Portomarín

The 20 kilometer walk from Sarria to Portomarín was fairly flat and a mix of isolated dirt paths and roadside walking.  Near the end, the path split in two and we could either walk on a shorter, very steep path or on a longer, flatter path that followed the road. As I have been having some knee problems, I opted for the longer road path, which followed a small road past homes and small farms.

To get to Portomarín, pilgrims walk across a large bridge that ends with a large staircase leading to the town. Portomarín is a town in the Lugo providence and currently has a population of about 2000. A bridge across the Mino river by this town has existed since at least 993 and was the site of many conflicts during the Medieval period. As such, Portomarín was an important military and commercial town throughout history.

However, the old town of Portomarín did not exist in the exact place where the current town is. In 1956, construction began on the Embalse de Belesar dam. As a result, the water level in the Mino river rose, putting the entire town of Portomarín under water. However, the most important buildings in Portomarín were saved from the flooding as they were moved up to higher ground brick by brick. When the water in the river is low, one can still see remnants of the old town  and bridge in the water.
One of the buildings moved was the Church of San Juan of Portomarín, which is a late Romanesque church originally designed to be both a church and a castle. As a result, the building contains components of both structures including walkways protected by battlements as well as tympanums and rose windows. The church has the largest single nave in a Romanesque church in Galicia. In the late 12th and early 13th century the church housed knights and was visited by many catholic monarchs. Today, the church houses the parish of San Nicolas. Next to the church, the Pazo de la Marquesa de Boreda, a 17th century palace, has also been reconstructed.
Our albergue in Portomarín was one of the most unique hostels we stayed at on our trip. Rather than staying in rooms housing 6-25 of us in each room, this albergue had only a single dormitory room with well over a hundred beds all in the same room. Though staying in a room with that many people was mildly overwhelming, all appreciated the cleanliness and efficiency of the albergue. Since most of us were quite tired upon arriving to Portomarín, we had a relaxed evening in the hostel and at restaurants nearby.
sada
Alison

Santiago de Compostela

After walking 311 kilometers from León to Santiago de Compostela in two weeks, finally arriving in Santiago was a surreal experience. Walking into the square in front of the beautiful Cathedral of St. James, we celebrated our achievement with our fellow pilgrims from Fordham and those we had met along the way. The city of Santiago de Compostela is legendarily the resting place of St. James, revealed to a local shepherd by a miraculous guiding light in 813. The cathedral was built upon the site where his remains were supposedly found, and is both the center of the medieval city and the ending point of the Camino. It has been repeatedly renovated since its construction, and now features a famous baroque façade facing out onto the main square, completed in the 1700s. Although this façade was partially covered in scaffolding during our visit, the cathedral was still a glorious sight to behold.

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The Fordham peregrinos, all dressed up in front of the cathedral a day after completing the Camino!

Once we had all arrived in Santiago, we attended a mass, where we were fortunate to be able to experience the Botafumiero, the largest censer in the world, which swings high above the worshippers at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Watching the enormous censer come improbably close to the ceiling of the cathedral was breathtaking, and one of the highlights of our time in Santiago. We also were able to take a tour of the roof of the cathedral, which provided absolutely stunning views of the city of Santiago, as well as an opportunity to see parts of a cathedral that usually are hidden from view. Some Fordham peregrinos thought that the view from the cathedral’s roof was the most beautiful one they saw during the whole Camino – it was a breathtaking vista, and an amazing way to cap off our walk.

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View from the roof of the cathedral

In Santiago, pilgrims can receive their compostelas – certificates stating that they have walked at least 100 kilometers, as demonstrated by a completed pilgrim’s passport with stamps collected along the way. The compostela is given to any pilgrim who says they walked the Camino with at least a partially religious or spiritual motivation, and also is an indulgence, for Catholic pilgrims. A tip that many of us discovered is that large groups can fill out one form with all their information rather than wait on the long line, and return later in the day to pick up their completed compostelas from the pilgrim’s office. The compostela certificates are beautifully decorated and include a Latin version of your name, and for a few extra euros, come with a separate certificate stating how many miles you walked.

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A completed pilgrim’s passport, ready to get a compostela!

While Santiago was a beautiful city with lots of important medieval history, for many pilgrims the best part of the city is the simple experience of walking into it, turning into the courtyard and being greeted with celebrations and congratulations from all those who you have walked alongside. No matter what reason one chooses to walk the Camino, succeeding in reaching Santiago is a moment of pride, accomplishment and emotion.

-Allie Burns

Palas de Rei

Palas de Rei, where we arrived on June 5, has been a stop on the Camino de Santiago since ancient times. According to tradition, the city is named for a Visigoth king, Witiza, who ruled the area in the early eighth century. The city has long been linked to Spanish military history and has a very well-preserved castle from the 14th century. The city seems to have really expanded as the popularity of the Camino has grown, leaving the city as an interesting mix between the medieval and the modern.

