Galicia bound…

Today, we met our fellow pilgrims: Cheryl, Lorel, Kathleen, and Paula. We also met Lighia and Samantha (Lighia’s nickname is Marly, and yes, she is the “Marly” in Marly Camino.) They were very warm and welcoming as they started us out on our journey. Our guide, Ignacio, joined us a few minutes later; the poor guy had just flown in from Santiago de Compostela this morning. He had just completed a group and now was heading out with our group, but his spirits were good.

We had a very long drive today, which took us through some of the most dramatic scenery imaginable. When we crossed into Gallicia the mountainous terrain was breathtaking and beautiful. (All the while I kept thinking to myself, ‘Wow, am I glad that I don’t have to walk these mountains.’)

Mountain views on our journey.
Mountain views on our journey.
Some of the stones left at the Crux de Ferro.
Some of the stones left at the Crux de Ferro.
The yellow arrow and shell, that pilgrims use to guide their way to Santiago de Compostela.
The yellow arrow and shell, that pilgrims use to guide their way to Santiago de Compostela.

About two and half hours after departing Madrid, we arrived in the city of Astorga, famous for its chocolates and home to one of the first buildings designed by Gaudi, the Archbishop’s palace. We walked around and viewed the pink granite facade of the Cathedral and then Ignacio showed us an anchoress’ cell with its grilled window facing the street. We ate lunch at the Hotel Gaudi Restaurant where we sampled a number of local delicacies, including octopus.

Kris, shortly before leaving her stone at the foot of the Iron Cross.
Kris, shortly before leaving her stone at the foot of the Iron Cross.

It was in Astorga that we began to see pilgrims walking the Camino. Our guide noted that Astorga was an important stop along the Camino and continues to be so today. As we left the city, our bus passed many pilgrims on foot and on bicycle. We also saw the distinctive yellow arrow and shell symbols which indicate the correct path to take.

Our bus climbed into the foothills of the mountains where we stopped by the Crux de Ferro, the Iron Cross. Pilgrims traditionally leave a stone at the foot of the cross and some recite a prayer as they leave their stone. I found a copy of the prayer used in the film, “The Way,”:

Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage that I lay at the
foot of the cross of the Savior, weigh the balance in favor of my good deeds
some day when the deeds of my life are judged. let it be so.

Many of the stones had writing on them; in some instances notes had been left under the stones. We took a few moments of quiet reflection before continuing our journey.

As we moved into Galicia, Ignacio explained that this region had been first inhabited by Celtic Clans with the Romans expelling them during their time here. The mountains were steep and covered in green and colors of wildflowers. Ignacio said that this is the third most challenging point in walking the Camino as the grades are steep going up and down. We stopped in a tiny village to take a stretch break and there was a small Franciscan Church there. Ignacio said that one of the previous pastors came up with the idea in the 1980s of marking the Camino’s path by painting the yellow arrows and shells along the Camino. A bit later, I met the nephew of the priest who said that he had helped his uncle paint the markers.

We arrived at our lodging, Rectorial Gorian around 8:30 p.m. (Yes, it is an old rectory.) The rectory has been restored by a young couple with two small children; the rooms are comfortable and full of character. Each of us has a private bathroom and the stonework is beautiful.

We sat down to a lovely dinner, prepared by the owners, Xavier and Raquel (Javier is a pastry chef. He made a lovely birthday cake for the three of us who celebrated birthdays in May: Cheryl, Kathleen, and me.)

Ignacio briefed us on how the next day, the first actual day of walking, would proceed. We received our Camino Passports to receive the necessary stamps along the way in order to obtain our certificate or Compostela. He gave us our Marly Camino backpacks and went over their contents (they really do think of everything to make your experience more pleasant and comfortable).

Since we arrived later than planned, we delayed breakfast until 8:30 a.m. tomorrow with a 9:15 or 9:30 start time.

I’m having problems with the software for this blog. The photos won’t go where I want them!

 

Adios Barcelona…Hola Madrid!

