Camino Day 27

After our usual breakfast of toast and coffee we headed into more rolling, scrubby farm land. The first job of the day was to play with calves. The farmer gave us the ok and we spent a good bit of time petting and watching them awkwardly bounce around their pens. It was so much fun. Nothing cuter in the world than a baby animal and we have been so happy to see babies everywhere on our journey.

calf

The path meandered up and down and finally came to this man selling refreshments. We had watermelon and a cookie. Good thing because the walk into Astorga was much longer and harder than it looked and I had yet another cathedral to see before lunch.

Foodstand

Alexandra and I were the only one in the Astorga Cathedral. If you look closely you can see her hugging the pillar. They are massive, reminding me of the great pillars at Karnak in Egypt. The Retalbo was beautiful with several smaller ones in the surrounding chapels, gold, gold and more gold.

Restorga Cathedral

After a quick snack we went to see the Gaudi Castle next door to the cathedral. Gaudi, the famed Spanish architect, designed it to be a house for the Bishop but was never lived in and other designers finished it. Whimsical inside and out, it has a beautiful chapel and Camino artifacts.

gaudi castle

Finally it was time for lunch and we wanted pasta and salad. That was a lot of walking and sightseeing on our tiny breakfast and snack. The portions were so big that we took the leftovers with us for supper. Then to the local chocolate and pasty shop where we were gifted some extra treats because we were on our way to Santiago.

Another nice but cold Albergue was only 6km down the road. It had a washer and dryer and one room with real heat. Alexandra went to bed early in all her clothes, sleeping bag and two heavy blankets, warm at last.

Just two more weeks and 300 Km left to go before the grand finale in Santiago. Both of us agree that it has gone by so fast. So we will savor all the adventures we have left. I’m sure it will involve more baby animals if Alexandra has her way and I’m ready for more churches.

Astorga Retalbo

 

 

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Camino Day 26

First thing in the morning I was greeted by the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon and Venus above a pink sunrise and I knew it was going to be a lovely day.

beautiful flowers

The breakfast was wonderful and gave us courage for a very chilly morning. We are on the last part of the flat Meseta, now we are headed to the mountains. A very tall snow covered mountain was our guide all day.

We had mid-morning coffee and croissant with other fellow pilgrims. Pilgrims are so friendly with one another and the languages mix easy. English is mainly the common language of the pilgrims but I can understand a lot of French and a bit of Spanish now.

Down the road we met a Spanish pilgrim on horseback. Most people walk, some ride bikes and a rare one rides a horse. This horse was magnificent, very tall and very soft. Alexandra is 6 feet tall and this horse towered over her.

Horse Pilgrim

We talked to some cows and listened to the frogs and admired the storks.

After lunch we crossed this beautiful stream. It looks like the setting for a pre-Raphaelite painting. We expected to see Ophelia or the Lady of Shallot any moment.

ready to paint

We like to stay in the tiny towns and the Albergue we chose for the night was wonderful. Bright, airy rooms with a central courtyard and porch with a comfy couch. Just a few friendly pilgrims made lovely company and our host made a delicious salad and spicy potato and sausage stew. It was a true Camino family meal. We sat around the table until 9 and sharing our lives and our Camino experience.

dinner

It is cold at night so we bundle up in our sleeping bags and the albergues
have extra blankets so we are warm enough and tired enough to sleep very well after a day of walking.

cockel shell windchime

 

 

Camino Day 25

We were a day behind schedule so the best way to make up some time was to skip the difficult industrial walk into Leon. There was a cathedral waiting for me so we got an early morning taxi just in time to hear the organ playing the recessional from Sunday Mass in the Leon Cathedral.

Leon Cathedral

The Leon Cathedral is magnificent, not as much gold as the other Spanish churches but stunning stained glass windows. The sun was high enough that the light streamed through the thousands of square feet of glass.

windows

 

The lovely side chapels had quiet Gregorian chant playing on the speakers giving a sacred moment even more joy. One of the chapels was for St Therese of Avila, pen in hand ready to write about her visions.

chapel of st. Theresa of Avila

I went to the museum next door while Alexandra sat with our packs enjoying the morning. I was taken through the cloisters to the museum and the locked in to wander by myself through a beautiful collection of sacred art. Then unlocked and relocked into another section. It was a bit unnerving being locked in alone, that would have scared Alexandra.

We had lunch in an “American” restaurant, the food was close enough that Alexandra was happy, she is a bit tired of the limited choices in rural Spain.

