The Crowds Descend on the Camino – Sarria -Portomarin

After a long, peaceful week on the Camino we felt part of the Camino family.  We knew what we were supposed to do and say to everyone, and most importantly what to expect each day. Get up, walk, eat and rest, nothing more, nothing less.

Once we arrived in Sarria, Spain the atmosphere quickly changed and the peaceful calm of the previous trail was gone.   There were pilgrims everywhere and they looked clean and energized with their sparkling new clothes and equipment.    Sarria, Spain is the starting points for most pilgrims walking the Camino because the final 100 kilometers it is the least distance you can walk and still qualify for a Compestela once you arrive in Santiago.   It was exciting to see so many new faces and groups but I was a little melancholy that the experience as I had known it, was over.

We stayed in a new albergue called Albergue Puente Ribeira in Sarria, right on the canal that runs through the Camino area.  We loved our albergue because it was near all the action including a street fair and many restaurants.  Puente Ribeira is super clean, modern and had several washers and dryers so we were able to sanitize our disgusting clothes and towels. Here is the website and I do absolutely recommend this place.

http://www.alberguepuenteribeira.com

Albergue in Sarria, Spain
Albergue in Sarria, Spain

 

My clothes were falling off me because I lost weight from the heat and longs hikes so we stop by the local Rhodani Sports Store and bought new trail pants and shirts. Yea!   The store was well stocked and the prices were similar to REI or Dicks in the US but they did not have a lot or any XL women clothes so I bought men’s clothes.   Here’s the website:

https://shop.rhodani.com/es/content/23-tienda-pesca-lugo

We enjoyed some seafood and rice at one of the many cafes along the canal and then retired to our much-loved room to prepare for the final 100 kilometers of our Camino.

The next morning, we departed our albergue and jumped right back on the Camino which was located behind our albergue.  All the additional pilgrims ensured the peacefulness and serenity of our prior days had disappeared, but it wasn’t unexpected.  We had been warned the most people start their Camino in Sarria and it was true.

We wandered through beautiful hills,  forest and some older farming villages.  We peeked into some of the open  barns to gaze at enormous cows and enjoyed listening to the roosters trying to wake everyone up.  Although the Camino had now changed for us it was still a simple place.

 

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Barns on the Camino
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Locals butchering an animal
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Donkey on the Camino
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The Crowds have arrived on the Camino

This day was long but it was relatively flat.  After lunch I swore we had walked at least 30 miles but it was probably only about 15.  Today’s endeavor just would not end.   Just when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore we approached the River Mino and the Camino trail went over the bridge over the river.  Portomarin was our final destination for the day and it was just on the other side of the bridge.

Walking over the bridge was the most frightened I was our entire time in Spain. It was built high above the water and the cars sped by us pilgrims.    I thought for sure we were going to get hit and tossed straight down into the River Minho.    Looking back at the pictures it doesn’t look so precipitous as I remember but I guarantee you if you are the least bit afraid of heights you will not like anything about this bridge.  Funny, but my 12-year-old wasn’t concerned about the terrifying bridge in the least. She was singing along with her music and devoid of any fear.  Silly girl.

After timidly crossing the bridge we then faced a steep set of stairs up into Portomarin.

Will we ever finish this ‘easy’ day??  The stairs were a beast but the view the entire up is stunning, so we took our time, and just kept climbing.  Unfortunately, after climbing the stairs and entering this charming town we discovered this town was built on a steep hill and the main church and our lodging were at the top of this hill.  Somehow we made arrived at our refugio and were happy at our accomplishments.

 

River over Minho River on the Camino Santiago
Scary bridge on the Camino Santiago

 

 

 

Camino /Bridge into Portomarin.
View of the Bridge from Portomarin.

 

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Portomarin Spain Sign on Camino Santiago

 

Portomarin was definitely one of our favorite places. The main plaza has great restaurants where pilgrims congregate to socialize and discuss the days events.

Buen Camino

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New Facebook Group for Camino Prep

I just started a new Facebook Group for those wishing to begin researching, preparing and finding out info for a possible Camino Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage.

This group is not made up  of judgemental or experts on the Camino.  It is just a group of regular people who want to learn more about the Camino and possibly start planning their Pilgrimage.   Those who have walked before are especially welcomed to answer questions.

