Santiago to A Coruña 

June 22 – We came to Spain for 90 days, as that is the maximum time an American can spend in the EU as a tourist, and we didn’t know exactly how long it would take us to complete our Camiño.  So now our pilgrimage is done, and we have a little time left before our flight home.  We spoke to many other pilgrims who walked different routes to Santiago, and we decided to check out some other towns in northern Spain before returning to Madrid.

Our first stop is A Coruña, just a 45 minute train ride north to the coast.  In celebration of our Camiño, Jim booked us in a classy hotel with an ocean view – a real step up from an albergue!  Here is the view out our window:

We have our own little sandy beach with clear blue water, but the weather is a bit chilly for swimming.

A Coruña is famous for having the oldest working lighthouse, built in the first century by the Romans to keep ships from crashing into the rocks of the promontory.  Today it is called Hercules Tower, and is the town’s main tourist attraction.

Views from the top of the tower:

The tower is in the center of a statuary garden crisscrossed with walkways and bike paths.

This is Hercules on the Argonaut ship:

This one is called the Family, but it reminds me of the standing stones in the Outlander books.  Trivia:  I read the first Outlander book years ago, and read the remaining 7 books (each 800-1000 pages long) in the last two months.  Don’t judge – sometimes a little historical sci-fi romance is just what you need to get your mind off your sore feet…

Here is Jim with King Carlos III.

The city has a pretty marina.

…and white fronted art galleries frequented by Pablo Picasso when he grew up here.

The municipal buildings are magnificent:

This is Maria Pita, who bravely fought off British invaders:

We are here, by chance, on this town’s biggest festival weekend, the Nativity of St John the Baptist.  There will be bonfires on the beach accompanied by the grilling of sardines, much drinking and partying tonight.  A band and a medievally dressed parade meandered through the main streets:

The main church in town is St George’s, who adorned the altar with the vanquished dragon:

Many Marys here too:

Down the street is the Iglexa do Santiago:

There were pretty Madonnas there too.

We stopped for a midday meal at a place that advertised all things octopus, including pulpo empanadas.  Now that we’re on the coast, seafood is cheap and plentiful.

We strolled through a Museo displaying old Roman artifacts 

…a reproduction of an ancient boat made of wicker and covered with animal hides:

…and an eerily beautiful cistern.

We ended the day with a walk around the Finisterrae Aquarium.

A relaxing day in a beautiful town.

More Santiago de Compostela 

June 21 – What else is there to see in Santiago?  Buskers of every description:

Shops and souvenirs of all types, for every price range.  There are traditional silver shops, and jewelry made of black jet.  How about a shop that exclusively sells American junk food?  One thing I don’t see in the window is peanut butter, which is just not available in Spain.  Can’t wait to get home and make a PB and banana sandwich!

This is Tarte de Santiago- a delicious almond cake on display in a panderia.

A Pilgrims Museum, for those who wish to learn more about the history of the Camiño and Santiago.  How many St Jameses can you see?

Apostolic brothers:  James and John, Andrew and Peter.

Still not sure which one is James?  Hint:  he’s the only one sporting orange.

There are protests to join:

Jazz concerts in the square:

And silly statues:

A delightful city!

Santiago de Compostela 

June 20 – We walked into the city of Santiago de Compostela yesterday morning, drenched with sweat, smelling a little gamy, with backpacks, walking sticks and face-cracking smiles.  Pilgrims and tourists crowded the narrow streets, then spread out in the big square.  As we walked toward our pension, an English woman looked at my sweaty self, gave me a thumbs-up and said, “Well done!”  I burst into tears, of course. I am so happy to be here!  1000 kilometers – my toenails will never be the same, but we are strong, we had no injuries, and we had the best time ever!

After getting our Compostela completion certificates from the pilgrim office, we, like everyone, went to the cathedral.  The city of Santiago really revolves around this place.  At the end of our third Camiño, visiting the cathedral was like coming home.

Every time we have been here, the cathedral has been covered in scaffolding.  They are trying to preserve this place for future generations of pilgrims.  Many of the external images are deteriorating:

You can see which ones have been replaced.

