A day in Almería

Robin and I opted to rent a car yesterday and drive to Almería. It was a good decision. We spent 4.5 hours on the autovia in perfect weather and arrived at the Hertz drop off at the Almería airport around 2:30 pm. A short cab ride brought us to the Hotel Catedral right next to the Almería Cathedral. Perfecto.

It is now Saturday (the following day). We cobbled together some things to do over breakfast, and by 10:00 am we were on our way to the Central Market. These markets are always interesting. Everything is out in open display. Packaged items are few indeed. The freshness of everything would elicit a cry of joy from any foodie. Robin’s eyes were scanning ingredients as menu options flashed through her mind.

From the market we went on a tour of the tunnels that were constructed as bomb shelters under the city center in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. This 4.5 kilometer network of tunnels sheltered many of Almería’s citizens when the city was being bombed. It did not require much imagination to conjure up what life must have been like for the families crowded into these rudimentary shelters. One interesting thing the guide did was to turn off the lights and play a recording of the bombings. The volume was set so what you heard replicated what the people down there heard during the actual bombings. Pretty horrifying. Glad to get out.

The next stop was the Islamic fortress, the Alcazaba. This complex was a work in progress for several generations beginning in 955 when the first fortress walls were built. It was only second to the Alhambra, in Granada, as far as final size went. This is a wonderful site to visit and surprisingly it’s free.

Continuing on we dropped down to waterfront and strolled along a tree filled boulevard searching for a drink and a nibble. We were not disappointed as soon enough we called into a tapas bar called the Ant. Curious name, but no bugs were spotted. Now I have tip my hat to the Spanish cultural imperative of offering free food with the purchase of a drink. Now admittedly in some cheapo places all you get are potato chips, but more often than not it is something of substance. Almería, being a seaport, offers an abundance of fresh seafood daily to its restaurants and bars. So this afternoon along with our draft beers (small ones) came perfectly prepared fried bacalao, and some small whole fish that Robin convinced me to eat without disassembling it. They were, fresh, moist and delicious.

Suitably restored we set off for our final stop of the day, a visit to the Cathedral. This was all according to plan as our hotel was right next door. This church is unique in that it is only one of two in the world (I believe that is what I heard) that served simultaneously as a place of worship and as defensive structure. Almería was a vital port even in its early days and therefore was always a tempting target for marauders. So when the Cathedral was built (1524-1562) all the gothic design elements were reinforced against bombardment and kept out of sight below a flat roof and raised exterior walls. This made it difficult to recognize the church for what it was from a distance while also allowing for flat areas where cannon and soldiers could be placed. Clever guys.

Leaving the Cathedral we rounded the corner and entered the Cathedral plaza where a cluster of tables ranged under a stand of stately palms beckoned us. We felt a siesta coming on but not before we enjoyed a nice glass of chilled white wine and yes another beautifully prepared fried fish tapas (this one was flat and required some disassembling). A beautiful day in another very relaxed city.

The Hotel Catedral

Central Market

Into the tunnels

Infirmary and operating room

Almost out

The Alcazaba

Strolling along the sea front
At the Ant unaware

The Cathedral cloister

Cloister

Organ

Many hours without sleep and then Valencia.

As always, the trip from our home in Washington state to Spain was grueling. Nothing went wrong, the connections were actually quite good but still it was 30 hours without sleep before we arrived here. But I must say it felt great to be back and Valencia is a wonderful place to shed your jet lag. Valencia is Spain’s third largest city behind Madrid and Barcelona but it somehow just seems quieter. Yes, it is off season but still there is something going on here. It just seems so much less frantic than the top two cities, and I like that. Everywhere we go we seem to notice life going on at more a more measured pace. Mind you this has all been gleaned from only two days of wandering about, but it is interesting.

I continue to be both amazed and frustrated when I visit other countries and see what sorts of projects they have been able to accomplish while back home, these days, we can’t even seem to fill potholes. Valencia should be proud of all its current civic improvements as well as its rich history. We have seen a few impressive efforts in the short time we have been here. One appears to have been a repurposed diverted waterway. It today is an extensive below grade park featuring gardens and multi purpose trails that runs through much of the city and down to the modern opera house, science museum and aquarium complex that sits just above the port. These two features alone provide access to healthy activities such as walking and cycling, but also together they bestow a calming beauty and peacefulness that every citizen can enjoy and benefit from. We also discovered some gorgeous tree lined “grand via” type streets that provided access to other charming neighborhoods where the pace of life seems to be relaxed and just fine.

Tomorrow we will rent a car and drive to Almería where we will spend two nights before heading off by bus to Motril where some expat friends, Sam and Laura, from Portland will pick us up and takes us back to their home in the small village of Pampaneira. This pueblo, from what I understand, is located in the coastal mountains about an hour or so from Motril. More clarification on that later. But, for now day is done. Today was Robin’s birthday so we celebrated over a wonderful Indian lunch in one of those aforementioned charming neighborhoods and then strolled back to our hotel. As our room door swung slowly open we noticed a bottle of wine in an ice bucket sitting on the table with a card from the hotel manager. Curiously the card only had the managers particulars on it but no message. We are considering it to be a birthday gift but in truth we don’t know. Nonetheless, things are looking up. More tomorrow from Almería as our road show continues.

