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Trip Report Mari's Northern Spain and the Camino de Santiago Trip Report

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I am still in the throes of post-vacation depression after arriving from our long, long, long planned three week trip to Spain, as we all know the only way to get over this is to talk/write about our trip as much as possible and start planning the next one! I will not aim for an epic trip report since I know from personal experience that I dont get very far with them (my US National Park TR is still halfway done a year later in the US board) but this trip was so wonderful that it would certainly deserve extensive descriptions and discussions :)

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Executive Summary: I LOVED it!!! Northern Spain is totally different from Southern Spain. The Pais Vasco is beautiful, the coast is amazing. I loved the Guggenheim and the walk along the river but did not bond with Bilbao (I am so very sorry Cova!!!). Txakoli is very, very good white wine. We had one of the best tapas/raciones meals ever (EVER, yes ever) in a little bar in Castro Uridales for 36 Euros. The Picos de Europa deserve a trip by themselves. The drive to the Lagos is a bit scary but definitely worthy of the effort. There are a lot of cows in Asturias. Ribeiro is now my absolute favorite white wine. Walking the Camino the Santiago had been a dream of mine for a long time and it was wonderful, tiring but still wonderful. We walked 150km without having to carry our gear, the people that do the entire Camino (800km) with their backpacks and staying in Albergues have my outmost respect. I loved Santiago!!!
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The trip report:

We flew from San Juan to Atlanta (8 hr layover) to Madrid - ohhh the cruelty of airfare purchased with FF!!! Arrived in Madrid around 8:00 AM of the next day. Picked up our car and headed out to Burgos. We were out of the ariport within an hour.

Safety note - as was commented by a felllow fodorite in one of my trip planning posts, the three hour drive to Burgos is a bit too much after a long flight like we had just had. I would not have attempted it by myself and needless to say I was falling asleep an hour and a half into the drive. Anyway, DH was fine and he was the one driving. He did all the driving on this trip, I must admit in total shame that I do not know how to drive with a manual transmission and some of the mountain roads that we took were not the place to learn!!!!!

Since we had slept on the plane (DH a little and myself a lot) we were not hit hard by jetlag and decided to make the detour to Santo Domingo de Silos before going to our hotel in Burgos. We stopped by the monastery, walked a little around town and up the hill to observe the beutiful contryside. We went back to the car to get additional sweaters becase the temperature was in the 50's. We then had lunch in a restaurant by the 'plaza'. After we had gotten our first fix of Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup)and Cabrito Asado (roasted goat) we finally felt like we were back in Spain and into vacation :) I think that the name of the restaurant was Tres Coronas.
After lunch we went to the service in the Monastery to hear the midday prayer - this is the Benedictine Monastery made famous by its recording of Gregorian prayer in the CD 'Chant' a few years ago. Do not miss this if you have a chance!!! I wish that our timing had allowed for hte vespers prayer but it did not - you just cannot have everything...

Cova had recommended the walk to the Yecla Gorge but DH was not in the mood for walking and since he was driving and had not really slept that much, I did not push for it - first miss of the vacation, ohhh the things you do for love :)

We arrived in Burgos and easily found our hotel, el Meson del Cid. Maribel and Cova had both recommended the NH Burgos hotel but the lure of looking from my window at the Cathedral was too much. The hotel room was small and a little dark but perfectly clean and ideally located. I must say that the NH looked a LOT more appealing but I sitll do not regret staying at el Cid.

We walked 100 meters to the Cathedral and looked around for a while. It began to rain we purchased two little umbrellas, I pulled my thick scarf out of my pack (this item got in the luggage only as a last minute impulse and booooyyy was I glad). Temperature was in the 40's. We were still stuffed from lunch so we went to a few unremarkable bars for tapas and then happily crashed.

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    Mari, you're back!

    I kept looking at the boards this past few days, I wasn't sure when was your return date.

    Thanks for your first installment in what obviously was a great trip. Looking forward to reading the rest!

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    I'm looking forward to this report also. I went to a lecture a couple months ago where a couple discussed their several trips walking the Camino de Santiago (they did it the hard way). It sounded intriguing, but I'm not sure I'm that much into hardship. So I'll be happy to hear how you did it.

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    Ribeiro?? Once I travelled on Renfe to Galicia - the person across from me was a wine merchant. As we went from Ourense paralleling the rio Minho to Tuy, he described the various wines by region: first Ribeiro, then Albarinho and finally Rosal. That was also the order of the quality of the wines of the Minho valley. My (wife's) cousin lives in Rosal (near La Guardia). If you didn't get a chance to try either of those wines, you have to go back.

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    Hi Mari,

    don´t worry about your Bilbao opinions ;)

    I have the theory (and I have put it to practice), that you need decent weather and a native accompanying you in order to be able to enjoy it. It can be a hard city ...

    You were right in not going to the Yecla. It might have been a bit taxing on you ... and that Burgos weather, I know it quite well. We have been in Madrid in June with 34 degrees, and stop in Burgos on our way back home with onlty 4 degrees (that was real garlic soup weather ...).

    Looking forward to the rest of your report :)

    Cova

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    Thank you for the report, looking forward to the part about Camino. Could you please post how you arranged the luggage transfer? I have visited most towns/cities along the route, but plan to walk some sections this autumn/winter.

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    Day 2 in Burgos started out a little warmer than the day before but still on the cool side. Our hopes for good weather were increasing since the sun was coming out so we bundled up and started wandering around town looking for an appealing place to have breakfast. Coffee in Spain is good!!! Any hole-in-the-wall bar will have GOOD coffee so you are pretty safe anywhere you stop. We drifted into a non descript bar full of people in business suits and lots of napkins in the floor and had a wonderful little Serrano and tomato rub sandwich, a slice of tortilla and four coffees (two each). Cheap and good, just our kind of place! We walked along the river to the Cartuja de Miraflores and we just made it into the church before they closed for a whole week to do some maintenance work. Beautiful altar and sepulcher, definitely worth the walk!

    We started to make our way to the Reales Huelgas convent and realized that we would not make it all the way there before they closed for lunch. We decided to stop in a café along the riverwalk and in front of the old city gate (next to the cathedral). DH had some pasta and I had some stuffed peppers, naturally we both had some tintos (red wine).

    I had to pull out again my ‘old faithful’ thick scarf and bundle up before I could settle down to people watch and wait out the siesta hour(s). I wished (not the for the last time) that I had brought some gloves!!! I absolutely love people watching in Spain. You always see a large amount of couples (young, mid and old) together. Beautiful baby carriages and clothes. The older ladies are always impeccably dressed in suits, they wear nice, elegant jewelry and wonderful walking shoes (I want to be like them when I grow up!!!!!).

    Finally we pulled ourselves from our comfy seats and walked the rest of the way to the Huelgas. We walked by the NH hotel and I have to admit that Maribel and Cova were absolutely right….it looked REALLY nice compared with the Meson del Cid where we were staying! Still, the Meson’s location is so good that I do not regret staying with them.
    I really enjoyed the Huelgas visit but I am so used to wandering around at our (my) own pace that guided visits seldom (never) leave me satisfied!!! Do not miss the statue of Santiago with the mechanical arm used in the middle ages to knight princes. I was very disappointed that we could not see the textile collection since it is out in loan while they are conducting restoration to their museum.

    We returned to the hotel to freshen up a little before heading out again for the evening and a British guy that was staying in the hotel with his Porshe Club started to absolutely rave about this great meal he had had in town! We asked at the hotel desk where it was and headed out that way for a few tapas before returning to the Meson del Cid for dinner.,
    The place is called Casa Pancho and I will be the first to admit that this was no secret find, no place where only the locals go, we were smack in the middle of the tourist restaurant area but after hesitating a little bit we remembered the raving and went in. We settled in the bar with a great view of the kitchen and had a racion of grilled squid rings, after that we were hooked!!! We had pincho after pincho (and more squid in between) and wine glasses to follow.

    A group of thirty Germans came in unannounced and started ordering tapas. They were ushered to the upstairs dining room by the owner who had a look of absolute horror in his face. This is when our view of the kitchen turned into front row seats for an evening of culinary entertainment!!! Forget the Food Network, those ladies in the kitchen are true masters of the short order…the tension, the yelling, the tears from the apprentice, the desperate calls from the manager to his nieces and nephews to drop whatever they were doing at home and come help in the restaurant…all accompanied by our running commentary, we never made it to dinner at Meson!!! We rolled contently back into our nearby hotel and crashed for the night

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    Hi Cova and Cruise!!! Thanks to all of you for the great advice, it made a difference.

    Ned - I adore the Albariños but I did not know anything at all about the Ribeiros so the element of surprise came into play...oh well I will have to go back and drink some more!!! I also had an amazing rose wine from Ourense that if we had not enjoyed soooo much of it we might have remembered to take the label with me :(

    Judy - I did the camino the lazy way, the tour company took care of all our transportation, luggage, lunches and meals. We just had to take a day pack and walk to the next meeting point. The company we went with is called Spanish Steps and we would recommend it without hesitation. The walking portion of the trip was our first ever organized tour and we were very hesitant about it. We thought it was kind of expensive but we both think that it was worth the money.

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    Mari,

    Thanks for the second installment. I'm absorbing everything you have to say about Burgos since I might spend 2 nights there in July. I'm glad to read your positive comments about the NH as that's where I have a reservation.
    I'll make note of Casa Pancho, sounds like a lot of fun. Do you think they'll "frown" at a woman showing up by herself? ( maybe I'll be sent to the upstairs room where the germans went! LOL!) . Do you recall the name of the street where it is?

    I'm so glad that you were pleased by Spanish Steps. I've been researching their groups for a while but it's good to have a first hand recommendation from you. I hope that in one of your next installments you'll comment about what kind of accomodations/ meals they provided.

    Thanks Mari

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    Day 3 we waved our goodbyes to Burgos and headed to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The curch is beatiful, the tomb of Santo Domingo is impressive and the cloister/museum is worth the detour.

    We headed into Bilbao and got stuck in afternoon traffic getting into the city. We eventually made our way to the hotel, the Abba Parque which was recommended and I found to be very nice indeed. Very good quality vs price. Getting the car into their underground parking was an adventure upon itself!

    We dropped our stuff and headed straight through the park into the Guggenheim. Amazing building! I had seen many pictures but still was impressed. I loved the interior flow, DH did not care much for either inside or outside. He loved the Maya exhibit that took over the entire museum. I was not particularily impressed by the audio guide to the exhibit.

    We walked by the riverside until we hit the bridge to the old town. We went into the square and I was ready to start hitting the tapas but DH wanted to SIT DOWN and eat RIGHT NOW. You might have noticed that I have not mentioned lunch this day because we had not had any after a rather large breakfast in Burgos. All my nice plans for the perfect meal in Bilbao were laid to waste that instant....
    We finally went into a restaurant (something Pepe?) and had quite a nice meal. The salad was very good and I had a nice rabo (oxtail stew), DH had sweetbread which was rather small-considering the lack of lunch.

    From the restaurant we walked right next door to Cafe Bilbao and he proceeded to have several very nice Pinxos (I had to taste, you know how it goes...). From there we hopped into the metro which was very close and rode away to the station near the hotel.

    I must say again that I did not fall in love with Bilbao. It was nice, I am very happy that we went but we decided to skip our second night in the city and leave in the morning.

    next: the Basque Coast - love at first sight :)

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    I am sooo very happy that I took Maribel's advice and skipped San Sebastian and made our lazy way along the coast. We went through Gernika to Mundaka, I was stunned. Forget the Amalfi Coast - well not really but think about the Amalfi Coast without the lemons and the nasty road, add a touch of french influence and white greek-looking terraces and you have Mundaka. (Can you tell that I liked it?) The water was the color of Lapis and Turquiose around the cliffs. The fact that the sun had finally come out and it was nice and warm also helped!!!!

    From Mundaka we went to the lighthouse, then Bermeo and then to San Gaztelugatxe. If you are ever in the vecinity of this place, GO THERE!!! Stunning! Somebody must have done something reeeaalllyyy bad to have to pay penance carrying all those blocks up the cliffs to build that church. Even if you decide to skip the climbing, the view from the bottom is wonderful. But since good things happen to people that make the extra effort while on vacation-the view down is even better! I'll try to get some computer savy person to help me setup the pictures as a link.

