Sunday, June 30, 2013

Basqing in the Afterglow

Monday June 24, Santiago de Compostela to (near) Gernica Basqueland (Euskal Herria)

Having finished our camino early, mostly because we allowed extra days for the baby that never got used, we headed to the airport to pick up a rental car.  Kepa does better in carseats than trains, and meanwhile there is no direct train route from Galicia to the Basque Country.  We left early and drove like a bat out of hell (I should say Mary and and Bri drove, since Todd doesn´t drive stick) to try to get to Bilbo to have plenty of time to see it and eat dinner.  Everything went great until, 30 minutes shy of Bilbo, near the Basque border, the car inexplicably broke down on the interstate.  It was a very scary spot to sit for an hour plus, and the car company still can´t figure out what went wrong.  Eventually they sent a taxi after a local called for us, got us to Bilbo, and gave us a new car.  But by that point it was 6 PM and we still had to make it to Gernika.  So our time in Bilbo was hurried and no dinner.  But we enjoyed walking along the river and seeing the old town.  B and T had been to Bilbo before, and we quite like it.  It reminds us of Pittsburgh only even better, a city that had been industrial and on its way majorly down well into the 90s, then saved itself and made itself anew in a REALLY cool way.  Bilbo manages to be sleek and modern while preserving a sense of the past, modern yet green, and intensely Basque.  A great city we hope to spend more time in soon.  AFter that we drove to Gernika exhausted.

The Guggenheim in Bilbo (designed by Frank Gebhry).  Love it or hate it, it helped rebuild and reshape Bilbo.  We always thought we´d hate it till we saw it.  In the end, we love it.  Frank Gehry may be overrated, but this structure is not.
A bridge crossing the river in Bilbo.  Bilbo is the Basque industrial hub, yet its riverfront is now beautiful.  Filled with schoolchildren in kayaks the night we saw it.  Puts Cleveland to shame.  Never mind, Des Moines probably puts Cleveland to shame :)
Tuesday June 25, Gernica to Ondorraria

We got up in the morning and went to downtown Gernika and toured the Basque parliament (where women have had a vote since the middle ages), what is left of the oak tree (the ancient seat of Basque government), and many tributes to the tragedy that happened there in 1937.  If you don´t know anything about it, google it.  Franco asked his friend Hitler to practice carpet bomb his own people, all the while seeking revenge on the Basques who had been on the wrong side of the Spanish Civil War (and who still refused to see themselves as Spanish, maintaining a foreign embassy in Paris and Washington DC until 1945).  They bombed on market day killing thousands.  Picasso´´s famous painting (named after the town) depictst the tragedy.  Afterwards, we headed to the coast and drove half of the coast, seeing Elantzobe(population 450, hanging on cliffs over the Bay of Biscay), lunching in beautiful Leketio, and spending the night in Ondarroa.
The view down at Elanxtobe.  We walked down and back up.  After the camino it twasnt a thing.
The view up the Basque coast.
Kepa enjoys a walk around the sea wall in Lekeitio
At the end of the pier in Leketio.  Yes, we bought a stroller (in Gernika).  Long overdo after 500 miles of carrying a baby on their backs!!!!!   Lekeitio is beautiful btw
Wednesday June 26, Ondarria to Donostia-San Sebastian

Spent most of the day driving to Getaria, failing at an attempt to tour a Txokoli winery, picnicking on a hill island overlooking Getaria, then dropping B and Kepa off at the hotel in San Sebastian, driving to the airport (well up the coast), dropping off the car, and taking a bus back to San Sebastian.  But that night we had some Pinxtos and all was well.  San Sebastian has more Michelen stars than any city in the world per capita, and I have never eaten so well.  Even the cheap pinxtos (Basque versions of tapas, but so so much more....tapas are a bite, pinxtos are a composed plate but small bite) are heavenly.  Suffice it to say you can eat well for cheap or for expensive.  On night one we went relatively cheap and it still looked like this:

Quail wings with caramalized veggies.
Ravioli stuffed with Duck and Foi Gras with a Balsamic drizzle. 3.50 euros (4 dollars).  Wowz.