Here is the link – please consider joining.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2000846623526485/admin_activities/

 

Elizabeth on the Camino Santiago de Compestela

 

 

 

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Horseback riding on the Camino Santiago

Today we went on a little horse ride up a  mountain trail on the Camino.

Elizabeth was still suffering from a blister on one of her toes,  and although we tried all the recommended therapies it was necessary to give her foot a rest so it could heal.  We decided to skip hiking for a day and to ride horses along the Camino trail instead.

Our next area to walk was up to the mountain hamlet known as  O’Cebreiro in Galicia and I found  a horse stable called Al-Paso that caters to Pilgrims.  Al-Paso is located  directly on the Camino in Herrerias and  has twice daily rides  up the mountain for about 30 euros each.  The manager’s name is Victor, and he was a wealth of information about the horses and the Camino.   Elizabeth was the youngest rider but luckily there was another young person about 18 years old for her to chum around with.  Our group consisted of about 8 riders,  2 guides and the rest Pilgrims from Italy, New Zealand and the USA.

The horses were well care for and were given a lot of attention and love by Victor and his staff.   There were a lot of flies swarming around the horses’ heads and they were not wearing fly masks,  but the assistant assured me that horses were used to it and it didn’t bother them.  Still,  I spent a lot of the time swatting the pesky insects off of my poor animal’s head during our ride.

Our group rode straight up the mountain and passed many Pilgrims and runners along the way. The ride was smooth but we moved at a quick enough pass that it was fun and exciting.  The farmlands and valley views were spectacular and we both really enjoyed this experience.

We only stopped once so the horses could have a drink from a water trough in the center of a small village about  3/4 of the way up.  Once we arrived at the top and dismounted we took some photos and then headed to the center of the ancient but tiny village  called O’Cebreiro,  where we  enjoyed local music, some tapas and liquid refreshments.

O’Cebreiro weather is startlingly different from the other parts of the Camino we had walked in.  It had a thick mist surrounding it and was much cooler and comfortable out.  There are lots of things  to see  in a small space which has been described as a hobbit’s hamlet. The round stone buildings with thatched roofs are called pallazas and they appear to be right out of a fairy tale.   I bought several tee shirts and the prices were very affordable.  This is a cool place to spend an afternoon.

Buen Camino

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Herrerias, Spain on the Camino Santiago de Compestela
Bridge above Herrerias, Spain
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Elizabeth about to ride to O’Ceb.
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We’re off
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Camino Santiago
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Camino Santiago
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Camino Santiago on Horseback
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Side of the trail
Horses at the top of O'Ceb on Camino Santiago
O’Ceb, Camino Santiago de Compestela
Mother and Daughter on top of the O'Ceb.
O’Cebreiro, Spain
The crew on top of O'Cebreiro, Spain
After completing our horseback ride we took a group photo with Victor.

 

 

 

Real Pilgrims

As Elizabeth and I continued our pilgrimage towards Santiago, we started to feel like real pilgrims.  We seemed to recognize the others everywhere we went and felt comfortable eating and socializing with them.

Just like the other pilgrims, we washed our sweat soaked clothes in a sink each day and then immediately tried to air dry them,  because we would be wearing them the following morning.  We took a glorious siesta every day after our walk by falling into a deep sleep for a couple of hours around 4:00 pm.  This allowed us to recharge and recover from the brutal heat and the steep hills, both up and down.   The best part of all was all the stress and concerns from our life back home ceased to exists for us.  Camino related concerns were the only thing we worried about, and they were minimal at best.  Life was definitely good.

After Cruz de Ferro we walked several kilometers through mostly mountain trails.  At one point we saw a paved street abutting the Camino.    Parked in a small pull out area was a food truck complete with 5 or 6 plastic tables with umbrellas.  This truck stop/rest area was clearly popular because it was the first place to buy anything in a long while.  We stopped and had some refreshments including my first beer of this trip.  I hardly ever drink beer, but this drink was the best cold one I have ever had in my life.  I was so depleted from the heat and the Estrella Gallicia beer was so cold and delicious, that I did not care that I was drinking a beer at 10:30 in the morning in front of my daughter.  After that day I made a rule that I would reward myself with one delicious Estrella every day until we left Spain.