    Maribel had recommended stopping over at Restaurant Eneperi and once again she was right on the money. We thought about having a full meal but it was kind of an awkward hour and we still wanted to keep going and not colapse into a stupor so we decided to have something light from the bar menu. The bartender says he does not tend the tables, he gives you tablecloth and silverware and you have to fend off for yourself (but if you smile sweetly at him he will bring the food out ;)) I had a marvelous Cod with Tomato Sauce for 8 euros that would give any restaurant a good challenge at three times the price. I asked the bartender about local wine and he brought out some Txakolí. Gave me a pretty good tasting and then when I raved about it, he refilled the glass and did not even charge for it.

    Now, the view from this place is out of this world. The terrace is covered with a tree pergola and looks over the cliffs into the ocean. If I had seen a picture of this I would have thought it was in Greece.

    I has small regrets about not having had the full meal but well, we decided to keep going. Maribel was absolutely right, after Bakio the drive was not as nice and definitely could have skipped but we finally made our way to Castro Urdiales. We contempleted driving on to Laredo but decided to stay. We stoopped by the tourist office and they referred us to a hotel. As a Fodors thread currently going on would stated: it was just 'a place to sleep and shower' for under 40 Euros. They did have an elevator and the bath was very clean. We wandered around town a little bit and walked to the old church and castle and then to the end of the wave breaker. The place was packed with families enjoying the warm, sunny weather.

    We walked into a little bar just in front of the Fisherman's Trade (lonja) and thought that we would get a little teaser before going to the restaurant mentioned in the guidebooks. Boy was I happy I did not have that big lunch in Eneperi.

    We started out with a little, innocent shrimp with mayo pincho - and that was our downfall! We stayed and ate and ate and ate...Bonito Pinchos, Shrimp Pinchos, Six whole grilled squid, Pulpo a la gallega, mixed seafood vinagrette, mussels in tomato sauce and nine glassed of wine (I cheated and got the extra one). Thank God that early on I asked the bar guy how they figured out what the customer owed and he told me that I was the one supposed to tell HIM what we had consumed. We kept track on a paper napkin and we are almost sure that everything was accounted for give or take a pair of pinchos, even though there is a clear possibility that there might have been eleven glasses of wine and not nine. All this for 36 Euros!!!!! This was one of the best meals we have EVER had. I did not even care about the unattractive hotel room anymore! In order to attempt the initiation of digestion we walked back out to the wave breaker and back to the hotel to sleep (yes, yes, I will admit mit we just plain happily crashed again. I can soon see myself in a twelve step program - My name is Maristella and...)

    next: Santillana del Mar

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    Mari,

    What a great adventure! I'm going to have to be courageous and rent a car( one of these days!!). Obviously that's the only way to do this kind of trip.
    I'll start looking up those places in my map, just in case...

    Looking forward to Santillana and the rest!

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    I've visited most of the Cantabric coast and I'll never, never will say anyone to skip San Sebastian which is by large the most beautiful city in Spain (for me and I know a lot of people who agrees). All the coast is wonderful , really special but I cannot think about it without San Sebastian. Looks you have to turn back :))))
    I hope you also have visited San Vicente de la Barquera..the most wonderful place of Cantabria's coast !!

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    To Mari, Many thanks for the note about the tour company; but I thought perhaps it would be fun to walk on my own, if I could find luggage transfer service as in U.K.

    Enjoy your report very much, thank you for sharing.

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    Day 5 - we left Castro in the morning. We were considering trying to reshuffle all of our hotel reservations since we had skipped a day in Bilbao but we figured that the distances were not that long and we could keep going on and then return to Santillana for the evening. This turned out very well.

    We drove into Laredo and Comillas. The Gaudi house (el Capricho de Gaudi) was something to see. The restaurant was closed and even though the posted operating hours the place looked neglected so we decided not to wait. The place is needing serious maintenance work to preserve the beutiful tilework. With all the nooks and cranies I imagine that it is labor intensive.

    Suddenly DH made a sharp turn into a non-descript restuarant and announced that we were having lunch there. Bewildered, I asked, why? The wise reply came back: the parking lot is full of service trucks and company cars. The place was 'packed' inside (please remember that this is a small road on the middle of nowhere),there were at least 20 people in there. He asked for a beer and I was presented with a full bottle of wine which was left at the table when I asked for a glass. I had a FABULOUS white bean and mussels cocido (soup/stew) followed by beef stew. DH had some pasta with shrimp and some lomo (pork) to follow. The total bill was 12 Euros, I dont think that the place even has a name, there was certainly no sign outside.

    I almost dislocated my shoulder trying to pat myself in the back, once more congratulating myself for making such a good spouse choice!!! A man that can fix broken luggage with a swiss army knife, drive for hours while his wife relaxedly looks out the window and can pick good restaurants out of nowhere is just about my description of perfect!!!!

    We then drove to San Vicente de la Barquera. This was not in the original plan but those hours gained away from Bilbao certainly paid off!

    This is a wonderful town. The long bridge leading into it sets the stage for the castle and church on top. We wandered around for a bit. I loved walking around the old walls and looking at the old houses and hidden gardens.

    We made our way back to Santillana del Mar. This is one of the most photogenic towns I have ever been too. Every place you turn there is a balcony overflowing with flowers, a wall sagging just a little bit to make it interesting, little streets turning just the right way...many pictures were taken! I LOVED our hotel, Casa del Organista. It was small, cozy, charming, beutifully decorated and incredibly cheap. When I walked by the Casa del Marques I experienced a little pang of jealousy but then I thougth about our 50-something rate at Organista I let it go. We did have dinner at the Marques restaurant which was very good (assorted grilled fish for me and leg of lamb for DH). Slept like babies!

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    Mari,

    I'm new to this board and have been excitedly following your posts. Any chance that you remember any more details of where I can locate that restaurant find of yours in/around Laredo?

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    Hi Abu,
    if I am not wrong, the restaurant mentioned by Mari was near Comillas. Laredo is not exactly a great place of culinary delights (if you don´t count the ice-cream of La Valenciana, heaven in earth, or the "rabas" at a small non-descript bar near the tunnel), I should know about it, too many summers and weekends spent at its beach ...

    Mari, great idea to drive along the coast :) , much better than spending the day in SS. It certainly gave you a glimpse on the country. BTW, when talking about San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, think that there are weddings there in the summer :) One of the biggies last year was the wedding of one of spanish TV star anchorwoman to a great ballet dancer, Igor Yebra. Ane wore her high heels all the way up :) And the dinner was at Eneperi. I have been there both for weddings and for simple food, and it is a great place.

    And now, please, MORE :)

    Cova

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    Day 5 – We got an early start and went up to the Colegiata in Santillana del Mar. I could have stayed the entire day just looking at the sculptures in the cloister columns. The Pantocrator in the church is amazing. Absolutely loved the place, I am into medieval stuff so I would have been happy with one or maybe even two full days in Santillana. If you don’t care particularly care for the period then a few hours would certainly be enough.

    We headed out to the Altamira museum to see the reproduction of the caves and paintings. I was happy that I did it and the museum exhibits are OK but it leaves you with an empty feeling L It does not FEEL like a cave…

    By the time we left it was raining steadily. Since our next destination was Cosgaya in the Picos de Europa, we debated which route we should follow considering the rain and fog. We were planning to follow the yellow dots in the Michelin map that indicate scenic roads. We started driving towards the highway but finally our true adventuresome selves came out and we headed for the tiny mountain roads.

    In the fog and rain the drive as marvelous, in a sunny day it must have been stunning!!!! Not for motion sickness suffers but I must say that the road was decent troughout the drive. We crossed through Potes and made our way to Fuente Dé. When we got of the car the top was visible but by the time we made it half way up the cable car was going through ‘solid’ fog.

    This is where cultural differences strike – DH is Swiss and I am Puerto Rican. To him fog and snow are just something to be avoided at all costs and for me they are a total novelty. He wanted to just turn around and ride the cable car back down but I wanted to venture out in the fog. It was cold and the visibility was intermittently between twenty to hundred feet. We started walking towards the Refugio de Alivia through the snow and mud. There was a group of hikers coming down from who knows where (think full gear, snow suits, real hiking boots) and I innocently asked if that was the way to the Refugio de Alivia. The older guy actually SNEERED and SNORTED and kept walking, one of the younger guys laughed out loud and said yes but that he did not think it would be a good idea to walk that way in the fog. He was just being polite since I was wearing jeans and Clark’s suede walking shoes (along with everything else that was available in my daypack (i.e. sweaters, scarf, etc)) and wishing again for gloves! Neither of us was wearing anything remotely suitable for snow hiking. We must have advanced 300 meters when the snow just got too deep to keep going. The top of the path signs was barely visible over the snow so finally I gave up and we turned around (my feet were getting cold).

    At this precise moment the fog rolled away for about twenty seconds and the sun illuminated the snow-covered peaks. The view was soooo beautiful the DH did not say anything about walking in the cold, wet slush :) There was no time for a picture before the fog returned with a vengance. We had a visibility of about 5 meters by the time we made it to the cable car station. DH could have skipped this, I had a blast!!!

    We returned to Cosgaya and checked into the Meson del Oso. The setting of the hotel is beautiful with flowers everywhere. They even had two San Bernard dogs outside to complete the alpine setting. A stream runs through the garden so we had a great view from our room. I proceeded to take over the bathroom and took a looong, waaarm shower. Again, we had somehow missed lunch again and dinner was not being served. Cosgaya does not have many dining options so we crossed the street to the other hotel (there are two and that is why there was actually an option :)) for a few tintos, potato chips and olives.

    Finally we had dinner at el Oso. I was disappointed since the cocido Liebanes was only served for lunch and that was what I wanted. I don’t particularly remember that dinner so it must have been OK- neither rant nor rave (or maybe it was the tintos on the empty stomach ;) The sunset over the mountains was orange so we got some hopes for nice weather the following morning.

    Next: Bulnes and Cangas de Onís

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    Day 6 – we woke up and went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. The ‘normal’ breakfast was HUGE it had a humongous sobao toast, croissant, some pastry I was too full to try, coffee and juice. Waaaaayy too much!!! DH had some yogurt and some of my leftovers. I was tempetep to go back to Fuente De to see it with better weather but you just have to let go and move on sometimes....

    After checking out and scratching the Saint Bernard dogs we got in the car and drove from Cosgaya to Potes to Panes to Arenas de Cabrales to Poncebos. This drive has some NARROW stretches with buses coming through and a LOT of stones and gravel on the road (coming down from the gorge) but boy-oh-boy, was it impressive!!!

    We approached the ticket office for the funicular to Bulnes just as the sun was coming out. Tickets were 16 Euros for each and I must say that I almost hesitated (remember Fuente De and the fog). We finally (I) decided and jumped in. If you have a chance, DO THIS!!! Even if you are not interested in hiking, still it is a must. We took the +/- 10 minute ride through the tunnel dug out of the solid rock and emerged into the sunlight at the bottom of the valley!!!

    Now, before I pour my heart out into the beauty of this area I must acknowledge the fact that if I was a taxpayer on this region and my money was being used to build this engineering marvel to connect Bulnes (population perhaps 30 if you count the dogs) to the 21st century; I would rant and protest!!! Now since I am a tourist and for 32 euros DH and I could go and painlessly enjoy this magical site, I will rave about it!!!

    You walk from the top station to Bulnes de Abajo or to Poncebos. We went first to Bulnes de Abajo (at the bottom) and then to Bulnes de Arriba (at the top).

    Here I must make a footnote! I am tropical and suburban raised 36yr old woman, I did not know about plants in general and nothing at all regarding nettles. There is no reason why I SHOULD know about nettles, they do not exist in Puerto Rico. I was never chased as child with them in kindergarten (apparently this was a common practice in Swiss grade school). I was informed about the existance and dangers of nettles about a quarter of a second too late, just after DH started asking if I knew what they were and if I was being careful not to touch any of them. The stinging begun just as I was trying to negotiate a plank crossover very loaded with cow evidence that forced me to the outer side of the little bridge, just above the drop off into Poncebos (I am cursed with vertigo so I was not happy at this particular moment anyway, even without the stinging).

