The (Half-Naked) View from My Office – Day 21 – Fromista to Carrion de los Condes

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I sat with my microwaved lasagna, my bottle of wine, a pack of cherry tomatoes and a peach.  I was in the courtyard of a convent, preparing to catch up on my blogging and journal writing. This would be my “office” for today.

And what a view!

Not rivers and mountaintops, woods and cathedral towers. Not lakes and meandering trails, sunsets and blue skies.

My view was of nuns and half-naked bicycle riders.

Cha-chiiiing!!!

That morning  had been overcast and chilly. The walk along the other side of the canal that I had followed into Fromista had been just as pretty as it had been the previous day. However, there were more pilgrims walking  this morning.

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I walked with Bouwolf from the Netherlands for several kilometers to the town of Villalcazar de Sirga where we stopped for morning cafe. He kept on but I stopped to see the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca on the advice of Carlos and Andres, two of my friends from Fromista .

The outside of the church was not much to look at. In fact, part of it had collapsed years ago in a landslide and had apparently be repaired with just a wall.

But the inside! Ah!

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The church was exquisite and,again, surprising in its golden “over-the-top”-ness.

The shadowed altar was the highlight of the church. A sign stated “No Flash.” I don’t  use a flash (my camera takes pretty good photos without) but another visitor, in the front of the church, did, There was a subtle click and a split second flash of light.  Instantly, the sleeping ticket taker at the entrance of the church woke and let out a loud “NO FLASH!” in English, then went back to sleep!

I donated the one euro to light up the altar so the villanous flasher and I could see what we were missing, and the sparkle was worth the euro.

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An amazing thirteenth century altar shone in dazzling glory, one of the most brilliant I had seen yet.

I eventually continued down the road and reached the town of Carrion de los Condes. Unfortunately, I arrived at the albergue just after the last two spots were taken (by two friends from the Camino, so there were no hard feelings). The hospitalero, however, sent me to another albergue where, he assured me, there would be room.

That’s how I ended up in this courtyard/office, with my wine, my journal, and my view.

The Espiritu Santo convent is a place of great peace and energy. The nuns expertly and efficiently register tired pilgrims, a system developed over centuries of daily service (although now assisted by cell phones, Apple and Google). I picked out a bed nearest the window and lay down, finally seeing one of the famous storks nesting on the top of the chapel.

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In town, I met Michelle from Arizona, and, as we shared stories and cafe, an old local man sat with us. He was quite taken with Michelle and asked her many . . . um . . . interesting questions about her situation. Why was she traveling alone? How could she have children and not be married (divorced, which he didn’t seem to understand)? Did she smoke?

I was in on all of this because my Spanish had gotten good enough to be the translator. I laughed at his inquisitiveness and her answers. Michelle was diplomatic – friendly, trying to not offend yet not encourage –  and she and I spent the rest of the afternoon giggling.

Later, I found a place to buy food AND a place to get my broken glasses repaired (they had fallen apart again two days earlier).

That evening, after showering and shampooing, after hand washing and hanging up clothes to dry, I settled in at a table outside and prepared to work.

I saw friends from the Camino and chatted but mainly I blogged, trying to get photos and stories synced and out to cyberspace. The sun had come out at the end of the day and the wind had died down. A Pilgrim Mass would be starting soon and I hadn’t missed a one since the start of my Camino.

I looked up and saw a nun, dressed in pure white, manipulating the water hose in order to drench the flowers which had missed some of the earlier rain. Her habit was clean and was a sharp contrast from the clothes pilgrims were wearing, including myself.

Behind her was one of the bicyclers, just finished washing his bike for the day, now chatting on a cell phone. Casually dressed for getting wet, he simply wore basketball shorts. As I looked up from my blogging, and sipped some wine, I thought of what a juxtaposition I saw from my “office” window.

The nun and the bare-chested cycler, each unobtrusively working in their own world, connected to each other by the Camino, and neither getting in the other’s way. Neither seeming the least bit out-of-place.

What a trip.

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I

Santiago Train Tragedy

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/death-toll-rises-to-77-after-express-train-derails-near-santiago-de-compostela-leaving-over-130-injured-8730918.html

My friends and followers who have walked the Camino understand the extent of the sadness associated with this great tragedy. However, for many of you, my wonderful readers, this blog may be your first close introduction to Spain. We haven’t arrived in Santiago yet, but it is the goal, the focus, the end point of our travels.

