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.

 

 

Mother and Daughter’s first day on the Camino Santiago

My daughter Elizabeth and I are early risers, so getting up before dawn would not be a hardship for us while walking the Camino Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain.   Our plan was to leave by 5:45 am in an attempt to avoid the brutal heat and humidity of the day.

We left our much-loved hotel in Astorga in complete darkness, turned on our headlamps and headed out to find the way.  We quickly saw other pilgrims and just followed along.  We were still in Astorga when we saw our first restaurant/bar with the lights on.   We timidly entered the establishment with so many other pilgrims but feeling like outsiders. We ordered our standard Camino breakfast of café con leche, croissants, and fresh squeezed orange juice.   All the backpacks and walking sticks rested against a wall while pilgrims stood at the bar eager to eat and get back on the trail.   The server was neither friendly nor rude he just brought the food, collected the money and was on to the next customer who was most assuredly another pilgrim.

I was extremely nervous at this early hour that we would lag behind the other pilgrims that were out and about.  Would we get lost, die of heat exhaustion, be attacked by wild dogs, robbed in the forest areas and how the hell do I call the police in Spain??  So many questions, but so much excitement and pure joy that I was walking the Camino Santiago.

We quickly departed the café and joined the hundreds of others walking single and double file on the way.  Quickly people were passing us but they always said “Buen Camino” as they did.  At first, I felt foolish responding with “Buen Camino”, like I was a fake pilgrim or a fraud.  This was our first day and others had been walking for weeks but after an hour or two, it became second nature for both me and my teenager.

As we walked out of Astorga, over several highway overpasses we observed the sun rising in the east.   I knew the heat and humidity would soon prevail and I dreaded it.  Sure enough, about an hour later I started sweating and didn’t stop until I was on the plane heading home from Spain four weeks later.

After about 5 miles we found our groove and were thoroughly enjoying this experience.   We spoke to fellow walkers from all over Europe and they all seemed pleased that my child was walking.  One Italian man was about 75 ish and told us he had been walking for over a month and the entire time we walked with him, he serenaded us with beautiful songs in his native tongue.  The sound of people walking with their heavy hiking shoes, hiking poles clicking on the ground, and quiet conversations quickly became the norm.

Each day we walked about 15 miles and we were constantly hungry and thirsty so we stopped a lot, including 2 times for breakfast, a snack and then a long leisurely lunch.  The best part of stopping was that all the pilgrims walking with you at different sections all seemed to stop and linger at the same cafes so you could reconnect.

It started raining and Elizabeth was thrilled to use her new rain poncho but not me. I knew the plastic was going to trap in more heat and it did.  We quietly walked the trail and finally approached the very small town of El Ganso (translates to the goose) and decided to dry off and have lunch.  El Ganso is home to the infamous Cowboy Bar, but we choose the no-name restaurant across the road to chow down on freshly prepared Spanish omelets and bananas. We were thrilled because there was a sign on the wall that said “240 kilometers” to Santiago so we were making progress.

We then got back on the Camino and immediately noticed the villages were smaller, some only appear to have a couple of houses and our trail went right by their front doors.  I loved wandering through these tiny towns where some of the villagers sold drinks and walking sticks from their front doors or windows.  Elizabeth decided to purchase a walking stick and paid about 5 euros for a very nice one. It was made of wood and had Camino Santiago carved into its side.  We were advised that we needed a walking stick because of the steep hills but up to this point we had not really seen any hills, but would shortly.

That afternoon the crowd of pilgrims had thinned out and for the first time, I was unable to see pilgrims in front or behind us. This was my concern prior to arriving in Spain, hiking through the woods and not know who was lurking behind those trees.  My motto was ‘there is safety in numbers’ and I had no intention of letting Elizabeth get victimized.

So just prior to entering our first forest we stopped and waited for 15 minutes until other pilgrims approached and we joined their pack.  Many times, the groups you are walking with spoke no English, but it didn’t matter because we all had the same goal, to get to the Cathedral in Santiago.   Once we entered the exquisite, old growth trees forest and started walking on the simple dirt trail I somehow knew we would be safe.  The forests turned out to be my favorite places on the Camino, so peaceful and calm,  a perfect opportunity for reflective moments.

