Santiago de Compostela
After my pleasant dinner by myself in Fromista, I walked across the street at 10:00 to the Albergue and pulled open the heavy wooden door to the courtyard. Or I tried to. Locked! What? I’d seen a sign that said “quiet hours” after 9:30, but didn’t realize it meant the door was locked. Albergues usually close at 10:00. And usually, I’ve had dinner there and hung out, then gone to bed. This night was different because the Fiesta was on and the communal dinner was cancelled. I could hear and see the Techno concert going on at the other end of town. No doubt my Albergue guy, whom I’d met when I checked in, was down there.
I ran back across the street to the restaurant for help. The guy at the desk told me to talk to the hotel connected to the Albergue. I did that and there was no answer. I rang the doorbell over and over and an elderly woman opened the door. I explained my predicament and she was not amused. But after a few minutes her husband, who was standing in the background, said he would open the door. I walked back around the corner to wait for him, and no one showed up or opened the door. I wondered if I could scale the wall? I began to feel very foolish for even thinking that and for being in that position at all. It was like a flashback to my travels in college.
Just then, Mr Albergue walks up the street, smoking furiously. “Why are you out here? You should be asleep! You are Pilgrim!”
Thus ensued a huge argument between us in my bad, but loud Spanish and his bad, but loud English. Finally, he let me into the pitch dark Albergue and I found my bunk.
Unfortunately the woman sleeping next to me had what sounded like pneumonia and snored loudly and coughed throughout the night. My white noise app was only of partial assistance.
Fromista had a few more things to teach me.
Itero to Fromista was 15k. I looked forward to walking into Fromista because it was one of the places I stayed on my “bus tour” of the Meseta after I hurt my ankle in 2013. I had an expectation that it would be meaningful to walk into town as opposed to getting off the bus, and perhaps it might even offer some insights.
From Itero, the Camino took me out into a long stretch of farmland. I met another French guy, Jean-Louis, on that stretch and we had a nice conversation, which made the time on the flat, straight path go faster. He was walking faster, and en route to Santiago, so we said Buen Camino after a stop for coffee. I saw a Rollo or monument there, and a remarkable door to the closed (!) church.
Then I walked along the Canal de Castilla, which was a short lived transportation breakthrough like the C&O Canal on the East Coast. Now I think it’s used for agriculture. I felt a beautiful sense of solitude.
Fromista was hosting their annual Fiesta of San Telmo, who was born there in 1184 and became the patron saint of sailors. There were carnival rides in the plazas and anticipation in the air, when I arrived on Saturday afternoon. I checked into a private Albergue, Estrella del Camino, did some laundry, and went out to explore the town.
I saw the places I remembered from my stay in 2013: the plaza where Gina, my Camino friend from the beginning in St. Jean, jumped up and down and yelled when she saw me. The hotel where I holed up, the restaurant where we ate dinner. The town looked so different now that I could walk. Little did I know that there was a health clinic on the same block as the hotel.
This time I stayed in a traditional Albergue with bunk beds and a nice sunny patio where pilgrims enjoyed the sun as their laundry dried.
The pride of Fromista is the Church of San Martin, constructed in 1066. It is considered to be one of the worlds’ best examples of Romanesque architecture!
Seeing it again was like visiting an old friend. The interior is clean and spare. It’s no longer a church, which is too bad. The carvings are pure Romanesque, and reminded me this time of the carvings at the Templar Church in the City of London.
The Crucifix, from the 11thC is exquisite. I sat for awhile savoring the experience of being there again, and said thanks for the blessing of healing, and for my life.
Back at the Albergue, I met Nancy, from New Brunswick, who was in the same position I was in 2013. She has plantar fasciatis, and a sore knee. She’s traveling with her husband and two friends from home, and she was taxiing from place to place. It felt good to give her the novel I’ve been carting around. The hours are long when you can’t move, and you’re staying in a foreign country. And it’s very frustrating.
I went out again and saw this parade go by, kind of like New Orleans.
The Mass and Novena to San Telmo was at 8:00 in another beautiful Romanesque church, San Pedro. The large statue of the Saint was standing in the sanctuary in a position of honor
The church was almost full of Fromistans for the service. After the Mass the priest led a litany for San Telmo and from the back of the church a great mass of baritone voices sang the song to San Telmo, and everyone joined in the chorus. It felt like a gathering of the clans. Afterwards everyone greeted each other with hugs and kisses.
It was 9:00 so sat down for a pilgrim dinner, and enjoyed people watching. It was a good day in Fromista. I did feel a sense of completion by seeing it again, on foot.