My next mission was to see The Holy Grail at the Basilica of St Isidore. The museum had an amazing library of ancient books and other relics and fresco paintings. Once again we were locked in and out of rooms. The final room held The Chalice of Agates. We gasped as we walked in, the golden, jeweled chalice glowed in the dark room. It was a grand sight, definitely a pilgrim moment.

The chalice

We headed to our final destination for the night, Villar de Mazarife. There was a lovely new Albergue with a lawn to enjoy and a women’s only bathroom, a nice change from the coed ones.

The pilgrim’s meal in the basement was the best we have had with nice green salad, pumpkin soup, paella and a crepe for dessert. A happy ending to a very memorable day.

the cloisters

 

 

Camino Day 23

The boarding school reenactment continued in the morning with breakfast exactly at 6:30, only one cup of coffee allowed and we must keep quiet. We were then sent into the chilly morning at 8 to walk across a country. First we went round the corner to the golden chapel to hear the nuns sing the morning service.

The morning was very cool and breezy but not unmanageable so we bundled up and I put my multi-use bandana around my ears for warmth. The sun was out and the sky blue and the yellow flowers waved to us in delight.

yellow flowers

Hoping for some more coffee in the first town but nothing was open so we admired motley stork babies instead and had water and a packaged cake.

On to the old Roman road for a beautiful breezy walk. It was a shorter day and my heart wasn’t ready to stop but I was hungry and Alexandra’s shins hurt a bit.

You know the crazy hotel owner “Ramon” in the movie “The Way”, I found his double at lunch. This hotel owner danced around singing as he fixed our lunch, gave the ladies all kisses and was very animated as we tried to communicate without a common language. It was all very entertaining.

We found a lovely little place with a private room and actual heating. I went about the tasks of the pilgrim. First you put you boots and poles in a central hall so you don’t make a mess of the floors.

boots and poles

Then you take your shower and change into your other set of clothes you will wear until the next afternoon. Most people sleep in these clean clothes. I usually wear my shirt and long johns to sleep in.

Sometimes there is a washer but never a dryer. Otherwise you take your dirty clothes outside to sinks and hand wash and hang to dry.

wash day

Today had a particularly nice clothesline and sunshine.

drying clothes

I had a rest and went to the store to get some food for tomorrow’s long walk without towns. Store hours in Spain are an enigma since they are open only in the morning and evening and hours are not usually posted. We think that business hours in Spain are just a suggestion of when they might be open if the sun and moon are correctly aligned and the owner might possibly feel the they could potently wish to do business with you but they aren’t quite sure.

We were in luck today and the rumor of a grocery store actually open spread like wild fire through the pilgrim community. I got there as quickly as I could to find this tiny store owner in his even tinier grocery store. I felt like an Amazon invader but he had what I needed and we had such a delightful exchange of hand signals to communicate.

tiny grocery store

A peaceful day in a sleepy town, and all is right with our tiny world.

 

Camino Day 21

I knew the rain was coming. I saw the weather report and heard the rumor from my fellow pilgrims. We had 17 days without rain and I knew that wouldn’t last.

road sign

We put on our rain suits and headed out to Carrions de la Condes. The light mist was not a problem and the blue sky broke through occasionally. We had an orange and some pudding and saw this beautiful Mary in a church.

church in carrion

The next segment of the trail was the longest without towns, so once you started you were committed to 17km. It rained a bit, then was nice, then a touch of hail. By the time we hit the old Roman road the wind kicked up. A very stiff 25 mile an hour head wind was unrelenting for the next 15 km. What would have been an easy flat path was a wind tunnel instead. No going back, we trudged on taking frequent breaks. I would focus on a tree, finally make it and than focus on another tree. You couldn’t see the town down in the valley until the last minute.

Long lonely path

We got a bed in the first Albergue and just lay there exhausted.  After some food,a relative term in this town ,we took naps and I had a shower. It was too cold and rainy to wash clothes so we just will wear the same ones tomorrow.

The army barracks like Albergue with a common bathroom was cold and bleak but I managed to entertain myself with this ancient vending machine. You move the top around, then put in a euro and drop the tin can for a treat, you have the choice of nuts, gummy candy, or olives with anchovies—-humm. Some wine and decent soup with fellow English speakers finished off the day and we crawled into our chilly sleeping bags to tired to care.

Old vending machine

As I struggled against the wind today I thought about all the people who crossed the Great Plains of America in covered wagons with relentless wind and snow, no hot showers or bottle of wine at the end of the day. I thought about all the people, now and through out time, forced to leave their homes to walk in terrible conditions often to their death. I can’t imagine their suffering or the minds of the people who would do that to a human.

