Wearing Proper Shoes on the Camino de Santiago

Shoes on the Camino de Santiago

Taking care of your feet is probably the most important thing you will do while on the Camino. You will be putting all kinds of unusual strain on your feet for 8+ hours a day for days on end. You might even get to a point where you wonder if you are doing serious damage to your feet. Everyone is different, but it is our opinion that the human body is made to withstand a lot of stress and if you take the proper precautions you can avoid serious damage.

Three ways that you will get yourself into trouble in the foot area:

1.) Not wearing proper socks and shoes.

2.) Not planning accordingly for structural issues you’ve had in the past.

3.) Not prepping your feet properly every single day that you are on the Camino.  

One of the most popular topics amongst pilgrims on the Camino, at least for the first couple weeks, is how the feet are holding up. We saw people in tears over how awful their feet hurt. We saw people walking in their flip flops, toes bloody, because their shoes were too tight and they couldn’t stand to wear them any longer. People told us their feet “were leaking”, their exact words! You don’t want to be in their shoes, literally! It’s possible that even if you take every precaution possible that you will still have aches and pains, but it’s better to try and know you did all that you could, rather than wonder if you could have prevented all the pain.  

Hiking Boot vs Hiking Shoe

Let’s talk shoes first. You’re probably wondering if you should go with a hiking boot or a hiking shoe. The Brierley guidebook recommended hiking shoes so we went with that. Let me tell you why we’re glad we did!

  1. Every pound you have on your foot is five pounds on your knee. You will be going up and down mountains and hills ⅔ of the time. Your knees will be taking a beating as it is, so don’t add weight to the equation.
  2. Your legs and feet will tire easily and heavy boots will only add to that. At the end of the day, tired legs equals clumsy footing which equals injury.
  3. Despite being light they have a very thick sole so you don’t have to worry about getting jabbed every time you step on a rock.  
  4. Hiking shoes do not extend above your ankles. This can be considered a con because it means you’re not getting ankle support and thus more likely to roll an ankle, but it also means there is less area for the shoe to rub against your skin, creating a blister.  
  5. Hiking boots tend to be less flexible and less breathable which equals blisters.  
  6. Hiking boots take a really really really long time to break in!  

Pilgrims we met on the Camino who wore their trusty hiking boots confided to us that their feet were in agonizing pain and they didn’t understand why because they were wearing adequately worn in boots that had been tried and tested. We are not experts, but if you are not 100% sure that your hiking boots will support you and not rub, we suggest you try a hiking shoe.  

Waterproof?

Waterproof shoes may seem like a good idea in theory but in reality are only necessary in a few situations. The cons outweigh the pros with this one. Waterproof essentially means that your feet will be wet from sweat because they won’t be able to breathe due to the waterproofing. Without gaiters the rain will simply run down your legs into your shoes anyways.

Sizing?

Buy your shoes a ½ size larger than usual for when your feet swell. We didn’t do this and we were ok, but who knows, maybe we would have been more comfortable if we had.

What shoes do we recommend?

We wore Salomons and saw a lot of others wearing Salomons on the Camino. I’ve got the narrowest of narrow feet so I wore the X-Scream style.

Shoes for the Camino de Santiago

Jen on the other hand has wider than usual feet and wore the XR Mission.

Shoes for the Camino de Santiago

Here is a comparison of our feet. It’s comical really how different they are!

Shoes for the Camino de Santiago

Don’t judge my big toe nail! It got kind of ugly while on the Camino and is still recovering.

I don’t know what to say for all of you normal people who have feet somewhere in the middle! Whatever kind of feet you have your first stop should be an outdoors store to try on several different brands and types of shoes. Have someone there help you because they generally know what they are talking about. And if you are in Lawrence, Kansas stop by Sunflower because they know their stuff!

Off trail shoes?

So what do you wear when you aren’t walking on the Camino? If your answer is the shoes that you have been wearing all day long on the trail then your answer is wrong! No way do you want to put those shoes back on after taking a nice, hopefully hot shower. Also, if your hiking shoes are giving you grief while on the Camino it’s possible that your extra pair could give your feet a break for awhile.

Some people took an extra pair of tennis shoes, some took sandals, some people only took flip flops. Jen and I each took something different: myself, a pair of chaco’s and Jen, a pair of Keen’s. Neither of them were perfect.  

Jen is a die hard flip flop person. She could live her whole life in flip flops and her feet would be just fine, so that’s what she wore. Her Keen’s got no action, literally! I on the other hand could never go more than a few hours in flip flops. My arches need more support than flips flops can give, so I wore my Chaco’s quite regularly, but only because I had nothing better! The one time I did wear flip flops around the albergue I sprained my foot going down some stairs. This was because my feet were tired and they weren’t getting any support from the flip flops.

After reading some information from pilgrims about wearing chaco’s on the Camino I decided to purchase a pair with a toe loop. I wore those chaco’s for what seemed like a month straight before we left for our trip. The salesman said that unlike most shoes that need to be broken in, it’s feet that need breaking in from the Chaco’s. This is because the Chaco’s sole are so rigid that it takes them an extremely long time to wear down. I really like this aspect of Chaco’s because after my feet got used to it they really were quite comfortable, but (there’s always a but!) it’s the straps that I had an issue with. After wearing the sandals for an hour or so the strap would become so tight around my big toe that I would need to adjust them again, loosening the straps so that they wouldn’t cut off circulation. Adjusting the straps was a major pain in the booty. It’s impossible to adjust them without taking them completely off, and in order to take them completely off I had to sit down. So, usually we were out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to sit on, a heavy pack on my back and I’m trying to balance on one foot while steadying myself on Jen’s shoulder as I attempt to adjust the sandals, which really needs two hands!

After the straps were loosened they were insanely comfortable! So comfortable that when my feet began to ache I would change into them before we had even reached our destination. Would I recommend them? Yes, but only if you have figured out a trick to keep this from happening, or if you already own a pair and this doesn’t bother you. You can also get Chaco’s without toe straps. Chaco’s are expensive though, so I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re a newbie to them. They are also heavy and add a lot of weight to the pack, so if I had to do it over again I would buy something light and cheap that still has decent arch support.  

Jen eventually traded her Keen’s, which she never wore, with a fellow pilgrim who was struggling physically and dying to have a pair of Keen’s again. At least somebody got what they wanted! In return, she got a pair of Teva sandals that she never wore. But I ended up wearing them all the time! 

We hope this information was helpful to you! Again, we are not experts, just people who have walked 500 miles and learned a thing or two. You should always do what you think is best for your body. Check out our posts about socks and foot preparation as well!

Take a Day Trip from Lisbon to Sintra

While in Lisbon, Portugal we took a train to Sintra. Sintra is a town in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains. Like much of Southwest Europe, Sintra passed from ancient Roman to Moorish to Christian rule throughout history and offers a variety of different historical and architectural elements.  

To travel from Lisbon to Sintra simply go to the train station that is closest to you (for us it was Rossio) and buy your ticket, which is very cheap at 2.15 euros one way. Trains run back and forth all day to Sintra, which leave the station every 30 minutes and it’s only a 45 minute ride.  

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Rossio station at night.

Sintra is not a small town with a population of around 300,000 but it has a small town vibe and getting around Sintra is easy. Once you get off the train follow everyone else! That’s what we did and eventually we started seeing signs to follow. If you need to take a bus there is a bus stop right outside the train station, but the walk to the center of Sintra is a very pleasant one mile. The sidewalk takes you along a wooded area with statues every so often, and vendors selling photo reproductions and jewelry at a very good price.

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The Gothic National Palace off in the distance.

Once you are at the center you can either hop a bus and make your way up the mountain, continue walking down the road to visit the Quinta da Regaleira, hop on a different bus to see the Monserrate Palace (which is a few kilometers outside of Sintra) or head over to the Gothic National Palace which is right there in the city center. There are also a lot of restaurants and shops to check out! We have to say, the best gelato we had on our trip was in Sintra right at the city center. I’m not even an ice cream person and I was hounding Jen for just one more bite!

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One of the roads leading to shops at the city center.

Some people like to hike up the mountain, rather than take the bus, to see the sights. It is quite a climb, so be prepared and do it on fair weather day. Also, if you plan to walk be aware that there are no foot paths so all the walking will be done on the twisty roads that the buses take up and down the mountain. 

The Pena Palace was built in 1842 under the guidance of King Ferdinand II. He obviously had awesome style and a deep appreciation of the arts because the Palace transformed into a vibrant multi-colored mix of North African Islamic and Medieval Gothic style. The interior of the palace is interesting because sections of it have been restored to its 1910 style, but the exterior of the palace was our favorite part. We enjoyed taking our time walking around the outside perimeter of the Palace and climbing up the turrets to view the beautiful landscapes.  Be sure to check out the park surrounding the Pena Palace. There you will find forested paths that lead to statues, hidden lakes as well as the highest point on the mountain which is a great place to take pictures of the Palace.

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View of the Moorish Castle from Pena Palace.

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Inside the Pena Palace.

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Don’t forget to buy some of these amazing cookies that are only made in Sintra! They are seriously the bomb diggity! We got ours at the cafe at the Pena Palace.

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The grand house at the Quinta da Regaleira is beautiful but the real gem is the gardens. The Quinta da Regaleira was at the top of my list to see because the Initiation Well is located there. Ever since I saw pictures of the it on Pinterest it has lived in my mental bucket list. Isn’t it an amazing and surreal feeling when something is actually checked off of your bucket list?! So of course, once we got there we bee lined it for the well. What we didn’t know was that there are tunnels under the initiation well leading to the lagoon and other parts of the gardens. I felt like a kid exploring the tunnels, excited to find out where each one led! Apparently the gardens were designed to represent ancient secret orders.  

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Inside the Grand House.

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Notice the secret order symbolism?

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The view from the bottom of the Initiation Well.

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A tunnel leading to and from the Initiation Well.

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The lagoon, connected by a tunnel to the Initiation Well.

We did not have time to see the Moorish Castle, the Monserrate Palace or the Gothic National Palace (Jen had seen this palace on a previous trip to Portugal). We are slow travelers and do not like to squeeze too many things into one day. We would rather fully enjoy a few things than be stressed out trying to see everything there is to see. However, what we did see in Sintra was amazing and we would highly recommend visiting!

If you have the time we would recommend doing what our friends Judy and David did which was book a room in Sintra and spend a few days in there, skipping the train rides from Lisbon and back. We actually took two separate day trips to Sintra while in Lisbon because we couldn’t get enough, so staying overnight there would have made sense! There is so much to see that it’s impossible to do it all in one day. It is also easier to take a day trip from Sintra to Cascais, “the end of the world”, aka the westernmost point of Europe. That’s something we’ll do next time!

The sintra-portugal.com website has a plethora of information from buying train tickets to planning day trips to hotel information. They make it so easy, so there’s no excuse! If you’re ever in Lisbon get your booty over to Sintra!

Lisbon Street Art

Lisbon street art is the bomb.com! I’m an artist. The kind of artist who is trying to make a living off of making art and who also face plants most of the time. But if I could really have my way, I would be a regular Banksy. I love me some street art. I have this dream of putting on black sweats, tying my hair in a ponytail, and stenciling my way around town. That would be the life!

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I want to be clear. I’m not talking about vandalism here. I’m talking about beautiful, well thought out, subversive art, taken outside of the confines of a gallery or museum for everyone to see. What was once considered “graffiti” or “guerilla art” has resulted in major attention from both the media and the art world and has evolved into artists traveling across countries to showcase their work.

