The Cross of Santiago Janice and Scott’s Adventure on the Camino de Santiago
Early morning, day 1. Scott in the Madrid train station, on our way to the north. Sadly, this was taken just two days before the Madrid bombings affected this and other stations.
Cizur Menor, our first stop on the Camino, and our shortest day, just 5 kilometres from Pamplona. This was an outrageously warm day, especially as the area had received deep snow the week before.
From Cizur Menor, we crossed the Alto de Perdon, decorated with giant windmills which amused Scott greatly.
A soulful and slightly military-looking Scott ponders the ridge ahead…
It’s just the beginning, and Janice’s hair still looks fairly fabulous. Keep an eye on that, it’ll change. Above is a Roman fountain, with waters that are said to be healing.
At the summit of the Alto de Perdon. Medieval pilgrims who were too sick to continue would be pardoned of all their sins if they made it this far. We had many such opportunities to be pardoned in the coming weeks, of which we took full advantage.
The countryside of Navarra, the first province we passed through.
Eunate was the site of a fascinating church, shaped like an octagon, with vague but long-standing connections to the Knights of the Templar and the pilgrim route.
Janice’s favourite picture, approaching Cirauqui. Ahead are the merry band of pilgrims that we met on the first day of our journey and travelled on-and-off with for the next weeks.
Drinks with friends at the end of a long day. Clockwise from front, Maggie and Andrew (Britain), Patrick (Germany), Israel (Spain), Steve (Britain), James (USA) and Scott.
Janice crossing am ancient Roman bridge and road. It’s amazing to walk this road and consider the centuries of humanity that have passed the same way before.
Check out the detail of this church doorway (in Estella). Yes, that is in fact some kind of devil consuming what we assume are sinners on the right side of the frieze.
Scott arriving at the entrance to a Pilgrim Hospital (also called Refugios or Albergues). Found in every town along the way, these refugios provide simple hostel-style accommodation for pilgrims. At the end of a long day, NOTHING is a more welcome sight than an open albergue; even better if they have heat and hot water!
Ah, free wine (woo hoo) – does life get better? This local winery provides a dual-tap fountain for pilgrims, one tap for red wine and the other for water.
All of these signs and symbols (except the dog) are the markers that show the route to follow: sometimes it was only a faded yellow shadow or a pile of stones that pointed the way, but it never led us wrong.
We had our share of sore feet and aching shoulders…
There were endless days where the scenic countryside was seriously lacking. This was taken at kilometre 25 of a 30km day, and about one hour before Janice had a very serious lapse of humour…
… Luckily, both mood and scenery improved dramatically the next day. Welcome to the Rioja, home of great wines!
Above is the approach to San Juan to Ortega, a monastery and albergue which lived up to it’s ‘atmospheric’ reputation and then some…
San Juan de Ortega is a highlight of the camino because of this church, with it’s beautiful interior. (below, with Australians Ben and Christiana) However, it is freezing cold inside the church, as well as inside the adjacent albergue, which only had cold showers. Luckily, the only other building in the village housed a bar, which meant…
A standard Camino evening in San Juan de Ortega
The next morning, we encountered some local residents on our way into Burgos.
The Burgos Cathedral is truly stunning, and we had breakfast at it’s doorstep before catching a bus to Leon, skipping the Camino across the flat meseta.
Another Gothic-style Cathedral, this one in Leon.
Hospital de Orbigo, with it’s Medieval bridge. This was home to Janice’s favourite bar on the Camino, which felt like a Spanish cowboy hangout.
Self-portrait on a windy day. Also notice Janice’s hair, still looking fabulous! (very KD Lang ain’t it?)
Some views of Astorga’s Cathedral. (Who IS Jesus beating up in the lower left?) Astorga is known for chocolate production. If we weren’t there on a Monday, all of these pictures would be of the chocolate museum. But it WAS Monday and the museum was closed.
Rabanal del Camino – “The gateway to hill country” would be the motto of Rabanal’s Chamber of Commerce, if Rabanal had a Chamber of Commerce. Rabanal would actually feel pretty special if it even had a store. What Rabanal does have is a couple of great bars and what is universally considered the best refugio on the Camino (run by mad English people).