    After the nettle stinging passed I enjoyed very much the view from Bulnes de Arriba into the Garganta (gorge) in the direction of Poncebos as well as into Bulnes de Abajo. On the way down I stepped all over the cow evidence and was not stung by the nettles or scared about the drop off and the plank cross over – hey, you learn to pick your battles ;)

    We had two tintos to drink in a café in Bulnes de Abajo just by the stream and then we decided to walk into the Naranjo viewpoint. Wonderful, marvelous!!! Just to think that I had really good hiking boots and walking stick in my luggage in the bottom cable car parking lot made me angry. And there I was again, in my (old faithful) Clark’s walking shoes and jeans - I was always a bad Girl Scout, never prepeared! Anyway we had a great view of the cascades and then of the Naranjo de Bulnes. After that we headed back to the funicular and went back down.

    The sun was shining so I decided to go up to the Lagos and Covadonga area. OHHHHHH… beautiful!!! Now the drive up there. Do not attempt unless (1) you are totally comfortable with a manual transmission and (2) you are a confident driver which is not intimidated by (a) heights, (b) narrow roads/switchbacks and (c) buses. But then again this is a sight not to be missed under any circumstance. If I had been by myself I would have gone with one of the aforementioned buses which seemed to go to and from Covadonga fairly often.

    You go up, up, up and then some more until you find yourself in Alpine meadows filled with cows wearing bells (remember my humble suburban, tropical origins and DH’s Swiss upbringing – I thought it was remarkable and he thought that it was just plain normal and that “ANY true farmer that respected him/herself would have bells on ALL his/her cows”, and “anyway, the Swiss Cowbells sounded a lot nicer”). I was tempted to break out in song: “the hilllls are aliiiive….”.

    The views of the lakes are stunning. I had seen similar landscapes in Rocky Mountain National Park at tundra conditions but then I was soooo busy trying to breath at over 12,000 feet elevation (remember born and raised at sea level) that I did not enjoy it as much…and there were no cows with bells in Colorado ;)

    Anyway, the Lago de Enol and Encina are an absolute must if you are ever in this area. We made our harrowing way back down and decided not to stop in the Covadonga shrine since there seemed to be some major festivity of which I (lapsed catholic) was not aware and the place was packed. We continued and made our way to the Parador in Cangas de Onis.

    Once again our lack of lunch kicked in and after checking in to the hotel we proceeded into the bar and ordered two tintos and a cheese board to carry us to dinner. Well, that stuff was goooooooddddd. Did I mention at any point that the main difference between Northern and Southern Spain is that you can get truly great bread throughout the North? Well it is so; there is readily available GOOD bread from the Basque Country to Galicia. Any way, we went back to our rooms almost full with Cabrales, Tetilla and lots of other good cheeses. We took our showers and dressed a little nicer and headed for the Parador restaurant. I had some pasta (so so) and an assorted fish grill. It was OK but it was not as good as the one in Santillana del Mar and also it had some competition in my stomach among all that good cheese and bread. DH had some Fabada which was very good. We went for a walk aftwards along the river that runs parallel to the Parador. There were lots of fishermen and the evening was just perfect. Headed back into our room for another good nights sleep.

    Next: Leon through the Desfiladero de los Beyos

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    Mari,

    I LOVED the Enol and Ercina lakes. So peaceful that sometimes the only thing you heard were the cows bells. I also grew in PR and I don't think I was ever that close to a cow in my life!

    I took the same walk from the Parador alongside the river to the town of Cangas. I hope you liked the Parador. I thought it was very special.

    Thank You so much for your very vivid descriptions!

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    Hi Mari,

    first, I would have agreed with your husband regarding that crazy walk up from the cable-car in Fuente De ;)
    Speaking seriously, the terrain in Picos de Europa is dangerous in the fog, and the dangers can run from getting lost to sprain your ankle or getting killed (I am wearing my deadly serious hiker hat right now ... too many years hiking along the whole of northern Spain since we were little kids have taught us when not to venture out in the middle of the fog ... and this year there was a lot of snow hiding the holes and stones ...).

    Second, you think that the tramway to Bulnes is expensive ... right now it is making money and it´s far cheaper than having to take people away by helicopter as it used to happen before ;) The only complaint from the people in Bulnes is that they cannot bring their cows on it :)

    I am really looking forward to the rest of your trip.

    Rgds, Cova

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    marigross: Great report!

    Just an observation on your "I was disappointed since the cocido Liebanes was only served for lunch and that was what I wanted."

    I have had Favada Asturiana and Cocido de Liebana (very similar, except the Favada is with Fava Beans (expensive) and the Cocido, Garbanzos). In either case one spends the next 2-hours as if one has swallowed a brick. That's why in an earlier comment, I suggested a Siesta after the Favada Asturiana.

    The best Cocido I tried was in Potes, Capital of Liebana, but that's to be expected.

    BTW
    The Cabrito asado (roast suckling goat) taste is almost indistinguishable from the roast suckling lamb

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    Cova, you are absolutely rigth that we should have turned back in the fog. There were a lot of people around and I guess that gave me a false sense of safety!

    Cruise, I loved the setting of the Parador. We also had a very nice room with sitting area and the most comfortable bathroom of the entire trip! It stays in the 'recommended' list :) Wait until I get to the Camino installment, there were cows, cows, pigs, cows, sheep and some more cows....

    JudyC, we wrestled for over a year with the decision if we should go on our own or organized! We did find several baggage transfer services (see www.euroadventures.net or www.walksworldwide.com) but the price difference with the full 'tour' group was neglectable considering the added convenience.

    Kenderina, I absolutely have to go back to Spain. I guess I will never see the rest of the world if I keep up with this addiction!!!!

    Ned, I really like the Fabada but Garbanzos are my favorite grain so I was dissapointed anyway :( I love all of the spanish roasted meats, the cabrito, the cochinillo - Im already drooling and experiencing signs of withdrawal.....

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    Hi Mari,

    I´m trying to behave ... but I am just back from lunch and I have had "cocido madrileño" (with plenty of garbanzos ... are they called chickpeas?). The cocido at the Hotel del Oso is really good, probably the best in the valley of Liebana, and I find it easier in the stomach than the fabada ;) ...

    BTW, did you manage to get a glimpse of the Asturian coast before heading inland to your Camino?

    Bye, Cova

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    Cova, you are cruel!!! Thank God that I have to go back to Madrid the week of June 20th, even if it is only to work at least I still get to eat over there for a week!!! It will be Cocido Madrileño and Cochinillo for me.

    The further west I made it to the coast was San Vicente de la Barquera.

    Cruise, do you have an itinerary set for your trip?

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    Day 7 – We got a lazy start in the morning and again discussed if we should go to Leon via Oviedo or take to the mountain roads through the Desfiladero de los Beyos. DH does not care that much about town or churches and I was loving so much the scenery that we agreed to let Oviedo go.

    BTW-I am actively considering groveling and begging to my boss for a transfer to the Spanish facility of the company I work for. I think it is the only solution to my Spanish addiction. I cannot bear the anguish of having to choose one town over the other…..oh, the pain, the pain….

    I am so happy we made this decision! The roads on this section were a bit narrower and again there was a lot of loose gravel on the road. Every time DH stopped to take a picture of the gorge I had visions of rocks falling through the roof of the car! Anyway I must reiterate my previous observation – the Picos de Europa and their surroundings deserve a full trip to the area. The stark, rocky peaks with their gravel slopes are absolutely stunning.

    Ger/Oreilly: l if by any chance you read this trip report I wanted to let you know that I admire your stamina for driving around the Picos in a single day!!!!

    We drove by the Embalse de Riaño. The views are wonderful. We got some great pictures of the mountains clearly mirrored in the lake. Once when we stepped out of the car, I suddenly heard something that sounded like wind chimes in a storm but kept approaching. Then on the other side of the lake, there was a large herd of running (well, cantering) sheep wearing bells being guided by three sheep dogs. Now, remember my suburban origins….I thought it was a myth that dogs would actually be shepherds. But there they were: pushing the stragglers and herding the ones that separated back into the group, not a human in sight! It is almost something to be ashamed off, this city ignorance! DH got a kick out of my excitement over something so simple.

    Unrelated anecdote: I have a co-worker (very well educated but also raised in tropical suburbs) that anytime someone mentions Segovia as part of a conversation he goes into a rave about the actual existence of storks. He believed that they were like the boogeyman or the toothfairy, something made up to explain where babies came from (“brought by the stork”).

    Getting into Leon was a bit of a hassle. For all other hotels I had maps and directions in my file but not for Posada Regia, do not ask why – I just did not have it!!! I am not perfect…Anyway it would not have mattered since the hotel was in the pedestrian area and we never would have found it. We parked the car in the street and went hotel hunting. I knew it was close to the cathedral so we headed that way and started asking around.

    A very helpful man offered to walk us to the Cathedral through the little back streets. After we made quite a circle around the old town we realized that he would escort us to the cathedral only after he had picked up his granddaughter after school. At the end we made to the square and naturally the tourist office was closed until 5:00 PM so I headed to a candy store just across to ask for Posada Regia. The very pretty counter lady had a vacant look in her eyes when I asked for (1) Posada Regia, (2) a map of Leon or (3) the tourist office. This last one was just a test since I knew that it was 10 meters away and clearly seen through the window. Dumb Blonde jokes started popping up in my head ;) A customer in the store that happened to be the owner of the hostel next door, very politely pointed out to the thick stack of Leon maps next to the cash register and kindly directed us to Posada Regia which was less than 200 meters away.

    A few minutes later we had checked in to the hotel and were instructed on how to get our car into the pedestrian area for baggage unloading. When we returned to the hotel the group from Spanish Steps was checking in. We were not supposed to join the group until the following evening in Ponferrada but they invited us to go with the group for a guided visit of the Leon pantheon and cathedral. We also asked the guide if we could give them our luggage in the morning so that we did not have to wrestle with it when we gave the car back to Avis in Ponferrada. All that church-visiting incurred in the previous days most have earned us some brownie points somewhere because I do not even want to think about the next day if we had had to haul the luggage with us!

    The Pantheon in Leon is to the Romanic period as the Sistine Chapel is the Renaissance! Absolutely stupendous collection of frescoes; marvelously preserved -remember that I am into medieval stuff. I liked the information provided by the guide, could have done nearly as well by myself with the Michelin Green Guide and a few years of Art History in college, but hated the time crunch and the pressure to keep moving on. The other people in the group were NOT into medieval art or architecture, in their defense I must say that after walking over 12k’s in a day there is not much that will interest anyone ;) This group had already been walking for a week before we joined in Ponferrada.

    We went then to the cathedral. WOW! Big, big WOW!!!! You feel as if you were walking into a jewel box. Just imagine how the medieval average Joe that had never seen anything taller than three stories high must have felt when entering this marvel! We walked with the guide through the church and into the cloister until all the explanations were done. The guide offered to walk the group back to the Gaudí building were we started for a short explanation over there but DH and I declined this part. We stayed in the cloister to have a leisurely walk at our own pace and then did the same with the cathedral.

    We sat down in a café to ponder the possibility that we had made a huge mistake in joining a tour group for the first time in our couple life. There were 3 pairs of senior ladies and a single guy in his forties that greeted us with a big smile of relief when we were introduced to the group (in a future installment I will discuss how those ladies, which were well into their 70’s, bent the laws of aerodynamics, human stamina and reason while walking.

    Anyway we headed out for a last tapas night before we had to give up our freedom and eat group dinners. The evening started out kind of disappointing, the bars in Leon do not have out in display what they are offering as tapas so it is almost a wild guess. We walked into the first one and got lucky, for 2.60 euros we got two tintos, two small empanadas, two small croquettes and some potatoes with chorizo. Second bar we bummed out – olives (have I publicly admitted that the only food item that I cannot swallow are olives?). We then changed our strategy, we walked into a bar without a kitchen and asked the bartender where we could go for good, local tapas. He gave us directions to a small, easy to miss, place about 50 meters from where we were – bar Ribera (maybe?).