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Grace told you about our friend Tiago who gave us the best tuk tuk tour of Lisbon. There are a lot of people that will come in and out of our lives, but I hope Tiago is one of the ones that stays! We recently received an email from him that he has upgraded from a 2 person to a 6 person tuk tuk and is hoping to make enough money so that he can own his tuk tuk outright by summer time! Tiago is so sweet and wonderful. So much so that he took us on a second tour to see the best street art in Lisbon. We had been looking at taking a street art tour of Lisbon because it was one of the things that I was most interested in doing while we were there. But the tour only happened two days a week, it left from a very specific location, and it was early in the morning! We were running out of time before flying home, but Grace knew how much I wanted to do the tour so she sent Tiago an email and asked him if he could take us at a time that worked better for us considering we didn’t have much time left in Lisbon to begin with. On our final day in Lisbon, Tiago picked us up outside of the Fado Museum, after we finished at the flea market, and took us on the most amazing street art tour!

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I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking here since he zipped us all over and I don’t really have a clue where exactly these pictures were taken.

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Tiago also took us to Belém to see Bordalo’s (Bordalo ii) big raccoon. Belém is a popular part of Lisbon known for many of it’s landmarks like the Jerónimos Monastery, and for Pastéis de Belem, a Portuguese egg tart pastry. Bordalo uses trash to make bad ass, giant 3D murals. He has pieces all over Portugal as well as in different countries around the world. I want to be him. The raccoon is in Lisbon, but check out these other amazing pieces that he has done (images other than the raccoon are from globalstreetart.com).

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owl

butterfly

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After seeing the raccoon, Tiago ran across the street to the famous Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém so that we could all have these!

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After Belém we hit the Village Underground. The Village Underground is a configuration of 14 shipping containers and 2 disabled buses which houses 1 cafe and several art studio spaces. It’s also a venue for cultural events.  

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From the Village Underground we went to the LX Factory, which was our last stop on the street art tour before heading back to the hotel. Outside walls, inside walls, basically any available wall was covered in art. It was magnificent. Excuse me while I move in and live here. The LX Factory is a new design and arts district set in an old manufacturing district of Lisbon. Right between the city center and Belém is this amazing place filled with bookstores, restaurants, production studios, shops, galleries, you name it! It’s covered in art and full of awesome. Not stuff, just awesome.

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The Ler Devagar Bookstore, one of the many places within the LX Factory, is built around an old printing press and is not to be missed!

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When we return to Lisbon at some point, we would like to spend a lot more time there because there is so much to see and we just didn’t have enough time.

Lisbon, Portugal

Life has been stop and go since being home from our big trip. Like Jen said in our last post, this is mostly because we have been on the road for more 52 hours since our return. Most of that was because we were visiting loved ones in other parts of the country for the holidays, which was great! Unfortunately, a chunk of that 52 hours on the road was due to a death in the family. My grandmother, Gracie, whom I’m named for, passed away at the age of 86 (2 days away from 87!). So between hitting the road and grieving the loss of a remarkable lady, we are spent (still). We are trying to take it easy while at the same time attempting to be productive and establish a new routine. Kind of works against each other doesn’t it?  Between November 12, which was the day we returned from Portugal, and December 28, we hadn’t been home for more than 10 days at a time. It has now been a solid 3 weeks at home and we are starting to feel normal again. Fortunately, amidst all the stressors, we have managed to keep our bodies free of illness (knock on wood)!  

An update on my shoulder: As I told you before, I discovered my left shoulder and rib were out of place upon returning home. My doctor and chiropractor both determined that the continuing pain, even after the rib and shoulder had been put back in place, is due to nerve damage from long term continued activity (i.e. swinging arms while walking and the use of hiking poles on the Camino) while the said parts were out of place. It is finally starting to feel better now that we aren’t on the road so much. Apparently I tend to use my left arm when steering!

As I revise this blog post and ready it for publishing the snow is falling outside. So far it’s only enough to give the driveway a good covering, but there’s a tiny wish from both of us that it will snow enough to trap us inside for a day or two. There’s nothing like being trapped inside by the weather to either make you feel motivated to accomplish projects or relax. Either way it’s a win!

Now I’ll take you back to Portugal, to the city of Lisbon, and our last stop before heading home. Once we got to Lisbon we used the train station wifi (pronounced wee-fee in Spain and Portugal) to determine where our Airbnb was located. Unfortunately, our cell phones did not work in Portugal unless we were using massive amounts of data from the cell phone plan we purchased in Spain, or unless we could find free wifi. So we took screenshots of the route from our gps navigation app and headed out with our backpacks on and suitcases in tow, thinking we would save money by walking. The GPS said it would only take 10 minutes!  

Wrong! Never underestimate how twisty and confusing the streets in Portugal are!  When using the GPS for walking it will take you on routes that include hundreds of stairs (ok, maybe not hundreds, but it felt like it with a heavy suitcase), cobblestone streets (not conducive for rolling a suitcase), steep inclines, and no street signs! After walking around for about 30 minutes we finally hailed a taxi. We happened to be only a few blocks from the apartment, so I took that as a half win!

We don’t have much experience with Airbnb. In fact, the only experiences we have had were in Portugal and neither of them were amazing, but we are assuming that’s not the norm since so many people rave about it. Or maybe my standards of cleanliness are higher than the average person? I don’t mind living in my own mess for a little while (and I mean only a little while), but I can’t stand living in someone else’s mess when I’m paying for it to be clean. Seeing crumbs on a table, food spills in a mini fridge, or sleeping on sheets that smell like whoever stayed there last night makes me feel like I can’t relax. Also, it’s just gross and unprofessional. This is what happened with our first Airbnb in Coimbra. Our second Airbnb stay was pretty homey and lived in, which didn’t bother us that much because it was clean, but the smell of mildew did! We’re thinking that mildew and moldiness are typical in Portugal though, because it is sooooooo damp there! We were also in a basement apartment, which probably didn’t help.  

Doing laundry continued to be a pain, even after the Camino! The humid air plus a courtyard that receives zero sunlight equalled clothes that hung for days without ever drying. By the time we decided to bring them in and dry them one by one on a radiator style space heater they smelled so musty we couldn’t wear them. Thank god we overpacked!! See? Overpacking has its perks!

Another note on the apartment, it was fairly close to the sights we wanted to see but not close enough.  My advice to anyone traveling to Lisbon or Porto is to stay somewhere very close to the sights you plan to visit. You may spend a little more to be at the center of everything but you will save money on public transportation, because trust me, you will get lost trying to find something that you will be forced to pay a taxi or tuk tuk to take you everywhere. Spoiler alert! So in the end, paying more for accommodations and less on public transport will even out.

The first thing on our to do list was to see one of the best views of Lisbon at the Miradouro da Graça, which was only a few “blocks” away. And guess what? We made it! Without getting lost! If “chillaxing” is your “thang” you can get a drink and utilize the outdoor seating while you stare out at the beauty of Lisbon. Warning though, at sunset the top view spots get crazy busy, so arrive ahead of time.

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Then we bought some knock off art from a vendor on the street that we didn’t know was knock off art until we saw someone else selling the same thing. Jen suspected that it was knock off art, but we hadn’t seen anything else to compare it with. At least we talked him down by ten euros! Don’t worry though, the vendor signed each piece for us as a reminder of how unauthentic it is. If you would like to own an unauthentic piece of Lisbon art one of these pieces could be all yours! Yes, you heard us! We are announcing our first giveaway! Just leave a comment below!

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We then shared a local dish called Bacalhau à Brás with some port. Bacalhau, or cod, is a staple of Portugal (and Spain), and this particular dish was especially tasty. It consists of salt cod, onions, matchstick sized fried potatoes and scrambled eggs, garnished with olives and parsley. The food in Portugal does not disappoint! Seasoned food was a welcomed treat after a month and a half in Spain.  And the port? Amazing! And it better be, it’s from Portugal for goodness sakes!

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We could see the top of the castle from where we were so we looked at the map and planned a route to get us there. Fifteen minutes later we could still see the top of the castle but we were on the other side of it, and we had no idea how we had gotten there. This happened several times, which is ok, because we ended up seeing parts of the city we otherwise wouldn’t have seen, but eventually we just wanted to get to where we were trying to go. But the universe works in mysterious ways, because without getting lost we would have never met Tiago.  

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Jen and I had made our way down to a view of the water which was very popular. There were a lot of people there taking pictures and a lot of tuk tuks zipping about. I spotted a tuk tuk and decided to take a picture of it for the blog, having no intention of getting in the back of it for a ride. The man in the tuk tuk got out and this is what happened.  

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“Would you like a tuk tuk tour of Lisbon? I’ll show you all the sights!” he said.    

“No,” we replied kindly, “we’re just trying to make our way up to the castle, but we keep getting lost.”

“What have you seen so far?” he asked.

“Nothing.” we admitted.  

“Well, have you seen this, this, and that?” he inquired.

“No. Seriously, we’ve seen nothing because we keep getting lost! What’s up with the streets of Lisbon?”  we responded.

“I will give you a tour.” he said adamantly.

“I don’t know.” I replied hesitantly, “I don’t think we can afford it. How much is it?”

“For 40 euros I will show you the sights for an hour and a half.”  

“40 euros each!?”

“No, no ladies! 40 euros total.”

“Oh…”

We really couldn’t say no. We had seen nothing by means of intention in the few hours we had been out, so spending 40 euros to see an hour and a half’s worth of sights seemed like a deal. So we hopped in the back, seatbelted ourselves in and took off! Little did we know this would be the best money we would spend in Portugal!

We introduced ourselves to our driver and we discovered his name was Tiago. Ring a bell?

“It is like James in English.” he said.

“Oh, that’s interesting!” I said. “We just walked the Camino de Santiago, whose patron saint is James!”

Coincidence? He didn’t think so. And neither did we. The more time we spent with him the more we thought our meeting wasn’t by chance.

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Tiago zipped us all around the heart of Lisbon, first driving us around all of the major squares with statues at the center.

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He took us to an area overlooking the water and explained to us that the streets of Lisbon are so twisty because they were meant as a type of defense. If an enemy ship docked and unloaded men they would have one heck of a time getting to the castle!

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He took us to a serene little villa. There are multiple within the streets of Lisbon but if you aren’t looking you’ll miss them.

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And then to the cathedral.

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And then the Pantheon, where many famous people are buried.

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And the aqueduct.

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He took us to see a beautiful view of the city called Senhora do Monte, located in the Graça neighborhood, at sunset. It was amazing how many people were there!

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Tiago led us over to a little chapel that was off behind the crowds of people. The view point is actually named after this little chapel, whose full name is Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Monte e São Gens and dates back to the time of the Moorish conquest of Lisbon. He spoke to the woman at the door in Portuguese as if he knew her. “Now we go inside. No picture taking.” Wow! What were we about to see?

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Once we were in the chapel the woman immediately turned to the right of the entrance and unlocked a little door that looked to be very old. Hidden behind the door was an ancient stone seat that Tiago explained was called Saint Gens chair, and Saint Gens was the first bishop of Lisbon in Roman times. The legend says that when Saint Gens was born, his mother died giving birth, which is the origin of a curious tradition that is still practiced today. According to this tradition, a pregnant woman who wishes to ensure a successful birth should sit in the chair. This tradition is so powerful that women travel from all over the world just to sit in it.

We were allowed to sit in the stone seat one at a time and we each later confessed that while seated we wished we would both have healthy pregnancies.

He drove us by some street art.

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We went on a walk through the Alfama neighborhood where he helped us make reservations to see Fado the next evening. He also took us to a little bar where we tried ginjha, a Portuguese liqueur made of sour cherries. It’s traditionally consumed like a shot out of a chocolate shot glass. Unfortunately, the bar was all out of chocolate shot glasses. Jen is not much of a drinker, but really liked it, so we bought a bottle to take home.