I didn’t intend to walk very far today. I left Hontanas and thought I’d walk 10k to Castrojerez and stay there for the night. The ruins of the 12th century Monastery of San Anton
were along the way, and I looked forward to spending some time exploring them. But when I got there, the ruins were all locked up. During the summer, volunteers run a primitive Albergue with no electricity , and I wanted to see it. Oh well. It began to lightly rain. So on to Castrojerez.
When I got there I had a cafe con leche in the first establishment in town to get out of the rain, and regroup. The 13th C Church of Maria de la Manzana was across from it.
But like the ruins, it was also locked up until the summer Pilgrim season. So disappointing. Met several American guys my age who are walking together, and, attempted some conversation with the proprietor and his wife, and then the rain let up. When I walked through the rest of town it was rather deserted and I didn’t feel like staying there. All the other churches were locked up, too, which was sad, because there were so many of them, one after another along the length of the town.
So I kept going. Little did I realize how far or how demanding the route would be! There are not many places to stop along the Meseta.
Just outside Castrojerez is this 900 meter butte. For some reason, I didn’t study the map. Wow!!
All I could think was, “let’s do this thing!,” It had to be less steep than the Pyrennes out of St. Jean, right?” Hmmm. I was thankful for my training the last few weeks with Janet. And a little chocolate also helped.
Here’s the view from the top:
Then the sky opened and it rained for the next hour to Itero de Vega. Thank God for Gore-tex! It was a really long 5k stretch towards the end, and I broke out the iPhone and headphones, singing along to “Sound of Music.”
Right before Itero de Vega the Camino crosses an ancient bridge into Palencia. Turns out that Itero means boundary marker.
I checked into the first place in town, and splurged on a private room. I wanted a radiator to dry out my pack. The bar was a real gathering place for the village.
There was a funeral and I caught a glimpse of the priest walking by in his chausable.
The proprietor was very patient with my Spanish. There was a 12c Church in the center of town, which I wanted to see, naturally, but he told me it was closed permanently because of termites. Thwarted again.
They served a community dinner, and I ate with a group of older guys who had met each other while walking. The proprietors wife came by with their adorable six month old son. It was a fun evening.
In the morning, I came down at 7:30 looking for coffee and found the proprietor in his bathrobe behind the bar. He told me there’s no breakfast until 8 and, “go back to your room.” OK. He said the whole town was closed until 8. I’m normally a night owl, but walking the Camino puts me in bed early. In my next life I’d like to live in night owl heaven: Spain.
I had a lazy afternoon in Hontanas at Albergue Santa Birgida. I hand washed clothes and hung them up to dry, but transferred to the radiators as it was abou 55degrees and drizzling. The hostel was a sensitively restored stone building with three dormitory rooms. 8€ for my bunk bed, 10€ for dinner & wine, 2€ for breakfast. Beautiful up to the minute tiled private showers, in two shared shower rooms, but just two, also very new, beautiful toilets downstairs. It’s interesting to see how there’s flexibility in the building code that wouldn’t happen in CA. For one thing, shared baths aren’t done culturally, except at camp sites or gyms. But in a place that sleeps 30 would there be just two toilets?
The two brothers that own the place are there from April to Zoctober and then they go to Cuba in the off season. Not clear on what they do there, but I found it interesting.
I was the only one there until 5 when Alan took another bunk. He was about 50, from Rouen, and spoke no English. But he had one those little brick shaped French/English dictionaries and we passed it back and forth over dinner and had a very fun time talking about the Camino and different types of wine, Californian and French, and how he thought French wine was vastly superior to Spanish wine.
It occurred to me that at home it would not be done to share accommodations with a strange man and would be perceived as dangerous, and for many reasons, rightly so. But it wasn’t awkward. It’s nice to know that a certain innocence, respect, and safety still prevails, on the Camino.
Yesterday I walked 20k, from Burgos to Hornillos. I considered taking a taxi out to the outskirts of Burgos like I did when I left Leon in October, but the purist in me won out. After settling up my hotel bill, I crossed the plaza to touch the Cathedral and say a prayer, and then stepped onto the Camino.
The way out of Burgos took awhile, through city streets, past the University, and through a gate and a alley of trees that looked familiar. I think it was one of the locations used in The Way. When Martin Sheen leaves Burgos, the Dad of the young thief makes him carry Martin Sheen’s pack down a long alley of trees until they get to a gate at the edge of town. This looked like the place.