At some point, we started seeing wooden twigs made into crosses that were placed in the barbed wire fences.  There were literally hundreds of these crosses in this section of the Camino and they reinforced the fact that so many pilgrims came before us.   All the anxiety and fear were gone and now all I care about was walking towards Santiago.  We would be safe and succeed on this difficult journey and we knew it.

Elizabeth has only 2 vivid memories or our first day;  all the crosses on the barbed wire fence and how happy she felt when she first observed the town where we would rest for the night in the distance.  It took us another hour and a half to reach Rabanel, but I agree it was a great feeling when it first appears on the horizon.

After 8 or 9 hours of walking, we reached Rabanel, which is located straight up a long hill and although completely exhausted and depleted from the oppressive heat, I don’t remember being happier in a long time.

Buen Camino

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Sun Rise over the Camino
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Walking out of Astorga
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240 Km to go from el Ganso
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Hot & Exhausted on Camino
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Elizabeth’s New Walking Stick
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Hundreds of Crosses on Barbed Wire

Guadi Palace, Grand Cathedral and the Camino Santiago de Compestela in Astorga, Spain.

We arrived at the deserted Astorga, Spain train station around noon, during a heat wave so hot and uncomfortable that it was widely referred to in Europe as ‘Lucifer’.  Carrying all our worldly possessions on our back, we were full of excitement to start our pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago the next morning.

Although everyone told me I wouldn’t get lost on the Camino I was soon skeptical.  After exiting the train station, I really did not know how to get to our hotel, just that it was a block or two from the Camino and the Cathedral.   Somehow, I thought I would just know how to get there but this was not the case.

Since I didn’t want my 12-year old to know I was feeling disoriented and had no idea where the Camino was actually situated, I needed to get my act together.   Luckily, I did have cell service and was able to google and find directions that were only 5 minutes away.  But as we trudged up the steep road I then realized the Google estimate was for driving not walking.    For the next 2 plus weeks, the only directions or times I would need from google would be the walking instructions.

The Camino’s path is marked with yellow arrows and scallop shells all directing you towards Santiago.  We started seeing the arrows and we finally found our hotel across from the Cathedral and right off of the Camino.

Astorga is a beautiful town with lots to see and do. Hotel Spa Cuidad de Astorga was chosen as our hotel because it had a pool and spa.  I wanted my child to enjoy her time here in Spain, thus the pool, but I really needed to recover from the jet lag, so the steam and sauna were for me.  The hotel was quirky, modern, centrally located, and the staff was extremely helpful.  They are used to pilgrims and their needs, and it shows.    Our room was air conditioned but little did I know that would be one of the last air conditioned anything I would see for a couple of weeks.

We ditched our backpacks and went downstairs to the Spa.  We had the entire place to ourselves as there wasn’t even an attendant there and thoroughly enjoyed the pool, hot tub, sauna, steam and Turkish baths.   They have plush towels and drinks set out for those using the facilities.   Although it is in the hotel’s basement, it had large windows and skylights, so beautiful light streamed in and it never felt closed-in nor claustrophobic.

We then set out to obtain our first pilgrim passport stamp in Astorga from the nearest albergue.  An albergue is an inexpensive place where pilgrims sleep while on pilgrimage in Spain, that is owned by the local government or the Catholic Church.   Since most albergues are co-ed I decided that it was best that my child and I stay in private rooms or moderately priced hotels along the way.

The pilgrim’s passport inscribed with your name is available through organizations such as American Pilgrims on the Camino ( APOC).  Just like an official travel passport receives stamps from different countries, this passport receives a unique stamp from the businesses along the Camino.  This passport entitles pilgrims to pilgrim’s meals and lodging at a substantially discounted rate along the way.  Once you complete the Camino, the passport will be your proof at the Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago that you walked the required stages of the Camino. After examining your passport, with its many different stamps and dates, the Pilgrim’s Reception officials will issue you a Compostela if you have completed the necessary requirements.