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Tiago then drove us back to our apartment, but not before taking this picture of us.

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He gave us his card with his email address printed on it and told us to get ahold of him if we wanted another tuk tuk tour. We parted with hugs and kisses and the hope that our paths would cross again. If you’re ever in Lisbon feel free to contact Tiago for an epic tuk tuk tour! He can be reached by phone at (+351) 926712514 or by email at tiagoandradefialho@hotmail.com (yes, he gave us permission to post his contact info!).   

The next day we decided to take a day trip to Sintra, but I will write about that in a separate post. When we returned to Lisbon we headed to Parreirinha de Alfama to eat dinner and hear some Fado music with fellow Camino pilgrims Judy and David from throughourlookingglass.ca. If you haven’t checked out their blog you should. They did a fantastic job of posting nearly every day while on the Camino and they have wonderful pictures. How serendipitous that we all ended up in Lisbon at the same time after the Camino? They were also in Porto at the same time we were but we had no idea! It wasn’t until Jen’s mom, who was religious about checking Judy and David’s blog, emailed us and said, “Do you guys realize Judy and David are in Portugal?!?” We were really happy to see Judy and David. They both helped us through a rough patch on the Camino, back in Áges, when we were feeling discouraged, and we hadn’t seen them since!  

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So back to Fado. If you are going to a decent Fado restaurant you probably need to make reservations in advance. We made ours one day in advance. I’m not sure if we were just lucky or if that is the typical turnover time. And Alfama, a neighborhood in Lisbon, is the place to be for Fado because it prides itself on being the birthplace of Fado. Parreirinha de Alfama, the restaurant our Airbnb host recommended, boasted of being the oldest traditional Fado restaurant in Lisbon. Tiago told us of one restaurant in Alfama in which amateurs will stand up at their dinner table and start improving Fado. It could end up being the person you are sitting next to!

The bottom line for going to a Fado restaurant is that you have to spend a certain amount of money on dinner to pay for the music. We each had to order 30 euros worth of food and drink, which is a lot in Portugal, but the food was good and that price included the music, so it all evened out. Fortunately we were hungry because we didn’t realize that was the rule until we got there! To give you an idea of how much food we’re talking about, Jen and I split soup, salad, vegetable pasta, chocolate mousse, bread pudding, and we each had a drink. That put us at a total of 68 euros. Without the dessert we would have been at exactly 60 euros! Again, be careful when ordering appetizers. The menu said 5 euros for bread and dip, which we assumed meant 5 euros for the whole table, but when they brought the checks all four of us were charged for bread and dip. Fortunately, they forgot to bring the appetizer so they had to take that off the checks.

Once they had served the food and everyone had been eating for awhile they lowered the lights, introduced themselves and performed a few songs. Then the lights would come back on and we would continue eating, while the servers checked in with their tables. This happened 4 or 5 times throughout the night.

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Fado, which can be traced back to the 1820’s, is known for having one or two guitarists and a single singer. It is common for the songs to be mournful in tune and lyric, but not exclusively. For our show there were two male guitarists who played simultaneously and three vocalists, a young woman, an older woman, and a young man, who took turns singing each set. The last song was fun because all three vocalists sang together. All Fado is sung in Portuguese, so we obviously couldn’t understand what they were saying, but we generally understood the emotion they were trying to convey by the reactions from the Portuguese customers. Sometimes the Portuguese customers would start singing along! They were very talented musicians and did not disappoint!

Here’s some Fado by Amalia Rodriguez, the most famous Fado musician. 

Overall, we recommend going to Parreirinha de Alfama to hear Fado. They were nice, the atmosphere was cozy and intimate, the food was good, and the Fado was beautiful! There were also Portuguese customers which made me feel like it was a good choice. It’s located across the street from the Fado museum and tucked a little ways back. 

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The next day we headed down the street from our Airbnb apartment to the local flea market. We didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t blocks upon blocks of vendors. It was amazing how many people were there selling their wares. And it was interesting to see what people were selling, which was pretty much what you would see at a flea market in the U.S. but with Portuguese style goods. You could probably find anything you need from secondhand clothes and jewelry, to art, to furniture, to machine parts.

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Our favorite was all of the Portuguese cd’s and records. We purchased some traditional Fado music and Brazilian psychedelic jazz on cd and some Portuguese music from the 70’s on vinyl. We also purchased this purple fish dish from a local artisan. He sold all sorts of ceramics, but the most interesting were these vases.

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Apparently things made to look like penises are a popular thing to sell in Portugal because of tradition. The story goes that a Portuguese king sent a Spanish king a gift, a box with a small penis inside and a note that said “spanish sized.” He then sent another box with a bigger penis inside that said “Portuguese sized.”  Annoyed by all of the penises we asked where the lady parts were. He picked up a vase and turned it over.  There, on the underside, the female genitalia was carved.

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Amazingly enough, that purple fish dish, the large bottle of pacharan, the large bottle of ginjha, the several small bottles of port, the moroccan lamp, the vinyl records and cd’s, and the Spanish water color, all made it home safely.

If you want to attend the flea market it is located in the Graça neighborhood every Tuesday and Saturday. Tiago picked us up from the flea market to take us on a very cool street art tour. Jen will give you the details on our second tour and our final day in Lisbon!

Parador de San Marcos

I know Grace mentioned our lack of motivation in her previous post, and it still rings true! Lack of motivation occasionally feels like an understatement, but after welcoming the new year we are hoping to have some sort of resemblance of a routine as we both take on new projects. And do more writing. We have driven more than 52 since hours returning home from Spain and Portugal and haven’t been home for more than 10 days at a time, but that’s about to change! 

Way back when, I promised to write solely about our stay at the Parador de San Marcos in León – and I’m keeping that promise! We have slowly been going through all of our pictures and it’s safe to say that our stay at the Parador was one of our best experiences on the Camino.

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It costs a pretty penny to stay there (for people with not a lot of money, otherwise it’s really quite affordable), but make no mistake, the Parador de San Marcos was crawling with pilgrims. You actually get a discounted rate as a pilgrim. It’s not much but every little bit helps!

We had a regular, run of the mill room. And that regular, run of the mill room was glorious. We may not have stayed in the Quevedo Suite (it was undergoing renovations anyway), but that didn’t make our stay any less luxurious. The sheets were ironed and smelled amazing, there was real shampoo, beautiful art, an architectural bed, and a stunning view. I have never stayed in a place with such a rich history.

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It’s also important to mention the breakfast. Spain doesn’t do much for me when it comes to breakfast. Probably because breakfast doesn’t really exist! Usually it’s just toast and coffee, and not until 10 a.m. I happen to really like breakfast, and the Parador doesn’t disappoint! I’m talking the kind of breakfast that a pilgrim needs. None of this toast and instant coffee nonsense (although you can get that if that’s your thing), but delicious, anything you can think of, full of protein breakfast. Plus wine and champagne. Who doesn’t want that for breakfast?!

I snapped these photos quickly with my phone before we hit the road (or walked the road rather)… it doesn’t do it justice.

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We also got to breakfast with Deb and Martin, two of our Camino favorites! They hauled ass so they could spend three nights at the Parador. We hauled ass to catch up with them so that we could overlap for a night and spend some time together. Excuse our outfits and the way we look, Camino life isn’t always pretty folks!

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The Parador de San Marcos has had many lives. It dates back to the 12th century and  has been demolished, rebuilt, and added to since then. It was a hospital and a place of rest for pilgrims traveling the Camino, a residence for the Order of Santiago, a Monastery, horse stables at one point, an art museum, and during it’s darkest period, every last inch was converted into dungeons and jail cells for Republican prisoners during the Spanish Civil War. Essentially, an unidentified concentration camp where some 20,000 people passed through its cells. Thousands of deaths occurred as a result of the torture that went on within the walls of the Parador. I might not be in graduate school anymore, but my love for all things about the Spanish Civil War still exists. This was the field that I studied and was most interested in and I felt like a pretty cool lady staying in such a tragic and beautiful piece of history.

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I mentioned that the Parador used to be an art museum, which is true. To this day, the long corridors are covered in some of the most amazing 20th century art. We spent an entire afternoon exploring the hotel and looking at all of the art that lined the hallways.

There is of course a church directly connected to the Hotel. I mean duh, what country are we in again?! The choir seating was the best part. Check out these gorgeous and also terrifying detailed wood carvings.

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The Parador offers free tours that leave from the lobby at 11 a.m. Tours take a little longer than an hour and are only given in Spanish, but you get a brief history and an explanation of the architecture. If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry. You don’t really need the tour to get all of the info! All over the Parador are information cards in both Spanish and English that recount the history and tell you about its many lives.

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I still don’t think that the movie The Way is in any way accurate, but their stay at the Parador was spot on. Now, the amount of money it would cost to stay in the room that Martin Sheen stayed in would be ridiculous. It’s usually reserved for the royal family if and when they are in town. And Franco stayed there during his heyday. You can, however, totally stay in the Quevedo Suite if it’s not occupied. Like I said, it was undergoing renovations while we were there. We know this because the door was cracked at one point while we were walking by and I flung it open to have myself a look. Bare white walls with scaffolding. Damn! No worries, I snagged this photo from Google Images to give you an idea. This only shows one of the bedrooms but you get the idea. It has multiple bedrooms, a big sitting room, chandeliers, the usual. 

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If you’re looking for some extra pampering while on the Camino a stay at the Parador is definitely worth the splurge. And if you’re not walking the Camino, it’s still worth the money and a stop! Just in case you’ve forgotten, because sometimes we still have to remind ourselves, we walked the entire Camino… and finished! 

Porto, Portugal

It took some time to feel “normal” again after returning to the states, and an especially long time to get our sleep schedule back on track. For the first couple of weeks we would be tired by 2pm and by 5pm we were struggling to keep our eyes open. Then we would wake up at 5 am and start the process all over again. We are now sleeping regularly so the next hurdle is getting motivated to move our bodies. Many people say that they can’t stop moving once they are off the Camino, but for us it has been the opposite. Perhaps it’s the extra traveling 2 weeks before the Camino and 2 weeks after, 2.5 months of travel total, that has done us in.  Maybe our bodies just need to hibernate for awhile to catch up. We are now forcing ourselves to exercise so that we don’t waste all the benefits of our 500 mile trek.

Our bodies don’t feel so wrecked these days. I discovered that I had a rib and shoulder out of place after a visit to the chiropractor. No wonder it hurt to carry my pack!  Our feet are feeling good though and they don’t look so gnarly.  Our heals had layers and layers of callouses, which sloughed off little by little every time we showered, until finally all the callouses washed away. It’s amazing how the body adjusts to changes in a routine!

We are happy to be home, and while we are looking forward to traveling again, we are in need of some normalcy and routine.  Sleeping in a different place every night for 6 weeks isn’t easy people!

So now I will backtrack in order to fill you in on part of the last leg of our journey. We still have a whole 10 days in Portugal to fill you in on!  After we visited Jen’s host mom in Salamanca we headed to Porto, Portugal by bus. Portugal is so close to Spain that we felt it would be a shame if we didn’t spend some time there. Plus, my friend Julie lives in Porto, and we wanted to see her.

Many people told us how much they loved visiting Porto, which doesn’t surprise us. It really is such a beautiful city full of so much history.  What’s unique about the aesthetic of Portugal is its use of tile on the exterior of buildings.  Unfortunately, these days people are removing (illegally) the tile from the outside of these beautiful buildings and selling the tiles to tourists. The older the tile the more expensive it is.  But some buildings are being renovated to once again have that beautiful tiled look.

