Monthly Archives: June 2011

Santiago de Compostela: A Photo-Essay


When I was in Santiago less than a month ago, I spent a lot of time wandering the streets taking photos.

It wasn’t the best time to be in Santiago, from a photographer’s perspective. There was lots of (very necessary) restoration work going on. The Portico de la Gloria was covered up, as was the clock tower. And the Praza do Obradoiro was overflowing with tents—as I understood it, people were protesting against poverty.

But there was still lots to photograph. Here’s a small selection of my results.

Praza do Obradoiro/Plaza del Obradoiro

[Pilgrims arriving]

[Bicigrinos arriving]

[Relaxing in the Praza do Obradoiro]

[Staffs]

[Pilgrims hugging]

[Selling CDs]

[Pilgrim with pack]

[Pilgrim's bicycle by the cathedral stairs]

[Praza do Obradoiro]

[Bicigrino]

[Street artist]

[Entering the cathedral]

[Pilgrim with shell]

[Pilgrims at the cathedral gate]

[Photographing the cathedral]

Santiago Cathedral

[Santiago de Compostela Cathedral]

[Cathedral roof]

[Saint James]

[Angel on the Santiago cathedral]

[Santiago cathedral detail]

[Portico de la Gloria]

More Cathedral Plazas

[From the roof]

[Praza de Fonseca]

[Cafe]

[Sleeping pilgrim]

Pilgrim Office

[Donkey]

Museo do Pobo Galego/Museo del Pueblo Gallego

[Museum with very cool triple spiral staircase]

[Museum - fire]

[Museum - baskets]

In the Park

[Las Dos Marias]

[Park]

[Cathedral from the park]

[Fair]

On the Streets

[Two packs]

[Arches]

[Santiago cakes]

[On the street]

[Candles]

[Guy in red]

[Modern street]

[Man walking]

[Bakery]

[Santiago street]

[Pilgrims on the streets]

[Souvenirs]

[Couple]

[Santiago arches]

[Dog]

[Restaurants]

[Girl and spout]

[Stores]


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:51 am
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5 Comments

The Vía de la Plata and Camino Sanabrés Overview


[Arrow on stone]

Before Fuente de Cantos, on the Vía de la Plata.

I can’t believe I’ve been home for two weeks! “Real life” still doesn’t feel very real….

I’ve scattered impressions of and information about the route throughout my Vía de la Plata posts, but I thought it would be helpful to bring them together. This covers the Vía de la Plata from Sevilla to Granja de Moruela, and the Camino Sanabrés variant from Granja de Moruela to Santiago, which I walked from April to May, 2011.

My Stages

I spent 44 days walking, and took five rest days, plus a week in Santiago. Much to my surprise, I could have done the walk in fewer days, but it was nice to be able to take my time—some days, anyway.

The longest stages I had no choice but to do were the 29/30 kilometres on Day 3 from Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén de la Plata, and the 33 kilometers from Casar de Cáceres to Cañaveral. It’s usually possible to break up that last section, though—I was limited because the albergue at the Embalse de Alcántara was closed due to a water shortage.

My few other 30 kilometre-plus stages could have been broken up into shorter stages. However, there are definitely longer gaps between accommodation than on the Camino Francés, and sometimes you have to choose between quite a short day’s walk and a very long one.

