If you ever opt to book a hostal in Madrid, here´s how to get to your hostal: First, follow your directions to where you understand your hostal to be located. When you get to the correct address, you´ll most likely be at a big wooden door next to which are four or five door bells, one for each floor of the building, and one of which will have the name of your hostal written next to it. Ring that bell, tell whoever answers the intercom what you want, and then you´ll be buzzed in. Next, take the elevator or climb the kind-of-but-not-quite-as-Hogwartsy--as-the-one-in-Santiago staircase to your floor where you´ll see another door. Ring the bell for that door, too, and the hospitaliero of your hostal will greet you with a big smile and welcome you into the hostal lobby, check you in at the desk, and give you the key to your room and all the other doors that you need to get through.. Then he or she will point you down a hallway that will look just like a hotel hallway, to your room, which will look just like a hotel room. And that´s how it´s done! In other words, a hostal is just like a mini-hotel all on one floor but where you first have to go through a bunch of doors to get there. And, just as there are hotels and there are hotels, I imagine there are hostals and there are hostals, but ours, the THC Bergantin Hostal, for which we´re paying 45 euros per night, is a modern, very attractive place with friendly, helpful hospitlieros. As soon as we´d checked in we were given a map of Old Madrid (the area we´re staying in) and the hospitaliero asked us if we had any plans for the rest of the day or if we´d like him to help us plan something to do or somewhere to go. So, even though we were a little freaked by the modus operandi of getting up to the hostal (though we shouldn´t have been, considering the resemblance to the M.O. of getting up to our pension in Santiago!) we really like the place and now consider ourselves old hands at hostaling! Anyway, since we only had one day in Madrid we figured we might as spend it looking around Old Madrid, so we did spend our day in that way. The highlight of our day in Madrid has been our tour of the Palacio Real - the Royal Palace, The Palacio Real is immense, incredible, indescriblable (though I will say there seemed to be a room, salon, or hall for about every color of the rainbow!) and all I could keep imagining was the king waking up every morning, looking out over the two-story staircase of the grand entrance hallway and thinking, "Dang, I´m good!" But now that our day is almost over I think I´m going to change my mind and say that the real highlight of our visit to Madrid has been the people of Madrid, who´ve been as friendly and helpful as all the rest of the people we´ve met everywhere in this beautiful country. From the first day of our arrival in Spain to this our last, it´s been about the people. Every experience in life is about the people, always about the people. May every day of your life be crossed by at least one kind, wonderful person. Good-bye and love, Patti 8)
On Saturday morning when we entered Old Santiago I was fighting a sinus infection; by late Saturday afternoon I´d lost a major battle. That evening Julia, our hospitaliera, pointed us towards a restaurant called Manolo´s, a hangout for those pilgrims - though I guess technically we weren´t really pilgrims anymore, since we´d graduated from the Camnio and received our compostelas - who were still jonesing for our 9.50 euro pilgrim meal, and Manolo´s was the only place in Santiago that still served a pilgrim meal,in fact that´s all Manolo serves, so at Manolo´s it´s a 9.50 three-course pilgrim meal or nada. But I was feeling so sick that I could only force down a few spoonfuls of my first course, lentil soup (Tom had the salad) and just pushed my second course, a salad, around on my plate while Tom tried to eat his mounds of steak and fries in misery from watching me be miserable. After his second course Tom galantly insisted that we leave (without dessert!) and after he´d paid our waitress she realized that we hadn´t had our dessert, and I was afraid we were about to cause an international incident from trying top leave before eating our dessert! Our waitrerss had to call someone else over (maybe it was Manolo himself!) to figure what to do about a case of pilgrims who paid for,but wouldn´t eat, their dessert. The other staff gathered around, even the pilgrim customers were trying to figure what thje fuss was about, and I felt as if I were before the Spanish Inquisition: first I didn´t eat any of my dinner, now I didn´t want the dessert, what was wrong? Didn´t like the food? I assured them that their food was "muy rico" (delicious), but I was sick and needed to go to bed. Their frowns changed to sympathetic smiles and we were allowed to leave without the Guardia Civil being called to arrest us for failure to clean our plates! (All right, a bit of creative hyperbole there, but that´s more or less how it went down!). So we went back to Julia´s pension, I fell into bed, and, amazingly, by the time I woke up the next morning I´d made a miraculous recovery, feeling about 85% better and ready to take on a toasted baquette and some tea, after which I was up to a good 90%. It was Sunday, so we went to the noon pilgrim mass at the Cathedral de Santiago where we got to see the swinging of the Botafumeiro,the giant incense burner that normally hangs above the altar area by a thick rope attached to a pulley in the ceiling. I took six attendants to maneuver the incense burner down from the ceiling then push it with enough propulsion to get it swinging high above the congregation, from ceiling to ceiling, filling the cathedral with incense. It was an amazing sight! High up at the top of a ledge close to the ceiling were about a dozen statues of angels holding hoses which also emitted incense. The original purpose of the Botafumeiro was to fumigate the sweaty, stinky, unwashed pilgrims in their sweaty, stinky, unwashed clothes. Bernard, the retired Marseillais policeman with whom we shared dinner one evening naughtily said that the Botafumeiro was filled with hashish. After mass we spent the afternoon strolling the narrow streets of lovely Old Santiago, trolling the pastry shops, and eating celebratory Cornettos in the pretty park. I´d actually already indulged in a pre-celebratory Cornetto earlier, one afternoon in the town of Molinaseca (the moment just seemed right!), but this Cornetto, eaten