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We couldn’t believe that we found a place on booking.com to stay in the heart of Porto for 30 euros a night.  Although this hostel wasn’t a palace, it was very nice. It had everything we needed, including a little kitchen.  When I mentioned the low price to my friend Julie she said she wasn’t surprised. Minimum wage in Portugal is a mind-blowing 1.80 euros.  That’s crazy!  So when you travel to Portugal, make sure to tip your service providers!  

Tipping by the way is something that is different for every country.  In Spain it is non existent, which is why some think the customer service in Spain is lacking. However, the customer service in Portugal was much better than in Spain.  Hey, we were actually getting smiles from the people who were serving us, so that’s an improvement!  If you’re traveling to a country and you are unsure what the tipping customs are just google it!  Here’s a link for more information on tipping in Portugal.

There are other things to be mindful of when it comes to customer service. For example, in Portugal when you sit down at a restaurant to have a meal it is customary for the waiter to bring h’orderves such as olives, bread, cheese, etc. They almost never tell you this, but if you eat any of it they will charge you for it, despite the fact that most tourists would assume the snacks are included in the price of the meal.  You must also be vigilant about checking your bill before you pay.  There were several times in which we were charged for something that we didn’t order.  It doesn’t make it easy to actually want to tip after some of these things have happened, but try to remember that their way of life is much different than ours.

One of the first things on our list to do in Porto was to try a Francesinha from a well-known restaurant called Café Santiago.  This was recommended by the woman that managed the hostel we were staying in.  A Francesinha is a traditional Portuguese sandwich that is so elaborate that it takes a diagram to explain what it consists of.

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Lots of meat, smothered in cheese, dripping with thick tomato beer sauce, topped with a runny egg, and surrounded by fries.  The idea of eating this sandwich was making us a little sweaty, but we decided to take one for the team and try it out. We were worried we wouldn’t like it so we ordered one sandwich to split between the two of us, and we are happy we did!  Although not abnormally large in size, this sandwich was intense and half of one was enough for our inexperienced bellies.  Was it good?  Yes!  Did it make us run for the toilet a few hours later?  Yes! Should you try this if you are ever in Porto?  Only if you are not confined to a bus, airplane, or car seat for the next 8 hours.  We’re talking LOTS of meat on this puppy!

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So now that we got the “let’s eat the one crazy thing that all the locals around here eat” out of the way we decided to walk around and see some of the sights. Walking around in Porto was not easy.  The streets are winding and many of them are not marked.  We took a VERY long way around to get to the train station to buy our tickets for Coimbra, but we got there!  If you’re in Porto and you have a chance, step inside to see the tilework murals at the Sao Bento train station.  They are beautiful!

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We then walked around a bit and made our way to the Torre dos Clérigos to see a view of the city.  The Clérigos Church is a Baroque building which sits in the center of Porto.  It’s bell tower’s spiral staircase has 220 steps which led us up a space that got smaller and smaller until, at some point near the top I thought, “If this space gets any smaller I’m not sure that I will be able to squeeze through!” Fortunately there was no one coming down the stairs as we were going up!  The view from the top was beautiful and we caught a glimpse of the ocean!

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After climbing the bell tower we made our way to the Lello Bookstore, one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, built in 1906.  Like many things in Portugal, the facade and interior are decorated in an Art Nouveau style. You do have to buy a ticket “across the street” to get into the bookstore, but the price of the ticket can be used towards the purchase of a book. Look at how beautiful it is!

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That evening we met up with Julie who took us on a walk to see more of the city before dinner.  The Dom Luís I Bridge was designed by Eiffel’s (creator of the Eiffel Tower) partner, Teophile Seyrig, and built in 1886.  At the time it was built it was the longest of its type at 172 m.  It extends over the Douro river, which has a different beauty at night.

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For dinner Julie took us to a restaurant called Museu d’Avó where we enjoyed Portugal’s speciality, bacalhau, a.k.a. cod fish. A creamy cod bake, cod cakes, and octopus, were all on the table for us to share, as well as the usual olives, cheese, and bread.  We also tried lupini beans, which are a popular bar snack, comparable to peanuts in the states.  They weren’t our favorite, but they are healthy, pack a lot of protein, and the locals go crazy for them!  The cod, on the other hand, was to die for!  Especially the creamy cod bake!  

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The next day in Porto we mostly walked around to get a feel for the city.  We walked down Santa Catarina Street, which is a major shopping area.  This is also where the Café Majestic is located, which was built in 1921 and still showcases the Art Nouveau style of its day.  We watched the trams, which are very popular in Portugal, whiz by, and we admired the beautiful statues and architecture.

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We were sad to say goodbye to Porto because we enjoyed spending time with Julie and there was still so much to see, but our plane was departing from Lisbon so we needed to start heading south.  Plus, we knew there would be a lot to see and do in Lisbon.

On our way to Lisbon we decided to make a stop in Coimbra to see the University, which is the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in continuous operation in the world.  This title is a little misleading though because this University was originally established in Lisbon in 1290 and then relocated several times until it was permanently located to Coimbra in 1537. The Royal Palace joined the University of Coimbra in 1544.  The view from the top of the Palace was pretty!

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On campus is the Joanina Library which was built in the 18th century and is part of the University of Coimbra General Library.  If you are a lover of libraries or books in general, this one is a must. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures on the main floor of the library, but I will try to describe it to you.  Three very large rooms with very high painted ceilings make up the main floor, in which everything, including tables, shelves and stair railings, are made out of beautiful exotic wood.  Walls are covered by two storied shelves of books.  Stairs, located behind bookshelves, lead to the “second story” of books.  The most interesting thing about the library is the fact that bats have been used for pest control for hundreds of years. They live behind the bookcases and come out at night, after the furniture has been covered, to feast on bugs.  Apparently the only drawback to this method is the poo, which is meticulously cleaned off the floor every morning, but the bats are less than two inches long, so the poo much not be that big! Another interesting tid bit is the small prison located in the library’s basement, which was used to confine scholars and students who were convicted by the university’s in-house court of law.

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We also took a stroll through Coimbra’s botanical gardens.

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Coimbra didn’t really speak to us, so we decided to only stay there for one day.  FYI, if you want to change your train ticket in Portugal you do not have to eat the money from your original train ticket.  Instead, the price of your original ticket will go towards the cost of the new one.  Keep in mind though, the later you buy your tickets the more expensive they will be, so you will still need to make up the difference in price.

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Our next stop, Lisbon.  You are in for a treat because this city is amazing! Stay tuned to find out about our final adventures before heading home.

 

Salamanca, Where Dreams Come True!

Going to Salamanca felt like going home. It’s my favorite place in Spain and has been since I set foot there in 2009. Spain has a lot to offer, but in my opinion there is no place better than Salamanca. You can see everything (literally) by foot, it’s home to one of the most beautiful universities in the world, it’s a melting pot of people and cultures because of the students, it’s easy to get to Madrid if you feel the urge to travel, it provides easy access to Portugal, and if you’re me, it’s where the best host mom in the universe lives. Salamanca folks, it’s the place to be.

A quick 2.5 hour bus ride from Madrid and we were there. We had been in rain since finishing the Camino. It rained for a week straight and the forecast was the same for Salamanca. I felt bad for every pilgrim that finished the day after we did because the weather was miserable. Due to the forecast, we hit the ground running in Salamanca as soon as we stepped off the bus because we had an afternoon free of rain and there were so many things I wanted Grace to see in decent weather. Rain and bad weather can cloud your judgement. It can make you love or hate a place, and I wanted Grace to like Salamanca.

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Our main reason for stopping in Salamanca was to see Espe, my host mom, but I also wanted to show Grace my old stomping grounds. That first afternoon we walked to the Plaza Mayor (where they happened to be having a book festival), the cathedral (both old and new), the Huerto de Calisto y Melibea, the university where Grace found the lucky frog hidden on the entrance into the ancient university, the Patio de las Escuelas Menores, the Cielo de Salamanca, and a general walking tour of the city. We did it all.

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Salamanca’s cathedral is enchanting and impressive from the outside. The inside isn’t anything to write home about but you can climb the cathedral towers for some great views of the city and the old and new cathedrals are connected from the inside. The old cathedral was built between the 12th and 14th centuries and is made up of various chapels. The new cathedral was built between the 16th and 18th centuries, beginning in 1513, and is a combination of both gothic and baroque styles. Built into the ornate fachada is an astronaut and what I like to call a monkey (which is really a faun or perhaps a dragon – I’ve heard both) eating ice cream. These decorations were added in 1992 while the cathedral was being restored. Or were they? The mysterious astronaut seems to have appeared during the 1992 restorations as it is typical to add something of the time period, in this case the 20th century, while restoring. However, there are those that believe that the astronaut has been present the entire time but wasn’t entirely visible. It’s crazy to think that the astronaut has been there since before 1733, when the new cathedral was completed. I love these weird things about Salamanca, and I think mysteries are cool, so I’ll jump on bandwagon of people that think it predates the 20th century. It’s more fun that way!

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While outside the cathedral we met a pilgrim from Ireland that walked the Vía de la Plata route from Sevilla. He had just arrived and Salamanca would be the end of his Camino journey this year. Pilgrims, they’re everywhere!

The University of Salamanca was founded in 1134 and was recognized formally as a university by King Alfonso X (El Sabio) in 1254. It is the oldest university in Spain and the third oldest in Europe under continuous operation. It was up and running long before Alfonso X granted the formal title of “university” and lots of fancy pants people have either been to the university for something special or studied there. The fachada is insanely gorgeous and hidden somewhere in the intricate decoration is a frog. Legend says that if you find the frog on your own and without help you will be lucky in school and in love!  However, it is very hard to find the frog on your own when there are people gathered around pointing to where it’s located.  If you want to find it without any help whatsoever you need to go early enough to beat the crowds.

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Around the corner from the entrance into the ancient university is the Patio de las Escuelas Menores. Inside one of the classrooms, no longer used for teaching, is one third of a beautiful, late 15th century astrological mural, painted by (maybe) Fernando Gallego. Originally, it was situated on the ceiling of the ancient library, but was moved to where it can be seen today after parts of the mural were destroyed and or covered up by the construction of the new university chapel. There is no fee to view the mural and there are seats where you can sit and take your time looking through the constellations and zodiac signs. The lights are dimmed so that it gives the effect of being night time.  It’s one of those places where you aren’t allowed to take pictures, but the internet is a happening place so here’s one from google images to give you an idea of what it looks like. Pictures don’t do the mural justice. What pictures do justice to anything you can view with your own eyes?!

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The Huerto de Calisto y Melibea is a garden with beautiful views hidden around the corner from the cathedral and tucked away behind the university. Its name comes from a very famous piece of literature written by (maybe) Fernando de Rojas called La Celestina, or sometimes known as the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea. A tale of love, with an old intervening prostitute/go-between, that ends in tragedy. You can check out a summary here if you are chomping at the bit to know more! This is one of my favorite places in Salamanca. Occasionally you can find people playing music and an old man selling his poetry.

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As you enter the garden you will see a well directly in front of you. It’s a tradition for couples to bring a lock to the well with their names written on it, and attach it to the metal structure above the well. This isn’t something that is particular to Salamanca. Attaching love locks happens in France, Italy, and other european countries. Although, in those other places, you don’t have a statue of an old, meddling prostitute keeping watch over your lock!