Inside, St. James still shines.

…and his bones still rest in the crypt below.

As pilgrims, we walked to the bones of St. James the Apostle in intercession for several of our loved ones who are going through difficult times.  We thought about you every day as we walked.  Your hopes and prayers have been laid at his feet.  May you derive strength and peace from this knowledge.

We climbed the steps behind the altar to embrace the Saint.

We attended the daily Pilgrims Mass, heard our country and route called out in the Prayers of the Peregrinos, sang Ubi Caritas, and watched the grand Botefumeiro swing through the pilgrims, delivering sweet incense as a powerful anthem filled the worship space.  Although cautioned in four languages that this is part of the sacred service and not a show, a spontaneous burst of applause thundered through the cathedral as the last organ chords were played.

When St James is not shown as a Peregrino, he is often depicted as the Moorslayer, who came on a white horse to lead the Spaniards in successful battle to drive the Moors out of Spain.

Signs of the shell and the red St James cross are everywhere.

Although the cathedral was built in the Roman period, they went crazy with baroque additions.  So many fat little pink cherubs and angels!

Some nice Madonnas too:

I don’t know why these upside down heads are looking at St Christopher – do you?

More about the city in the next post.

Bandeira to Lestado to Santiago de Compostela

June 18 – Today is going to be the hottest day of the unusual heat wave that we’ve been walking in all week – supposed to be 95 degrees by noon, so we decided to get an early start again and try not to fry our brains.  (The high temperature is usually in the 70s here, and these pleasant temps will return next week.) 13 miles today to Lestado.  On the road at 6am, just so I can share the sunrise with you:

Got to say good morning to a horse, and do some shady woods walking.


At the top of our climb, got to see the mist settling in the valley, looking surreal.

We had a reverse mountain climb today – a steep downhill to Ponte Ulla, then back up the other side:

The Rio Ulla:

We are staying tonight in a Casa Rural that is a mile from the nearest restaurant, so the Señora cooked us Sunday dinner, and invited us to swim in the pool!  So nice.  A little St. James in the garden.

This is the penultimate day of our hike, so we’re engaging in a lot of reflection on the very excellent time we’ve had.  Great weather, wonderful food, the ability to customize our stages, usually having private accommodations.  Breathtaking views, interesting cities.  Eight miles to go.

June 19 – Our Señora made us a breakfast that couldn’t be beat, then sent us on our way.  The heat wave hasn’t broken, so today is supposed to be the hottest day of the week.  Luckily we are not far from our goal.  The morning sun.

The sleepy town.

Feeling a bit Van Gogh-ish.

There’s the city on the hill.

Here we go!


Not long now!

A little more woods, 

A steep climb along the busy highway, 

Then we are in the city!  See the towers of the Cathedral?

We waited on line for an hour (not a long wait from what we’ve heard) at the Pilgrim office to get our official Compostela, signifying that we have completed 1007 kilometers from Sevilla to Santiago.

A volunteer outside the Pilgrim office took our picture to commemorate our success.

We are here!  Zero miles to go.  Stay tuned for our tour of the city.

Castro Dozón to Lalín to Bandeira

June 16 – Well, even when you have your own room, an albergue is still an albergue.  The troops started getting up at 5am, slamming doors, whistling, and generally depriving the rest of us of our forty winks.  Eleven miles planned for today, and it is supposed to get up to ninety degrees, so just as well that we got an early start.  The nice thing about Spanish weather is that the high temperature of the day doesn’t occur until 6pm, by which time we have been indoors for several hours.

Misty morning:

You know how you can edit a photo to remove ‘red eye’?  I would love somebody to invent the feature that gets rid of ‘power line’. Just touch a button and all the power lines would disappear from your scenic shots.  Google!  Apple!  Do you hear me?  Please start working on this right away!

Ha!  Look in the lower left at what this farmer is using for a scarecrow:


We walked along the highway for a while.

Said good morning to St. James in a pretty garden.

Walked in the shady woods and saw a mole (I think!)