 Thursday June 27, Donostia-San Sebastian

The same place for more than one day?  Kepa says whaaaaaaaat?  San Sebastian is, literally, our favorite place in the world.  It is what started our Basque obsession-----which we always think we have overromanticized, till we return back to Euskara and realize, no we love it even more than we thought we did.  It is just......... Our place.  Our culture, our location, our food, our lifestyle.  Family friendly without being family obsessive, believers in their ubiquitous saying a little bit often (words to live by btw), and people who take great pleasure in simple things.  Also B enjoys practicing her Basque.  On this day we took Kepa to the beach, did some baby clothes shopping (European baby clothes are so much nicer than in the States, where we seem obsessed with dressing our children like little adults), and ate dinner at the fisherman´s wharf. 

La Concha.  Yep.  It is pretty.

We saw this.  We didn´t go in, but we thought it funny.  It reminded us of the street  singer in Santiago who dressed like a 25 year old Dylan, hair and all, even though he was 60, and sang Dylan songs in Gaellego (the choruses in English).  May he remain forever young.

Kepa happy to be at the beach with his newly purchased bucket, shovel, and watering can set.  Or maybe he was simply staring at the topless ladies behind us :)
 Friday June 28, Donostia-San Sebastian

Among other things, we went to the Aquarium, which mixes a history of Basque fishing and sea exploration with one of the best sealife exhibits in Europe.  Kepa was mesmerized the entire time.

Kepa checks out a shark.  He was wide eyed for 2 hours.
Kepa hanging out in his stroller at a pinxtos bar around 11 pm.  In the States this would warrant a call to child protective services, but in Euskal Herria he was one of 3 children under two at the pinxto bar (which is totally a family space in Basqueland).  On the way home immediately after this we stopped for a swing and had to wait in line for the baby swings because they were so busy.  It is amazing how quickly Kepa adapted to Spanish time.....I guess it doesn´t hurt that it doesnt get dark here till almost 1030 pm, and really sleeping into 9 or later, doing something fun, taking a late lunch, then a siesta, then staying up late......isn´t such a bad schedule for a little guy.  Not one we can replicate with our work schedules at home however.  Still, withing 24 hours of leaving the Camino Kepa was 100% on Spanish time, and happy about it.  One night he looked at us from his baby crib (they had one in Donostia, only our 5th of the trip!!) with a look of, bed, already?  Ya´ll must be gringos!   PS: He isn´t sucking his thumb, he´s licking grease from the drizzle that was on the pork knuckle.

Saturday June 29, Donostia-San Sebastian

Our final day of relaxation.  Walked to one of the two mountains that overlook the mouth of the harbor, and took a funicular up to the cheesie funpark on top.  A Donostia tradition for over a century.  Walked around the old town, and had our biggest splurge dinner of the trip (to die for).  Kepa behaved like a champ.  Also stumbled onto a major celebration and parade with Basque dancing and giant Basque figurines......all in honor of St Peter´s day.......really, really ironic considering Kepa is the Basque equivalent to the Castillian Pedro which is.........Peter.  Had a really great time in San Sebastian.  We think our next vacay (several years and a lot of paying off credit cards away) may be back here.  This seemed like a nice taste but coming on the heels of the camino, and with a 14 month old in toe, it really just made us yearn to take an actual vacation here with a slightly older child.  This was the perfect way to celebrate one of the best trips of our lives, but also causing us to say more Basque please!

Kepa on his way up the funicular
Kepa and Mary Ann with the basque ponies (they are a special breed, can´t think of the name).  The funpark is cheesie, but Kepa had a blast.
The view from Mount Igeldo.
Some of the figurines from the fiesta.
Bri and Kepa enjoy one of 9 (count em) carousel rides Kepa took in Donostia.  Their carousel is vintage from the Belle Epoque (as is most of the architecture) and it is stuck right next to the beach on the boardwalk right next to the old town.  Sublime.

