A King’s Lodging


Sunday, July 10, 2016
Tricastela to Sarria
Day 40

Another taxi, this time from Tricastela to Sarria.

We are staying in the only high-end hotel of this trip, the four- star Hotel Alfonso IX. Once checked in, we enjoyed the hotel’s fluffy towels and commodious bathroom, a huge step up from the modest arrangements of our previous lodgings.

I headed out for a 7:30 pm pilgrims’ mass, which was held at a very small church. There were more pilgrims here than I had seen in days. I stopped in at a larger church, Santa Marina, on the way to the pilgrims’ mass in order to ask for my Sarria sello (stamp) for my Camino passport.

James met me for dinner. We had a lovely tapas meal, accompanied by sangria. Nothing better, to my way of thinking.

On the way back to the hotel, we came across a youth group that was singing in a plaza. We had seen the same group in Tricastela, but hadn’t realized they were a choral group. We listened to them for a while, with James offering musical commentary, before heading back to our hotel.

7,162 steps today

July 10: Tricastela to Sarria

Additional photos from this day can be viewed at https://wp.me/P7rs4v-sK.

The Shepherd’s Miracle


Saturday, July 9, 2016
O’Cebreiro to Tricastela
Day 39

James had no interest, given his bad foot, in walking around O’Cebreiro, with its rough paving stones, so I set off alone to explore. I went back to the church, this time to see again the chalice and paten that are at the heart of the famous miracle. I won’t go into the details. (Michener tells it much better than I could, having heard the tale from a local shepherd on a dark and stormy night.)

The basic story is that a priest based in this town during the Middle Ages resented during the long snowed-in winters having to leave his warm hearth in order to say mass each day in this very cold church for a single parishioner, a humble shepherd. You can probably guess what happens and how the priest gets his just deserts. It’s a lovely tale. As I have throughout this journey whenever I have been in a church, I dropped to my knees and said an Our Father, a Hail Mary, a thank you to my mother and father, and a special plea to my sister, my own Saint Muffet, for her intercession. If anyone in heaven can help me and the rest of my family, it is she.

I also requested the help of Saint James. Besides being the patron saint of Spain and the reason for the existence of this pilgrimage route, St James is the namesake and hence patron saint of my uncle, my brother, my ex-husband, my ex-father-in-law, my son, and my nephew. “James” has special meaning on both sides of my family. I purchased a prayer card with a prayer to Saint James, and I silently re‐ cited it before leaving the church.

I went to the Palloza Museum next. O’Cebreiro is an ancient hill town, and the museum was filled with artifacts from bygone eras. It was interesting to learn how these hill people lived in their low slung pallozas (cottages) that look to me like brown mushrooms with thatch caps.

This town has really changed since Michener was here in the late 1960s, when it was practically a ghost town. Pilgrims have revived it. It now has several hostels and at least two gift shops catering to the visitors. As usual, I ducked into the tourist shops to see what treasures I could find. I purchased an O’Cebreiro pin to add to the collection of pins I have been amassing, one for each town in which we stop.

James and I set out for Tricastela in a taxi. We are booked into an amazing complex for pilgrims. Most of the rooms are dormitory style, but we have a private room with bath. Best of all, the complex boasts a laundry and WiFi. While washing clothes, I caught up on email and news from home. There is bad news out of Dallas. Three policemen have been killed in what might be the start of some sort of revenge killings for the murders of black men by policemen.

6,684 steps today

More photos are at July 9: O’Cebreiro to Tricastela

The Man with the Yellow Arrow


Friday, July 8, 2016
Las Herrerias to O’Cebreiro
Day 38

After breakfast, I settled down to work on catching up on my blog posts. The WiFi wasn’t very good, and I found it very frustrating. I couldn’t get anything to upload. I gave up after a while. I have my travel journal, and so long as I keep that up to date I can always catch up on the blog when I arrive somewhere with good WiFi.