in the park in Santiago, knowing we´d made it, tasted even more delicious! Now and again throughout the afternoon we ran into fellow pilgrims whom we recognized form the Camino, and we´d exchange congratulations, but a couple of times we met up with pilgrims whom we´d buddy-bonded with along the way then drifted apart from and sometimes wondered about, , and seeing them here, knowing they´d made it, having them tell us that they´d been thinking about us, too, those were sunbursts of joy in an already happy day. This morning when we woke up it finally hit me: It´s over. We´re really leaving. As we hustled our gear together the same as we did all those other mornings I could hardly believe that our stay in Santiago wasn´t just another rest day like the ones we´d taken in those other beautiful Spanish cities, Pamplona and Leon, and that we wouldn´t be heading back out onto the Camino. As we walked to the train station,still looking and feeling like pilgrims with our backpacks and sticks, we both felt bittersweet, me especially while standing for a moment at a street crossing waiting for the little green running man to tell us it was time to cross. I still love that little running man. But the Santiago train station was alive with pilgrims and the floor of the train station cafeteria where we went for breakfast was piled with backpacks and the tables crowded with pilgrims, still cheerful, lively, chatting, hanging together same as always, and I felt that good old warm Camino feeling. We had a wonderful breakfast´- tortilla sandwiches on warm, soft baguettes, cream pastries (of course!), OJ and coffee for Tom, tea for me, all served up with speed-of-light efficiency. We share a table with a Canadian woman who looked to have a few years on us, and who bubbled over with her plans to come back and do another Camino. That´s the spirit, thought I! Our train trip to Madrid was six hours, and how do I love the Spanish trains? Let me count the ways! First of all the seats are wider, roomier, and comfier than airplane seats, and great for napping. The aisles are wider than plane aisles, too, and you can walk up and down them all you want. Each car has a screen on the front wall shoing the time, temperature, and how fast the train is going at the moment. (Ours got up to 204 kms per hour!). The bathrooms are clean and bigger than plane bathrooms, they show free movies, and there´s a snack bar car with a screen and earphone outlets so you can continue watching your movie while you have your snack! So here we are in Madrid and settled into our hostal, the Bergantin Hostal off the Puerta Del Sol at the center of Madrid. Tomorrow we hope to see a bit of the city, whatever we can in our one day here. A wonderful day to you all! Love, Patti 8) PS - I´ll try to write one more time tomorrow, then we´ll be back home again!
Whoa, it looks as if my last blog somehow got published out of order; that is, my last blog, yesterday´s blog, is located before the day-before-yesterday´s blog, so I imagine nobody found it, but anyway, if you´d like to see yesteday´s blog (October 26th´s, which you´ll need to read if today´s is to make any sense!), scroll down past October 25th´s blog and there it is. Does that make any sense? Okay, well, moving along: although by the end of every afternoon we´re always dragging and and slagging along, and the last 4 kms always seem endless, and by the time we´ve come slogging into the albergue we have no energy for anything except the essentials: showers, laundry, eating and sleeping, still the next morning we always wake up refreshed, renewed, ready to grab our backpacks and sticks once more and take on whatever the Camino wants to offer us. So yesterday morning it felt so good knowing that we´d be walking the last 4kms to Santiago riding high on our morning exhuberance (Sorry, as I said, you´ll need to see the misplaced Oct 26 blog for this and the following to make any sense!) But do you remember that scene from "Thje Way" where Martin Sheen and his friends stand at the crest of a hill next to a statue of St. James and look down over the panoramic view of the Catherdral of Santiago, its courtyard alive with people? Well, sorry, but Martin Sheen is so busted! That scene does not exist on the Camino! The closest hill to the Cathedral is Monte del Gozo, the hill down which the 500-bed xunta barracks (we stayed there -see missed blog for the reason!) slope and the only edifice you can see from the top of that hill is the xunta snack bar. Anyway, when we reached the otherside of Monte del Gozo we were actually within the city limits of Santiago and the 4kms we needed to walk was the distance from Monte del Gozo to the Catheral, located in the old part of the city. So we breezed through the city along with a few fellow pilgrims - no tourists entering the city here, as they probably wouldn´t be interested in walking by supermarkets, pharmacies and cafe bars . As we met our fellow pilgrims it felt funny to say "Buen Camino", since we were so close to the end, so we ended up just saying "We´re almost there!", which seemed an appropriately encouraging greeting and was enthusiastically returned. As we were approaching the old city a guy jumped out of a car and handed us a leaftlet for a pension near the cathedral. And when we finally arrived at the cathedral quarter, even though we were so close to our destination, the Cathedral de Santiago, our first occupation remained the same as it has been all along: finding shelter. As we had no better ideas, we pulled out the leaflet and looked for the pension it advertised. We followed the directions on the leaftlet until we found the address, where there was no easily visible sign, just a computer-printed paper stuck on a stone wall next to a big old heavy wooden door behind an iron fence, the paper telling us to go up to the 2nd floor. We opened the big old door and stepped into what looked like the entrance way to a castle, all stone floors, walls and pillars. Past the castle-entrace was a big winding wooden stairway: think "Hogwarts" from the "Harry Potter" films. When we´d gone up three flights (In Spain "2d floor" really means "3rd floor") we came to another big wooden door. We rang the bell and the door was answered by the hospitaliera-owner, Julia, who welcomed us into another "Hogwarts" hallway: stone walls, big heavy wood-framed mirror-coat rack, old, old, wide-planked wooden floors. (Julia later told us that the building was, along with the floors, 