My lowlight was having to explain to a woman from Massachussetts what Basque was while at a pinxto bar on Saturday night.  I don´t expect most Americans to know or care.......but she is, you know, IN San Sebastian.  She was ordering California wine. I,m not kidding.  Not in the least.  This is a great, great place.  And whatever your nationality politics, this is not Spain.  It just isn´t,.  And if you think they should be part of spain politically, fine.  But don´t come here and treat them as a Disney version of Spanish.  It just ain´t respectful.  If you are in Basqueland drink, or at least try, the Txokoli.  The same way you´d try Nappa wine in Nappa.

My highlight was seeing a culture that values fun, relaxation, and family.  And seeing Kepa enjoy all of the things those values offer, from good food to park swings, from carousels to the beach.  To little old Basque ladies who pinched his cheeks when they found out his name was Kepa.  This was a brilliant end to the trip.

Sunday we head back to Madrid then fly out on Monday.  Sad to have this over, but it has been the longest (and just about the best) adventures of our lives.  And I can´t put a price on the time alone we´ve had with Kepa, away from work and distractions.  Viva el Camino.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The End of the World

So I can´t really describe how odd it feels to not be walking.  You do the same thing for a month (31 days in our case).  Same routine, same thing, seeing many of the same people, day in and day out. And then it is over.  It was great touring the catedral and seeing a lot of our friends in Santiago, but it is never the same.

I forgot to mention the freakie thing that happened when we were touring the catedral on Thursday after our arrival.  One of the ¨things to do¨is to climb up behind the altar piece and either touch or hug the statue of Saint James.  Brittany rested her hand on the back of his head like millions before her, and began to walk away.  Unprompted and with no encouragement, Kepa about fell out of his pack leaning out of it on his own in an attempt to touch the statue (he was succesful).  The attendant about fell out of his chair.  One of those odd (but amazing) life moments.

Thursday night we celebrated by eating an entire Tarta de Santiago.  A really good almond cake (that we have had before), but not nearly as good as Gateau Basque (see previous post).  Here is a picture¨:

Torta de Santiago in a store window.  The cross of St James is displayed in negative in the powdered sugar.

As I mentioned before, Friday we rested up, stored our extra stuff that we didn´t need for Finesstare, and prepared to keep walking this weekend.  We went to the pilgrim´s mass (and they swung the famous incense burner!!!).  And we ate at Hawaii Eder´s.  Think one third authentic spanish and two thirds imagined Hawaiin adventure.  You can´t make this stuff up:

Hawaii Eder.  I really don´t know what more to say.  Spanish style french fries with pineapple salsa.  Hamburgers served in surfer themed wrap with back and fried onions on top.  Estrella Galicia beer (the really good 1906 reserve kind) advertised by a turtle.  Oh, and a top 10 greatest Bon Jovi music video countdown going on on the tv in the background (my versión of hell, that part).  Es única.  I´ll give it that.

In reality, most of the day was spent planning the weekend walk.  Many (maybe 15 to 20 percent) of peregrinos continue walking past Santiago to Finnestarre and/or Muxia.  You see, traditionally, what medieval pilgrim who had never seen the sea would stop 3 to 4 days short of the sea? In fact, the modern tradition of carrying a scallop Shell (the sign of a peregrino) comes from the tradition of pilgrims returning with a scallop Shell from Finnestarre with evidence of having made it.  For whatever reason, when the Camino was romantically re-imagined (or reinvented) in the 1960s, this final leg was left out.  Now it is becoming more popular again, although many others see it as a commecial add-on trying to convince people to keep walking (and hence keep spending).  While I agree the Camino is getting to be far too comercial, I do find it ironic that the idea of bringing something back from the medieval pilgrimage is seen as being ¨too comercial¨just because it was left out of the comercial reinvention of the camino in the 1960s.

