A circuitous route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Stage One beginning in Munich, Germany ending in Jerusalem - traveling through Austria, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. Second stage from Vienna, through Germany, Czech Republic, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain.
Final destination - Santiago!

Post Script: The changeable situation in Jerusalem has led to a change in plans. The Rome to Jerusalem leg of this journey has been changed to the 'End to End' in the UK, after which the journey will resume as above in Vienna.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Made it! Santiago de Compostela

In 2005, after completing my first Camino I stood in the vast square called Praza do Obradoiro at sunrise and said, softly, words to the affect of: "Goodbye Santiago. This has been an extraordinary journey and adventure, and this is the last time I'll stand here".  How wrong I was!

Today I stood in that square again, for a fifth visit, and stared at that mighty Cathedral, this time swathed in scaffolding.  On my last visit it was winter time.  The square was almost empty each time I passed through it, with only the brave rushing across, dressed in thick jackets and armed with umbrellas. The arrival of each pilgrim was conspicuous, primarily because we were so few.  Today is a different story altogether.  The square, by comparison, has been teeming with people, tourists and pilgrims, and the pilgrims have become just part of the crowd there are so many of them.  That said, I arrived early in the morning and for a brief time it was only we pilgrims out and about, but that didn't take long to change.  

I went straight to the pilgrim office to collect my Compostela.  The queue was very short, maybe just over half a dozen pilgrims.  Again this was very different to last time, and unrecognizable to the first time in 2005. When I visited the pilgrim office in 2005 it was upstairs in a building, and apparently, when queues did form during the busy times they queued up the stairs.  When I went  there in January 2014 we were so few that there was no waiting going straight to the desk, out of the cold, and having a leisurely chat to the person issuing the Compostela. 

Today I could have been mistaken for thinking I was at the Correos (post office).  We queued up outside in an orderly fashion and each time a person had been attended to a bell rang, a sign flashed telling which person to go to, and the line moved forward.  I was glad that attention had been paid to the sound quality of the bell, rather than the dreadful sound that rings at the Correos.  Things were very different a few hours later though when I went past the pilgrim office with the queue stretching out along the street.  In peak times, and peak season, this gets even longer.
Not only did I get the Compostela, but also asked for a certificate of distance.  When they asked me how far I had come they didn't believe me, but I assured them that I had come a round about way, been on the road for eleven and half months, and that my best estimate was about 5,500kms.  They duly wrote that down on the certificate!
The queue when I arrived.........
.......... and a few hours later.
I went to the pilgrim Mass at midday where the botefumeiro was swung.  I also saw it swung at the 7.30 Mass later in the day.
Some facts:- it swings in a 65 metre arc, reaches heights of 25 meters, the ropes last about 20 years, it swings from a pulley system mounted in the roof, is about 1.6 meters tall and weighs around 80 kgs.
Pilgrims and tourists revelling in the sunshine - except for me - I stayed in the shade!
My first view of the Cathedral was the back of it, bathed in morning sunshine.  A different story to the front (below) where scaffolding hides it.

The road from Sobrado dos Monxes was long and tedious, bitumen road, hard on the feet, and the sun beating down.  On the way I passed this farm implement, obviously left at the side of the field to be used again.  In so many respects it seems time has stood still in this neck of the woods.
There were some good views though, on what was a tedious day.

My last full day of walking finished at Monte do Goza.  This is where, in medieval times, pilgrims would sing for joy at the sight of the Cathedral in the distance - their destination.  At Monte do Goza there are a couple of monuments, one of which I have never been able to find until this visit.  It is a lovely statue of two pilgrims looking at the cathedral in the distance.  They would have seen it much more clearly - on this afternoon I could only just make out the cathedral through the haze and smog.
This monument was to mark the visit of the Pope in 1993 - the reason the huge complex at Monte do Goza was built - to house the hoards visiting at that time.

This is the statue that has taken me five visits to find!  It was equally hazy in the morning when I left and so I got no better photos of the view they are looking at.

Reaching the Camino Frances the crowds swelled!  I was one of the last to leave and so I was only passed by those who had come from places further away.  Even so, after regular and leisurely stops for coffee and food there were still plenty of pilgrims!
But just occasionally I was in a pilgrim free zone, with the only sounds being the birds singing and my footsteps.

