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 15

After a quick breakfast of croissant and coffee we headed to the bus stop to catch a bus to Burgos. Several of our fellow pilgrims were also headed to Burgos. The hour bus ride passed two and a half days of walking. We would have rather walked but Alexandra has a sinus infection and needs to see a doctor.

gates of burgos

It took a bit to find a hotel but we were rewarded with a room with this amazing view of the Burgos Cathedral. After a rest we went for a visit.

cathedral from the hotel

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Burgos cathedral is magnificently restored with a treasure everywhere you look. Chapel after chapel surround the central part of the cathedral. Each chapel elaborately decorated with gold, sculptures and priceless paintings.

burgos altar

 

It is overwhelming in scale, with soaring domes highlighted by more elaborate gold It would take days to see it all.

burgos altar and ceiling

We consulted several people on how to find a doctor. It took several tries and we went to the wrong place first but finally she was examined by a young Cuban doctor with family in Miami. He had just enough English to get by and we left with the prescriptions she needed to get better. Off to the farmacia to get four boxes of meds and some real tissues.

We hadn’t eaten much so we waited for a small grocery to open back up from siesta time and were rewarded with bananas and a small jar of peanut butter along with cheese and yogurt.

Alexandra went to bed and I went to enjoy Burgos. A bustling and beautiful city of around 200,000 with parks along the river, many cafés and fashionable shops in the shadow of this incredible cathedral. I sat on a bench and watched the evening light on the cathedral, amazed by this jewel that humans have imagined and then spent lifetimes crafting. Everyday I am living a thousand years.

burgos cathedral evening light

 

 

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.”

 

Camino Day 13

I found a flaw in our pilgrim shangrala—– by morning there was not a single shred of toilet paper in the entire 40 bed Albergue. So we quickly moved on to a bar for our morning coffee and tortilla fatata—egg and potato omelet.

Dark clouds made the sun a spotlight highlighting a different field every few minutes, each field in turn giving its own beautiful song and dance routine. Look closely at the picture of the haystack. The people and tractor are miniature in comparison. I have no idea how the farmers get them so tall. Each bale is about 6 feet long and the whole hay temple was 11 bales tall by 20 bales wide.

Hay temple

After 9 miles we were at our final destination of Santa Domingo de la Calzada. On the advice of a fellow traveler I decided to splurge on a fancy hotel, one of the famed Paradores and it is posh. We hadn’t had our own bath or a real towel and sheets since May 2nd. The building was used by pilgrims for centuries and has lovely atmosphere.

parador hotel

We enjoyed a hot shower and I washed the clothes in the sink since the price of laundry was too steep even for a splurge day. After a big lunch of pizza and salad Alexandra went back to the room for a nap since she has a bit of a cold.

I went exploring the town and the local annual holiday for Santa Domingo. I was entertained by some young men in traditional clothes doing a traditional dance and later a band played in the street.

santo domingo festival local

I moved on to the cathedral where there was a large museum of relics and religious art in the cloisters. The cathedral was not large but had the bones of Santa Domingo, a great patron of the pilgrims of the Camino. He performed several miracles including saving a young man falsely accused of stealing and making a roast chicken come to life. So to this day there are live chickens in the cathedral to commemorate this miracle.

santo domingo

After a nutritious dinner of local pastries in the shape of a chicken we spent the rest of the evening enjoying our fancy accommodations because it is back to communal living tomorrow and for the next couple of weeks.

monument to santo domingo in front of hotel

Camino Day 12

Day 12. May 12.

It is a good thing the number of days and the date line up or I would be totally lost in time and space right now. Days and time mean nothing as I move west at the speed of a human. I haven’t been in a car for 9 days.

We left the town of Naverette about 8. We enjoyed having a private room and felt restored by having some personal space. Alexandra’s shoulders were sore so she opted to take the day off from her pack and ship it ahead with a few of my things too. We had 13.5 miles to go but it was mostly flat.