300 years old!). She immediately showed us a cute, bright bedroom that had a french-door that opened onto a balcony over looking a lovely view of the narrow street below. Tom thought the bedroom had a "Paris 1920´s Hemingway" look, while it seemed to me more like "Paris 1920´s Heminway meets Hogwarts". The sitting room looked like an 18th century drawing room full of antique furniture and dishes, flocked pattern wall paper and an aged oriental rug over the wooden floors. From the drawing room there was a beautiful view of the cathedral. We were so charmed that we booked the 25 euro room for the two nights we´d be in Santiago. Julia then gave us a map of Santiago showing us how to get to piilgrim office for our compostelas, or certificates of completion. She also showed us how to get away from the expensive, touristy part of town around the cathedral to an area where could find good, cheap food, a pretty park, and a market place where Santiagoens go to shop for the freshest food. So we stopped by the pilgrim office and received our compostellas then we found a restaurant where the friendly waiter was so eager-to-please that he told us if we didn´t like what we´d ordered we could send it back and he´d bring us something else! We both ordered one of the daily 6.50 specials that included meal, bread, drink, and coffee. Tom ordered lasagne and I (still feeling being-in-Spain adventurous) went for squid in its own ink over rice. We both liked what we ordered. After lunch we swung by a pastry shop for cream-filled puff pastries (heavenly!) which we ate in the pretty park. Then we checked out the market place: Columbus people, think of the North Market but instead of under one roof set up in long State Fair buildings (only not as long as the State Fair buildings!). There were crowds of people shopping and eating at the outdoor cafes or crowded along the stand-up bars where they chatted and socialized while drinking and eating pinchas, (small portions, like hors dóeuvres). It was a neat place. Finally we headed for the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. And I just want to clarify that not only can you not enter the cathedral at the grand front entrance by climbing up the great stone staircase then pass through the massive wooden doors (which don´t even open anymore, you have to use the side entrance) then put your fingers into the centuries-old indentations on the statue of Saint James then have a really emotional exegesis, all of whichas Martin Sheen and his friends did in the movie, you can´t even get around the gate to see the statue unless you first buy a ticket! And then you can only look, you can´t touch! But, of course, I´m just joking around, I don´t mind about any of that, none of us do; because this pilgrimage has turned out to be not about Santiago, the cathedral, or, for that matter, any one place: it´s been about the Camino, where we´ve walked hour after hour, day after day, week after week in thoughful solitude in community with each other; it´s been about the friendly, hard-working hospitalieros who´ve given us shelter, food, and clean clothes; it´s been about the wonderful Spanish people, who´ve smiled, waved, stopped to chat, pointed us in the right direction, and wished us "Buen Camino", even the children walkingn with their parents or riding by on their bikes; and mostly it´s been about our piilgrim sisters and brothers, friendly, cheerful, respectful, concerned, compassionate, and so much more. They´ve given us the gift of helping and being helped by others. And this pilgrimage is about the reason that, in discussions we´ve had with other pilgrims about rumors (all false!) we´d heard of why we might be denied our compostelas (not enough stamps on our passports, giving a wrong answer at the pilgrim office, etc), we´ve all invariably confessed that the compostela wasn´t even important to us anymore, that the document we really cared about was our pilgrim passport, stamped by each albergue we´ve stayed at and so that it will be a remebrance of the people and times along the way; for this journey has been, as all wonderful jouneys are, first and foremost a jouney of the heart. May all your lives be blessed with a wonderful journey. Love, Patti 8)
PS - Our pilgrimage is finished, we leave tomorrow for the 6-hour train trip to Madrid, but I´m going to try to write another epilogue or two. If I can still find a computer! More love, Patti 8)
Yesterday morning we pulled the newspaper out of our still-damp boots (most of the albergues and even bars and cafes along the way keep old piles of newspapers for pìlgrims to use to stuff into their boots to help them dry out over night) and left the tiny- dot- on- the- map town of Portela (Marianne: some of these villages are just a building or two) and headed out again into another day of pouring rain. The population explosión of the day before had disapprared and once again the Camino was mostly empty. I expect that´s becasue the pilgrim tour groups only walk along parts of the Camino and travel intermittently by bus. But the crowds will for sure be back along on the road into Santiago, since Santiago is the destination of all pilgrims, whether we arrive by foot, foot and bus, bike, or, as some pilgrims do, grandly upon a horse which they´ve rented from one of the "enter-Santiago-on-horseback" outfits, which horse will then proceed to tear up the foot paths with its heavy hoofs, turnig rivers of mud into oceans of mud and leave great gross stinky, fly-covered piles of horsey-doo along the most foot-sure parts of the path. Anyway, it rained in sheets all day yesterday without two minutes of respite. So 15. 