Appreciated the mountain views:

Stayed at a hostal with no air con, but the best meal ever.  Our waitress spoke the clearest Spanish we’ve heard in months – so easy to understand!  Turns out she’s from South America.  I’m sure going to miss this Camiño.  33 miles to go.

June 17 – We did a lot of tossing and turning in the night – with the window open, the highway was noisy, and with the window closed, it was just too hot.  Finally gave it up and got dressed at 5:30, and we were on the road by 6am.  Twelve miles today, and it’s supposed to be hotter than yesterday, so it’s good that we got an early start.  Pretty sunrise.

We knew there was a café on the road, but it was too early for it to be open.  Surprise!  The door was ajar, and the Señora made us cafe con leche at 6:30.  Now we can do some walking!  Passed under the highway and into the woods.

Here’s an old bridge over a quiet river.

Another Santiago in a churchyard along the road.

Then back to the woods again.  It’s nice and cool in the shade.

A bit of rock hopping down a stream:

Some pretty flowers:

Then by noon, we were in town.  I laughed to see this sign advertising bacon and eggs for breakfast – we’ve had nothing but toast for months!Found the Dia before it closed to get provisions.  No air con again, but our room is not facing the street, so we should be able to open the windows this evening.  21 miles to go.

Ourense to San Cristovo de Cea to Dozón

June 14 – Fifteen miles today will get us to Cea, which should be the longest day of our last hiking week.  The morning was cool, overcast and so foggy that I couldn’t see ten feet ahead of me.  After getting out of Ourense, the trail went straight uphill for a long kick-butt climb, partly on pavement and partly on dirt paths.  

Jim found an interesting spider’s web.

The fog burned off by 10am, and the day started to heat up.  It’s supposed to get up into the 90s by late afternoon, so we want to be inside by then.  We stopped to rest under some eucalyptus trees.

There were several little towns where we could stop for coffee, and we took advantage of each one.  The locals had some interesting ways of welcoming pilgrims that made us smile.

Note to self:  do not even think of painting your house this color!

We crossed an old stone bridge that led into an abandoned town.  I wonder why the people left?
Pretty little flowers.56 miles to go.

June 15 – Spent a restful night at our Casa Rural, which included breakfast.  I always appreciate a morning when I can have a second cup of coffee!  Twelve miles today, on another cool, clear morning.  Leaving Cea:

The windmills on the hill looked surreal in the morning mist.


Beautiful garden flowers:

Then it was time to leave the road and do some huffing and puffing uphill.  The woodland views were worth it, and it was so cool I considered putting my jacket on.

Back to the highway for a while.

Then up some more.

The views from the top make the climb worthwhile.

Said hello to some cows.

Then down, down and into town.

I had been silently dreading tonight’s stay in the last albergue of our trip.  We had to walk past the town to find it.  Imagine my surprise to find two young girls waiting there to welcome us in and ask if we’d like the dormitory or a private room.  A room?  Yes, please!  The building used to be a school, with big sunny windows, an industrial tiled kitchen, and even a playground out back (used as a laundry hanger by the pilgrims)!   There were separate toilets by gender, and the open gang showers that you remember hating in middle school.  And there was wifi!  This was the bomb-diddly of albergues.  Thank you, Dozón!

44 miles to go.

Ourense

June 12 – We had a leisurely breakfast at our hotel with an excellent croissant instead of the usual toast, then walked the remaining five miles into Ourense.  Although it was still cool in the morning, this city is surrounded by hills and is much warmer than other places nearby.  My morning weather check surprised me by reporting that by the end of this week, the high temperature will be 100 degrees!  

After a shower and our midday meal, we set out to find the number 1 thing to do in Ourense, which is to see the Catedral.  There is a bus stop right outside our hotel, so we asked the hotel clerk which bus to take to the cathedral.  He said all of them went there!  Must be a popular place, as this is a big city with at least 30 different buses.  So, we hopped on the first bus that came by.  I asked the driver if this bus went to the Catedral, and he nodded in the affirmative, so off we went.