    The place was packed with locals and the floor was very dirty with paper napkins and other stuff – all good signs for a Spanish bar! We were kind of skeptical when we were presented with potato chips with our two tintos and we almost walked out without tasting. Then suddenly DH reached for one chip and his eyes lit up. “These chips are not from the bag”, I reached over, tasted one and proceeded to appropriate a barstool and ask for the raciones menu. I guess that they do not need the menu very often because she had to look in several placed before locating it. My hopes were multiplying by the second! We decided to play it safe and ordered half a racion of what everyone else was eating: rabas (fried calamari rings). The bar lady found a table for us and we settled down. As soon as we tasted the first calamari we ordered a full racion of them, another of callos (tripe) and some more potato chips. Naturally lots of red wine was downed with it. We then had some pulpo a la gallega before we gave up for the night.

    We returned to our very nice hotel room (a bit noisy, but this seems to be almost standard throughout Spain) and repacked our suitcases to prepare for the next days of walking.

    Next: Driving along the Camino and the Ponferrada adventures in giving the car back and formally meeting with our tour.

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    Mari,

    You're so lucky to have a DH that doesn't mind doing the driving! Mine doesn't want to . Many moons ago I would have not mind either but now..... I don't think I could navigate those narrow roads and look at the same time!

    As far as my itinerary is concerned, believe it or not I have two itineraries booked!!! One if my son's language class is in Santander and another if he goes to La Coruña. He's going with a group , mainly from the US but the kids are placed with families and they're still working on it!

    If he goes to Santander I'm going to Madrdid, Santander, San Sebastian , Burgos and back to Madrid.

    If he goes to La Coruña , it'll be Madrid, Coruña, Santiago( with day trips from there) and back to Madrid. Hopefully I'll find out in the next few days.

    Looking forward to El Camino!!!!!

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    marigross writes: "Unrelated anecdote: I have a co-worker (very well educated but also raised in tropical suburbs) that anytime someone mentions Segovia as part of a conversation he goes into a rave about the actual existence of storks. He believed that they were like the boogeyman or the toothfairy, something made up to explain where babies came from (“brought by the stork”)."

    In Madrid, they say babies come from Paris.

    If you want Storks you should daytrip to Alcala de Henares (Madrid), Cervantes' birthplace. They are all over the Universidad there.

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    Cruiseluv writes: "As far as my itinerary is concerned, believe it or not I have two itineraries booked!!! One if my son's language class is in Santander and another if he goes to La Coruña. He's going with a group , mainly from the US but the kids are placed with families and they're still working on it!

    If he goes to Santander I'm going to Madrdid, Santander, San Sebastian , Burgos and back to Madrid.

    If he goes to La Coruña , it'll be Madrid, Coruña, Santiago( with day trips from there) and back to Madrid. Hopefully I'll find out in the next few days."

    Universidad Internacional de Menendez Pelayo (UIMP, Pronounced 'Wimp') is one beautiful location at playa Sardinero in Santander. It's much nicer than a'Corunha although it's further from Santiago. Nearby is Laredo, Limpias (Cristo de Limpias), Comillas and San Vicente de la Barquera, Liebana and the Picos de Europa, including Monasterio de Santo Toribio on the outskirts of Potes where the largest known fragment of the Cross of Christ's crucifiction is guarded, Llanes, Cangas de Onis, even Bilbao. I fell in love with Santander about 43 years-ago - wife was surprised when we returned after 40-years and the people I had met there treated me like a long lost relative.

    If I went to Santander, I wouldn't even bother about San Sebastian. There's plenty to see and do In Santander and really great seafood in el Barrio Pesquero. Evenings, on c/ de Burgos there's wall to wall street performers and they're not agressive like in N.Y. Washington Square Park or Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

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    To Mari, Many thanks again for the reply about the 2 sites.

    I visited Oviedo last year, still remember vividly the pre-Romanseque yellow stone churches on rolling green hills outside the town under the bright winter sun.

    One point of interest I always try to seek out along the Camino is bronze statues of pilgrims/travellers in each town/city: such as the weary one in Burgos, or the father and son by Leon Cathedral and another by Parador. Even in Oviedo, there is one with bunch of trunks.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

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    Hi Nedsireland,

    I have a copy of a thread from last year where you described your tour from Santander to Potes and Fuente Dé. If I get To Santander I'll try to do the same. I was in Santander last year and stayed at Sardinero. Also did a day trip to Santillana After Santander I went to Bilbao.

    I also liked Santander a lot but would like to see San Sebastián and see what the hoopla is about.

    Thanks for your suggestions!

    Mari , get back soon and tell us about the Camino please! Thanks!!

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    Day 8 – we got up early to make sure that the tour guides could take our luggage with them. We had breakfast in the hotel since this was included with the room and headed out see the Parador and the adjacent church/museum. Had to wait a little bit since nothing is scheduled to open before 10:00 AM and nothing really happens before 10:30. The Parador seems to be beautiful but they were really strict about only letting guests in, so we could not get a good view. I was not crazy about its location either since it seems to be a little further out from the lively/pedestrian part of town and next to a huge government center. I love staying in the old towns and returning quickly to the hotel when we are tired of wandering aimlessly through the streets…..

    Right now I’m thinking of Dorothy saying, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…” but it is NOT working!!! I don’t want to be home, I want to be in Spain and on vacation, I wanna, I WANNAAAAAH!!!!

    We took the car out of the parking and made started driving towards Ponferrada. We took the smaller roads that go right next to the Camino. I was amazed at the amount of people actually walking! Every couple hundred meters you would see pilgrims walking by themselves or in groups.

    There were many little, semi-abandoned villages along the way. Some looked a little more prosperous than others with all their doors and windows painted blue. The rural areas of the northern region of Spain seem to be very sparsely populated. You can sometimes drive on the smaller roads through the mountains for more than an hour and see only a car or two along the way.

    Along this road we started seeing cyclists in the Camino. Those people must have some stamina. The approach to the top of the mountain ridge is a good 10 kilometers long with a 10-12% grade up. Those hills are STEEP!!!! Also, they pick up some awful speed on the way down…scary!

    We stopped by the Cruz de Fierro where pilgrims drop off stones they have brought from their homes as a symbol of letting go of their burdens before they start their approach into Santiago. The stone hill is about 10 meters high with a single post topped with a cross. There were many objects in there among the stones: little stuffed toys, pictures, letters, military medals….I found it to be moving in a very quiet way. It makes you think about why anyone would want to take a 30 –pound backpack and walk 800km (or cycle up the steep hills).

    One of the must-see places that I had scheduled in this trip was the church of San Juan de la Peña but as we approached Ponferrada, I had to admit that we were not going to have time for the detour since we had to meet with the tour at five in the bus station (?) or was it in the train station (?) and it was already 1:00 PM. We drove a few times around town looking for the tourist office so that we could get a detailed map of Ponferrada since the town turned out to be a lot larger than I thought it would – hey, there is only so much research you can do for a trip!!!!

    We say plenty of direction signs for the tourist office but never found it. We changed strategy and went to the bus station since they would certainly have maps. Well, we went in and the information center was there but they did not have maps of Ponferrada –HUH???? “No Señora, we don’t have maps to give away, but you can buy one for five euros at the magazine store next door”. It had been a loooong time since I had been a victim of ‘you-are-a-tourist-and-I-will-s*c*r*u*’ attitude. A definite benefit of (a) being over thirty and (b) being the mother of a 12yr old is that you know (most of the time) which battles you are not going to win before you engage in full-blown warfare.

    So, I smiled sweetly at the information master behind the counter and asked if she had directions to the Avis office so that we could return our car. I only asked this casually since I had printed out from the Avis website the address. I had the directions in my file…which was in the backpack….which was in the tour van with the rest of our luggage…along with all the papers that would dissipate our recently awakened doubts regarding if our meeting point was in the bus station or the train station!

    I refrained from expressing (too much) my increasing feeling of panic. Naturally, the information master did not know where Avis was located but I vaguely remembered the name of the street – I DID do SOME research you know and I had proof in my backpack!!! With that she could give us some directions to a nearby street.

    We got back into the car and quickly found out that maybe her directions were correct if you were walking but we could not navigate the one-way streets the way she told us! We finally gave up and parked the car again so we could find it on foot. After walking around the block a few times we finally located the small door with the Avis sign. Needless to say, they were closed for lunch until 4:00 PM (it was 2:30)

    Since it WAS lunchtime we started walking around the streets looking for a place to eat but we were not in the city center, we did not in which direction the city center was. Boy-was the 5 euro map beginning to look like a deal! We located the way to the train station and then we wandered around until we found a pedestrian street that looked a little more promising and found a bar to sit down. We asked the bartender is they served lunch. They did not, ‘but there is a great place just down the street…’. We found the recommended place and settled down to eat.

    As you have probably noticed by now, I am the #1 fan of Spanish cuisine. Keep away from chicken in Spain. The salad we had was great, the sauce of the stewed chicken was good but the chicken must have been training for triathlon, it was tough and the pieces were cut in such a way that you did not get any good bite of meat. I will risk the generalization since later on we had the same experience in another (outstanding) restaurant. At this point we started discussing the meeting point situation: train vs. bus station.
    DH: I think you said it was the train station
    Me: I thought the guide said bus station this morning
    DH: I think you said it was the train station
    Me: That was when I thought this would be a tiny little town and the bus station and train station would be the same!
    DH: I think you said it was the train station, do you have the tour papers?
    Me: Yes, they are in the backpack that is in the van with the tour guides
    DH: Oh…..I think you said it was the train station. Didn’t they give us a tag with their cell phone numbers?
    Me: Yes, it is attached to the backpack that is in the van with the tour guides. I still think that it is in the bus station.
    DH: Oh…..Everyone meets in train stations!

    Maybe in Switzerland they do and then the only train in Puerto Rico inaugurated two months ago. Since I had no clue (except a feeling that it was the bus station) and he had a firm opinion that we had to go to the train station I decided to let it go and follow his lead. Maybe this conversation had something to do with my not liking the chicken too much ;)

    We paid for lunch and headed back to Avis. They were finally open so we could give them the car back. It was 4:00 PM and we found the way to the old town and the templar castle. We enjoyed it for five minutes (the castle was closed anyway) before we walked to the train station. We had a beer in the bar and sat down to wait…4:35…4:45…5:00…5:05. At this point I was convinced that we had made a HUGE mistake in joining a tour group, that if we had continued on our own we would not be subjected to cruel and unusual stress during vacation time…I was close to tears!!! At 5:15 DH said that one of us should take a taxi and go to the bus station. We finally agreed that he would go, he gave me a 20 euro bill (I was not carrying any money at that point), told me that he would wait over there until 6:00 PM and if the guides were not found he would return to meet at the TRAIN station. He did kiss me goodbye though…

    I did not like Ponferrada - I know I'm biased but I don't feel the urge to give it another try!

    Ten minutes later the tour van drove into the TRAIN station, I ran out to tell them that DH was on the way to the BUS station in a taxi but they had already picked him along the way. Turned out that they have experienced the Train vs Bus confusion before so if someone is not showing up they just go to the other place. I immediately began to feel better about the tour in general!

    There were two other severely jetlagged parties in the van that were joining the walking group. We were very happy (not for the last time) that we had changed our plans to do the on-our-own part of the trip first before joining the group. I don’t think I would have been up to walking fresh out of the airplane! We had been instructed to wear our hiking boots and after driving for around 40 minutes the van was parked and we were let out to start walking on the Camino. We were told to follow the yellow arrows and scallop shells until we reached the village of Ambasmestas.

