and threatened it never settled in, so for the most part I was able to walk without pain, maybe not always without misery but at least without pain.
From Olveiroa to Muxia is almost 30kms but the path is fairly easy; it has it's share of ups and downs but that is a given. For a significant part of the time we walked along a path lined with young eucalyptus trees, purple foxgloves and an abundance of flowering yellow bushes - heather, mountain laurel or gorse or whatever, I don't know but it was beautiful. We took advantage of every café stop we passed even if we didn't need it. After the scarcity of these opportunities in France it just seemed wrong to pass any by.
Early afternoon we came out of a wooded path and we could see the ocean. I was excited to be nearing the end of our Camino but I wasn't as near the end as I thought. We still had ninety minutes more to walk our way around the huge bay before getting close to Muxia. We found our hotel, a neat, modern hotel noted for its excellent restaurant and took care of details such as checking in, sellos for our credenciales and getting our Muxia Compostella certificate, 'Muxiana.' Our quick lunch turned into a feast for Dayton as he had shrimp wrapped in a thin freshly made angel hair pasta and deep fried and then every complementary tapa that was generously served to us had fish in it. Even the Russian salad we ordered was made with potatoes and fish - who knew? And who cares, the Galician white wine they served was vegetarian and excellent.
After that, we lightened our backpacks, put them on and headed out to the Sanctuary at the end of Cabo; apparently the backpacks were needed for an authentic looking 'Fin da Ruta Xacobea' (End of St. James's Camino) photo. Dayton was looking for the setting of the final scene of the movie 'The Way', where Martin Sheen scatters his son's ashes into the ocean and I think we found it or close to it. The Sanctuary is set amid the rocks at the end point of the peninsula and those rocks are spectacularly impressive. Dayton kept encouraging me to go climb farther down and closer to the braking waves for a more exciting picture. I resisted - wisely - because when Dayton changed places with me for his photo op a huge wave crashed against the rocks and in those two seconds he was soaked almost as thoroughly as yesterday after all that walking in the rain. Told him so. All in all this was a really memorable finish to this Camino.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday, May 29 Negreira to Olveiroa

This has been as wet a day as we have ever walked. Eight hours in a good steady rain, that is until it turned into a driving rain. This was exactly like our last day's walk into Santiago four years ago, my feet so wet that the blister prevention mefix tape just slid off my toes and floated in the drenched water-logged socks. (John Langford - think of your walk into Monte de Gozo). Thirty three kilometres soaked to the skin despite hoodies, hats, pack covers and ponchos.
The only thing that saved us (mentally if not physically) was meeting up again with Paige, a young lady from New York who had just finished the Camino Frances, and walking and talking with her all day...someone new to share Camino war stories with. We had met her late afternoon yesterday on our way into Negreira and the time flew by as we chatted and she was telling us about her Camino experiences this year. Today the conversations kept us busy and preoccupied, well the first seven hours at least and then it was getting tough for everyone. We had two beverage breaks; a much appreciated coffee and tea break in the late morning and then a limonade for lunch. We were too wet to ever sit down and order a true lunch.
Paige is on a year's sabbatical from her marketing career in New York City and this Camino is one part of her first six month travelling plan. Next week she is off to Rome, Athens, Croatia, Albania and Montenegro before finishing up in France and heading home to New York for two months before setting out again. Paige says she is not much of an outdoors person and this is her first extended walking experience but she is definitely a strong walker and certainly helped us keep the pace up.
By 3:00pm we arrived at our Pensión Rural in Olveiroa and we are now happily ensconced in our private room drying out everything including our Euros! Tomorrow we have one more 30km day into Muxia and hopefully our 'Gortex Waterproof ' boots will be dried out by then. Right now they are stuffed with newspapers and perched on the radiators in a valiant optimistic attempt to hurry up the drying out process.
Step one of the drying out process.
Olveiroa was the finale of my Camino Frances/Finisterre four years ago - where I threw in the towel, waved the white flag and conceded to the tendinitis I had walked with for over three weeks and about 650 kms of my total 858 kms. That final day, Dayton walked the remaining 33kms to Finisterre and I had to take a taxi. This year I am sure I will make it to Muxia tomorrow. I'm rolling out my feet and shins with the Yoga Tune-Up balls, stretching and rehydrating (vino tinto is a liquid so qualifies as rehydration in my plan). We can only hope that the skies are rained out because two days in a row of this misery just might challenge my 'don't whine' mission statement.
A small tapas to go with the vino tinto - unfortunately not vegetarian so it's all for Dayton
Enjoyed a lovely and lively dinner with a fellow pilgrim, Linda from Austria. Dayton had the menu del dia with a huge pasta salad, a veal stew and dessert while Linda and I enjoyed a salada mixta. So nice to have some lettuce and tomatoes to go with the four kilos of bread that come with every meal. And I love it all. This is not a place to be gluten free, vegetarian is hard enough.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday, May 28 - Santiago to Negreira