Today, we departed Barcelona for Madrid. Tomorrow, we will meet our fellow pilgrim travelers and set out for our first destination together. (We will be driven to our first departure point for walking the Camino, but we won’t be doing any walking tomorrow; it’s a six hour drive to our starting point.)

 

Departing Barcelona meant packing my suitcase–thank goodness for the expansion zipper! By the time I finished re-distributing items between my suitcase and my backpack, it looked like both backpackĀ and suitcase were bursting at the seams, not to mention they were heavier than heavy. My suitcase was so lopsided that it could not stand up unless it was leaning against something. Kris was in slightly better shape than me–remember, she sent some items home by mail–but both of wondered how we would lug these monstrosities onto our train and into the overhead luggage rack.

We did not have to wonder for long. We boarded the train at 11:35 and with a little help from one another we managed to hoist the suitcases in the overhead

I still have a lot to learn about shooting selfies.
I still have a lot to learn about shooting selfies.

bins. (We later discovered that there were floor level storage racks at the end of our railway car. I felt like Laurel and Hardy in their infamous piano moving short film.

We rode on one of the high speed trains that run between Madrid and Barcelona. At one point were were traveling over 189 miles per hour!

View from our train from Barcelona to Madrid.
View from our train from Barcelona to Madrid.

The ride was smooth with that gentle rolling feeling that one has on a train. This feeling rocks you to sleep in your seat, but is murder when you have to stand in the restroom. (I wisely picked a time when we were at a stop, only to have the train begin to accelerate. Makes me wish that I had not given up Yoga.)

We arrived at our hotel in Madrid and I was struck with a confluence of things that have beguiled me about the bathrooms in our two hotels. The room in Madrid is a “smart room,” meaning you have to insert your key card into the a slot by the door to get the lights to work. At no time does the hotel clerk alert you to this, and it only took me 10 minutes to figure this out. [You have to be smart to use the room!] 2) You discover that you have to be a circus contortionist or Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four (he’s the guy who can stretch into any shape) in order to reach the toilet paper. I don’t think that I have ever had to twist my arm into such a crazy shape to reach for the roll. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and kept the spare roll on the bidet cover for easy access. 3) The “sink” in the room in Madrid was one of these kind that resembles an old fashioned wash bowl. Yes, it looks pretty, but is perfectly designed to make the water backsplash EVERYWHERE. 4) The faucet is a modernist work of art, but has no markings to indicate which direction is “hot” or “cold”; I found out the hard way.

After getting settled in our rooms, Kris and I went for a long walk to Plaza Major which is about a mile and a half from our hotel. We then chanced upon the Mercado San Miguel, another one of those indoor markets similar to the ones that we saw in Barcelona.

Mercado San Miguel, Madrid
Mercado San Miguel, Madrid

The difference was that the crowds in this one were more manageable than the ones in Barcelona. While there were stalls selling meat, seafood and cheeses, the vast majority of stalls offered small portions of food: stuffed olives, skewers of fresh mozzarella with various condiments, cones of mixed nuts or smoked sausages, sushi, some types of seafood that I have never seen before, and the list goes on.

An interior view of Mercado San Miguel
An interior view of Mercado San Miguel

They have a modest area for seating, similar to our food courts in our malls, but the atmosphere was more like a wine and food tasting event than an indoor market. I was even able to carry on a modest conversation in Spanish with a Columbian woman who was sitting with her husband and friends next to our table.

After getting turned around for the return walk, we chanced upon a mobile Tourist Information booth with a very friendly young man who gave us good directions home. The adventure continues.

A sampling of some of the food from the Mercado San Miguel.
A sampling of some of the food from the Mercado San Miguel.

 

Buen Camino!

image

 

Greetings, as many of you know, I will be departing for Spain on Friday and will begin walking a modified version of the Camino, the great pilgrimage route to the Shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain on Thursday, the 21st. I’ll be sending updates from my journey on a regular basis. Bro. Bob