    We had a fairly nice 5k walk going through wooded areas (very nice) but also along the road (not nice), my mood was improving by the second and it made a final turn for the better when we bought a half kilo of cherries on a roadside stand! By the time we reached Ambasmestas I was back to my happy self :)

    We stayed for one night in a little Casa Rural (www.ambasmestas.com). At 8:00 we had the tour introductory meeting followed by dinner at 9:00. The restaurant was rather good, I had some bacalao and DH has some beef stew. After dinner we took a little walk around town (maybe 300 meters long) to aid digestion after eating way too much and turned in for the night.

    Next: Walking the Camino: O’Cebreiro and Triacastela

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    Just two small clarifications: (1) We were supposed to be in BUS station but when we dint show up they went to look for us in the TRAIN station.

    (2) One of the reasons (among many) that I am still wiht DH is his ability to let things go at a simple "Oh" (this might be a full blown argument for a Swiss but it is extremely polite for latin culture)

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    Mari--- has visitado la parte que mas me encanta de España!!:-D Tu reporte esta brutal! me estas haciendo planear otro viaje!!

    Fabulous report and pictures!!

    (Otra) Boricua.

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    Thanks to all! With your encouragement it IS turning into an epic trip report!!!


    Next day we woke up early and went down for breakfast with the group. We had coffee from the thermos not ‘de máquina’ any more…sob! Had to wait until Santiago for another wonderful espresso from the machine poured by a trained barista! You just cannot have everything ;) Breakfast was standard fare: yogurt, fruit, cereal (I have the impression that this was provided exclusively for the American customers) bread and jam. Afterwards we went back to our rooms to tighten our hiking boots and bring the luggage down,

    The way the hiking tour worked was that you have tons of walking length options. Every day you had a first drop off and a second drop off before lunch (and special deliveries as well I guess!). Some people did not walk after lunch.

    Here I must say that DH and I are not experienced walkers. He does have a huge advantage over me: we was dragged from the time he learned to walk until he was able to flat out refuse (early teens) on weekend walks through the Swiss mountains. I, on the other hand, was raised on the backseat of a car! Now I must state that I love walking, I find it very relaxing and pleasant exercise but that morning I was a little scared at the prospect of walking over 100k’s in the next few days. On top of everything: the walking of the Camino de Santiago was MY IDEA so I had some (internal mostly) pressure to keep up with the program. We do walk in the weekends and some weeknights when I come home early enough from work. Our usual neighborhood walk is about five miles (8-9 kms). At the moment of truth, I was a little apprehensive when the guides started explaining the challenging climb into O’cebreiro that we had for that day. It was not a problem :D

    We walked from our hotel door in Ambasmestas to the second drop-off in Las Herrerias about 5k’s. We checked in with the guides and began to climb what had been described as ‘the wall’ up to O’cebreiro. The country side was beautiful! We passed several small towns. We stopped in a few for bathroom breaks and to purchase two cans of Acuarius (Spanish equivalent of Gatorade only a LOT better since it is not nearly as sweet) and also to get stamps in our Pilgrim Credential.

    This booklet is used to keep track of the progress made by the pilgrim from day to day so that they can qualify for the Compostelana ‘certificate’ once they reach Santiago. Also it is very much needed if you are roughing it on your since since it is required to gain access to the Albergues (dormitories with shared bathrooms and sometimes a communal kitchen).

    The climb was a bit on the strenuous side, but the views kept getting better and better so we kept happily walking. Some people in our group were bothered by the heat (high 80’s) but since it was perfectly normal for PR and the humidity was very low, we were perfectly comfortable. The Camino went through a dirt/rocky path in this section which did not sit very well with some of our senior tourmates. I do like the dirtroads because they are easier on my knees than asphalt or gravel. By the time we reached the last roadside checkpoint we were surprised that we only had 1.5 km to go before meeting for lunch.

    We reached beautiful O’Cebreiro a little before schedule so we could walk around for a bit and climb to the view point in the highest hill. We stopped by the church (legend has is that the Holy Grail was hidden in this place for a number of years) for our Pilgrim stamp and headed for the nearest bar for two marvelously cold beers! O’Cebreriro has ‘pallozas’. Stone storage houses with conical straw roofs. There were a lot of tourists in there as well as a school day trip with at least 100 kids. It is definitely worth the detour if you are in this area.

    The group finally gathered around 2:00 and we headed to a restaurant for lunch. We had some good soup, great bread and very good braised veal with French fries – lots of wine to wash it down. Getting started after a nice lunch like that is HARD!! We finally got moving. We drove in the van a bit to Viduedo and then started our afternoon walking from there to Triacastela, 6k’s.

    The great thing of going with the tour was they chose only the nicest and more scenic portions of the Camino until we hit the final approach to the 100km marker where the compulsory walking started (if you want to earn your Compostela). We dropped to our chairs in the meeting place – ‘Bar Rio’. The owner started bringing out beers and platters of goodies: jamon Serrano, tetilla cheese, olives (yuck! I truly wish I liked them) and some little pinchos with mayo that were not a big hit. We were still stuffed from our lunch and dinner was fast approaching!!!!

    After relaxing for half and hour we boarded the van and went to the new hotel where we would stay for three nights. The place is called Casa de Diaz, near Samos (www.ocioteca.com/casadiaz) and it is beautiful. The owners have put a lot of work into this place! The garden is nice and has lots of little cozy places to sit. Our room was huuuuge for Spanish standards and very large for American as well. It was gorgeous, beautifully furnished with a sitting area by one of the two large windows. We had a view of the swimming pool that looked very tempting after walking 20k’s. The owner said that it was still not open because he had only started cleaning it the day before since it was the first really warm day of the year! Anyway…we had not brought our bathing suits (I didn’t get the impression that skinny dipping was an option ;) )

    I took a looooong hot shower and laid down for a bit before getting ready for dinner. We had to be on the van by 6:30 since we were going into the Samos monastery for Vespers and mass. The monastery is wonderful. After hearing the prayers in Santo Domingo de Silos, I will only say that the vespers in Samos were disappointing. We skipped the mass so I did not get a look of the church!

    We walked into the bar where we were supposed to meet and had a glass(es) of a fabulous white albariño from Lugo. We sat just over the river with a great view of the old town and monastery. When the mass attendees joined, we walked to another restaurant for dinner. I had an absolutely wonderful, marvelous grilled mushroom salad as primero and an OK ‘churrasco’ (should have waived that one away and have had some more mushrooms). DH had stewed tongue (very good) to his utter pleasure and dismay of most of our American tourmates. Went back to the hotel and sleeped like babies.

    Total amount walked for the day: 14 km before lunch and 6ks after = 20 kms

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    Sunrise arrived a little too soon the following morning but we got up and headed for breakfast. I fell in deeper love with that place! First the breakfast room was beautiful we seated by a picture window topped with flowering vines and a view of the front garden and wall. The breakfast was wonderful bread, cold cuts, cheese, membrillo (quince jam), fresh OJ, decent coffee. They had a lot of sweet pastries and cookies (sadly, I avoid sugar loaded stuff in the mornings). Everything as so carefully laid that it was a pleasure just looking at the setup.

    We boarded the van and drove back to bar Rio and Triacastela where we had stopped the afternoon before. The temperature was cooler than the day before We walked through the rolling hills, sometimes we passed other pilgrims sometimes they passed us. We began to see people that we had seen the day before. At every meeting ‘buen camino’ greetings were exchanged. Even the locals, whom have to be fed up with the constant stream of people plodding along their towns, greeted everyone in response.

    The second good thing about walking tours: as opposed to bus tours in which you are almost a prisoner, in a walking tour you are not stuck with the group throughout the day. You walk at your own pace. You can walk by yourself and enjoy the silence, with a partner for a nice conversation or companionable quiet or with groups for chatting.

    We walked all morning through the little towns and forest paths. Wildflowers were everywhere. We crossed many little streams on rocky walkways. There are lots of cows in this area – many, many cows! There is manure all over the path. There were also pigs here and there but those smell a LOT worse than the cows. Again we stopped here and there for use of the restroom, stamps and un café con leche, Aquarius or a beer.

    Somewhere along this route a deep sense of total relaxation hit me…who cares about if the map given to us was accurate or not, how many km’s to go to the next checkpoint or if we were making good time or not. Even if I was tired by the time we reached Sarriá, I was quite happy and not worried at all about the walking or if my knee was not 100% up to speed. We were to meet in the Hotel Alfonso IX so in groups of twos all the group finally trailed in. The tour guide arrived to lead us to the park where we would have our picnic lunch.

    When I was researching for a tour company, I has seen that Spanish Steps offered picnic lunches but I was a bit skeptical as to how good could they possibly be. Boy, was I in for a surprise!!! They had setup tablecloths in some of the park tables but they were in the sun so we just sat in the shady grass. The brought out huge platters of roasted chicken (my comment from before regarding the avoidance of stewed chicken in Spain is not applicable to this one) and a wonderful vegetable salad with cheese that were absolutely delicious. We washed it down with Asturian hard cider and wine. There was a delicious fruit salad and some watermelon slices as desert.

    We were surprised with the fact that there was no afternoon walking scheduled and that we could go back to the hotel and relax for a while before dinner. This was greeted with pleasure especially from the group that had been walking for a week before we joined and from other teammates which were experiencing painful blisters in their feet by this point.

    Another looong hot shower, a two hour nap and we were ready to go! We went to a Torre do Barro (http://www.turgalicia.es/sit/ficha_datos.asp?crec=11255&cidi=E&nonav=1#) a Pazo (manor house) where the other Spanish Steps tour group, 16 Ecuatorian from a walking club was staying but they were having dinner where we had been the night before. The place was great!!! We were greeted by the kitchen queen, Aurora and she imparted instructions to be prepared to eat and eat until she deemed adequate. We started out with platters of appetizers: pimientos rellenos (red peppers in a béchamel sauce), delicious eggs with mayo and tuna (the eggs had been laid that morning in their farm), empanada gallega, Serrano and cheese…Then we were presented with the best Caldo Gallego (white bean, kale and chorizo soup) that I had in the entire trip. The main course was lamb from their farm with a side of greens and French fries. I had to plead with Aurora for mercy when I refused desert and it was only granted when I admitted that I had had three helpings of the Caldo. Two cortados with Orujo (firewater somewhat similar to grappa) and we were set!!! There seemed to be a lot of empty bottles on our side of the table (there was another couple digging in so we were not solely responsible for this!).

    We were somewhat hurried into the courtyard where we were surprised with a Quemada ‘ceremony’. Allegedly this is a galician tradition into which a lot of sugar is poured into large bowl of Orujo with some fruits and coffee beans (I thnk). The Orujo is then flambéed while an exorcism is read. It also involves a lot of screaming and running around the table to scare away the witches and bad spirits. It was hilarious (the wine might have helped)!!! We visited the chapel in the house before leaving. A short drive back to Casa de Diaz and we dragged ourselves into our comfortable bed!

    Total walking for the day: 15 km in one shot from Triacastela to Sarria.

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    Mari,

    Just so I understand, in this latest installment, are you walking and then going backwards to the hotel to sleep? And then , next day you're driven to the new starting point, which is where you finished the prior day?

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    Next morning we had another wonderful breakfast, got in the van and drove to somewhere near the place we had had lunch the day before. The bad thing was that we drove back from the hotel mostly through the road we would be walking later that day.
    We had been warned to take our rain gear with us since showers were likely in the afternoon.

    The day was on the cool side so it was almost midday before I took my synthetic fleece turtle neck off. We started out of Sarria (my first stamp that day was from Belante). The morning walk was glorious! We walked up and down hills, through streams and pastures, through forests and fields. It was just what I thought the Camino would be. We struck several short conversations during that day with fellow pilgrims. Lots of them were elated when we walked by the 100km marker. I mean, some of these people starated by the 750km markers so getting down to less than 100 was ‘almost there’. We took our pictures, then some other people’s pictures and then they took our picture together…and then we kept walking. Lunch time finally arrived when we were close to Portomarin.

    The church in this village was relocated to the top of the hill when it was threatened by the Miño River dam. The view walking into town was stunning. We walked to the old church and naturally it was closed. Went to a bar for gas water, bathroom and stamp and then headed out to a nearby park for our picnic lunch. We had cheese ravioli tossed in pesto and beef tortellini in a tomato sauce. Cherries and cheese made desert.
    We mossied around a little bit and walked the rest of the afternoon until we made it to Gonzar.

