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Up, Up, and Away! Trekking Across Spain – 179-201/200+ Camino Photos

I am drawing closer to another milestone with my 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 plus Spanish Photos!), and since it has been a while since I’ve posted, I am making this an extra long entry tonight. Last time I visited the fairy tale castle in Ponferrada. Onward I trekked, 18 kilometers from Ponferrada to Pieros, my feet hurting all the while. I ended my day early when I came to the lovely vegetarian albergue El Serbal y la Luna.

El Serbal y la Luna Albergue Spain

It is a large old home, made of bricks, mortar, and heavy wooden beams. I stayed in the room with four massive bunk beds and a view out the skylight to the starry night sky – truly one of my favorite stays. The communal meal was prepared by a chef who was next on her way to work for the summer on a Greek island. How romantic is that?

Two friends I knew from the trail showed up that afternoon – Antonia from California and Fiz from New Zealand or England, depending on the day. The albergue in the previous town, Cacabelos, was closed. As such, El Serbal y la Luna filled up quickly. However, in the late afternoon an older German couple showed up, huffing and puffing. Sweat running down his bald head, the husband proclaimed: “I am 72 years old. I will die if I cannot stay here!” We crowded in and made room lest he have to keep going.

Antonia and I headed off toward Trabedelo in the morning, taking a detour through cherry orchards and vineyards. The view was beautiful, I’m sure you will agree:

Vineyards near Pieros Spain

Vineyards near Pieros, Spain

Vineyards near Pieros Spain

Antonia and I parted ways, certain that we would see one another again soon – such is the way with companions on the Camino. One does not wait too long before pilgrims come by, although this group of fast-walking French people did not seem inclined to stop and chat:

tall bridge

I passed gushing streams:

gushing river

And little villages that looked a lot like American suburbs, minus the farm animals:

chickens and sheep

A few stops back, Scott from Georgia had told me a tale of his first Camino, when he had snagged a horseback ride up the long ascent to O Cebreiro. What could be better? I thought. When I saw this sign, I knew what to look for up ahead in Herrarias:

O Cebreiro horseback

There was much to hold my attention on the way:

overlook

And soon I arrived at the sleepy village of Herrerias:

pasture

Though it was closing on 11 am, I rousted Victor out of bed, and he kept me waiting until he rounded up four more riders to accompany us up the long hill to O Cebreiro. One young German girl who had never ridden before chain-smoked cigarettes. As she contemplated the ride ahead, she repeated, “Mein Gott! Mein Gott!” Presently, Victor appeared with our mounts:

horse wrangler

And off we went, up the spectacular heather-covered hills:

on the trail

The views were inspiring:

heather

heather2

Although the knotted muscles in my thighs protested loudly. I ignored the pain as we passed the winded pilgrims on foot. At last we came to the top of the world and the village of O Cebreiro, where winds blow cold and hard and the peasants lived in round stone huts:

hut

You may notice that there is no chimney. The hearth inside is always lit, but the smoke seeps out through the woven mat roof. We supped on octopus, a regional specialty which I found to be chewy. And the intact suckers creeped me out a bit. Fiz and Antonia both showed up, and together we visited the simple church with a talented organist:

inside church

candles

The panorama is magnificent, green hills all around:

panorama

 

framed

view

The albergue perches sturdy and tall near an edge. Its boot room sports the most magnificent view of any I encountered:

Phone Pictures 978

The wind howled all night, and continued on in the morning. Fog and rain were my companions as I trudged on like so many before mehat

~

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

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Castles in the Air: Ponferrada, Spain – 170-178/200 Camino Photos

Much like a pilgrim stumping up a long, steep hill, I’ve slowed on my posting of 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 Spanish Photos!), but I have vowed to travel onward! Next stop? Ponferrada. The name means iron (ferrada) bridge (pon). Alas, the bridge was unremarkable. But the castle? Quite the opposite.

long view

It is called the Templar Castle, built in the 13th century atop the remains of a Visogothic fort. Underneath this Visogothic fort lay the Roman one, which overlay a pre-Roman castro.