The Camino de Santiago de Campostella is a pilgrimage to one of the three holiest sites of the western world, the other two being Rome and Jerusalem. The tomb of Saint James is in the Cathedral of Santiago and his feast day is . . . wait for it . . .  July 25.

If you haven’t been to Spain, the news of this tragedy may skim over your consciousness. We get news of many tragedies, numbingly common. But I hope that, by following this blog, you have a slight inkling of where Santiago is, of who travels to it, of how they feel when they arrive.

I hope Santiago de Campostella is no longer a place you have never heard of, but a place you can start to imagine. I hope you will feel more compassion for those people – families, students (Santiago is a major university city), and probably many pilgrims – who were on the train, traveling to Santiago, for the Feast Day and celebration.

The internet is a powerful tool. I hope my blog helps in some tiny way to improve understanding and interest among people who speak different languages, eat different foods, listen to different music, yet feel the same moments of happiness and sorrow as all human beings around the world.

Our compassion and care for each other binds us and shapes us. The Camino is one place where this coming together of  people, this sharing of our strengths and weaknesses, of what we have and what we need, reminds us that we are all traveling together.

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A pilgrim prays in front of the Cathedral in Santiago de Campostella

 

Tender Hospitaleros and Seven Hours Without Rain – Day 20 – Castrojeriz to Fromista

This would be one of the best days ever for me on the Camino.

I awoke gently from a very sound and comfortable sleep to the distant sound of church bells ringing. Slowly, the bells worked  their way into my consciousness.

Well, not exactly.

The volume slowly (quickly, if you are being awakened) increased, getting louder and louder until the bed shook and it felt as if I was sleeping in the belfry. I had never heard bells ring so loudly. I was definitely awake.

The ringing was soon replaced by the gentle sound of Gregorian Chant, a more peaceful and civilized way to wake pilgrims from a long rest. The hospitaleros had a reason for warning everyone not to get up earlier than 0630 – the bells and chants were their own surprise way of being everyone’s alarm clock, courtesy of loudspeakers in each room.

The hospitaleros were kind and gentle . . .

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. . . and worked hard to put a smile on everyone’s face. Although there was no kitchen for the pilgrims, the hospitaleros had a small kitchenette in which they prepared a much appreciated breakfast of coffee, bread, and butter/jelly, etc. for all the pilgrims to enjoy in preparation for the day’s journey.

The hospitaleros were sad to see me go . . .

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. . . but the knowledge that I was heading for a majorly steep hill, with the promise of lots of rain and mud, was irresistible and I was off.

The climb up to Alto de Mostelares was not as difficult as I thought it would be and the view back into the valley, with Castrojeriz now in the distance, was magnificent (although overcast).

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The path was wide and not rocky and there were many pilgrims around to talk with.

When the wetness ended, the loveliness of the meseta began again. The fields were beautifully green and lush and the flowers were all in bloom, with a delicate explosion of red poppies everywhere – is this the national flower of Spain?

For the rest of the day, the Camino was flat and easy. I walked past the ancient Ermita de San Nicolas, a popular albergue which lacks modern comforts such as electricity and phone service, but makes up for it with its  cloister-like atmosphere and communal meals.

I decided to call it a day in Boadilla del Camino and looked for a place to stay. But the albergue I had my eye on had only upper bunks available by the time I arrived, late lunch time.

I searched my soul, checked my feet, and realized that I still had kilometers left in me. So I downed a bocadillo (sandwich) and a beer at a picnic table and, although many pilgrims were ending their walks, I set off again, in spite of a sudden downpour that had everyone who was eating lunch outside racing for cover.

I found myself walking along the most peaceful stretch of Camino I had walked on. This was the charming Canal de Castilla, a 3-kilometer long straight stretch of Camino .  With no pilgrim in front of me nor behind me, I had the path to myself. The clouds began to break up and patches of baby blue gradually grew larger overhead.

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The rustle of the wind in the trees along the canal, the birds, frogs, and insects that called to each other, announcing their sexy ( I assume) presence, the lack of human voices,  and the exhilarating  realization that I was meandering, taking photos and making recordings of any quiet spot I might not want to forget, made this my best day on the Camino yet.

Just outside Fromista, the canal dipped into a series of locks. A “pilgrim” had a tent pitched next to the canal – he said he was trying to work his way back home to the Czech Republic. We talked about the Camino. I offered him a euro. He accepted.

I strolled into Fromista.