Day 1: Sevilla to Guillena (23 km)
Day 2: Guillena to Castilblanco de los Arroyos (18 km)
Day 3: Castilblanco de los Arroyos to Almadén de la Plata (30-ish km)
Day 4: Almadén de la Plata to El Real de la Jara (15 km)
Day 5: El Real de la Jara to Monesterio (22 km)
Day 6: Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos (22 km)
Day 7: Fuente de Cantos to Puebla de Sancho Pérez (21 km)
Day 8: Puebla de Sancho Pérez to La Almazara (17 km)
Day 9: La Almazara to Torremegía (34 km)
Day 10: Torremegía to Mérida (16-plus km)
Day 11: Mérida (0 km)
Day 12: Mérida to Aljucén (17 km)
Day 13: Aljucén to Alcuéscar (21 km)
Day 14: Alcuéscar to Aldea de Cano (16 km)
Day 15: Aldea de Cano to Cáceres (22 km)
Day 16: Cáceres to Casar de Cáceres (11 km)
Day 17: Casar de Cáceres to Cañaveral (33 km)
Day 18: Cañaveral to Galisteo (28-ish km)
Day 19: Galisteo to Oliva de Plasencia (26 km, including 6 off-route)
Day 20: Oliva de Plasencia to Aldeanueva del Camino (I think about 28 km, including 6 off-route)
Day 21: Aldeanueva del Camino to La Calzada de Béjar (22 km)
Day 22: La Calzada de Béjar to Fuenterroble de Salvatierra (20 km)
Day 23: Fuenterroble de Salvatierra to San Pedro de Rozados (28 km)
Day 24: San Pedro de Rozados to Salamanca (24 km)
Days 25 and 26: Salamanca (0 km)
Day 27: Salamanca to El Cubo del Vino (36 km)
Day 28: El Cubo del Vino to Zamora (32 km)
Day 29: Zamora to Montamarta (20 km)
Day 30: Montamarta to Granja de Moruela (23 km)
Day 31: Granja de Moruela to Tábara (25 km)
Day 32: Tábara to Santa Croya de Tera (22 km)
Day 33: Santa Croya de Tera to Ríonegro del Puente (28 km)
Day 34: Ríonegro del Puente to Asturianos (26 km)
Day 35: Asturianos to Requejo de Sanabria (27 km)
Day 36: Requejo de Sanabria to Lubián (18 km)
Day 37: Lubián to A Gudiña (24 km)
Day 38: A Gudiña to Campobecerros (19 km)
Day 39: Campobecerros to Laza (16 km)
Day 40: Laza to Alberguería (13 km)
Day 41: Alberguería to Xunqueira de Ambía (20 km)
Day 42: Xunqueira de Ambía to Ourense (22 km)
Days 43 and 44: Ourense (0 km)
Day 45: Ourense to Cea (22 km)
Day 46: Cea to Castro Dozón (technically 14 km)
Day 47: Castro Dozón to Silleda (28 km)
Day 48: Silleda to Outeiro (24 km)
Day 49: Outeiro to Santiago de Compostela! (16 km)

Pilgrims: Very Rough Statistics

[Pilgrim sculpture]

A very modern pilgrim sculpture outside the bar at Valverde de Valdelacasa.

Out of the walking pilgrims I met or heard of, the vast majority were Europeans—German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, Italian, English, Belgian, Irish, Swiss, Hungarian, in more or less numerical order (there were a lot of Germans, and I only met one each from the last four countries). If I included bicigrinos, the number of Spaniards would jump drastically. There were also Americans, Canadians and Australians (also in more or less numerical order), one Japanese man, and a large organized group of Koreans.

The youngest pilgrim I met was 24, and those of us under 50 were definitely in the minority. The vast majority of walkers were retired. (Again the statistics would change if I factored in bicigrinos, who tended to be younger.) I met the greatest number of young pilgrims in the last week. They all seemed to be doing 40-ish kilometre stages.

There were a lot of couples and some other people who’d come with walking partners—in a number of cases they’d met on the Camino Francés years before. But there were also a lot of solo walkers.

More pilgrims seemed interested in solitude than on other routes—even some of the couples had come to spend time alone together. For future reference, spring on the Vía de la Plata isn’t the best time/place for solitude, although if you don’t want to bump into a constant stream of pilgrims, leaving a little late can really help.

A number of people occasionally took taxis, trains and/or buses, either because of injuries, to get to off-route accommodation, because they were running behind schedule, or to skip stretches of the route that ran along the highway.

Pilgrim Numbers

Several hospitaleros and other people along the way told me there were more pilgrims on the Vía de la Plata than any other year—one specifically said there were a lot more even than last year, which was a Holy Year.

The Pilgrim Office statistics suggest there were actually more pilgrims on the route last year, but I wonder if a much larger number of pilgrims just did the last hundred kilometres or so.

The relatively vast numbers of pilgrims was a problem in terms of albergue beds. It came up as a potential difficulty for me quite near the beginning, and the bed squeeze lasted until somewhere on the Camino Sanabrés. Some people told me the problem was tied to the Semana Santa (Holy Week, when apparently a lot of Spaniards and some other Europeans go on holiday), but there were full albergues after that, too, so I don’t know about the cause and effect there.

I was expecting the competition for beds to become more intense after Ourense—after all, it’s the logical starting place to walk the last hundred or so kilometres. However, it actually seemed quieter after Ourense, possibly because there were variants, like the detour to Oseira.

Landscape

[Near Granja de Moruela]

Near Granja de Moruela on the Vía de la Plata.

There was some walking through ugly parts of cities and a few small industrial areas (though nothing as bad as Burgos and León on the Camino Francés). There were gorgeous walks through countryside and along huge reservoirs and in forests (the types of trees changed along the way). And there was everything in between: run-down villages and pretty villages; heavily cultivated land with tractors everywhere and pastureland with crumbling stone walls and the occasional herd of cows or flock of sheep.