Madrid to Valencia

View from our room
Central market
Coffered ceilings in the Silk Exchange Casco Viejo

The Sistine Chapel of Valencia

Church of St. Nicholas of Bari

Opera house

Science museum and Aquarium

Cooling off in the aquarium

Walking off our lunch

Happy New Year

This blog has been in slumber mode for several months, but is now awakening. Robin and I will be heading off to Spain on Monday to walk part of the Via de la Plata (Seville to Salamanca). Prior to that we will be taking a short swing through southern Spain. Our plan is to visit Valencia, Almería, Granada (and some friends up in the Sierra Nevada area), Córdoba, Cadiz, and finally Seville where we will begin the VdlP.

We have been on the Camino every year since December 2010, and, in truth, it just gets better. Yes, we are feeling a few new aches and pains with each passing year, but so far (and thank God) nothing has been a show stopper. We are not opposed to modifying what would otherwise be 30-40 km stages to something around 20 kms. Our goal is to enjoy each walk we do. We can not control the weather so we just accept what comes. But, when it comes to walking we can and do set reasonable goals and a pace that won’t cripple us. We choose not to be grim pilgrims slavishly pounding out the kilometers, but rather to embrace a more joyful and measured approach that is in keeping with my thinning, grey hair and sagging skin. I know not a pretty picture but it is what it is. I remain very thankful that this aging body is still able to answer the call to the Camino. Hopefully, Robin and I still have some additional walks in our future, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So, now to the task at hand, our VdlP. I can’t imagine a better way to usher in the New Year than walking a Camino, so stay tuned and we shall see how this all works out.

Wishing everyone a healthy and peaceful new year.

Order awaits.

Reflections from the porch

Yesterday we concluded our latest Camino, the Portuguese Coastal Route. It concluded neither with a bang nor a whimper. We just stopped walking. We had arrived.

Our arrivals, over the years, have stoked many strong emotions. The joy of faith reformed, respite from the storm, new friendships formed, older ones rekindled, health reconstituted, fitness reclaimed, and most frequently an abiding sense of well-being. Yesterday, I think our focus was on the last, a pervasive sense of well-being.

We departed Padrón around 8:30 (early for us) without so much as a cafe con leche. I’m not sure why we needed to get going so quickly but out the door we went. Another chilly morning greeted us and windbreakers felt just fine. Shifting along on an empty stomach with a caffeine deficiency felt strangely odd. This was the first time on this Camino that we had skipped breakfast and my body was a bit at odds with that call. But, Santiago was just a few hours away so onward we went. The first handful of kilometers was spent in silent reflection on why I felt so wobbly. Perhaps it was old age just creeping up, or sore muscles trying to sort out a proper walking gait, or God knows what. But, in the end, actually well before the end, things came right and I was walking like I hadn’t been hit by a truck.

Robin and I remembered a nice Casa Rural in a village called Rúa de Franco. We had stopped at its restaurant for a coffee a couple of years back and thought it was quite nice. So as the terrain became familiar we kept a sharp lookout. Sure enough we hauled through a now recognized village and presented ourselves at the door of the Parada de Franco where the lonely barman quickly showed us to a table. Here at last the coffee flowed and a double order of tostadas disappeared in record time. Now things were shaping up and my body offered up quiet thanks for the extra log on the fire.

We carried on, mostly uphill, as some pilgrims passed by and we passed by others. We have become accustomed to a slow and steady wins the race walking strategy, and it works quite well for us. So onward and upward we went drawing Santiago ever closer one step at a time. Great fun.

We are not overly fond of long approaches into any city, including Santiago. Certainly during our early Camino years we felt that the trip had to be door to door. That has been modified somewhat as we now decide on arrival day whether to push through or stop a bit early. Yesterday we arrived at the top of hill in the newer Santiago suburb of O Milladoiro. This was our finish line for today. We finally found, what appeared to be the only bar in the neighborhood and squeezed in. The place was absolutely packed. This is where the locals apparently spend their Sundays. Despite the crowd the lady at the bar kindly called us a taxi, but only after after a couple of cold beers cleared away the trail dust. We got dropped off in Plaza Galicia and made our to our apartment on Rua Vilar. Our arrival plan came together nicely as we punched in various codes and gained access to what was to be our lodging for the next three nights. Our Camino was now officially over.

So as I sit out on our porch above Rua Vilar musing over the events of this latest Camino the rattle and hum from the street below reminds me just how many contrasting motivations dwell in the confusion of pilgrims below. We all are seeking something. Sometimes we sense success and other times we are left scratching our heads wondering just what happened. All I know is that walking the Camino just feels right, whatever that is. For Robin and I that is simply enough, and that is why we keep coming back.

See you next time and thanks for walking with us.