I walk willingly and accept the task the Camino chooses for me each day. I feel stronger every day and was pleased that I could face the wind and keep walking.

waymarker

Camino Day 19

The Camino has its own unique communication system, part telepathic, part telegraphic. You speak to someone and they know who you know up ahead or back behind, you exchange information about conditions and experiences. You see them days later or constantly or never again. You never make plans but always the right people show up. I spoke briefly to a Canadian woman the night before and she showed up the next day hoping to share a taxi with Alexandra—-perfect.

I went on down the path and the first order of the day was a very long steep hill. I made it to the top without stoping. I accepted my virtual gold medal, pleased with my new stamina.

shrine

One of the challenges of the Meseta is that it has no trees or bushes making the call of nature difficult. I focused a long time on some distant brambles, after that I was to enjoy the walk. Along the way locals sell fruit and coffee and I stopped for a banana.

In a shabby little town I had a bowl of pasta to fortify me and get a bit of a rest for the last five miles. It was a good thing because a mighty head wind had picked up. Slow going and dusty, the last five miles was like the effort of ten miles. I did stop to look at these amazing clouds, and I had some good music—what I could hear if it over the wind.

sky

Tired and dusty I finally made it into the ghost town where Alexandra got us a room. If it weren’t for the cathedral with a stork on top, I would have thought I was in the Wild West and expected to see tumble weeds and a shoot-out at any moment.

stork nest

The Albergue has a lovely enclosed garden with these unique planters of flowers and sculptures of pilgrims. I went into the beautiful gothic church but was the only visitor so I didn’t stay long because it was dark and creepy.

garden

A cheery and hearty pilgrim’s meal finished off the day and I was ready for an early bedtime. The walking was very challenging today but I did it. I seem to recover quickly now from my daily walk which gives me courage that I will make it to Santiago. Almost half way there.

perpetually tired pilgrims

Camino Day 18

I’m sure there will be difficult days on the Camino but today was not one of them. We had a breakfast of two pieces of toast and two croissants–hmmm. Then the waiter thought we were sisters—-good man. Alexandra took a cab to our next destination. (She is better but not 12 miles with a pack better.)

With a cuckoo wishing me Buen Camino, and the morning moon pointing the way, I headed down the wide path through the whispering wheat. I got a late start so my fellow pilgrims were far ahead. No one in front, no one behind, I was alone in the Universe.

the path

As I approached the small town of Hontanas I came across a little hermitage shrine to Saint Brigitte. The Sunday morning bells of the local church wecomed me down the hill for a morning rest. I got a coffee and a egg and potato frittata that had a surprise tuna and mayo filling….double hmmmm. I visited with my friends until the bells tolled again and I took that as my sign to be off.

St. Bridgette

I walked along a tree-lined road until I came to St Anton’s church. Named after a 3rd century Egyptian hermit whose relics had healing properties. The niches held food for the pilgrims and animals were brought there to be blessed. The church is now a ruin but the only thing more lovely than a church is a ruin church. So I sat by the church and ate an orange in celebration.

St. Anton's monestary

The final mile was poppy fields. Every few minutes I would have to stop to take in the wonder of it all.

Santa Maria Des Manzanos

Twelve miles of walking, I got to my final destination, Castrojeriz. The hotels were mostly full but Alexandra found a brand new hotel that I think we will just stay in forever. The porch looked out over the valley and we reveled in the beauty and sunlight. We could be in France or Italy, it is hard to tell, but I think we are still in glorious Spain.

View from our hotel in Castrojeriz

Today was just pure happiness. The cares of the world were long forgotten as I walked across this beautiful earth. I saw the world as humans are meant to see it— one step at a time.

Blessed are you pilgrim if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.

 

Camino Day 17

Alexandra is much better but not up to walking and I’m anxious to walk so we came up with a plan. We got a taxi from our hotel in Burgos and I was dropped off in Tardajos to walk and she would go on to Hornillos to get a room and rest. It was a good plan since the rooms filled quickly and late comers had to taxi to the next town.

I wanted to see the church in Tardajos because St Therese of Avila, a heroine of mine, took communion there. I’m now walking in the footsteps of the great Spanish mystics St Therese and John of the Cross.

Church in taradjos

I was happy to be on the trail again. The sky was again cloudless and deep purple blue. The waving wheat was deep green and the path was bright white. I’m now on the high plain called the Meseta and this is what I imagine Spain to look like. I have many days on this flat plain.

blue sky and wheat fields

I heard singing in this tiny stone church. I stood in the door and was motioned to come sit. After the singing was the Rosary. The simple church was in stark contrast to the cathedral but I prefer the comfortable and inviting over the austentatious.

beautiful stone church

Along the trail I come across theses memorials to pilgrims who die on their quest. It is a harsh reminder that this isn’t easy and we are taking a risk. But fortunately most of the risk is sore knees and blisters.

memorial

I watched as my fellow pilgrims hobble into town so ready for a rest and refreshment but cheery because we all came to walk by choice and feel privilege to have the opportunity.