    Walked a good 20 km’s that day.

    We returned to our hotel for showers, packing for relocation the next day and getting ready for dinner. We had roasted pimientos de padron for first dish, oooohhh they were good! We also had some outstanding, surprisingly good rose wine from Ourense. I know I asked about it and someone said it was Ribeiro as well but we never saw the label in detail. If it had not been sooooo goooood, maybe I would have remembered to get the winery’s name  I must now research and/or beg through the internet to get the information first and then the wine.

    Next morning we had our last good breakfast at Casa de Diaz and headed to the Camino. The rain gear came out of the backpacks rather soon since it started misting right away. Again, we walked through the country side. Gonzar to Hostipal to Eirexe to Palais del Rei for lunch.

    Picnic was cold and wet. We ate our empanadas and drank our gazpacho quickly and kept walking to keep warm. I took my old faithful thick scarf out of the daypack in the van and tightly wrapped it around my neck. DH insisted that he was not cold.

    We walked few more k’s to Castromayor and waited for the group to assemble before getting to our new hotel. This place was setup as separate houses with kitchens, dining rooms and three bedrooms with a bathroom each. We took our showers and rested a little but the temperature kept coming down. We tried to turn on the heat in the bedroom but it was not working!!!! The guides took some of the people grocery shopping for breakfast stuff since now we had a full kitchen. We did not go since the tour group was providing basic stuff and we did not need anything else. DH got in bed under the covers and shivered for the next two hours! Just before we met to go for dinner we complained about the cold. The guides had been so busy bringing stuff in that they had not noticed that everyone else was coooold! The A/C was turned to the winter setting and half an hour later the rooms were toasty :D

    The rooms were confortable but lacked tables or chairs to put stuff in. The houses were very confortable and the manor house garden was beyond magnificent even though I did not see it on that first day!!!!! See www.apainza.com

    We went for the next three nights to the same, nearby restaurant. Our first impression was not very auspicious since we were told that (1) we had to wait at least fifteen minutes and (2) we had to sit outside. It was in the low 50’s and getting lower by the second, no one wanted to sit outside!!!!! It turned out to be tents with flaps to keep the wind out and they brought out large gas radiators to keep us warm. They were also hosting a wedding upstairs so I’m pretty sure that we had the same appetizers as they had. First came out absolutely wonderful croquettes, then the most delicious and perfect red peppers stuffed with seafood we have ever tried. Then came out some Pulpo a la Gallega (grilled octopus) that defied all reason with its tenderness. Thank God that the octopus did not seem very appealing to most of our American tourmates because DH, one of the guides and myself shamelessly devoured it all. We even got the leftovers from the other table. They won the price for best pulpo EVER and ANYWHERE!!! The main course was some of the tough Spanish stewed chicken with a great sauce and rice (I didn’t know until I saw it that I was experiencing rice withdrawal since as a good Puerto Rican native I eat it almost every day!). I ate some but I was soooo stuffed by that point that I really didn’t care about the main course anyway. We walked back to our room and crashed for the night.

    Walked another 22km's that day. The last 2k's were a killer hill, swear it must have had a 20% grade.

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    I'm getting tired only of reading your walking :)))
    By the way,stewed chicken in Spain is certainly tough..because everybody seems to like it that way :) Not me..so I only eat it at home :)
    The Queimada ceremony is rather serious in Galicia but surely they have forgiven you all, half drunken, hahaha. It's white magic , like a blessing to all the ones who are sharing the Queimada.
    I'm waiting forward the rest...
    Puerto Rico es muy plano ?

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    Ned, that is what I thought! But I am not about to argue with someone who is offering me a rather good, free glass of wine!!!! Also, we had just walked on a bridge over the Miño river by Portomarin that day so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt....BTW, I did not get to see the label so we will never know for sure what we were drinking.

    Kenderina, I love white magic and witches! This is why I got such a kick out of that Quemada! It also has something to do with my true and secret reasons for wanting to walk in the Camino ;)

    Puerto Rico is definitely not flat but what I call mountains my Swiss DH calls foothills. We did walk in preparation for the trip (I hesitate to call it training) at El Yunque in the rain forest. El Toro, the highest peak in the forest goes up to 3,532 feet but the trail head starts at around 1,000. The walk up to O'Cebreiro might have been twice as much (or at least it seemed so at the time).

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    I see, you had a hard training, I hope it has been useful :) By the way, I'm from Castellón (full name : Castellón de la Plana) so go figure. What I call "a mountain" , probably your DH would call it "a stepping stone", hehehe.

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    Hi Mari,

    Wow! I better get in training if I want to do this( which I do!). I exercise but I don't walk too much or do jogging.

    Looking forward to your next installment. Thanks!

    Hi Kenderina,

    In what region of Spain is Castellón?

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    Er ... I´m afraid I am going to sound too pompous (and I hate it), but ... Albariño is a kind of grape (like Pinot Noir or Garnacha or Tempranillo). So, it is possible to have an Albariño from the Lugo province (in fact, I was just talking this morning to a coworker whose family have a small place in Lugo with Albariño grapes, and they make wine ...), although it won´t belong to the DOC Rias Baixas. I think that if you drink an Albariño from Lugo, it will be mostly a family affair.

    Most of the people in Spain call the wine from the DOC Rias Baixas Albariño, although not all the wines belonging to that DOC are made with Albariño grapes ( Treixadura, anyone? ), and the biggest area in that DOC is the Salnes, near the Arousa fjord ( Cambados, Sanxenxo, Ribadumia ...). Then you have Tea and O Rosal, near the Miño river. I would probably prefer the wines from O Rosal. The Salnes wines tend to be monovarietal ones (only Albariño grapes), but the O Rosal ones have some hints of Treixadura and Loureira, and I find them more interesting.

    Ah, and before I forget. When you mentioned that the Ribeiro you had was a rose one, it made total sense to me. The Ribeiro was usually a hard-edged white wine, kind of rough (and my experiences with it are really "bad", specially when you are 18 ...), but nowadays there are a lot of talks about the new red and roses Ribeiros, and I suppose I will have to try them one of these days. It is similar to what happened with the txakoli in Guetaria and Bakio. The Albariño winemakers are dipping their toes in the Ribeiro and Txakoli industry, and the quality is increasing considerably.
    http://www.doriasbaixas.com/

    Cruiseluv, Castellon is a province in the Comunidad Valenciana, between Tarragona and Valencia. Overlooked by many, but with good beaches ..., and of course, Morella :)

    http://www.ayuncas.es/
    http://www.castellon-costaazahar.com/
    http://www.castellonturismo.com/

    Rgds, Cova

    Mari, I also don´t get the thing with the chicken. I don´t think that it is the way we liked it, because it is not hard at all at home (or in some expensive restaurants ...)

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    Cova,

    I for one appreciate all this info about the wines of Galicia .It'll come in handy later this summer as I find my way to Santiago!!!

    Thanks for the info on Castellón as well.

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    Cruise,if you really want to do a part of the Camino you should really get some walking done before to toughen up your feet and BREAK IN your hiking boots. That way it does not turn into a VERY painful experience. I saw some scary feet along the way.

    Nasty detail: pilgrims put a thread through the bisters and leave it there so that they drain while they walk and not get any bigger. Blisters can get infected.

    Near Santiago you see a LOT of people walking in whatever sandals they can get their hands on.

    It has to be a major bummer to spend all the money and precious vacation days and then not to be able to comfortably walk because of muscle pain or blistered feet.

    I loved my boots! (the second pair, the first one I tried during 'training' were given away after wearing three times without showing any kind of improvement). The ones I took with me are not really suitable for real mountain hiking but more like very sturdy, thick-soled sneakers with ankle support. The brand is Hi-Tech. I must say that the socks that you wear are just as important as the shoes!! I swear by my 'gloved' cool max socks purchased from www.injinji.com. I thought that they were expensive in the beggining but BOY, was I happy I made the 'investment'. 150kms an not a single blister :D My knee was a little cranky but my feet were fine!

    I don't think that real tough hiking boots work as well. For 80% of the portion that I walked, sneakers would have been fine. The other 20% involved some rocky, muddy patches and I was happy to have my boots. There is also a lot of manure on the path and I was happy to have my feet safely hidden inside!

    One of the tourmates developed some serious blisters on the second day of walking. She was in serious pain and could only walk limited portions - and she still had two weeks of vacation in southern Spain after we finished walking!!!! Can you imagine, walking through the marvelous Alhambra just thinking about how much your feet hurt :(

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    Hi Mari,

    You're right! There is nothing worse than aching / hurt fet. It can take the fun out of anything. I'm glad that you described your boots since I kept envisioning them as your standard leather high hiking boots which I don't think I would like. I just bought some hiking shoes that sound just like yours and some of those cool max socks. Now I just have to work on my actual walking training!

    But I have time , it certainly won't be this year.
    This year I'll be going to Santiago the old fashion way : public transport!

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    Ok, this is where epic trip reports get stuck so I will try to finish quickly!!!

    Very important note: I lost my maps for two of the days and in top of that I didn’t make any notes of the towns where we went or where we had what lunch or exactly which day (6th or 7th ) was the day it rained. I didn’t get as many stamps either since I finally figured out that if I skipped the second cup of coffee in the morning I did not need to run from bar to bar in order to get to a bathroom before I wet my pants or had to run behind a tree. Bottomline: The 5th, 6th and 7th days of this trip report should not be read with expectations of high accuracy ;) Also, I confused Plas de Rei and Portomarin a few times in the last installment 8)


    Day 6 of the walking tour was cold but no rain in sight so we were happy with that. Breakfast was in the house so everyone pitched in to get set up. We were sharing the house with the guides and they had to get up early to prepare some of the lunch salads so by the time we were dressed and ready almost everything was set for breakfast.

    We got dropped of in Castromayor to start walking 11k’s in the morning and 7 in the afternoon. Only half of the tourmates walked that day some had a stomach bug, one had a migrane, another one busted a knee and the last one had BAD blisters. I don’t know how many doctor runs the guides had to in this trip!!! We struck some conversations with fellow walkers during the day.

    The Camino took us through little towns and Melide. Walking in Melide was confusing since they had market day and it was Corpus Christi. Throughout town people were making drawings in the street with flower petals. With the crowds we could not find the yellow arrows to find the camino and had to ask. For the second time in the trip a very nice gentleman speaking very thick gallego escorted us halfway through town until we found the arrows again.

    Couple more k’s and lunch was in a park by Castañeda. The group was so spread out that we did not see anyone else while we ate! I had the first runner up for best lomo (ham) and pimiento (roasted red pepper) sandwich ever. The winner was eaten in Santiago in front of the university in case I forget to mention it! How can something sooo simple be so maddeningly good. I had a second sandwich instead of the ensaladilla rusa (potatato salad) that was the side dish. Since only half the group was walking a lot of happy pilgrims walked away from our picnic very well fed. After we were finished we just kept walking the remaining portion of the day.


    We stopped for the day in Arzúa rather close to the hotel. Got picked up in the plaza after a nice cold beer and headed for the showers. We relaxed a little bit and then went for dinner in the same restaurant as the night before. We had some spinach soup and a really good Paella accompanied by lots of nice Ribeiro.

    Next day we woke up ready for our big 27k’s day! My knee was hurting a bit but ace bands, Feldene cream and walking stick can work wonders. It was a bit on the rainy side, kind of constant misting.

    We got dropped of in Arzúa, put on our rain ponchos and started walking. Up and down the rolling hills throughout the day. In the morning, the countryside continued to be very nice and we walked through Calzada, Calle, Boavista. Then the Camino kept getting closer to the highway and it was not as nice anymore for several k’s.