It was such a perfect day for exploring.

perfect day

sunny blue skies

Looking out from the walls, you see the city below, and the thick bricks.

tower

looking down

keyhole

The road paralleling the wall leads to the church, standing proud and distinguished at the city center.

city view

What treasures do the towers and thick walls hold? The most valuable things of all.

book

Lavishly illustrated, this book is the Cosmography of Claudio Ptolomeo from the 15th century. It is on loan from Paris. What is next? What is always next, on the Camino de Santiago …

yellow shell

Searching for the yellow shell at every intersection, and walking onward.

~

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

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Topping the Misty Spanish Mountains – 159-169/200 Camino Photos

It’s been a little while since my last post in my 100 Spanish Photos series (now 200 Spanish Photos!), but I have much more to share. This section of photos has me traveling from Astorga to Rabanal, then beyond to Molinseca, which was the most challenging part of my Camino.

What do you do when you are walking the Camino de Santiago and it is a rainy day? Well, you walk right on through it, trudging up, up, up the hills. At the crest, you find these makeshift crosses. They are a celebration of sorts, declaring for all: “We made it. Our devotion has brought us thus far, and will take us further still.”

Camino 1213 (Copy)

The hillside is beautiful with purple heather, and quiet mountains.

Camino 1271

In the folds of the mountains lie little Spanish towns.

Camino 1275 (Copy)

And as you walk in the footsteps of pilgrims throughout the ages, a saxophone player fills the land with beauty.

The strains of his song carry for hill after hill, accompanied by birdsong. Messages of love and generosity occur all along the Way.

At the top of a challenging hill, soaked by rain and chilled by cold, I reached the famed Cruz de Ferro, an iron monument sacred for many since Celtic times. The tradition is that you carry a stone with you during the whole Camino, symbolizing something you wish to give up. Then, prayerfully, you place it at the foot of the cross. Thus unburdened, you carry on with your Camino.

Camino 1253 (Copy)

If you are lucky you may see a pilgrim that carries a staff and wears a heavy wool cloak.

Camino 1252 (Copy)

Speaking of the past, atop a lonely hill near Manjarin I visited a handmade outpost occupied by Tomas, who claims to be the last of the Knights Templar. He gives pilgrims a dry bench to rest on, and offers a rather precarious outhouse with a stunning view of the valley below.

Camino 1259 (Copy)

Camino 1264 (Copy)

Camino 1260 (Copy)

Camino 1262 (Copy)

Heading onward to Molinseca I encountered the most difficult challenge of the way – wet slippery slate and large rocks underfoot, both of these made worse by sore feet and general exhaustion. Still, the beauty was undeniable, and I appreciated the vivid colors and grand views.

Camino 1281 (Copy)

Camino 1282 (Copy)

The peace and solitude may be glimpsed by this short video, which features a the call of a cuckoo bird.

 

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

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Amazing Astorga, Spain – 148-158/200 Camino Photos

On April 23rd, 2015, I set out from Villaverde, Spain, on my way to Astorga. The hills, valleys, and red earth, were peaceful.

red earth

So peaceful that I decided to preserve the surroundings with shaky, dizzying video

Up I went to a squatter’s residence at the top of the hill, overlooking Astorga far below. David lives there in joy, peace, and simplicity. Here he is with my Camino friend Sarah.

Sarah and David

He maintains a little snack stand that is run off donations.

stand

On his free time, or during the slow seasons on the Camino, he makes esoteric art like this. He has made a humble home in the lean-to behind the tree on the left for six years.

swirl

Also atop a hill is one of the many crosses with mementos cluttering the base.

Camino 1123

In Astorga, a few Euros buys you admission to the cathedral, the museum, and the Gaudi house below.

gaudi

Inside, it is sacred, colorful, and playful. Signature Gaudi.

stained glass

inside

blue vines

The museum contained intricate, gorgeous illuminated manuscripts.

illuminated

beautiful

I could have stared at these manuscripts for hours. I had, instead, to get back to the albergue to wash my clothes and take a shower. A good night’s sleep and I continued on the Camino de Santiago.

If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

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Exploring the Splendor of the Past in Leon, Spain – 131-147/200 Camino Photos

Lest you think that León, Spain, a major stop along the Camino de Santiago, has only gorgeous Gothic stained glass windows to recommend it, let me assure you there is much more. Exquisitely fashioned bronze cathedral doors …

Cathedral doors Leon, Spain

Vaults upon vaults in the claustro (cloisters)

Claustro Leon, Spain

Claustro Leon, Spain

With incredible detail everywhere you look

Claustro Leon, Spain detail

And shrines in the most unlikely places. This one sat high above a city street, in the wall of an ancient building.

