Sunday, September 30, 2012


The train trip from Granada to Madrid was more dramatic than we expected. On the day of our travel, Spain was experiencing torrential rains. It had been raining off and on in Granada but not enough to hint at the situation just a few miles west.

We were standing in the train station waiting to board when the announcement came that there was a problem with the tracks between Granada and the next stop; so they were going to bus us all to the next stop and put us on the train there. We didn't understand what the problem could be until our bus was slowed to a crawl passing through high water and going around roads closed due to washout danger. We passed several drowning olive orchards.

The bus delivered us safely and the train trip onward was uneventful. We stayed overnight in Madrid then took a commuter train (stops at every stop) to Astorga where we checked into Hotel Gaudi - a lovely place on the square with Gaudi's Palacio Episcopal and the cathedral of St Marta.

Today is Sunday, so we've spent it getting oriented and making plans. We expect to stay here in Astorga until Thursday. I'm feeling much stronger and starting to eat again. Good thing I brought pants with drawstring waistbands!

This morning, to stay in shape, Dad strapped on his pack and walked to the next village where he had breakfast with other peregrinos on the Way before walking back. Tomorrow is laundry day and we are planning to do some more walking. There are lots of sights to see here in Astorga and the weather is absolutely gorgeous.

The plan is to be back on foot and headed towards Santiago on Thusday morning.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Our trip from Burgos to Granada was an all day affair. It began with a taxi ride to the Burgos train station where we discovered many other peregrinos gathering. Our train for Granada was scheduled to leave about an hour ahead of a train that was headed to Santiago.

Most of the waiting pilgrims were skipping all or part of the Meseta and planned to restart their walk further along the way. Our friend Francesca from Italy (who had occupied the bunk above mine in the Roncesvalles albergue) was there. She had developed tendinitis and in order to complete the required final 100km on foot within her remaining time was taking the train to Sarria. A couple from Canada was planning to go as far as Leon and from there would recommence their trek. Johan from Holland was planning to take the train all the way to Santiago.

This was Johan's second Camino. He'd walked it once before from St Jean to Finisterre - celebrating his ability to do so given that he has multiple sclerosis. This time, he'd experienced a flare up of his symptoms in Burgos and so was now on his way to Santiago by train. As we were chatting, he received a message from his wife confirming his reservation at the Parador there (luxury hotel located in a historic palace or monastery) - Dutch delight.

We hopped on our train and settled in for the ride to Madrid, changed stations in Madrid (where we also half-guiltily ate Whoppers at the station's Burger King) and caught the next train that would deliver us to Granada just before 10 pm.

An enthusiastic tour guide/taxi driver whisked us through the bustling streets of Granada pointing out the most important sights, "That restaurant has Very Good Tapas." When we arrived at our hotel, situated at the foot of the hill upon which La Alhambra sits, the desk clerk was standing on the sidewalk holding open the door for us and asking if she could help with our luggage. Two packs hardly count as luggage, so we handled our own and she got down to the cheerful business of greeting us, orienting us to our neighborhood, giving us our room keys, and our tickets for and tips on how to navigate the next day's Alhambra visit.

Exhausted and thrilled we made our way upstairs and fell into our beds.

The next morning, with rain forecast for the whole day, we headed out for what our map indicated would be a short walking tour of the old city. Maps are flat. Granada is not. It was a wonderful, winding and tiring climb with so many opportunities to photograph vistas and architectural gems that we progressed at a snail's pace.

Happily, we found a direct route down the hill for our return to the hotel, where we took a (much needed by me) rest before setting off up the hill to see the Alhambra.

Long lines and minimal signage greeted us at the gate but we managed to find our way through the entry maze only to discover that - once inside - there were even fewer helpful signs. We returned to the gate and were told that there were no maps of the complex available. We could clearly see other visitors holding maps but when we asked about those we learned that those maps came only with the purchase of the audio tour.

Ah. So, we spent our first hour and a half trying to *find* the central palace and another 45 minutes sheltering from a downpour in the palace of Charles V.

Our tickets allowed us entry to the palace at 4:30 pm and our delightful hotel receptionist had warned us not to be late, "They are very strict. They will lock the gates." We were in line in plenty of time with only sprinkles of rain falling. Slowly the line began to inch forward and then, we were in.

The crowds were so large, it was difficult to get a true sense of the Alhambra's famous spaciousness and airiness; but the artistry and beauty were not wholly obscured and I began to worry that I might overload the data storage on my iPhone with all my picture taking.

An hour and a half later, we emerged out into the gardens again and slowly made our way down hill, back to the arms of the most excellent Hotel Puertas de las Granadas.