I had my phone on, and watched the GPS as we got within about 10 minutes of our goal, then kept watching as the Catedral got farther and farther away.  We had seen no Old City, no Plaza (which in Galego is a Praza), and certainly no steeple or dome.  I thought perhaps the bus would circle around, but no luck.  We stayed on until the bus pulled into the station and everyone else got off.  The driver stood up, saw us and shrugged his shoulders.  We shrugged back.  He indicated that we should stay on, as he reversed the bus for the return trip.  He told us the name of the stop to get off, but as the stops weren’t called, that didn’t help much.  I watched the GPS,  and at 10 minutes from the Catedral, we jumped off.  Whew!


So, here is the Catedral, in the middle of a block of tall buildings.  Romanesque, with Gothic add-ons.  It had all the things that cathedrals have.  Here are my favorites.  A big fresco of St. Christopher by the door, so I won’t die today:

Lots of color and 3D reliefs.  This is the assumption of Mary, and below is the conversion of Paul and a Pietá.


Very different crucified Christs:

Stained glass in odd shapes:

More color:

This is a very unusual depiction of Santiago, as he is sitting down:

This is the Catedral of St. Martin of Tours, who is famous for cutting his cloak in half and giving half to a beggar. Here is part of him in a reliquary:

A beautiful painting:

And a modern statue:

We looked for other things to do in Ourense.  The only museum has been closed.  The city is best known for its hot thermal baths, but we don’t have proper bathing suits.  There is a park, with one swan and some pigeons:

Another church, Igrexa Santa Eufemia, was totally dark inside, and had what appeared for all the world to be a slot machine on the altar:

The sign at the city hall explained that this building replaced the one that collapsed due to poor construction:

Some interesting wall art:

Well, not every city is a tourist mecca.  We appreciated having a day of rest, and tomorrow we push on toward Santiago.  71 miles to go.

Vilar do Barrio to Xunqueira de Ambía to Ourense

June 10 – Well, even without a blanket, that was one of the best nights we’ve had in an albergue.  There were only two other people in our dorm, a bicycling couple from the Netherlands, so we got adjoining lower bunks and slept easy.  

Nine miles today.  We walked out of town along with some freshly shorn sheep on their way to pasture.

Are the hydrangeas blooming at home?  My favorite flower:

Our first few miles were totally flat farm track, reminding us of the beginning of our journey.

Here’s a stork out for a morning stroll.  We haven’t seen one in quite a while.

The farm track ended and we were back to the shady woods.  Love the ferns and the mossy green rocks that line the path.

At a little town, we saw a raised grain storage building.  We remembered seeing many on our last Camiño.

We liked the juxtaposition of the old structure sheltering modern cars.

And more sheep!

Jim made some new friends as we climbed up and up some more.

As we descended toward town, Jim saw some beehives, and decided to get a close up.  I don’t have to tell you what happened…

Then down, down and into town.

Time for our next lesson in Galego.  We are now in the town of Xunqueira de Ambía.  In Galego, the letter replaces the letter J, which we all know has the sound of H in Spanish.  Claro?  It’s a good sized town with two supermarkets and our choice of restaurants for a midday meal.  We are staying at Casa do Souto, and have the whole house to ourselves, including the washing machine. So nice to have really clean clothes!  The birds are singing outside our window, and we are enjoying another wonderful view.  85 miles to go.

June 11 – Happy birthday to Peter, my firstborn.  He doesn’t read my blog, so somebody please tell him I’m sending love his way!

Nine miles today as we head toward Ourense, our last big city before Santiago.  It’s gray and overcast this morning, for the first time in quite a while.  We stopped checking the weather forecast, because it was so nice every day!

Haven’t shown you a church in a while.  Walking out of Xunqueira.

The arrow shows the way.  The shell is the sign of St. James.  The water gourd is the mark of the pilgrim.  We think the stars are for the European Union.

Here we are!


We walk on the road, past farmers’ fields.  The grapes are starting to grow!

Our guidebook warned that today was all roadwalk, and it was right.  As the farms turned into suburbs, we were given a sidewalk.

More hydrangeas!

We passed a restaurant with some metal peregrinos:

Getting bored now.  Do you think this sign means we have to yield to trumpet players?

I used to think this sign meant Fat Man Sleeping.  Now I know it means speed bump.