Shrine in Leon, Spain

Water features like this mesmerizing sculpture adorn the plazas

Then there was a visit to the incomparable Real Colegiato de San Isidoro. I could not take photos inside the Panteon de Reyes (pantheon of kings) that were painted in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Panteon de Reyes

Panteon de Reyes

frescoes detail2

The colors are as vibrant today as they were centuries past. This same building held a gorgeous illustrated bible from the Mozarabic period (Christian/Muslim period) from the Christian Dark Ages – 960 AD.

mozabaric

More walking, afterwards, took me past the ever-vigilant storks

Camino 1027 (Copy)

to the Museo de Leon and the gorgeous Paradore (state-run luxury hotel housed in castles)

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With beautiful details

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Camino 1072 (Copy)

And the image of a pilgrim looking on … or up, as it were. Notice the yellow arrow in front of it. Such arrows guided me on my journey, kilometer after kilometer.

leon

The splendor soon petered away, into city parks

Camino 1079 (Copy)

And bodegas (wine cellars built into the sides of hills, right off the streets)

Camino 1083 (Copy)

Camino 1084 (Copy)

I will leave Leon here, but my journey was not over yet. Stay tuned for more soon. If you’ve missed any of the photos in this series, feel free to backtrack over here.

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Cathedral of Light in Leon, Spain – 108-130/200 Camino Photos

 

Little needs to be said about my visit to León, Spain as I walked the Camino de Santiago. As one of the largest cities along the French Way, it is a highlight of the trip. The cathedral in the old part of town is rather plain on the outside. But the inside! It is a marvel. I believe you will agree …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

 

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Discovering the Spirit of Burgos, Spain – 108-121/200 Camino Photos

The historic heart of Burgos, Spain, is chocked full of shops, tourists, clergy, and workers. Buildings are joined in a continuous wall, and the daytime is alive with motion and sound. One place is different, though. You can see part of it on the right hand side of the photo.

crowded

Here is a better view. It is Divina Pastora, a chapel and albergue just steps away from the great Gothic cathedral in Burgos. Look closely at its design. You can see the oldest part, with light stone, and the more recent brick floor added atop.

Camino 864

It is a humble, quiet place. Simple. The complete opposite of the cathedral I will detail below. The albergue occupies the upper floor. It is small, but clean and warm. Alicia (Al-ee-see-yah) staffs it. In the evenings she sings in the chapel. In the morning she serenaded us awake with gentle guitar music and her sweet voice singing “Good morning, good morning, good morning.” The sound of her voice, the beauty of it and the sweetness, makes it my favorite memory from the Camino.

There, I encountered the Italian man I met in Santo Domingo de Calzada.

“Are you going to the cathedral?” I asked.

“No, I don’t like that you have to pay admission. A church should not profit from admission.”

I had heard this sentiment before. The admission price didn’t bother me, though, because the churches and historic sites that charge it must care for their collections, and this can be costly.

“You can tell me how it is,” he said.

I had never been to a Gothic cathedral before. The outside is nothing less than spectacular.

cathedral2

The interior can be just as overwhelming

interior

Vaults, arches, marble, sculptures and more. All of it designed to draw the eye upward, to heaven, to the Light of the World

up

Works of art meet the eye in all directions

pediment

 

closeup

detail

Even stairways are fantastic

stairway

But pathos lurks amidst the beauty. Note the upper right hand corner of the below shot, just above the chandelier.

stainedglass

It is known as the Flycatcher. A figure made in Germany, it rings a bell on the hour, and its mouth opens as if to catch flies. Forgive the blurry picture below.

clockguy

It is, dare I say it? Creepy. But it is not the only creepy thing in the cathedral. There are crypts, because medieval people wanted to be as close as possible to the sacred in cathedrals, hoping it would wear off on them, even after death.

crypt

That is why the bones of saints were kept and revered, like this piece of an arm

creepy

 

Still, the opulence all around can leave one flat. How many mouths would have been fed from the cost of this incredible place? It is clear that while it was created ostensibly for spiritual reasons, it was also meant to communicate worldly magnificence. Burgos was the capital of Castile and Leon.