7 kms.later we were two grateful pilgrims to arrrive at the village of Salceda where we follwed the signs to the Albergue Turistic Salceda which, though it technicaaly had a few albergue beds, was first and foremost a hotel, which if I had to describe in one word, that word would be beautiful! The building was, according the owner-hospitaliero, a 250-year-old building that he took seven years to renovate iinto what it is now, its interior a wonderful mix of Galician Stone and modern glass, with hanging plants, a glass elevator and soft blue lights glowing up from behind the baseboards. Even though the place is a modern hotel, it´s run by the hard-working hospitaliero and his hard-working family. As soon as we stepped into the reception área he greeted us, told us to go upstairs first and rest at bit, take a shower and settle in, then we could come down and resgister and give all our wet clothes to his wife to wash and dry (for 8 euros, but, hey, I didn´t care !). Then he proceeded to whisk us out of our wet rain gear and water-logged boots which he ran off with, promising to return everythign dry by morning - and he did! Well, we figured all this first classs treatment was because it was kind of an expensive place, 40 euros, until we calculated that 40 euros was about $56! The room: stark white and stone wals with a tall white glowing cone on the floor that served as a floor lamp, a soft blue exit-light over the door and a white bed with a bright orange head board that lit up. Tom named the look "Las Vegas On The Camino", thought with the over-headrecessed lights turned off and the room lit only by the glwoing cone, the bed, and the blue exit light, we thought the effect ws reminiscent of the hotel room in the movie "Blue Valentine". (Great movie! See it if you haven´t yet! (The next morning our breakfast companion, who´d also seen the movie, agrred that her room had the same "Blue Valentine" feel). the 9.5 eruo pilgrim meal was wonderful, and each dish looked as if it could be photographed for a gourmet food magazine! We both started with lentil soup, the I had a piile of pork ribs cooked in what tasted like a marsalla suace over another piile of round fried potatos. Tom had fish with vegetables and buttered potates, and for dessert we had somethign called San Marcos cake, a layered cream cake. The next mornign after breakfast our awesome hospitaliero ade the announce ment that there would be no no rain today. We thought maybe he was just trying tot cheer us all up, but so far his prediction has proved accurate - no rain so far, praise be! Anyway, rain or shine, tomorrow, God willing, we´ll be Santiago, so today is a real mix of emotions for all of us pilgrims. Dear Linda : Don´t worry for me, dear girlfriend, ´cause Tom has, in fact, been the reincarnation of Sir Walter Raleighesque helpfulness, to me and to many others alnog the way, and, beleive me, that day I wa stuck on the rock he was on the front line, trying to get me to take his hand, but it was me who couldn´t move. (Just to set the record straight!. ) May you all make it over any tough rocks that might pop up for you today - though hoepfully none will! Love, Patti 8)
Yesterday a miracle of nature happened: No rain! Not a drop! All day long! The sun even came out for a few hours in the afternoon to shine down on we few pilgrims still making our way along this home stretch of the Camino. We´ve often seen little messages of encouragement left on rocks and shell markers along the way and yesterday the general theme of the messages was "keep on going, you´re almost there!" Anyway, Tom and I had been planning on walking 19 kms from Salceda to the village of Vilamaior. That would leave us only 9 more kms to walk to Santiago, so we figured we´d arrive at Santiago early in the day and have plenty of time to look around and maybe even make it in time for the pilgrim mass at noon. But when we arrived at Vilamaior the only casa in town was full! We couldn´t figure it out, since there weren´t all that many pilgrims on the Camino...we had a sneaking suspicion the culprits might be members of a pilgrim tour group, since the casas are open to them, too. But, of course, that was just sort of a sour-grapes-venting- kvetching-type notion on our part to keep our minds busy as we tramped the 4 kms to the next townof Monte del Gozo where the only shelter was...a 500- bed xunta! As in, one of those places we vowed we´d never stay in, not even in a small one! But then, of course, man proposes, God disposes, right? As we walked towards our xunta fate I worked on channelling my inner Polyanna, telling myself that this was a good thing because we´d now be that much closer to Santiago, that at least we´d have a bed, that bedbugs really weren´t all that bad...but early yesterday evening, because a probably very lovely casa rural was full, a myth that probably needed busting, at least in our minds, was busted! Big time! When we first set sight on this behemoth xunta in Monte del Gozo, Tom noted its resemblance to an army post, with row after row after row of "barracks", but not ugly since the buildings were surrounded by trees and the hillside. Now for the myth- busting part: when we walked into the only open building (each building had 96 beds, so one had more than enough fbeds or the few pilgrims still needing a bed for the night) we were greeted by a hospitaliera as nice, friendly and helpful as any we´ve met so far as she accepted our 6 euros each and handed us our disposable paper sheets and pillow covers to use on the mattress-covered mattresses (take that, bedbugs!); far from being depressing, the long well-lit hall of the building reminded us of a college dorm, and our room looked like a dorm room, only a dorm room with 8 beds instead of two; And as for the bathrooms, they were far superior to some of the bathrooms we´ve experienced even in the private albergues: clean, clean, clean, plenty of TP in the stalls (and a seaat for every toilet!), and the showers were the best: tons of the hottest water, and rather than having no place for you to hang your clean clothes while you shower so that you have to hang them over the shower door where they always end up getting wet because the stalls are so small, this shower area had hooks outside the showers for you to hang you clothes on, provided you don´t mind walking from the shower to your clothes in the buff, but, as Tom says...shoot, I can´t even remember what he had to say about it, but it was funny....in any case, I was ´way past minding. The shower stall doors only covered from your neck to your knees, but I didn´t care about that,either, especially since the stalls were so big that you could hang your towel over the short door without it getting all wet. (I never thought I´d find so much to love about a community bathroom experience!). And get this: Where the buildings ended was what looked like a college quadrangle with tress, benches and a fountain, a supermarket (closed for the season), gift shop (closed for the season), and laundromat, not closed for the season (though empty of customers!) As soon as I saw that empty laundromat my heart was won over to this xunta! Also not closed for the season were a snack bar (with this great, fast-working computer!), and a cafeteria where we ate dinner, also run just like a