Tour of Real Madrid’s Home: Bernabéu Stadium

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I may not be the world’s most serious football (soccer) fan.  Or the world’s 100-millionth most serious football (soccer!) fan.  But I know to recognize where history happened, where history happens, or where history will happen.  Madrid‘s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is all three and I was looking forward to touring the facility.  It is well-known to be a great tour so well worth the cost to go in.  Bernabéu, which seats over 80,000 fans, is the seat of Real Madrid, a football team over 100 years old (the stadium dates from 1947).  Real Madrid is the most valuable football team in the world, valued at over $3B.  Yep, that is a “B.”   And this is their home.Bernabeu, Madrid, museum, museo, Real Madrid, tour, Spain, tourism, travel, photo, Olympus

The tour takes you through the history of the club showing famous trophies, shoes and other items in a multi-media and interactive setting.

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One can listen to stadium sounds in this exhibit

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Raul’s shoes in a display of famous players’ shoes – no favoritism here

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Exhibit showing Raul’s best goals

The museum really helps emphasize, though its interpretation, the glory of the Real Madrid club.  Beyond this, the visitor gets to see the field of play as spectators do from a high vantage point and, later, as players do:  right from the field and from their bench!

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Top seating area – not a bad seat!

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On the field!  And I sprinted across its width too

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The lesser known but more impressive Raúl

The tour takes the visitor back door through the locker room and other spots before leading the visitor, surprise, to the stadium store – of course.

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Players’ showers

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The locker room (wonder if they need to see their photo to remember their spot…)

Bernabéu is an incredible place, I am sure, to watch a match.  I hope to re-visit it one day as a spectator!

 

 

 

2015 – A Year in Review

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2015 is almost over and it is time for the year in review which, I think, is an exercise not just in writing but in re-living the many blessings the year bestowed on me.  Here it goes and share with me some of the travels in your 2015!

In the city of brotherly love – Philadelphia, USA

My first trip of the year was to Philadelphia where family and friends live.  It is a place I love to visit though I do not get to do so often.  I welcome the opportunity whenever it comes though as I greatly enjoy spending time with my aunt and uncle who make me feel so at home whenever I go.  Though I got to see many, I did not get to see all my relatives nor all my friends which was a bummer – but good reason to go back!  As usual, my uncle likes to show me around places historical to both country and family.  I had not visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell since the early 90s and I enjoyed my visit there.  We also went to Valley Forge which had a special look since it was winter-time (and was also very cold!).

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Liberty Bell with Independence Hall behind it

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Independence Hall across the mall

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Valley Forge in winter – reminder of the cost of our freedom

Now, those places are not where the family history comes from :) instead this building served as their home right after they moved up there from Miami.

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House where my parents and relatives lived

My first hike of the year – Blood Mountain, Georgia, USA

My first hike of the year was a training hike as I was going on a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  My friend Phil who also enjoys hiking and I decided to do a hike near Blood Mountain that ended up -accidentally- in a climb of Blood Mountain.  While it was unplanned, it was a fortunate ‘accident’ as it all ended well and we enjoyed great vistas and trails.

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Entering Freeman Trail from the Appalachian Trail

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Along Jarrard Gap, the start of our hike

An amazing metropolis – Buenos Aires, Argentina

The orphanage work related to my trek to Patagonia was going to take place on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina.  So I knew I was going to be spending time in this great city – and more importantly, eating the best beef in the world paired with great wine!  I enjoyed walking about town and having nice meals with my fellow trekkers (some which I knew already and some which I met there).

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The parrillada at Campo Bravo

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Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

But the best part was meeting the children and staff of the two homes we worked with on our projects which included repairing a very leaky roof and damaged walls and furniture.  Much as I loved spending time in BB.AA., this work was the highlight of my time there!

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Painting new furniture with the kids was an adventure onto itself!

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These kids were hard workers and also great with the soccer ball!

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At Temaiken, Buenos Aires’ zoo

Back in time – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

When planning my Buenos Aires travel, I decided to add an extra day to cross the river by ferry and spend half a day exploring a town that was a good throwback to the colonial period of the region:  Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.  I sold three other trekkers on doing this short trip with me and we had a great time walking the streets of this easy-going town.  I highly recommend making the crossing if you ever have time in Buenos Aires!

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One of the MANY vintage vehicles in town – an Austin

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Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento

My favorite spot on Earth – Chile’s Patagonia

As I wrote earlier this year, I loved Patagonia when I first visited the Perito Moreno glacier and Chile‘s amazing Patagonia in 2010.  I’d always hoped I could return some day and that did happen… in 2015, much sooner than I’d ever thought possible.  I returned to hike around Fitz Roy in Argentina, re-visit the Perito Moreno glacier, and then trek through the Torres del Paine National Park – which I had not done in 2010.  And it was a rewarding effort for sure with great vistas and a glacier hike to boot.  Memorable is not a good enough word for the experience.  And, secretly, I hope I get to return a second time for my third visit!!  (click on the hyperlinks above to see more photos from each of the visits)

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Grey glacier, where we hiked

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On the trail to Fitz Roy

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The Torres del Paine massif

The great northwest – Portland, Oregon

Thanks to work, I spent five days in Portland, Oregon.  I had never been to Oregon so it was cool that I got to go there.  I arrived at mid-day on a Sunday and decided to take a walking tour of Portland as it would be the most effective way to see the highlights of the town while enjoying the great weather.

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Portland street

Mercifully, daylight went on late so I got to take advantage of it to take a drive along the Columbia River to see the waterfalls that dot the riverside.   I also got to enjoy dinners in establishments along either side of the river which was a phenomenal day to end the workday.

Family, friends and food fest (4 F’s) – Spain, olé!

Friends of mine were going to hike the Camino de Santiago, a hike I did in 2014.  I thought it would be cool to combine my wish to meet relatives I had not met who live in the outskirts of Santiago with my friends’ arrival in Santiago de Compostela.  My grandmother has two surviving cousins she never met in person who live in Bastavales.  I had met one of them last year when I finished the Camino walk but I had not met the other.  So I met María and her son, grandkids and great-grandkids for the first time and enjoyed their warmth and sharing special memories and photos of the family.  I also visited time with Flora, the cousin I had met last year.  It was really cool.

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With Maria, my grandmother’s cousin

I then welcomed my friends and their fellow trekkers as they arrived in Santiago at the end of their Camino.  It was wonderful seeing them glow in joy as they wrapped their long walk.  After they got their Compostela and going to Pilgrim’s Mass, it was time to celebrate with some cañas (beer) and tapas in one of the many beautiful old streets of this phenomenal city.  We also took a day trip to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast, a nice place.

