Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Paris














     Since our return airline tickets were from Paris, we had planned to spend our last few days in the ‘city of light’. We took a train from Barcelona because we prefer to see as much of the countryside as possible.  I was surprised how much of the western part of the French Mediterranean coastline was flat and not very scenic.  Once we left the coast and headed north, the landscape was very scenic as it passed through the foothills of the Alps. We noted as we went through Lyon that our travels these past three months made a big circle and we were close to where we started the Camino in Le Puy en Velay.

     We had a two and a half mile hike from the train station to our hotel.  Even though we had our packs and and additional bag, we decided to walk so that we could give our legs some relief from sitting 8 hours and to see more of the city.  We inadvertently walked right into a large Palestinian demonstration at the Place of the Republic, complete with a massive police presence. Our hotel was about a mile from the river and the Louvre, and was on a quiet street. which we have come to appreciate.

     We spent three days in Paris; walking to the major tourist attractions, sometimes multiple times. We had to battle the rain all three days, but did have one day with lots of sunshine. Our leg’s just wouldn’t let us take public transit, and we enjoyed walking the different neighborhoods. Our longest walk was up to Montmarie and the Basilica, which was probably our favorite site, overlooking the entire city.  We detest lines, so we skipped some entrances, but did join the thousands in the Louvre.  Three hours in the museum only gave us time to scratch the surface of the amazing collection of art throughout history and from around the world.  We somehow snuck to the front of the Mona Lisa crowd for a ‘close up’ view.  The variety of food options in Paris kept us a little bewildered, because we wanted to enjoy the many ethnic foods, but needed to focus on French food.  We had lots of crepes for breakfasts and snuck in some French onion soup.

    Our European-Camino three month adventure ended with another flight back to Istanbul before a direct to Seattle.  We have never had an adventure quite like these last months.  We will cherish our Camino Walk and the cities we visited afterwards.  We are so blessed for the opportunity to complete this adventure, and grateful for safety and health.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Barcelona














   We were happy to get out of the constant rain and enjoy the sunshine of the Mediterranean.  Our accommodation for four nights was a dated pension with a stiff mattress and pillows, but the location was very central with a balcony overlooking the crowded pedestrian thoroughfare Les Rambles. 

     We were amazed at the crowds of people wherever we went.  Barcelona hosts more than 8 million visitors annually; and the tourist season stays strong until the end of October.  The city bustles with tour groups, European vacationers, cruise customers and Spanish tourists.  Most of the popular attractions center on the works of Antoni Gaudi.  The city is very walkable and cycling friendly. (if you want to take your life into your hands).   Street cafes and shopping opportunities fill every avenue and alley.


    In our four days we enjoyed a variety of sites.  One morning when our Camino legs cried for action, we took a long walk along the waterfront, past sandy beaches and marinas filled with megayachts.   Another afternoon we hiked up to Guell Park with its unique viaducts and mosaic features.  The hilltop park which overlooks the city is surprisingly the top tourist attraction.  Our usual spontaneity cost us no admission to the inside of Bas√≠lica de la Sagrada Familia, but we absorbed the fantastic exterior.  We did get tickets to the Picasso Museum, where we were introduced to the artist’s long career that evolved from realistic to the bold exploration of the abstract.


During our stay we enjoyed a variety of foods, but our favorites were the Spanish classic of paella and a nearby cafe with its creative breakfast plates.  After refraining from shopping for three months, we took advantage of an extra luggage bag and began filling it up.  Denim jeans feel pretty good after months of quick dry outdoor clothing.  We thoroughly enjoyed Barcelona and would visit it again sometime.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Porto Portugal











    We left Muxia on a crowded 6am bus to Santiago.  From there we caught another bus to Porto, Portugal.  I was hoping to get a good view of the landscape, but it was pretty foggy and rainy.  When we got to Porto, we had quite a hike to our apartment which was quite a distance from the city center.  We sloshed our way there with backpacks, looking like some lost pilgrims.


     The afternoon cleared up for a beautiful walk down to the Dom Luis bridge and the iconic Douro River canyon.  The riverside was crowded with tourists, and for the first time in months, we felt like normal tourists rather than Camino pilgrims.  The slopes of the river were covered with colorful buildings, and the river bustled with classic Porto river boats.  After crossing the lower bridge and walking the southern waterfront, our Camino legs cried for some strenuous movement, so we followed our gps routing to the fortress and upper bridge.  It led us through the famous port wine cellars and a dead end at some winery headquarters.  Rerouting gave us an even longer route which eventually brought us to the fortress and upper bridge which gave a marvelous view of the city and river.  After heading back to our apartment, we found a cafe and had beef stew and cod and potatoes with cream sauce.  


      We had to change accommodations for the second night in Porto.  It was close to the center of things, but we couldn’t bring our backpacks there until 3pm so we had to store them in a locker at the metro station.  The weather was horrible, with torrential rain at times.  We tried to salvage the day by shopping for a duffel bag and touring the cathedral.


       When we tried to find our booked lodging, all we found was a graffiti covered door between a Tobacco shop and souvenir shop.  We could not get in touch with management for the lockbox code.  We stood with our backpacks in the pouring rain, trying texting, phoning and email, all to no avail.  In desperation, we went across the street to a tourist office where a very kind and patient woman helped us contact the manager who wouldn’t give us the code unless we sent him photos of our passports which we had tried twice to do.  The tourist shop lady finally used her phone and he gave us the code.  