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We walked together until it was time to have more coffee and a pastry. I moved on to enjoy solitude. The trail was a wide, flat dirt road between miles of vineyards. I had an occasional dusting by a tractor or car passing as well as a gentle waft or two of manure. My thoughts turned to Bacchus, god of wine and was kept company by Mozart, god of the sublime.

I love the interactive experiences of the trail like these rock cairns asking me to add my gift to the collection. I have beads from a bracelet that I use to leave a little piece of me when I feel called.

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I waited by a babbling brook for Alexandra to catch up and we headed to the scruffy town of Najera for lunch.

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Beside the old monastery in the center of the city we found this handsome rooster and his six wives. We chased them a bit to get a good picture and laughed at their funny chicken ways.

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I climbed a hill to a plateau with a 360 degree panorama of misty mountains. I couldn’t see any pilgrims in front or behind. I just had the cool wind and bliss.

Alexandra texted me an “amber alert” when she finally found her missing lambs. She had been looking for babies for days and was so happy to see them safe and sound in their mother’s care.

I came to the small town of Azorfra where the Albergue was entirely miniature double rooms with a large courtyard and a fountain. A pilgrim Shangrala. Of course there are shared bathrooms but I had the use of a washing machine and proper clotheslines that didn’t require death defying maneuvers to use.

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Then into town with my happy band of nomads that seem to be on the same pace to find wi-fi and sustenance. Some of my new friends are walking the Camino in sections and are headed home but I’m glad I can do the entire 500 miles in one trip. It is not time for me to go home—- I have much more to learn.

 

Leaving Home: The Camino Starts at your Front Door

Days 1 & 2

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Alexandra and I left for the Knoxville airport at 2 on Thursday May 1.  We took a small suitcase to my friend Valarie which she will bring to us when we see her in Santiago on June 9.  It has what will soon be luxury items clothes, pajamas, swimsuit and make-up.
The flight to Philadelphia was late so by the time we took a bus to the gate the flight to Madrid was already boarding.  We ate our mini dinner, watched our mini tv and slept on our mini pillows. We arrived in Madrid about 8 am. It took us exactly 1 minute to get through passport control and customs. We went to find a taxi to take us to the train station but I spotted a bus with the name of the station on the side and we were taken directly to the station for 5€ each.

We had some time to wait so we found a cafe and had my first cafe con leche of the trip. The high speed train to Pamplona took about 3 hours and the scenery was exactly like the southwest US. I could have been in New Mexico or eastern Colorado. The scenery became greener by the time we made it to Pamplona (famous for the running of the bulls every July).

We were tying to figure out how to get to the bus to Roncesvalles and what to do during the 3 hour wait when I asked an Australian couple what their plan was. They were taking a taxi to Roncesvalles to make it easy on themselves so we asked to share a taxi. The hour drive was beautiful on windy roads that looked like the hills of East Tennessee.  By then it was raining and we were grateful that I had booked a room for the first night. It was a long two days full of trains planes and automobiles so I was happy that all my connections worked so well. We were on the move for about 20 hours.

We took a look around Roncesvalles –a tiny town right on the edge of the Pyrenees and dedicated to Charlemagne and the battle of Roncesvalles. The Song of Roland took place near here.

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I went to the local museum while Alexandra napped and saw Charlemagne’s chestboard and other relics that were so important to the medieval pilgrims. Relics of saints were the rock stars of the era. Pilgrims came far and wide to see the bits and pieces of saints and no cathedral was without an important relic. My favorite thing in the museum was an enormous emerald pendant surrounded by emeralds. I now know where my birthday emerald is and I can come see it anytime I want.

We had the pilgrims meal in our little hotel. You eat family style with other pilgrims put at your table. We had a couple of Spaniards, one could speak a bit of English. We had a good time trying to communicate. After months of not eating wheat, that was about all there is, bread, pasta, fries. We had a lovely roast whole fish and then yogurt for dessert. Alexandra and whole fish don’t get along so she was given an egg and potato frittata.

We were exhausted by then so off to shower and bed, very grateful that all our travels went well and we had a room to ourselves the first night.

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(Silver Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. The canopy is a copy of the one in the cathedral in Girona Spain.)