I guess the landscape is repetitive, with similar scenery for days at a time, but I enjoyed it.

Of course, this being spring, there were flowers everywhere. I can see how, without them, the landscape would be a lot bleaker.

Towns

At the beginning, there were long stretches with no towns or villages. By the end, on the Camino Sanabrés, some of the villages ran into each other, and there was often (but not always) somewhere to stop for coffee every five kilometres or even less.

Terrain

During the first several days out of Sevilla, I met some other people who had the same English guidebook that I did. We were all surprised to find that there were some serious hills along the route, as our guidebook had led us to believe there were no serious climbs from Sevilla to Astorga.

So for the record: there are some serious climbs on the route. They’re not frequent—it’s nowhere near as difficult as, say, the Le Puy route. But the terrain is often undulating, and some of the climbs and descents are seriously steep. They’re not usually incredibly long, but they can be difficult.

The Camino Sanabrés goes through the mountains, so of course is more difficult, with longer, often steeper ascents and descents.

Way Marking

[Way marks]

Sometimes it's easy to get lost ... and sometimes it isn't. I saw these way marks sometime after Lubián.

This was generally at least okay, though it varied quite a bit. Sometimes there were yellow arrows and other signs everywhere. At other times there was little to go on.

Sometimes I really had to look around for the way marks, which might be down low on curbs or up high on houses.

I found that if there was no sign of an arrow, it was generally safe to keep going straight ahead. Also, in Extremadura, I followed the cubical way marks. These didn’t technically show the pilgrimage route, but the yellow ones generally coincided it. The line on top of these shows where the route goes (though it’s not directional like the arrows).

Considering my lack of a sense of direction, I actually didn’t get lost all that often. And when I was lost, or about to become so, there was often someone around to ask.

Weather

At the beginning and end of my trip the temperature was in the low 30s Celsius, which when walking in the sun felt incredibly hot. From what I heard, this was warmer (and, at least in Galicia, drier) than usual, although not completely out of the ordinary. Other days started out quite cold: in the mountains on the Camino Sanabrés there was sometimes frost in the mornings.

Rain-wise I was lucky. I had a few awful days with downpours, and several days after that with intermittent downpours or drizzle. But after that, the storms came in the late afternoon or evening after I’d finished walking—making for muddy paths, but at least I didn’t get drenched.

Apart from that, there were some seriously overcast days that were great for walking, and sunny spring-like days that were a bit warmer and prettier.

Although weather can be radically different from year to year, from what I’ve read, the spring still seems the best bet weather-wise, at least if you don’t like insane heat.

Local People

I got so much help from local people, who would point me in the direction of albergues, bars, grocery stores, or even the Vía de la Plata itself. Some even escorted me all or at least part of the way to my destination.

In some sections especially, lots of people in cars honked and/or waved when passing, and tons of people wished me “buenos días” or “buen viaje.”

I had some of the most rewarding experiences of my trip when I made a real effort to strike up conversations—with people walking to the next village or people working in stores or bars. I found admiring the area—which I always truly did—was a good icebreaker: “Es muy bonita aquí.” After that, even people who’d seemed abrupt or slightly surly tended to chat.

Which brings us to….

Language

Obviously, the more Spanish you speak, the easier it is to get by. And of course it’s harder to chat—with local people or Spanish pilgrims—without a reasonable command of the language. That said, I met people who spoke very little Spanish and managed to get by.

As far as foreign pilgrims go, English would tend to be the common language, but there aren’t tons of native English speakers. French is a helpful language to know, for speaking with the large numbers of French pilgrims. And while German-speakers tend to speak some English, there would often be large groups of them (and Dutch people, who seem to generally speak some German). So a grasp of German would be helpful to understand a lot of conversations.

Of course, there’s often someone around who’ll translate for you, and a lot of big conversations are a multilingual muddle.

Dogs

I’d read before I left that dogs could be a serious problem on this route. However, I suspect this information is out of date.

Of course, there’s always a chance of being bitten by a dog anywhere you go, but neither I nor anyone I met had any problems with dogs. The big dogs generally weren’t interested in people walking by. The little ones might get excited and bark, but they were usually behind a fence or on a leash.

For some reason I never understood, I got barked at constantly for two days after Ourense (by dogs behind fences), before barking levels returned to their usual low levels.

Crossing Streams

[Submerged stepping stones]

Mostly submerged stepping stones, between Cáparra and Aldeanueva.