The Iglesias de San Martin in Fromista was consecrated in 1066 and stands as one of the most handsome examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain. The afternoon light gave it a glowing radiance, like a miniature Christmas house lit from inside with a candle. The calm coolness inside was a fitting end for my quiet day on the Camino.

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The gentleman who was manning the ticket booth for the church was the parish priest, covering for the real ticket taker, who was on his lunch break. The Priest told me that this church was only one of seven for which he was responsible. Busy man. He reverently blessed my rosary.

I was able to Skype and phone my family and had a great meal of “black rice.” I ran into some familiar faces from the Camino. I didn’t know it at the time, but some of these people would become my dearest Camino family in the days and weeks to come.

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I Pass Through the Set of Lord of the Rings – Day 19 – Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz

The Meseta was overcast, cold, gray and windy.

But it was very pretty.

The fields were all the shades of green, with thousands of flowers in full bloom. The Camino was quiet because no one was walking nearby and the path was too narrow for bicycle riders.

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I stopped at San Bol for my morning cafe because the albergue there was said to have a little pond where pilgrims who stayed overnight could soak their weary feet. The food was good, the hospitaleros very friendly, but it was too cold for taking off socks and soaking in icy cold water. Brrrrr!

The Camino achieved a new level of muddiness that day, also. A squishy, slurpy, yet “let-me-velcro-onto-your-boots-poles-and-pants” level of stickiness that would make it great to build houses out of. This stuff simply didn’t come off.

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There was a tiny “ermita” for Saint Brigida just outside Hontanas. It wasn’t mentioned in my guidebook. But it is dainty and clearly built for quiet reflection rather than for groups to enter and photograph. The mural inside was tenderly painted for the pilgrim and local to view.

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Finally coming to the end of the day’s journey, I had to pass through the abandoned ruins of San Anton. Amazingly majestic, it reminded me of the scene in “Lord of the Rings” in which the fellowship floats past the gigantic ruins of the ancient statues guarding the entry to the next region – you know, where the helicopter shot  flies over the tops of the ruins.

If these ruins in San Anton were the remnants, I can only imagine how magnificent this Convento de San Anton must have been in its fourteenth century  heyday.

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Arriving at Castrojeriz, I missed the classic photo of the ruined castle overlooking the town below because of – yep – rain. I made my way into town, discouraged as I walked from one albergue to another, finding them full if they were municipals, too expensive (30 euro for a single?!!!) if they were private. I finally found a municipal which would not open until 1500 but would have room so it would be my home for the night. It was raining and there were more and more pilgrims sloshing their way into the tiny waiting room but I found a spot on the floor and sat.

My glasses, which had broken in Burgos, were broken again! I would have to wear my geeky extra pair (thank you, DH, for advising me to take them) until I came to a real city again.

The wait in the room dragged on and I considered sharing a taxi with another perergrina to the next town in order to get a bed for the night. But, when she investigated the cost of such a trip, the locals advised her to be patient, the walk to the next town was one of the loveliest on the Camino and we wouldn’t want to miss it. So, we waited.

The hospitaleros were determined to cheer up this group of tired, mentally exhausted pilgrims.  They cajoled, joked, hugged, insisting upon relieving those pilgrims who looked scared and lonely into relaxing and giving a hint of a smile. They chose who would sleep where, based on their intuition, not on who was at the front of the line! It worked out well. The obnoxious showman got a bed in the catacombs, the quiet Canadian lady got a bed in a roomy upstairs corner, older people got bottom bunks, college kids got the upper bunks, couples were close together, everyone had space.

I walked towards the supermarket to get dinner. I wanted hot soup but there was no kitchen in the albergue, not even a microwave, so I stopped at a local restaurant which advertised its local soup and asked about getting a few bowls to take back to the albergue with me. No problem, I was told, except they wouldn’t start serving until dinner in about 2 hours. I said I would be back but never did return.

I bought a cold dinner of  wine, cheese, ham, bread and chips at the supermarket. At the albergue, I had no cup, no plate, no knife, fork or spoon, so I drank from the bottle, ate with my fingers, borrowed a knife, and learned, from a  wonderful Dutch couple who were  bicycling their way to Santiago, the difference between Holland and the Nederlands.

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While preparing to call it a night, I saw a sign on the wall. It said (in four languages) – “NO ONE IS TO GET UP BEFORE 0630”

I loved this place.

Oh. Did I mention the fistfight that (almost) broke out between two pilgrims? No? I guess I’ll have to leave it for another post.