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.

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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 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.

pilgrim's menu, Camino de Santiago, Camino, Spain, food, trekking, hiking, Canon EOS Rebel

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!

lomo, pork, food, Spain, Camino, pilgrim's menu, fried eggs

Delicious!!!

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

mixed salad, ensalada mixta, tomatoes, tuna,food, Spain, Camino, pilgrim's menu, fried eggs, Canon EOS Rebel, foodporn

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.

Camino de Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, path, Palas del Rei, wildlife, farm

Wildlife along the way!

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

Dirt path going between farms

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

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.

San Tirso, Palas del Rei, Spain, Camino, church, charming, Santiago, trekking, photo, España, Spain

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 1 from Sarria to Barbadelo

Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, kilometer marker, travel, photo, Olympus

As I explained in an earlier post, my time to do the Camino de Santiago was limited so we started in Sarria, west of León, 110 kms from the end point in Santiago de Compostela.

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The first marker of our hike: the 110 kilometer marker!

The itinerary though had us visiting O Cebreiro and Samos prior to starting the hike so that didn’t leave us much time on Day 1 to hike.  So we hiked a very short distance that day going from Sarria to Barbadelo, a small town with a very nice small hotel “Casa Barbadelo.”

Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, travel, photo, Olympus

Our group in Sarria, about to start the Camino!

I am certainly glad to have seen O Cebreiro and Samos but it made for a long day on the road and I was, along with my fellow trekkers, eager to get on the Camino for real.  Though the hike that day was very short (1.5 hours or so), it was a good warm-up.

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The ever-present shell of the Camino – you see it anywhere in Europe where the Camino goes through!

Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, travel, photo, Olympus

The way forward marked by the sign and the yellow arrow!

The terrain we crossed went by some major highway but it was very rural and lush, crossing farms along the way.

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Highway near Paredes

Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Very lush lands between Sarria and Barbadelo

The highlight was crossing a 12th century bridge named the Aspera bridge that crosses the Celeiro River.

Aspera, bridge, Ceileiro, river, Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, travel, photo, Olympus

The Aspera bridge (and the ever-present yellow arrows!)

We did enjoy arriving at Casa Barbadelo where we shared 3 rooms among eight of us.

Barbadelo, Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Approaching Casa Barbadelo

The rooms were basic but spacious and the buildings in Casa Barbadelo were quite new.  The grounds were quite nice and the place even had a pool.

Barbadelo, Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The front yard of Casa Barbadelo – note the outdoor seating area on the right

We enjoyed a GREAT meal and lots of good laughs that night accompanied (or triggered?) by one or two glasses of sangria.  A perfect ending to a long but short (does that make sense?!), easy first day on the Camino!

On the Camino de Santiago I Went – Another Pilgrim

Camino, Santiago, St. James, The Way, pilgrimage, Europe, routes, travel, trekking, journey

The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, is an ancient pilgrimage indeed with a timeline of over 1,000 years.  Pilgrims from all over Europe would come from far and near to visit the place where St. James (or Santiago) is buried:  under the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain (Galicia, to be more precise).

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A map in O Cebreiro showing the many routes pilgrims took from all over Europe to get to NW Spain

In modern days, though, not all who “do” the Camino are necessarily doing it for spiritual reasons but I would find hard to believe that most don’t get something spiritual out of the sacrifice and effort doing the Camino requires.

The Camino is a joy not only for the experience of trekking these ancient “ways”.  I have to admit that the social and culinary were also part of my Camino.

croqueta, food, Spain, Camino, foodporn, foodie, delicious, travel, photo

One of my favorites from my childhood re-encountered in the Camino: croquetas!

I will aim to share about the experience in a couple of different ways in this and upcoming posts:

  • The first way will be to simply share what everyday was like using photographs and other thoughts – whether you ever plan to or want to do it.
  • The second will be by sharing what I did to prepare and do the Camino, in case you are yourself hoping to, or actually planning to, do the Camino.

