Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Santiago de Compostella: What happens after the Pilgrimage?

Reaching Santiago de Compostella is both exhilarating and sad. The trick is to bring home some of the calm and sense of interconnection found along the way.

We have had three nights in Santiago and since we couldn't be enjoying buffet breakfasts and menus del dia all the time, we had the opportunity to see some of the sights. The roof top tour of the cathedral is not to be missed.  It is a wonderful way to view the old city and also appreciate the older Romanesque features of the Cathedral. While on the top the Butofumiero was in action at the Pilgrim's mass below us. We watched it swing up and almost hit our window. It is said to come within a meter of the side walls. 

In the museum we saw one of the surviving originals of the Codex Callixtinus, the 12th century illuminated guide to Santiago. The last time we were in Santiago it had been stolen, but was recovered and is now back on view. For our Camino this year Gord and I relied exclusively on the information in this guide. Tips such as this warning about the Navarrese were particularly helpful.  "In some places, like Vizcaya and Alava, when they get warmed up, the men and women show off their private parts to each other. The Navarrese also have sex with their farm animals. And it's said that they put a lock on the backsides of their mules and horses so that nobody except themselves can have at them."
We have found that the best cure for post Camino blues is to immediately start planning the next one.
This process is already well underway. I am not sure why Gord is suggesting rest days in Navarra.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Into Santiago de Compostella

Gordon:  At Arzua the Camino del Norte joins the Camino Frances, the main pilgrimage route.  It was a pleasant shock to suddenly be surrounded by a throng of pilgrims, and to see so many businesses catering to their needs.  For the final 40 kms into Santiago we joined the walking pilgrims and rode along the trail.  It was beautiful watching the fog rise off the land in the early morning light.  It was also fun to recall specific sections of the trail from our previous Camino.

After 35 days of cycling and 1920 kms we arrived in Santiago.  It was a pleasant sunny day, and the city looked so beautiful.  

We are staying in the San Martin Pinario monastery, a stone's throw from the cathedral.  This is the second largest religious building in Spain, with roots that go back to the 9th century.  Our room is in a portion of the monastery constructed in the 16th century.  It has been updated to a very modern and even luxurious standard, and we cannot quite believe that we are allowed stay here.  A distinguishing feature when compared to other good hotels, however, is that most of the guests are sunburned, clad in spandex, and smiling from ear to ear.  We went on a tour of the monastery this morning, accompanied by a theology student who resides here (the monastery is still an active seminary).  He spent 2 hours showing us around, and we came away with a wealth of new knowledge.

We have access to good wifi and I have started doing research regarding possible trips for next year.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Mondoñedo to Baamonde: Into the Middle Ages

Ruth: There are moments along the way where it feels like we have travelled back to the Middle Ages. This feeling was intensified at Mondonedo where the whole town was being decked out for their Medieval Festival. Catapults were being set up beside tents selling spices and teas. This new Medieval market was peopled with a young generation of pierced and dreadlocked vendors whose marginal living might have much in common with the vendors that plied their wares in the same streets a thousand years ago.

We stayed at the lovely Santa Caterina Monastery where we sampled the famous Tarta de Mondonedo made with crushed almonds and squash according to a recipe that is as ancient as the town.

Today our route climbed for most of the day. The grades on the N 634 are very good, but we couldn't resist the temptation to go off on the Camino roads and paths for some of the day. These side trips are tough but so pretty.

Tonight we are just 102 km away from Santiago and the masses of pilgrims have increased dramatically. The pilgrim albergue in Baamonde has 100 bunks rather than the more typical 30. We are enjoying our own room at the nearby Ruta Esmeralda Hostal.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Luarca to Tapia de Casariego: A Night in the Albergue

Gordon:  Last night we stayed in a pilgrim albergue in Spain for the first time.  The experience felt more like anthropological research than a good night's sleep.  The albergue itself is beautifully situated on a cliff above a beach with sea caves at either end.  We had no reservations for the evening, so on rolling past the beautiful site we made an impromptu decision to stay.  It was early in the day, and we were the first pilgrims to arrive at the 30 bed accommodation.  The town of Tapia de Casariego is an undiscovered jewel, and we passed an exceptionally pleasant day swimming and wandering through this old port town.

At bedtime, which for us is generally between 9 and 10 pm, we settled into our bunk beds and waited for sufficient calm to permit us to sleep.  I did in fact get to sleep by 10:00, only to be awakened an hour later by an itch on one of my feet.  We had been attacked by bedbugs a few nights earlier (at a very fine hotel) and the feeling was similar.  Was this just a mosquito bite, or was I being swarmed by bedbugs?  Normally I would have lept out of bed and resolved the question by scrutinizing the sheets under the room lights, but this was not possible in a darkened room with a host of others.  As I struggled with this issue, other pilgrims continued to enter and exit from the albergue, quietly but annoyingly.  This continued for several hours, with the noise level increasing as the night advanced and the apparent levels of inebriation rose.  A crescendo was reached around 1:30 am, when a particularly loud group came in, colliding with the furniture and flipping on some of the lights.  I thought we were in for a live sex act between a couple of them, but unfortunately they lost interest, or perhaps ability.  The guy then pulled himself up into his upper bunk, flopped onto his back, and immediately began snoring like a hog.  We did eventually sleep for a few hours, until we were awakened by someone's 6:00 alarm.