There are a lot of streams to cross (and a number of paths that pretty well turn into streams).

I managed to make it across most on stepping stones (sometimes makeshift). Once a stone tipped and I got my foot half-wet, but generally they were manageable—particularly with a stick.

The only time I really had to wade was between Cáparra and Aldeanueva. There were two places with very high water—the stepping stones had been submerged by the first stream, and I couldn’t even see any stones for the second.

Cost

Food: This got gradually more expensive as I got closer to Santiago.

I often had yogurt or something bready for breakfast, a cheese and tomato sandwich that I made myself for lunch, and assorted fruit, chocolate, ice cream, orange juice, wine and cafes con leche throughout the day. For dinner I’d generally have more sandwiches or go out.

I could often buy breakfast and lunch at a grocery store for under €5, though closer to Santiago it was often a little more than that. It also helped if I could find someone to split a four-pack of yogurt with, when I wasn’t allowed to buy part of it (usually in small stores they don’t mind if you break it up). Drinks and snacks were usually a euro or two each.

A three-course set meal was generally €8 to €9 at the beginning, and €10 to €11 by the end. A “mixed plate” (usually fries with some combination of salad, meat and eggs) was around €5 or €6. Pre-made sandwiches were anywhere from €3 to €5.

Accommodation: Albergues were sometimes free or donativo. The rest generally ranged from €5 to €12. In Extremadura, there was a stretch with only albergues turísticos, which were usually €10 or €12, often with breakfast for €2. In Galicia, the Xunta de Galicia albergues (and they’re almost all Xunta de Galicia albergues) are €5 and quite nice.

I don’t have nearly as much experience with other forms of accommodation, but towards the beginning, at least, you could generally get a cheap double room for €25 to €30, and a single for €15 to €20. It seemed to get more expensive toward the end—€35 to €40 for a double and €20 or more for a single. Of course, there were often more expensive options (I plan to stay in a parador one day … when I’m rich).

Other: I really didn’t have a lot of other expenses. Sometimes I had to replenish supplies (shampoo, dental floss, blister pads). And then of course there are souvenirs in Santiago. People who took taxis/buses/trains of course had to pay for those.

Theft and Loss

Theft doesn’t seem to be a huge problem, but it does occur. In Castilblanco de los Arroyos, I met a couple who’d had their bikes stolen. In Zamora a woman had her camera and sunglasses stolen from her pack in the albergue. And in Santiago, a man at my albergue had all his valuables stolen while in the cathedral.

As far as losing things goes, I talked a lot at the beginning about worrying about leaving things behind. I gradually stopped being so neurotic (at least in that respect) and in the end, all I lost was a pen, a few safety pins, and a thing of lip balm that someone gave me. This was a serious improvement on my last Camino, when I lost or left behind such important items as a pair of socks, a small bottle of clothes washing detergent, a pair of clip-on sunglasses, and a sweater.

So….

I hope this covers everything. If not, please feel free to add comments or questions.

Oh, and I’ve been meaning to mention this: Wim, with whom I spent a wonderful day on the Vía de la Plata, was walking partly to raise money for Shelterbox, an organization that provides shelter for people who have lost their homes due to natural disasters or other catastrophes. For more information, you can visit his fundraising page. Wim also has posted his beautiful photos from the trip, which show the route from Salamanca.

Also, Hermione, an Englishwoman I met at the beginning of my walk, has almost finished her walk from the Canary Islands to her home in England. I’ve just been going through her blog, and it’s a wonderful read. I even pop up briefly a couple of times.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 11:28 am
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2 Comments

Vía de la Plata Photos


[Camino sign]

A sign between Aljucén and Alcuéscar.

I’ve been unsuccessfully fighting off the post-Camino blues by sorting and editing photos.

Well, maybe it hasn’t been entirely unsuccessful; having something Vía de la Plata-related to do is probably helpful.

Anyway, I finally have some photos up. You can see them by scrolling through my Vía de la Plata posts.

Do keep in mind that I enjoy taking and posting pretty pictures. There were definitely ugly bits, a fact that’s not reflected very well in the photos.

I’ll be posting a Vía de la Plata wrap-up soon, with an overview of the trip for those of you who are considering making it yourselves. In the meantime, I hope you all have a great weekend!


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:06 pm
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Have Stick, Will Travel


[Walking stick]

My second wooden walking stick—the one I just brought home from the Vía de la Plata.

I’m back in Canada, and not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m busy sorting my photos, which I will soon add to my blog posts. In the meantime, I thought I’d cover a topic close to my heart: how to get a wooden walking stick home from Santiago.