 I am in Santiago for 11 more nights.  Over the next couple of days, among other things, time will be devoted to chores such as washing clothes and cleaning my gear.  I am also going shopping - for clothes!  I am so looking forward to wearing some different clothes!  In amongst all of this I am going to rest as I feel quite tired.  I am staying in Santiago for so long for a reason, but sleep calls, and so I will tell you more of that in the next post.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Sobrado dos Monxes

Last night I stayed in a Cistercian Monastery. I'm glad it wasn't winter because I think it may well be a very cold place.  The Cistercian monks live a very simple, austere life, spent in silence and separation from the rest of the world.  As they say in the guide they "share the frúts of their work by offering shelter and hospitality", from which we pilgrims benefit, with 110 beds available for pilgrims at the end of a fairly long day.

The monastery was built in 1147, becoming a Cistercian Monastery in 1498.  A Royal decree dissolved Monastic Orders in 1834, with the end result being that the Monastery was abandoned and was almost destroyed, but in 1954 a restoration programme began, and a community of monks have resided there since 1966.  I was quite amused with the silence rule as I was greeted by a monk called Santiago (he was born on July 25th, St James Day), who talked non stop firing questions at me and chatting, mainly in Spanish, but every so often in English.  He was far from silent, revelling in imparting his knowledge of the Monastery, and showing me where things were for me to access.

I later did a self guided tour of the monastery, and there is not a single bit of gilt or fancy frescoes, just simple stone carvings for decoration with the only color being green and black, caused by the mould and dampness throughout.  I'll let the pictures tell the tale.
Part of he pilgrim quarters in the monastery.

Walking into Sobrado there was a real surprise.  After trudging down hill along the road, the path diverted through a roadside forest and rounding a corner, a beautiful lake came into view.  Approaching it, there was an extremely loud frog chorus.  One pilgrim said to me later that they must have a problem because "its not normal to have so many frogs".  I told him of Mike Tyler, our Adelaide frog expert, who often says that frogs mean that the water is clean.  If that's so, this water is super clean!
The lake on the outskirts of Sobrado dos Monxes, complete with water lilies.

On the way out of Miraz the path went up hill, but so gradually that it was often only when looking back that it showed the slope.  At one stage it went over rocks, so large that it was as if I was walking on a road.

Not ashphalt, but rock.

Before going to Sobrado I spent the night at the English Confraternity of St James albergue in the small village of Miraz.  Here there are around 22 beds in the renovated and extended former priest's home.  The hospitaleros work for two week shifts and our hosts were Rick, from Florida, and Liz, from England.  I went up the road to the taberna with Rick and was fortunate to see a herd of goats being moved, a sight seen several times a day.  After dinner Liz opened the church for those initerested in seeing it.  A delightful church, with a lovely acoustic, which I know because I had a sing!
 The albergue at Miraz.
 The goats being moved at Miraz.
 Inside the church at Miraz, and below, a close up of the retablo. 

Rick showed me several inscriptions on tombs in the cemetery.  They had the man's name followed by "y esposa" (and wife) - poor thing, she didn't warrant having her name there too! 

Not only was the albergue at Miraz a treat, but so was the walk there.  It was a little shorter than previous days, and I could take my time and still arrive earlier than usual.
 A wayside cross not far from Baamonde.
A shed like building on the way.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The beginning of the end!

I am sitting in the huge, semi dark, upstairs dormitory of the refuge in Baamonde.  The sun has yet to rise, though it is now half light outside.  People are starting to stir, quietly, for a change and I would imagine that very soon the place will be buzzing.  Downstairs a few people have gathered for breakfast, but I will go to the bar a few doors down for mine.  Downstairs is where most people are sleeping - it is only the overflow and the latecomers, like me, who are upstairs.

Downstairs are two French women, two Swiss men, an American, and two Germans all walkers, along with a solitary Spanish cyclist, while upstairs I have shared the room with an older German man and a Czech couple.  I feel very sorry for the Czech woman as she has very bad tendonitis.  How do I know?  I can tell by the way she hobbles, because I have hobbled in exactly the same way!  I would like to be able to help her with some of the tips I have learned, but unfortunately I am not able to communicate with her at all, and from what I can gather neither can anyone else, which is unfortunate.
The albergue at Baamonde.
 The first stop of the day!  Cafe con leche and whatever is on offer for breakfast! 