765. 765! That is how many pilgrims walked into Santiago and claimed their Compostelas yesterday, Monday, May 27. Apparently each day of this past weekend over 500 pilgrims completed their Camino. I find that astounding.
The Cathedral from our hotel room balcony
Dayton has been reading and editing my blogs and politely correcting my facts; however, that is usually after I have already posted the blog so take all my facts as more 'almost correct' than absolutes. I do have it on good authority that the stats listed above are accurate - another pilgrim told me so.
Leaving Santiago in the early morning
We are back on the trail again having left Santiago shortly after 7:00am this morning and heading out towards Negreira on our way to Muxia. A couple of hours into the morning we stopped at a bar/restaurant for desayuno (breakfast). A few pilgrims caught up with us here (they probably left after 8:00am) and went on ahead of us. Four years ago this would have caused me great anxiety as I would have been thinking, as each one passed me by, "There goes my bed. There goes my bed and OMG. There goes my bed", but not this time because we have reservations! We are booked into a Hostal, a Pensión and a hotel for each of the upcoming three nights respectively. Now I can just relax and enjoy walking at our own pace which is none too fast.
Camino markers showing kms. to Muxia
As Dayton paid 'la cuenta' for our breakfast, I was thinking that, although our Canadian dollar is well below par with the Euro we are getting very good value for our money, probably so much better than at home. For breakfast we had a café con leche, a tea, two pieces of Santiago cake and a bocadilla all for just 5.40€ and the bocadilla had about a half rasher of bacon and a half pound of cheese on a two foot long baquette. And for added savings, if you tip even 10% here, you are a very generous soul. Bonus.
We walked in and out of eucalyptus forests all morning and Dayton commented on how wonderful the scent was. I still haven't gotten back any sense of smell since my earlier cold so I could only imagine and remember from four years ago.
We got to Negreira just after the noon hour and stopped for lunch at the very restaurant where we ate four years ago..almost to the day. I'm always sceptical and anxious before we check into the Hostal, or Pensión or hotel, wondering if it will be dive but so far it has almost always been okay. Here we have a large room with ensuite bath, towels, hair dryer, WiFi and a washer and dryer to finally get our clothes properly cleaned. The bonus too is that we arrived before the rain. Let's hope that we make out as well tomorrow when we have about 34 kms to walk to Oliveiroa.
Ponte Maceira, about 4 km from Negreira

Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday, May 27 - Santiago

A day without walking, a day without travelling. What to do, what to do? There are 1,100 restaurants and bars in this town, 80 kinds of sea fish, 50 kinds of mullusk, and 188,130 kilos of seafood sold annually...I think Dayton has a plan.
We started out with coffee and churros and a few errands before we went to the Cathedral for the Pilgrims' Mass. It was rather incredible to see how many pilgrims complete this Camino every day. The Cathedral was full and a welcome was given to the pilgrims in many different languages. For the first time for us, during the Pilgrims' Mass, we got to see the Botafumeiro, the largest censer in the world, fly across the church. Eight men dressed in monk-style robes pulled heavily on the huge ropes to get it to swing back and forth across the church. It is said to swing at up to more than 65kms an hour as it swoops over the heads of the congregation. I was more than a little intimidated by my front row seat and a little fearful that I might be the first pilgrim crushed by it if any of those ropes ever broke. My guide information states that Botafumeiro is normally only used during religious solemnities and Holy Years and I don't know what today's occasion was but I am glad we had the chance to see this very impressive ritual.
After Mass we went to the Pilgrims' Office to get a sello (stamp) for our credenciales. We are not eligible for a Compostela certificate this time because, even though we have walked almost a hundred kilometres more than the Camino Frances, one has to walk the last 100kms from Sarria to receive the compostella. We knew this but still I must admit it kind of made me feel like an outsider, a non-finisher, even though I know differently. When we saw all the incoming pilgrims enthusiastically greeting and congratulating one another as they came into the square. I remembered how jubilant we were four years ago when we were there to welcome our own Camino pod of fellow walkers.
After a couple of tapas, we decided we had to call it an early night tonight as we will be leaving early early morning to walk to Negreira, the first of our three stages to Muxia. Time to get back into that Camino walking 'zone' or zen.