One more day

We had a nice start to today’s walk. It was cooler so light jackets were a welcomed addition to our kit for the day. There was a pretty steady stream of pilgs setting out from Caldas de Reis, but the line stretched out and everyone seemed to find a bit of space which was quite nice. I would rather listen to birdsong and the wind in the trees than be an unwilling participant in a noisy group conversation. People need to learn that silence can be a very important part of the Camino. But, everyone comes at the Camino with their own needs and perspectives. So, I just try to take it all in stride and enjoy each day’s walk as it comes. Admittedly, some days are better than others.

But, today was pretty good. Robin and I felt strong and were walking well. We were not in any hurry but seemed to adopt a nice sustainable pace that ran the kilometers down without diminishing the fun aspect of walking the road to Santiago.

The village bars all seemed to be doing great pilgrim business with all tables filled while the overflow sipped a coffee, juice or beer while leaning against a wall. Lot’s of smiling faces were seen in animated conversations as people probably were realizing what they have almost accomplished. Many Camino journeys would be coming to an end tomorrow, but for some Santiago would just be a waypoint on a longer journey. Well done, in advance, to them all.

Robin and I certainly share those same sentiments, and our minds were also busily shaping our own arrival plans. But, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We still have one day’s walk to go, yet we can’t help but be thankful for the good walk we have enjoyed to date. It has been a wonderful Camino. More from Santiago tomorrow.

P.S. you might have noticed a change in the level of lodging from yesterday to today. It all works, and we are grateful for both. Cheers from Padrón.

La tormenta

As Robin and I were enjoying breakfast I checked today’s weather for the umpteenth time. Yes, it would rain, and yes it would be windy. We walked out of the Parador in Pontevedra and found light rain and light winds. This we could handle. No problema. We set out across the bridge that takes you out of town on the Camino. At the far end a little pilgrim tienda was doing a great business selling flimsy ponchos. Everybody got sorted out as best they could with their new rainwear and the herd headed up and out of town with all sorts of bits and pieces flapping in the yet light wind.

The nice thing about walking out of Pontevedra is that if you leave from where we started close to the Parador it is a quick exit. We soon found ourselves out of the city and on a rural road that became a rural path. All of this was quite nice and easy walking. So onward we went. We pulled over just before noon at a popular bar for a coffee and juice. We sat quite still just enjoying being off our feet as a pool of water gathered around us. The table next to us had three Germans draining very large beers and downing even larger bocadillos. Two were men and one was a lady. They were definitely having fun.

As we settled up and stepped out the door to a change in the weather. The light rain soon became a torrent and the light wind soon became a gale. So for the next two and a half hours we were knocked about with gusty winds and hosed off with heavy showers. Fortunately our gear is pretty watertight and with the addition of our umbrellas we were in as close to a sweet spot as one could hope for. We plowed on in a little cocoon of tranquility created by our umbrellas and a following wind albeit a very strong following wind.

One thing I did notice that folks with umbrellas seemed to keep walking while those without seemed to stop at every available bar. This is purely unscientific survey but an umbrella can be your best friend on the Camino in rain or shine.

About 4 1/2 hours after leaving Pontevedra we arrived in Caldas de Reis dry to the ankles but soaked from there down. We remembered a nice bar from a previous visit and set out for shelter and a bit of lunch. The owner, Claudio whipped up a fresh tortilla, some ham, cheese and a nice tomato salad to fortify us. A couple of beers and a glass of wine later we were in a taxi heading to our hotel, the Torre do Rio. We are now relaxing in splendid luxury with a spiderweb of clotheslines crisscrossing our room. We are here for two days, and the heat is on so things will eventually dry out. Let’s just say today was a bit challenging but was still great fun. Lay day tomorrow and then off to Padron (yes, the same as those peppers you love) on Saturday. This will put us in Santiago the following day, Sunday and bring this Camino to a close. Not there yet, but definitely closer.

Central meets coast

In keeping with my comments from yesterday we are now awash with pilgrims who have joined from the Central Route. The apartment we booked in Redondela was right on the Camino so we got a good view this morning (from above) of the many pilgs setting out. It wasn’t a herd but it was certainly more than just a few.

We had a very quick light breakfast and the headed for the corner bar for tea and coffee. This is how it begins, once again, another day on the Camino. It is a mass of bodies, bicycles, and God knows what all setting out for another day on the road to Santiago. It is truly a colorful and remarkable sight.

Robin and I experienced some déja vu today as we had previously walked the Central Route and many parts of today’s walk flashed back. It was a pleasant day made better by taking the advice of a trinket vendor who recommended taking the alternate route to the left after reaching the Chapel of Santa Marta. This took us under tree cover and followed a stream right into Pontevedra. Brilliant.

Once into the city we googled the Parador and set our sights on a rest and a hot shower. We weren’t disappointed. We have now accomplished all the post walk rituals and even had a nice lunch with an old pilgrim friend from Toronto, who happened to be in town. Tomorrow we are off to Caldas de Reis and a very nice two night stay at the very comfortable Torre de Rios. We could get used to this. More tomorrow after our walk in the rain.