While at the rest stop we were speaking with a Spanish pilgrim and she explained there were 2 Camino routes available to get to the next town of El Acerbo.  One was on the paved road we were on and the entry to the more difficult route was across the street back into a mountain trail.    Up to this point we had been walking on loose rock filled dirt trails and you had to be extra cautious of where you were placing your feet because the rocks were so unstable.  My feet were killing me, it was hotter than hell out and I had no desire to fight pesky unstable rocks anymore that day, so we decided to walk on the side of the asphalt road to the next town.

When I grew up, many years ago,  the kids in my neighborhood use to race barefoot and I was quite good at it.    After walking about 20 minutes on the asphalt route, I removed my hiking boots and walked for the next 45 minutes with just my socks on my feet.  Having shed the heavy boots for a period proved to be the most comfortable my feet felt the entire time we were in Spain.  My daughter removed her hiking boots as well and walked the same distance in her flip flops.  We were happy campers.

After about an hour we re-entered the other route and started hiking in the mountains again. The trail was treacherous and I fell  once, but soon enough we were back in our grove.   We passed through El Acerbo and the picturesque village of Molinaseca and spent the night in the city of Ponferrada, which has a population of about 65,000.

At this point Elizabeth complained of a blister on her toe.  On the Camino blisters are a big deal and the pain can dash a pilgrim’s hope of finishing the pilgrimage, so off to the pharmacy we went.  In Spain you don’t have to go to the Emergency Room for some basic medical care instead people go to the local pharmacy. The pharmacist listened to our blister problem and then provided expert treatment recommendations.  I then purchased every kind of blister remedy she suggested and then some.

We then walked around this fairly large city and visited a few of the cultural and religious sites,  including the exquisite Basilica of Our Lady of Encina.

Here is the website if you want to learn more:  http://www.basilicadelaencina.es

After strolling through a couple of the pretty plazas within Ponferrada and having a quick supper, we retired to our rooms and collapsed for the evening.

Buen Camino

 

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A picture of the trail  before El Acebo, Spain
Trail in El Acebo area in Spain
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Elizabeth on the Camino
Is this trail ever going to end?
Is this trail ever going to end?
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Elizabeth outside of El Acebo, Spain
Estrella Galicia Cerveza
My new best friend

 

 

 

 

NYPD memorial stone placed on Cruz de Ferro

In the year 2009,  my family faced a heartbreaking situation when my husband and father to our 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth died after valiantly fighting the dreadful disease known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).  At the time of his death, we both had successful careers and Elizabeth had not even begun kindergarten.  It rocked our world to the core, but I decided right away I was not going to allow our great misfortune ruin our lives, so I chose to survive.

After the funeral I really had no time to properly grieve because I was responsible for a small child and a demanding career. We fell into a routine and with tremendous help from our family,  Elizabeth did great.  She is now 13 years old and remembers very little of our life before ALS robbed her of her dad.

I found working, commuting and single parenting very difficult, so at age 52, when I had accumulated enough time to retire, I did.  I stayed home and raised my then 7-year-old and removed some of the parental burdens from my parents, who up to my retirement were doing most of the child rearing.

My late husband’s name was Joe and he was a New York City Police Detective.  Everyone who met him agreed he was the perfect example of a stereotypical NYPD type of guy, with his thick NYC accent, always impeccably dressed in Paul Stewart suits, quick witted and sarcastic.   He was 6’5” and weighed well over 230 pounds so criminals rarely tried to flee or fight with him or his brothers in blue.  He definitely could protect himself and the rest of our family.  In 2008 he started slurring his words and losing weight but we did not know what was wrong.  In late 2008 it was apparent that the problem was ALS and several months later he was dead.

My husband was a September 11th World Trade Center first responder, as were most of the people we hung out with and knew, but his illness has yet to be formally linked to that horrible time.  As most of those who were present while the attack happened we know what really happened down there.  There were no respirators or face protection on that day and many, many people have since become sick and have passed on. Our family and friends believe his disease was caused by the toxins he inhaled during those first hours at Ground Zero.