The long trip and extended walking seem to have slowed my recovery, so I've spent today mostly resting and reading - hoping to get digestion and strength back to normal soon. Dad has been a champ, finding a restaurant to make white rice for me ("off menu" and for take out), and sitting patiently or napping while I rest and gather strength.

Tomorrow we head back north. The plan is to take a train to Madrid and spend the night there. Then, the next day, another train to Astorga where we plan to spend two nights before once again strapping on our packs and walking out toward Santiago.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

To Meseta or Not To Meseta

Monday was a leisurely day in Burgos. We visited the cathedral and saw the spot where El Cid is buried (his wife is there too). The cathedral is huge and thickly encrusted with decoration outside and in. The central sanctuary is surrounded by multiple small chapels constructed at various times, mainly (it appeared to me) as celebrations of-and ostentatious burial sites for-the respective Bishops who had them built. The artisanship was exquisite.

In places where worship has taken place for centuries, I almost always experience a strong sense of Divine Presence. The sensation was starkly absent in this cathedral. It was as if the Divine Mystery that greets us at the heart of beauty and in places of gathered worship had abandoned this one, leaving the beautiful objects empty, the structures serving more as testaments to human commerce and ambition than to the Mysterious Divine.

Perhaps it is my modern eyes that are blind to the symbols contained in the works that would evoke a deeper response had I better understanding.

The other order of business for Monday was to plan the next few stages of our trip. We have reached the eastern edge of the 'meseta'- over a hundred miles of landscape that bears a remarkable resemblance to Nebraska.

My need for rest gives us an excellent reason to skip much of this section of the Camino, hopping ahead by bus or train. But where should we skip to? What next town should we choose to rest in? And after that, what next?

We struggled to find some place along this stretch that would be worth spending a day or two. All we could find were more churches with ornate (and somewhat gory) altarpieces, or ruins high on hills overlooking otherwise sleepy-to-the-point-of-dormant villages.

We were shaking our heads in frustration when Dad said,"Linda, I'm up for anything."

"Do you really mean that,Dad?"

"I really mean it. Anything at all."

"Want to go to Granada and visit The Alhambra?"

Matching gleams in our eyes, we headed to the Burgos Tourism Office once again. The nice lady there recognized Dad with a big smile and in startled response to our request for help planning a jaunt to Granada, she said,"You do know that's a long way?".

We assured her we had a map and understood the distances. She found the train schedule, directed us to the train info and ticket office and by dinner time we had train tickets for Tuesday and hotel reservations in Granada, as well as tickets to see the Alhambra on Wednesday afternoon.

We are spending Tuesday traveling and will arrive in Granada about 10pm. We will spend a day in Granada (maybe two - depends on room availability). Then we'll take trains and busses north and westerly to rejoin the Camino, hopefully at Astorga, where the guidebook says we will find a building designed by the famed Spanish architect, Gaudi.

Once back on the trail, the plan is to walk short distances for a few days to rebuild our strength.

We will have replaced walking across the meseta with a train trip through Spain and a visit to a place I've always wanted to see and that Dad wished to but never believed he'd get to revisit.

I made a little video to demonstrate our little side trip:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Viloria de la Rioja > Belorado (and misery) > Burgos

When last we wrote, Dad and I were in the very tiny village of Viloria de la Rioja, a cluster of ancient dwellings, neighbors, and gardens with no cafe or (so far as we could see) shop of any kind. Our hostess (hospitalera de camino), Orietta runs a small albergue, with no more than a dozen beds, in her home. Dad and I had arrived without any lunch and Orietta told us there was no place in town to find provisions. In fact, the fruit truck had come through yesterday and would not return until next week. We were resigning ourselves to the squashed granola bars in our pockets when Orietta dashed upstairs to bring each of us a banana and small apple. Perfecto.

Orietta and her volunteer assistant (Ana from Brazil) cooked a huge dinner for the peregrinos sheltering together and we say around the table introducing ourselves and enjoying the bountiful meal. At the table were a Brazilian man traveling alone and happy to find another speaker of Portuguese, a 24 year old German man traveling with his mother, and another german woman traveling alone.

Dad and I were first to bed. During the night I began to experience the first signs that all was not well with my digestive system. Knowing that we only had a short five mile walk ahead of us, I took my took my time getting ready and by 8:30 was convinced that the trouble had - er - passed.

We had a very pleasant walk through a misty morning into Belorado, a bustling city compared to tiny Viloria de la Rioja. We sat at one of cafes on the square, shaded by massive sycamore trees, and waited for our albergue to open at noon. A brief shower sent us scurrying for shelter under the stone arcade ringing the perimeter of the plaza. There we found a sign promising that we were only 534,4km from Santiago (337.65 miles).

