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

Rabanal del Camino

For this walk, the Fordham pelegrinos trekked from the urban sprawl of Astorga to a sleepy little Maragoto village named Rabanal del Camino. The walk itself had its challenges, given that the first few kilometers were spent exiting the outskirts of Astorga via rocky pathways alongside the highway. Once this section of the Camino was completed, however, we found ourselves in a charming little town where most students stopped to grab a pincho de tortilla, refill their water bottles, and prepare themselves–and their mochilas–for the impending rainfall. Luckily for us, the rain didn’t appear until the very last few kilometers, after students had already had the opportunity to take in some truly breathtaking patches of land, drink cervezas at the now infamous “cowboy” bar, and chat with a Camino-pro-turned-falconer on the side of the trail.

Horses

Given Rabanal’s small size, we knew that this isolated village would be very limited, especially in comparison to Astorga’s urban amenities. Camino traffic, after all, is one of the core lifelines of this dusty little town. We were all thrilled to see, therefore, that our albergue for the night–el Albergue Nuestra Señora del Pilar–came equipped with a fully stocked restaurant and bar, decent showers, and some of the most charming social spaces we have yet to see on the Camino. In fact, Nuestra Señora del Pilar’s open concept and canopy layout made the entire establishment feel like a hidden treehouse, tucked safely away from the weary Camino trail. After a night of laughs, vino tintos, and good food, Nuestra Señora del Pilar became a fan favorite among Fordham’s peregrinos.

Before our nightly festivities could begin, however, we made our way to la Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, a Romanesque church that is presently operated by the Benedictine monks of San Salvador del Monte Irago. These German monks restored the church in 2001, after the Benedictines of St. Ottilien saw an opportunity to create a transient spiritual community out of the incoming/outgoing foot traffic. The monks also maintain a small albergue across the street from the church, where pilgrims can stay for a period of 3-10 days and pray alongside the monks. It’s a truly spectacular group of monks, one that certainly gives back to its surrounding community in spades. It came as a great surprise to us, then, that these monks were banished from the town in August of 2001 by a mob of local townspeople, after the Benedictines had requested and subsequently received a loan of one million euros from Castilla-León to restore their church. This recent event proved to be an interesting point of discussion for us, as it demonstrates the oftentimes vexing relationship that peregrinos share with the communities that house them. On the one hand, villages like Rabanal undoubtedly depend on Camino travelers to survive; that does not mean, however, that these poor communities do not have needs of their own that could be foreseeable remedied by loans from their parent regions.

In this way, the events at San Salvador del Monte Irago provides a lens through which we can better understand the Camino in a more contemporary, engaging sense. It’s certainly important to understand the historic importance of the pilgrimage; but it is critical that we understand the Camino as it exists in its modern landscape — a landscape that is certainly marked by its rich history, but also occasionally by frustration and contention.

-Katherine Burks

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

 

 

 

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