After lunch, we took a taxi to our next stop on the Camino, O’Cebreiro. This is a very old, tiny, quite famous village, thanks to a miracle that supposedly took place here. Michener wrote about it; he had a wonderful, mysterious, and somewhat scary experience here.

O’Cebreiro is also the highest point along the Camino. I’m glad I didn’t have to climb the hill to get up here but instead was able to ride on four wheels in comfort. Not a very pilgrim-like thing to say, but the truth. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

At the hotel, I was very disappointed to find out that there was no WiFi whatsoever. What a bummer! To assuage my resulting bad temper, I went out to visit the local church, Santa Maria la Real.

Santa Maria is supposed to be the oldest church on the Camino, dating all the way back to the ninth century, when pilgrims first starting trekking to Santiago. The church is very simple and plain, but beautiful. I bought a postcard of its huge twelfth century baptismal font. By the looks of it, new Christians got a full immersion in the baptismal water rather than just a sprinkling of water on the forehead.

I wandered into the side garden where busts and plaques honoring Father Elias Valiña, the Spanish priest who re-popularized the Camino in the 1970s, have been placed by Camino associations from around the world. (See Chapter 21, “Father Elias Valiña,” on page 108.)

I searched for a plaque, or memorial stone, or other monument from APOC, but could not find one. Back at the church, I asked the clerk on duty at the small shop selling religious items whether there was something from America in the garden.

“No, there isn’t,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked. “Americans make up the largest national contingent walking the Camino. We should be represented.”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“If APOC offered a plaque for hanging on the wall, would it be welcome?”

“Of course. As you can see, we have items from all over the world.”

It made me sad that we Americans had failed to offer homage to this remarkable man. I’m going to ask my Houston chapter leaders why not, and maybe post a query on the APOC website.

James says we are eating too much. He’s right. On days when we walk a lot, eating big meals is fine, but on days like this one when we are mostly physically inactive, we need to cut back. We decided to skip dinner.

3,793 steps today

See more photos at July 8: Las Herrerias to O’Cebreiro


A Reading Break

20160707_102202Thursday, July 7, 2016
Villafranca to Las Herrerias
Day 37

Once again, we faced transportation difficulties: there is no bus from Villafranca to Las Herrerias. James would have to take a taxi. I went back and forth in my mind about whether to walk or go in the taxi with James. Wednesday had been a hard day of walking, and James had spent the day alone. I decided to give myself a break and go in the taxi.

We arrived in Las Herrerias far in advance of the time we would have if we had walked. This is still chocolate country, so James and I drank hot chocolate on the hotel patio, his with a dash of liquor, mine without.

I found a left-behind copy of a James Patterson book, Sail, and decided to take a break from reading about Spain and the Camino. The book, about a family summer sailing trip that goes terribly awry, has at its center a dysfunctional family. In a weird way, the book made me feel better. My extended family has issues, that is for sure, but we aren’t trying to kill each other to get our hands on the family fortune. Maybe not being wealthy has some silver linings.

James and I set off for the village to find a café for lunch. (Our hotel is outside of town.) We started walking, only to realize that we would have to walk up and down a hill to get there, under the hot midday sun. We turned around and headed back to the hotel to try its food.

Even though Las Herrerias is inland, like most restaurants in Spain the hotel restaurant served various seafood dishes. James and I had frequently ordered fried calamares (squid), but for the first time I asked for pulpo (octopus). It was delicious. The Spanish know to cook those two dishes.

After lunch, a nap and more reading. The fictional family is really in deep kimchi. It was hard to put the book down, but at 9:15 pm hunger got the best of me and I went downstairs to eat. It’s a good thing the Spanish keep late dining hours. James wasn’t hungry, so he stayed upstairs.