I have wanted to walk the French Way of the Camino Santiago de Compestela since viewing the movie, “The Way” in 2010.  Although still struggling with grief , we had built a nice life for ourselves, but I thought if I completed this pilgrimage maybe I could finally put his death behind me.  The time was not right because of Elizabeth’s young age and I was fearful of taking her to Europe to walk alone.  In 2017 I finally decided the time was right, so Elizabeth and I flew to Spain to walk the Camino Santiago de Compestela.

One of the important stops along the Camino is named Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) and it is the highest point on the way.  As you can see from the attached photos,  a metal cross is affixed to tremendous wooden pole that is surrounded by a massive pile of small rocks which have been growing larger each year as pilgrims walk past.    Pilgrims place a rock in their backpack when they leave home and it stays there until they arrive at the Iron Cross and then they leave the rock at the base of the mound.  The act of leaving the stone is to absolve them from their sins and to leave their burdens or pain behind on the mound.

There are several legends of the origins of the Iron Cross, one being it was built by the hermit Gualcemo in the 11th Century to help pilgrims cross the mountains or maybe it was simply erected centuries earlier as a trail marker for when the ground was covered in snow.

While still at home we prepared a nice beach rock with Joe’s name and attached a small replica of his NYPD badge.  We carried it to Spain and hiked with it until we arrived in Cruz de Ferro.

When we approached Cruz de Ferro I was immediately struck at how different this site was from all the previous Camino stops.  There was a paved path,  lots of police vehicles watching the site and busloads of tourist waiting for their chance to climb to the top. Definitely not the quiet peaceful sites we were use to on the Camino.

After Elizabeth and I climbed to the top of the mound I could only focus on the thought that what we were standing on had been built by so many others before us and all the new stones we were leaving would soon be crushed by future pilgrim’s stones thus building the pile larger.

Elizabeth and I then left our precious stone on the base with all the others.  This was a solemn moment for us and there were tears, but overall, I was overjoyed remembering our love and acknowledging the grief and great loss we have experienced during the past 8 years.  Rest in Peace Detective D.

We then continued on the way, happy to be in Spain, grateful to have been married to my best friend and hopeful that life for my daughter and I would just keep getting better.

 

Buen Camino

 

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Memorial Stone honoring my husband and Elizabeth’s dad

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Our memorial stone in the middle of so many others at Cruz de Ferro.

Elizabeth at the Iron Cross
Elizabeth standing on the Cruz de Ferro mound on the Camino Santiago de Compestela
Mother and Daughter at Cruz de Ferro
Mother and Daughter with memorial stone to leave at the Iron Cross

Elizabeth on the Camino Santiago de Compestela

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NYPD Detective and father at Ground Zero
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Elizabeth and her dad

Celebratory gathering outside the Cathedral in Leon, Spain

Just prior to beginning the Camino Santiago (French Route)  we observed this wonderful gathering of the local religious population outside the Cathedral de Leon on a beautiful Sunday morning.    The plaza is beautiful with lots to see and do.

Here is the official website if you want more info:  https://www.catedraldeleon.org

Sorry my video skills are so poor.

Camino Santiago de Compostela with soon-to-be teenager.

 

 

 

Cathedral of Leon
Leon de Cathedral, Leon, Spain

 

 

 

Author in front of Cathedral
Cathedral in Leon, Spain

 

Tieks Ballet Flats Review

Just returned from Portugal and wore my Tieks during a majority of this action packed week.  I purchased a cute burgundy pair and was excited to wear them after reading so many wonderful reviews.  Here is my review:

The shoes are stylist, no doubt,  but I won’t be buying another pair. I found them to be noisy.  Every step I took,  they squeaked or made a strange noise. Maybe this was  happened because I am 5″9 -180 pounds and these shoes are usually worn by  slimmer owners,  but mine were not happy with me in them.   I thought the source of the noise  was the new leather stretching but the squeaking/creaking continued even after 14 days of wear.  At one point it was so noticeable  that I tried walking around the hotel on my toes to avoid the annoying sounds.

The shoes were comfortable most of the time but my toes felt some discomfort after a day of walking and I usually decided to change to more comfortable shoes after about 8 hours.

Anyway,  I loved the packaging and the look of Tieks brand,  but I won’t pay $175.00 for most shoes and certainly not ballet flats.  Sorry.