Alexandra slept in our minuscule room so I hung out in the town square by the church with my fellow pilgrims. This town has yet another chicken miracle memorialize by the rooster on top if the water fountain. Apparently Napoleon’s soldiers stole and killed all of the chickens and hid them in their drums while the town was at Mass. When confronted the soldiers denied their crime but at that moment a rooster came back to life and crowed inside the drum revealing the deception. Love these Spanish chickens.

hornillos de camino and rooster memorial

 

 

Camino Day 16

Alexandra was still very sick with her sinus infection and stayed in bed all day. She is on the correct meds so she just needs rest. Fortunately we could keep our room right across from the cathedral. I went and got her some food and helped an American get money out of the tricky ATM’s—I’m now an expert. I found a fellow pilgrim and we went to lunch in the Plaza Mayor.

Then it was time to get down to the job of the day—-a much more detailed visit of the cathedral. The day before we had stayed just a short time because Alexandra was sick and all the tombs upset her. She got that from me although I never told her about it.  As I’ve gotten older the tombs don’t bother me so much.

tombs

I looked at every chapel in great detail. The golden front alter is called a Retalbo. Every chapel has at least one, so many I lost count after awhile. I thought the carving of this tomb was so detailed. This painting if the angel Gabriel caught my fancy and was whimsical unlike the other heavy paintings of dark subjects.

angel

After a couple of hours I found my little spot on earth in a corner of the cloisters that wasn’t restored. There the afternoon light shown through the green and yellow stained glass making a kaleidoscope on the worn floor and on me. I sat there for a long time in the peace and light leaning against the ancient wall. Pure bliss.

green and gold light in the cloisters

The sky today was so dark blue that it looked purple and the cathedral gleamed white in contrast. The simple Puritan in me does not understand this need for austentation. The art lover in me is amazed by the talent and dedication to create such a place. The pilgrim in me feels the inspiration in this great temple to God.

purple sky

There is a part of the cathedral that is only open in the evenings for Mass. I arrived in the chapel just as an English speaking Mass started. A group from Winnipeg was on a pilgrimage around Spain and Portugal with two priests giving Mass at all the great cathedrals. I knew the Gospel reading by memory—long ago forgotten in my childhood. I also knew the final hymn but with different words so I sang my familiar words. It was a joy to sing in such an awe inspiring place. Now my voice has been added to the stones, to reverberate for another thousand years.

english mass altar

I ate gelato in the cathedral square and then headed back to Alexandra. I missed walking today but I have plenty more walking days ahead. A pilgrimage is about the process not the destination. Set backs and struggle are part of the letting go and being with what is.

Blessed are you pilgrim if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing what is at your side.

 

Camino Day 14

Alexandra’s cold got worse in the night and I was grateful we were in a hotel so that she could sleep in. Meanwhile I ate a sumptuous breakfast with fellow pilgrims and read in the beautiful lounge. This hotel in the US would be way out of my budget but very reasonable here in Spain.

After a medicinal bowl of cocoa puffs for Alexandra we headed out to walk. We planned on a short day so she didn’t get over taxed.

Today's walk

We left the region of Rioja and entered Castilla.

entering castilla

After 6 miles we sat down by a church to make a plan. Across the street was a Casa Rural– a type of hotel with just a few rooms. It was perfect, a lovely private bath suite over a bar. The bartender is Dutch and spoke good English and suggested we take the bus into Burgos the next day to give Alexandra another rest day and get back on schedule. Just the perfect answer to my prayers. Thank you Santa Domingo and your miraculous chickens for protecting us pilgrims.

casa rural

By then the church was open and we got to see this beautiful 12th century baptismal font with scenes of Jerusalem.

12th century baptismal font jerusalemscenes

 

For this tiny town, Redecilla, population 132, there was yet another golden church with this lovely baroque organ.

baroque organ

We ran into our Danish friend from a couple of days ago and had a lovely dinner together. She gave Alexandra two packs of cough drops as a present.

Alexandra is a real trooper and hasn’t ever complained although she does wish there were “puffs plus” in the Farmacia instead of the toilet paper she refers to as ‘nose sandpaper’. Constant adaptation and gratitude is a big part of the experience.

 

“Blessed are you pilgrim, if what concerns you is not to arrive, as to arrive with others.”