O Pedrouzo

Oh how the road was long from Melide to O Pedrouzo, but it was quite a lovely one. While beginning in the dark was rather disorienting, the experience led to one of the most beautiful landscapes we encountered along the Camino. As we began to be able to see with morning’s first light, the fog from Galicia’s humid air left a eerily beautiful aura to everything we saw. Although the trek did not have much altitude, the walk was about 25 miles, which can take a toll for sure. It is recommended that even the most active should take regular breaks to prevent overuse injuries the next day, especially considering this is the day before one would be walking into Santiago.

Because of its length, the walk to O Pedrouzo gave us ample time to ponder the topics that we discussed the evening before. As our time on the pilgrimage drew to a close, Owen challenged us to think about how our own pilgrimage fit into the vast array network of global pilgrimages.

When we talked about Pilgrimage around the world, we recognized that the Camino has two different experiential shocks to our system. the first is a culture shock of being in another country with all its differences. The second is a lifestyle shock due to the fact that walking the Camino is a lifestyle that none of us is really that used to. Beyond that, we talked about different pilgrimages around the world and how they are similar or different. the one mentioned were the Camino of course, the Hajj to Mecca, and a buddhist Pilgrimage call the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan. From there we considered what are some possible pilgrimages that we can see in the United States. Some mentioned were backpacking trails like the Appalachian trail, religious routes like a route that mormons take to commemorate the beginnings of Mormonism, and, most comically, Disneyland, which for some conjures up enthusiasm and commitment similar to religious fervor.

I13521854_10204840036439317_292669504313480556_nn order to complete any of these pilgrimages, preparation is key. We found this to be particularly true for this, the longest walk. Many of us left far before the sun was up, in some cases as early as 5:00 or 5:30. At that hour of the morning, flashlights become a hot commodity, so it is important to either come prepared or, in many of our cases, make sure to befriend people who seem responsible enough to be prepared.

On walks this long, it is also important to take lots of breaks. Breakfast breaks, coffee breaks, lunch breaks, stretch breaks, and second lunch breaks are all completely acceptable forms of rest and much needed relaxation. It is essential not to be afraid of stopping when your body needs it. Be aware that the beginning of the walk has a few places to stop, but there is a long stretch where there is very little. Make sure to stock up on snacks and water when possible.

By this point of the Camino, we were all a little tired of tortilla. A lot of us tried to branch out whenever possible (contrary to popular opinion, some of us thought trying the pig’s ear was an adventure and not to be missed). Lots of places like Melide provided a great opportunity to try assortments of food we had never encountered before. The seafood in all of Galicia is world renowned, and can give any pilgrim’s palate a welcome respite from the ever present pork of the Camino.

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The presence of pork products like ham and lomo (loin) is no accident. Historical anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiments have contributed to the prevalence of pork products in Spain. Pork was used as a way to reassert a “Christian identity” after the Moors left Spain, and was used by the Inquisition to root out Jews in hiding. While pilgrims should enjoy traditional Spanish foods like lomo and croquetas, awareness of the historical background of these staples can help peregrinos understand the ways in which seemingly benign aspects of the Camino are subtly political in nature.

  • By Owen and Mary

 

 

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Melide

Day 12 is the walk from Palas de Rei to Melide and is one of the more unremarkable on the Camino. The walk is 14.6 Kilometers or 9.1 Miles and is actually one of the shorter walks! This is because the walk that follows, from Melide to O Pedrouzo is the longest on the Camino. The walk itself is more of the Galician countryside you will have by this point grown accustomed too since Triacastela. It follows a winding path through farms in which you will be surrounded by more cattle than people for a vast majority off. This path is actually remarkably shady especially compared to the walks both directly preceding and after it. The walk to Palas de Rei from Portomarin the day before is a remarkably ordinary one of 24.1 kilometers or 15 miles and should not cause any injury for this day’s walk. MelideAs the walk to Melide is short enough that someone moving at 15-minute miles can actually complete it in 2 ½ hours it is tempting to race in order to maximize the time spent in recovery at your destination. I would advise against this however for three reasons, firstly the way is particularly shaded and thus you are spared from the sun, especially near the end where you are completely off road and traveling on a dirt path enclosed on both sides by foliage. The second relevant point is the fact that the Albergue we stayed in during the Camino of 2016 year did not open until 11am anyway. The third and most relevant point is the fact that Melide is an uninteresting city when compared to others on the Camino and carries no large historical connotation besides its inception and continued existence being reliant as a rest stop on the Camino. After sampling two of the regions signature dishes, Octopus and Pigs Ears, we made the interesting discovery of a Restaurant that specifically catered to a Vegan diet, among other options! The Albergue itself featured a floor of dormitory living as well as the first reliable Wi-Fi since Sarria. In closing Melide should be a restful stopover, as you will most likely be pushed to leave earlier tomorrow then any other day.