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Beer and tapas in Santiago de Compostela

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The left side of the Cathedral

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With friends Phil and Tommy at Finisterre

The visit with my friends continued in Madrid and, after they left, I got to spend time with madrileños friend of mine, enjoying good drinks, food, and atmosphere around town.  It was fun spending more time in Madrid (check out “6 Cool Things to Do in Madrid“!).  I love Spain but I loved more the opportunity to be there with friends!

Reuniting with dear friends – California

In late May, dear friends left Atlanta to head to California due to a job opportunity.  It was hard to see them go as I spent many a Friday night over ten years hanging out with them pre-kids and after-kids.  So, it was great when work offered me the opportunity to go to San Francisco so I could spend the weekend after the conference with them in their home outside of San Jose.  They took me to two great Mexican restaurants, one of them right by where they live.  I enjoyed a drive down Pebble Beach on the famous 17-mile drive (which I still have to write about!).  And we visited the charming coastal town of Carmel – and its impressive mission.

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Glorious skies at the Carmel Mission

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Waters along the 17-Mile drive

Up-north (WAY up north) – Duluth, Minnesota

Work took me for a brief business trip up north, to a small town 45 mins north of Duluth, Minnesota.  Driving along the coast of Lake Superior was very nice and peaceful.  We only had one night in Duluth but enjoyed a nice breakfast at a mom-and-pop type of place and dinner at a pub.  Of course, being the traveler that I am, never having gone to Wisconsin, and realizing I was just a bridge-crossing, I just had to do it… We had mostly an open morning so, along with a colleague, I drove across the water to a coffee shop I found online in the town of Superior, Wisconsin!  A coffee later, we crossed the bridge again and back in Minnesota!

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Wisconsin, here we come!

Returning to one my favorites – Chicago, Illinois

I first went to Chicago in a bitterly cold January in 1991 with company for training.  And I kept returning over the years mainly in winter.  This year I got to go in August for pleasure, after spending a few days in Minnesota for work.  I got to enjoy walking everywhere, getting to the lake, which I had never done.  I also explored new parts of town thanks to friends (including little gems in terms of eateries).   Overall, what I enjoyed most about this trip was a first for me in Chicago:  going to a museum!  The Art Institute of Chicago was right up my alley as very much an amateur in terms of art.  It made it all approachable and enjoyable without overwhelming.  I highly recommend it.  I look forward to returning to Chicago and having more time to see all the friends who live there (this was practically a day-and-a-half visit) – and explore a new museum or two!Chicago, Illinois, skyscraper, cityscape, photo, glass. buildings, architecture

An epic trek to close the year – on the route to Everest Base Camp, Nepal

I was not planning any other hike on 2015 after having done Patagonia earlier in the year.  However, I found out that several folks I knew from prior treks were going to do the trek to Everest Base Camp and I started wondering if I could go…  I was generally fit even if not well-trained, it was a generally good time to go from a work standpoint, and though I did not have vacation time to be able to go to base camp, the trek offered a shorter itinerary.  So, I went for it.  I had a great time and was thrilled to having seen the Himalayas, Mt. Everest, and the hamlets and people of the highlands of Nepal.  I am still writing about the trek so I will just point you to a couple of the writings:  flying into scary Lukla airport to begin the hike, day one of the hike (you can keep going from there to later days), and one of the neat sites I saw in Kathmandu.  The best part of the trek was the work done before the trek in the village of Kumari.  Check out the work we did with Trekking for Kids here.

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The prayer wheels

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Kids from Kumari

Epilogue to a year that ends…

2015 was an epic year.  From great hiking experiences, time with family and friends, new destinations, and good food and drinks, it had it all.  I got to step in South America, North America, Asia, and Europe all in one year!  However, as the year came to a close, we lost my stepdad, Rubén.  It was a bittersweet time as he had been suffering from Alzheimer‘s and his last week was one full of suffering.  So his passing offered him rest that we were thankful for, sad as it was to not have him around us any more.  Rubén, as my Mom, loved to travel.  They traveled across Europe and other places many times.  I got to travel with them and my sister and her family in several cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, and the Baltic Sea, as well as explore places like Copenhagen, Panama, and Paris (where they visited me in 1999 when I was living there).  Though we will sorely miss him in this final journey he has undertaken, I know I will see again at the final destination.  Until then, I will continuing journeying here.  Rest in peace, Rubén!

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In Panama in 2009

6 Cool Things to Do in Fantastic Madrid

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I have visited Madrid several times and, while it may not have the charm of Paris or Venice, it is a town meant to be lived, not visited.  And I don’t mean “lived” as in “live there” but a place “to live life.”  Sure, other cities are beautiful and glamorous but I find cities where life is lived to the fullest the best.  And such is Madrid.  Here are some cool things to do in the Spanish capital.

Drinks at the Westin

The Westin is an extremely well-situated hotel in the best part of Madrid.  It has incredible architectural charm – and a great lobby lounge with separate areas to sit, depending on your mood.  My favorite spot was right under the colorful and bright cupola.  If you don’t get to stay at the hotel, at minimum, go and treat yourself to a glass of wine or a cocktail.

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Awesome glasswork

Tapas and drinks at Plaza Santa Ana

Plaza Santa Ana is at the heart of Madrid. Sure the Plaza Mayor officially is “the” plaza in Madrid.  But, Plaza Santa Ana is small, manageable and a great spot to sit and watch life, while enjoying tapas and beer/wine.  And the great thing is that you can do it from the plaza itself – or from above at the trendy and cool bar at the roof terrace of the Reina Victoria Hotel.  There is a charge to go up but it applies to a drink – so as long as you have a drink, entrance is free.  And the views of the Plaza at night are awesome.

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The Hotel Reina Victoria at sunset

Reina Victoria, Madrid, Spain, Plaza Santa Ana, travel, bar, food, photo, Samsung Galaxy

View from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Reina Victoria (Teatro Español in the background)

Tapas crawl!

The Plaza Santa Ana is a wonderful place to hang out.  But Madrid is full of neighborhood plazas and other areas where you can find the most delicious spots to have a tapa and a caña (short beer).  Madrileños on a typical night out move from tapas bar to tapas bar prior to going somewhere for dinner.  A great spot for tapas is near the Calle Cervantes where the are several good establishments.  Taberna La Daniela, Cervecería Cervantes and Taberna de la Dolores are all different and great spots to eat, sip, walk, and repeat!  And my local friends actually referred me to these places so you know they are good!

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Taberna de la Dolores

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About to go in!

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The counter at La Daniela – always hang out at the counter!