After dinner, I sat in the hotel’s lounge and continued reading. Against all odds the fictional family started pulling together, and all but one of the family members survived. I finished the book before going up to bed. All in all, it was a very quiet day,

2,623 steps today

Solo Traveler


Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Ponferrada to Villafranca
Day 36

Author’s Note: From this point forward, the entries come from my travel journal rather than my blog. I was getting too frustrated with trying to post daily updates and upload photos when the WiFi wouldn’t cooperate. I thought perhaps I would catch up on posts when I got to a town with good connectivity, but, in the end, I didn’t want to spend the time.

Today I arranged to split up from James for the day. I wanted to walk, but he couldn’t. I booked a taxi to take James to the bus station. From there, he could take a bus to Villafranca, while I walked the Camino.

The path was so-so, with lots of rocks and gravel and some hills, but overall not too bad. The morning was very hot, then after lunch it began threatening rain with lots of thunder and lightning. Sprinkles of rain began, sometimes quite heavy sprinkles. Before it started pouring, I thought it prudent to make the necessary adjustments. I pulled out my waterproof Ziplock pouch and stored my phone and tablet in it.

Then I put on my rain poncho. Since I was by myself, it didn’t go so well. My poncho kept snagging on my backpack, and I couldn’t tug it free. Nor could I figure out what the poncho was catching on. I took off my poncho several times and put it back on, trying to fluff it out over my backpack, but each time I had the same problem.

This was the first time I had had to get my rain gear out of my backpack, and of course it was the day James wasn’t with me. He could have fixed the problem in ten seconds, but I spent several minutes in the drizzle before giving up. If my backpack and the things in it got wet, so be it. My phone and tablet were safe, and that’s all that really mattered.

I started off again with a still-snagged poncho. Eventually the wind freed the poncho. Despite all the menacing signs, the light rain never developed into a pouring deluge, as I had feared. My backpack and I survived quite nicely.

Along the way I saw some interesting folk art and stopped to look at it. A husband and wife offered me beer or water. Yet more kindness offered by strangers.

I ducked into an open church I saw for a quick peek and finally staggered into Villafranca at 6:45 pm. I had left Ponferrada at 9:00 am, so that was about nine hours of walking to reach my destination.

I met James at the hotel. I quickly showered, then rushed down, famished, to dinner at 7:15 pm. Over dinner we talked with a Scottish couple who were bicycling the Camino with their seven-year-old son. He was managing quite well, they said, and keeping up with them. We spoke about Brexit, Harry Potter, my visit to Scotland way back when, and many other topics.

The WiFi is very poor here. I struggled with it for a while, then turned in by 10:00 pm. I didn’t sleep well, and was awake by 3:00 am. As usual when I can’t sleep, I read until I could nod off.

43,176 steps today

Please go to this site for some more photos: July 6: Ponferrada to Villafranca

The Castle

Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Day 35

Since the castle was built over many years, there are old parts, and even older parts. For example, there is the “Old Keep” and the “New Keep.” The whole castle area is quite large, and there are still areas not rebuilt and/or excavated by archeologists.

In the centuries after the castle stopped being  used, a lot of its stones were “recycled” into neighboring churches and homes. The narrative film in the castle explains how the castle began to be preserved and then restored in the 1920s and afterwards, after first appearing as an emblematic photo on advertising, such as on chocolate bars.

The castle grounds also include a gallery devoted to facsimiles of Medieval books, everything from books from around 800 AD to the start of printing. Facsimile Books of Hours belonging to lots of famous people are there, such as one belonging to Isabella of Castile.  And there is a tournament book of Rene of Anjou, showing how knights fought and what tournaments looked like.

A separate area is given over to books about and research on the Knights Templar. For me, a book and history lover, this was all fabulous.

We made a long visit to the castle. Workmen were disassembling fireworks stands, removing glasses and food and drink, and taking down flags. Evidently we had just missed the annual city celebration of the Knights Templar, which occurred over the previous weekend. I am sorry we missed it.  It would have been a great substitute for our missed 4th of July celebration, given the fireworks, parade, etc.