Here is a link to the Pilgrim’s Reception Office:

https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/

We then walked to the Albergue de Peregrinos San Javier to have our passport stamped.   Once inside we realized how hot these albergues can be.  There were no apparent fans and the place was stifling.   We saw several pilgrims lying on their cots totally exhausted from the long day’s hike.  Alarmed is an understatement of how I felt at that moment.  What was I doing bringing my 12-year-old to Spain alone to walk 270 kilometers during the summer?  Was I crazy?  I would soon find out.

We then visited magnificent Astorga Cathedral, which began construction in the 15th century but not completed until the 18th.  Adjacent to the Cathedral is the Episcopal Palace a beautiful castle designed by the incomparable architect  Antonin Gaudi at the turn of the 20th century and which houses a museum devoted to pilgrims.  This town, with a population of only 11, 000, has both a palace, a cathedral and the Camino trail running through the town center.  Amazing sightseeing opportunities everywhere in this village.

Within blocks of the Cathedral are plenty of shops serving pilgrims needs such as hiking gear, scallop shells and sun hats. After some last-minute shopping, we remained in the plaza just pilgrim watching.    I was just so jealous of their look, which was part strength and confidence, and part shabby and dusty.   They appeared exhausted to me and I could not wait for the next morning to become part of this group; those that were willing to give up their comfortable lives back home to walk across NW Spain.

Our plan for the following day was to rise before dawn to start out at 5:30 am when it was still reasonably cool and to begin our Camino.

Buen Camino.

 

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Cathedral in Astorga, Spain
The Astorga Cathedral
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In front of the Albergue in Astorga, Spain
Astorga Hotel
Wonderful Spa in Astorga, Spain
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Follow the scallop shells

 

 

How to use Mochilas on the Camino Santiago de Compestela

 

Mochilas on the Camino

In June of 2017, my 12-year-old daughter and I set out to walk the last 283 kilometers of the Camino Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage in NW Spain.

After spending several months’ salary at REI on lightweight gear, hiking shoes and clothing we were all set to begin this once in a lifetime hiking trip.   However, once we arrived in Leon, Spain we quickly realized how hot and humid it is in the NW of Spain. The summer of 2017 was so hot in Spain that the heatwave was dubbed “Lucifer.   Assuming we might be in over our heads, the hotel receptionist suggested that we ship our backpacks to the next day’s destination for a few days until the heat wave subsided and that is what we did.

On the Camino Santiago, many folks have their backpacks, also known as rucksacks in Europe, shipped each day to their next location.  It is very economical to use these services which only costs about 3 to 7 euros per bag and are extremely reliable.  Since all your worldly travel items are in your backpack, it is critical that once you arrive at your next location your stuff arrives with all its contents intact and on time.

The Spanish people call the backpack or luggage transport service ‘mochila‘ and the albergue, Refugio and hotel reception areas all offer the service.  Once a pilgrim arrives at their destination for the night they need to request a mochila envelope, the clerk will then make the arrangements with the transport company for you or you can call yourself.  I was apprehensive about calling the service but quickly learned the person answering speaks passable English and the process is very simple.  The hardest part of using this valuable service is figuring out where you will stay the next night.  So, if you tell them you will be staying in a village 25 kilometers away but then you can’t walk that far your bag, unfortunately, will be at the village 25 kilometers away.   Luckily after 2 or 3 days on the Camino, you will know how many kilometers you are capable of walking to each day. We walked about 24 kilometers each day and some days were much harder than others.

There are different transport companies in different stages of the way, but the drivers all seem to know each other and once you pass through their region of Spain they pass you off to the next region’s transport company along the way.

To use the service, you will get a small envelope which asks for some basic info like name, contact info, and lodging today and where you want your bag dropped off the next day.  When you are departing your lodging in the am just attached the completed envelope with a pin or rubber band to your backpack, insert the cash and leave the backpack in the lobby with all the other backpacks.  On really hot days we saw upwards of 20 packs in the lobby.  When you retrieve your backpack later that afternoon/night at the new town there will be a blank envelope attached to the previously used one..    Once we did not know exactly where we were staying but did know which town we would be walking to,  so the transport representative told me to pick up my bag at a certain bar in the village of Palas de Rey, and sure enough when we entered the town around 3pm, we found the bar and our back pack was near the bar.  Easy Peasie.

