Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Camino of Santiago - Madrid & Day 1

Well, I'm back from walking the Camino of Santiago - and FINALLY have some time to share with you my experience.  As I'm doing this, I realize it's a big job and it's already taken me a long time to get this far - so I'm going to separate out into several posts - here's the first...  Background, Madrid & Day 1 of the Camino of Santiago.

What a great experience it was!  Let me see if I can walk you from Rome to Madrid (our stop-over on the way) and then on our journey to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  We had chosen to do the last part of the "French Route."  The full route runs from St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and finishes 780 km later in Santiago.  It takes most people one full month to walk the entire route - time none of us had.  But, in order to have officially "done" the Camino, you only have to walk a minimum of 100 km - so that was our plan - to begin in Sarria: 112 km from Santiago.

The full route

Our route from Sarria to Santiago

We left Rome Saturday morning, April 8 and flew to Madrid - where we had booked a room overnight.  We had a very nice afternoon and evening in Madrid - wandering around, checking out the sights, tasting the food (of course).  The place where we stayed was very near to Plaza Major.  We also visited the Madrid Cathedral - which I had visited a few years ago during World Youth Day - but it was much nicer without the crowds!

Madrid Cathedral
The Crypt Church
Plaza Mayor, Madrid
Since it was Palm Sunday, they were preparing things for the Mass - including a huge float showing Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.

We decided to attend Mass on Saturday evening - as our flight out of Madrid was fairly early on Sunday morning - and we didn't know what situations we'd encounter in Santiago - so better to have Mass "under our belts."  So we went down to the crypt church of the Cathedral.  I went into the sacristy and, celebrit in hand (the document that says, "Hey, this guy really is a priest") asked if I could concelebrate the Mass.  OF COURSE!  They were very kind and welcoming.  Everything was just as usual for a Palm Sunday Mass.  When we got to the Gospel the priest leaned over to me and said, "Would you like to proclaim the part of Jesus?"  OK - quick through process... "Wow, that's nice of him.  Oh wait, it would be in Spanish,  I haven't looked at it, I'm studying Italian, and it is Spanish-Spanish, not Latin American Spanish..."  I replied, "SURE!"  The people didn't seem to wince in the pews as I read the part of Jesus - and the seminarians said I did OK.  

Sunday morning we headed out to the airport for our flight to Santiago.  I know, seems strange to be flying into the place that is the destination of our walking pilgrimage - but it was the easiest thing to do.  So, on arrival we found our little apartment (we used Air B n B - and the woman who owns it didn't have it rented out that week, so she said we could store our stuff there while we were on the Camino - that was VERY useful - didn't have to carry everything with us).

We got settled in, and went to the pilgrim office in order to get our "Passport."  Every pilgrim carries with them a little book that, as you stop at different restaurants and hotels, you get stamped to prove that you really did walk that distance.  Then we had a nice lunch - and got on the road.  We needed to take a bus, train or taxi back to Sarria, where we would be starting our hike.  That 112 kilometers from Santiago.  After all our research, we decided a taxi was the easiest - and at this point quickest - thing to do.  It's now getting close to 1:30pm - and we haven't even started our hike yet.  The goal was to be back in Santiago by Thursday, so we needed to get moving.  The taxi arrived and about 1 1/2 hours later, we were in Sarria (strange to think it would take us 4 days to walk that same distance).  

My passport - a little worn...
My passport stamps
We got our packs on and, as she pulled away, the taxi driver said, "No more than 20 kilometers a day!"  Good advice - that we did not heed...  And so, we prayed Daytime prayer together and, at 3:30pm, began our pilgrimage on the Camino of Santiago.  Here some photos of us as we started out and of us at the marker for Sarria, where we began.

My Camino brothers - all seminarians
Stephen Logue (Harrisburg), Shawn Roser (Venice, FL), Dan Carr (Greensburg, PA) 

First water stop of the Camino

These markers say how many km - 100 to go!
The first day we wanted to take it easy - only about 15 km or so.  Some beautiful scenery as we walked along.  After about 20 km we decided to start looking for an albuerge (pilgrim hotel) in which to stay for the night.  Here are some photos from our first day...

Found a place, looked nice.. "Sorry, we're full.  Next place is 10 km down the road."  Next place, "Sorry, we're full.  Next town is about 5 km down the road."  We finally arrived in the town of Portomarin - a big town, so we figured there'd be plenty of places to stay.  There were plenty of hotels, but they were all full.  We all reflected how we felt like Mary and Joseph going inn to inn looking for a place to stay.  "Sorry, no room" was the constant answer.  Finally a gentlemen referred us to a place he knew had some space.  Good thing because at this point 22.5 km, I'm REALLY tired. She didn't have room for 4 - but told us to wait a few minutes.  She went away, and when she returned she said, "OK, you're all set."  They were renovating a part of the hotel and she opened up 2 double-rooms just for us.  Never used before.  We were very grateful!  So finally at 9:30pm we had a room.  So we went upstairs, dropped our stuff in the room and went to the dining room for dinner (before it closed at 10pm).  

We learned a lesson that we immediately remedied - make reservations.  So we booked the rest of our nights - which then also gave us daily walking goals - and it was going to be ROUGH!  More to come...

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