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We had dinner one night with Espe and then returned to have lunch with her again before leaving where she made my favorite meal, roast chicken with apples. When I studied abroad Espe was in her 60’s, and now at 74 she is still on the move and taking care of students. She loves her “niñas” and she does such a good job of providing a happy and healthy home for students who study abroad. I still think of her as my “mom” and I have been lucky to be able to return to Spain frequently to see her. I miss her. It felt so good to be reunited with her because it had been a few years since our last meeting, and she is still as joyful and as loving as ever. And she loved Grace! We also had coffee with Barbara, my friend and director of IES Salamanca. I try to see her every time I visit because living there changed my life. I can still vividly picture all of my favorite places when I close my eyes. Salamanca has given me that gift.

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Returning to Salamanca was the first thing about this trip to Spain that felt normal. Castilla y León was my first love, but I’m not sure that my “tierras llanas” are best seen on foot! The Camino is such a different experience. We weren’t tourists. We could only focus on the task at hand. One foot in front of the other, moving forward toward Santiago. We still haven’t fully processed our experience on the Camino. I’m sure it will take some time. I learned that my body can handle an obscene amount of trauma. It did me well. But, you can’t buy compression sleeves or put compeed on your mind. There is no fix for that. I’m not as mentally tough as I thought, but I finished. And if nothing else, that for me is an accomplishment in itself. Especially since I was essentially done by the time we got to Roncesvalles. If you can remember correctly, that would be the end of day 1 folks! I didn’t have expectations for the Camino, but it definitely wasn’t what I thought it would be. I’m not sure that makes any sense, but it’s a very singular experience that can truly only be understood if you do it. I still can’t believe that it’s over and that we finished, relatively healthy and unharmed. How amazing.

We returned to the states safely, with a few travel hiccups, and will be writing from home for awhile. We still have to talk about our time in Portugal and our time on the Camino will be revisited. And who says we’re stopping there?! Keep reading!

 

Camino Days 40-42: Castañeda, O Pedrouzo, SANTIAGO!

Our rest day in Palas de Rei was great.  We had walked more consecutive days than ever and our bodies were feeling it. It was sad to say goodbye to our friends Nancy and Liam since they wouldn’t be taking a rest day, but we knew we would be seeing them soon in Santiago.

Our last three days seemed to drag on longer than ever. Almost as long as the days leading up to starting the Camino.  Like a child waiting for their birthday we were beginning to feel anxious about being done and wondering what it would feel like. It was hard to imagine that we would actually be arriving in Santiago in just a couple of days. In fact, we were well under the 100 km mark, but it seemed like just yesterday that we were celebrating falling below 500 km.  We tried to enjoy the last few days but our minds and bodies had realized that the end was near and had begun to relax. Our feet ached and our minds were fuzzy.

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Of course, meeting other pilgrims along the way always helps.  In Castañeda we met Tam and Harry from Chicago.  They have been walking since Le Puy, France, which means that they walked 900 km before reaching St. Jean AND they are planning to walk to Finisterre.  This was Harry’s 5th Camino.  

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The last day especially felt like an eternity. We began our walk at 7:30 that morning. 7:30 might seem late, but at the time the sun was rising at 9 a.m. so it was pitch black for the first hour or so. Many people started even earlier than that, in the hopes of making it to the noon pilgrim mass at the cathedral. We knew there would also be a 7:30 p.m. mass so we didn’t subject ourselves to such an early departure, but we wanted to arrive in Santiago early enough to clean up and see a few friends before mass.

Here we are donning our head lamps.  We don’t look tired at all.

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There were a lot more hills the last day than we expected and a lot more stink!  Galicia was the smelliest part of the trip for sure with all the cow poop not only on either side of us in the fields but right on the paths and roads we walked on. If there was ever a chance of saving our shoes and taking them back to the states with us it was ruined after walking through Galicia. So on top of the poo there was also some other stench that seemed to get stronger as we got closer to Santiago. Perhaps a factory of some sort?  Other pilgrims who arrived in Santiago on different days said they didn’t notice the smell, so the wind direction wasn’t in our favor that day. But overall the weather was  in our favor. We had zero rain not only on the last day but on the last three, which was a huge relief!  

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After many twists and turns, uphills and downhills, walking through forests and across streams, through puddles and around an airport, we finally made it to the suburbs of Santiago, which is when the day really started to drag. We were continually looking at the map and recalculating how many kilometers we had left. After climbing each hill we hoped to catch a glimpse of the city but it would be more residential suburb neighborhoods, or the occasional factory or church.

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Finally we made it to the base of a hill that seemed to be the hill of all hills. We could feel that Santiago was just beyond.  I wish we had taken a picture of the view of the city. It wasn’t anything special yet, we couldn’t even see the cathedral at that point, but the feeling of being so close to the end was enveloping us. I looked over at Jen and asked her if she had butterflies in her stomach. We both did.

We descended into the city, stopping to take a picture in front of the Santiago sign. Now we were playing a new game: I Spy the Cathedral Spires, but nobody could see them. We tried so hard to find the spires that sometimes we forgot to watch for the yellow arrows or shells that would point us in the right direction. Finally, after turning a corner, we saw one, way off in the distance! 

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It was exciting to know that we were so close, but we still had to wind our way through the city.  You don’t really see the cathedral as you make your way into the city.  Even after we spotted a spire we lost sight of it altogether until we rounded a corner and its magnificence was standing before us… or at least the back of it!  Down some steps, through an arch, past the Parador hotel on the right and we were finally there! Standing in front of the Cathedral waiting for us was Nancy, our friend from the Camino, Hattie, who we know from Kansas and who we would be staying with in Santiago, and Danee, who we were with in Granada and Nerja.  It felt so good to see familiar faces, especially one from home.

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There were many heavy emotions descending upon us as we came upon the cathedral.  Happiness that we had finished what we set out to accomplish.  Relief that we would not have to subject our bodies to any more pain, sleep in a different place every night, or eat the same food every day.  Disbelief that something we had been working at 24/7 for 6 weeks to complete was now at an end.  Pride for following through on our goal, no matter how hard it was.  And exhaustion, which I don’t think I need to explain.  There were tears, which were expected.  Sometimes along the way we would allow ourselves to imagine what it would be like to finish and it usually resulted in our eyes filling with tears.

Fortunately one of the things we didn’t feel was disappointment in how the cathedral looked.  Danee gave us a heads up a week or so before finishing that the cathedral had been under construction for two years and was surrounded by ugly scaffolding, so we knew what to expect.

We gave hugs, we took a few pictures, we talked a little bit about how our day had gone, and then we stood around for awhile not quite knowing what to do next. What came next?  It was a strange feeling to be done and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  

Fortunately someone mentioned our Compostelas and we decided to head over to the pilgrim office to make our pilgrimage official.  Thankfully, the pilgrim office was right around the corner, so we didn’t have to walk far, but the attendant said the line was 40 minutes long.  40 minutes of standing after walking all day?  Are you kidding me?!?  The time seemed to pass quickly though as we talked with Danee and Hattie about our travels.  Then Liam showed up and we got a nice picture with all of our official papers.  

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We attended the Pilgrim’s Mass that evening.  The cathedral has mass every day, but it is only on Friday’s at 7:30 p.m. that they swing the botafumeiro, the big metal incensory.  We were told to get there half an hour early but even that wasn’t early enough.  When we arrived every seat was taken (the cathedral seats over 1,000) and even the ledges at the bases of the columns were being used as seats, so we sat on the marble floor.  Mass lasted about an hour and included singing, a sermon, communion, and the swinging of the incensory.  We were lucky that we arrived on a Friday because this mass finalized the Camino journey for us. Watching the incensory swing was amazing and surreal.  It took 6 men to pull on the rope and sometimes it looked as though the incensory was swinging so high it would touch the ceiling.  It is such a beautiful tradition (interestingly, it was originally done to cover up the stink from the pilgrims) and if you are ever in Santiago as a pilgrim or tourist be sure to experience it.

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Here’s a video of the swinging botafumeiro.  Sorry that it’s sideways.  Iphone, Chromebook, and WordPress are not getting along.

That evening we had dinner with our friends and reunited with Deb and Martin.  It was hard to say goodbye to them but we are hoping to see them in Alaska!

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The day after we arrived in Santiago we made a trip to the mall to buy some clothes and shoes.  We wouldn’t have our luggage from before the Camino for another week and we were desperate to get out of our clothes.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to put on our hiking shoes again and quality shoes were necessary to nurse our ailing feet back to health.  Making any decisions aside from where to sleep, what to eat, and how far to walk proved challenging.  Within 20 minutes we were mentally exhausted.  Within an hour we had both broken down into tears at some point.  Thankfully Danee was with us and she helped us navigate our reentry into the real world.  It may seem silly, but imagine living for nearly 2 months with 2 outfits and whatever else would fit in a backpack. Leaving our simple Camino life of few possessions and few priorities would be an adjustment.

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We didn’t make it to Finisterre, which was sad but necessary.  I had caught some sort of intestinal bug a couple of days before we finished the Camino and it didn’t show any signs of letting up.  The bus ride to Finisterre would be between 3 and 4 hours, we would get there, spend a few hours, and then take another 3 or 4 hour bus ride back.  It just wasn’t smart to stick myself on a bus for that long with digestive issues.  We are disappointed because we had planned to have a last hurrah with Nancy and Liam in Finisterre, but we also know that this trip will not be the last time we see them.

We had also planned to place our last stones for our loved ones on the coast at Finisterre but we decided that the cathedral in Santiago would be sufficient, so we returned there on our second full day in the city.  We hugged St. James from behind, another tradition.  We went below to view the box containing St. James’ remains and lit candles for our loved ones.  And, as our final action as pilgrims, we left behind our remaining stones.  We thought the Pilgrim’s Mass had closed the book for our Camino Journey, but this last trip to the cathedral and the placing of our final stones was what really concluded our pilgrimage.

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Hattie really spoiled us. We binge watched “How to Get Away with Murder,” she cooked us amazing food, and even made us ice our feet.  She took really good care of us and we were sad to leave her.  It was the perfect place for us to recover.  By the way, we are both feeling much better!  My digestive bug is gone, and we are still stiff but we aren’t making noises of pain every time we get up to walk.

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Every time we ventured out into Santiago we bumped into pilgrims we knew, like Bob and Phyllis, who we hadn’t seen since Mansilla.  

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We even bumped into pilgrims we knew as we were at the train station to depart Santiago for Madrid.  Margie, from Australia, who walked the Camino in memory of a friend’s daughter who had passed away due to cancer, jumped up to greet us as we entered the train station.

When you are on a train or bus in Spain expect one of these things to happen.  1.) A group of tweeners playing video games with the volume at full blast as they talk to each other loudly.  2.) A phone to ring loudly every 10 minutes.  3.) A woman sitting across from you to talk loudly to someone on speaker phone about how she wants to be buried when she dies (the Pantheon) and how she needs some stamps.  If you’re terribly unlucky, like we were on our train ride from Santiago to Madrid, all 3 will occur.  Don’t expect to get any sleep.  

The train ride of course was beautiful.  It was fun to watch the landscape change from the lush, green, rolling hills of Galicia to the flatter, more arid meseta.  “We walked that,” we kept saying aloud.  We recovered our luggage from Jamie in Madrid who kept watch over it for nearly two months, and now we have more stuff than we know what to do with. Getting dressed in real clothes is still a struggle!   

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We are now in beautiful Salamanca, a pit stop on the way to Portugal to visit Jen’s host mom Espe.  This is Jen’s favorite city so I’ll stop here and leave the blogging of this leg of the journey to her.

Camino Days 26-39: León, Hospital de Óribigo, Astorga, Foncebadón, Molinaseca, Pieros, Herrerías, Viduedo, Sarria, Portomarín, Palas de Rei

I’m sorry for the delay in posting but we have been walking for 9 days straight without stopping which hasn’t left much time for anything, let alone writing! Hopefully you all caught the joke from Grace’s last post… and scrolled down! If you didn’t you should because you are missing a lot of Camino information.