Still walking.

We saw signs that it is much warmer here than where we’ve recently been.  Cacti, palm trees, and red tile roofs.

The suburbs become an industrial area about five miles from the city.  

Our book warned that this was a long, bleak stretch, and all the pavement walking hurts our feet, so we decided yesterday to stop at a travelers hotel three miles out, and walk the final leg into the city of Ourense tomorrow.  The hotel is highly rated with a great restaurant.  We’ll do the rest of the bleak walk tomorrow. 

Here’s the map of our remaining miles.  100 kilometers is all that is required to say that you have completed a Camino.  We expect the trails to get more crowded from this point on.

76 miles to go.

Campobecceros to Laza to Vilar do Barrio

June 8 – I was sleeping as well as can be expected in an albergue with surround-sound snorers, when somebody’s phone alarm went off at 5am.  Then another one went off, and everybody got up and started making noise in the pitch dark.  Sheesh!  We’re only going nine miles today, and thought we’d sleep til at least 6:30 or so, but there’s no sleeping late in an albergue.  The real hikers must be walking the additional four hours to the next town.  By about 5:20, Jim leaned down into my bunk and invited me to meet him downstairs in the kitchen, and he would make us some coffee.  When in Campobecceros, you do what the peregrinos do!  The upshot is that I got some nice pix of the sunrise at 6am:

As what goes up, must come down, today’s hike was all downhill – back below the tree line.

Here’s some flora we haven’t seen before, thriving amid the rocks:

After walking about two hours, we came upon a little self-service support point run by Friends of the Camino, in a little town with no shops or services.  We had a tepid cup of coffee from a thermos and a banana, and left a donation.  What a nice gesture – the first we’ve encountered on this Camino. It reminded Jim of the Trail Angels who set out food for hikers on the Appalachian Trail back home.

Another beautiful day, nice and cool.

Before we knew it, we were on the last rocky downhill into Laza.

As we had no phone reception yesterday, we were unable to book a room for today, but we had high hopes for the Pension Blanco Conde.  We breathed a sigh of relief to learn that we could have our own room, with towels, shampoo, and wifi!  We have a beautiful view of the mountains and can hear the cowbells from the farm next door.  

In Laza, you can walk your donkey down the main street:

What a lovely sunset from our bedroom window:

106 miles to go.

June 9 – We enjoyed our self-serve breakfast of coffee, juice, toast and yogurt, courtesy of our Pension, after a very good night’s sleep.  Twelve miles planned for today.  First few miles were along a highway with no shoulder and lots of cars.  Some pulled into the middle to give us room, and some seemed to be playing chicken – aiming right at us til the last moment.  Not my favorite way to start the day.  

Now that we’re in Galicia, the language has changed (they speak Galego which is closer to Portuguese than Spanish) so that we are no longer on a Camino, but a Camiño.  I was amused to see that someone had corrected all the signs to add the squiggle over the ‘n’.

There was another kick-butt uphill climb today, that had me drenched with sweat and breathing hard by the time we got to the top.  Jim, always encouraging, walked ahead and called back, “We’re almost there!  Just around this bend!”  There were too many bends for me!

By midday we reached a little town with a bar that is famous on this Camiño.  When we walked in, a Bruce Springsteen CD was playing, and the sound of home made me cry.  The proprietor has absolutely covered every square inch of his establishment with Peregrino shells, signed by his customers.  After our coffee, he gave us a shell and asked us to write our names on it.  Heaven knows where he’ll find room to hang it.  I wrote “Karen and Jim Virginia USA”.  When I handed it back to him, he broke out in a big smile and said, “I have been to Caroleeña del Norte!”  Small world.

With the kick-butt hill behind us, the rest of the hike was a dream, with scenery to match.


We got to Vilar do Barrio (the ‘de’ is now ‘do’ in Galego), where a Casa Rural is noted on our app.  We tried to call last night, but got no answer – not a good sign.  Sure enough, it was out of business, so we trudged on to the albergue.  Our book said this albergue was new and modern, so I tried to hold back my negative albergue thoughts.  It has 28 beds, in three dorms, and actually has a well designed women’s bathroom, with two toilets, three showers, and a sink (Jim said the men’s room was similarly appointed).  No soap at the sinks though, which is kind of nasty.  Also no blankets – the first time blankets have not been offered.  We have our silky sheets – sure hope it doesn’t get cold tonight!  