college cafeteria, with the same breed of friendly folks who always seem to staff college cafeterias! And even better, we were able to get our beloved 9.50 pilgrim meal, delicious as any we´ve had: We both started with the salad, which, though it had no tuna (still not missing that tuna!) did appear to include most vegetables on the planet; for the second course I was given too much moist, tender pot roast for even me to finish, along with a pile of vegetables and buttered potatoes on the side. Tom had fish with buttered potatoes and rice (sometimes you´re just feeling carby!).The only dessert options, though, were strawberry yougurt or fruit, so I went with the yogurt, Tom had the fruit. (I guess sometimes you´re forced to make the healthy choice!) Besides a few of our fellow pilgrims the cafeteria was full of noisy (in a good way!) kids who appeared to be with one of the middle-school field-trip groups we´ve seen on the Camino and who were probably spending the night in the xunta. So anyway, I guess the moral of the story is this: although I can´t vouch for any of the other xuntas of Galecia, the 500-bed xunta at Monte del Gozo is one heck of a nice xunta! So then, we´re now about 4.3 kms from Santiago, a walk of about 1 1/2 hours (at my slow speed), and it´s another wonderful gift of a rainless morning! So I guess we´ll be on our way and next time I write, God willing, we´ll be in Santinago! May everyone of you find a moment of bliss somewhere along your way today! Love, Patti 8)
MY MOST EMBARASSING CAMINO MOMENT: Okay, yesterday afternoon we had to cross this stream over a bridge made of four big rocks that rose about three feet above the stream. The third of these four rocks was long, narrow, uneven, and ´way wobbly. You don´t even want to know how many people it took to get me across that rock Finally a guy with a prosthetic leg selling things by the side of the path limped over and pushed through the crowd, grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me across! Tom bought something from the guy, I passed around my very heartfelt "muchas gracias"´s, and, grateful as I was to be rescued, I kind of wanted to jump into the stream and swim away fast! (If I knew how to swim, that is, which I don´t!). Anyway, in "The Way" it did not rain at all like it does in this region even though it appeared that Martin Sheen and his friends were on the Camino the same time of years as us, so I just want to know, what´s up with that?! The Camino was uber-crowded yesterday, most ot the pilgrims walking in groups and carrying day packs or no packs, and the roads were busy with tours buses, I expect to transport the tour group pilgrims to the casas and the crowded restuarants along the way where the buses were parked. The guide book warns us not to be annoyed by or feel self-righteous over the tour group pilgrims who now populate the Camino, and I don´t feel that way myself, as I believe that everybody has to do their Camino in their own way. Your Camino-Whatever-It-Takes-To-Make-It-happen might be a tour group, my Camino-Whatever is the laundry services. There were also lots of groups of kids on the Camino yesterday, they appeared to be middle-schoolers on field trips. As you can imagine, the Scoutmaster was feeling somewhat nostalgic, the boys reminding him of his scouts as they tossed pebbles at each other, teased the cows, and ran their sticks along the walls. In the midst of the crowd I found the Irishman I talked to yesterday. He expanded upon his comparison between Galicia and the Ireland, remarking that he was also reminded of the Irish countryside by the smell of the pigs. Though I don´t recall seeing pigs since I´ve been in Galicia, (though ham, bacon, and pork filets served with piles of french fries seem to be major staples of the Spanish diet, and ours since we´ve been here!) we see cattle, sheep, goats, and sheeps everywhere we go, and the air of the the farm villages is permeated by the aroma of manure, so much so that at times I´ve thought I could smell it in my freshly washed clothes and in the bed linens! Anyway, yesterday afternoon the rain let up, the sun even came out for a while, and we´d hoped to walk from Ponte Campana-Mato to the town of Ribadiso, but by 6:20pm we were still in the middle of the forest, the last albergue we´d tried in the village of Castaneda was full, and we were still good 1.5kms from Ribadiso. Then we came across a wooden sign in the forest that said "Casa Milia 500 meters" above an arrow pointing to the left down a small path. Though I felt like Hansel and Gretel follwoing the sign to the witch´s house, we followed the sign until the forest path ended in a highway and we saw another sign that said, "Casa Milia 50 meters" above another arrow. We follwed the arrow until we came to a beautiful stone house, the "Casa Milia", where we were greetied by a sweet-looking grandmotherly woman in a country-print apron who invited us in. Was she going to put us into her oven and bake us into gingerbread pilgrims? Not all! The Casa Milia turned out to be a beautiful place, but rather than the heavy stone and wood timbers of the other Galician casa rurals, this place was more country chic, with pale yellow walls, blond wooden shutters with lace curtains, country prints and tole-painted ceramics. Our room was really nice, with french-door windows that looked out over the mountains. Our room was 35 euros and the dinner 15 euros each, but it was a wonderful dinner, a family-style meal that we shared with our two French dinner companions and the only other guests in the casa: Didier, a retired family doctor and Bernard, a retired policeman from Marseilles, Camin obuddies for the last few days . Anyway, the first course was a pot of the spinach potato soup, followed by a beautiful salad - no tuna, but nobody seemed to mind! - then a lovely platter of cock (as opposed to chicken - not sure what the difference is, but the Frenchmen could definitely tell) and the standard mountain of hot, freshly made french fries. For dessert Tom and I had flan and Didier and Bernard adventurously ordered the quince compote, not sure exactly what they´d get, and they just laughed when the dis turned ouit to be a mound of jam and two thick slices of cheese. How did jam and cheese go togehter, we all wondered, but they chalked it up to a memorable Camino culinary experience! The laundry service was a tad pricey, 10 euros, but our clothes came back beautifully folded and, thankfully, dry!