Sunday, May 26 - Pamplona to Santiago (by train)

This was an easy day of travel and every train and connection went exactly as planned, almost to the minute. We were a little concerned because the hotel in Santiago which we booked and prepaid only accepts check-ins up to 9:00pm and our train wouldn't arrive in Santiago until 9:51pm. After a few emails the hotel agreed to have someone wait for us until 10:00pm. Talk about cutting it close. The train arrived exactly on schedule, we raced to the taxi (as fast as one can race carrying a heavy backpack) and told the driver we had eight minutes to get to our hotel before the reception desk closed. We made it. Not so sure about some of the meandering pedestrians. We got to the hotel at 10:00pm on the dot. By 10:20pm we had left our bags in our hotel room and were out looking for a pintxo bar. Pintxos are obnoxious carnivorous concoctions which Dayton loves; in his mind the more bizarre the combination the better, and I humor him because he does carry my sleeping bag, poncho, toiletries and the chargers and sometimes even my wine. We found an excellent pintxo bar and over indulged. Dayton's favourite this time was a plate of grilled razor clams. I think he will be having a second serving for lunch tomorrow. We both commented on the fact that we have never been out this late on a Camino yet. Ha, we're rarely out this late ever.
Grilled Razor Clams
After the pintxos, we walked up to the elaborately magnificent Cathedral. The Cathedral was lit up highlighting the ornate detail of all the many spires. There were muscicians in local costumes playing for an audience of pilgrims and tourists, some of whom were creating their own folk dances to go with the music. Two minutes later and we were back to our hotel which is about 50 metres from the cathedral; ideal location.
Tomorrow we have nothing to do but tour Santiago and organize our Camino Muxia which we will begin walking on Tuesday. I think each stage of the Muxia walk is at least 30kms so I'm hoping to pre book accommodation. I don't want to walk 33kms and discover there are no rooms at the inn and we have to keep on walking. Dayton also wants to do the cathedral rooftop tour and maybe we'll go up to see the new Camino exhibit museum and, of course, there will be more pintxos. Dayton also intends to attend every Mass at the Cathedral until we see the bonifeira (sp) incense burner swinging.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Saturday, May 25 Part II - Pamplona

It was a crazy night in Pamplona last night. The only ones not running in the streets were the bulls. Every family within the region and all their extended family and friends must have been in the centre of town. The main plaza and all the cafés surrounding it were crowded and there wasn't a cafe seat out of thousands to be had. The main plaza was a check-in point for a Paris to Madrid Antique Car Rally and so the outer lane of the square was a line up of these antique beauties parked in the order they checked in. There were musicians, marching bands and dozens of folk dance groups, with dancers aging from five to seventy five or so, dancing in any street or square with a modicum of space and a appreciative audience available. It was so loud and so busy that it was a quite a challenge to move through the streets but so interesting and fun.
Antique Car Rally - Check-in Point - Plaza del Castillo
We watched the festivities and then scouted out a few pintxos bars for Dayton and we found some excellent ones. Dayton would describe his pintxos as amazing while I'd have other descriptors for baby squid tentacles. One pintxo was Serrano ham, chorizo sausage topped with a fried quail's egg, another was a mushroom stuffed with diced salmon and crispy prosciutto, a third was a sliced potato, Brie, topped with an anchovy, and then there was something with calamari and...well you get the picture, not any one a vegetarian's delight. At the last place though I could get fresh made churros so churros and Chardonnay was my pintxo combo. What can I say, I was hungry by that time. Dayton and I were pretty proud of ourselves too; out on the town after 8:00 pm Saturday night.
Basque Pintxo - Baby Calamari Tentacles on Toast!
Vegetarian Pintxo - Churros and Chardonnay
The Pamplona revellers partied all night, literally all night under our window. I am now up ready for breakfast and some are still out on our street, maybe winding down? They have to at some time you would think.