Also do not allow any amount of peer pressure influence your decision to partake in the Pigs Ears.

Conner

  • Photo credit to Tiffany!

Villafranca del Bierzo

The walk to Villafranca del Bierzo is one of the most beautiful on the Camino from León to Santiago. Vineyards that extend for miles around and gentle rolling hills on mostly dirt or gravel paths allow for some blister recovery.

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You will emerge from a long walk through the vineyards into Cacabelos, a town that begs you to forgo the rest of the walk to Villafranca and call it quits for the day. The recommendation I feel most strongly about along this walk is to stop at a restaurant called Moncloa in Cacabelos. The ambiance is nothing short of incredible, and the best way I can describe it is as the closest thing to Rivendell I’ve ever experienced. Light streams through a canopy of leaves and calming instrumental music plays. Every time you walk into the gift shop (I walked in twice) they hand you a full glass of wine and a small sandwich. This taste of what they serve, however, is not nearly enough. A bottle (or two) of wine country wine is necessary, as well as some Caldo de Gallego and warm goat cheese with a variety of jams. To make my own experience even more surreal, a baby bird found its way into the gift shop as we browsed their merchandise, and as most people freaked out, Sarah said quietly, “I know how to help.” So we grabbed their attention, and like a Disney princess, she gently caught the bird and held it in her hands, then tossed it into the air so it was able to flutter away.

The people in Cacabelos are another aspect of its charm. From a talkative and picturesque group of elderly people sharing a long bench in the shade to the woman on the side of the road who insisted on giving us an entire basket of cherries she had just picked off of the tree and would not accept our money, they made this walk even more special. Another piece of advice: buy cherries on this walk; they are phenomenal.

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Villafranca del Bierzo itself is a beautiful place with a rich history. The first human settlements date to the last part of the Stone Age. Villafranca del Bierzo was the headquarters for an army of more than 40,000 men during the Spanish War for Independence. The Spanish War for Independence overlaps with the Peninsular War and the Napoleonic Wars in the beginning of the 19th century. The war started with the uprising on the 2nd of May in 1808 and ended in 1814. The Spanish painter Francisco de Goya’s famous paintings The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808 commemorate Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies. Both are now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

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The Captain General of Galicia Antonio Filangieri established Villafranca as his headquarters, but later resigned from office in Villafranca due to illness. However, there is speculation that he was dismissed by Galician authorities. Right after leaving office, he was killed by undisciplined soldiers. Whether the motive was to avenge past grievances or if the murder was part of a larger plot related to his suspicious resignation is unknown.

IMG_4881Villafranca del Bierzo is a historically important stop on the Camino. Since the 9th century, pilgrims have been stopping at Villafranca for the night as a natural break before the steep climb to O Cebreiro. In 1070, a Cluniac monastery was founded in Villafranca to cultivate wine, and a borough of French pilgrims rose around it, from which the town’s name, “French town”, stems. Hospitals and hotels for pilgrims later sprung up in the town.

Villafranca is called “Little Compostela” or “La Pequeña Compostela” because La Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol is the only temple along the Camino other than the one in Santiago where pilgrims could and still can receive plenary indulgences. The requirements are walking the necessary distance, attending mass and saying prayers, and being able to prove that you cannot go on to Santiago due to illness or physical weakness. Because of this, the door of the Church is called La Puerta del Perdón.