Janice loved studying our guidebook but usually hated what it told us and the style in which it told us.
Yet another attempt at self-portraiture in one of the Rabanal bars
While waiting for a refugio to open, a popular pastime is sitting in the bar drinking and playing with your camera.
Foncebadon is one of those towns that is sometimes just not there. Our guidebook claimed it was abandoned, but in fact there were a few occupied houses, a bar and a refugio. Oh yeah, and snow.
At times, we thought we brought too many clothes and rain gear. On days like this, it was all definitely worth carrying. Actually this was a very quiet, pleasant day that turned out quite sunny.
“ Janice of the Mountains” enjoyed this day as she charged up and down the hills, leaving Scott to limp behind and take pictures.
See we told you it got sunny. El Acebo is the village in the middle of the frame. We had the best mushrooms of the trip for lunch there. (In the upper right corner you can just see a nuke plant.)
In the warm valley surrounded by mountains, we passed grapevines and a chain of small towns.
Villafranca was a pleasant overnight stop before heading back into the hills.
By this point on the way, the Camino is a major tourist draw and everything from bars to sugar packets use the Camino name to draw customers… it’s also about the point in our trip that large buses full of catholic schoolchildren (and occasionally a bus full of Japanese tourists) start appearing in the towns. SF- No I am not drunk or about to be sick, in fact we only had one drink in this bar. I may be trying to be doing a Napolean thing however…
Still, it’s not hard to find a quiet place, such as here, at the Villafranca Refugio.
Our route over the pass to Vega de Valcarce was filled with blooming heather and wildflowers
… and the views were some of the best we had seen so far.
Walking through a beautiful chestnut grove past the summit of the pass.
The following day, we climbed to O Cebreiro, 1500 metres up from the morning’s starting point and the entrance to the province of Galicia (pronounced with the Spanish lisp!)
Galicia is truly beautiful and truly a unique corner of Spain – it’s ancient Celtic roots mean Galicia is home to things like bagpipes and insanity. However no obvious haggis-like foods.
Wildflowers along the route, primulas in fact.
Scott at the camino marker at O Cebreiro. The kilometre count is the distance left to Santiago.
O Cebreiro, or O Sombrero as it should be called, is a popular spot for urban Spanish wanting to see how country folks live. They see how country folk make their living selling food, booze and souvenirs to city folk.
Although O Cebreiro is not the highest spot on the Camino it certainly is the most mountainous looking place. A great place to capture the sun setting over the endless hills of Spain. Only do it fast because it’s durn cold out here!
Wandering through the hills towards a town called Triacastela. The name means “3 castles”. Talk about false advertising, not even one castle graces this wee town with its presence.
This morning we were surprised that it was cold enough for ice to form on the fountains. The ice made some pretty cool formations on the grass around this spring.
This yellow plant is gorse. It is a close cousin of broom but with HUGE and plentiful thorns. It does add some nice colour to the landscape however.
People tell us that every once in a while you should put a person into a scenic shot. It does look better with me I must say.
Galicia is a very green place. Some along the way compared it to the scenery of Ireland.
These old tracks through Galicia have been worn down over the hundreds of years. There are also usually walls on the top that increase the height. At times you feel like you are walking through a province-sized maze!
This one really doesn’t need any description does it?
Clearly something was so interesting that pointing it out was necessary. Now if we could just remember what it was…
Encountering the odd traffic jam and meeting with the locals was all part of the experience.
The verdant green and moody weather continued… SF- Ooo, “verdant” What a great word!
And we’re walking… we’re walking…. SF- This bridge was apparently called the “bridge of the chicken restaurant”. However, I may have been reading the sign wrong.
These are our German buddies, with whom we walked for the last week or two. Maike – beside Scott – had started alone from Burgos. Sven, on the right, was travelling with his father Hans, and his uncle Rudy from St Jean Pied a Porte: all three were professional photographers, and carried with them (1) a Leica, (2) a digital Canon, and (3) a homemade pin-hole camera.
