Bravo to URCamino for developing a a super helpful planning tool

Camino Planning Tool- Recommendation

I found a neat Camino Website with a comprehensive planning feature for the following Caminos:

• Camino Francé
• Portugués
• Camino de Fisterra
• Via Francigena
• Primitivo
• Portugués Interior
• Camino de Muxia

Go to the website ( see below for link)  and read about the various routes. Enter your data into the simple to use planner and once you figure out which route you want, enter your starting point, such as St Jean Pied de Port, then add your last stop, such as Santiago de Compostela.

This awesome tool then allows the user to check off all sorts of interesting options based on your budget and desires. You can pick the type of lodging you want and various travel amenities, such a municipal lodging or private, WIFI and washing machines. It has a comprehensive list of options.
Another great feature is once everything is plugged in you are able to download for future use.

Thank you to CRCamino for developing a super helpful webpage.

Here is their link:

http://www.urcamino.com/

Buen Camino.

 

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Excellent Camino Planning Website for Numerous Routes

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Credencial del Peregrino

Pilgrim’s Passport or Credential (credencial del peregrino) for the Camino Santiago de Compostela

While traveling on the Camino Santiago de Compostela pilgrims carry small accordion pleated booklet called a credential or pilgrim’s passport.  This document is used to identify you as a pilgrim and to track and verify your progress along the camino.  The credential has numerous small blank squares, that the pilgrims will eventually fill with inked stamps or ‘sellos’ from albergues, refugios, lodging, churches, police stations, museums, eating/drinking establishments, and tourist sites. Each place has its own unique sellos.

Although it is not required to have a credential to walk the camino, unless you are staying in an albergue ( pilgrim’s hostel), if you want to receive a compostela at the end of your journey, you must carry this document and have at least 2 sellos stamped in it every day from Sarria, Spain until you reach Santiago.  The official requirement request 2 sellos per day for the final 100km of walking ( or riding a horse) and 2 stamps per day for final 200km if you are on a bicycle.

Many of the stamps list the town on them and you can obtain one from the innkeeper when you check in at the end of the day and then an additional one from a church or restaurant during while you are walking.  You will see stamps and ink pads on most bars when you enter a place to buy a coffee. Just ask any waiter for a Camino sello and he will probably point to it and you will be free to stamp your passport.  Excluding albergues, if you do not ask for a stamp you probably won’t get one; it is on you to remember to get your stamps.

Most pilgrims start collecting stamps where ever they begin walking, not just in Sarria.  If you start in a far-reaching place like St. Jean Pied de Port, France you might need several credentials because they fill up.  Sellos are readily available at most places pilgrims frequent and they become a valuable memento of their Camino experience.

Once you arrive in Santiago proceed to the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office, receive your final stamp and at that point, they will examine your document and if you successfully meet the requirements you will be issued a Compostela which certifies your Camino.   You will be allowed to keep both your pilgrim’s passport and your Compostela.

Buen Camino.

Camino Santiago Prep
Preparation for 1st Camino.

 

 

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Our little room over a bar

The wonderful old town of Portomarin is a joy to visit for a pilgrim.  There are plenty of outdoor restaurants, discount and grocery stores and plenty of places to hang your laundry to dry.   The town’s square includes the Church of San Juan, a building that is both a church and a small castle.  This town is packed with road-weary pilgrims enjoying the fine outdoor cafes which surround the plaza.  If I could have stayed for an extra night just to relax and soak in the Camino vibe I would but it was time to move on.

 

Elizabeth standing next to Pilgrim Statue
Pilgrim Statue pointing towards Santiago in Portomarin, Spain.

 

Hotel in Casa do Maestro
This is a photo of the sun yard right directly in front of our room at the Casa do Mestro hotel in Portomarin, Spain. The building right outside of the wall is the St. Juan Church.

 

 

The next day was a blur. Pilgrims were everywhere on the trail, lots of small villages to walk through and unrelenting heat.   Busloads of pilgrims from all over Europe,  Asia, and South America were now on the way heading to Santiago.  At one point we were walking with two young men from Korea when one mentioned they were from North Korea.  What a wonderful experience for my daughter to realize that not everyone from North Korea hated Americans.  They were wearing expensive Patagonia clothing so I assume they weren’t typical citizens from DPRK.

Hundreds of Spanish school children are now on the Camino on school field trips.    They were singing songs, laughing and really seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I felt sorry for my child because she clearly did not fit in but this was to be expected because she was walking with her mom and they were with their classmates. But she did not seem to mind and she received lots of second looks from the teenage boys but she was too young to notice.

 

Pilgrim with flag from China
Pilgrims from all over the globe wear their flags draped on their backpacks. Here a Chinese Pilgrim with his flag.

 

We saw more than 1 family today pushing baby strollers up the steep hills and through the rocky paths.  These baby stroller-pushing families should be awarded a medal, I know I would never be able to do it.