-Delaney Coveno

 

Astorga

We shared an early breakfast of dry oats, whole-grain breads, and milk substitutes at the beautiful “vegetarian- yoga” albergue of Hospidal de Órbiga. Our host, a singing bodhisattva named Mincho, bid us farewell as we walked towards the soft hills of the Leonese countryside. Our walk was mercifully short with frequent stops along the way, giving us ample opportunity to get to know each other better and meet other pilgrims. Giovanni, an older gentleman from Livorno, shared his ideas on Spanish coffee with us. We heard the joyful laughter of a Panamanian man named Alfonso echoing from every café we passed. Towards the end of the walk, Frances – the trained EMT of our group – shared her medical expertise with a couple of students from the University of Southern California by tending to their wounded feet. Finally, after passing over a winding steel bridge and climbing up a seemingly never-ending hill, we arrived in Astorga.

The municipal albergue greeted us at the entrance to the old city. After checking in and showering, a couple of us decided to do laundry. We inserted the three euros, added the soap, and pressed the button to begin the wash cycle. But nothing happened. We pressed every button on the machine about a dozen times before realizing that it was not going to happen for us, so we went to the front desk to ask for help. Pilar, our hostess, came down to try and figure out our problem. Still nothing. She must have seen how hungry and tired we were after a long day of walking because Pilar immediately offered to do our laundry for us in her own quarters. With her joyful generosity, Pilar became our hero of the day.
Several of us went out to eat at the main plaza of Astorga. It seemed like the whole town was out for a midday stroll – including one Astorgan wearing a Fordham t-shirt, though he did not attend. Every fifteen minutes, the bell on the baroque town hall rang. On the hour, two mechanized statues of a man and a woman in early-modern garb hit a larger central bell with hammers. Certainly the most interesting municipal building that we had encountered to that point. After our mid-afternoon meal, we went back to the albergue to wash up before the evening presentations. We planned to meet at the cathedral around 6:00. The Baroque altarpiece stood out as a worthwhile draw to the church. Afterwards, we explored Gaudi’s episcopal palace.

For groups with different food preferences Cerveceria Restaurante is a great place. They had several different choices of paella, which is very helpful for vegans in the group.  For us, though, the highlight of the evening was the nearby chocolate shop: Pastelerias Peñin. The chocolate was good, but the shopkeeper Lucy was even sweeter. She ended up taking pictures with us, giving a couple of us extra cookies and cakes, and asking us to pray for her when we reach Santiago. If future Fordham groups spend the night in Astorga, I highly recommend paying a visit to our friend Lucy. After a trip to the supermarket to prepare for the next morning, we decided to call it a night early.

Buen Camino!

Jacqueline Rzasa & Ian Schaefer

Hospital de Órbigo, Part One

The morning of May 26th, we all rose early to start our first day of walking. The trek from León to Hospital de Órbigo was a lengthy 31 kilometers, otherwise known as 19.3 miles. Because it was the first day, we all left the albergue at the same time in order to prevent any minor mishaps. Prior to leaving Leon the class piled in front of Basilica of San Isidoro (the patron saint of the internet), for some inspirational words from Dr. Egler. We also saw the woman who waits outside each morning to pray. With our heads held high and the adrenaline that comes with actually starting the camino pumping through our veins, we finally left the city.

There are a few very important things to note about walking. Firstly, Dr. Egler made it a point to make sure we understood how imperative it is that we don’t just rush to get to the next town. The true experience of the camino comes from taking your time on the way and really enjoying everything you see. Secondly, paying attention to your body is the only way you’ll get to Santiago in one piece. If you’re tired, take a break. If your back is hurting, send your pack ahead with a taxi. If you don’t think you can make it, take a taxi to the next albergue. There really is no shame in sending your things ahead or taking the taxi to make your life easier and ensure that you won’t hurt yourself.

The walk was much longer the first day than any other day thus far. Another important note is the fact that the trek from León to Hospital de Órbigo has two routes: sensible or scenic. While the scenic is gorgeous and an amazing photo op if you’re a fan of fields and flowers, it’s also a considerable distance longer than the other route. While we were told that scenic was left and sensible was right when the road split, the group of people that I was walking with accidentally took the scenic route. We thought we took the correct right turn and I honestly still don’t know where we went wrong. Learn from our mistake, make sure you know which way to go!

