Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Camino - Day 2

Well, it certainly took me a LONG time to get back to this... but here is the next leg of my Camino Journey:

As my last post said, we had a very difficult time finding a place to stay.  It had been a long first-day's walk - and the end of it was STRAIGHT downhill toward the river.  Tough walking - but our destination was just on the other bank of the river, so we carried on!  As we walked up to the town we saw this beautiful staircase...

Monday, April 10th - after a GOOD night's sleep in that new room, we awoke and had Mass in the hotel room - then breakfast at the hotel restaurant - and at 10:20 a.m. we were off!  The town where we had stayed the night (Portomarín) had a beautiful ancient church in it - and the morning was a bit foggy as the photo shows.  The Church of San Xoán was built as a temple-fortress by the Order of St John of Jerusalem.  It wasn't open, so we couldn't go in.  But from the outside you could see the large rose window and the 4 defense towers (one at each corner).  We also learned that the church was originally down next to the river - but was moved to this location in the town in the 1960's when the flooded the river to form a reservoir.    

So, we headed off.  As the fog lifted, it revealed the beautiful landscape...

 That day we walked through the following towns (and some pictures as I could recall where they were taken):

- Toxibó - one of the things we saw all along the way were these little "houses" - and it caused quite a bit of debate as to what they were.  They had small doors - and spaces for air to get in.  I thought they were perhaps bee-hives - but, on asking someone, we learned they are storage for corn.

- Then through Gonzar as we headed toward Castromaior.

Before arriving in the town, we encountered some ancient Celtic ruins dating from 400 BC to 100 AD.  The settlement was built on the top of a hill (which we, of course, had to climb) in order to protect the settlement of about 1000 people and to provide a deterrent to anyone who might think of invading (I know the hill looked overwhelming for us!).  For even further protection, they built rings of walls and ditches around the settlement.  The ruins of buildings were all built of stone and originally had thatched roofs and were connected by narrow streets that occasionally ended in dead ends.  I found some photos of these ruins on the internet to share with you (mine didn't turn out well).  After exploring a bit, we continued toward Castromaior where we found the church of Santa Maria de Castromaior.  

We then headed on toward the town of Hospital da Cruz.  Again, just beautiful landscape as we walked along!  

We walked through Hospital da Cruz, Ventas de Narón where, since it was now close to 1:30pm, we found a nice place along the way for lunch... and after lunch, another locked church - the Madalena Chapel - which was also once a pilgrim hospital.

Our goal for the day was to make it to Casanova - still 17 kilometers away...  So we continued on through Crucero de Lameiros - where we found a pilar dating from 1670.  The cross on top represents the maternity and life through images of Christ and the Virgin de los Dolores.  The base represents death and suffering of Jesus Christ (on it are found images of a pair of tongs, a crown of thorns, and a skull).  It was here that we paused to give our feet a rest and pray Daytime Prayer together.

Back on the road, we again found beautiful landscapes - we were VERY fortunate with weather, upper 70's during the day - sunny... perfect for hiking!  We walked through Eirexe, Portos, Lestedo (in one of these towns we FINALLY found on open church - and went in to spend some time).  

Finally we made it to Palas de Rei about 5:45pm.  This was a good sized town, so we stopped here for dinner.  Note the "pilgrim shell" in the street - you'll see shells everywhere - it's the sign of the pilgrim!

After a nice meal (and a beer) we continued on toward our destination... through the towns of San Xuilán do Camiño and Ponte Campaña.

We finally arrived at the town of Casanova at about 8pm - 8:45 pm (in case you are tracking - that's nearly hours on the road) - where had we had found nice place to stay about 1 km "off the beaten track" of the Camino.

At this point I was EXHAUSTED and really hurting!  I was going VERY slowly down the beautiful treelined road toward the hotel.  I thought I had blisters on the bottoms of both my heals - turns out they were both bruised - guess I walk too hard!  But it was a very lovely tree-lined road leading toward our hotel for the night.

As we arrived at the hotel at 8:45pm dinner was already over - it was OK, we had already eaten.  The staff was a bit surprised to see us.  They had sent a message that they would pick us up at the Camino and bring us to the hotel.  If ONLY we had gotten that message!  Oh well.  Another good night's sleep - and ready for Day 3.

To be continued...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Camino of Santiago - Madrid & Day 1

Well, I'm back from walking the Camino of Santiago - and FINALLY have some time to share with you my experience.  As I'm doing this, I realize it's a big job and it's already taken me a long time to get this far - so I'm going to separate out into several posts - here's the first...  Background, Madrid & Day 1 of the Camino of Santiago.