Grace mentioned briefly that we took the bus into León, which we did. And so did a bunch of other pilgrims. We didn’t feel bad about it when we did it and we don’t feel bad about it now!

To go forward I need to take you back briefly to when Grace and I were in Agés and really struggling with the Camino. At the time, my mom and step-dad dangled this big, fat, juicy, Bugs Bunny sized carrot in front of us. My mom emailed and said, “Remember that luxurious hotel that Martin Sheen stayed in with his friends in The Way? Well, if you two can make it to León we will put you up for two nights in that hotel.” Our response was, “Oh, we will GET to León!” This happened before we arrived in Burgos and at the time León was more than 8 days away.

We began planning to see when we would arrive and we knew that we needed to arrive during the week because the weekend rate was ridiculous. We walked three long days (in the rain) before taking the bus into León, and by long days I mean 27 plus km. Taking the bus into and out of León is the only bone that John Brierley throws you in his guidebook and we thought it was a good recommendation. Heading into León the trail runs mostly along the highway and then through the suburbs which are somewhat run-down. Spain has yet to recover from the economic crash which is visible in the fact that entire villages in Spain are up for sale, if you feel so inclined.

Speaking of bones being thrown, the Parador San Marcos is the only bone that Martin Sheen has thrown me on the Camino and I caught that hook, line, and sinker! It was a truly magical experience and one that deserves a post of it’s own, so keep your eyes open for a post specifically about our stay at the Parador.

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We also wanted to get to León when we did because we knew we would get a chance to see Deb and Martin again. We love them! We actually ran into them at Valor because we all had churros on the brain! We were able to spend most of the afternoon with them as well as have dinner together. They will also be waiting for us in Santiago!

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At some point in the day we were also able to stop by the Cathedral to take a look.

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Two other amazing things happened while in León: we discovered the name of the pastry that Grace gushed over in Nerja (pepito) and we got Thai massages (per Deb’s suggestion), complete with a woman crawling on top of us and using her body weight to straighten out our broken bodies.

We woke up after our second night in León, looked at each other, and both admitted that neither of us really wanted to walk. The Parador was so nice and the sheets smelled so good that we didn’t want to leave. But we did. We taxied 7 km to get outside of the city and then tacked on another 26 of walking to get to Hospital del Órbigo. The weather was nice and we arrived at a beautiful albergue called San Miguel where we settled in for the evening.

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Before going to sleep I noticed that I was feeling more on edge than usual because my throat was really starting to hurt. I barely slept because I felt terrible and when I woke up the next morning I knew I was sick. Grace could tell by looking at me that I didn’t feel well and that I hadn’t slept so we had to reevaluate. We had planned to walk more than 25 km that day but I knew I wouldn’t be able to go that far. Astorga was the next logical option because it was only 17 km away but we couldn’t find a place to stay. At this point it was getting late (as far as leaving was concerned) and I was on the verge of tears. The owners of San Miguel, Piera and Arturo, told us to stay with them another night, recover, relax, and leave the next day. And that’s exactly what we did. It was an emotional decision because it’s hard to stay put when you aren’t planning to, especially after only walking one day coming off of a rest day, and I obviously wasn’t planning on getting sick. Piera and Arturo gave us our own room for the night and we were able to get to the grocery store and the pharmacy before everything closed for the weekend and for the national holiday the following Monday. The owners, former pilgrims, are from Venezuela and sold everything they owned to buy the albergue in Hospital and start a new life in Spain. Arturo shared their story with us, which was both sad and exciting, but he and Piera are happier and safer living in Spain and they are doing an amazing job of running their albergue. If you are planning a Camino, we recommend that you stop there.

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I had chosen San Miguel originally because they give you free art supplies and let you paint and draw and then they hang the paintings all over the albergue. Gobs of pilgrims come through and get their art on. We arrived late the previous day so we didn’t have time to paint which was a bummer, but because we had an unexpected rest day, Grace and I were able to do a painting together. We also cooked lunch and dinner and met Liam, a 39 year old Irishman, who we invited to have dinner with us that evening. Liam then became our walking buddy for the next 9 days straight. We also met Maddie, another Canadian, and Felipe, a Brazilian walking the Camino while simultaneously making a documentary. Maddie gave us her last packets of Emergen-C and some oregano oil pills to help boost our immune systems. We have run into them a couple of times since then and we are always so happy to see them!

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We set out the next morning for Astorga, with Liam, and in the rain, knowing that we only had 17 km to go which is an extremely short day for us. While en route we came across Nancy again! Nancy is the Humanitarian from Toronto that we had met a while back. We all arrived in Astorga together, had dinner that evening, and decided that we wanted to continue walking together. Astorga is a relatively big town with things to do but we aren’t tourists. I would love to tell you that Grace and I have been visiting all of the cool sites but there isn’t time for that! And let’s be honest, usually there aren’t sites. Also, the last thing we want to do when we arrive somewhere is be on our feet!

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The four of us set out the following morning, in the rain again, for Foncebadón. Nancy planned to stop in Rabanal, 5 km before us, but we wanted to keep walking together. Rain makes for very long days. Walking 25 km takes time as it is, but when you add in adverse weather conditions it can make the days seem endless. We arrived in Rabanal and decided to have lunch with Nancy before continuing. We were exhausted. I was still under the weather and we were cold and wet. The reason Foncebadón was our destination was because we were climbing a mountain the following day and Foncebadón put us part of the way up the mountain which, in theory, would make the climb the following morning not as strenuous. We left Nancy, put our ponchos back on, and started our climb.

Rabanal was this cute little town and we had contemplated stopping but we sent Grace’s backpack to Foncebadón so we had to get there. We knew we would be thankful the next morning for covering another 5 km. We arrived in Foncebadón and immediately wished we had stopped in Rabanal. The town was dirty and run down and we basically walked into the albergue, picked up Grace’s backpack, and walked out. I called the place that Nancy was staying and they happened to have a triple room available so they sent a taxi for us and we went backwards for the night. We were happy to have a clean place to sleep and to be back with Nancy because we had a lovely dinner and the owner of the bar gave us shots on the house after our meal. They tasted like fingernail polish remover but I’m pretty sure it burned all of the nasty germs in my throat on the way down so it was worth it.

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Grace also scared the shit out of me by falling down the stairs at the Posada where we were staying. When you are tired and fatigued your body doesn’t function the way it would normally and Grace seemed to be having trouble with her feet that night. She was taking the laundry downstairs when I heard this loud crash and I knew what had happened before I heard her crying so I went sprinting from the room without my shoes on and down the stairs. She rolled her foot, which probably scared her more than anything else because she felt like we were so close to being done with the Camino, and the idea of not being able to finish was terrifying. The owners were so nice and gave us ice right away and we got her foot elevated. Grace has had problems with her feet since the second day of walking so this was the icing on the cake. It is still bruised from the fall and we have since purchased an ankle wrap but she has powered through the pain every day. As someone who hasn’t struggled very much physically in comparison to other pilgrims, it’s been an incredible experience to watch Grace become stronger every day. No matter what hurts, she puts her shoes on every morning and walks as far as we need to. She deserves an award.

Nancy left before us the next morning as we taxied back to Foncebadón (as if we were going to walk an extra 5 km after we already walked them) and continued heading up the mountain. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, and this was the day we were going to pass the Iron Cross. When we started in St. Jean I wasn’t sure that we would be able to make it to the Cruz de Ferro. Grace and I had been carrying rocks in our packs since day one with the specific intention of placing them at the foot of the Iron Cross. Placing rocks at the Iron Cross is one of the oldest pilgrim traditions on the Camino. They can symbolize many different things; leaving behind your sins, thanking St. James for your safe arrival, asking for protection as you continue your journey, or letting go of something that has burdened you. It can really symbolize anything you want.

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I had expected this day to be emotional because I knew how important it was to my mom that we get to the Iron Cross. I carried a rock for her that she brought from Arizona. I also had a rock for my friend Danee and one for myself that I carried from our beach trip to Nerja, and one for my grandmother who passed away a year ago. I placed all three rocks at the foot of the cross while saying a prayer. The fourth rock, the one for my Nonni, I will carry to the feet of St. James in Santiago. Grace carried 6 rocks. Five of which she left at the Iron Cross and one of which she will also carry past Santiago, to Finisterre, the once believed “end of the world”. Nancy caught up with us right before we got to the cross which was perfect timing. We continued together all the way to Molinaseca, seeing amazing views along the way.

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We had originally planned to take a rest day in Molinaseca but we enjoyed walking with Liam and Nancy so much that we decided to keep going. Thinking in the back of our minds that if we could really power through we might still be able to arrive on the 23rd (a little unsure because of our unexpected sick/rest day) and maybe even take our last rest day on my birthday!

After Molinaseca came Pieros – tiny town, population -5. We walked through Ponferrada that day and it felt like we never left. We were on paved roads the entire time, which is really terrible for your feet, passing from town to town and feeling like we were never going to arrive. Also, our calves burned like crazy from crossing the mountain the day before and we were all limping around. We dropped Nancy off in Cacabelos and continued onto Pieros. I was a little nervous about this albergue because it was the only one in town and it was a little on the hippy side… but once we arrived we really enjoyed it. It was called El Serbal y la Luna and they served a vegetarian meal for dinner and also had a meditation room upstairs for those who felt like doing some extra mental work. For dinner we had fresh roasted red peppers with boiled eggs, couscous with nuts and vegetables, and for dessert, oranges with brown sugar, cinnamon, and honey. It was amazing because the food was amazing. And also because it wasn’t cheese, ham, paella, or chicken!

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We had dinner with the cooks of our lovely meal because there weren’t many people staying in our albergue that night and only the three of us decided to opt in for dinner. Two of the cooks were young women, one from Russia and one from Denmark, who were volunteering at the albergue. They don’t get paid but they sleep and eat for free in exchange for running the show while the owner is away. Both girls had been there 16 days and had each done a portion of the Camino previously. Liam made a fire which was the only way to dry our clothes and it also made the albergue nice and cozy.

Nancy left earlier the next morning and picked us up on the way as we continued onto Herrerías. This was our second day in a row of walking on asphalt and we could feel it. It was also our last night in Castilla y León! We had another long day of 27 plus km because we were trying to cover as much ground as possible while the weather was nice. Again, we dropped Nancy off and went another 7 km farther, stopping at the base of what would be our final mountain, O’Cebreiro. Herrerías was nice and we stayed at a super clean casa rural for the night. We were all exhausted and went to bed early (the usual).

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We were up and out the next morning ready to tackle our last major climb with our destination being Viduedo. We crossed over into Galicia shortly before reaching the top of the mountain – what a glorious feeling! We only went 22 km but because of the ascent it felt like 26. We were so happy when we arrived in Viduedo, but our accommodations weren’t what we were expecting. Viduedo is so small and there are only two places to stay in the town – both of which are casas rurales. We chose a 600 year old house, based on reviews, and let me tell you, it smelled like a 600 year old house. Hot water came out as a trickle, everything smelled like mildew, including our bedroom, and it was freezing. However, we met up again with Julie (the massage therapist) and her crew and we all enjoyed an incredible meal together at the house. The wonderful woman that runs it, Celia, fed us beef and eggs from her backyard (as in still mooing the day before), and for breakfast we had bread, cheese, and butter (among other things) all made in house. Amazing! That stay was an experience, but not one that we plan on repeating.