Tired but very happy to have seen such beautiful sights, my group and I strolled into Hospital de Órbigo and into our albergue for the night, “Albergue Verde.” This albergue will probably remain my favorite even as we travel from place to place throughout the following weeks. The food was mainly veggie centered but unfortunately cannot be labeled as completely  vegan due to the honey that they had. As a vegan, the fact that it was a vegetarian themed albergue was extremely helpful. This will also be of particular interest to you if you’re vegetarian, pescatarian or lactose intolerant! For dinner, we started off with a spread made from tomatoes, carrots, olive oil, and garlic. Our main course consisted of paella with cauliflower, carrot, pumpkin, garlic, leek, rosemary, thyme, zucchini, tomato, red pepper, and turmeric. There was also salad on the side with apple and cranberries. For dessert, we had amazing vegan brownies. The following morning prior to leaving, we awoke to find toast with various jams, strawberries, coffee, leftover brownies, and an assortment of non-dairy milk (soy, almond, oat, hempseed). While the food was my favorite aspect, there was also yoga led by Mincho, and a large backyard filled with comfortable seating and two adorable dogs. Overall the group had an amazing first day!

¡Buena suerte!,

Tiffany Negrea

When in León…

General Tips:

  • Coming into León from Madrid is best by train: if you can buy your ticket online in advance you can save yourself about 20 euros. Also, make sure to show up about 20 minutes early so that you can grab a four seater on the train with table, especially if you’re traveling with friends or planning to work.
  • Make friends, with the people in your group, but also with other pilgrims.
  • Spanish fluency is priceless, but you would be surprised how far you can go with “Hi, may I have that… Where is this (Gesture to your map)… How much is that… Don’t shoot” In Spanish these phrases are, “Hola, puedo tener eso… Donde esta este… Cuanto cuesta eso… no me dispares” respectively.
  • León is beautiful but it is particularly special in that it is a city that you get to be in for more than one day. Take advantage of that, as there is much to see and do.
  • The first day of walking from León is one of the longest on our camino… Go to bed early the night before, future you will thank you.

General History about Leon:

  • Originally a Roman city that was built to protect adjacent mining interest in Galicia from the local tribes from the north. Also, the name León comes from the Roman legion that protected the city.

Things to See:

  • The Cathedral de Santa Maria de León: Along with those at Burgos and Santiago de Compostela, it is among the most important cathedrals on the Camino de Santiago. The 13th century Gothic cathedral was built upon 2nd century Roman bath house. The main facade has two adjacent towers, three carved portals, and a gigantic rose window. The over 125 stained glass windows cover approximately 1,800 square meters. The cathedral itself is built from limestone to further brighten the exterior and interior of the cathedral. There is a 15th century altarpiece by Nicolas Frances. Silver urn containing some remains of San Froilan who is the patron saint of León.
  • The Cathedral Museum: Middle age paintings, Romanesque baptismal fonts, Relics, tabernacles, 13th and 14th century vellum volumes… Don’t forget to get a stamp for your credential.
  • Women’s Benedictine Monastery: Many of our group went here to receive a blessing from the nuns, but we ended up staying for mass. I spoke to one of the nuns who told us about their 9 euro dinner.

Places to Eat/Drink:

  • Meson La Perla: Great spot for smoked salmon and mixed salad
  • Valor: Small chocolate shop where I bought 1lb of milk chocolate truffles for 4 euros!
  • Barrio de Humedo: neighborhood whose streets are loaded with great tapas spots such as the Calle de azabacheria or the Calle de las carnicerias… Pick a restaurant, you can’t go wrong!
  • Vinoteca: restaurant near the Cathedral de León where I had tapas and wine. Try the steak tartar and the octopus.

-Dan Sullivan

Leon, Post 1: Panteon de los Reyes

Whether you begin your pilgrimage fresh in Leon or you stumble into the city after weeks of walking, the ancient Roman fortress is a wonderful place to spend a few days. Built as an outpost for the Roman legions used for the conquest of the Spanish Peninsula, Leon is a city dominated by its history. While walking past the medieval cathedral that dominates the city’s skyline, one stumbles upon a Roman pathway guarded by the city’s ancient walls.

Nowhere is the city’s long history more apparent than the burial place of the former Kings of Leon: the Panteon de los Reyes, which is located at the foot of the Basilica of San Isidoro. The Basilica, which was built over the ruins of a temple to the Roman god Mercury, became a royal burial place in 1063 when Queen Sancha of Leon persuaded her husband to transfer the remains of their ancestors to that place.