What a great experience it was!  Let me see if I can walk you from Rome to Madrid (our stop-over on the way) and then on our journey to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  We had chosen to do the last part of the "French Route."  The full route runs from St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and finishes 780 km later in Santiago.  It takes most people one full month to walk the entire route - time none of us had.  But, in order to have officially "done" the Camino, you only have to walk a minimum of 100 km - so that was our plan - to begin in Sarria: 112 km from Santiago.

The full route

Our route from Sarria to Santiago

We left Rome Saturday morning, April 8 and flew to Madrid - where we had booked a room overnight.  We had a very nice afternoon and evening in Madrid - wandering around, checking out the sights, tasting the food (of course).  The place where we stayed was very near to Plaza Major.  We also visited the Madrid Cathedral - which I had visited a few years ago during World Youth Day - but it was much nicer without the crowds!

Madrid Cathedral
The Crypt Church
Plaza Mayor, Madrid
Since it was Palm Sunday, they were preparing things for the Mass - including a huge float showing Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.

We decided to attend Mass on Saturday evening - as our flight out of Madrid was fairly early on Sunday morning - and we didn't know what situations we'd encounter in Santiago - so better to have Mass "under our belts."  So we went down to the crypt church of the Cathedral.  I went into the sacristy and, celebrit in hand (the document that says, "Hey, this guy really is a priest") asked if I could concelebrate the Mass.  OF COURSE!  They were very kind and welcoming.  Everything was just as usual for a Palm Sunday Mass.  When we got to the Gospel the priest leaned over to me and said, "Would you like to proclaim the part of Jesus?"  OK - quick through process... "Wow, that's nice of him.  Oh wait, it would be in Spanish,  I haven't looked at it, I'm studying Italian, and it is Spanish-Spanish, not Latin American Spanish..."  I replied, "SURE!"  The people didn't seem to wince in the pews as I read the part of Jesus - and the seminarians said I did OK.  

Sunday morning we headed out to the airport for our flight to Santiago.  I know, seems strange to be flying into the place that is the destination of our walking pilgrimage - but it was the easiest thing to do.  So, on arrival we found our little apartment (we used Air B n B - and the woman who owns it didn't have it rented out that week, so she said we could store our stuff there while we were on the Camino - that was VERY useful - didn't have to carry everything with us).

We got settled in, and went to the pilgrim office in order to get our "Passport."  Every pilgrim carries with them a little book that, as you stop at different restaurants and hotels, you get stamped to prove that you really did walk that distance.  Then we had a nice lunch - and got on the road.  We needed to take a bus, train or taxi back to Sarria, where we would be starting our hike.  That 112 kilometers from Santiago.  After all our research, we decided a taxi was the easiest - and at this point quickest - thing to do.  It's now getting close to 1:30pm - and we haven't even started our hike yet.  The goal was to be back in Santiago by Thursday, so we needed to get moving.  The taxi arrived and about 1 1/2 hours later, we were in Sarria (strange to think it would take us 4 days to walk that same distance).  

My passport - a little worn...
My passport stamps
We got our packs on and, as she pulled away, the taxi driver said, "No more than 20 kilometers a day!"  Good advice - that we did not heed...  And so, we prayed Daytime prayer together and, at 3:30pm, began our pilgrimage on the Camino of Santiago.  Here some photos of us as we started out and of us at the marker for Sarria, where we began.

My Camino brothers - all seminarians
Stephen Logue (Harrisburg), Shawn Roser (Venice, FL), Dan Carr (Greensburg, PA) 

First water stop of the Camino

These markers say how many km - 100 to go!
The first day we wanted to take it easy - only about 15 km or so.  Some beautiful scenery as we walked along.  After about 20 km we decided to start looking for an albuerge (pilgrim hotel) in which to stay for the night.  Here are some photos from our first day...

Found a place, looked nice.. "Sorry, we're full.  Next place is 10 km down the road."  Next place, "Sorry, we're full.  Next town is about 5 km down the road."  We finally arrived in the town of Portomarin - a big town, so we figured there'd be plenty of places to stay.  There were plenty of hotels, but they were all full.  We all reflected how we felt like Mary and Joseph going inn to inn looking for a place to stay.  "Sorry, no room" was the constant answer.  Finally a gentlemen referred us to a place he knew had some space.  Good thing because at this point 22.5 km, I'm REALLY tired. She didn't have room for 4 - but told us to wait a few minutes.  She went away, and when she returned she said, "OK, you're all set."  They were renovating a part of the hotel and she opened up 2 double-rooms just for us.  Never used before.  We were very grateful!  So finally at 9:30pm we had a room.  So we went upstairs, dropped our stuff in the room and went to the dining room for dinner (before it closed at 10pm).  

We learned a lesson that we immediately remedied - make reservations.  So we booked the rest of our nights - which then also gave us daily walking goals - and it was going to be ROUGH!  More to come...