Why I went

I first learned more about the Camino when I met a co-worker back in 2003 who had just done the Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port – so about 30 days’ worth of trekking (close to 800km or 500 miles).  It all sounded hard and just too much time.  Over the years, as we became good friends, I enjoyed hearing stories about what the Camino was like and the friendships he struck along the way.  It made me curious about the Camino though I never thought I would want to “walk” for 30 days.

Years later, as I got more into trekking/hiking, I started thinking that I -some day- would want to do it (or part of it, to be more precise).  Watching the movie “The Way” helped inspire me but not tons more.  The coup de grace was when an organization I do treks with, Trekking for Kids, announced they would do a trek to do the Camino in the summer of 2014.  That sealed the deal.  Combining both my desire to do the Camino with the mission of Trekking for Kids (to improve the lives of orphaned and at-risk children around the world) was the perfect reason to go.

Trekking for Kids, trek, Bayti Centre, voluntourism, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, photo

The group of trekkers and the children and staff of the Bayti Centre in Essaouira

How we did the Camino de Santiago

The Trekking for Kids trek mixed a few days at a center for at-risk children in Essaouira, Morocco, called Bayti Centre, followed by seven days on the Camino (read more about our time at the Bayti Centre here).  Because the overall trek had to be kept to less than two weeks, the starting point of the Camino had to be picked such that we could do the minimum required distance (100km for those walking; 200km for those cycling) to be able to get the “compostela” (or the certificate issued in Santiago de Compostela that validates that you did the Camino) yet stay within the desired overall trip duration.  In addition, it had to allow for the travel day or two between Morocco and the start of the hike.

The preferred route was the traditional Camino Francés which is sort of parallel to the northern coast of Spain but further inland.  It is likely the most popular route of all though I wonder how the other routes are (and secretly hope I can check out some day!).

This meant we would need to start the hike at the last possible point we could and still meet the minimum walking requirements:  the town of Sarria, which meant we would do more than the 100km minimum (at least, 110km).  There were, however, a couple of important towns right before Sarria that were worth seeing (O Cebreiro and Samos), yet we did not have time to hike through them (would have required one or two more hiking days) – so the itinerary included driving through these towns before being dropped off on the trailhead from which our hike would start.

Our Camino route

Our hiking itinerary was as follows (click on the Day to read the post for that day!):

  • Day 1:  Begin at Sarria.  After a very short (“warm-up”) hike, we would overnight at Barbadelo.
  • Day 2:  From Barbadelo to Portomarín
  • Day 3:  From Portomarín to Palas del Rei
  • Day 4:  From Palas del Rei to Boente
  • Day 5:  From Boente to Salceda
  • Day 6:  From Salceda to Lavacolla
  • Day 7:  From Lavacolla to Santiago.

The map that follows highlights in a blue oval the town of Sarria, our starting point (immediately to the right, you will see Samos; further to the right, you will notice O Cebreiro).  The purple line that connects the blue oval to Santiago de Compostela to the west (left, on the map) is the route of our itinerary.Galicia, Camino, Santiago, Compostela, camino frances, Frenc route, Sarria, map, pilgrimage

On to Day 1!

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Climbing Croagh Patrick – An Ancient Irish Pilgrimage

Patrick 1

Guest post by fellow traveler, Chris Sanders.

Having walked the Camino de Santiago, I am always searching for opportunities to embark on other pilgrimages – big or small. I found one such opportunity on a recent vacation to Ireland. In addition to visiting Athone, Galway, Kilkenny, and Dublin (including attending a U2 concert!), my wife and I joined 20,000 other people on an ancient pilgrimage called the Croagh Patrick.

Located a few miles outside of the west coast Irish town of Westport, the Croagh Patrick is the name of the mountain as well as the famous pilgrimage that occurs there.  According to Christian tradition, St. Patrick climbed the mountain and fasted there for forty day in AD 441, after which he banished the snakes and demons from all of Ireland. Today, as many as one million pilgrims climb the mountain throughout the year- with 20,000-30,000 making the trek on “Reek Sunday” – the last Sunday in July.  Reek Sunday coincided with our vacation so of course we were compelled to do the pilgrimage on this day!