IMG_7883Visitors entering the Panteon are greeted by a beautifully preserved painted ceiling which has been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Romanesque art. The ceiling is painted in earth tones of red, brown, and green, and depicts both biblical scenes and calendars. The solemnity of the ceiling magnifies the sense of majesty created by the simple yet elegantly designed tombs.

After a visit to the Panteon, I would recommend a visit to Vinoteca Cervantes on Calle Cervantes for some delicious tapas: the ham croquettas and calamari are particularly good. Despite being a city rich in museums and history, Leon does not disappoint visitors looking for an exciting night life. The bartender at Molly Malone’s is particularly friendly and the bar turns into a discoteca after 9pm every day.

Buen Camino!

Dan Salerno

 

 

Spanish Beginnings: Greetings from Burgos

Unlike several other towns that we will pass through on our way to Santiago de Compostela, Burgos is not a town based on Roman foundations, but rather early medieval ones. It was a vital location during the long and bloody process of the Reconquista, during which the Catholic monarchs of Spain slowly pushed the borders of the Muslim-controlled kingdoms southward, culminating in the fall of Granada in the fifteenth century. Today, Burgos is a popular and lovely stop along the way.

Getting There
Burgos is between the major hubs of Logroño and León on the Camino de Santiago. You can also arrive by bus, or via train from Madrid, though the bus station is closer to the center of town. We came variously from Madrid, London, and Munich, and so missed out on the views of the Meseta on the way– the flat plain that stretches towards the mountains of Galicia in the west.

image.jpegThings to See
– Cathedral: The cathedral of Our Lady of Burgos is a wonderful mix of styles– built on the site of a much smaller Romanesque cathedral, the bulk of the current Gothic structure was completed in the 13th century, but has been enlarged and variously improved by each successive generation. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, we were amazed by the perforated star lights in the dome, the elaborate rococo chapels, the gilded reliquaries, and the many surviving medieval wall paintings. For fans of Spanish history, don’t miss the tomb of El Cid! The price of admission also gains you access to the cloister and a small museum.
– St. Nicolas: A Romanesque church, noted for its astonishing early plateresque altarpiece of 1505, which is the full height of the back wall and highlighted in gold leaf, and for its icon of the Virgin Bianca.
– St. Esteban, now the Museo de Retablo: Our second favorite site in Burgos, the Romanesque church of St. Esteban is home to a series of 15th and 16th c retablos… At ground level! You’ve never been able to examine altarpieces like this before. The church itself is a beautifully preserved example of Romanesque architecture, with a very rare surviving stone porch.
– The Castle: For fans of military history and amazing views. The castle is in ruins now, but there is a very nice wall walk, and the views down over the city and cathedral are breathtaking.
– The River/Arch of the Virgin: If you have time, take a walk along the small river that runs through the city, and take a look at the Arch of the Virgin, adorned with important early modern citizens of the city. Keep an eye out for the imposing statue of El Cid!

image.jpegThings to Eat/Drink:

There are many wonderful things you can say about Burgos, but the food is definitely worth an extensive mention. Like most towns along the Camino, there are many coffee shops, tapas bars and restaurants offering variations on the menu del dia. We, however, discovered two locations which are must visits. Both are near the Hotel de Norde y Londre and within walking distance of many other lodging options.

As any visitor to Spain will soon discover, the tapas bar is everywhere, which means it takes a very special place to stand out from the crowd. Donde Alberto is one. The beer and wine offerings are standard, but the tapas are fantastic. We were in Burgos for four days, and came here at least five times. The stack of tuna tartare with diced tomatoes and avocado, the goat cheese and golden raisin toast, and the toast with smoked herring, egg and goat cheese are fabulous, and only two Euro each.

For dinner, any visitor to Burgos will struggle to find better food than the features at Cuchillo de Palo. The interior is upscale, with a bar and tapas options, but the dining room is also lovely, and they didn’t seem to mind that we showed up in our pilgrim gear. Between the three of us, we tried a seared tuna filet with guacamole quenelles and soy sauce, poached Bacalao with pesto, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and arugula salad, and duck confit with chestnut purée and parmentier. For the quality, the price is almost criminal, and no visit to Burgos is complete without a meal here!

Today we’re taking a short break in Sahaguna, a small town which was very important during the Middle Ages. Tomorrow we leave for Leon, where we will meet up with our other Fordham Peregrinos.

Buen Camino!
Rachel Podd and Louisa Foroughi