 

Tieks Ballet Flats for next trip to Europe

Mother & Daughter Bonding in Galicia

The next few days rushed by and I hardly had time to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Camino way.   We completed  walking in the Leon Province and then entered the hypnotizing countryside and vineyards of the Galicia Region.

Elizabeth and I were eating, sleeping and most importantly walking together, day after day , with no breaks from each other or the schedule.  To pass the time,  sometimes we discussed history, politics, how talented she was twirling her walking stick and how difficult middle school was.   We took care of each other, me by ensuring her toe blister was cared for and her by handing me her walking stick each time we descended steep hills,  so I did not kill myself in a tumble.   We were both entirely committed to each other’s success here and in life.    She seemed to mature right before my eyes and my stress levels vanished to a nonexistent level.   The life I had was perfect during this time, as we wandered up and down the hilly pathways and inched closer to Santiago.

Departing Ponferrada,  we enjoyed the path out of town because this flat Camino section runs parallel to a river or creek that was partially visible with our head lights.  But just when I thought it was going to be an easy day, we were faced with a monstrous stone staircase that needed to be climbed.  It was only 6:00 am, and I was already overheated and panting climbing these killers.  But once we arrived at the top, it was satisfying to know that we were able to do it without stopping to rest.   Our bodies and our mother- daughter bond were getting stronger by the day.    After the stairs we were rewarded with a lovely stroll through the edge of town.  We then entered the bountiful and green,  wine producing region of NW Spain known as Galicia.

Spain is the worldwide leader at exporting wine, ahead of even Italy and France, and its wine production dates back 2,000 years.  Galicia is well known for its lush landscape, white wines and seafood.    At one point on the Camino  we approached a large wine production factory that bottled wines called Vinas de Bierzoso.  It was opened to the public and although there was a wine tasting area,  this was a real wine factory with its workers in protective clothing and hairnets. I wanted to buy a bottle but did not want to carry it, so we continued on.  It was so nice to walk in and out of different grape vineyards  during this wonderful day and we sat down regularly to enjoy the pretty scenery.

The heat wave continued to haunt us and that night while staying in the lovely town of Villa Franca del Bierzo  we found some relief.  The town has a picturesque river flowing through it with a beach area for swimming and sun bathing. This place seemed different from the others to me in that it wasn’t a  typical Camino type stop with tourist stores everywhere but a real town with restaurants, stores and  locals who were out and about, working and socializing. I liked it here.

After checking into our Refugio, we went for a swim in the crystal clear, fresh water river.  I expected to see many pilgrims cooling off  but didn’t any.  It did not matter because we had a ball.      Elizabeth was thrilled to be swimming and devouring ice cream at the foot of Leon mountains we had just walked over.  The icy cold water was the perfect remedy for my aching legs and Elizabeth’s sore foot.

 

Buen Camino

 

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Galicia Grape Orchard
Elizabeth walking through among the grape vines
Elizabeth on the Camino
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Wine liters for sale in Galicia
Elizabeth and her map on Camino
Elizabeth on the Camino in Galicia, Spain
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Swim Spot on the Camino
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Villa Franca del Beirzo, Spain
Enjoying the ice cold mountain water in Spain
Elizabeth enjoying the river on Camino Santiago

 

Tieks Ballet Flats for next trip to Europe

I just purchased a ridiculously expensive pair of burgundy ballet flats and will be wearing them everyday next week while on an 9 day tour of Portugal.  The shoes are called Tieks by Gavrielli and I paid $175 for my first pair.  I sure hope they are worth it.

If you haven’t heard about this line yet,  the shoes all have a signature  light blue sole on the bottom and stripe up the back,  but that is not why I bought my pair.  Supposedly they will be extraordinarily comfortable and perfect for the walking traveler.     The shoes are made of Italian leather and the backs of the shoes are constructed with a cushioned back as opposed to the regular ballet shoes’s elastic back. They are fold-able and will fit in  purse for a quick shoe change when dressier shoes are starting to hurt  and  can be worn all day and night.

I will let you know what I think and if I will be buying more Tieks or donating to a worthy charity.   As far as I can tell the only way to buy real Tieks is through their website at:

https://tieks.com/.

The website says free shipping and returns but I needed them fast so I paid extra.

Stay tuned for an honest review.

 

 

Tieks Ballet Flats
Notice the blue non-slip rubber sole.