Thursday, 28 June 2012

Into Galicia and our last week!

Since our last post we have crossed the last two big hills on the camino. It was hot for a couple of days but has once again settled to Kat-friendly sub 30s temps.
From Rabnal we climbed to the highest point on the camino, the Cruce de Ferro. This is a very important point for pilgrims who carry a stone and deposit it at the base of the cross. This is symbolic of laying down the burdens or sins one has carried on the camino. It is amazing. I saw everything from the small shards and pebbles we carried through to a huge tablet like memorial that I think was to a child who died young but it was in German. The cruce is actually just a small iron cross on a big wooden pole which is probably why the recent film used a different cross for their scene referring to this tradition!
We descended to the cute village of molinaseca for the night and watched all the locals in the river cooling off from the heat.
The next day we passed through the fertile Bierzo valley to villafranca del camino. Vineyards return to the scenery and a Templar castle. We passed by an amazing sculptors workshop in the middle of fields on the way.
Yesterday we did the last big ascent (1200m) to O Cebriero, the first village in Galicia. It has lots of cute stone and thatch buildings. We stayed in a very comfy room rather than a dorm and enjoyed the locally prepared food. For anyone coming through town, the ladies I encountered at the bar opposite the tienda are lovely and make great soup and also a kicker of a coconut and pineapple cake.
Today we've had a fairly easy decent through the lush hills of Galicia to another cute white wash and stone village with rounded top church tower - Tricastela. I have it on good authority from an Irish girl that this countryside is just like Ireland.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Rabnal del camino

Day 24 had an eventful start when I got a splinter in my toe that we couldn't remove. Luckily the local emergency room was only a couple of blocks away and had no one waiting! They did an excellent job and patched me up with instant relief. They didn't even charge me. Lucky Spain won the soccer or they may have had a busier night!
Minor speed bump passed we headed out from pretty Astorga and up through the dry hills studded with stone villages. Rabnal is very cute and popular with some day tourists as well as pilgrims. There is a monestary of Benedictine monks from Belgium in town and they did evening prayers that were almost entirely gregorian chants in Latin. Amazing in a little simple whitewashed and stone chapel.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Astorga

Happy 85th birthday granny! It is so cool that I can still call, even if briefly, from the middle of rural Spain!
The walk today was pleasant through hills of farmland and forest.
There was a funny pilgrim statue on the way.
Astorga is a compact town on a rise. The Gaudi palacio episcopal was definitely the highlight. It is like something for a fairy princess but edgy. The inside was sadly no photos but fabulous neogothic and had interesting (though more sedate than Barcelona) tiling. The stained glass was spectacular.
The cathedral like many has a fancy carved facade.
For lunch we had the local specialty - cocido. It was very filling but tasty with slow cooked meat, pancetta, chorizo and chickpeas and cabbage. They then serve the soup after, apparently the reverse of other parts of Spain. Didn't need dinner. I tell myself it's good energy for the trail.
The squares have come alive tonight for the Spain vs France eurocup semi final. Very exciting. So far Spain leads at half time so it could be a loud night from the streets!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Day 22 to molino galochas

The early morning walk out of Leon was much more pleasant than the walk in.

After the modern twelve apostles statue on the church at virgin del camino we took the alternate route through villar de mazarife, avoiding the main roads. The country is changing again with scrubby oaks and hills mixed in with the fields, growing veges as well as wheat.

We continued on for quite a long day through to Villaverte, to a Casa Rural (B&B) called Molino Galochas after 32km. It is run by a lovely family who moved back from Madrid 5 yrs ago and renovated the old mill (and looked after elderly relatives). It has been beautifully done up with cute details like yokes as hand rails and mill stones in the yard. Galochas are wooden clog like shoes worn in the wet weather over your usual slip ons.

Once again we have been blessed with fine cool days making for easy walking.

Leon

Leon is a really fun city. It has a great lived-in vibe to the old town with lots of locals out and about for tapas in the evenings.

Luckily we arrived on Wednesday so saw the plaza mayor packed with the twice weekly market with fruit and vege and deli trucks. The cherries and stone fruit are at their prime right now.
Other than wandering the higeldy-pigeldy squares eating tasty things we also have time for some of the spectacular monuments, especially the cathedral. It is pure gothic without so much of the excess and added on later one-up-manship of Burgos. The stained glass is amazing and brings magic into an otherwise quite dark space.

We also got to enjoy a sense of belonging to community with lots of people taking rest days in Leon we were able to see people we have met along the way and share stories even if we are now a day ahead or behind each other.

As one person said to me, when are you traveling in a foreign city and bump into friends in the street?!
We particularly enjoyed catching up with Peter and Merle from Sydney - here we are with a local almond pastry called a Merle!

We stayed in a gorgeous little hostal that is more like a hotel just near the church- hostal San Martin.

Meseta part 2

The next 4 days continued the meditative monotony of the meseta with big skies and gently undulating fields. That is not to say there is nothing there. There is a constantly changing palette of wildflowers and birds. One long (12km) dead straight stretch following an old roman road is almost hallucinogenic as it stretches out in front of us seemingly without end.

This region has historically been rich farming country but now many of the towns have suffered the urban shift of the last century and make a living from people coming to stay on the Camino.
The region had a strong religious history and was a stronghold of the reconquista/ bloody resurgence of catholicism against Islam in the 10th to 13th centuries. On the day after Boadilla we had breakfast in the next small town, Fromista, with its much lauded Romanesque church which has hundreds of carved human and animals figures under its eaves.