 The Mercado San Miguel

I could not believe that I had never visited the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid until I learned that it had been closed for years to open finally again in 2009.  It is a feast for the eyes – and the palate.  The structure itself is about one hundred years old with a style reminiscent of Paris metro entrances.  But the main attraction is, of course, the food!  Stop there for a bite or a meal – and a glass of wine, ¡por supuesto!

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Mercado San Miguel

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¡Jamón!

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Color and flavor!

Drinks with a view

Thanks to my local friend, I discovered the “Azotea,” or rooftop, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes building on the Calle de Alcalá.  It offers not only a bar but all sorts of comfy spaces to just lounge.  It must be spectacular at night but it is great at sunset or just during the day time to admire the views.

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The Azotea terrace

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The former main post office – now the Palacio de Comunicaciones

And just walking around

Walking about, aimlessly, sometimes yields the best experiences in a city.  Madrid is no different.  My friends showed me around districts I did not know with small plazas and great places to enjoy food and drinks.  This is the best way to get the vibe of a place.  You can stroll through parks like the famous El Retiro, grand avenues or tiny old streets.  cobblestone, street, Madrid, walk, walking, Spain, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy cobblestone, street, Madrid, walk, walking, Spain, travel, tourism, photo, Olympus

Also, Madrid is a great town to see monuments and buildings old and new so if you like architecture, walk, I say!

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Puerta de Alcalá near El Retiro

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Plaza Mayor

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Cathedral of the Almudena

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The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) in Madrid, Spain

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Congress (Congreso de los Diputados)

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Walking unknowingly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we happened upon the presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors who crossed the Plaza Mayor (I assume coming from the royal palace) and dropped/picked up the dignitaries in colorful carriages.  So one never knows what one will find!

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One of the carriages

Hope you enjoy Madrid!  Have you been?  Any places you’d recommend??

Finisterre: The End of Earth No More!

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A “short” 90-km walk from Santiago de Compostela, where the famous Camino (Way of St. James) ends, is Finisterre.  Finisterre is a town but the more famous Finisterre is the cape that signifies “the end of earth.”   Back when folks assumed this was the end of earth, hence the name.  (Note:  It is also known as Fisterra in the local dialect, Galician or gallego).

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The town of Finisterre from a distance

Many pilgrims who do the Camino, keep going past the end point, the city of Santiago de Compostela.  I did not when I went because the end goal of the Camino, in my book, is entering the Plaza del Obradoiro and then going to Mass at the massive and old Cathedral.

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While 0k for the Camino is in Santiago, this is 0 km too

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Posing with friends – and friendly photobombers!

However, I highly recommend hiking or somehow making it to Finisterre.  I personally loved walking the rugged terrain past the lighthouse.

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The Atlantic Ocean at Finisterre

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Water activities abound in the area

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Pilgrims leave articles of clothing upon reaching the end of their Camino

It reminded me when I went to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa (check it out here), maybe just a little less spectacular here but impressive nonetheless.

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Finisterre lighthouse

If you drive from Santiago, there is an inland route, more direct, and a route that hugs the shoreline.  I recommend the latter on the way over to Finisterre so you can see Finisterre from the distance and see the beautiful coastline.  I am sure in other times of the year this coastline is slightly less hospitable but on the beautiful July day I went, it was nothing short of spectacular.  On the way back, we did take the fast route back – and that was fine with me.

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The Cape (top left) and the town of Finisterre to its right

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A small coastal town watched over by windmills, a common sight around there

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Beautiful waters!

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A small town along the route

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Smart to rely on these guys given how windy it is!

On the way over, before getting to the coastline, we stopped at a small village by the Rio Tambre to visit a charming town right of CP-0201, not far from Santiago.  The Ponte Maceira crosses the river into the village and forms part of the Camino as witnessed by the many pilgrims we saw cross it.  The village is graced not only by the bridge but by a chapel, an old mill, and a very approachable riverside.  Definitely a “must stop.”

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Pilgrims crossing the Ponte Maceira (Maceira Bridge)

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The Rio Tambre

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The village by the bridge

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The old mill and an approach to the river

The only bummer for my visit was that there was a small festival (for the Feast of St. James) going on near the Cape and we could not stop.  I would have so loved to eat fresh seafood and mingle with the locals.  I hear any of the towns along the shore will have incredible fresh seafood.  I believe it!

If you do have time to explore the area, don’t just go to the cape.  Not that it is overly touristy or that it isn’t spectacular, but there are other parts of the coast that are well worth exploring.  The Rias Baixas (which you may know if you know Spanish wine…), just south of Finisterre, are a series of estuaries/inlets from the Atlantic Ocean that create a mini-ecosystem rich in marine life and with many beaches and water activities, a magnet for tourists from Spain.  While certainly not the French Riviera, it also lacks the over-touristed ambience of places like that, making it more relaxed.  So, give yourself an extra day or two and enjoy Finisterre and all that the area around it offers in the region of Galicia!

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Beautiful coastline

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More of the coastline

Camino de Santiago: Packing and Training Tips

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The Camino de Santiago has become a very popular destination/experience for many around the world, especially after the movie “The Way” hit the movies screens (maybe home flat screens is more appropriate).  People of all ages and nationalities gravitate to this, as did I and a group I traveled with last summer to hike the Camino.  I wrote about each of our 7 days in a series of posts but I’d thought I’d devote some time to sharing about the preparation.  By now means is this an exhaustive treatise on each of the topics but it should give you a good high-level understanding on training and gear.  Hope you find it helpful and feel free to ask questions or suggest your own tips via the comments!

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Dirt path going between farms

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Another church we passed this day

Training – or how to get ready

The Camino is not Everest Base Camp or Mt. Kilimanjaro but that does not mean it is easy.  The challenges posed by the Camino are different than an epic climb.  While in some hikes, altitude is a factor, that is not the case in the Camino.  The mountains or hills faced will not compare to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or getting to Uhuru Peak in Mt. Kilimanjaro.  But if you walk more than the minimum distance required to get the Compostela (the famous certificate granted to provide pilgrims with proof that they did indeed make it to Santiago de Compostela), you will need to prepare for some good climbs – and the corresponding downhills (always fun on the delicate knees of a hiker…).

Another factor to consider is that how strenuous the day is depends on how much ground you plan to cover each day.  If you are young (read: in your 20s or early 30s), you likely think you can attack the Camino and do over 20 miles a day, perhaps 30.  That’s crazy talk.  Yes, you physically may be able to but a couple of things:

1.  After a couple of days of pushing this way, your body will let you know how crazy that was.  I have heard the horror stories.  Don’t be over-ambitious.