This is James, our American friend who we met on our first day on the trail and then again later near Santiago. He was on a mission to finish the trail in 28 days, which was admirable but hardly a walk in the park.
<ul><li>Pulpo (octopus) is a speciality of Galicia. This picture was taken in the most famous pulperia of modern times “Pulperia Ezekial”. </li></ul><ul><li>You have three choices: </li></ul><ul><li>Where to sit </li></ul><ul><li>Red or White </li></ul><ul><li>One plate of pulpo or two </li></ul>
Lavacolla is only 10 km outside of Santiago. Its history is wrapped up in the fact that it was the place where Middle Age pilgrims would wash up before heading to the Cathedral. The name is somewhat monumentally offensive. Although our Latin is minimal, according to our sources Lavacolla translates as wash your scrotum.
This is the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela as it looked when we first arrived. A very impressive building and happily, not in the least anticlimactic.
Two more views of the cathedral main entrance and square.
A Parador is a 5-star, state run hotel in Spain. These are the highlights of the Santiago Parador, which is located in a 500 year old former pilgrim’s hospice.
Because of its heritage as a pilgrim’s hospice, the Parador has a tradition of serving free meals to the first 10 pilgrims that show up for every meal. The fare is simple but it is a fun way to check out a high class hotel.
Although we look like a bunch of n’er do wells hanging around the high-class hotel, Maike, the girl on the right actually was staying at the Parador. It only cost her 150 Euros for one night (for a single).
This is where we stayed. Although not a 5-star property, it was pretty palatial. A small boutique hotel, it had only 14 rooms and had opened up just a month before, so everything was brand new. Janice was impressed with the flat-screen TV and Scott was impressed with the central heating.
We enjoyed staying in a place with heat, comfortable beds and a bathroom which only we were using, after spending the better part of 4 weeks in hostels. Janice was especially happy.
Back at the Cathedral, Pilgrim’s Mass happens everyday at noon. The scene of a cathedral absolutely packed to the rafters, with half of the crowd dressed in outdoor gear, is priceless.
The butofumeiro (smoke belcher) incense burner is a spectacle unto itself. It’s is over a metre tall and is swung at a high speed in a 50 metre arc that almost touches the roof and almost touches the floor.
This is one of the most famous images of the St. James the Apostle, or Santiago. He is wearing his goofy pilgrim’s hat and has his walking stick in hand. On the front of his hat is a scallop shell which is a symbol of Santiago and the pilgrimage.
The scallop shell image is everywhere on the Camino. This is definitely the largest one we saw, incorporated into a stairwell of the Cathedral. Above the shell is also the cross of Santiago.
After wearing stiff boots for the better part of a month, Scott needed some comfortable shoes. They were only 12 euros! Behind me is the Puerta del Perdon. This is a small door to the cathedral that is only open during holy years (2004 is a holy year). If you walk through the gate, all of your sins are pardoned. We walked through a few times, so now we have to play catch up with our bad behaviour.
Reaching the end meant another celebration in the bars of course. Speaking of bad behaviour…
Despite what some people say, Scott did send some postcards. (SF- At this entertaining mail slot I wanted to to the Gregory Peck / Roman Holiday thing, but Janice was hungry and wouldn’t take the picture.)
We had to take a picture of this warmer looking climate in a park to convince people that we had actually spent time in “Sunny” Spain
Spanish Easter celebrations look like they are sponsored by the KKK.
Finisterre is where the Celtic camino concluded. As the name suggests, it is the end of the earth and where the sea begins. Janice is leaning on the last trail marker. The shell is pointing straight down meaning you can go no further.
Our last few days were spent wandering around Madrid. This is the Royal Palace and Oriental Garden.
As with most big European cities, Madrid was somewhat confusing to navigate.
Spain is known for its ham. Serrano and Iberico hams are somewhat like prosciutto but considered by foodies to be better. Needless to say, ham is a national obsession.
Although you can’t see it very well, it is raining really heavily. Most people went inside but we, the tough pilgrims, happily sat outside and watched the fun, while drinking wine and eating greasy tapas of course.
A charming Madrid garden that we found on our last day in Spain.