Yesterday was a glorious day, walking past farms and through woodlands.  All along this part of Galicia the settlements are more spread out.  On the Meseta the farmhouses are gathered together in villages of varying sizes and then in Galicia further inland they are in little hamlets - perhaps three or four farm, with all there associated buildings, whereas where I have been traveling the buildings are spread over the countryside.  The people haven't changed though.  The older women have a distinctive shape to them.  The Galicians I see seem short to me, and the women are bent, perhaps from working in the fields.  The scarecrows in the paddocks look realistic because many are topped with a head scarf, making them look like a woman working in the fields.

There is a sense of excitement in the air, because this is the start of the last 100 kms.  This is the destination, and in most cases the end, of a journey of varying lengths.  Mine is a bit longer than most!  I have a couple of very long days ahead and so will be nursing my feet very carefully as they are getting sore, and probably, if I'm honest, tired!  This is a quick post as I doubt that I'll have internet for a few days.
 Leaving Vilalba I passed this interesting wall.
 The "mowers" have been out.
 A renovators delight.
 The path goes in between farm buildings, these few deserted.
 A well at a farm I was passing.
 An interesting little bridge to cross - no trolls!
It was under this monstrosity - not over!
Another cemetery. This type is described as being "somewhere between Gothic and Gaudian" in my guide!
 I love these slate fences that line the fields here in Galicia.
Baamonde Iglesia.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Farewell Asturias, hello Galicia

I'm now out of Asturias and well and truly into Galicia.  I do like Asturias: its mountains, the way it oozes water, its square Horreos, and its quirkiness, so different to home.  One day while walking on the outskirts of a village I saw a couple unloading a car, or the man was, while the woman was placing the boxes of plants in the vege patch.  She was wearing clogs on her shoes which, which with their peg like stilts,  kept her feet above the dirt.

The quirkiness even goes to the shell waymarks, which in this region are back to front to everywhere else in Spain.  In Asturias we follow the closed part of the shell, but as soon as I crossed the bridge into Galicia the shells were inverted and now the open part of the shell points the way.

Galicia too has its individuality.  This is the land of small farming.  This is where farmers get out with a scythe to cut the grass, or go up market with a little petrol driven three wheeled "mower".  The tractors are many and varied, out in force at this time of the year, working in the fields like busy insects.  There are no air conditioned cabs in these tractors.  In the fields you can see the farmers and their wives forking the grass onto large trailers with forks.  As I've walked along the lanes these trailers have slowly passed me, either heading to the fields or back home.  One evening I was passed by a man and his wife returning home.  He was pushing a wheelbarrow loaded high with cut grass, while she, dressed in her " pinnie", carried the long fork.  It is a common sight in the afternoon to see a woman, always wearing her "pinnie" and a head scarf, bent over working in the vege garden.  They are oblivious to people like me walking past, intent on their work.

 La Caridad.

Prior to the building of the bridge across the Rio Eo at the border of Asturias and Galicia, pilgrims of old had to walk upstream to the village of Castello and cross there.  Now though, it is easy to cross, and of course shorter!
 The bridge at Ribedeo, with part of the marina.
The marina at Ribadeo.
An upmarket hórreo.
Looking down on the village of Ponte de Arante, before going up.
Descending into Vilamartin Pequeno.
St James on the exterior of the church at Lourenzá
Making sure we know which way to go leaving Lourenza.
This was a hard day.  The path goes over the hills in the distance on the left.
Here the path goes under the hórreo between the houses.

 Here it goes beside, and under the farm buildings.
 Looking down on Mondoñedo.
 The path fortunately stayed on the opposite side of the valley to the highway, though at the top of the hill, we went under it.
 The bells at the Iglesia at Goiriz......
 ...... and the cemetery behind.
The path after Goiritz.  Note the slate fence.
 The tower at Vilalba, now a Parador hotel.
The church at Vilalba. 

This is a very quick post as I'm not sure when I will get WiFi again.  I have quite a few long days ahead, but there is only a 120kms left to go.