    Lunch was in some newly constructed building near a school near Brea. Bad setting for a good meal. We had the best Spanish Tortilla with sides of cheese, Serrano, pimiento, bread, naturally some Ribeiro to wash it down (not that much since drinking and walking is not good – Hey, we were on VACATION and everyone knows that you can drink as much as you want while on vacation ;) )

    The rest of the day was rather unpleasant. We walked next to the highway on gravel paths. It got quite hot in the afternoon. The approach into the Santiago area and walking behind the Lavacolla airport I could have skipped. It was a shock (only slightly better than the one we had driving into Las Vegas after spending two weeks in several National Parks), suddenly finding ourselves in heavily trafficked areas.I don’t know how many pilgrims get run over as they near the Santiago area after they have spent weeks worrying only about stepping in manure or walking into a tractor! Finally we stopped in San Paio, utterly beat but very happy.

    We drove back to the hotel were we were instructed to be ready by 7:30 and take our cameras to dinner. I almost crashed (DH just went to the backyard and laid down to nap in the sun) but I resisted the temptation and went to visit the garden. They have the tallest eucalyptus tree in Spain.

    The garden itself is worth a stop in this place. As you enter there is a French-style manicured garden in the front of the main house/museum with roses everywhere. When you pass the second gate you find yourself in a Spanish garden with fountains and big bushed hiding benches and even tables inside! This part reminded me of the Generalife. Then there was an open field with a beautiful view of surrounding hills (they must have paid the farmer to keep the cows in place to complete the pastoral setting) with a stone bench in just the exact place where you get the best view. It was like a Zen garden Spanish Countryside style!

    An opening in the wall led to the tree avenue that surrounded part of the property. Following the path finally there it was: the big tree! It would take at least five of me to circle the trunk. First I sat in a bench integrated to the wall but then I just sat with my back to the tree. That spot must have been carved out for me! I fitted almost inside the tree. I sat there for about an hour and meditated about the entire experience, my motives and expectations for undertaking the Camino. I must say that even if I had not walked into Santiago yet – in my heart that was the moment I arrived.

    Farily energized (hey – I walked 27k’s that day; one cannot expect miracles either!) I went back to the house, took a shower and got ready for dinner.

    Dinner was Grelos con jamon (sautéed greens with ham) that were soooo good that we almost stuffed ourselves with them. Followed by steaks (very good! Even by US standards). Big surprise for the night was a ‘serenade’ by a ‘tuna’ (not a fish but a typical Spanish musical group). Bagpipes and everything!!! Absolutely loved it. They asked where everyone was from and once you mention Puerto Rico, they just automatically starts singing ‘en mi Viejo San Juan’ so DH got some embarrassing pictures of me in full tuna regalia with a mandolin in my hands (no idea of how to play the thing) and joining into the song….

    Last day of the walking tour we were to walk only 5 k’s (see how everything is relative!) and meet in Monte de Gozo so that we could all walk together into Santiago. I thought about not bothering with them since we would be walking through the suburbs and industrial areas but then….why quit when you only had 5 out of 147 to go 

    Monte de Gozo is the hill where you get to see the spires of the Santiago Cathedral for the first time. I was happy that we walked with the tour guides since the arrows are hard to find in the city.

    The first real close view of the towers did bring tears to my eyes. We walked straight to the KM 0 mark in the plaza del obredoiro before I turned left to get the first real view of the façade. I started crying, you have to walk there to get it I guess….

    When everyone was there the tourguides popped open a few bottles of Cava and handed out slices of Tarta de Santiago (almond cake) to celebrate our arrival. After they kissed goodbye they handed us to the city tour guide. They must realized at some point that you do not take a group that has just walked 147 km’s (actually measured by GPS by one of the guys in the Ecuadorian group) on a WALKING tour. I’m sure she was great but I didn’t care that much at the time.

    The one good thing was that we got the full tour inside the Parador since the Ecuadorians were staying there. Once again access to the inside of the building is restricted to guests. Maybe next time I do splurge and stay there after all….

    The church IS impressive, you put your hand in the middle column of the Portico de la Gloria and you can feel where it has been worn out by the hands of weary pilgrims for hundreds of years. The golden baldachin in the altar with the Apostle in the center is something else!!!!

    The guide finally realized that only corpses were following her and gave up. She walked us to the pilgrims office to inquire about the time for the next swinging of the Botafumeiro. It was not going to be that day so we had to wait until the following day at noon for the pilgrim’s mass. Since we were already there we got in the pilgrim line to get our Compostelana certificates. Poor guide did not even get good tips that day, certainly not from us since I realized the omission after I had already showered in the hotel.

    Even as much as I enjoyed it, the sense of liberation was HUGE; the tour was over –WE WERE FREEEEEEEEEE….

    We stayed in hotel Costa Vella, our luggage had been delivered when we arrived. I would stay there again but only on a room facing the garden in the back. Our room was VERY noisy and with all the hostals nearby there were a lot of partying pilgrims.

    After resting, showering and mutually rubbing our tired feet . We very slowly and lazily strolled out to see the cathedral at our own pace. We got in line to hug the statue of Santiago from the back (one of the pilgrim traditions) and too see the urn were the alleged bones of the Apostle are supposed to be.

    We walked to the Alameda park to get the Cathedral pictures (this is the best spot in town). Called home to let everyone know that we had arrived in one piece. We wandered around the old town aimlessly for a while and then went to get more pictures of the cathedral with the afternoon sun illuminating the main façade. We had some berberjeos (?) (steamed little clams) in a bar and then headed to the restaurant recommended by the hotel for dinner.

    We never would have found this place on our own. Even after we found it looked like it was closed. I pushed the door just to say that we had tried everyting and lo and behold – it opened. We went down some steep stairs and the ambiance immediately picked up. Very nice indeed. We sat in a covered patio under a grapevine pergola. We had some pimientos de piquillo, I had some fish and I cannot remember what DH had since I was so full after the pimientos that I could have skipped my entrée and did not taste DH’s. We had some very interesting young ribera del duero to go with the meal.

    We walked back to the hotel, crashed, got woken up several time by rowdy passerby and crashed again until 9:00 in the next morning!!! Ohhhh the freedommmmmm of being on our own :)

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    Hi Mari,
    great report !

    The clams you mention are "berberechos", and the last restaurant ... won´t be by any chance "O Dezaseis"? I have been there with Santiago friends, but you don´t really find tourists on their own.

    BTW, as you mentioned coming to Madrid next week, a couple of recs :
    - "Julius Caesar" with Ralph Fiennes at the Teatro Español
    - "La Parranda" at the Teatro de la Zarzuela
    Tickets can be bought at
    http://www.servicaixa.com
    http://www.telentrada.com

    I have tickets for "Julius Caesar" on Sunday, and I cannot wait :)

    Rgds, Cova

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    marigross writes: "Dinner was Grelos con jamon (sautéed greens with ham) that were soooo good that we almost stuffed ourselves with them."

    I thought that was a wintertime dish. I was there in February once and there were lots of vegetable stands along the old Santiago-a'Corunha highway selling Grelos. I took a cousin to lunch in San Luis (along the road from Lavacolla airport into town) and we had Lacon con Grelos. I have since been trying to figure out if they are turnip greens or what ... I found the Lacon to be more like salt pork than ham

    Some things have changed my first visit to Santiago (1992):

    The Portico de Gloria used to be only open during Jubilee years.

    In non-Jubilee Years the Botafumeiro would only 'swing' on Church Holidays - now it seems that every Saturday noon Mass (pilgrims' Mass) it 'swings.'

    A Hearty en Hora Buena on earning your 'La Compostela!'

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    Mari,

    Thank you for your latest installment in your saga. I can only imagine your emotion when you stood in that beautiful Plaza do Obradoiro and looked up at the Cathedral. Congratulations !

    With regards to the restaurant, could Mari or Cova give me the address/ directions? I would like to try it next month.

    Question for Cova, Do you think play/ Zarzuela you mention will be playing in early Sept.? My parents will be staying in Madrid for a week then.

    Nedsireland,

    I'm glad to read about the Botafumeiro swinging on Sats. When I was in Santiago in 2002 it wasn't.

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    Cova, your are exactly right! The restuarant WAS "O Dezaseis" (#16). DH probably remembers how to get there so I can ask him. The place was packed by the time we left.All locals except for one table. I wish I had been hungrier, it was such a waste of a good restaurant with my being almost full by the time we made there :(

    The Botafumeiro is swung at uncertain hours at best. The pilgrims office says that it is almost sure to swing everyday at noon during the pilgrims mass. Sometimes it will swing in the 7:00PM mass as well if someone makes a 'donation' to the church. The price of this donation allegedly runs around the $300 , but we were warned not to offer to pay because sometimes two or three groups are paying simultaneously to make it swing!

    Ned, I LOVED those grelos but I am yet to figure out their american equivalent, if any! Maybe they are turnip greens. I think that collard greens are acelgas but I am not sure. At least that is what I use to make my lame attempt at caldo gallego ;)

    The doors on the Portico de la Gloria are not open so you cannot walk into church through them but you can see them from the from in between the outer doors.

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    Hi cruiseluv,

    do you know when they will be staying here? I can check next season´s program and tell you if there is something interesting.

    "La Parranda" will be on during this month, and next month there is a tiny thing by Pablo Sorozabal at the Teatro Español, "La eterna cancion" (between you and me, I saw it in february and it wasn´t anything special).

    Rgds, Cova

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    Hola Cova,

    They will be there the first week in Sept. ( I think from Sept 1 to Sept 8).
    My mom likes plays as well as zarzuelas.
    Thanks for any info!

    Do you know the street address of O Dezaseis restaurant? Or what is it near? Thanks!!

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    Hi cruiseluv,
    O Dezaseis address
    Rúa de San Pedro, 16
    15703 Santiago de Compostela
    Tlf: 981564880

    It´s located near the Puerta do Camiño, kind of north from the cathedral, not far away from the Bonaval park. The owners are very involved in the traditional galician culture. I´d say that their best dishes are the grilled meats and fish.

    I´ll check at home to see if there is something during that week in September. It will be difficult, because it´s kind of an in-between season. Many companies are in other spanish cities during the summer. I think that "Victor or Victoria" with Paloma SanBasilio will open during that week, and if they speak spanish and "Hoy : el diario de Adan y Eva" is still on, that would be a great option with two very good argentinian actors : Miguel Angel Solá and Blanca Oteyza.

    I know that at the beginning of september the Scala of Milan Ballet will be at the Teatro Real and the Hong-Kong Ballet will be at the Teatro Albeniz. The program for the Scala Ballet looks quite good, lots of Stravinsky.

    Rgds, Cova

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    Thanks Cova,

    Yes! They do speak spanish, actually it's our native language. And they love Paloma San Basilio, so it would be great if they could see that one. If you find out that it will open that week , let me know what theatre and I'll try to get them tickets over the internet ( if doable). Also, if they sell tickets in advance at the box office maybe I can try getting them when I'm in Madrid in July( only for one day so it might be difficult).

    Thanks again for all the info!

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    What a great trip report of such a cool trip! We were in the area last week (feels like an eternity ago) and also went to Santillana del Mar. It was such a surprise and I loved the church and cloisters. The intimacy of it just gave it a special feeling. We were staying with family in Meruelo and saw quite a few pilgrims, as there is, I believe, a church that is a stop or a marker close to their house. Besides the views all over (and the other spoiled views by the incredible amounts of development that is occurring because of the relatively new highways)the groves of eucalyptus were spectacular and their smell - oh that smell. Your description of the walk has only reinforced my wish to do at least a part of the camino when my children are older and I can leave them longer.

    One thing, I have always been under the impression that Spaniards have their heavy meal at lunch and a lighter meal at dinner (comida and cena). As a matter of fact, a local lady who made a cocido montanez for us would only do it at lunchtime for us because it is a lunchtime meal, she said. Is this tradition of the heavy lunch slowly phasing out?

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    Hi cruiseluv,

    Victor/Victoria will probably be a great hit, similar to My Fair Lady or Man of La Mancha. Paloma will be accompanied by Paco Valladares, one of the greatest actors in the spanish theatre (his voice is amazing).
    http://es.news.yahoo.com/050531/185/436ne.html

    It opens on the 8th of September, but tickets are only sold from the 9th of September onwards :
    http://www.topticket.es/victor.htm

    Sorry :(

    Cova

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    This is the last installment of what turned out to be a semi-epic trip report anyway. I want to thank you all for bearing with me this long and more importantly for all your help (specially Cova and Cruiseluv) in planning this great adventure from the drawing board up!!!!!

    Our second day in Santiago was sunny and warm. We slowly got up and lazily made our way through town to find a place for breakfast. After wandering around a bit we went into a bar in front of the Philosophy department of the university. Once again we forgot about the size (huge) when you order a bocadillo (sandwich) and asked for two: one jamon and one lomo. There was a constant flow of students coming and going, I saw a large amount of Latin Americans among them. When the two humongous sandwiches arrived I thought that there was nooooo way I would eat all that- boy, was I mistaken. The bread was just perfect, the roasted red peppers were just the right amount of sweet to contrast against the salty lomo. That sandwich took the award for best lomo (ham) and is among the top ten all time sandwiches ever. Naturally, I ate the whole thing. I even considered taking one to go….

    Old town Santiago is just perfect to wander aimlessly around. We went back to the Cathedral and purchased our tickets for the crypt and the museums. We (I) wanted to get good seats for the pilgrims mass so we headed upstairs and sat in the front pew looking at the side of the altar as we had been advised by our very knowledgeable guide.

    Word of advice for viewing the botafumeiro: #1-SEAT IN THE TRANSEPT (short arm of the cross) NOT IN THE NAVE. (long arm of the cross). #2-ARRIVE EARLY so you can seat in the transept. #3 - The entrance to the cathedral is closed sometime before the mass so refer to #2 again.

    Pilgrim’s mass starts at noon, we were firmly entrenched in our prime seats by 11:00 AM. 11:30 would get you a seat in the back and since I could not see the nave I have no idea how soon that filled up. Before the mass a nun came out to practice singing the psalm for the day, the alleluia and the kyrie.

    I must say that I have separated from the catholic church but hearing that kyrie (Lord Have Mercy) being beautifully sung in Latin and thinking about how it has been sung and heard by weary pilgrims every day for a millennium in that very spot was one of the most moving experiences I have had. It gave me a sense of continuum through time…there were a lot of teary faces by the time mass ended.

    Over the altar you can see the rope used to swing the botafumeiro and it is only tied onto its hook just before it swings. It is impressive! Watching the eight attendants pull and let go until it is full swing. It DOES go just over your head, and it does so at a VERY HIGH SPEED. Stopping that BIG incense burner is just as intense as getting it to go. The attendant stands smack in front of thing’s path (which is approaching him at least 40 miles per hour) and then he grabs the supporting chains just as he steps aside to avoid getting squished. We turns with the botafumeiro until the momentum is broken and he can stop it.

    Even if you are not catholic but you have the opportunity to witness this – TAKE IT. It is worth a detour!!!

    After mass we went to the museum but we got kicked out for lunch. We were told we could come back at 4:00 so we went to a café and sat and the shade to people watch for two hours. Had a great salad and something that looked to me like baby conch but they had a different name for it – good stuff!

    In the afternoon we returned to see the rest of the cathedral museum and the bishop’s palace. Around 6:00 I tried to go shopping for gifts for the little one back home and for my mother who was babysitting but I could not really find anything. DH gave up on me (who would have thought! He stayed with me and endured my slow walking pace for almost 150 km’s and an hour of shopping drove him away!!!! MEN :( :) ;)

    He settled with a coffee in a terrace in the Praza Acibacheria and I finally found by myself a shop with really cute shirts and coordinated handbags for our fashion conscious 12yr old so the absolute minimum shopping requirement was met. Afterwards we met again I found a beautiful jet pendant with the Cruz de Santiago in gold. That was the total summary for shopping in Spain.

    Dinner was in the hotel-recommended restaurant Forno. We had asked about seafood parrillada and we were sent over there. It was good but only tourists in there. I thought it was on the expensive side (remember my 36 euro gastronomical extravaganza in Castro Urdiales?) but we were happy with our meal.

    Next morning we had breakfast at a tourist trap not worth mentioning and then visited the church of San Martino Pinario. DO NOT MISS this!!!!! Absolutely wonderful Coro (choir). The one downstairs is in desperate need of restoration (the rest of the church as well) and the one upstairs was recently restored. Marvelous! We went back to our hotel to check out and catch a taxi to the airport for our flight to Madrid. We killed half and hour in the Costa Vella garden, which is absolutely beautiful for an afternoon drink (they are open to the public).

    Flight to Madrid was no problem whatsoever and we were picked up by the hotel shuttle (Villa Barajas Best Western) about 10 minutes after we called. After settling our stuff down we boarded the metro and headed to Plaza del Sol. We ate a few tapas at el Champi and Luis Candelas – I KNOW they are tourist traps but some of their stuff is good and it has almost become a Madrid tradition for us!!! We got hopelessly full so we had to forego dinner. Later we moved to a sidestreet café where I finally had some chocolate con churros. At around 10:00 PM we had to accept that it was over and that we had to head back to the hotel so that we could get some sleep before our morning flight back home.

    And that my Fodor’s friends, in the end of Mari’s Northern Spain and the Camino de Santiago Trip Report :)

    ****************************************

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    Mari,

    Thank you for the level of detail you provided in your report. I'm sorry to see it come to an end but of course, we can continue talking about it.

    I was glad to read that the Botafumeiro is "swingin" this year. Do you know if the Pilgrims mass is every day at noon( including Sat/ Sundays)?

    Thank you again for your time. I'm sure I'll think of more q's since I'll be vsiting Santiago in July.

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    Cruise, the address for Casa Pancho is Calle San Lorenzo 13-15, Burgos. Do not worry at sitting by yourself in the bar - who cares what they think? There were lots of families meeting there so its not like a BAR bar :)

    I am leaving today for a week in Madrid so I will take a Fodor's break for a while. I have just printed an updated Madrid Maribel file to take with me and read on the airplane so I know I will be in good hands. Talk to you soon I'm off to meet with a cochinillo that are calling my name over the Atlantic! (or is it maybe a cocido madrileño that I can hear.....)

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    Hi Mari,
    in case I get you before you fly away ... "La Parranda" is totally recommended :) I am just back, and it was really great.

    And pack light ... it´s being really hot in Madrid right now, thanks God for the AC ;)

    rgds, Cova

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    Mari,
    Was so happy to see your posting on your hotel in Leon. we're going to be driving into Leon this august to Posada Regia. Would you recommend staying somewhere easier to find with easier parking? And what about its restaurant? Is it pricy? Also, did you like Leon more or Burgos. We want to see new art museum in Leon.

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    OK Fodorites, I'm back from my Madrid week. I'll post separately and BRIEFLY on my impressions from that (buisness) trip.

    Cova, Madrid WAS hot! And that coming from a Boricua. I thought I would faint! I didnt make it to the Parranda :(

    Astur, I would go again to Regia Leon. I just would make sure to have driving directions and a map with me. I think that all hotels within the old city quarters are going to have the same parking constraints. Our room was very nice and the bathroom was comfortable. Breakfast was included in the price.

    We never had a chance to try their restaurant since we got a little carried away tapa hopping on our singel night in Leon.

    The cathedral is breathtaking!!!!!

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    Hola Mari,

    I'm glad to see you on the boards. I have a question for you. Ever since I read your report of your experience with Spanish Steps I have been giving serious consideration to doing this trip with them. I might do their Camino del Norte itinerary since I just love that area. However, my husband and son want to do the "real Camino" and don't want to do the "fake camino" as they call the Spanish Steps tour. So my question for you is: is it the kind of experience that a person traveling single would enjoy? I recognize that the composition of the group will have a lot to do with what the answer to this question is but I would appreciate if you take a stab at giving me your opinion.

    How many people were in your group? Were they all traveling as couples?

    I would appreciate any insights/ opinions you can offer. ¡Gracias!
    María

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    Hola Cruise!
    I would not be too preocupied with going alone. When you are hiking long distances there are soooo many things that can happen that even if you start out as a group or couple you can wind up walking by yourself anyway.

    DH walks a lot faster than I do and even though he mostly slowed down to match my pace, sometimes he would stop for a coffee or a glass of wine while I kept walking and then catch up with me. This was perfectly fine with me because I dont mind at all to walk alone.

    The group I joined had been hiking for a week before since they were doing the 'highlights' tour. At the time there were two twosomes of awesome older ladies, a mother (late 60's)-daughter (mid 40's) twosome and a single middle aged guy.

    When we met the group in Ponferrada there also wer an older couple (she walked some and he rode most of the way) and then there was a couple in their early 50's with their teenaged niece.
    I think the niece was the only one slightly out of group but she was quite pleasant and the tour guides went out of their way to make her feel OK. She busted a knee (trying to keep up pace with the guys) and had to ride with the guides after the third day of walking.

    The Camino del Norte seems awesome!!! Have you already started breaking your hiking shoes???? ;)

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    Gracias Mari!

    I appreciate your comments. I think I would be fine, just that obviously it is more fun to go with somebody. But I have traveled by myself enough that I don't think it should be a problem. My DH is much more of a hiker/ athlete than me .I'm sure he would love any of these caminos but he and my son say they want to do it the "real way". Maybe they can meet me in Santiago.

    The one thing I just realized from re-reading their itinerary for el Camino del Norte is that I don't think you get the Compostela . I'll have to ask them about this.

    The dates will probably not work for me this year but I like to start planning early anyway so all this info is good food for thought. Maybe the delay is good as it will give me more time to break those hiking shoes!

    Would you do it ever again?

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    Cruise, in a way YES, I would do it again. I would even consider doing it on my own (no tour; with or without DH). But as long as I am strapped down to a two-week vacation per year, I dont think I can fit it in my destination list!!! 18 years to my earliest retirment date............

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    Hello Marigross.

    I am doing some research for my upcoming trip to Galicia and read this last night over a glass of wine. I must tell you how much I enjoyed it, particularly the Camino - I took every step with you :)

    Thanks a bunch!

    Best regards Ger

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    Hello all. I need help re: the camino. My 73 year old mother in law is walking it next month and I am trying to find a walking map (small) for her that I can get before Sept 4th. Any ideas? She did the camino 2 years ago but without a map! Thanks. Theresa

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    Theresa,

    Sorry, I can't help you with the map but just wanted to say that I'm in awe of your mother-in-law! Wow!

    Have you tried googling it to see if theer is something you can download?

    Hopefully, others will chime in with ideas!

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    Hi, Theresa,
    I assume your mother in law is going to walk the Camino Frances -- starting point in Spain is Roncesvalles, about 800 km to Santiago. If that's the one she's walking, she isn't going to need a map, because the route is loaded with yellow arrows, and a map isn't going to have enough detail to help her find her way anyway.

    She may already have a guidebook, but the book that most English speaking walkers take is published by the Confraternity of St. James and sold on their website, www.csj.org.uk If you're in the US, you probably have time to get it before she leaves. It's updated every year.

    I think the thing that's most helpful to walkers on the Camino is not a map but a book with up to date info on accommodations and other facilities on the way.

    And by the way, your mother-in-law will not be the odd guy out at age 73. The first time I walked it, I was 50, and I was one of the younger ones (in part, because it was early spring, so the young 'uns were all still in school). This past summer, I walked the Camino del Norte along the coast, and walked a lot with a couple in their mid 70s. On another camino we had an 80th birthday party for a walker. I hope she has a wonderful camino.

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    "I think the thing that's most helpful to walkers on the Camino is not a map but a book with up to date info on accommodations and other facilities on the way."

    100% True. Hope she has a marvelous Camino!

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    I forgot to mention in my last post that if you are thinking about walking one of the many Caminos to Santiago "on your own" (without paying a commercial venture to do the organizing for you), you should definitely check out some of the web forums where many of the people who are now addicted to walking the Camino post regularly.

    They are great sources for all sorts of information and the sharing of personal experiences. I think the two most helpful are the yahoo group named santiagobis and the forum on www.santiago-today.com . This latter website is run by a "non-walker" named Ivar who lives in Santiago, and he is tremendously helpful. There are many regular posters who walk on a Camino every chance they get and you can count on getting good answers and moral support from them.

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