 

REI and OSPREY backpacks and Pilgrims Passports
Backpacks and Pilgrims Passports
Back pack transport envelope for Mochila
Mochila Envelope

 

Not carrying a back pack up long, steep hills and treacherous descents back down on the Camino was wonderful.  We simply carried a day pack with water and other essentials. After about 5 days of walking we started carrying our own packs but it was nice to know we had options.

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

This is a very short blog about my Camino experience for my travel agency, Sailor’s Delight Travel. I am trying to write a more comprehensive article about my Camino but haven’t had the time.

In June of 2017, my 12-year old daughter and I threw on our Osprey Backpacks and headed to Astorga Spain to walk the last 283 kilometers of the Camino Santiago de Compostela.

Camino is Spanish for path or trail and el Camino de Santiago has been a globally popular pilgrimage route following the death of St. James the Apostle in the 9th century.  Legend says that the remains of Jesus’ apostle St.James lie inside the Cathedral of Santiago and Christian pilgrims throughout the globe follow this way to the Cathedral in penance for their sins. Today it is both a religious and nonreligious experience for young and old alike.

I have been researching this pilgrimage for about 3 years ever since I watched and cried through the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen.  As a young widow, I knew immediately that I wanted to do this pilgrimage and somehow convinced my child that this would be an excellent family vacation. To be honest she loved the adventure and made some great friends along the way.  As long as she can group chat her friends back in the States she is happy.



On the Way


There are various Caminos to walk and they all end in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  Most first time Pilgrims, start on the  Camino Frances.  There are many other routes including Camino Portugues,  Camino Primivito, Via de la Plata and Via Francigena.  

Almost to Santiago


Farm Animals are my friends

We obtained our Pilgrim Passport from the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC)  Chapter.  These passports are used by pilgrims for admission to pilgrim housing and restaurants along the way. We flew to Madrid,  took the RENFE train to Leon and spent a few days visiting the historical sites in the area before starting our pilgrimage.

I did have a major ‘parental fail’ moment in Leon, Spain.  We were in an outside cafe where the server spoke only trace amounts of English and my daughter ordered a lemonade.  My daughter is only 12 but could pass for 16, and the waiter asked her if she wanted a ‘lemonade’?  When she received the drink she groaned and said she hated it, which is pretty common for a tween.  I told her she is drinking every drop of it because it cost money.  She took a few more tiny sips and refused to drink anymore. I then took a sip and realized the drink was some type of Sangria wine. Ooopppssss.  Sorry child of mine. 

 

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Follow the arrows and shells to Santiago


The next morning, we took a local train to Astorga and began our walk.  Since it was June and extremely hot out we were only able to walk about 15 miles a day.   Astorga was a starting point and probably will be next year when we repeat the pilgrimage because it is such an incredible city for pilgrims to enjoy.

After 16 wonderful but strenuous days walking through NW Spain through villages, forests, mountain ranges and the countryside we joyfully reached Santiago, Spain and received our Compestela at the Pilgrims Office.  This trip was one of the best things I have ever done for myself and I plan to do it again next year.

 

Santiago

 

Sailor’s Delight is my travel agency and I am proud of the work I do  If you should want to walk the Camino and need help with your arrangements, including travel insurance, baggage transfers, flights, hotels or rail please consider Sailor’s Delight.  If you don’t need our help but still have questions, please give me a call as I would be glad to help you.

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Advice for travel with kids to the Medieval town of Segovia, Spain

2 Nights in Segovia, Spain

While visiting Madrid’s wonderful Christmas Markets my daughter and I decided to spend a couple of days exploring Segovia.   The high-speed AVE train takes about 35 minutes and costs around 10 euros.  We got on the train at the downtown Madrid’s Chamartin train station which is an extremely busy city rail station and exited the train in Segovia’s AVE station which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, all you see is farmlands surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  The station is about 4km outside the city and there are plenty of taxis waiting outside to take passengers into Segovia.