That isn´t to say that every peregrino should walk to Finnestarre (at all).  In fact the vast majority don´t.  But we had always secretly thought that if we made it to Santiago and if Kepa was still doing well (both big ifs) that the natural end to our camino would be the place that for centuries was thought to be the end of the world.  The western most point in Europe.  Finnestarre (Fisstarre in Gaellego).  BTW science people, it has since been proven that Lisbon is about 15 km further west, and there is that whole doublé continent of North and South America........but for non-science people like us, the idea that this was culturally the end of the world for centuries seems far more important.  And if the entire reason the catholic church planted the idea that James was buried in Santiago was that it was at the end of the world (and in a space taken over by muslim conquest just when they needed support for wars to reclaim the peninsular haha) then it seemed fitting to end our walk at the end of the world.  Where you just literally could walk no further.

That was the original plan.  But by Friday we could tell our legs were tired, and our spirits only half willing.  So we amended the plan, knocking off the first 3 days (and 70 km), planning instead to bus to Cee on Saturday, the first town you hit on the coast, walk the 11 km up the coast to Finnesstarre (14.5 including the tip), spend the night, then walk 27 km to Muxia on Sunday.  A great idea in theory.  But the supposed nice weather turned to mist for half a day, and the walk from Cee, though pleasant, was not pretty.  You could see the waves and about 5 feet of wáter....then nothing but fog.  Finnestare was much prettier (and sunnier), but by the time we arrived we realized that our camino had ended in Santiago.  We are very glad we went to Finnestarre, but our camino was over.  So we nixed Muxia, and bused back to Santiago on Sunday.  A nice weekend nonetheless, and stopping at finnesstarre and contemplating the end of the world was a great end to the camino in ways I cannot express in words.

Saturday 22 June Santiago to Cee by bus, Cee to Fisstarre (14.5 km)

The coast between Cee and Fisstarre.  Beautiful but fogged in (and wet)

Kepa in front of kilometer marker 0.0 at the cape of Finnesstarre.  A truly beautiful (and awe inspiring) setting.  Thank goodness it cleared up by the time we walked to the point.

All of the medieval maps I had ever seen promised me whales, mermaids, dragons, and a giant waterfall waiting for me at the end of the world.  Alas, this mermaid mosaic in front of a light house was the best I could find.  You lied Prof. B.  You lied.

The end of the world.  A pilgrim left his boots on one of the last rocks.  Another left his bike.  Speaking of bikes, not always a fan of bicycle peregrinos (it is the camino de Santiago afterall), but a truly amazing sighting in Santiago.  A parapalegic finished his second Camino (all the way from St Jean Pied du Port) via hand pedal bicycle as we were coming out of the pilgrim´s mass on Friday.  A truly amazing sight.  Makes carrying a baby seem easy and small.  Back to this picture.  It pretty much sums up why we felt Finnestarre was an appropriate end.  But in the end, it didn´t matter that we only walked 14 km to get there.  Santiago felt right.  It still does.  Still glad we went to Finnestarre though.

The K man on his way back in from the cape.  We have ¨kiched out his¨ pack with all of the tacky touristy knick nacks we´d never buy for ourselves.  Some were gifts, some we bought.  On the far right hanging by read thread (you can barely see it) is his scallp Shell, an authentic one from Finnesstarre, given to him by a shopkeeper at a store at km marker 469.  Hanging in the center is a tourist versión of an authentic pilgrim´s wáter gourd.  Pins going across the top (from left to right) 1) A basque flag pin with a lamb in the middle of it (yum!) 2) a scallop Shell that says Fissterre 3) a scallop Shell with the cross of St James that says Santiago de Compostella & 4) a pin that shows a traditional Galician house and says O´Cebreio.  Below, hanging, on the left is a commemorative wine cork from a wine co-op we stopped at in the región of Biezo.  Next to that a hanging versión of the huge incense burner that swings inside the catedral at Santiago.  He used to have a chicken from Santo Domingo here too, but it broke.  Hanging from the zipper on the top is a funny versión of a pilgrim in a big hat.  To the far left (barely visible) is his favorite stuffed animal (a border collie named Pivo II) and his very own pilgrim´s cane given as a gift in O´Cerebro (he loves his cane, and he ended up on the store´s Facebook page).  Somewhere there is also the stuffed rescue dog (Ëstella) given to him by a bartender in Puenta de la Reine.  The kid has got it all.