2.  More importantly, you are missing the point of the Camino.  Yes, getting to the destination is the “aim,” but the point is to be on a journey, a pilgrimage (whether spiritual or emotional).  Moving at the speed of sound renders this experience as just checking an item off the bucket list (which if it is all it is for you, then fast speed might as well be your friend because you will get bored not seeing it as an experience for such a long way).

The final factor to keep in mind is that while there may not be tons of steep hills nor altitude, this hike puts a lot of stress on your feet.  When I climbed Kilimanjaro, the distances walked on a given day were well in the single-digits in terms of miles (maybe it got to double digits in kilometer-land).  Yes, it was difficult due to low oxygen and steepness but it was not brutal on my feet.  Don’t get me wrong, when I would arrive at camp, I was desperate to take off my boots!  But the Camino is much more unforgiving when it comes to your feet.  They tale a beating, so make sure they keep on ticking.

Gear – or what to bring

Before I get into gear, clearly whether you are carrying all your stuff on your back or not makes a big difference.  Yes, there is an option to NOT carry it all yourself from place to place!  Now, that may not be your style and all that, and that’s OK.  But, for some, it is the way to go and so it was for me :)

Regardless of how you do it, I will still issue the same warning:  don’t over-pack.  You will be amazed at how little you can get by with – a lot less than you think.  And worst comes to worst, you can go to a local store along the way and buy what you need…  But I also say that because going on this journey, in my view, is about changing some parameters about our lives to develop new insights, clear our heads, have new experiences, and hopefully be renewed in whatever way you may need to.  So, with all that said, here are some things that I deemed important to take along my Camino…

Feet

    • Good walking shoes or boots.  Without good shoes that you have broken in BEFORE the Camino, you will be in trouble.  Don’t be cheap about this item.  Cheap out on the camera or other items but not on this, my friends!  These could be boots or walking shoes.  The former gives you better ankle protection.  The latter may feel more comfortable.  You may want both to alternate.  After many days of wearing the same show, you may long for a different pair…  Up to you (as are all the tips I share here!).  But I would definitely say, get waterproof in case it rains.

    • Along with the shoes, go non-cotton socks.  What good is a pair of proper and broken in walking shoes if you are going to just slap on cotton socks?  Cotton socks are an invitation for blisters and the painful fun that means for the few days after you develop them.  Wool socks and, ideally, liners complete the most important focus of your gear list:  your feet.

  • Now, if the socks and shoes don’t do it and a blister seems imminent (sometimes blisters just develop…), that is an important moment to take action one final time to prevent the blister from materializing. At that point, you want to protect the spot where you are beginning to feel the burning (which is exactly what you feel BEFORE the blister arrives). The simplest and cheapest solution is to place a small piece of duct tape on that spot on your foot. Yes, stop, take footwear off and apply the small patch of duct tape – don’t wait.  So duct tape is a must-carry on any hike with the added side benefit that you can repair other things with it as needed. But don’t carry the roll, for goodness’ sake! Wrap duct tape on a pencil or on your hiking pole and you will save space and weight.
  • In case things go too far and you develop a blister, a blister repair kit is a good idea to bring along.  I was the beneficiary of a fellow’s trekker blister “repair” kit coming down Kilimanjaro and became a believer.  I don’t recall the brand I used on the Camino but the item below is the one I bought for my next hike in Patagonia.

Clothing

Now we can get past all things feet.  From a clothing standpoint, the usual advice applies here.

    • Layers.  The weather can vary and some high spots can get very cold.  And depending on the time of year, it could get quite warm during the day.  So plan to have layers which help manage the changes you may experience throughout the day.
    • Waterproof.  At some point, you may encounter rain so you want proper rain gear which might as well also serve as wind-breaking gear.  In terms of things to wear, make sure it is really waterproof (Gore-Tex). Waterproof also refers to protecting the contents of your backpack, whether by placing a bag over your backpack or putting the contents of your backpack in plastic bags.  Your choice!
    • Wicking.  Since you may not be carrying one-for-every-day in the underwear category and to help your skin remain “un-irritated”, wicking underwear is a good idea.  It removes humidity before sweat covers your skin which prevents bad odors.  And, hence, should you decide to wear them more than once between washings, then at least you know you will not smell!  Because my hike was only 7 days, I had underwear for every day but I still used wicking underwear for the comfort of not developing chaffing, etc.

  • Temperatures.  Plan for a range of temperatures.  This ties to the layers bit but also realize that, at night when you are not hiking, you may want to sit outdoors and it may get chilly at night, even in the summer depending on the weather system on a given day in your area.  So some light jacket in the summer may be appropriate for the evenings; perhaps more substantial at other times of the year.
  • Comfort.  Be sure the materials you wear are comfortable to you.  During 6-8 hours of hiking, you want to be comfortable not itching or something else.  When you get to the next town, you WILL want those walking shoes off and will love slipping into some flip flops, sandals or running shoes or whatever other comfortable footwear you like.  Bring only one of those, no need to overdo it, but allow yourself this luxury!  (Flip flops could be handy to shower in communal showers if that’s your accommodation style!)

Miscellaneous

    • Hunger avoidance devices (read: snacks).  You will not hungry on this trek!  Plenty of places to stop and get a snack or a meal at very reasonable prices.  Carrying two boxes of protein or granola bars is wasted weight and space and, more importantly, keeping you from sampling local foods and snacks.  So, just carry what you buy locally or just stop along the way!
    • A camera!  You can certainly opt for a different kind of travel if you are not drawn to capturing memories in this manner.  Journaling, for example, may be a better way for some.  For yours truly, though, the imagery of a place not only captures my attention but is also a way I use to be able to share what I experience.  Along with this go the requisite battery charger or extra batteries and an appropriate number of SD cards :)  I do like the wifi SD card which allows me to transfer photos out of my SD card onto another device (good for backup or to clear memory on the SD card).
    • Toiletries and accessories.  Yep, you know what this list is about (toothbrush, deodorant, etc.) so no need to detail it nor give you too much advice.  But I will call out some things…  First, bring travel-sized items.  Second, see how much stuff you can live without.  Do you really need a hair dryer?  (No judgment implied!)  Finally, some items I will recommend…  Some hand lotion/moisturizer is a good idea.  Chapstick is a must.  And some antibacterial liquid (e.g., Purell) is also a must along with some wipies (no need to bring more than a handful per day, if that many).
    • First aid.  There are kits out there but I just go with common sense and practical.  There are drug stores and stuff in the towns you will pass so no need to overdo it.  Some band-aids, some anti-diarrhea meds in case you can’t make it to them town (no one had troubles of this sort in our group), some anti-inflammatory in case something hurts (knees, for example), and the like should make a good kit.  As a packing tip, I used the ziploc bags that are half of the regular sandwich bag to pack meds so I didn’t have to carry bottles which can occupy more space.  Whether you want to get Cipro (digestive system antibiotic), Ambien (to sleep) or anything else, it is up to you.  I took none of those meds (though I take Cipro when I go to some destinations).  Of course, if you are taking prescription drugs, bring those and write down somewhere the main ingredient (vs. the medication name) should something happen and you need to get some locally – the main ingredient is what you need.
    • Night light.  If you will be sleeping in shared accommodations, this comes in handy to minimize disrupting others’ sleep and/or preventing you from tripping in the middle of the night as you make a night run to the restroom :)  I prefer headlamps like this one so I can be “hands-free”; please don’t make me explain why :)