Segovia is a walled medieval town guarded by ramparts that were built-in the 11th century.  Its rich and complex history ensure it is a very popular destination for engineers,  historians, religious folks and tourist in central Spain.

We had reservations at the Hotel Candido in Segovia because it had both an indoor pool and a Turkish Haman.    The lobby and common areas were festively but tastefully decorated for Christmas and our room was luxurious and richly draped with exquisite textiles and Spanish furnishings. The bathroom was enormous with a steam shower, separate whirlpool tub and the largest collection of high-end amenities that I’ve ever seen.    Walking the halls of the hotel we were impressed with the exquisite carpeting, wall hangings, and stain glass ceilings.  The Candido has an expensive, old world charm with photos of the King and Queen of Spain and other luminaries who have stayed there proudly displayed on its walls.

The Candido’s spa is exceptional.  We loved every minute we spent in the Turkish bath or Hamann,  the fiery Finish sauna,  hazy steam room and tranquil indoor pool with a delightful waterfall faucet and separate whirlpool.  Since Segovia is in Europe swim caps are pretty much mandatory, so pack your own or purchase in the Spa.   The hotel is about a mile away from the main tourist area inside the Old City but we did not mind as it is easily walkable downhill to the Plaza Major and uphill on the return.

Most of the top sites of Segovia are within the Old City section of town.  To get to the Old City you must enter through the impressive Roman Aqueduct bridge.  About 2000 years ago Roman Emperors had the Aquaducts built to bring water from the Frio River to the Segovia citizens and is still in use today.   In 1985 the structures were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.    This water conveyance method is widely considered to be an example of perfect engineering because the massive Aqueduct was built using the opus quandratum method, which included using over 20, 000 large stone blocks perfectly balanced on themselves but not affixed with cement or mortar.  We kept wondering how the arches and bridge did not collapse with no cement to hold the granite together. We climbed to the top of the bridge and had an inspiring view of the mountains and countryside.

After obligatory photos in front of the Aquaducts, you then to climb a hill to enter the Old City where most of the major historical sites are located.  The streets are lined with cafes, confectionery stores and small stalls selling medieval era toys, such as swords and archery bows, local cuisine and religious items.  Another must-have while in Segovia is a churro or two.   A churro is defined as a strip of fried dough dusted with cinnamon or sugar but in Spain, they have mastered the culinary delight by adding a cup of hot chocolate pudding to dip the dough in.  Deliciouso.

At the top of the hill, you enter the beautiful Plaza Mayor and you will immediately see The Cathedral. The Cathedral is a 15th-century masterpiece that houses over 15 chapels. The cloisters alone are worth the visit but every inch of the holy place, including the altar, and choir stall contains significant works of art.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Alcazar which reminded us of a fairy-tale castle and it’s only a few blocks from Plaza Major.  The Alcazar dates back to the 12 century and was the home of King Alfonso VIII in the 13th century.  It has everything a medieval history buff could ask for. Its Gothic style has a tower ringed with 10 circular turrets and a drawbridge. Visitors can walk around and enjoy its exquisitely furnished tapestries, armors and arms and then climb the tower and enjoy panoramic views of the countryside.  The Alcazar was originally used by the military and was built on a steep rocky crag hill.   During the 800-year Reconquista period, Alcazar occupants had an excellent vantage point and this castle proved to be impenetrable to approaching Moor invaders.

The Spaniards love to eat ham and this place is no exception. Everywhere you go you will see signs and displays for Cochinillo Asadoor or Suckling Pig.  It was explained to us that the roasted meat is so tender because the baby piglet is less than 3 weeks old, have never eaten any food just its mother’s milk and must not weigh more than 5 kilograms.  The dish is so popular that every tourist shop even sells suckling pig refrigerator magnets.

When in Spain we always have a hard time with the time schedule for eating.  They enjoy long, leisurely lunches, afternoon siestas and then around 9pm or later supper is offered in the restaurants. Sometimes this doesn’t work when traveling with children but ‘when in Spain.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Segovia, learned a lot about the Reconquista and the defeat of the Moors, Roman engineering genius, and how delicious churros are.