The walk to Palas de Rei was long but very enjoyable. We had excellent weather, which always makes the day’s walk better. The day started out with some nice fog which helped to cool off the Spanish Sun that Dr. Myers always warns us about! A tip for future peregrinos and peregrinas: the first place to stop for food isn’t for several kilometers outside of Portomarín, so if you walk better after having eaten some food, either eat something in Portomarín or bring some food to snack on along the way.

We split up for lunch, with some of us going to a Pulperia (home of the famous Galician octopus, or pulpo as it’s called here) and others getting some burgers at a local pub. Because it was a Sunday, a group went to the Church in town where one of our Camino friends, a bishop from Brazil, said Mass. We met this Bishop initially in Rabanal where he said Mass at the monastery there, and we’ve walked alongside the Bishop ever since. For dinner, we enjoyed a group meal at our albergue. Our albergue was very cool – we had the entire third floor to ourselves, which had some nice sitting areas in addition to the usual bunk beds. Several of us did experience some issues with the motion-detected lighting, which seems to be a common lighting trend along the Camino. Waving one’s hands in the air or opening doors tends to turn the lights back on (another tip for future Caministos and Caministas!).

In Palas de Rei, we also focused on domestic medieval architecture and city planning. Unfortunately, many homes of medieval peasants did not survive, so much of what we know about this topic comes from surviving wealthier houses or urban areas. Most medieval houses were built of wood, with the more expensive ones having stone, and had relatively small windows. In cities, some houses were built almost like townhouses, with houses adjoining and external staircases leading to higher floors. Medieval Spanish towns were typically enclosed by walls to protect against invaders, so builders had to look up instead of out. These towns were often planned block by block rather than in a coordinated gridiron system unless they were built on ruins. One of the most prominent features of the Spanish medieval town that remains a prominent focus in many cities, the Plaza Mayor, was actually inspired by Islamic architecture where a town had a central space in town for all of the major municipal buildings.

Written by: Kara Hurley

Ponferrada

Walk:
From Molinaseca the walk takes roughly 1.5 hours. The Camino splits in two shortly after leaving Molinaseca. The right goes along a road and the left is slightly more scenic but also a bit longer. Each route includes numerous places to stop and get breakfast or cafe con leche. In order to enter the city you must cross a bridge.

Templar Castle:
IMG_6068Originally built by the Celts, the Castillo de low Templarios was expanded by the Romans, Templars, and Spanish land owners across seven centuries. The original towers mimic constellations, and the castle has one and two lines of fortifications with the Sil River bordering one side. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, more commonly called the Templars, took control of the castle in 1211 after Alfonso IX granted it to them. They expand d it to protest pilgrims walking the Camino. The castle currently sits along the stretch of the Camino passing through Ponferrada. The castle now contains roughly 1400 books in its Templar library. From the outside the Castle looms over the area around it, and serves as a fantastic back drop for pictures or a picnic. Unfortunately the inside does not live up to the outside. The structure seen from the street and the structure of the inside are hugely similar. The Castle is also closed on Mondays; look up the hours of any place you plan on visiting before you try to go there.

Roman Mines:
IMG_6176Las Medulas is a UNESCO heritage site and the best preserved mine from the Roman Empire. It was built in 1AD and was operated for approximately 250 years, during which 1.65 million kg of gold was extracted by 60,000 slaves per year. The hydraulic mining methods used by the Romans created a stark geologic contrast between the surrounding lush green mountaintops and the red tinted, jagged, and bare bedrock of the Las Medulas mines. This long-term environmental scarring was facillitated through the use of aqueducts, which supplied the water necessary for breaking down bedrock to reveal gold. The mine is about 25km from Ponferrada; only a thirty minute bus ride away. The ride is scenic although slightly nauseating due to the winding mountain pass and elevation. The first destination includes a lovely walk, which allows for leisurely exploration of the red tinged mines and tunnels. There are numerous paths and possibilities for adventurous exploration, if visitors are so inclined. It is strongly suggested that visitors wear boots, bring water, snacks, and a camera to capture the panoramic views. The second recommended destination includes an extra ten minute bus ride to the Mirador, one of the most spectacular views available in Northern Spain.

Frances and Hania

Sarria

On the walk from Triacastela to Sarria peregrinos have the choice between two routes. The most direct will involve a walk of about 18.7 kilometers. The other involves a detour that adds a little over 6 kilometers to the trip. This extra bit of walking is worth it, though, as it offers the opportunity to visit the Samos Monastery.

This monastery was founded in the 6th century by Benedictine monks. In the 11th century a pilgrims hospital was added, which is still in use today. The monastery features a Baroque facade that was added in the 18th century. If you decide you want to have a look inside, you can take advantage of a guided tour. We were able to go on a tour that was given in both English and Spanish. On the tour you will have the opportunity to see the cloisters, which feature some amazing gardens and one scandalous fountain, murals depicting famous visitors to the monastery, and a chapel filled with ornate Baroque elements.

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Perhaps even better than the tour is what can be found in the gift shop. Here you can purchase chocolate made by the monks. There are three different bars to choose from: milk chocolate, dark chocolate (which happens to be vegan), and a large bar for making chocolate a la taza, in case you want to create a breakfast of chocolate y churros at home.