We stopped in a church we had seen from the castle, and visited a shop with souvenirs and medieval gear like swords and gauntlets. (I though of my brother Douglas, who used to participate in medieval reenactments. He would have loved the shop.) Then, after lunch, we headed for the laundromat.

We finished off the day with dinner at a really nice Italian restaurant. The lasagna was fabulous, and we ordered a bottle of chianti, the most expensive wine on the wine list, I think, at 14€. This was James’s first Chianti, and he wanted to take the bottle with him, but of course we can’t haul that bottle around for the rest of our trip.  And so to bed, after a long day.

Steps: 13,999

For more photos, see our page for July 5: July 5:  The Castle and Ponferrada.

Outside the Castle

Monday, July 4, 2016
Acebo to Ponferrada
Day  34

The highlight of the day was having lunch at a cafe across the street from the Ponferrada castle, which is the best preserved castle of the Knights Templar in Europe.  It was truly an amazing view.

At breakfast in Acebo, I stood up and wished all the Americans present a Happy 4th of July. There were quite a few Americans there, so a small cheer went up. I told James that I would like to celebrate the day somehow, maybe by a special dinner. Several of the Americans decided to celebrate by staying an extra day at the comfortable hotel complex, sunning by the pool and having Spanish “barbeque.” Not for us, but it sounded nice.

I booked a taxi to take us to Ponferrada at 11 am. In the meantime, I planned to walk back a short way down the road to the small village and look around, but instead I settled down and took advantage of the good WiFi to catch up on the blog.

Once in Ponferrada and checked in, we walked around the corner and had lunch across the street from the Knights Templar castle. I had planned to do laundry in the afternoon, but instead napped and read.  In the evening, we had a very small 4th of July celebration–we ordered a la carte instead of the Pilgrims’ Menu.  It made a nice change.

Steps: 3,201

For a couple of additional photos from outside the castle, see our page for July 4th: July 4, 2016: Acebo to Ponferrada

The Iron Cross

Sunday, July 3, 2016
Rabanal del Camino to Acebo
Day 33

Our trusty taxi driver phoned late last night to say that he had a fare going to Rabanal and could drive us to Acebo if we wished. Absolutely we wished!  He stopped  at the Iron Cross at our request and took photos of us.

We made it to the Iron Cross! This is where pilgrims traditionally deposit a rock that they  have carried along with them on the Camino. It symbolizes laying down a concern or burden that has been weighing them down.

I picked up my rock right outside of St. Jean-Pied-de-Port; it was fan shaped and reminded me of the Camino cockleshell. James wanted a river rock and diligently searched through several stream beds until he found what he was looking for.  Both of our rocks ended their journey on this day.

I had two concerns attached to my rock.  I am not sure that I can actually lay one of them down, but maybe St. James will give me a bit of help. Our friendly taxi driver–our third trip with him!–took this photo of us, using my tablet.  He told us that some years back the pole with the cross was actually cut down by a malicious (or nutty) individual.  The government replaced it, this time with interior reinforcement to thwart any future attempt to cut down the cross.

I wondered why pilgrims laid down their burdens here rather than right outside Santiago de Compostela. The taxi driver, Juan Manuel Garcia Cuesta, noted that back in the Middle Ages the Camino journey could take six months or more, so being a couple of weeks from the end of the journey felt like the end to them. I was a bit sorry to set my rock down.

After checking in at the auberge complex in which we are staying, we walked into the village, where we had lunch in the backyard of a cafe. The cafe advertised itself as a “terrace,” but really it was just a backyard, with a few tables with umbrellas set up. Next to us was a line with pilgrims’ clothes drying.  Boy, those clothes looked raggedy. They  have been used hard on the Camino. Three children scrambled around playing on some small plastic backyard  playground equipment–a minature slide, rocking horse, auto. This lunch didn’t quite reach the bucolic level of the lunch we had with the donkeys, geese, and chickens, but it was close.