Back at the Divina Pastora, the Italian man said, “Well, how was it?”

“Just fantastic!” I gushed. I handed him my camera so that he could look at the photos.

“What do you think?” I asked when he was done.

“I should have gone,” he said, frowning a bit.

I could not argue with him there.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

 

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The Unexpected Beauties of Burgos, Spain – 100-107/200 Camino Photos

With a restless need for travel, I have been to a number of countries in Europe. That, combined with a master’s in history, has given me the conceit that I am fairly well-educated and well-read. Why, then, had I never heard of beautiful Burgos before walking the Camino de Santiago? True, it is not a huge city – the entire metropolitan area numbers about 200,000 people. And the approach through industrial areas and barren airfields can be dismal. I was coming from the east, and pre-warned about the dull walk, I opted to take the river route. Placid streams, strolling couples, and floating waterfowl were better companions than choking smoke and the whir of machinery.

The outskirts of the city were crowded and dense, and for a while I despaired of enjoying myself in this city. But as I made my way into the old quarter, I was pleasantly surprised.

First, the view of the spectacular Gothic cathedral from the river

cathedral

Then, drawing closer, statues of El Cid, the ever-popular Spanish hero:

El Cid1

A noble medieval knight

knight

And a weary pilgrim, nearly naked. I was better clothed than he, but I could identify with his fatigue.

Camino 871

Monuments stand tall

monument

Though if you look closely you can see that storks have taken them over as well.

nest

Until at last you come to this castle-like gateway, which leads to the cathedral and the old squares and gathering places.

castle

Further wonders awaited me, as did the bittersweet parting of my traveling companion. I will save these for the next post, though.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

 

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Encouragement Along the Way – 98-100/100 Camino Photos

By the time you read stage 12 in the Brierley guidebook (the bible of the Camino de Santiago), many are struggling. Even the residents write messages of encouragement on their driveways. In English, this reads, “Good walk, pilgrim!”

driveway

Perhaps it is the accumulated weight of day after day of walking that causes many to despair. Perhaps it is the hills. Or the rocks. Yes, probably these. There are so many of them! But they are easy materials for an artist’s imagination as well.

heart

Not too far into my day I stopped at a little shop for a bathroom break and a cup of coffee. Sitting dejected at a table was Gisele, a young Austrian girl who had stayed at the same donativo as I in Tosantos.

“How are you?” I asked.

Her face crumpled and tears sprang to her eyes. “Not good,” she admitted. I knew that her foot had been hurting her. It had gotten worse, and she did not think she could make it through the walk today, which traveled through countryside sparse of habitation.

I suggested a bus or taxi into Burgos and she admitted that she did not want to ask her father for extra money for such an indulgence, whether or not it was necessary.

“I am sure he would not mind,” I said to her, putting myself in her father’s place.

She didn’t seem convinced. After a little more chatting she decided to pay the money for the taxi. The sadness had passed and she now had a plan to continue. It felt good to be a small part, no matter how unremarkable, of another’s Camino just when she needed it the most.

onward

Later, I saw Gisele in the cathedral in Burgos. Her demeanor had changed totally. “How I love this place!” she said. Indeed, it is a highpoint in the trip. And, since I have many more photos to share with you, I will continue this series beyond just 100 photos. Will you join me on the Way? I hope so.

~

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.

 

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Life in All Its Manifestations – 92-97/100 Camino Photos

In the Montes de Oca along the Camino de Santiago approaching Burgos you will find nature in all its glory. That which is manipulated by humans such as these sheep

and this display of succulents

succulents

And that which is wild and unexpected, like this little denizen of the mountains

slug

A bit beautiful

colors

A bit creepy

creepy

And perhaps a bit strange. A bit of Scripture, out of context, and oddly resonant, springs to mind. “I am a brother to dragons, and companion to owls.” Job 30:29.

Soon enough, though, such musings disappear as I pass once again into a small village, and am reminded of the many kilometers ahead.

ages

~

It seems that 100 photos are just not enough. I have traveled about 300 kilometers so far – but there is much more to go. Please, then. Join me as I extend this series to 100 more Camino photos.

If you’ve missed any of these photos, feel free to backtrack over here.