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Camino – Santiago (Day 33)

Date: Sun 9th June
Temperature: Cool
Mood: Glowing
Highlight: Following the tradition of pilgrims

Whilst packing in as much as we could, we still had time for a small sleep in! However, this came at a cost of missing breakfast so we could attend the Sunday pilgrims mass (again). Now being a little more wiser, we found ourselves seats not in the main nave as yesterday, but rather the transverse nave, as this is the path of the swinging incense (take note fellow pilgrims). We arrived around 11am and being a Sunday, it filled much quicker than the day before, but good seats we got.

Again at the end of the service, they concluded with the swinging of the incense (this possibly means that they perform this ritual at every pilgrims mass, but cannot be sure). Whilst we cannot understand a word of Spanish, we now don’t think they read out names, but rather the country pilgrims are from and from where they started their pilgrimage. We again enjoyed the service and had more time to soak it all in!

Straight after we had to dash to view the Palacios as had limited opening hours and after a small misunderstanding, we had got ourselves attached to a Spanish speaking tour of the Cathedral roof top! Whilst we already had tickets for the English tour later in the day, there was no way we could escape as they had locked us in. Well it was entertaining and couldn’t complain getting 2 tours of the roof top in the same day, as the views are excellent and we also learnt a lot (on the English tour that is). We still made it to the Palacios after which we viewed the Cathedrals Museum by which stage the day was pretty much over and we had overdosed on all that was on offer!

During the day we had the opportunity to follow the time worn pilgrims tradition of viewing the Pórtico de la Gloria (as much as we could as it is undergoing restoration), which included sneaking a touch of the Tree of Life as it is now corded off. We visited the tomb / crypt of St James followed by giving St James a hug who presides at the main altar inside the cathedral. We didn’t burn our old pilgrim clothes or bathe in the fountain as they once did, as the church no longer hands out new clothes, (what a shame, as we are now stuck with the same clothes for another 3 weeks!)

One of us enjoyed another soak in the old tub back at the Hotel (slightly better than the fountain and the sight doesn’t upset our fellow pilgrims), whilst the other braved the night for some nighttime photos as it will be up early to leave for Barcelona tomorrow!

Goodbye Santiago! We will miss you and the warmth that we experienced in your Cathedral. We felt that this was indeed the people’s church, rather than a glorified monument as experienced in other great Cathedrals!

This concludes our Camino adventure. Feel free to join us as we continue our adventure to Barcelona and into Italy, but we cannot guarantee we can Blog as regularly.

Buen Camino!

 

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Camino – Santiago (Day 32)

Huge day… Stay tuned and check back later for an update! And just for the record, we were on the road to Santiago at 5:45am! We weren’t disappointed!

Update!
Date: Sat 8th June
Distance: 20 km
Temperature: Cool/Wet
Mood: Excited
Left: A Rúa 5:45am
Arrived: Santiago de Compostela 11:00am
Highlight: Swinging of the Incense (one of many highlights)

The alarm clock was set for 5:00am for a planned 6:00am departure. The plan was to arrive in time for the midday pilgrims mass. This would then give us two opportunities to witness the pilgrims blessing and we were hoping that at least on one of these occasions they would swing the incense (as we were unsure if this was a daily ritual or only performed on certain occasions).

We hit the road at 5:45am, excited and motivated by the prospect of reaching the final destination of this pilgrimage. Once we left the village and were on the trail we had to use our headlight torch to see the way markers and where we were walking! Another couple of pilgrims had the same idea of an early departure and latched onto the back of us as their torch wasn’t powerful enough to help them navigate the trail. Within an hour there was enough light to see and the birds had decided it was morning so we were treated to their morning singing sessions. The added bonus of such an early start was that we could enjoy the walk into Santiago with only seeing a small handful of fellow pilgrims as the track can get quite busy on the final leg of the journey.

We were able to find a hotel with restaurant along the way for a quick rest and breakfast, before pushing on (no lazy coffee and donut crawl today). The weather met all our expectations of Galician/Santiago weather. Cold, foggy and damp! Followed later in the day by a soaking wet drizzle/light rain! This meant that the view over the city and the Cathedral before entering the city was a complete white out!

Before long we had hit the edge of town and successfully navigated our way through due to the well marked Camino trail. We were “pumped” in fact at this point we were humming to the theme song of “Rocky”! A well dressed pilgrim who had obviously arrived a day or so earlier, spurred us on letting us know that we were within 20mins of the Cathedral.

We had arrived! Our emotions would have to wait just a little longer as we dashed to our Hotel, dumped our gear and headed off back to the Cathedral for the midday Pilgrim Mass with just enough time to secure a decent seat!

After the names/countries of all the pilgrims that had officially completed the journey had been read out (ours not included as we hadn’t yet received our Compostela (certificate of completion) and holy communion, with great anticipation the service was finished with the swinging of the incense! I think for the two us us, this was the pinnacle of our Camino. We had been inspired by doing the Camino by the movie “The Way” in which, the swinging of the incense was a very touching and moving scene. So having just completed close to 800km in the footsteps of many, many other pilgrims over the centuries and witnessing the full ritual of the swinging incense we felt our emotions sweep through us as the magnitude of what we had just undertaken started to sink in, but more amazing has been the fulfilment of our dreams and that our expectations have been far exceeded. We have felt truly blessed.

Whilst on this reflective note, we cannot even begin to tell you that a big part of our positive experiences have been influenced by you, our family and friends. The genuine interest, the support and encouragement has been a special part of our trip. Whilst you may all look forward to our next blog instalment, we equally have jumped out of bed in anticipation for your emails and blog comments! We really do appreciate them all and it has kept us in touch, encouraged and humoured.