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Next up, Sarria. Sarria is one of the most, if not the most popular starting point for pilgrims on the Camino Francés. It’s a mere 115 km from Santiago (5 days of walking) and since you only need to walk the last 100 km to get your Compostela, most people choose to start their Camino in Sarria. My mom reminded us not to judge those that were starting in Sarria because she might be one of those people some day! We try really hard not to judge other people or how they do their Camino because it’s different for everyone. And we certainly wouldn’t want anyone judging us. We have had people judge us for taking rest days or for not staying in the municipal albergues in every town and it doesn’t feel good. That’s why we try not to judge other people because we don’t have any idea what they are experiencing, just like they don’t know exactly what our Camino has been like. We stayed in a really great albergue where we happened to meet three women who were going to start their Camino the following morning. We tried to give them some advice while at the same time trying not to overwhelm them with information!

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Nancy and Liam were still with us! We had a lovely family dinner at an amazing Italian restaurant. The pizza was so good – a little variety!

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We saw gaggles of people on the trail the next day. I mean tons! We had suspected that the number of people would increase once we reached Sarria and it did. The increase in number didn’t bother me until we ran into a group of middle schools boys on a field trip. It’s common for schools in Spain to take the kids on excursions on the Camino. I don’t know how they do it and there weren’t enough adults for the number of kids, but either way, adolescent boys aren’t my favorite. They heard us speaking English and were betting each other 5 euros to see if someone would say something in English to us. It was harmless, and obviously not knowing that I’m fluent, I said “C’mon boys, nobody wants 5 euros! Say something in English!” They were shocked that I could speak Spanish and shyly asked me how to say “Buen Camino” in English. Running into the school group prompted the fastest walking that we had done in over a week. We hauled ass to stay ahead of them which gave us an early arrival into Portomarín.

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By this point, we were really exhausted and pretty much every body part hurt! We did nothing except lay around all afternoon, meet up with Nancy and Liam for dinner, and go to bed. I’m sure Portomarín is really nice but we didn’t see much of it! We all had breakfast the next morning before heading for Palas de Rei. Our 9th day straight of walking and our last day of walking before taking our coveted rest day! It rained the entire day and we were cold and wet from start to finish. Our feet were soggy and literally falling apart by the time we arrived.

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We had our final dinner with Liam and Nancy last night as they are both continuing on today while Grace and I rest. We are planning to meet up with them again in Santiago and will take the bus to Finisterre together. Grace and I fell in love with the number 23 and are happy about our arrival on an odd day!

Having a birthday on the Camino is a different experience. My birthday wish was to not walk and my sister surprised me (us) with a private room for two nights! Best birthday gift ever! We covered a lot of ground over the last 9 days and we are now only 3 days away from Santiago. We will arrive on Friday. It doesn’t seem real. I’m not sure that I will believe it until the damn Cathedral is at my feet.

Camino Days 17-25: Burgos, Hornillos, Castrojeriz, Frómista, Carrión, Terradillos, Bercianos, Mansilla

Well, we decided to throw in the towel.  This whole Camino business just isn’t worth it.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just kidding!  It’s still tough in many ways, but this trip has definitely been fulfilling. This is a fairly long post so you might want to grab a café con leche and get comfortable.  

It’s been almost 4 weeks on the Camino and we finally have a routine down.  It goes something like this.  Wake up at 6am.  Brush teeth, get dressed, dress blisters, grease feet, put socks and shoes on, roll up sleeping bags, pack bags, eat breakfast, hit the road somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk. Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Stop at the first village we see and have coffee.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk. Walk.  Walk.  Stop at the second or third village to have lunch.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk. Walk.  Walk.  Is that the village we are walking to off in the far distance?  Walk Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk.  Walk. Walk through the town to find our albergue.  Check in and pay.  Shower.  Do laundry.  Get our feet up.  Ice feet if possible.  Write notes for the blog.  Strategize for the next day.  Fold laundry.  Pack bags. Cook.  Eat.  Treat blisters.  Go to bed. Repeat.

Meeting the awesome people happens multiple times a day somewhere in between these steps.  That’s our favorite part!  Hard to believe one of those other things on our daily to-do list isn’t our favorite, right?  We are meeting amazing people every day from all over the world.  It reminds us how good people are, how the world really is becoming a better, more enlightened place, and how, despite differences, people will help each other and work together towards a common goal.  The guide book we are using says that meeting and connecting with people is a holy experience and we have really taken this to heart.  The people we meet are what is getting us to the end.

Our bodies are feeling a lot better but not quite 100% yet.  I’m not sure I will ever feel 100% until we get to Santiago and rest for a few days, but that’s ok.  I have been thinking a lot during our walks about the pain and how so many times in life people, when faced with an uncomfortable or distressing situation, try to get out of it so quickly.  Most of us are so fortunate to be able to live so comfortably.  In an effort to make the best of the situation I’m trying to see the pain as an exercise in endurance and self-love.  When I walk I try to focus on what does feel good.  Karen, a woman I met a few days ago, asked if I had thanked my body for getting me this far.  Honestly, it hadn’t even crossed my mind, but in an effort to be more positive I have thanked my body and specific areas of my body several times over.  When something is hurting I simply try to send that area some love.  

So how exactly are our bodies doing?  My ankles are just starting to look normal again, although still a bit puffy.  They have been swollen since day 2 and I have tried so many things to try to help keep the swelling down.  I think the combination of stretching, icing, massaging surrounding muscles, popping pain relievers, and wearing compression socks has been what has helped the most.  My achilles tendons were really angry with me for awhile, but wearing heal supports and stretching and massaging my calves seem to have helped that issue.  We met a massage therapist named Julie, from Chicago, who had some great tips.  Thanks Julie!  Blisters haven’t been much of an issue.  Greasing our feet with vaseline or Vick’s Vapor Rub before we put our socks on really cuts down on the friction. When we get the occasional blister we thread it at night and dress it in the morning.  I have recently developed a shin splint in one leg.  Fortunately I have discovered the medicine of the God’s.  Ibuprofen cream.  Yes, you read it right.  It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but I had never heard of this miracle worker until I came to Spain.  We are trying it on all of our aches and pains.  I know it’s not treating the origin of the pain, but at least it’s making the walking bearable.  

Here is where I will knock on wood.

I know, it sounds like I’m falling apart.  Believe me, I have moments (usually while walking) where I really think I am and I’m worried my body will never forgive me. When I’m thinking rationally (usually while lying in bed) I realize that it’s just my body adjusting and working out the kinks.  I’m grateful for the chance to be more aware of my body and how it responds to stress.  When I get home, you can bet I’m going to work on strengthening these areas.  I never want to feel like this again!  It’s not just me though.  Most pilgrims started to fall apart somewhere between the first and second week.  Everyone has a small pharmacy in their backpack and we are all vigilant about helping each other out if we think we have something that will help.

And Jen?  Her body is a strong fortress built up by years and years of basketball playing.  Every once in awhile something pains her, like a blister.  Recently, a big knot has formed under her shoulder blade.  We suspect it is from her fall on our first day.  We have been putting ibuprofen cream on it and I’ve tried doing some pressure point release on it.  The thing is like steel.  We have vowed to get massages once we get to Santiago.  

So now, let me catch you up on days 17-24.

We spent a day in Burgos to recuperate but ended up being on our feet almost as much as if we had walked a stage of the trail.  We had several errands to run, which included eating breakfast, going to the pharmacy, stopping by the cell phone store, eating lunch, dropping off laundry, eating churros, visiting the Cathedral, going to the sporting goods store, eating dinner, and picking up our laundry.  Such a hard life!

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Lucky for us Héctor was still in Burgos.  Héctor, who loves (and knows) good food, took us to a great place for lunch.  While at this restaurant I discovered something called a buñuelo, with a round shell of fried dough, and a spicy meat center.  OMG!  After lunch we wandered around the neighborhood for awhile looking for an ice cream shop, but had no luck.  Even in a bigger city like Burgos, siesta is still being observed.  Then we had the best idea!  Let’s have churros!  We still have yet to find the perfect chocolate dipping sauce (our Spanish food expert, Jen, said this one wasn’t thick enough) but they were still really good!

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After having our treat Jen and I headed to the Cathedral.  Construction on the Burgos Cathedral began in 1221 and was in use 9 years later, although construction continued into the 16th century.  It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.  In 1919 Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as “El Cid”, and his wife, were buried here.  

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We also saw a Da Vinci!  This is his Mary Magdalene.  

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And a bible from 960 A.D.

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After making a trip to Decathlon to buy some warmer clothes we headed back to Rimbombín to have dinner with Deb, Martin and some of their Camino friends.  I took this opportunity to have another mini cheeseburger (or two!) and a buñuelo, among other delicious tapas.  We keep meaning to take pictures of our food but by the time we remember it’s gone.  Whoops!  We met more wonderful people but unfortunately had to eat and run because our laundry was ready at 7:30, the laundrette closed at 8:00 and we had to have our clothes as we would be leaving early the next morning.  It’s not unheard of for pilgrims to rearrange their whole day’s schedule just to get some laundry done.  Two pairs of clothes people!  I’m pretty sure we will need to burn these shirts once we get to the end. Pew!

We struggled to get out of bed the next day.  Remember when you were a child and you were so excited to go back to school on the first day after summer break and then after a week your parents are practically dragging you off the bed by your leg?  That’s what’s it’s been like for us and getting out of bed lately, and it’s harder when we have our own room.  There is no one else in the room making noises, shaking the bed, rattling around in their backpacks, blowing their noses, playing annoying music, shining flashlights in your face…It’s dark, and quiet, and warm and “Please, just five more minutes mom!”  

So, it’s not surprising that we were late to get started.  Well, later than our usual 7:30.  But, like so many things on the Camino, it was meant to be, because once we were on the road we ran into our friend Teri, who we hadn’t seen since Viana, which was ages ago!  She had taken a few rest days in Burgos after some foot and leg ailments.  We were able to catch up with her while walking a bit of the trail.

We have now entered the meseta, the plateau in the heart of Spain, with many open fields and flat expanses of land.  Many people dread this portion of the Camino, thinking it will be boring, but almost everyone we have talked to says they are enjoying the change in scenery and the simple beauty of the meseta.  It is said that the first third of the Camino is physical, the second third emotional, and the third spiritual.  Some say the meseta, because of its lack of things to look at while walking, forces one to look inward, contributing to the emotional third.  

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In Hornillos there was no place available to stay with a kitchen so we had a pilgrim dinner at the albergue we stayed in.  The husband and wife who run this albergue are so sweet and accommodating and cook a meal every evening for any pilgrims needing dinner for 10 euros.  Jen and I share a meal whenever we can, not only because it saves money, but also because we can’t eat that much in one sitting! We had bread, salad, paella, wine and an amazing lemon mousse for dessert.  It was an international affair.  Americans, Italians, French, and Irish were all at the table together enjoying the food and conversation.  That night we had our first experience with a sleep talker/laugher.  Oh the joys of the Camino!  Yes, we wear earplugs, but they only tune out so much.  

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Next, we were on our way to Castrojeriz.  We saw some beautiful views on our walk that morning.

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We also saw for the second time a person journeying with their dog (some albergues allow dogs), and for the first time a child on the Camino (with their parents of course!).   The distant view of Castrojeriz was magical.  The town is built around a large hill, and at the top of the hill are the ruins of a fortress.  The only thing missing was a dragon, guarding its turf.

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We stayed in an albergue called Ultreia, which was highly recommended.  There are a lot of people in a room, but they have very clean facilities, a cold foot bath on the beautiful rooftop terrace and two very hospitable hosts who take a lot of pride in what they do.  This was the first place that we experienced push faucet showers.  You know, like in gas stations where you push the faucet and you get 20 seconds of water. We had heard about them but in our minds were just a myth.  No biggie.  We would take those any day as long as the shower was clean.  