Sunday June 23 Finnestarre to Santiago by bus (0 km)
3 hours back by bus, then some relaxation, time to plan for the next leg of this journey (more below) and then we took one last spin around Santiago
Back in front of the catedral.  Pilgrims no more.

And now we make plans for tomorrow´s journey toward the vacay leg of our journey.  We allowed extra days in case they were needed for Kepa, but they just weren´t.  So we plan to rent a car tomorrow and drive to Bilbao (Bilbo in Euskara).  We´ll spend the night just outside of Bilbao and then begin touring the Basque coast on Tuesday, starting at Guernica.  By Wednesday night we will turn our car in in San Sebastian (Donostia in Euskara), our favorite place in the world, where we will stay until Sunday morning.  Sunday we take a train to Madrid and Monday we fly home and start teaching summer school in an attempt to pay all of this off.  I´m glad we´ll have nearly a week on the Basque coast because, while this has been CRAZY long and one of the most amazing trips of our lives, this is one of those vacations that you need a vacation from at the end (as odd as that sounds).  It has been an amazing experience, transcendent even.  But that doesn´t mean we aren´t physically and emotionally drained.  We are.  Arriving in the catedral square was among the happiest moments of my life, and this trip was amazing, but we need a few days to drink Txakoli, eat some pintxos, and lay by the beach.  Hopìng for sun.

Oh and tonight we eat at a true Doner Kebob shop (not the typical European Street junk food) that specializes in ¨Kurdish¨food.  Should be interesting.

Friday, June 21, 2013

We did it!!!!!

It has been a LONG while since I´ve had a computer.  I still plan to add pictures for the other posts once we return to the States.  This post is long, but has pictures.

The last two weeks have been grueling but beautiful.  It was so nice to come off the meseta and see different things.  Galicia is beautiful and green, but more than anything it has simply been nice to be, once again, somewhere ¨different¨.  We actually liked Leon a lot, and even the meseta, but after 7 to 10 days of the same thing every day, it was wonderful to have bagpipes, octopus, and celtic culture.  I must admit I am a horrible Irishman though.  I have now been to every Celtic región (Galicia, Brittany, Cornwall, Scotland, and Wales) besides Ireland.  And I have a Irish last name.  Worst. Irishman. Ever.

Kepa´s fame has grown beyond belief.  Expect a post on this topic upon our return (before we retire the blog).  We are seriously worried about his adjustment back to the States.  We began worrying if he could be happy on the camino.  Now the worry is how will he cope without walking 25 k a day and being ¨¨the famous Camino baby Kepa.¨ We continue to meet people who know his name, age, where we are from, and what we do for a living, even though we have never met them.  Scary.

June 8 Leon to Villar de Mazarife (23.1 km)
We were excited to be ¨leaving¨ the meseta, but this day was pretty ugly.  Half suburban and industrial Leon, half just more meseta.  But we made it to Villar de Mazarife amidst the hopes that new terrain awaited.

June 9 Villar de Mazarife to Astorga (30.1 km)
A beautiful walk over a mountain into Astorga, a town we were very excited about.  For centuries, all chocolate came into Europe via Astorga.  We couldn´t wait for our chocolate city.  Also there is a Gaudi house there and a beautiful gothic catedral.  The problema was this was a very, very long day over a big mountain in the sun.  And it was Sunday.  By the time we got there the chocolate museum, the Gaudi palace, and the catedral were ALL closed (boo).  We did get to see the outside of them all.  We really liked the Gaudi (being modernists, we usually do) and the cathedral (outside anyway) was our favorite yet.  Alas, the chocolate was mediocre at best.  The chocolate in Estrella was far better.  But we really liked Astorga and plan to return someday when things are open.