We checked into the albergue and were able to book a room in the adjoining 'pension' -- private bedrooms with shared bathroom down the hall.

We took a quick nap and set out to see what sights we could find. As we passed the old church, we could see above us in the hillside, the caves where hermits used to dwell. The old hermitage caves have been updated and now there are windows and doors embedded in the hillside, a very novel sight.

We looked into the church and marveled at the opulence (again) and took pictures of the two statues of St James (St Iago - patron of the Camino). One statue portrayed him as a pilgrim, the other commemorated his martyrdom by showing him holding his haloed (severed) head in his arms.

We then strolled down to the Oficina de Turismo to see about a wifi connection (none at our albergue). We were given the password and told that the office was about to close for siesta. To actually use the wifi, we would need to return after they reopened at 5 pm.

Another leisurely afternoon in a cafe on the plaza. I wasn't feeling hungry and just had a small pastry with water. At the cafe, we visited with a couple from Washington D.C. - her second Camino and her husband's first.

When the Turismo opened again Dad and I went over and I text-chatted with Ric while Dad looked at the extensive exhibits. Then we sat on a bench just outside the door and Dad called Mom using the Skype connection on my phone. Amazing technology.

I was feeling ready for another nap and Dad was, as always, accommodating - so back to our room we went. When dinner time rolled around, I found I still was not hungry and opted to stay in bed while Dad went off to dinner.

You can see where this going.

By three a.m. I was full on sick with stomach-intestinal distress. I crawled back to bed and, in the morning, let Dad know that we were going to need to spend another day in Belorado.

As it happened, I was not the only stricken pilgrim. The farmacia was once again consulted. Imodium and electrolyte powder (to mix into my water) were obtained; and I proceeded to sleep away Saturday.

On Sunday, we took the bus to Burgos - the city where El Cid was born and is buried. I was already on the mend but still needing rest, so we checked into a hotel for two nights. I had tea and dry toast for dinner and more of the same for breakfast.

All seems to be well; and now it is just a matter of regaining my strength before we set out again on foot. We are shifting into "tourist" mode for the next few days, scoping out places along the Camino with interesting sights and planning to travel by bus and car until I'm once again eating full meals and confident I can walk far enough to trek from town to town without assistance.

While this has been an effective weight loss regimen, I do not recommend it!

It is now Monday morning and we've been out briefly for my first glimpse of Burgos. I've posted pictures of Orietta's albergue, some of the sights in Belorado, and of the statue of El Cid and of a bridge over the river that runs through Burgos. More to come.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Najera>Santa Domingo de la Calzada>Viloria de la Rioja

The weather has started to cool and we've been walking under cloudy skies. We are glad for the cloud cover as most of the trails have been without shade and would have been very tough if the sun was out.

Out of Najera, we walked 15.1km (about nine miles) to Ciruena (there should be a tilde over that 'n'). It was a fairly steep climb into Ciruena and the city fathers must have been peregrinos because at the top of the hill, just at the city limit, they provide a resting place where weary pilgrims can put their feet up. I took a photo of a pair of German peregrinos with whom we've shared the road for many days.

From Cireuna, we took a short taxi ride into Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Once again, we arrived into a citywide fiesta. This was the fiesta of Gracias and St Jeronimo Hermosilla.

We visited the oficina de turismo and secured a room in the hospederia run by Cistercian nuns. As we made our way through the streets we ran into several pilgrim friends who had arrived before us. The lovely and kind Louise from Cork in Ireland led us to our hospederia where we checked in and did the ritual chores (shower and hand wash clothes).

Out on the streets again, we worked our way toward the restaurante recommended for lunch. Marching bands, parades with dancing children (playing castanets) and ambling dignitaries, blocked streets and, once we were seated near a second story window, serenaded our meal.

After lunch we joined the rest of the city in siesta. We woke again about 5 pm. At 6:30 we wandered into the church adjoining the abbey to listen to the nuns sing vespers. Then we were back outside wandering in search of dinner. Hmm, perhaps I should re-name this blog: Walk, Sleep, Eat.

We ran into Rick from San Mateo and Mike from Menlo Park who had been at the albergue in Orisson on our first night. They were thrilled to see Harold from Houston and the four of us found a nice little restaurant where we enjoyed huevos with jamon and pimientos (peppers) and lively conversation.

Dad and I were back to our room with heads on pillows by 9:30. At 11:00 pm, the fireworks started. I sat up in bed, pulled back the curtain and watched the show from our window. Happily, it was not a long show and signaled the end of the partying. The streets below were quiet by 11:30 and I fell back to sleep easily.