We had sort of broken all the rules of the Pilgrims rituals one should follow when arriving! But we do intend following them where possible, just not in their proper order! So after attending our first pilgrims mass we headed straight off to collect our Compostela to prove to all that we did actually complete the Camino in accordance with the Church’s requirements. There was a reasonable queue, but a lot of excitement was in the air and we got a buzz from receiving them. Our names written in Latin (Stephanum and Goeneveram).

It was time now to have a wander through the streets and check in properly to our Hotel we had booked many months ago. We hadn’t given it too much attention when booking, other than to be near the Cathedral in the old town quarter. The Parador was out of the question so we booked the San Francisco Hotel Monumento, which is a recently refurbished monastery. Well we think Saint James might have played a part in it, but we nearly fell over when we entered our suite! Awesome! We won’t post any photos of us enjoying the spa bath in fear of any forthcoming comments from the peanut gallery, other than to say we felt like complete pilgrim frauds enjoying the luxury of a spa, whereas pilgrims of the Middle Ages had only the fountain out the front of the Cathedral to bathe in before finding a place to sleep on the upper level of the Cathedral on the cold hard solid granite floor!

Apologies for the delays in getting this post done, but there has been so much to see and experience that we just don’t have enough hours (after factoring a couple spent in the spa!)

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Camino – O’Cebreiro (Day 25)

A massive day was had as we both had to dig deep on all our physical and inner reserves to get us to the top of the world – O’Cebreiro (1350m). We were rewarded with a bath and spectacular views out our balcony windows. No Wi-Fi and a very tired blogger means you will all need to wait for a proper update and Photo’s within the next few days! We’re off to bed to give our weary bodies a chance to rejuvenate! (Mark, our chests are very hairy!)

UPDATED! (1/6/13)
Date: Fri 31st May
Distance: 30 km
Temperature: Warm
Mood: Fantastic (not so for last 5km)
Left: Villafranca 7:45am
Arrived: O’Cebreiro 5:45pm
Santiago de Composela: 155 km
Highlight: Room with view!

First up was a steep climb up and out of Villafranca with fantastic views back across the town. Morning tea was had under a canopy of chestnut trees before tracking down to the valley floor, a steep, rather rocky descent. We walked beside a river which wound its way through lovely little villages and a picnic lunch stop on an abandoned bridge with pleasant views of the river and shade from the heat of the Spanish sun.

After finally reaching Herrerias, one of many picturesque small villages with a beautiful new hostel/bar that looked very tempting to stop at for a week, we began our ascent, however we did not take the Camino path (by accident) but rather stuck to the road which was not as steep, but still a mighty climb. The road was slightly longer but a more gentle incline until we found the Camino path again some km’s later at another small village (Saba). With only 5km to go the incline kicked in severely. Nothing like having to dig deep. It was relentless and seemed to take an eternity particularly as we had already walked 25km. The reward at the top was amazing. We were on top of the world with 360 views.

Now we just had to secure our pre-booked accommodation as we were supposed to have arrived by 4 and it was now heading on for 6pm – the latest and most tired we had arrived for the whole Camino! Gratefully, we were escorted to our room, a delightful rustic Galician style room with French doors to a small balcony with million dollar views, had a quick bath, managed to get to Mass (unintentionally) and enjoyed a lovely dinner before retiring for the night.

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Camino – León (Day 19)

Date: Sat 25th May
Distance: 58 km
Temperature: Morning Cold/Afternoon Warm
Mood: Excellent
Left: Sahagún 8:45am
Arrived: León 3:00pm
Santiago de Composela: 317 km
Highlight: Seeing the sights of León

Whilst many of you will be sipping on your Sunday lattés as you check your emails and possibly catch up on this blog, we will be tucked up sound asleep (hopefully) in a comfy hotel in León recharging our batteries for the final cycling leg of our middle stage that will get us to Astorga for another rest day! (Hardly need a rest, but was thrown in for logistics of returning bikes and waiting on backpacks to reappear from their own trip from Burgos – crossing our fingers they do arrive!)

Well day 18 started in true pilgrim fashion after packing our panniers and saddling up our mechanical donkey’s we headed off hours later than most at 8:45am. Again, blessed with clear blue skies, but sub 7 deg registering on our donkey doodles (bike computers?).

We are absolutely enjoying the freedom on our mechanical donkeys as just like the true donkey, it takes the load off our backs, but with the advent of smooth road surfaces (many years after the Romans invented them). We can roll effortlessly when flat or going down hill with some effort required when faced with an uphill. One of us prefers to walk their mechanical donkey when faced with a hill cos their donkey doesn’t seem to like them.

The scenery didn’t disappoint with the snow capped mountains, always to the North as a dramatic backdrop to the rural fields. As always with the Camino, the final 10km or so into a City is a culture shock and we were surprised that even on our bikes we were still affected! Again, navigating is always difficult as the markers seem to only take you to the municipal Albergue, which in this case is not in the city centre. We had booked the night before into a hotel (Conde Luna) based on availability and its central location. Our reception was a little disappointing and we got the impression that Pilgrims were not that welcome to their establishment! Another pilgrim that came in shortly afterwards shared the same experience.

The old city of León is like all the Spanish cities along the Camino – Beautiful, but with its own unique personality. We both immediately liked this city once we had recovered from the cultural shock and settled into our accommodation for the evening.

Unfortunately the Cathedral closed at 7:00pm, just as we got to it, so will now need to re-jig our itinerary so we can visit it first thing in morning as it opens at 9:30am. Having said that, it will be Sunday, so who knows!

We enjoyed our evening meal at a very decent restaurant and watched the locals pour in around 9:30 just as the sun was setting! Being a Saturday evening made our experience of exploring the city even more enjoyable as there were so many locals out and about, which created a lively bustling atmosphere.

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