We walked across the street to the only restaurant, and Jim tried ordering in Spanish, which the proprietress couldn’t understand.  The problem was further complicated by the fact that we couldn’t order separate dishes – the entree was served on one platter for both of us.  We figured it out after a while.  Just when you think you’ve got the hang of it…  94 miles to go.

Vilavella to A Gudiña to Campobecceros

June 6 – Eight miles today will get us to A Gudiña, the first town of any size we’ve been to in a while.  We need breakfast provisions (we still haven’t gotten used to toast only and we supplement with yogurt and fresh fruit) and a wallet refill from the ATM.  It rained last night, making this morning’s climb a little messy, but thankfully there was only a little rock hopping, compared to yesterday.

Saw some cows, and some chickens and geese.

Mostly we just hiked up and up some more, with the wind blowing cold the whole time.  Today is the first day in a long time that I was not even tempted to remove my jacket as the sun climbed in the sky.  We are in the north, for sure!

My app doesn’t give me elevation numbers, but Jim says we’re up around 3000 – 4000 feet.  Top of the world:

We are staying at the Hotel Suizo, with a lovely view of the mountains, some sheep, and a sunny window to dry our laundry.  The restaurant was busy, always a good sign, but the menu de la casa wasn’t printed, so we had to select on the fly as the waiter rattled off the choices in his Galician dialect, which is hard for us to understand. I had the pasta salad and the grilled hake (merluza do plancha) and Jim, always adventurous, ordered a thing we hadn’t heard of before.  The waiter tried to describe it by pointing to his side, which didn’t help.  Heart? Lungs? Liver?  It turned out to be a mixed grill with sausage and ribs, and Jim was very happy with his choice.

Sunset at 10:30pm from our hotel window.  127 miles to go.

June 7 – The bar at our hotel is open 24 hours for the convenience of the truckers who pull in at the gas station across the way, so we were able to get our coffees early.  We were on the road at 7am, as we have a 13 mile trek ahead of us today.  Thankfully, today’s hike is mostly roadwalk, so I won’t have to ford streams or rock-hop.  

When we stopped to take a photo, we realized there were six hikers climbing the hill behind us.  We haven’t seen so many hikers in a while.  There were two Italians, one Spaniard, and three French.  We took turns passing one another all day.

If yesterday was mostly up, today was seriously up – above the tree line.  The weather was perfect and not windy at all.  Really couldn’t ask for a nicer day.

We looked down on a reservoir with unnaturally blue water.  It looked like a tropical island.

As we crested the last hill, we saw Campobecceros below – a big construction site with the town off to the right.  The high speed rail line from Madrid is coming through, and our guidebook says there has been major tunnel construction through the mountain here for over a year.  The municipal alburgue has been commandeered to house the workmen, so there is only one private alburgue with 20 beds.  We hoped to avoid the alburgue and stay at the only guesthouse in town, but they have turned off their phone – a bad sign.

We went to the guesthouse first, and as we suspected, they were full – completo.  Back to the alburgue, where we were lucky to snag two of the last bunks in the tightly packed dorm.  Statue in front of the alburgue:

No wifi for the second day in a row, and no phone coverage here, so we can’t call ahead to try to assure a room for tomorrow in the next town.  Two bathrooms, at least, with hot showers. We are out of soap, so we just rinsed out our sweaty clothes and hung them on the line.  I wonder how they’ll smell tomorrow?

Speaking of smell, we walked along the tiny main street after our meal, swatting flies and trying to step around a thousand little balls of goat poop.  We hadn’t seen any animals pastured on the fields as we walked in.  Sure enough, a chorus of little bells alerted us that the goats were coming home for the night, right through town and into an old rock house on the main street!  Just around the corner, another house was full of chickens!  Didn’t have my camera, so you’ll have to take my word.

114 miles to go.