Reek Sunday for Wendy and I began around 8am in Dublin, where we took a taxi to the airport to pick up our rental car.  The highway traffic was very light so we were able to reach Westport by 11:00am…we followed the signs for Croagh Patrick and after another 15 minutes of driving, we were at the foot of the mountain.  Thousands of people had already converged on the area – there were food and craft vendors, religious activists handing out flyers, and the Garda (Irish police) directing traffic. We pulled into one of many large grassy fields and paid 5 Euros to park. “OK”, I said to Wendy, “let’s go do our penance for the day.”

The weather was cold and a light rain was falling, but we were somewhat prepared with our waterproof jackets and hiking poles! I say “somewhat” because the pilgrimage actually turned out to be quite difficult – the light rain at times became a torrential downpour with strong gusts of wind- the kind of wind that turns rain drops into bullets that sting your face and hands and make loud smats as they bounce off of your jacket…at times it was necessary to stop for a few minutes, standing with your back to the wind.  In addition to the weather, two other factors made the pilgrimage difficult.

Patrick 5

First, the terrain itself – the first half was a moderately sloping, well worn dirt and rock path that was easily navigated; however, the second half was a much steeper, broad pathless collection of football sized rocks  – the kind which shift easily…on a sunny day this terrain is difficult, but on a rainy day it becomes downright treacherous!

Second, the shear number of pilgrims hiking the mountain added to the difficulty. The newspaper indicated approximately 20,000 people were on Croagh Patrick at the same time we were. Some were in front of us, some were behind us, some were coming down as we were going up, and visa versa. With so many people, there was a fair amount of “stop and go” dynamic. We also had to be watchful of the “rolling rocks” unwittingly dislodged by those scrambling up in the mountain in front of us.

Despite the difficulties, Wendy and I persevered and after 3 hours of huffing and puffing – driven by our own determination, our faith and yes – perhaps a little insanity – we reached the summit! We were greeted by one of the more intense rain and wind storms…and near zero visibility.  The summit was a flattened area that housed a simple white stone chapel (unfortunately it was not open for worship) – the chapel had a sort of glass bay window where the Arch Bishop says mass to the shivering crowds – we just missed the last mass for the day…as a consolation, we bought an 8 dollar can of sprite from a make shift tent store.  We sat down on a rock overlooking the bay below and ate our snack of cheese, crackers, and chocolate we packed. Occasionally, we were treated to crystal clear glimpses of Clew Bay below – multiple shades of blue and green – very beautiful!

Coming down the mountain was in many ways even more challenging than going up – due to the steep declines and shifting rocks and mud…but I’ll spare you the details…suffice it to say, Wendy and I slipped and fell on our backsides more than once – but we were unharmed thankfully…oh and then there was the time we were stopped on the trail while the Order of Malta mountain rescue team placed several people into a military helicopter for evacuation to the hospital.

We reached the bottom of the mountain around 4pm – we were soaking wet and covered with mud, but we both felt a great sense of accomplishment.  And as an act of penance, we were also hopeful that our hard work had gotten us – as we heard one pilgrim say – “a little bit closer to Heaven…” Wendy and I pondered the day’s experience on the long drive back to Dublin where a hot shower, dry clothes, and a soft bed awaited us.

Patrick 3

If you’ve hiked the Croagh Patrick, share your experiences here! Likewise, if you have any questions, please ask!

Pilgrimage to Czestochowa

Jasna Gora monastery and complex in Czestochowa, Poland

The main reason to go to Czestochowa is to see the spiritual heart of Poland, if you will.  The Black Madonna – a key religious item (supposedly painted/carved onto a table by St. Luke, the Evangelist) and an item also tied to Polish history – resides at the Jasna Gora monastery/fortress.  I was expecting to be visiting another important site, take a few pictures, and learn something.  But I learned something I was not expecting to learn as I did when I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau

A Monastery Fortress – Jasna Gora

The Jasna Gora monastery seemed daunting at first.  It sits atop a hill and surrounded my massive fortifications.