Today is anothe rainey day so far, but we´re on lur way, our goal for today being 15 kms to the town of Salceda. Rain or sun, may you all have a happy day! Love, Patti 8)
Yesterday we hiked 18.5 kms from Hospital de la Cruz to the village of Ponte Campana. Soon after we left Hospital de la Cruz the Scoutmaster made the declaration that he has never hiked in such bad rain! And for the past four days bad rain it has been: cold, windy, relentless, boot-soaking, sock-soaking, foot-soaking...in truth it´s the foot-soaking quality of this rain that makes it so bad, because Tom and I and most of the other pilgrims are covered head to ankle in high-tech, waterproof rain gear (I ditched my plastic party-table-cover poncho and bought a big-shot Altus poncho in Leon- love it!), but it´s our feet that are our achilles heels- so to speak - because even the most Goretexed "waterproof" boot end up giving it up to the Camino Deluge and the ensuing oceans of mud. So all of us pilgrims are in the same boat. Or boot. In any case, for some reason today the pilgrim population greatly increased along the Camino - not a pilgrim traffic jam, or anything, but it was nice, enough to restore the feeling of Camino cameraderie. I met another Irish pilgrim today, and since this guy was in less of hurry than the Irishman we met yesterday I asked him if Galicia reminded him of Ireland. He said oh yes, it reminded him exactly of the Irish countryside, especially the little villages with the farmhouses and trees. I asked him if the rain also reminded him of Ireland, and he said, "Especially the rain!" ( But he added that he preferred to be dry!) So anyway, all of you who´ve been to Ireland now have a pretty good idea of what Galicia looks like! We ran into another patch of Wretched Stones today and I´m afraid I wasn´t as fearless as I´s planned to be. This was along a steep, very narrow, wall-lined path, and as I stood at one spot about halfway down trying to figure out how to get the rest of the way down a group of Spanish pilgrims passing by asked me if I was all right. I replied, "Tengo miedo" (I´m afraid). One of them turned back from where she stood on a stone below me and reached up to me (she wasn´t even using sticks, for goodness sakes!) and told me to take her hand, she´d help me down. I thankfully declined, but told her to go down in front of me and I´d watch how she did it and then follow her, and that´s how I got down. Oh well, I guess I´ll just have to take these landscapes one stone at a time with a little help from my pilgrim friends (and my hubby!). I also spent a few minutes chatting with a young pilgrim from Denver. He told me that he´d spent the night before in one of the xuntas. I asked him how it was and he said it was depressing, not so much because the facilities were nasty (they were!) but because of the unfriendliness of the hospitaliera of the xunta. I knew exactly what he meant. In fact, the worst thing (besides the ugly, dirty room and the mildewed, leaky bathroom) about the casa rural "El Labrador" in Hospital de la Cruz was the same as the worst thing about the xunta: the hospitalieros were not friendly and, although we were the only guests staying in their hostel, they acted as if they couldn´t care less and couldn´t even be bothered to make sure our laundry was dry before returning it to us! But this afternoon a miracle happened: the rain stopped, the sun came out, and the wind blew dry the wet socks pinned to the back of our backpacks! So we arrived at our destination of Ponte Campana in a good state of mind, which got even better when we stepped into the casa/albergue "Casa Domingo" and saw the warm stone and wood-timbered Galician-style interior and received the usual warm welcome from the hospitaliero. We could have gotten an albergue bunk for 10 euros but decided to go for a private room again (we´re kind of getting used to the high life!) for 35 euros. And surprise, surprise: the private casa rooms were in an old flour mill that used to be run by the parents of the hospitaliero, across a wide meadow from the rest of the albergue next to the beautiful mill stream that ran right outside our window! The first -floor sitting room of the mill/casa still looked like a mill with stone and wood floors and a fireplace and the old wheat-grinder was still sitting in the middle of the room. Our room was on the second floor where the miller family used to live, another beautiful rustic stone-walled room with heavy wood furniture and a pretty country spread. And the 10 euro pilgrim meal was so good, another community meal where all the pilgrims staying at the albergue sat at a long table and ate a family-style meal cooked by the wife of the hospitaliero: first lentil soup, then salad, followed by spaghetti and meatballs, then chicken that tasted like it had been cooked in a wine sauce, then vanilla custard with cinnamon. After every course I swore I couldn´t eat another bite, but, of course, I managed to eat every bite of every course and even managed some second helpings! Today we woke up to another round of sheets of driving rain and rain is predicted for all day, but after yesterday we at least know that sun is within the realm of possibility! May your day be full of the sunshine of friendliness! love, Patti 8)
Yesterday we sloshed through 20.5 kms through on-again-off-again(mostly on again!) rain from Morgade to the tiny village of Hospital de la Cruz. In the rain pilgrims just seem to slog along, looking with their backpacks under their over-sized ponchos like giant turtles in ponchos moving down the path,the Great Giant Camino Turtles. The other rain style option is Tom´s choice, a black rain suit with a backpack cover , the Camino Rocket Man look. Before we left the Casa Morgade Tom had a long discussion with Paco, the hospitaliero, on the Spanish Civil War. Ever since we arrived in Spain Tom has wanted to find some historical information on the War, maybe a museum, or something, but all we´ve been able to find was a phtographic exhibit in the San Marcos monastery on the era when part of the monastery was used by Franco for his notorious prison. Paco was a young guy, 36 years old, spoke great English, and both of his grandfathers fought in the War but on opposing sides, one for Franco´s Nationalists, the other for the Republicans, so Paco knew a lot about the war that he´d learned from his grandfathers and he was glad to give Tom a history lesson, even pointing out on a wall map of Spain some of the places where battles and even war crimes took place. Back on the Camino (in the rain) we passed by villages, all of them with casa rurals offering private rooms for tourist pilgrims with signs of welcome that said things like, "You deserve a break, emjoy your Camino!" and "Buen Camino! Your efforts have earned you a break!" Now, while the albergues have always been freindly and welcoming, still they never hung out those kinds of signs of