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On the walk from Samos to Sarria, keep your eyes open for storks. The birds are rare in Galicia, but a few pairs usually nest in Sarria and this may be your last chance to see them. Once in Sarria, you will be in the last town where pilgrims can start walking and still cross the minimum distance required to receive a Compostela. Our guidebook recommended passing through Sarria in order to avoid hostels crowded with pilgrims just starting their journey, but I found Sarria to be a pleasant place to stay, especially after having some trouble with the walk earlier that morning. If your feet are feeling crammed in your boots, you can do what I did and stop by Peregrinoteca to pick up a pair of hiking sandals.

We spent the night at the Los Blasones albergue, which is conveniently on the Calle de Maior. Across the street is a restaurant called Casa Manuel, which offers a variety of tasty food, including salads, burgers, and sandwiches. Vegetarians will be happy to find several options that offer a reprieve from the usual eggs and potatoes. I enjoyed a vegan tempeh burger with caramelized onions, followed by a dessert of brownie con helado.

Sarria is home to several interesting sites, including the Romanesque Iglesia de San Salvador and the modern Iglesia de Santa Marina. We visited the Monastery of the Magdalena. This monastery was originally founded in the 12th century by Italian monks who wanted to set up a hospital for pilgrims. In the 13th century it became home to an order of Augustinians, and is now home to the Mercediarians, officially known as the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives. This order was founded in Barcelona in 1218 in order to free Christian captives who were taken during the wars between Christians and Muslims. In addition to the usual vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, these monks also take a vow to give up their lives for anyone in danger of loosing his or her faith.

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We happened to be in Sarria on the feast day of the Sacred Heart. This gave us the opportunity to hear some unexpected fireworks and to watch a religious procession. This feast day is in honor of a particular devotion that focuses on the love of God as embodied by the heart of Jesus. These kinds of processions were used in the middle ages to mark important feast days. Seeing this procession gave us the opportunity to see how Medieval traditions remain an important part of Spanish devotional practice today.

-Jennifer

 

 

 

Hospital de Órbigo, Part Two

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After spending a particularly lovely evening of yoga and vegan food at the Albergue Verde, we stopped on our path to Santiago for a brief while at Hospital de Órbigo’s most famous historical attraction – its medieval bridge named the Puente del Paso Honroso.

While this bridge no longer spans a broad and brimming river (recent dam construction has limited the Órbigo to two smaller paths on either end of the bridge), it still stands prominent in the heart of this town on the Way. Constructed in the 13th century, this bridge has been continually reconstructed from over five lost arches due to flooding and near destruction in the Napoleonic Wars  – an excellent example of medieval architecture surviving and adapting  well into the modern period.

While the architectural presence and history of this Camino mainstay may be fairly impressive, one particular historical 15th century anecdote lives on to this day – the “Paso Honroso” of Suero de Quiñones. This story of one knight and his blind devotion to his lady sounds like something out of a dime-novel fantasy, but in fact it was all too real on the Camino nearly six hundred years ago.

Picture the twilight hours of the Spanish medieval period: the emergent power of the Christian kings of Spain against their Islamic enemies. The Reconquista was creeping southward, fueled by the knights of León (among the other Christian Iberian kingdoms).  One such knight, Suero de Quiñones (1409 – 1456) is the subject of the legend of the “paso honroso”, meaning literally the honorable step. Quiñones, a proper knight of his time, was caught up in the zeitgeist of the chivalric code of honor – particularly with the concept of courtly love. Dedicating himself to a noblewoman by the name of Doña Leonor de Tobar, this knight took to fasting and wearing an iron collar every Thursday to symbolize his love for her. Unfortunately, she did not reciprocate and Quiñones was forced to up his game.

In January of 1434, Quiñones petitioned the King of León for the right to hold a tournament and challenge all knights who wished to cross the Puente de Órbigo. The King gave his permission, and in July 1434 Quiñones and nine compatriots established their post to challenge all knights who dared pass them – a situation that might sound familiar to those who remember the Black Knight of Monty Python fame. Don Suero aimed to break 300 lances in this tournament, and thanks to the well-trod nature of the Camino de Santiago, he managed to challenge and defeat 68 knights total. Despite this, Quiñones and his comprades only managed to break roughly 200 lances. Even though he fell below his original goal, the knights of the paso honroso declared their contest over and successful in August of 1434 – with Quiñones himself symbolically removing his iron collar and vowing to take on the role of a pilgrim and travel to Compostela to give his arms to Santiago, thus ending the tale of the paso honroso. As a final note to the story, Quiñones himself would live for another 20 years until he met with a knight he had dishonored at the Puente de Órbigo, who promptly challenged him to a duel that immediately killed that most famous knight, Suero de Quiñones.

When we entered the town we saw the beginnings of the preparations for the Fiestas de las Justas del Paso Honroso: the annual celebration of the 1434 tournament that began in 1997. The Puente del Paso Honroso is a great historic example of the eclectic legends that line the road to Santiago, and a historical moment that would inspire the likes of Miguel de Cervantes’ monumental novel Don Quijote.

Sincerely,

G. Barba

 

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