    • Backpack.  Please, whatever you do, do not bring a Swiss Army backpack (well-designed as they are for the frequent traveler) or, even worse, your college backpack.  You will be likely carrying more weight than you are used to and your back and shoulders will appreciate you bringing a backpack with a waist strap and a chest strap to help distribute the impact of the load  on your upper body.  Plus be sure the main straps and perhaps the backpack have some padding where they will touch your body.  It is many days of carrying it so be good to yourself.  And size does matters, when it comes to backpacks – will the size you get be able to fit all that you will carry on your back every day?  Remember, if you want the convenience, there are services that every day pick up your luggage and deliver it to the next place you will stay (if you know in advance).  With this option, you only carry what you need during your walk.  Bottom line:  figure out how much you need the backpack to carry (don’t forget to account for the water!) and then choose a size.

  • Backpack cover.  Along with this, have something ready to cover your backpack if it rains.  Trust me, no matter what they say, water will get in if it rains enough (e.g., think of the zippers).  You can buy a backpack cover (some backpacks come with it) or, save money and bring a nice size, good quality trash bag or maybe even just a cheap poncho.  You can also help prevent your stuff getting wet by packing the in large ziplocs and the place within your backpack. You are on the go and it may not always be easy or practical to get stuff dry.

Alright, there is likely more to be said and advice to be given.  I will likely made some edits in the future but feel free to share your thoughts, ask questions, etc.

Buen Camino!

Want to see what every day was like?  Click on the day and read on!  Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 and Day 7

Santiago de Compostela: Food, Charm, and “New” Family

Praza do Obradoiro, Cathedral, west facade,Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

I wrote earlier about my arrival in Santiago de Compostela as a Camino pilgrim and the activities related to the end of the pilgrimage (getting the Compostela certificate, Pilgrims’ Mass, etc.).  Though my stay in Santiago was brief (less than 24 hours due to needing to bring the group back to Madrid), there were some noteworthy things to share about my brief second visit to this incredible city in northwest Spain‘s Galicia

Food

As ANYWHERE in Spain, food is spectacular.  In Santiago, I had a quick lunch at a local tapas bar before going to meet relatives.  I love tapas bars.  These are not the unreasonable facsimiles in many U.S. cities that offer tapas.  I loved sitting at the bar and looking at the tapas on display (salivating at, to be more accurate) and then making my choices.  That and an adult beverage made for a quick and delicious lunch.

tapas, food, foodporn, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Galicia, Olympus

A splendid array

tapas, food, foodporn, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Galicia, Olympus

One of many had…

Later that evening, after dinner with my group, a couple of us took off in a chase for some hot chocolate and “churros” (fried sticks of dough and sugar; a favorite of mine from my childhood).  Let me tell you, this hot chocolate is not of the watery style.  It is THICK – and delicious.

churros, hot chocolate, food, foodporn, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Galicia, Samsung Galaxy

Churros and hot chocolate – the real reason the pilgrims came!

Great vibe to the town – charming architecture and streets

The great Cathedral of Santiago is not the only main architectural piece in this city.  I love its side streets with or without arcades and the many small and big plazas all around.  In fact, it is the whole town, not just the Cathedral or the plaza in front of it that is a World Heritage Site!

Plaza de Platerias, south facade, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

Hanging out at Praza de Platerías along the south face of the Cathedral

university, north facade, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

University building facing the north side of the Cathedral

Dakar, Santiago de Compostela, café, architecture, travel, food, photo

I ate at this café called Dakar 20 years before!

Santiago de Compostela, café, architecture, travel, food, photo

Small plaza and cafés near the Cathedral

The grand plaza in front of the Cathedral is named Praza do Obradoiro, which best I know means plaza of the workshop.  It is large and pretty plain except for the buildings around it:  the Cathedral, a palace, and a hostel built by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, back in 1492!

Plaza do Obradoiro, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, architecture, travel,photo, Canon EOS Rebel, arcade

Entering Praza do Obradoiro from the northeast corner

Plaza do Obradoiro, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, architecture, travel,photo, Catholic Monarchs, inn, Olympus

The inn built by the Catholic Monarchs, now a parador

Plaza del Obradoiro, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, España, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

Looking around the Praza do Obradoiro – Rajoy Palace

From here, once can admire the façade of the Cathedral (which was undergoing repairs/restoration) and then go into town in any number of directions.  The site of the Cathedral has been the site of a church since the 9th century.  Construction of the current church began in 1075 (!) and the church was consecrated in 1211 – THAT is patience!  Of course, it has been added to in the many centuries since.  It looks like a massive complex.

Praza do Obradoiro, Cathedral, façade, west facade,Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

The massive west façade of the Cathedral

Praza do Obradoiro, Cathedral, west facade,Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Olympus

Looking closer at the main façade ‘s exposed towers

Praza do Obradoiro, Cathedral, west facade,Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, World Heritage Site, travel, photo, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel

Detail of the Cathedral from the side

We stayed at a monastery-seminary called Hospedería San Martín Pinario next to the Cathedral but not within the Praza do Obradoiro – great location!  The rooms, as can be expected, are spartan but clean and functional.  Aside of the massive size of the building, I was surprised at the VERY wide hallways.  I wonder why they made them like that?!

Hospederia San Martin, Santiago de Compostela, hotel, seminary, monastery, travel, photo, Olympus, spartan

Room at the Hospedería

Hospederia San Martin, Santiago de Compostela, hotel, seminary, monastery, travel, photo, Olympus, spartan

One of the massive hallways, this one in the lobby

And the family connection

I mentioned meeting relatives earlier.  The story behind that is that my great-grandfather was born right outside of Santiago in a rural village named Bastavales (made famous in Spain in a song).  I had visited the hamlet 20 years earlier but, unprepared and not having a car, I got to see the church where he likely was baptized and walked past houses in which he and other relatives likely lived.  Years later, I made contact with the parish to see about getting a copy of the records of his baptism, etc. and got some good information, courtesy of the local priest.  I guess he told some of my great-grandfather’s local relatives about my inquiries – years later they reached out to me and we got to meet by letters, email and a phone call.  So, I made it my purpose to go meet them in this trip.  After the tapas lunch, I headed to a house in Bastavales using a taxi.  Back in 1994, I had taken a bus and had taken a while.  Now, with a brand new highway, it took about 15 minutes to get there.  Sweet.