congratulatory stroking. Not many pilgrims of any stripe on the Camino now, though - Paco confirmed that it´s the time of the year that accounts for the lack of pilgrims - and we had the Camino practically to ourselves. This region continues to remind us of Ireland (Well, okay, neither of us has been to Ireland, but you know what I mean), narrow paths lined with old, old stone walls crossing over sloping green meadows or through lovely forests. In fact, one Irish pilgrim came whizzing by us, but he didn´t want to stop and chat so Tom just called after him, "Does this look like Ireland?" He called back, "Yeah, just like it!" but insuch a tone that we didn´t know whether he was being sincere or sarcastic. Oh well, it was raining pretty hard. When we reached Hospital de La Cruz it was 6:20 pm and our boots and feet were soaked, indicators that it was time to stop. We had two options, a casa rural called El Labrador, or the xunta. The municipal algergues in Galicia are called xuntas, and the guidebook warns that the xuntas of Galaicia, unlike the municipal albergues in Navarra, Burgos, and Castilla Y Leon, the Spanish states we´ve already passed through, tend to be on the dirty side and not well-maintained, as in "T:P:? In your dreams! Consider yourself lucky it there´s a toilet seat!" (I´m not making this up!). But worse, we heard rumors from fellow pilgrims of bedbugs - something we´ve not at all encounterted yet - in the xuntas. Now, granted, a rumor is just a rumor, but adding it all up we´re feeling a wee bit reluctant (and that´s a wee bit of an understatement) to stay in a xunta. So we opted for El Laborador where for 25 euros we were given an ugly, not-the-cleanest, unheated room where the sheets didn´t appear to have been changed any time in the recent past and a bathroom out in the hall where everthing seemed to leak, and a laundry service that returned our clothes soaking wet. (Okay, maybe not soaking wet, just wet). But there were no bedbugs. Later at dinner in the Casa restaurant (bad feng shui in the dining room) we saw several pilgrims who were staying at the xunta and had walked to the restaurant for the pilgrim meal. Tom asked one of them how was the xunta was and the guy made a hand gesture and a rude noise. So we figured we were better off in El Laborador. The 9 euro pilgrim meal there received mixed reviews. Tom and I both started with the soup, a chickenesque liquid that I found inedible but that Tom liked so much he ate up his and mine as well. I observed the 4 other pilgrims who ordered the soup and saw that 2 finished theirs, one ate half of his, and the other didn´t eat any of his. So I guess that soup was a matter of taste. The next course which we both ordered, though, steak and fries, was great, the steak having been fried up with garlic so it was really tasty. For dessert Tom ordered the flan, which looked home-made, an even better-than ususal flan, and I ordered caramel ice cream, which was actually flan-flavored ice cream, delicious! This morning we weren´t heart-broken to leave El Laborodor, except that it meant going back out into the rain, from which we´ve just taken a little break in this cafe. After all, our efforts have earned a break, right? May all your efforts today bring you joy and satisfaction! Love, Patti 8)
As it turned out, I didn´t have to face my demons yesterday. Not a Wretched Stone crossed my path, only farm houses, meadows full of sheep or cows, and enchanted forests. Maybe we´ve left behind the kingdom of the Wretched Stones. Anyway, today we covered 18.5 km from Pintin to the village of Morgade. We stopped for lunch in the city of Sarria where we found this awesome pastry/sandwich shop and ate hot french bread pizzas topped with tomatoes, cheese, ham and tuna, a combo that actually worked very well! Sarria is a big pigrim city that is the starting point for Johnny-come-lately pilgrims who want to jump in for the last 100 kms to Santiago, the minimum distance a pilgrim is required to walk to earn the Compostela, the certificate of completion of the Camino. We´d been warned by the guide book as well as by fellow pilgrims that from Sarria onwards the Camino would be flooded with all these last-minute pilgrims, but even after Sarria we found the Camino pretty empty. We conjectured that the reason for the absence of pilgrims might be that people who do only the last leg might do it as a vacation trip, and this being the end of October the pilgrim tourist season might be over. In any case, we had the Camino almost completely to ourselves all day. But what we´ve been finding the last few days is that, except for in the big pilgrim watering hole towns (which are now out of sync with our walking pattern), there are very few albergues to be found any more, whereas up until now almost every little town you passed through had an albergue. What there are instead are a plethora of pensions, hostels, casa rurals (three different names for the same concept) and hotels offering private rooms at as much as five to ten times the price of an albergue bed. And it looks like even the albergues in these parts are more expensive, since the cost of an albergue bed in the casa/albergue in Morgade was 10 euros per bed, around twice what we´ve been paying all along. So our conjecture for the reason for this situation is that the tourist pilgrims who are walking the Camino as a vacation want to have a nice private room to sleep in instead of, say, a dorm room shared with 24 pilgrims walking back and forth in their undies from the shared showers and and stalls, hence more private rooms, fewer dorm rooms. But it´s all just conjecture. Anyway, we stayed at the Casa Morgade which also had an albergue, along with (which had our beloved laundry service and a fast-working computer!) where we had the option of paying 10 euros each for a dorm bed and shared bathroom or 28 euros for a private room. We went with the private room. And what a cute room it was - stone walls and wooden floors with dark wood furniture, country floral print bedspreads and a big mirrored armoire. The whole albergue was so pretty, all done in the stone and wood we´ve been seeing since we´ve been in Galacia. The sitting room was also - can I use the word again? - so cozy, with comfy couches and chairs around a warm fireplace. Galacia being such a cold, windy, rainy part of the world, maybe that´s why they really go for cozy as opposed to, say, minimalist contemporary decor. There were four other pilgrims in the albergue besides us and we at dinner together: John and Roxanne from the pension where we stayed last night; a South African lady, Karin; and a 69-year old Japanese man (forget his name !) who is on his second Camino and who started walking at Saint Jean Pied De Port, the same place we started, on October 3! (We started walking September 14!). And he´s fine, no foot or leg problems at all, he said, even though he looks as if he weighs 90 pounds