Then the Camino passed the penitentiary, and what’s known at home as the “corporation yard,” alongside the highway, the railway, and the autopista. As I was trying to find my way through several unmarked intersections, I ran into my first pilgrim. Gabby had just taken a 25 hour bus ride from Germany. We walked together the rest of the day.
By kilometer 10 we reached the village of Tarjadas and had lunch at the neighborhood bar aka pub. The energetic woman behind the bar was cook and bartender, and the place was filled with locals. My Ensalada Mixta was freshly made, and they had interesting tapas made with quail eggs.
After taking off my boots and letting my feet breath, I was relieved to find that there were no hot spots. (I’ve become very protective of my feet.) Onward! Another 10k took us out into the countryside and up onto the Meseta. Looking back, towards the East, we saw a mountain range fringed with snow.
Everything was green and bursting with new life. Gabby shared with me the names of the birds in German.
Finally, we made it to Hornillos, and checked into Albergue Alzar. I like all sorts of accommodations on the Camino, but I have a fondness for the private Albergues. They’re usually run by a family or couple, and offer a communal meal.
After a restorative shower, the six pilgrims in residence gathered for dinner. Our hosts served paella, salad, wine, and dessert. There were two women from Valencia, a couple from Belgium who started their Camino at home and continue to walk several weeks a year, Gabby, and me.
One of the many things that I love about the Camino is this: it brings people together from many countries to share a communal experience. And last night the owners of the albergue were very involved in the dinner conversation, and it was fun to wade in in Spanish. Between us there were four languages spoken, but we had a lovely dinner party talking about our travels and sharing photos we’d taken as we walked.
I’m finding myself more interested this time in Spanish culture, and what it’s like to live along the Camino.
With jet lag and 20k under my belt, curling up in my sleeping bag on the lower bunk was wonderful. And my new white noise app and headphones, made even the more challenging aspects of communal sleeping easier this time.
It’s 1 am and I’m jet-lagged and I can’t sleep, so I’m writing a blog post while I have strong wi-fi at my hotel.
My flights were easy, and I sat next to a nice Spanish lawyer from Extramadura on the Atlanta to Madrid flight. It was fun to visit with a combination of his English and my (very) minimal Spanish. It seems unusual to talk with your seat mates these days. I was thankful for that and also that he helped me find the shuttle to Terminal 4, where I caught the bus to Burgos. Then we said good-bye, and I was off on my own.
After the scenic two and a half hour Bus ride from the Madrid airport,we pulled into Burgos and I knew exactly where I was. Just a five minute walk across the river to the area where the Camino comes through. The weeping willows are leafing out, and the fly fishermen are there, again, so charmingly, in the middle of town. The familiarity brought back fond memories of my days here in 2013, with my friends. Again, I was thankful.
I had really good pinchos at a recommended restaurant at 4:00, and then a really (!) bad pilgrim meal at 7:00. My mealtimes are all off because of jet lag and the late Spanish dinner hours.
The light on the Cathedral was warm on the newly-cleaned stone as it shifted through the hours today. The art inside was as remarkable as I remembered it, and I felt the same spiritual distance.
And there was the hunky portrait of Burgos’ hero, El Cid.
I’ve seen fewer Peregrinos than I expected today. It’s early in the season. The weather is cool and crisp, just right for walking. I look forward to the journey to Hornillos tomorrow and entering the stream of Pilgrims.
I’m stepping up the training with my fully loaded pack. Walked twice around Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland for a total of 11K in two hours. Feeling good! The whiffs of weed drifting along the breeze from my fellow East Bay walkers and relaxed folk certainly didn’t hurt.
Near the place where I met the fellow Peregrina, I passed this trash can…Camino symbols are everywhere!
Yesterday I circled twice around Lafayette Reservoir for a total of 8.6K in two hours. Once again, someone passed me coming the other direction and said, “Buen Camino!”
Feeling good! More hills, less weed wafting along the way in the suburbs. But some weeds were blooming.
They, too, were signs of the Camino.
Here are more photos from the roof tour of the Cathedral in Santiago.
In the middle of the bell tower stands the figure of St. James as a pilgrim.
You can just make out another tour group behind us on the roof.
And there’s the green cross that somehow made its way to the roof. There were many of them in Santiago during the medieval period. Pilgrims left their filthy clothes there to be burnt at the end of their pilgrimage.
The Museo, and the Cathedral itself have a wealth of Romanesque art from the 11th, 12th, and 13th Centuries. I love this really old style.