Day 39 – Santiago de Compostela

My final day here in Santiago was very relaxing and enjoyable.

In the morning I visited the traditional market in the old town. It is an amazing complex of 8 stone buildings that house stalls for the vendors of bread, fruit, vegetables, flowers and seafood. For those of you who are familiar with Findlay Market in Cincinnati, or the market in Indianapolis, the Santiago market is several times larger.

I meandered around the old town a bit, and stumbled on a Buddy Holly type rock-a-billy band. I’ve included a brief video clip below. These guys looked and sounded like they were right out of Nashville. When they took a break, I introduced myself and learned that all members of the threesome are from Barcelona, but they have played in the US recently. Really nice to hear some music that is distinctly American in this old city.

The rest of the day was spent eating lunch at a great tapas restaurant, doing a little shopping, and having dinner with a group of pilgrims that I became close to over the past 6 weeks…Rosemarie, Felix and Hans.

After months of planning and execution, I can hardly believe I’ve come to the end of my Camino. I have to admit that I’m filled with mixed emotions…great joy and satisfaction, but also a touch of sadness that the journey is over. My “Camino Sensei”, Tom V. has reminded me along the way, that done properly, the Camino continues beyond the actual trail in Spain. I understand that better now, and hope to keep the spirit of the Camino alive as I return to the real world.

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Day 38 – Rua to Santiago de Compostela

I had a great final day on the Camino Friday!

My final day of walking began early as I was intent on arriving in Santiago mid-morning before the crush of other pilgrims. My “remote” innkeeper, Jose, picked me up at before 6AM and deposited me at the trail head. It was still dark, but I was able pick my way along the trail, and gradually the dawn provided some light to guide me. I reached Monte del Gozo overlooking Santiago de Compostela about 8:30AM and was in the city by 9:30AM. Amazingly, I ran into Hans, my friend from Day 1, as I headed toward the cathedral, and we took some pictures together in the plaza. I visited a small chapel to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for a safe and rewarding Camino, and was able to get my compostela certificate in short order. I finished the morning with a celebratory breakfast of eggs and champagne as I waited for my room to be prepared – then I took a nap. 😉

I’m in a nice hostel near a beautiful city park and just outside the old town. Later in the day I walked back to explore the interior of the cathedral. This ancient church was originally constructed in the 1100’s but is the core of a massive complex of buildings that were constructed over the course of hundreds of years. The cathedral is currently undergoing a major renovation, and its condition looked much improved since my last visit 5 years ago.

This church is not nearly as ornate as the cathedral in Burgos, but it oozes ancient charm. I performed all the pilgrim rituals today which included: walking behind the alter and placing my arms around the bust of St. James to receive his blessing; visiting the crypt just below the alter to spend a moment with his relics resting in a silver coffin; and participating in the evening pilgrim mass. The mass was packed with pilgrims with many of us standing, but the service was beautiful with music from the huge pipe organ and a final blessing using the “botafumeiro” (incense burner). It takes a half-dozen attendants hauling on ropes to propel the large botafumeiro across the length of the transept filling the space with that distinct smell. My guidebook suggests that this practice was originally adopted in the Middle Ages to fumigate the smelly and even disease-ridden pilgrims!

In the evening I had a simple meal with fellow pilgrims Hans and Rosemarie – a nice way to end a great day. Saturday is my last day in Santiago so I plan to do some more exploring and some shopping. Very much looking forward to heading back home on Sunday!

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Day 37 – Arzua to Rau

We had what was easily the best day weather-wise on the Camino since I started on May 9th. Temps have been in the mid-70s all day with constant sun, clear air, and a slight breeze…perfect for walking.

I had a relatively short walk today which went very quickly since I happened to reconnect with Dennis who I saw last on Day 28. He is a very friendly fellow whose company makes the time fly.