I’m not going to enter the Great Stick Debate over whether to have a walking stick and what kind of stick(s) to get if you do have one. I’ll just say that I, for reasons that have more to do with the romance of the thing than with practical considerations (although it is very useful), like to carry a single wooden walking stick on my pilgrimages.

On my first Camino, I bought one in Le Puy-en-Velay before setting out. On my Via de la Plata trip, I looked for one in Sevilla but couldn’t find any. I ended up picking up a stick from a pile of wood by the side of the road on my third day of walking, and a week or so later a friend shaped it into a proper walking stick for me.

There’s something about a walking stick.

You—or at least I—can get more attached to it than to any other item of gear. My sticks were right there beside me over vast numbers of kilometres, and if I walked off without one, I always turned back within a few steps. I felt naked with a pack on my back and no stick in my hand.

A lot of pilgrims seem to leave their wooden walking sticks behind in Santiago, or hurl them into the sea at Finisterre. On both my Caminos, I thought about leaving my sticks behind. But each time I decided it was worth trying to bring them home.

And it worked. I brought both of my sticks safely to Canada on a total of four airlines.

I can’t speak for every airline, of course, but I’ll tell you how it worked in the case of my walking sticks so you have some idea what to expect if you try to get yours home.

My first stick was relatively easy to get home. I took it with me on the night bus to the Madrid Airport, where I had a flight—I think it was with British Airways. In the Madrid Airport they had a machine that could plastic wrap your backpack for you, and I was told that if I plastic wrapped my stick to my bag, the whole thing could be oversized luggage.

I did so, and didn’t see my stick again until we both arrived safely at Vancouver Airport.

My second stick was more of a problem, not because of anything inherent in the stick, but because I had three totally unrelated flights. I didn’t think there was much chance that my stick would be allowed on all of them, but decided to try anyway.

I left from the Santiago Airport on a Ryanair flight to London. Since I’d only paid for one piece of checked luggage, and Ryanair is known to be very sticky about its regulations, I didn’t have much hope for my stick. But I guess in Santiago they’re used to dealing with these things. I was allowed to check my stick for free.

Then, of course, I had to sit around in the oversized luggage area of Stansted Airport for ages after my backpack had appeared. The lost luggage guy didn’t hold out much hope of my stick turning up, but it did eventually appear.

My second flight was from London to Toronto with Air Transat, a Canadian charter company. I was told I could take my stick onto the plane, but it might be taken away from me and kept with the strollers. As it turned out, no one looked twice at me as I walked onto the plane with the stick, and I ended up stowing it in a very large overhead bin.

Then, of course, I had to check off “wood products” on the declaration form for entering Canada, which worried me. I was convinced my stick would be confiscated—maybe Spain had some terrible tree disease that my poor stick might be bringing into Canada.

But the customs guy actually asked fewer questions than usual, hardly looked at my stick, and let me back into the country within 30 seconds of first glancing at my passport.

My third and fourth flights were with Air Canada, to Vancouver, and then on to Kamloops. The check-in woman in Toronto told me I could pay $20 for extra luggage, and check my stick. Thinking of my first stick, I asked if I could attach my stick to my bag and check the whole thing as oversized luggage. She said that I could and gave me some very sticky airline tape.

Friends who met me at the Toronto Airport helped me firmly tape the stick to my pack. Relatively firmly, anyway. As I watched the whole thing disappear down the oversized luggage conveyor belt—stick first—I had serious misgivings about the whole thing. It wasn’t nearly as securely attached as my first stick had been, and this stick was a little bent and seemed likely to snag on something and crack.

My flight out of Toronto was an hour late, so I only made it to the plane that would take me to Kamloops 15 minutes before it took off. I was reasonably certain my pack with its hopefully-still-attached stick had missed the flight and I wouldn’t learn its fate until the next day.

But then the conveyor belt at the Kamloops Airport started up, and my pack was one of the first to appear. To my surprise, the tape held up and the stick was still attached.

My walking stick had one final journey in the trunk of my sister’s car before arriving home.

It’ll stay here for a while, now, in a corner of my bedroom, reminding me of my last trip and waiting for another adventure.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:17 pm
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Santiago!


[Praza do Obradoiro]

The Praza do Obradoiro/Plaza del Obradoiro from the cathedral steps.

I’ve now been in Santiago for about six days. I can’t decide if it feels longer than that, or shorter.