It was really neat to meet one of my grandmother’s younger cousins (only two were alive at this point; my grandmother had been born in Cuba and never got to go to Spain so she never met any of her Spanish relatives), a lovely lady with blue eyes named Flora.

family, Bastavales

My grandmother’s cousin and her granddaughter (my 3rd cousin?)

I also met one of her sons and two of her grandchildren.  She shared some family history and showed me some photos.  Also, she pointed at a distance at the house where my great-grandfather had been born.  I only had a couple of hours to spare and they did not have a car readily available so I had to be satisfied with having seen the house from a distance.  I also saw the church I had visited 20 years earlier and noticed that I had walked in front of the houses she was pointing to after I got off the bus and walked a few kilometers to get to the church…

vines, green, Bastavales, Galicia, Spain, photo, Olympus

The side garden of their house has vines! Beautiful spot

wine press, Bastavales, vineyard, Galicia, Spain, photo, travel, wood, Olympus

Showing me the old wine press they used to use – pretty cool!

This week some other relatives have contacted me and have sent me photos they scanned of my grandmother.  Apparently, she kept in touch with them (though her dad died in Cuba when she was a toddler) and sent them pictures of her as a young woman.  They actually sent me a copy of the little “souvenir” with her baby picture issued when she was baptized; her dad must have sent it to Spain!  I realized with the info they gave me that she had been sending pictures and writing to them because her grandparents were still alive.  I was glad to hear she had some contact with them.

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This was a special way to end the Camino:  a pilgrimage to meet relatives my grandmother never met. I love Santiago de Compostela and now I must return to meet these other relatives that have given me such a wonderful gift.  And this will give me more time to explore Santiago more and keep enjoying tapas, hot chocolate and churros!

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 7 from Lavacolla to Santiago!

sign, Santiago de Compostela, Plaza del Obradeiro, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

The big day arrived on Day 7.  On this day, we departed on the Camino for the last time as we left lovely Pazo Xan Xordo to enter Santiago de Compostela as many have done over the last 1,000 years on this ancient pilgrimage for the final 2.5 hours of our trek.  We were excited but were also on a schedule as we needed to arrive on-time to attend Pilgrim’s Mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at noon.  Since this Mass gets packed, we wanted to be there at minimum 30 minutes in advance.  We wanted to sit on the nave on the side of the altar in case they used the “botafumeiro.”  They did not, to our great disappointment, but if they had, it would have flown right over us!

Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Olympus

Waiting for Pilgrim’s Mass to start

Monte de Gozo

But I get ahead of myself.  So we left Lavacolla sharp at 8 AM and made one stop at the impressive Monte de Gozo on the outskirts of town.  It was from this vantage point that pilgrims would get their first glimpse of the final destination.  “Gozo” means happiness which is exactly what the pilgrims would feel at this point after so many months/years of hiking their way across Europe and Spain.  I was more impressed by the monument built here and taking pictures of the sun showing through the top of the monument.

Monte de Gozo, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

The monument at Monte de Gozo

Monte de Gozo, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

Each side of the monument commemorates something different

Monte de Gozo, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Loved catching the sun through the glass cross

The great arrival in Santiago de Compostela

At some point in the walk (I think it was on a big downhill), we stopped being “outside” of Santiago and entered the outlying sectors of the city.

Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Olympus

One of the last villages we passed before entering Santiago proper (after Monte de Gozo)

We crossed a long bridge over a highway and we felt like this was the final stretch.  OK, it was a long final stretch and we did stop at a café to make a final pit stop and to get a snack (not sitting down).  We knew once we hit Santiago, we were likely not going to get a break until noon Mass ended so this was a smart choice!

sign, Santiago de Compostela, Plaza del Obradeiro, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

Welcome to Santiago de Compostela!

As we got closer, it seemed the streets got narrower which kept making us more eager to finally get there.  I was eager to see the reaction of my fellow trekkers when they first saw the Cathedral (I had been there in 1994 already).

Getting the Compostela and Pilgrim’s Mass

Our plan was to hit town and immediately head to the Pilgrim’s Office (on rua Vilar) to get our “Compostela,” the certificate granted to those who complete the Camino.  A nice volunteer from Ireland named (of course) Mary helped English speakers with instructions to be ready to step inside and get the Compostela; a few questions were asked and the credencial (passport) was briefly examined.

Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela, Plaza del Obradoiro, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

Pilgrims filling out their papers while waiting for their Compostela

It was an exhilarating moment to get the Compostela (after standing in line about 25 minutes) even if I briefly embarrassed myself by telling the lady that she had gotten my first name wrong.  She politely told me that they write the first name in Latin not in its regular form…  As soon as I got to the hotel later, I took photos of the Compostela just in case something happened to it on the rest of the trip!

Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The big moment of getting the Compostela!

We had been told we could not take our backpacks in for Mass so we then proceeded to drop off our backpacks next to the Pilgrim’s Office for 2 euros.  We then were free to make our way to the Cathedral but, first, we took quick group and individual photos in the Plaza del Obradoiro in front of the Cathedral.

Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela, Plaza del Obradoiro, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, Trekking for Kids, photo, Olympus

Our Trekking for Kids group posing in front of the Cathedral

We then moved in to claim our spots for Mass and we took turns while we waited for the start of Mass to go behind the main altar to see the tomb of Santiago (St. James), after all, all this started because of him!

Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela, Plaza del Obradoiro, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Olympus

Another detail of the interior

Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela, Plaza del Obradoiro, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, St. James' tomb, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

St. James’ tomb

Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela, Plaza del Obradoiro, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Olympus

Details from inside the Cathedral

Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela, Plaza del Obradoiro, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, altar, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A side altar

During Mass, in the part where they greet the pilgrims, they mention groups by name.  I had told them at the Pilgrim’s Office that we were a group, Trekking for Kids, from the U.S. and Canada and it was neat to hear us greeted during Mass.

We had heard that because 2014 was the 800th anniversary of St. Francis doing the Camino, the Church of San Francisco (St. Francis), not far from the Cathedral was issuing another certificate to pilgrims (the “Cotolaya“) so we went later that day to claim it (at this point, we would have taken any certificate issued to pilgrims, I think!).