and is carrying a 20 pound backpack! It turned out that he already walked - three times! - the Japanese pilgrimage that John and Roxanne want to walk. That pilgrimage is over 1,000 kms. (Three times!) Anway, I guess this man is the exception to my thesis that walking the Camino too fast with too heavy a backpack causes injuries! Of course, it does sound as if he was prepared. For dinner we had the 8.50 euro pilgrim meal: we both started with the salad, strangely, served without tuna, but full of fresh, tasty tomatoes, for the second course Tom had a chicken filet sauteed with onions and I had a very tender, juicy pork filet, both served with a ton of fries on the side. For dessert Tom had a slice of Santiago cake - seems to be a very popular dessert in these parts - and I had a slice of pound cake, which was so big it must have weighed a pound, so I let Tom finish it for me. Today we hope to cover about 20 kms, the distance we´ll to go to find an albergue. Otherwise I guess it´ll be another private room, which won´t actually be the worst fate in the world, especailly if we can find such a nice one as we had last night! A happy day to you all! Love, Patti 8)
Today is October 20th - Happy birthday, dear Maria! - and it´s so hard to believe that in 10 days from now - God willing - we´ll be back home! It´s so hard to believe because while you´re on the Camino it seems as if the Camino is your whole life: a life where there exists only three verbs: walking, eating, and sleeping, and three nouns: backpack. albergue, and Camino. Last night we ate our pilgrim meal with a Canadian couple in , I´d say, their mid to late fifties, John and Roxanne, who just retired from their jobs and sold their house to begin a new chapter of their lives starting with the Camino. Their plan is for the rest of their lives to be a jouney seeking physical and spiritual well-being, their next stop after the Camino being a 7 week meditation at a Bhuddist monastery and after that maybe a pilgrimage to a shrine in Japan. They aren´t the first (or even the second or third) older pilgrims we´ve met, typically alone, who´ve sold their assets, even given their children their inheritances, to start a new lives, to travel for years, the Camino being their starting point. A couple of them that I know of, though, having started full of joy and optimism, sticks balzing, were brought down pretty early on by the standard Camino injuries: debilitating blisters, knee injuries, all the results of not being properly prepared. We saw them at the beginning, then they´d be lagging behind, then they´d be needing medical care, then we wouldn´t see them anymore, and we´d wonder, still wonder, what happened to them, if they were somehow able to finish, though we can´t help but doubt that they will. For them I feel so sorry, because they´d set so much hope in this journey. There are so many souls in crisis on the Camino, pilgrims dealing with divorces, broken relationships, bad family relationships, the death of a loved one, loss of a job - many who´ve los their jobs - lost young people, lost old people, all of them seraching for, many of them finding peace on the Camino. I hope that they all find peace in their lives, I hope everyone finds peace, espcially all of you, my dear loved ones and friends. As for my Camino journey, I´m not really sure how to define or verblaize it, even at this point, I guess all can say about it right now is that it´s been and continues to be a journey. But the last few days have been really hard for me and, by extension, hard for time amd it´s all because of the stones. The mountain descents are hard, yes, but it´s really the stones that are turning the descents into a nightmare (okay, I´m being melodramatic here, but you know what I mean) for me....huge, slippery-looking, uneven, reticulated stones that hog the whole path - the Wretched Stones, I call them, after a story book that terrified my son Tommy when he was little and are terrifying me now. I´ve had to deal with the Wretched Stones on previous slopes from time to time, but here on the mountains of Galicia they´re everywhere - for me Galicia is the Kingdom of the wretched Stones! And yet most of the other pilgrims (there are a few who are almost as scared as me) , Tom included, just hop down the stones with a minimum of effort, because, in truth, and as Tom and others have tried to convince me by having me rub my foot over them, these stones aren´t like our Ohio slate, they really aren´t at all slippery, not even in the rain. Tom has been a wonderful, patient guide, he´ll walk down the rocks to show me how it´s done, then he´ll come back to help me down, step, by step, telling me I can do it when I´m convinced that I can´t, the result being that yesterday I so slowed us down on the stone-coverd slopes that it took us 10 and a half hours- most of those hours in rain that varied form drizzling to pouring - to walk 21kms from Fonfria to where we finally stopped in the village of Pintin. It was 7pm, our boots were drenched and we had to stop, but there was no albergue in the town - the albergues, like the pilgrims, are getting fewer and father between. but fortunately there was a little Pension in the village so, because of me, we had to spring 35 euros to stay at the pension - where we actually were given a very nice room and a typically wonderful 10 euro pilgrim meal: salad for Tom and spinach soup for me, next steak and fries for both of us, and for dessert a slice of Santiago cake for Tom and a flan for me. Unfortunately the pension didn´t have a dryer, so it was another night of getting back into our dirty day´s clothes! But anyway, it was over dinner, while I was telling John and Roxanne how hard I was finding the stones on the slopes, which they shrugged off as not really bad at all, that I came to a decision: I´m not going to let those Wretched Stones wreck another day on the Camino for us. I´m going to kick those stones´ butts, in fact, though we haven´t come to any yet today, I even sorry for the first stone that tries to cross my path! To paraphrase Dr. Suess, "I´ve got two big sticks, I´m all ready, you see, Now those Wretched Stones are going to have troubles with ME!¨ Or so I keep telling myself. Tom tells me it´s maybe better not to over think it. Anyway, please send brave thoughts my way and I´ll send happy, loving thoughts yours! Have a peace-of-mindful day. Love, Patti 8)
My husband Tom and I will be walking the 490.7-mile Camino de Santiago from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, to Santiago, Spain. We leave Columbus 9/11/13 and return 10/30/13. God willing.
The sequel to "Equal and Opposite Reactions" in which a woman discovers the naked truth about herself.
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon:
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Kindle:
or in print:
The Book Loft
of German Village,
Or check it out at the Columbus Metropolitan Library