In my first 24 hours, I ran into more friends than I had any right to expect, given that a) I was relatively slow compared with them and b) the majority of pilgrims in Santiago have come, of course, from the Camino Francés. So I hung out with some of them for a while (and one absconded with my chocolate bar—you know who you are). But since those first few days, I’ve only seen one person I know.

I’d planned to walk to Finisterre, but as with last time, when I walked into Santiago I felt like my journey was over. I thought about changing my ticket and visiting my English friend again, but I couldn’t get hold of her and when I finally did, it turned out she was busy. I decided I should just go to Finisterre, but lagged in making preparations because I didn’t really want to do it.

(If anyone is actually planning to go to Finisterre, here’s a helpful tip: You can leave anything you’ve accumulated in Santiago in the pilgrim office for €1. Anyone can check their bag for any amount of time, but I didn’t know until I asked that they’ll hold it for days at a time.)

I arrived on Sunday, and by Tuesday afternoon was wandering around watching happy pilgrims and feeling friendless. I told myself I was being ridiculous, but it didn’t help. I kept thinking I saw people I knew out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned to look, the person would look nothing like the friend I thought I’d recognized. At one point, I was even hallucinating friends from my previous Camino.

I was staying at Mundoalbergue, which is on the expensive side but less than five minutes from the cathedral, and has a wonderful hospitalero. I went back there on Tuesday afternoon, planning to read the English book I’d bought for the plane. That would, of course, have been bad. I haven’t read a book in a while, and if I’d started reading, I wouldn’t have been able to stop. And then of course I would’ve been book-less for the trip home.

So when the hospitalero invited me to share his lunch, I jumped at the distraction. And I told him that I’d like to find something useful to do in Santiago until my flight.

And that’s why I’m still at the same albergue, helping out in general (I’m finally learning to mop properly) and especially with English matters. It’s not the end to my journey that I was expecting, but it’s quite nice seeing Santiago from a slightly different perspective.

I still feel part pilgrim, sleeping in a dorm room and living out of my backpack, but mostly not. After all, I bought some underwear, so I no longer have to do laundry every day, and of course I’m not doing any serious walking.

When I was walking, I kept hearing that Santiago would be crowded and awful. It is crowded, but even though I’m not a crowd person, I rather like it. It’s fun to be back wandering streets I remember.

There’s also a fiesta on at the moment, with a big fair and concerts and entertainers roaming the streets. It makes things even more crowded than usual, but is rather fun.

So … here are a few things I’ve done that you might want to consider doing if you find yourself in Santiago. It’s really not so much since I mostly just amble around taking random photos.

Pilgrim-Watching

[Pilgrim feet]

Sometimes you don't have to look above the knees to recognize pilgrims.

Of course, it’s fun to watch pilgrims arrive at the cathedral. But once they’ve taken off their packs and boots, they’re somewhat harder to spot. So one of my favourite pastimes is playing spot-the-pilgrim.

Ever since someone recognized me as a pilgrim in Salamanca solely on the basis of my pants (that’s trousers to the British) with the zip-off legs, I’ve noticed them as a probable indicator of pilgrim-hood.

Not that all pilgrims have zip-off pants, but anyone who does have them is likely to be a pilgrim.

Boots and backpacks (or bicycles) are also a good indicator, of course, but most pilgrims get rid of their packs and bikes as soon as possible and put on sandals, so that’s not terribly helpful after the initial arrival. Polar fleece, quick-dry t-shirts and broad-brimmed hats are also likely signs, and anyone who winces as they walk or sports a serious beard is particularly likely to have walked to Santiago.

[Santiago cathedral]

The Santiago cathedral, complete with protesters' tents.

The Cathedral

I suppose this goes without saying. There’s the Pilgrim Mass at noon every day, and hugging the apostle, and visiting the crypt where his bones theoretically rest. And the rest of the cathedral is pretty impressive too.

And I suppose I think of the Praza do Obradoiro/Plaza del Obradoiro as an extension of the cathedral&mash;it may be full of protester’s tents, but it’s a great place to people-watch.

Cathedral Roof Tour

[Santiago roofs]

The view from the top of the cathedral.

It’s on the expensive side (€8 for pilgrims), but for me at least, very worth it. The history was fascinating, and the photo opportunities are marvellous. And you can peer through windows to see inside the cathedral from the very top.

[Photos]

Photos by Jacobo Remuñán on display at the Pilgrimage Museum.

Pilgrimage Museum

I’d been here before, so I skipped the (very interesting) regular exhibit and went to the photography exhibition. It’s currently displaying Emocions e Rostros Peregrinos, an exhibit featuring Jacobo Remuñán’s photos of pilgrims who’ve just arrived in Santiago. The emotion on the faces is wonderful.