Upon reaching Rau, I realized that my hostel for the evening was some miles off the trail. Someone from Casa de Agua picked me up and drove me to hostel which I learned is a 350 year nobleman’s house that has been tastefully converted into an inn. It is really a beautiful setting in the hills surrounded by pine and eucalyptus forests that reminds me of Vermont. I immediately sensed that the place was empty, and that was confirmed through some Google Translate dialog with “Jose”. Apparently a crowd of pilgrims are coming tomorrow. It’s a little weird, but I have this entire inn to myself…no other guests and no staff…out in the middle of nowhere. Had a very pleasant afternoon reading in the sun in the tranquil yard, and Jose will fetch me at 8PM for dinner.

What can I say; the Camino is full of surprises!

Friday is my last day of walking. I plan to be ready for Jose to take me back to the the trail head at 6AM so I can arrive in Santiago in time for the noon pilgrim mass.

Day 36 – Palas de Rei to Arzua

The Galacia region that I am currently walking in is not full of peaks, but rather characterized by constant rolling hills. The weary pilgrim must go up and down continually until reaching his/her destination for the day.

Such was the case for my walk today under mercifully clear skies and cool temps. I walked 18 miles through scenic hamlets and fragrant eucalyptus forests. I’ve included pictures that I hope capture some of these scenes.

I feel grateful to have completed the 18 or so miles today in good shape. My destination Arzua did not retain much of its ancient roots, but I have had a good experience here nonetheless. Great meal at the albergue near my hostel – perhaps the best of my time here in Spain.

I now feel well-fortified for the remaining 2 stages that will lead me to Santiago de Compostela on Friday!

 

 

Day 35 – Portomarin to Palas de Rei

With three walks left in my journey, I am feeling the powerful pull of Santiago de Compostela. All of the months of planning and preparation, as well as almost six weeks traveling through northern Spain step-by-step, are coming to a conclusion. I am excited for the finish line, and dying to get home to family. But I’m also a bit sad to see this long journey end.

I am now in Palas de Rei, but do not have much to report in terms of my walk today or this unremarkable waypoint.

Tomorrow will be a challenging 18 mile walk up and down hills to Arzua. I am weary but ready!

 

Day 34 – Sarria to Portomarín

I hit the trail this morning just as about 100 high school age kids were starting off. Since 100 kilometers is the minimum required for pilgrims to receive the “compostela” certificate, Sarria is a popular starting point. In general, the Camino takes on a different character in this latter stage; more crowded and commercial.

Had a relatively easy walk today from Sarria to Portomarin under mostly good weather conditions. I met up with one of my Camino pilgrim friends, Felix, along the trail, and we walked most of way together. Significantly, we passed the 100 kilometer marker indicating that we are now only about 60 miles from Santiago de Compostela.

My destination today is Portomarin is an interesting town along the Balesar reservoir. In the 1960’s, a dam was constructed across the Mino river creating the reservoir and forcing the town to be relocated on the hills above. Most of the historic buildings, including the fortress-like church of St. John, were moved stone by stone from the original location. The result is a town that feels both old and new at the same time.

Was able to meet up with Felix and Rosemary for a nice dinner tonight featuring some of the region’s specialty dishes…octopus and broiled green peppers.

Off to Palas de Rei tomorrow; only four more walks until I reach my goal of Santiago de Compostela!

 

Day 33 – Triacastela to Sarria

I met a fellow American, Robert from Charlotte, on the trail yesterday and had a nice dinner with him last night in Triacastela after the pilgrim mass. He is an interesting guy about my age who is also traveling solo. Hoping to connect with him in Santiago de Compostela for a celebratory bourbon next Saturday!

My walk today was a relatively easy 12 miles and for the second day in a row I walked without getting wet. There were two routes available and I chose the one that was a little shorter, steeper, but with better vistas.

Sarria is a work-a-day town with a small, but nice, old town. I ended up in a hotel that has a great restaurant where I had a chance to have to a couple of really good meals. At the end of the evening a friendly American couple from Baltimore came into the bar and I got to know them over drinks. Hope to see them again on the trail tomorrow!

Tomorrow, I am off to Portomarín, a small town that has an interesting history that I will talk about in tomorrow’s blog.