Church of San Francisco, St. Francis, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

Walking towards the Church of San Francisco (St. Francis)

Church of San Francisco, St. Francis, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

Main altar at the Church of San Francisco

So our week-long trek along this millennial pilgrimage came to a glorious end.  It was a unique experience and I loved returning to Santiago de Compostela of which I will write some more in another post.  I have some suggestions for those considering the Camino.  Keep an eye out for that post!

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Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 6 from Salceda to Lavacolla

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Day 6 saw our last full day of our walk along the Camino de Santiago as Day 7 would be a short day.  Day 6’s walk took about 5 hours (perhaps about 18 km) not including our lunch stop at Amenal.  I felt both excited at getting close to the finish line and also a little bit sad that the end was so close.  We left the hotel (and our luggage) in Salceda after a good breakfast and walked a few minutes to get back on the Camino.  Along the way, I had been collected the needed stamps on my “credenciales” (pilgrim’s passport); these are required to be able to get the “Compostela” certificate upon arrival at the offices in Santiago de Compostela.

Camino de Santiago, passport,Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

The pilgrim’s “passport” (credenciales) that you must stamp every day

Camino de Santiago, passport, pilgrim,Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Proudly showing my stamped “credenciales” (or pilgrim’s passport)

Sights along the Camino

As usual, our way was a mix of fields of flowers, small forests, farms, and churches.  And the ever present signs pointing the way.  Here are a few of the images from this day in our trek.Camino de Santiago, nature, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Camino de Santiago, yellow flowers, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Beautiful field of yellow

Camino de Santiago, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Camino de Santiago, flowers, hydrangea,hortensia, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Canon EOS Rebel

Hydrangeas were popular along the way

Camino de Santiago, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Just keep following the signs…

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Church

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Cemetery

An amazing place to stay:  Pazo Xan Xordo

Once we got to Lavacolla, a stone’s throw from Santiago’s airport actually, we walked a little bit to get to our lodging for the night:  Pazo Xan Xordo.  We were wowed by this 17th century home and farm with its own chapel and beautiful gardens.  This place was a real dream!

Camino de Santiago, hotel,Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Pazo Xan Xordo and its front patio

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Chapel near the front entrance of Pazo Xan Xordo

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

The inside of the chapel

It also has a small restaurant but it was not open for dinner so our host dropped us off and picked us back up for dinner in town, where we celebrated being so close to finishing with a great dinner and a dessert I had not had, but seen often, yet:  ice cream cake!

Camino de Santiago, restaurant,Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

The final dinner on the trail (in Lavacolla)!

Camino de Santiago, ice cream cake, dessert,Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

The ice cream cake

A perfect ending to another great day along the Camino!

Camino de Santiago, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Yours truly

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Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 7

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 5 from Boente to Salceda

Camino, Santiago, Spain, España, The Way, hikking, trekker, travel, photo, sunny day, trail, Boente, Salceda, Olympus

Day 5 would have us walk about 19 km (12 miles) in around a 4.5 hour period, leaving Boente to head to our next overnight stop in Salceda.  The group left together every morning and, generally, stayed in proximity of each other but a few of us would generally spend part of the morning walking on our own or in silence.  Oh, we enjoyed each other a great bit but the Camino is an invitation to pray and ponder, much as it is also very social (I mean, here are all these people walking in one direction, with one goal in mind) – or, at least, as social as one decides to make it.

Camino, Santiago, Spain, España, The Way, hikking, trekker, travel, photo, sunny day, trail, Boente, Salceda,pilgrimage,

My shadow also came along; but I ignored it when I was deep in thought

As usual, the variety in the terrain and passing through small towns and rural areas were a rewarding aspect of the walk.  But even though we may be in the middle of nowhere at any given moment, we were not far from a potential place for a “rest stop” or getting a bite to eat.

Camino, Santiago, Spain, España, The Way, hikking, trekker, travel, photo, sunny day, trail, Boente, Salceda Camino, Santiago, Spain, España, The Way, hikking, trekker, travel, photo, sunny day, trail, Boente, Salceda

Camino, Santiago, Spain, ruins,España, The Way, hikking, trekker, travel, photo, sunny day, trail, Boente, Salceda

Even ruins are charming

Camino, Santiago, pilgrimage,Spain, España, The Way, hikking, trekker, travel, photo, sunny day, trail, Boente, Salceda, Olympus

Some places to eat are literally right by the Camino

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One of the many water fountains along the way

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Another eatery right along the Camino

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Pilgrims include bicyclists (whose minimum distance to claim the Camino is longer)

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Even ruins are charming

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A house, a granary and hydrangeas

In Salceda, we stayed at one of the nicest places we were to stay at the Albergue Turístico Salceda, a little bit of the trail but no more than a 5-10 minute walk away.

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At the end of the day’s hike, it is acceptable to celebrate!

It was a nice day and, after showering, we lounged outdoors resting and relaxing – with a nice bottle of Albariño wine.  I’d call Day 5 another successful day on the Camino!

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One happy trekker!

 

Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 4 from Palas del Rei to Boente

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After a great dinner in Palas del Rei and a nice comfortable stay overnight, we left the town on Day 4 to head to Boente, a tiny town and our next overnight.  On this day, I would walk 21 km (about 13 miles) in around 5 hours to get to my destination.  But we would first make a stop in Mélide to try its famous “pulpo” (octopus).  Now, I am not a fan of octopus and similar ugly sea creatures but I had heard about how good the pulpo was in this part of Spain so we took off from Palas del Rei knowing lunch would be in the town of Mélide – I had to try it, I mean, I didn’t come this far to not try the local specialty!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we had to have a mid-morning snack (even though the breakfast at the hotel in Palas del Rei was pretty darn good!).

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The pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) along the Camino is huge!

After eating that monster (OK, I shared…), I had too much energy as my trek roommate, Emory, could attest…Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekkers, blue, travel, hiking, photo, Samsung Galaxy

As usual, the path is well marked and consists of a wide range of trail types, some more natural than others.

Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trailsCamino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails It is always amazing how there is a symbiosis between the age-old trails and the farms or villages the trails go through.  Sometimes you feel bad you are walking right by people’s homes but, it is likely that the trail was there first…

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The scenery can be quite charming!

One of my favorite parts of the walk is running into the old churches in the small towns along the way.  I am not sure how active these churches are (I am sure they don’t all have their own priest) but they serve as witnesses to the needs of the pilgrims back when the Camino was truly a journey of faith, not just a modern-day trek.

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One of several churches we passed this day

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Another church on our way

One of the good things about the Camino is the availability of clean, safe water to drink so you don’t have to be buying bottled water or treating water.  I filled my bottles at the places I stayed but you can also do refills along the way in any of the public fountains available to the trekkers.