Coming over the mountain, Astorga and its catedral in site
The Palacio Gaudi in Astorga.  Half whimsical fairtale, half practical, a beautiful structure IMO.  Now houses a museum about the camino (also closed when we got there)

June 10 Astorga to Fancebadon (27.2 km)
Another long day, but increasingly pretty.  Ended after a MASSIVE, STEEP climb, just below the cross de fero (see previous post).  We stayed at what felt like a remote outpost.  Really pleasant. 
Some German friends of ours create a way marker out of pinecones
June 11 Fancebadon to Pontferada (28.5 km)
Crossed over the peak of the mountain, left our rocks at the cross of iron, and headed down, down, down to Pontferada.  This was another rough day, but rewarded with a beautiful castle built by the knights templar (da Vinci code fame hahaha)

The four of us at the Cross de Fero

The Castle in Pontferada
June 12 Ponferada to Vilafranca (23.7 km)
The terrain getting ever more green, we entered Vilafranca through 5 km of open wine vinyards.  This región of Leon, Bierzo, is trying to establish itself as a major wine and cherry región.  The wine is solid and the cherries damn good.  This is also the last major outpost of Spain......although for at least a day now it has been clear that the culture is primarily Galician (Gaellego) even if we are techically still in the provence of Leon.

Fried eggs with bacon, chorizo, and fries and a pitcher of sangría.  Heaven.

Kepa enjoys a swing in Villafranca.  Check out the church in the background

June 13 Vilafranca to Laguna de Castilla (28.1 km)
After another MASSIVE and STEEP climb, we stopped short of the Galician border by a half a kilometer.  We were still greeted by our favorite hotel/albuerge yet, celtic music, and good beer (Estrealla Galicia´s 1906 reserve is REALLY good).

Having climbed above the tres we near Laguna de Castilla (the lake of the lake, but the last inhabitaded spot of ¨Spain¨)

This couple from Montana and their 9 year old daughter are doing the Camino by bike.  She had more energy than her parents and apparently got them up the mountain almost by herself.  And no, that is not a tándem, it is a triplet!!!!!

June 14 Laguna to Triacastella (Galicia) (22.7 km)
Galicia!!!!! Not our ¨favorite¨region of Spain, but a good one, and a vast difference from the mesata.  A much needed change.  Say what you will, but Galicia es única.  Most rural villages are Gaellego first language, Portuguese second, and Castillian (Spanish) third.  The music is bagpipes (including their famous Brand of Gaellego punk), and the food is mostly octopus, as well as vegetable stew.

The views back down the mountain were truly stunning, and we went through tons of tiny Little villages (3 to 4 houses) with cows being walked around us and poop everywhere.  Really quaint and fun.  Though smelly.

O´Cereibro, the first town on the Galician side of the border, is almost entirely made up of the traditional Galician huts.  This town could seem a bit (a lot) touristy and Disney, but we hit it at 815 in the morning when noone was there making it seem truly awesome.
Coming over the mountains into Galicia.
Coming down into El Acebo, half way down the mountain. Had a lovely lunch
The weather is finally getting warm enough in the evenings to wear the clothes we thought we'd wear every evening! 
June 15 Triacastella to San Mamed del Camino(26.0 km)
We added 6 km this day to the total you go by way of Samos, a traditional stopping point on the camino that is now bipassed for political reasons.  A beautiful and ancient monestary is here.  The day before this was the most beautiful weather of the trip and this day was a close second.  More rustic Galician villages and almost no one on our alternative trail.  A great denoument to the previous day.
We walked back from San Mamed 1.3 km to eat some great paella at a rural restaurant with one heck of a view.
June 16 San Memed to Portomarin (25.9 km)
3 km in we passed Sarria.  Our lives changed.  See, you can technically get a compostella if you only walk the last 100 km.  So suddenly the number of peregrinos multiplied by 4 or 5 (not kidding).  Mostly day trippers helped by buses, and often not even carrying bags.  The route is crowded.  No spot to sit at a café. Miserable.  If I ever did this again I would forgo Santiago and stop at Sarria.  Not exagerating.  Then, to boot, Portomarin lacks carácter because it was moved in the 1960s.  Apparently they thought the dam would  give way so they made them move the city up the hill and flooded the valley on purpose.  The town now lies a half mile down .  What was interesting is that they moved the church Stone by Stone and rebuilt it.  You can still see the numbers etched in each Stone.
The original town of Portormoran is below us. The new one ahead of us.
It was a fiesta in Portomarin and they had bagpipes (of course!)
June 17 Portomarin to Palas de Rei (26.1 km)
Drizzly rain and hordes of people.  Like a disneyland.  A Palas de Rei may have once been the home of Galician kings (I asume, google it) but I didn´t see a building more than a century old.  But we did have a wonderful meal.