After this we had tea in front of a huge Templar cathedral before arriving in Carrion de Los Condes.

In Carrion we stayed in the alburgue run by 5 young Augustine nuns behind the Santa Maria church. They and the monks over at espiritu santu continue a tradition of welcoming pilgrims and growing the faith that has been the focus of the city although many of the other orders have shrunk. They were a lively bunch who are keen musicians singing in the alburgue and also at mass and the blessing of pilgrims that followed. I have little experience of the full bells and smells Catholic mass in Australia so it was a new cultural experience!

The next night we enjoyed great luck with our own room in the Jaques de Moray alburgue in Teranillos de templarios. We had an interesting multilingual chat with three French women and a man from Barcelona about the changes in Europe at the moment, over a tasty dinner. I finally got to understand better the true culture shock that will ensue if the threats to privatize the medical system I've seen posted on small local clinic doors go through. This is one of the great joys for me of the evenings on the Camino in alburgues as you get to meet people from all walks of life and countries.

In Bercianos del camino we stayed in the paroquial hostel that is run by volunteers who try to bring back the collectivist atmosphere of the camino and charge only a donation. It was in a cool old adobe and brick building. Everyone helps make dinner and eats together. They asked me to translate the prayers and reflection session after dinner which was interesting but I felt a bit silly translating as I don't speak French and half of the pilgrims were French.

They are building a new church in town as the last one subsided with the subterranean bodegas (cellars) tunneled underneath it did in the 70s!

Our last stop before Leon was a cute and slightly larger town called Mansilla de las Mulas. We enjoyed lunch in the garden of our alburgue which is run by people who make an excellent range of salamis and cured meats. The town itself still has a young population inside the remains of its fortified walls.

The final day's walk into Leon was pretty ugly along highway and through the semi-industrial areas that surround any big city but were worth it for a great city- see next post.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Meseta part 1

We set off from Burgos and after 10 km entered the area known as the meseta - raised dry tablelands used predominantly for growing wheat and raising sheep. The meseta was not as barren as had been suggested. I suspect most people who write about it have not done the drive from Cobar to Broken Hill! There were frequent wind farms amongst the expanses of wheat rolling out to meet the sky it is still pretty green as the wheat is yet to ripen The region is an amazing raised tableland with valleys carved out by streams creating little spots for villages.
We had a nice picnic under one of the not particularly frequent trees.
The weather was on our side with relatively low temps for the lack of clouds with a cool breeze. It picked up in the afternoon so we were glad to have arrived at the alburgue by 2.
The sun is bright reflected of the stone houses even at 8pm.
today we enjoyed the walk through the valley lined with poplars along the road. Very pretty with the dawn sky turning pink and blue.
We passed a ruined monestary and then on to castrojeriz. Which is a town with a string of churches around the hillside and a ruined castle on the ridge that they appear to be repairing.
The walk continued up and down a large Mesa before descending through rolling hills to a bridge with many arches across a slow moving river. The land after the river is mainly again rolling with almost eroded mesas. Most of the fields appeared irrigated which may explain the slow moving river!
We met two amazing Dutch people who have walked from home with trolleys attached to their hips. Pretty neat setup but still sounds like hard work. We have seen some other people with similar but less well designed things so I took a photo.
Boadilla del camino is small and literally has one horse. We are staying in the small but functional municipal alburgue. There is another in town we found later which is nice with a walled garden with grass etc. a little oasis on the way as many of these towns are very dry and with little evidence of gardens rising up from the fields of wheat.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Burgos

We have had a lovely rest day in Burgos.
Yesterday we walked over the sierra Atapuerca (more of a hill really) and into Burgos. It's quiet a large city but luckily an old man we met out on the freeway near the airport who showed us the way to the river parkland with pedestrian and cycle ways so we didn't have to do the last 5 km on the main road. He was very nice and even pointed out the factory where they make paper for currency printing(euros usd etc)!
The city is famous for its huge gothic cathedral which dominates the skyline. A proud and gentile city with lots of regal history but it also has all the modern conveniences and some excellent tapas places.
The cathedral was completely over the top with many ornate side chapels. It is a beautiful example of its kind though. We may need the barren meseta we walk into tomorrow to recover!
The highlight was probably the museum of human evolution which was only opened a couple of years ago. It houses the important hominid remains (some thought to be the oldest in Europe found in the Atapeurca hills and details the archeological process.
It is a beautiful modern building over the river from the old town. A great contrast!
We tried the local sweet - yemas (yolks) de Burgos. They are sugar joined with not sure what. A soft cooked yolk texture but too sweet for our tastes. Lucky they would sell us two rather than the half kg gift box!
We feel nice and rested and ready for the next phase tomorrow. One third of the way there!

Monday, 11 June 2012

San Juan de Ortega and Ages

Today we left the comfy cuatro canciones in Belgrado and continued over the hill to the San Juan monestary. The walk passed a memorial to people killed in the civil war by Franco's forces. It's amazing as always for me that people would do that to their own compatriots (or anyone really). The long stretch over the hill through oak and pine forests was made easy by chatting to Peter and Merl, from of all places, Australia.
The monestary has a church devoted to San Juan, a deciple of Santo Domingo who was again focused on caring for pilgrims and building their infrastructure.
We where caught by a brief storm as we entered the small and almost deserted Ages. We have had a delightful evening at Hostal San Rafael with the amiable staff, especially the lovely woman who runs the place after coming here on the camino herself.
The funny spanish guys in our room are now teasing us for being in bed early while I write this so I guess I should stop. (we've just adapted to the 10pm lock out of the alburgues!)

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