And the whole thing is free.

Museo de Pobo Galego

[Spiral staircase]

The triple spiral staircase.

I went here kind of randomly today. The staircase alone made it worth the €3, and I’m not being facetious. It’s actually three spiral staircases, one on top of another, and seriously cool.

Apart from that, of course the information is in Gallego, but the artifacts are interesting, and there’s currently an interesting photo exhibition with photos by Alberto Martí of emigrants leaving Galicia.

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If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 2:28 pm

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Days 43 to 49 on the Vía de la Plata


[Pilgrims in the forest]

This photo, taken between Castro Dozón and A Laxe, is fairly typical of the beautiful foresty bits of the route in Galicia.

I’m actually here, in Santiago de Compostela. I’ve told people the trip was different this time because I knew I could make it (barring unforeseen circumstances). I knew I’d actually get to Santiago, whereas the first time 1500 kilometres seemed like such an incredible distance that I never believed deep down that I’d ever get there.

But now, four days after arriving, it still seems incredible that I’m here.

Days 43 and 44: Ourense (0 km)

[Modern bridge]

I don't generally get excited about modern architecture, but this bridge is really cool. And you can walk on the "wave" part—I did!

I figured I might as well take a rest day, since I had time and although my ankle was fine, my back was still intermittently sore. And then I was lazy and met up with a friend who was taking a rest day the following day, and one rest day turned into two. My Camino was definitely hedonistic on an intermittent basis.

The first day started with a bit of excitement, though. A French Canadian friend decided the bites he and I had were definitely bed bugs, and we spent the morning in the albergue washing our sleeping bags and all the clothes we weren’t wearing in the washing machine, and then soaking our backpacks in seriously hot water. If they were bedbugs, it seems to have worked, because I haven’t had a similar bite since.

[Cathedral]

The Ourense cathedral.

Ourense isn’t the prettiest of cities—it doesn’t have a serious old quarter—but it’s definitely less touristy and very busy. I think I saw five stores just selling perfume, whereas if the towns I’ve been passing through sold any perfume, it was a few boxes crammed in among food, toiletries, and more.

Like I said, I was lazy. I saw the cathedral. I drank tinto de verano (a mix of red wine and lemon pop) and ate tapas. I saw the hot springs—it turned out when the Camino takes you down a set of stairs only to take you back up again, it’s so you can pass the hot fountain. I wandered around.

Day 45: Ourense to Cea (22 km)

[Sign]

This was one of the more bizarre signs I encountered along the Vía de la Plata. (Are they trying to scare us?)

This was a hot day with a lot of ascents—possibly the longest steep part of the trip. It was mostly on asphalt, but on small roads rather than the highway. It started out going past a lot of houses, but by the end there were bits of forest, some with eucalyptus trees.

I left late, and by the time I got to Cea I was in quick-march mode, ready to collapse from the heat.

[Arrow pointing uphill]

The arrow is one of the beautiful signs on the route in Galicia—I believe each one is unique. The cyclists were creeping along up the hill.

I don’t know what it was, but this day and the next had by far the largest number of barking dogs on the route. My guidebook warns me to be careful of dogs, but up until this day I’d mostly been barked at by the occasional lap dog—the larger ones sometimes lifted their heads to watch me walk by.

The albergue was the usual nice but institutional building with a big dorm. If you stay there, make sure to find a bed at the back. The problem with the front is that if anyone takes the stairs, which they have to do to use the washroom, the motion-detecting light comes on. Very brightly. And it shines on the unfortunate sleepers. (I was lucky and in the back.)

Five of us ate out at a little bakery, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember. It was small, with only three small tables, and run by a very friendly family. The type of food was pretty standard, but the quality was better than average.

Day 46: Cea to Castro Dozón (technically 14 km)

[Castro Dozon]

Part of Castro Dozón, as seen from the albergue. Note the steepness of the mountains.

I was still happy to be walking, but I gave myself a break and took the “easy” route to Castro Dozón instead of the one past the monastery at Oseira. But everyone else who took the route agreed that it felt rather longer than 14 kilometres. It involved a fair bit of climbing, especially if you missed the Camino and ended up at a farm in the middle of nowhere asking for directions, as I did.

The day started out overcast and got quite sunny. The general trend for quite a while has been either that, or starting out sunny and ending up seriously overcast. Since before Galicia, there have been the occasional “tormentas” (storms—but doesn’t it sound so much worse in Spanish?), but in the late afternoons and evenings. I only got slightly wet that first day in Galicia, the province that is supposed to have constant rain. I guess I’ve been lucky.