June 18 Palas de Rei to Castaneda (23.4 km)
Some pretty scenery and a few less day tripers.  Stopped in Mewilde for the most famous pulpo (octopus cooked in wine) in Galicia.  Not a bad day.  Castaneda was remote and slightly nondescript, but we liked it just fine.

A nice looking way marker along the way

June 19 Castaneda to Arco do Pino (25.2 km)
More drizzly rain, and more eucaliptus forrest.  But pretty enough.  And not super wet.
The "Double A's".  These two young women (Andrea and Amber) from Texas A&M have been with us most of the way, and their chipper attitudes and plug-along determination has helped make this a much happier Camino for us all.  We'll forgive them for being from Texas because we like them.  We'll forgive them for going to Texas A & M as long as A&M can knock the living crud out of LSU next year in football.
A lone cross of St. James along the way
June 20 Arco to Santiago de Compostella (20.1 km)
We made it!!!!!!  Arrived in town by 1 PM, greeted in the main square by tons of friends, bagpipes, and a beautiful catedral.  Santiago is a tad touristy, but it is great to get here.

7 km out!

Immediately upon arriving in the square.  Taken by a German man we´ve talked to for weeks who speaks no German.  We call him Oompah.
June 21 Santiago (0 km)

We had originally planned to start walking for Finnestare today, but we think we may not walk all the way to the historical end of the world (3 to 4 days from here) although in many ways I do believe that to be the real end of the camino.  I mean, how many medieval pilgrims would turn around 3 days from the coast?  But it felt nice to rest and rejoice at being here, to hang out with friends, to see Santiago, to go to the food market, to drink more Galician beer, to go to Pilgrim´s mass (they swung the thing!!!!! google it you´ll see).  It has been a good day.  Tomorow we will bus to Cee, on the coast, 11 km short of Finnestare.  Then we will walk the last short leg to Finnestare.  Sunday we will walk 20 km to Muxia.  Then we bus back to Santiago, get a rental car, and head to the Basque coast for a few days before flying back.  We allowed extra days walking because of Kepa, but in the end we finished in only 1 more than the ambitious guidebooks claim.

Kepa did not get a compostella (not old enough) and was denied baptism (need a letter from our home parish, which we don´t really have), but everything else went aces.  A great, great trip.  But its odd to not be walking.  Even Kepa was grumpy today till we put him in the pack to walk around town.  I used to think I´d look forward to being done.  now it is such a habit I cant imagine not having 25 km to walk today!!!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Keep on Keepin' on

We finally think (having arrived in the large city of Leon) that we have made it off the lonely meseta.  The meseta was slightly prettier than we imagined, but it was long, exposed to the sun, and an unchanging landscape. This was the 7ish days everyone says is a slog. Not all 7 were bad.  The non existent spring kept temps low and the sun hidden for the first half, and we really thought the area around Castrojeriz and Hontanas was pretty.  But the last few days on a deserted roman road with few pilgrims (the road split into two routes for a couple of days and we had to take the lesser one because of baby accommodations) in mid 80s heat with sun was...not pleasant.  Luckily we made it into Leon without sunburn (Kepa included) and are now more worried about impending cold as we leave the meseta to a Spain that remains unseasonably cool