In contrast, the aubergue complex we are staying in is quite swanky. It has a swimming pool, quite a large one–the first swimming pool we have seen in Spain. The place was mobbed, with two large lunchtime gatherings and many, many family groups, plus several bands of teenagers. Of course it was Sunday, a traditional day in Spain for family outings and lunches. And this is probably the only swimming pool for miles around.  Several of the pilgrims staying here, enchanted by the pool and the other comforts, have decided to stay over an extra day. I have to say that sitting on the terrace (a real terrace) looking out over the valley, with a cool breeze flowing in, was very enjoyable. Good WiFi, too, which is wonderful.  No struggling to up/download.

Steps Today: 5,372

For more photos, see our page for July 3:
July 3, 2016: Rabanal del Camino to Acebo

Chocolate Capital of Spain

Saturday, July 2, 2016
Astorga to Rabanal del Camino
Day 32

After breakfast, we walked down to the chocolate factory. Walking through Astorga, every other shop is selling chocolate or ice cream or sweets. It turns out that Astorga is the Chocolate Capital of Spain. In the past, there were 400 artesanal chocolate-making “factories” in Astorga. Once mass production machines came on line, the number of these small factories decreased, but there are still six workshops in Astorga making chocolate in the old way.

Astorga has a chocolate museum, which both James and I visited.  It made me think. Chocolate comes from Mexico originally, but I don’t remember ever seeing anything like this chocolate  museum in Mexico. Maybe there is one, but if so I never came across it.

It was very interesting  to learn how chocolate is made. The Astorga chocolate connection evidently goes back to Hernan Cortes, who offered chocolate as part of his daughter’s dowry when she married into a prominent Astorgan  family.

We had lunch in a cafe in the town, where we again ran into Tom from Germany.  (This is our second Tom from Germany, so now we call the other Tom “Tom from Frankfurt.”) This Tom is traveling alone and has kept pace with us for several weeks, and we regularly run into him. It was this Tom who suggested yesterday that we visit the chocolate museum. Great suggestion, Tom. Thanks.

Then, following lunch, the hotel called a taxi for us to go to Rabanal del Camino. Our taxi driver was the same one who had driven us to the emergency room the day before. He was very knowledgeable about the region and told us about the Camino in this area.

Steps Today: 6,897

You can see more photos on our page for July 2nd:
July 2, 2016: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

A Not-So-Gaudy  Gaudi

Friday, July 1, 2016
Hospital de Orbigo to Astoria
Day 31

We had a lovely breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Hospital de Orbigo jousting field. Then, off to catch the bus to Astorga.

After checking into our wonderful hotel right on the Plaza Mayor in Astorga, we booked a taxi to go to the emergency room to have James’s foot looked at by a doctor. It’s official: he has plantar fasciitis. The doctor prescribed strong Ibuprofen, a cream for foot massages, and above all rest for his foot. With the doctor’s orders ringing in our ears, we deposited James back at the hotel while I went to visit Gaudi’s  palace and the cathedral.

When I lived in Barcelona so many years ago, I regularly saw Catelon architect Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral. I didn’t care for it that much. Like Michener preferring  Romanesque to Gothic, sometimes I prefer plainer rather than flamboyant, and in my opinion Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona just takes things too far.

It was therefore a pleasure to see the restrained lines of his Archbishop’s Palace in Astorga. The palace now serves as a museum, and is filled with wonderful artwork.  Items from the Roman period are consigned to the basement, as perhaps is fitting for an Archbishop’s former place of residence. There is a room with every sort of Santiago statue that you can imagine: Santiago reading, Santiago riding, Santiago praying, etc.  I also visited the Astorga cathedral and its museum.

On the way back, I bought chocolates for James and an Astorga pin for my cap.

Dinner on the plaza in front of our hotel allowed us to watch the mechanical figures on the clock tower of the municipal building strike the quarter hours. What a treat, to balance the bad news about James’s foot.

Steps Today: 11,367

For more photos of Astorga, please see the page for July 1:
July 1, 2016: Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga