We have returned from our peregrinations in Spain, Bill and I, and are still adjusting to the six-hour time difference. I find myself taking a lot of naps lately, but one benefit of traveling from east to west is that I am once again rising early, ready to take on the day while it is still young.
Our travels in Spain were divided into two distinct parts: the pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago de Compostela and exploring Barcelona and its surroundings.
Before we researched our Spanish trip, I had only a vague concept of Spanish geography. Sarria, the town where we began walking, is located in Northwestern Spain, in an autonomous region called Galicia.
Galicia has two official languages, Galician, which is closely related to Portuguese, and Spanish. Both were featured on menus and street signs. Bill and I speak solo un poco de Espanol and no Galician, but we do know how to use Google Translate, so we were fine.
There are many different ways to walk the Camino. Bill and I chose to stay in hotels and have our luggage transported for us, which is the cushiest way to go. We could have opted to stay in albuerges (hostels) and carried our belongings in a backpack.
We walked the final 117 km. of the Camino, which took us a week. To walk the entire path would take over a month.
On a typical Camino day, we would rise before sunrise, take our bags to the lobby of our hotel for transport, then have breakfast. Rising before sunrise is not as impressive as it sounds: sunrise in Northwest Spain in late September is not until 8:20.
After a hearty breakfast, we would put a few belongings into our day packs and begin walking. Our daily mileage varied since we walked from one town to the next, but the range was between 17 and 9 miles per day.
Before our trip. I heard some people talking about hiking the Camino. I think using the term “hiking” is somewhat misleading. You “hike” the rugged Appalachian Trail; you “walk” the Camino.
The Camino consists of various types of paths. At times it is a dirt trail through the forest, at other times a farm lane. Sometimes we found ourselves on a lightly-traveled paved country road, occasionally we walked on a flat dusty path beside a highway.
When we got close to our destination for the evening, usually early in the afternoon, we would stop at one of the many small cafes found along the Camino and get a bite to eat and a glass of wine. The sandwiches pictured above contained homemade goat cheese, frizzled onions, honey and dijon mustard on a delicious fresh whole wheat roll.
After lunch, we would continue into town, find our hotel, take a nap and a shower, then head out to explore and find a place for dinner. We tried to eat dinner as soon as the restaurants opened, at 8:00 p.m.
We usually ordered from the menu, but many restaurants had a special “Pilgrim’s Menu“, which we tried once. The Pilgrim’s menu for two of us consisted of two appetizers (mussels with tomato sauce and an empanada), two main courses (chicken and rice in a tomato sauce and ham and potatoes), two desserts (flan and cake) and a bottle of wine for 20 Euros (about $22), including tax and tip. Yes, that’s dinner for two including a bottle of wine for $22.
After dinner, we would walk back to our hotel and get ready for bed.
The next day we would do it all over again.
That’s one of the beautiful things about the Camino: we knew what we were doing every day. No decisions to be made. We were walking.
We met people from all over the world on the Camino. Without exception, everyone was friendly and ready to chat.
Pilgrims walking the Camino are often on an interior journey as well as the obvious physical trek. Removing the constant need for decision making that imbues our everyday lives is an excellent precursor to mindfulness. The quiet, peaceful nature of the trail promotes reflection.
I was able to do some good thinking along the path to Santiago. Some of those thoughts will undoubtedly make it into my writing in this space; some of my thoughts will remain private.
The destination of pilgrims on the Camino is the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where the remains of Saint James are said to lie. The gorgeous cathedral, built in the thirteenth century, sits on the south side of Obradoiro Square in the center of the city.
Pilgrims of all ages and nationalities stand, sit, and lie in the square. Many of them have a stunned, uneasy appearance. It is almost as though, after walking for a week or a month, they are unsure what to do next, now that they need to begin making decisions again.
Luckily, Bill and I knew what our next step would be – we traveled across Spain to sunny Barcelona.
We absolutely loved this beautiful city in the province of Catalonia. It was the perfect way to end our time in Spain. We visited one-of-a-kind buildings designed by the twentieth-century architect Antoni Gaudi, including the still-unfinished cathedral La Sagrada Familia. We ate wonderful tapas, drank delicious Tempranillo, visited the thousand-year-old monastery at Montserrat, and walked on a beach beside the dazzling blue Mediterranean.
It was the perfect way to end our trip.
Now, upon our return home, we face the reality of marathon training.
My training log shows almost 80 miles during the first week we were in Spain – all of it walking. The second week shows a grand total of zero. One month from a marathon.
Our final long run will have to wait, however, because we are traveling again this week. We were home just long enough to do some laundry and repack our suitcases. We are now at a South Carolina beach house with eight of our closest friends.
Shouldn’t be a problem, right?