The albergue, just outside town, was nice. It would be a serious pain in cold weather, though, since you have to go through a covered outdoor area to get from room to room.

Day 47: Castro Dozón to Silleda (28 km)

[Crosses in the fence]

Crosses created by passing pilgrims.

This was a pretty walking day, with some beautiful forests and a few steeply uphill bits but a general downhill trend. There was a lovely little bridge just past A Laxe, a middle-of-nowhere feeling town.

In a little town just before Silleda, a man (priest?) invited a few of us to visit his church, a nice change from the usually-closed churches. He even gave us an orange (and apologized for not having more). We ate it in the nice square outside, which had potable water—something that’s become rather a rarity since most of the fuentes for the few days before Santiago have signs saying they’re not guaranteed sanitary.

I can’t comment on the albergue, since I ended up getting a room from a bar in town. A night without a dorm room was amazing.

Day 48: Silleda to Outeiro (24 km)

[House with shell and arrow]

Even houses had signs telling us pilgrims where to go.

This was mostly a nice day, undulating through forests (there’s eucalyptus now) and countryside. At some point Luis, a Spanish guy I’d never met before, caught up with me and we ended up walking on together.

And then, approaching Ponte Ulla, there was a long, seriously steep descent. I was still feeling okay after it, but Luis, who’d walked a lot farther than I had that day, wanted to stop. Since I’d rented a room the previous night, I wanted to stay in the albergue, which was four kilometres farther. What’s four kilometres, after all? Luis decided to come with me.

Those four kilometres were some of the worst walking kilometres of my life. They were almost all uphill, and I don’t know how hot it actually was—I suspect in the low 30s Celsius. At first we walked through a residential area, where we stuck our heads over a fence to catch a bit of sprinkler water. Then we ended up staggering along through a forest. The road was wide, but we walked single file along the edge, since there were intermittent bits of shade there.

“If I stopped once, I’d never move again,” Luis said at one point, and I agreed.

Finally we reached a small Santiago chapel (closed, of course) with a fountain. The sign said the water wasn’t safe to drink, so we splashed it on our faces. Luckily, the albergue was only a few hundred metres farther.

There were only five of us in the albergue, probably because it was in the middle of nowhere. When I went down the hill (close to a kilometre) to investigate the food situation, I found one restaurant was closed (though later I was told it would deliver to the albergue). The other, in an utterly gorgeous hotel, was full up, but the father of one of the owners was incredibly nice and explained how I could get to a bar farther down the highway.

[Final supper]

Our feast in the albergue dining room.

Of the five of us in the albergue, the two Austrian women ordered food, and shared their Santiago cakes with the rest of us. Pietro from Italy had hauled a lot of food up the hill, and offered to share it with me and Luis.

None of us except the two Austrian women had met before, and we all (with the same exception) came from different countries with different languages. But all five of us ate together, talking mostly in Spanish although only Luis was fluent and the Austrian women could hardly speak it at all.

It was a quiet final evening, but very Camino.

Day 49: Outeiro to Santiago de Compostela! (16 km)

[Field and Santiago]

The houses in the background are Santiago.

Sixteen kilometres doesn’t sound like so much. After all, I’ve walked more than double that in a single day. But these 16 kilometres felt like at least thirty.

For one thing, there was a lot of steepness, both up and downhill. And then there was the heat, which hit hard by about nine a.m.

Apart from that, it was a nice walk, through countryside with fancy-looking houses and bits of forest. By about the halfway point, I could see the outskirts of Santiago sprawling up a big hill ahead.

[Santiago cathedral]

The Santiago cathedral. Unfortunately from an aesthetic perspective (but fortunately for its preservation), the clock tower is being restored and looks very lumpy.

I hadn’t realized that the Vía de la Plata has a much better view of the cathedral on the way in than the Camino Francés has. Walking through the Santiago suburbs, I crested a hill and could suddenly see the cathedral on the opposite hill. In that moment, I felt like I had arrived.

As I walked through the quiet streets, I couldn’t stop grinning.

Of course, the view came at a price. After I went down, I had to go up again to get to the cathedral, and the street was incredibly steep.

And then I was there, at the cathedral. As I’d been warned, it wasn’t as emotional an experience as last time. But all the same, it felt pretty good. I’d walked 1,000 kilometres, and I’d finally reached my destination.

Santiago

I’ll tell you more about Santiago, and why I’ve been here four days already, very soon.

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If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 4:41 am
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