Jasna Gora monastery and complex in Czestochowa, Poland

However, a visit to the info office at the monastery quickly made it very accessible to us.  As quick background, back in the 17th century (or was it the 16th?), the monastery resisted the Swedish armies that had just conquered and ravaged most of Poland and I think may have been the only place not taken thereby ensuring the continuity of Poland at the time (someone with better history, please correct me or add to this info!).

To get to Czestochowa from Krakow, the best way was a 2hr+ train ride.  Upon arriving at the train station, we took a cab to the monastery on recommendation of a Krakovian who said there wasn’t much to see along the way. We were glad we did because of the timing of our arrival at the monastery.

The painting of the Black Madonna hangs in the altar of the chapel next to the Basilica.  The painting is not always exposed and the screening (covering up) and un-screening of it are key events which we got to witness almost by coincidence in the timing of our visit – pretty cool.

Chapel with the Black Madonna in Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Poland

The chapel fills up with pilgrims or locals, people kneel during the un-/screening, and big trumpet (or horn) music plays for the important moment.  At the info office, we were informed that the next screening was 15 mins away – so our timing was great (this only happens twice per day).  An hour and a half later the un-screening would take place so we would be there to see it – this worked well because it was the right amount of time to see the 3 small museums in the monastery in between events.  The un-/screening was not as momentous for me though I’m aware how important it is religiously here and how it played a key part in Polish history.  I imagine if I were Pole, I would have experienced differently but seeing it and seeing the locals at those moments definitely gave me a view into Poland.

One nice surprise was the second story of the chapel (we accessed it via the Knights Hall).  The stations of the cross (plus 2 extra stations) were painted around 2000-01 by a painter named Duda Gracz. They are fairly graphic but basically place the stations of the cross with key personages or events (mostly from Poland).  For those familiar with the stations of the cross, one depicts Veronica helping Jesus. In this version, it is Mother Teresa.  In the one where Jesus walks past his mother, the Black Madonna is the figure shown.  The Holocaust is also represented very vividly.

The museums in the monastery are simple and small sized but the arsenal one was my favorite as it eventually displays photos and key items from the Solidarity movement in the 1980s. Very moving to see.  Part of it is built around one of the exterior corner walls of the fort so that was pretty neat.  Walking around the fort is really neat.

View of Czestochowa from Jasna Gora

Looking towards the main avenue from the fort

Jasna Gora building in Czestochowa, Poland

Jasna Gora building in Czestochowa, Poland

Out and about down the Main Thoroughfare of Al. NMP

Once done with Jasna Gora, we walked down the main thoroughfare (known as Al. NMP due to its long name) and stopped at a cafe for a snack.  The first cafe we tried only had desserts (no pastries) and was very smoky (while there are non smoking sections in some restaurants I ate at.  Those non-smoking sections were usually worse off than the smoking sections).  The second place, a few doors up, had the front door open so it was very pleasant inside and, besides desserts, had pastries.  The almond/apple tart I had was delicious.  That and a cafe au lait totaled a whopping $3.25. Nice.  The place was spotless, the restroom clean and the cafe had good ambiance.

We kept walking down Al. NMP until we saw a plaza with a very large cross and a status of Pope John Paul II in from of St. Zygmunt Church.

St. Zygmunt Church in Czestochowa, Poland

St. Zygmunt Church in Czestochowa, Poland

We arrived to the area near the train station, typical of many train stations around Europe.  With extra time in our hands, I had some time to snap a few shots along the way.

Stands near the Czestochowa, Poland train station

Stands near the train station

Train station at Czestochowa, Poland

Train station in Czestochowa, Poland

Czestochowa, while not seemingly as exciting as Krakow in the short duration of our visit, certainly helped me know Poland a little better and is a great destination for those wanting to see more of Poland – a place unencumbered by the importance of Warsaw or the fame of Krakow.

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