Kepa remains a celebrity. Beyond words

Met a man from Lisbon who is walking with his wife and little yapper dog. They walked the camino Portuguese (shorter than the Frances but very difficult) to Santiago.  Now they are headed up the Frances to St Jean then all the way to La Puy (a spot in France where the real crazies start).  From there they go to Lourdes and then on to (are you sitting down?) Jerusulum. They hope to make it by Christmas (!).  We also met a 17 year old from Switzerland who was let out of high school a trimester early because of good grades so long as he did something "enriching". He is walking to Santiago via the Frances having begun in Geneva Switzerland (!).  Before you start feeling too sorry for him though, he has recently teamed up with some hot French girls in their early 20s. Living the frat boy dream :)

June 5 Terrafillos to Calzadilla de Los Hermanillos (26.9 km)
Passed through Shahagun, a miderate sized city (huge for the meseta) that seemed a bit dirty and sketchy. Then onto a lonely track of roman road where we saw no other pilgrims (hot too). Got lost at one point and redirected by an old woman at a bar who directed us to an old camino route that was abandoned for "political reasons". She left her bar (door open) to walk us the first .5 km.  from then on we were guided by camino signs from the 70s, back when the mascot was a mouse dressed in pilgrim gear .   Calzadilla was awesome though, tiny village and remote, a nice terrace and beer on tap. Rabbit and lamb on the pilgrim (aka cheap) menu, and tractors driving back into town of an evening for Kepa to watch. A great way to spend an evening.
A whole lotta nothing on the meseta......
This arch just before Shahagun marks the 1/2 way point for the entire camino
And on our way out of Sahagun we saw sheep and dogs!  Kepa was muy impressed. ---->>

June 6 Hermanillos to Mansilla de las Mulas (24.5 km)
22 km of NOTHING   Barely even a tree.  No house. No crossroad. No anything.  Then we descended on the village of Reliegos and "bar Elvis".  Bartender in a beret, intentional graffiti everywhere, Mexican music booming, upgraded our beers because we were from New Orleans, and grilled us shrimp from scratch (with a rub he made in front of us) to makeup for being "humiliated" that he was out of the sausage we tried to order. It was EPIC.  Mansilla was less memorable.
Like a bird that flew?  We've been seeing storks all along the route, but especially of late. This one was taking flight!
The way signs circa 1980. Really comforting when you are on a stretch and only see these :)
A beautiful sky on the meseta. But a sad statement that the sky was the most beautiful thing.
Bar Elvis!  A hunka hunka burning meseta
June 7 Mansilla to Leon (18.6 km)
Most of today's walk was through suburbs but Leon is sublime.  Their cathedral is much prettier than Burgos (IMO) and we went to the basilica de San isidoro, which besides a 12th century bible (!) boasts ceiling paintings that at considered to be the medieval version of the Sistine chapel. Amazing.  We have been surprised to see a lot of political graffiti calling for indepence for Leon.  Who knew?  A 7th century fair is in town (think Renfair without pimples) meant to celebrate roman Castilian and moorish heritage. A bit cheesie but the food looks AMAZING.   Will be heading there for dinner after K's nap. Will eat more than I have in a week. Wood fired rabbit, chorizo, and short ribs are definites.  Authentic gyros, wood fired chicken, and smoked potatoes (with toppings like corn or chorizo) likely add ons.  And did I mention the Moorish pastries?

The spires of the cathedral in Leon. This photo doesn't do it justice.
Leon is a sleek, modern city that still feels old and historic. A nice mix. We like.
Wood. Fire. Pig. Yum.
They were out of rabbit (so sad), but still really good. The peppers on the right were awesome. The "authentic moorish kebob" (not shown) is the best kebob I've ever had.  Insanely amazing.
Todd's new tshirt. Morcilla is like the Castilla y Leon version of Boudin, only better.  I really like the stuff, and "es unica" has been my most common statement in spanish (about everything) so the shirt just seemed to fit.