Some pilgrims do not feel that you are really doing the pilgrimage unless you are staying in the albergues.  However, we have decided to continue to lose a little authenticity to gain a lot of good sleep.  Tonight we are very content to be staying in a lovely room with private bath in an 18th century monastery in Mondonedo (42 euros).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Villaviciosa to Aviles: Learning From the Spanish

Ruth: We had another beautiful ride today, with the exception of the industrial landscape on this side of Gijon. Gijon is an attractive beach city with a long promenade stretching along the length of the beach.

After our ride we had the afternoon in Aviles to see if we could learn how to live like the Spanish. Of course this started with a Menu del dia, a nap and then a stroll through the old quarter. The Spanish really embrace the paseo wherever we go. Young, old and everyone in between comes out to enjoy the cooler air and a chat with neighbours and friends. If walking isn't in the cards there are always plenty of benches to relax on.

Of course good climate and pedestrianized streets help to make the paseo possible.  In North America we may have larger living spaces and yards, but where is this wonderful sense of community?

Rather than buying a bottle of sidra and taking it back to our hotel room, we embraced the spirit of the paseo and went to a sidraria to enjoy a glass or two.  The result was that we were treated to the spectacle of the poring of the sidra, as well as an opportunity to chat with a number of other pilgrims.  It was a pleasant evening out.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Llanes to Villaviciosa:

Hotel Carlos I : Our wonderful 300 year old hotel that gives Pilgrims a discount.

Gordon: Tonight we are staying in Villaviciosa, the self proclaimed apple capital of Spain. And they don't waste these apples in the produce market, they convert most of them into cidra (cider).  This is poured into your glass from a height of three or four feet to aerate it. You are then expected to drink the short shot immediately in one draught. 

Apples are not the only treat that grows in this area.The coastal portion of Austurias is a veritable garden of Eden. It seems like practically anything grows here, even citrus. 

Although today was our longest ride, it was one of the most beautiful and pleasant. We were cycling the narrow strip of land between the sea and the Picos de Europa.  The landscape was enhanced by rugged outcroppings of limestone.  It appears to be a prosperous region, with attractive villages and well maintained farms.  A Danish woman who lives here says Asturias has the least developed coastline in Spain, due in part to a provincial agency with a mandate to maintain the coast.

What keeps our focus during our daily ride is the anticipation of the Menu del dia.  Today we had a seafood soup, three types of local stew, and a very tasty fish.  We are essentially eating only one meal a day, but it is so large we may be putting on weight.  Today's menu had four courses, as well as bread and a bottle of wine.  If you weren't cycling or walking for a number of hours, I don't know how you could possibly make your way through all of the food.

Ruth:  I guess it is only one meal a day if you don't count the cheesecake for breakfast. I am not a cheesecake connoisseur, but quesada pasiega Austurius is heaven! I am going to try to replicate it when I get home.
We teased our friends Wendy and Marion when they blogged so much about food and now  we are doing the same thing!
Here is one recipe that might work but here it does not have the meringue top.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Solares to Comillas: Tiles: the pros and cons

Gaudi's El Capricho in Comillas

After Santander we left the suburbs and car dealerships and cycled into a much prettier landscape of rolling hills and little towns filled with stone houses. I do prefer them to houses sided with bathroom tile. Every country has its own version of this.  I shouldn't be so critical, our house has asbestos shingles. Tiles can be used to great effect, however, in the hands of a master such as Antonio Gaudi. Gaudi's El Capricho is covered in sunflower tiles to reflect the design of the house, which is intended to capture the turning sun and light throughout the day. 

During the day we stopped at the town of Santillana del Mar, described by Sartre as the most beautiful town in Spain.  And it is lovely, with cobbled streets, a cozy triangular plaza mayor, and an amazing 12th century cloister.  The reknowned Altamira caves, with their Paleolithic paintings, are also located nearby.  As with Lascaux in France, the actual caves are not open to the public, but tourists may visit a mockup that has been constructed.

In Comillas we have a lovely pension steps away from the old town. After 60 kms of riding I am not much of a walker so this is perfect. Comillas has several other buildings connected to Gaudi, as well as a lovely beach, so it would be a nice place to remain for several days.  Hopefully we will be back someday.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Castro-Urdiales to Solares: Camino del Norte First Impressions

We are in Solares, south of Santander tonight, drinking beer and discussing how our experiences so far on this route compare to our other Caminos. We are on bike and not following the walking route so our knowledge is limited to the roads.  We are also not staying in the pilgrim Albergues.  Unlike the Camino Frances, the Le Puy and Vezélay routes, accommodation choices seem to be either a forty bed dorm crowded with Pilgrims, or tourist hotels.  This means that on the coast the price is at times quite scary. Away from the coast there are deals like tonight's, where we have a lovely double room with private bath and balcony for 35€, but this middle range of accommodation just isn't available in the coastal towns. But we are not willing to miss some of the more deservedly popular towns on the route, so we are accepting the higher costs and staying in them. 

The north coast is very green, with stunning views of the sea and hills, but as with most popular coastal places development has run a bit rampant.  We see more of this as cyclists on the road than walking pilgrims do. The towns are also big, with beautiful historic cores, but I miss the tiny villages of the Camino Frances. Of course the Frances has no ocean.

The food on this route so far has been great. For the price of a standard pilgrim meal on the Camino Frances we are enjoying three course menus del dia that are much more varied and tasty. Today we enjoyed octopus salad, lentils with chorizo, garlic chicken and stuffed peppers, finishing with a very good flan and a fresh fruit salad.  We were also given a bottle of quite drinkable red wine. People are not as pilgrim weary on the northern route, and as a result we are being greeted with smiles and lots of warmth.

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