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Water fountain along the trail

Now before I get to the “pulpo”, I have to say I enjoyed the chorizo small plate more than the pulpo.  The place we ate at was across a small church along the main street in Mélide.  It had long picnic-like tables and a nice mix of locals and pilgrims!

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Chorizo al vino in Mélide

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The guy at the “kitchen” (right by the front door) preparing the pulpo!

Oh, and I have not told you about one of my favorite discoveries along the Camino:  the delicious tarta de Santiago (a dense almond cake, sort of)!!  Yum.  #period

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Tarta de Santiago

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Leaving Mélide after a nice lunch of chorizo, pulpo, bread – and some wine…

The walk that day was long and, as we approached Boente, we could not wait to arrive at our “albergue”.  You could say this was the day we stayed at the “least” of our accommodations (not being a hotel or house) but it was perfect.  We had reserved two private rooms to share across the 8 of us and it was perfect as we did not have to fight with individual trekkers to get a bunk bed, etc.  The albergue was more than adequate and clean, and the dinner they served was delicious.  At this point in my life, I don’t want to do a trek where I have to wonder if I will find a spot to sleep on a given town, or whether the one I will find will be not right by the toilet so booking ahead is the way I trek.

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The awesome Albergue Boente!

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The Igrexa Santiago de Boente (right across the albergue)

After a stroll around town and dinner, it was time to end Day 4 and rest for Day 5!

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Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 3 from Portomarín to Palas del Rei

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I enjoyed our night in Portomarín as the town had a nice location along the Miño River – and we enjoyed sitting at a bar the night before with a nice wine enjoying the awesome weather.  So I was rested and ready for Day 3.

We left the hotel (and our luggage, which was picked up by a service that dropped it off at our next hotel)around 9 AM and went towards the river where we had just a little confusion as to which way to go.  We crossed the river and returned to the path that would take us to Palas del Rei.

As usual, we stopped for lunch at a place past Hospital but before Ligonde.  It has a very nice outdoor seating area with plenty of shade.  The menu was typical of the pilgrim’s menu.

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Menu board with the offerings for the day

In this case, for example, 9 euros would get you a nice burger or lomo (pork) with real French fries accompanied with fried eggs!

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Delicious!!!

I also have to highlight one of my favorite dishes:  ensalada mixta which has tomatoes, lettuce, tuna, onions, olives and just goodness!

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Not only colorful and diverse but mighty tasty!

Palas del Rei is a small town of over 3,000 people.  We arrived around 4:30 PM after a beautiful, but long walk, with some good climbs.

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Wildlife along the way!

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Dirt path going between farms

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Sometimes the Camino overlaps with a modern road

Camino de Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, path, Palas del Rei, Olympus

Continuing to walk in rural parts of the Camino

We walked into it and past a church where a funeral service was being held.  We approached it from the back and then saw the steps leading down from the church to the street below – a steep walk down.

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San Tirso Church

Our hotel, Hotel Casa Benilde was not far from that point (maybe 50 meters?).

We arrived at the hotel and the manager and his assistant were at the front desk, likely expecting us.  They were the nicest folks, so ready to make us feel at home, walking us through every detail – including how they could accommodate our celiac and vegetarians in the group.  The hotel lobby was small and, we found out, that was the reason they “scored” low on the star rating system in Spain.  We were shocked at the low star rating as this place had excellent customer service, incredible breakfast catering to the dietary needs (all items were labeled gluten-free or not, etc.), the rooms were clean (if small), and the wifi was great in the rooms.

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More about the Camino before Day 3:

–  Day 1

–  Day 2

And after Day 3:

–  Day 4

 

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 2 from Barbadelo to Portomarín

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Finally, the first long day of our Camino started on Day 2 in Barbadelo.  Day 1, as I wrote about, was really a “baby” hiking day.  All good; ’twas for a good reason (like getting to see O Cebreiro).  But I (along with my fellow trekkers) were really ready to tackle the ‘mino.

I enjoyed breakfast with jamón serrano (Spanish ham), cheese, fresh bread, OJ, and my café con leche.  I was well-fueled for the day!

As luck would have it, it was raining that morning.  And with my cheap rain poncho, I was looking like a Camino fool on a tear!

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Yep, this is me in my rain gear…

Once again, the trails are well-marked with yellow arrows (or the kilometer markers with the seashell).  Rarely did these markers fail us!

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The ever-present yellow arrow!

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Art mixed in with function after leaving Barbadelo

The trail is so varied all along the Camino.  I loved that because it kept me looking forward to what else we would see.  And it kept me paying attention to my surroundings – which made me not take the scenery for granted.

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The Camino’s paths are very diverse.

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As lunch time was nearing, we passed Ferreiros, a small hamlet with a cute little church with an accompanying cemetery.

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The Church of Santa Maria in Ferreiros

But all wasn’t pretty landscape and charming little churches.  Lunch time was a time for rest, and a time for good food.  And, occasionally, a glass of local table wine or a glass of beer (I normally did not drink but a couple of times did have a glass of wine).

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Lunch on the Camino: wine is always near!

After what felt like a very long day, we finally spotted the Miño River, which meant we had arrived at our destination for the day:  the town of Portomarín, one of the largest we went through at over 2,00o or so inhabitants.  The original town (with a long history with the Camino) is now under water as it was flooded when a dam was built downstream – so the town we stayed in is fairly young.  However, it is worth noting that key buildings, like the main church, were moved before the old town was flooded to a new spot in the town.

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The Río Miño – and our destination on other side!

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About to enter Portomarín!

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A choice of stairs OR a riverside road to get to our hotel…

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Not that I was tired and trying to hitch a ride to Santiago!

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The charming streets of Portomarin

A festival had just taken place and there were some types of branches strewn about the main square and down the main pedestrian street.  The main street was cute and colorful and clearly well-lived by the locals.

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The main plaza after a festival

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Colorful balconies and one seemingly bored local

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The reminders of the festival make for a beautiful carpet on the main street

The Church of San Juan (San Xoán) was moved, as I said, from the old town to a new spot.  It is late Romanesque and feels like a church and a castle at the same time.  We went in as we found out it was open to stamp pilgrims’ Camino passports but, unfortunately, there was no Mass scheduled for that evening.

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The moved Church of San Juan

The interior was simple without being plain.  I found it very peaceful.

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Main altar of the Church of San Juan – modest

After our first full day of hiking, I was glad to enjoy a nice meal, some vino, and a nice peaceful view from our room at the hotel.

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The end of the day offered this reward from the balcony of my room.

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