This morning we left Santa Domingo early and walked through a series of tiny villages crossing into the region of Spain called Castilla. Let me just say that the Castillians want to be sure you know when you enter their province. They provide a HUGE signpost trail-side with a map showing the portion of the way that lies in Castilla. (see photo)

As we passed through the villages, there were places set out just for weary pilgrims to rest and have a cup of water. In one, I stepped into the church (every village has a church) and was amazed at the opulence of the altar and the organ.

We stopped at a cafe to visit with a few other pilgrim friends (including Elmarie from Australia). Then, we planted our walking sticks to lift ourselves out of the chairs and followed the yellow brick road (literally- see the photo) on into Viloria de la Rioja where we are stopped for the night.

When we arrived at the albergue, we found two young women resting on its terrace. They are pilgrims from South Korea. Dad told the that he had been in Korea 60 years ago and they both nodded, bowed and said, "We respect you. Thank you." Then one of them went to her pack and came back with a small beaded charm which she set in front of Dad saying, "This is my gift to you. The symbol is Korean for happiness, good fortune, and wealth."

They asked why we were on the Camino and we told our story again. Dad asked them why they were on camino. One said she didn't know. The other said that she had many prayers for family and for a friend with cancer. She also said that she was unmarried and hoped to find a husband and make a family. Dad told her he hoped so too and that, as it happens, today is the day, 65 years ago, that he met his wife. I think we all took it as an auspicious sign. With much laughter and mutual picture-taking the two young women went on their way.

Tomorrow we plan to walk to Belorado - a short walk (only about 5 miles). By Sunday, we expect to be in Burgos, the city where El Cid is buried. Buses will be involved in part of this next stage in order to avoid a stretch with several steep ascents and descents and no towns for rest stops.

We are both healthy and our feet are doing well. Tomorrow is the International Day of Peace (and Ric's birthday - happy birthday sweetheart!).

video of parades:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rioja and Paella

Yesterday, we left basque country (or was it the day before?) and entered the region called Rioja- wine country. it is also paella country apparently. For the last two days, paella has been on offer for the pilgrims menu and we've been loving it.

We had planned to walk 7km today, from Navarette to Ventosa and then go on to Najera tomorrow. Plans on the Camino, however, are ephemeral at best. We found ourselves on the road at 6:30 a.m. which put us in Ventosa at 8:30 - far too early to stop for the day. So, we had some pan chocolat for breakfast and hit the trail towards Najera (10km further away).

Along the way, we passed a stone beehive shaped building with an information sign telling the story of how the pilgrim, Roland (you know, Charlemagne's pal), killed the giant Ferragut - who is reported to have been nine feet tall with "a nose span of length and strength of four men". Wow. That must have been one. strong. nose. In some versions of the tale, the mighty schnozz was felled by a stone from Roland's slingshot. The version we were offered today tells a different tale of a death thrust through the giant's navel (see photo).

While we were sitting and contemplating noses and navels, one of Dad's fans came by and asked if she could take our picture. We said yes and after she took her photo, she offered to take one of Dad and me with my phone. I can't believe I haven't asked someone to do that sooner! Photo is in the mix below.

We arrived in Najera just before noon and were met by other newly arrived pilgrims clutching their cell phones and telling a woeful tale. Today is a fiesta day in Najera and, they told us, all rooms were taken in the whole town. The hotels were "complet".

Dad and I decided to check with the oficina de turismo to see if they could find us anything and, if not, if they could book us someplace in the next town (and we'd take a bus).

There were signs indicating the way to the Turismo, but the way was far from clear. Happily, a lovely and kind teenaged Spanish girl chose to lead us there (rather than try to explain directions). The very nice lady at the Turismo made one quick call and we had a room with en suite bath only two minutes walk away.

We took baths and put on our last clean clothes. It was 1:30 -time to go get lunch before everything closed for siesta (2:30-5:00 usually).

When we got to the lobby, we asked if there was a laundry service and, miracle of modern civilization, there WAS! Up in the ascensor to stuff our laundry in a bag. Down again to hand it to our wonderful hostess and then out into a cool afternoon to find paella, grilled pork ribs (with the ubiquitous papa fritas) and flan (for me) ice cream (for Dad).

Back to the room we went for our own siesta, then out into Najera for an hour of sight seeing. We visited the Monestario Santa Maria la Real (a lovely church and cloister built onto a cave in the hillside) and the Museo Najerillense (where artifacts from excavations near Najera are on display including roman and Neolithic pieces).

We made our way back to the room to find our laundry done. Ahhhh.

Dad says we've gone 20% of the way. Only 370 miles to go!