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While hanging out at the foot pool we met Kim and Astaria and we all decided to head to the Pilgrim Hospital, per Rich and Karen’s recommendation.  This is not a hospital for a pilgrim’s physical body but for the soul. The Hospital del Alma is a house turned permanent exhibition of large beautiful photographs of the Camino done by Nia Peiro and Mau Mariani, accompanied by inspirational quotes fitting of the Camino journey.  Mau calls himself an eternal pilgrim and lives in the house, living quietly in the space as people wander through it.  There is no cost to enter, donation only, but there are two rules: silence and no photo taking.  The whole house is dedicated to the exhibition and the back patio has two meditation rooms, two chapels that are in small caves as well as a seating area for silent reflection.  The photographs and quotes are only one aspect of the Hospital del Alma.  The most interesting thing about this place was all of the folk art like items that had been added and created over the years.  Some of these things included old apothecary bottles and bones from the house’s previous life as an actual pilgrim hospital.  The visit to this special place was needed.  The quotes instilled in us an extra jolt of fortitude to continue our journey.

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That evening we enjoyed another pilgrim meal cooked by the albergue hosts at another large table seated by international guests.  The albergue used to be a bodega which used to be a tunnel under the city that led to and away from the fortress.  The owner of the albergue took great pride in giving us a presentation about the former bodega and then gave us a tour of the underground tunnel.  Jen translated everything he said from Spanish into English for everyone.  She did such a good job!  Then we got to try some wine!

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From Castrojeriz we headed to Frómista.  We were able to witness another spectacular sunrise as we climbed over a large hill.  

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In  Frómista we stayed in another Casa Rural.  Again, no one else would be staying at this place so we got the whole apartment floor to ourselves.  We did our laundry, cooked dinner, and that was basically our entire evening.  Look how good this spread looks!  Unfortunately we couldn’t find the dishes so we ate the soup out of the pot and used some paper plates we had on hand for the salad.  The next morning we discovered that the dishes were not in the kitchen but in the dining room cabinet, which apparently is typical in Spain.  Whoops!

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On our way to Carrión the next day we walked most of the way with Karen and Rich, who we had met two nights before at the albergue in Castrojeriz.  Karen and Rich are from Oklahoma City and have done the Camino before.  They believe in the power of the universe and positive thinking.  Jen and I both feel like we met these two at the right time.  They were able to help us through some of our Camino struggles and were very non-judgemental.  When we reached Villalcázar we stopped for lunch at this great restaurant that served us potato salad and ratatouille.  What?  No, tortilla?  No, ham and cheese?  This is luxury people!  Next door we peeked inside an interesting looking building that we discovered was at one time used to breed doves, called a palomera in Spanish.  They would put food in the little coves to attract the doves.  The doves would make their nests in the coves and once the eggs were laid people would collect them for food.  

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We then visited the church after an older local lady scolded us for passing by “the most beautiful church on the Camino” (which is what every local in every town says).  We always find the churches beautiful, each having it’s own unique style and flair.  This templar church, Santa María la Virgen Blanca, houses the tombs of nobles and royalty and is known for its retablo of the life of St. James, whose remains are in the Cathedral in Santiago.  We lit some candles for loved ones and continued on to Carrión de los Condes.  

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We bumped into Teri again who had a great story to tell.  That morning, after walking from Frómista to the next town she realized she had grabbed the wrong hiking pole.  After going back and forth in her mind about what to do she finally decided she should go back 3 km to Frómista and return the pole.  She found the rightful owner and it all worked out, but it was hard on her knee which she had been having trouble with.  When she made it back to the next town she bumped into Glen and Lori, who heard her mention that she was having issues with her knee, and fixed her up with some athletic tape.  Apparently, it worked like magic because she was able to walk the next 20 km with little pain.  She said if she hadn’t begrudgingly returned the hiking pole her miracle would have never happened.  Camino magic people.  It happens!

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We would be taking a rest day in Carrión and because we couldn’t find a private room we decided to splurge and stay in the monastery turned hotel, San Zoilo.

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We had dinner with Teri, after which we said what we believed would be our final goodbye to her.  She had decided to take a bus to León because she was running out of time to finish the Camino in Santiago.  She admitted to us that she will miss seeing us along the way because when she saw us it “felt like home”.  We agree, and will really miss her too.  Buen Camino, Teri!  

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Our rest day in Carrión was much more restful than our rest day in Burgos.  Not much to mention aside from icing my shin three times, per Karen’s orders.  We explored the hotel a little bit, and wandered into cloister, which led us into the church.  We also discovered a copy of the first ever guidebook to the Camino de Santiago!

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The next day we headed out in what we knew would be rainy weather.  The first town after Carrión wouldn’t appear for 17 km, which made for a long haul.  It’s basically impossible to stop out in the open when it’s raining.  Imagine trying to squat behind a bush to pee with a poncho and pack on.  Nope!  

We did however, meet more amazing folks.  Nancy is a humanitarian worker from Toronto who recently left Afghanistan where she was working for Doctor’s Without Borders.  You may have seen in the news recently that a Doctor’s Without Border’s hospital was bombed by American troops.  It happened to be the same hospital where Nancy had been just a few weeks before and she sadly told us that many of her friends and coworkers lost their lives.  It’s hard hearing about these world tragedies while on the Camino.  Being on the Camino is like living in a bubble.  A bubble of self-reflection, camaraderie and support.  It makes these events all the more tragic for us.  We really enjoyed walking with Nancy and we hope to see her again along the way.

We also met Tom and Roy, two brothers walking the Camino together.  Roy has already walked the Camino 3 times and thought the last time would be his, well, last time. Little did he know that his brother Tom would convince him to do it one more time with him.  Roy had done three different routes and this is his second time walking the Camino Francés.  Roy told us that the Camino had taught him to be more present in everyday moments, and that it was a hard lesson to learn, but one that he is still grateful for every day.

We then ran into Richard, a friend of Deb and Martin’s who we met in Burgos at dinner.  He told us about his amazing daughter who started a NGO in India when she was still in college.  Infact, she convinced the Dean of her school to allow her to transfer her scholarship money to study in India full time.  She also used some of her personal money to finance her NGO, which helps children living on the streets rise above their circumstances.  It’s an amazing organization!  Check it out here.  

In the first town we came to there was only one bar, which was packed with pilgrims trying to get out of the rain.  We sat for a good 30 minutes, each having tortilla and bread and warming up.  We walked the rest of the way to Terradillos and came upon this lovely sight.

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This albergue has only been open for a year, which means it is clean, modern and well thought out.  They have a large facility, which is very well maintained, and the staff are so friendly and helpful.  All the pilgrims were so thankful to be out of the weather and in this wonderful place, which we nicknamed “the palace”.  

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Jen and I would be sharing a four person room with Keri and Greg, a married couple from Australia, who were so much fun to room with!  This was their first day of rain (lucky right?!) and Keri had realized that her clothes weren’t as waterproof as she would like.  So with some plastic bags and our tie-dye duct tape she spent some time that evening fashioning some waterproof clothing. Very fashionable Keri!

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That evening we had dinner with Phyllis and Bob, a retired couple from California. Phyllis and Bob enjoyed the rain that day not only because they are originally from Oregon, but because as Californians, they see rain as life.  It was good for us to be reminded that it’s not all about us and our discomfort.  That if we change our perspective the rain can be seen as a positive thing.  And it was so easy to change our perspective as we sat inside in the warm and cozy albergue instead of being outside in the wind and rain.

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The next day we woke to howling wind.  Jen and I became known as the weather girls because we seemed to be the only people checking the weather forecasts. The weather forecasts here in Spain are fickle.  One moment it will say 60% rain but when you check it 5 minutes later it might say there won’t be any rain at all. Yet, when you look out the window it will be pouring.  So it is very hard to know what to expect when the forecast mentions a chance of rain.  I guess it’s not so hard to understand why people don’t bother looking at the forecasts. We decided we will just expect the rain, no matter the percentage, and if it doesn’t rain we can be pleasantly surprised rather than getting our hopes up.

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We waited til it was light out to leave that day for Bercianos.  Putting the rain and wind together made for a pretty miserable walk.   It’s a fine line between positioning the hood far enough forward to keep the rain off our face and positioning it far enough back to be able to see.  Usually it works out that our heads are down and the hoods are so far forward that we can only see what is 2 feet in front of us.  It makes the walking drag on and on when all you see is rocks for hours on end.  When we arrived in Sahagun it was time for lunch, so we rewarded all of our hard work by splitting a ham and goat cheese pizza.  It’s tough to find a pizza on the Camino that isn’t frozen and over priced, but Jen made sure it was “casera” (handmade), before ordering, and handmade it was!  YUM!

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The rest of our walk was incredibly windy.  So windy that there were moments where we had to stop walking completely to find our balance.  

We made it to our albergue in Bercianos very worn out.  We felt a little sea sick from the wind whipping us around so much.  It started raining again after we arrived, but fortunately we had an instant soup packet on hand and didn’t need to leave the albergue for dinner.  We went to bed early, and slept hard.

We woke up to this.

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We took our time getting ready, trying to wait it out.  And it worked!  The rain eventually stopped and we were able to walk a considerable distance that day without our ponchos.  It was still windy, but without the rain it was manageable. Look how fast the clouds were moving!

We ate breakfast at a cute little restaurant in El Burgo Ranero, a little town along that way.  The owner was very proud of it and talked to us about how he and his wife had fixed it up, using tiles from the original home and keeping much of the original adobe.

After more walking we eventually came upon these clouds in the far distance.

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And a rainbow!  Can you see it?

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And these new friends! Julia and Gerard had been walking together for a few days but did not come to the Camino together. We had seen Julia here and there along the way because she had started a couple of days earlier than we had and was also taking her time. Unfortunately we did get rained on again but for only for 15 minutes.  Whew!

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In Mansilla we stayed at Albergue Gaia, an albergue that has only been open since July. The owners had done the Camino before so they knew what it was like to be a pilgrim and what amenities pilgrims would appreciate. They had an excellent facility!  We made dinner that night with Gerard (anyone surprised by pasta?) and shared three pastries for dessert that Gerard bought from the local panadería.

We had decided a few days prior that we would take the bus into León. The path that day would be all along the highway.  It would be ugly and not as safe.  Our guidebook had recommended it. Plus, it would give us two full days to rest in León to nurse some new blisters we had gotten from the last few wet days. Do we feel bad about taking a bus?  No.  Back in the day people rode horses to make the pilgrimage (and still do). When nobility made the pilgrimage they had their servants carry them the whole way.  The only other time we plan to take the bus is to get out of León, after our rest day. We have made it a point not to judge others on how they do their Camino and we came to the conclusion that we would not judge ourselves either. We’ll talk more about this topic in another post.

So we have a surprise for you.  Remember how four weeks ago when we started the Camino we had 818 km to walk to get to Santiago?  Well, now we have 328 km to go.  Do you see that?  Has it hit you?  If it hasn’t I will spell it out for you. We are over halfway there!!  Can you believe it?  We can and can’t.  St. Jean seems like forever ago.  The days blend together and we have a hard time remembering which town came after which without looking in the guidebook.  We think we have about 13 days of walking left on the Camino with a few rest days in there somewhere.  Our projected end date is October 23rd, one day before we originally planned to finish.  How we are finishing a day earlier than we originally expected boggles our minds, but we’ll take it!  Santiago still seems like a long way away though, so continue to keep us in your thoughts.