 

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Families pushing baby strollers on the Camino

 

After about 7 hours of walking, we arrived at the town of  Palas de Rei.   After some searching, we realized our lodging was located directly over a noisy bar.   In fact, I had to enter the bar to obtain the keys to our room.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because the room was spotless with cute twin beds and extra soft blankets in the bureau but the windows opened into a nondescript courtyard.  I ensured the door was locked at all times and since there was no lobby I was not 100% comfortable staying there with my daughter.

This town was my least favorite place on the Camino, but it could have been because we were now just plain tired and worn out.  In my opinion, there was nothing exciting or interesting about this place and the highlight was watching the local children riding their skateboards in the towns’  square.  The Camino route in Palas dd Rei is on a steep paved hill and although the population is 3,500 it seemed more industrial than rural to me.

We ate supper with an atheist Pilgrim we briefly met the night before.  She was from the UK and she despised the United States, the United Kingdom, and all other wealthy nations.  Her goal in life seemed to be lecture everyone she met and ensure they were as miserable as she was.  At one point she told me her husband had left her and I have to admit I couldn’t blame him.     I quickly realized I did not want to spend one more minute with her, so I bought her a glass of wine and made up a story about needed to go make a call and we parted ways.

Back to the room above the bar.

 

All our belongings
All those items in the forefront fit in our back packs

 

 

Tomorrow is a new day.

 

Buen Camino

 

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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 with 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 day’s 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.

Please consider joining and contributing your knowledge.   Here is the link to copy and paste into your browser:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2000846623526485/?ref=br_rs

 

Elizabeth on the Camino Santiago de Compestela

 

 

 

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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 Compostela 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 Compostela.

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 used 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

One Night in Rabanel del Camino, Spain

At around 3:00 0 in the afternoon we finally arrived at our hotel in Rabanel del Camino, Spain.  Although most of the trail had seemed relatively flat, we were now in the mountains region and we started to experience long, steep inclines,  including the road through Rabanal del Camino to our hotel.

The isolated village of Rabanel del Camino is a small ancient hamlet with a population of about 60 residents, that sits at the foot of the Mount Irago and has a long interesting history.   During the time of the Crusades in the 14th century, the Knights of Templar were widely credited with defeating the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula.   That same secretive order protected Rabanel del Camino and provided protection to the Christian pilgrims crossing Mount Irago en route to Santiago.  Knowledge of the extensive history of Rabanel and the Pilgrimage forces me to understand just how many pilgrims have struggled to walk through its stone streets over prior centuries.

We choose to stay at the El Refugio Hosteria in the center of town, right on the Camino.  This quaint family-run inn has 16 rooms and is kept in immaculate condition.   The façade of the building is made of stone and the rooms overlook the Monastery, the Camino and you can view the mountains which we would pass through the following day in the distance.  We quickly went up to our 3rd-floor room and entered using an old-fashioned skeleton key.  I opened the unscreened windows to let in fresh air, while Elizabeth collapsed on her twin bed.    Inside the bathroom was the smallest tub I’ve ever seen, only about 2 feet by 2 feet, if my memory serves me right.  I filled it with cold tap water and both of us removed our hiking shoes and sweat soaked socks and soaked our feet for a good long time.  We immediately felt energized and comfortable.

I then walked across the street to the towns grocery/everything store to buy snacks and water for the next day.  I purchased some chocolate and a couple of liters of Aquarius which I wrongly assumed was regular water.  Back in the room I tasted the water and realized it wasn’t typical spring water but some sort of sports drink that neither of us liked, so we tossed it out.  Yuck.   Plan B was to purchase water for the next day from the hotel receptionist before we started out at 5:45am.  This turned out to be a big mistake because when we departed there was no one at reception and the stores/ café was closed, so we started walking the Camino without any water in a heatwave.  More on this in a future segment.

I then dragged Elizabeth to La Iglesia de Santa Maria de La Asuncion Church across from our hotel. Benedictine monks chant the vespers in Latin each night at this Romanesque church on the Camino.  The ancient building had a pretty bell tower but the inside appears to almost resemble a cave.  Because this service is well known to pilgrims as a must-see event it is usually packed with locals and pilgrims.  I am glad we experienced the vespers but we ended up standing in the back and Elizabeth pouted through the entire Latin mass.

The only caution I have is the chapel is tiny and unless you get there early and are lucky enough to get a set, you will be squeezed in the rear or sides with many other pilgrims and locals.  Here is the website if you would like additional information:

http://en.monteirago.org/

We ate a terrific Pilgrim’s meal at the restaurant in our Refugio. The entire gas light eatery was filled with pilgrims enjoying the ambiance, wine, and scrumptious meal.  I had the salad with tuna and some pork roast and Elizabeth had her usually spaghetti Bolognese and ice cream.  We then went upstairs to our room and past out from exhaustion.

Buen Camino

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Short video of Monks chanting the vespers in Rabanel del Camino, Spain.