     The room was nice and very conveniently located.  In the evening, we donned our raincoats and went back across the river to the port food market for dinner.  We decided to fly to Barcelona and get away from the soggy Portugal coast.  So the next morning we were on our way to fair weather.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Camino Epilogue










      It is a longstanding tradition of many pilgrims to walk to Finisterre (Fisterra) ‘End of Earth’ after Santiago; sort of like an encore.  It is a three or four day walk to a cape and lighthouse that was at one time thought to be the westernmost point on the European continent.  It is customary for pilgrims to go to the point and throw their shoes in the ocean or burn their clothes.

    Esther and I had originally hoped to walk the extra days to Fisterra, but as we neared Santiago and also saw the weather forecast, we decided to take a bus instead.  So after saying goodbye to our family and getting some rest, we boarded a bus; and after 70 days of only using our feet to move, we compromised and let some wheels do the work.

     We spent a night in the town of Fisterra.  We walked the 6k out and back to the cape.  We were fortunate that after a day of deluge in Santiago, it was a clear afternoon for our Finnistere finale.   We didn’t burn any clothes or throw any shoes. ( though we did see evidence of other’s doing it). We absorbed the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean as it collided with the rocky shores of the Iberian Peninsula.  We also spent some time reflecting on our journey.

    As if pilgrims just can’t get enough walking, there is another sea town of Muxia that the Camino connects to after Fisterra.  Muxia is a picturesque fishing town on a narrow peninsula between the Atlantic and a sheltered harbor.  We took another bus there and had a wonderful day walking the town and peninsula without backpacks. Though it was drizzling in the morning, we did get some nice afternoon sun breaks.  The natural scenery is very similar to the Pacific coast, but the buildings reminded us that we were still in southern Europe.

     Tomorrow we head to Portugal and leave any traces of the Camino behind.  We have ten days left to enjoy Europe before heading home. The weather has definitely taken a turn towards fall with lots of rain in the forecast. In 70 days of walking, we had only 3 rain days. In many ways we are ready to go home now; but since we are here in southern Europe, we are going to dodge the rain drops and enjoy as much as we can.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Finale

 









Day 70 - Santiago de Compostela

    We made it.  It was such a blessing to have Calvin, Sassa and Manny walk the entire last day with us.  Toast with fresh salsa spread was the breakfast of choice for most of our party.  The name of the town we stayed was Lavacolla; it was the customary place where pilgrims bathed in the stream before their final walk to the cathedral. 

     Because of our short distance to the end, it was a smaller crowd this morning, which was fine with us.  Much of our walk was through forest and farmland.  Some of our friends passed us and everyone was in an excited mood.  A few miles from the city the trail crested a ridge and provided a view of the city.  The last miles were almost effortless, as our bodies and psyche sensed the end.

     Entering the cathedral square, serenaded by bagpipes and holding hands, brought a flood of emotion and euphoria.  It was hard to believe that the journey was finally over.  The square was filled with elated pilgrims; cheering, hugging and taking pictures with everyone. Many just laid on the cobblestones against their packs and sat in silence, soaking in the majestic cathedral and the end of their quest.

     The official certification process at the pilgrim office went surprisingly quick.  The lady who helped me was extremely talkative, spending 20 minutes talking to us about our accomplishment and what to expect when we get home.  We were given official certificates; one to declare completion and one to document our 1000 miles.  We celebrated with our last pilgrim menu at lunch, and then found our apartment.

     In the evening, we toured the courtyards of the Ritz Carlton hotel next to the square, and walked to a park that overlooks the cathedral complex.  We topped the night off with pincho and vino bar which features a buffet of little portions.  

     Tomorrow we say goodbye to Calvin, Sassa and Manny who have been such a blessing in our final days of the Camino.  Esther and I have been brainstorming words that encapsulate our experience these past two months.  So far we have come up with ‘Amazing, Challenging and Rewarding’. We are extremely grateful to God for the opportunity to have this adventure, and for giving us health and safety these last 70 days.


BUEN CAMINO

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Finish Line in Sight











Day 69 - Lavacolla

      Calvin and Sassa bought yogurt and muesli last night, so along with instant coffee, we prepared for our early morning start.  Calvin and Sassa would catch up later by bus.  Realizing that this was our last early morning and full day, we sensed a feeling of solemnity to the morning, as we walked together among the crowds of other pilgrims.  When we passed Camino acquaintances, there was a feeling of excitement, knowing that the end is near.  

     As we mingle with the masses, a feeling of injustice tugs at us.  We have been walking for two months with our packs, and the vast majority of those on the trail have been walking a couple of days; and most with daypacks, because they use a baggage service.  We need to remind ourselves that everyone walks their own Camino.

     As dawn slowly illuminated the landscape, an eerie blanket of mist laid low in the valleys.  We walked through Eucalyptus forests with their straight rows and straight trunks.  They have the feel of a crop rather than natural scenery.  

     Calvin and Sassa caught up to us by bus after we walked 20 kilometers.  After lunch together, they walked the remainder of  9 kilometers to our last Camino lodging.  The five of us had the trail mostly to ourselves because almost everyone had lodging in the town we had lunch in.  We meandered through forest tunnels most of the way, while Manny and I took turns hiding behind trees to scare one another.

     At dinner we met Mary from New Hampshire, whom we hadn’t seen for almost a month.  She is 78 years old and tough as nails. She has kept pace with us, though she doesn’t carry her backpack. She gave us some valuable tech info to help our compostela registration.  Tomorrow is our final day.