Fin: Santiago to Porto

We returned to Santiago de Compestella from the end of the world and said our goodbyes to Saint James. With one last walk around the cathedral, a final farewell to his remains below the altar, and a visit to the cathedral museum, we finally parted ways with the city.    The “spare” botafumiero on display in the cathedral library. Mikey really likes ringing bells! On the real though, look at the size of these!!

 

It was, however, a bittersweet departure from Santiago as this city has for so long been our ultimate Camino destination. Still, we once again packed our bags and headed off for parts unknown.

Porto, the major city in the north of Portugal, is known for its dessert wine and ceramic goods. As it has close economic ties with Great Britain, English is an extremely common second language. This is a good thing as neither Mikey nor Frank speak ANY Portuguese!

 

Moreover, Mikey’s Spanish is useless due to centuries of bad blood between Spain and Portugal. For instance, restaurant menus are normally written in three languages: Portuguese, Engligh, and French. (Don’t even try speaking Spanish!) Likewise, weather maps on Spanish news broadcasts show a gray area where Portugal should be while Portuguese stations similarly blot-out Spain. Like a trailer park brawl, it’s best to just stay out of it!

So…here’s a nice view of downtown Porto!   Mikey and Frank took turns posing in front of the Dom Luis I Bridge. It’s a double-decker metal bridge that has become quite iconic for this city. Oh yeah, we walked across both levels for good measure.    Just can’t seem to get away from the churches! This is the Sé Catedral of Porto. It’s a pretty standard romanesque cathedral with thick walls and narrow slotted windows.

Franks thinks Mikey has taken enough pictures of churches to last a lifetime. Mikey reminds Frank that we are on a Catholic pilgrimage.

But even the most hardy pilgrim succumbs to thirst! As such, Mikey celebrated 225 years of Port wine making with the chaps at Sandeman Vintners. While they’ve had ample time to perfect their craft, Mikey has appointed himself final arbiter of this. Actually, he is using today and tomorrow to research Port wine for future Los Angeles markets. (Frank thinks he just wants the tax write-offs!)

One more pose below the iconic bridge.

Well, we bid you adéu with a shot across the bay. Prominent in the foreground is a Rabelo boat. This style of small river cargo vessel was designed to transport barrels of port wine downriver to the larger cargo ships that would export Porto’s finest to all parts abroad. Frank and Mikey just walked home.
Anywho, we’d better sign off for the night as we lost/gained (?) an hour today (look it up, Portugal is 1 hour ahead of the rest of Europe.) Let’s just say that Frank and Mikey are e an extra hour tired. ¡Tchau!

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Day 18: Foncebadon to Molinaseca

Last night’s sleeping arrangements could probably have been better. Frank is still not sure whether it was our French or German bunk mates who flavored the room so pungently. Still, we awoke rather early for mountain village time, and gathered our things. 

Our host from the previous evening greeted us and asked if we were hungry. Looking around at other pilgrims’ coffees and plates of toast, Mikey was a bit hesitant. After all, one can only consume so many carbs in a day! But our host understood our quandary and instructed Mikey to sit down and wait for breakfast. 
Needless to say, all the other pilgrims were jealous of our “American Breakfast” of eggs, bacon, and (of course) bread. 

Oh, and you can totally tell whether bacon is fresh based off of the skin. This porker was definitely a local resident. 

 Ok, no relation to our breakfast – we just thought that the horses in a pasture with snow capped mountains in the background were worth posting. The morning was completely beautiful with only a few wispy clouds. This was perhaps the most picturesque start to a day yet.

The Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) is one of the most iconic places on the Camino Frances. It has a great camio in the movie The Way and is written about in all Camino guides. So, what’s it all about?

Well, the Cruz de Ferro (Mikey begins as he puts on his professor hat) stands 1,505 meters atop a mountain along the way. A tradition dating back to the late medieval period exists wherein pilgrims deposit a stone carried with them from their point of origin. Ergo, there’s a big pile of rocks at the cross’s base. But wait, there’s more!

The mountain was originally a holy place of worship for the Roman god Mercury until it was “christianized” during the middle ages by placing an iron cross at its summit. And while we are splitting hairs, the mountain is actually 1,500 meters high, but the pile of rocks measures 5 additional meters raising the summit to 1,505m in total. 

 Just off from the Cruz de Ferro stands a quiet hermitage which is a bit more modern.  

ALSO standing nearby is a heifer who don’t play! She tried to charge Mikey 3€ for this picture. Talk about primadonna!

This was our amazing view for a large part of the day. Mikey thinks the mountains looked good, too.  

What goes up, must eventually come down – including Frank. The hardest part of today was descending the peaks we had climbed over the past few days. This picture does not accurately portray how treacherous our hike was. Frank is walking at a 35% grade over loose shale rocks. Hang ten, Papa!

Speaking of shale, we noticed that something was missing from this picture: terracotta roofs! As we saw in the picture above, this region abounds with shale rock. Thus, no one wastes time baking clay shingles when they can layer thin shale rock over their heads. 

Something else was missing: food in our stomachs. So Frank and Mikey took a break and grabbed some healthy grub. 

This is the standard Spanish salad. It consists of lettuce, tomato, onion, tuna, carrots, and corn. The last two ingredients are optional, but the first four are mandatory. This is served with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. (Fun fact: a salad with tuna is considered to be vegetarian!)

 Speaking of healthy grub, Mikey got his first taste of Galician cider! Unlike that in the Basque Country, this cider is sweet and carbonated. Yum!

This is a typical sight entering many of the villages in this area. Again, notice the shale roof. 
Just a picturesque reminder of where we’re headed. 

After many miles and steep descents, we caught sight of our destination, Molinaseca. Prominent in the skyline is the 17th century Church of Saint Nicholas. 

Pilgrims enter the city via the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge). While this is actually a medieval bridge, it is built atop the ruins of an original Roman structure. 

Mikey likes it!
Just a front-facing view of the Iglesia de San Nicolas. 

We stayed at a really amazing hotel called the Palacio Hostal. Oh, and the manager did like ALL of our laundry for 7€! Total score, plus we had a balcony overlooking one of the main streets. The trees out front were kinda wacko, though. 

  Speaking of wacko, this was a most original way of promoting a grocery store. Take note, hipster DJ wannabes working that sales job! 
 
Still, we decided to go out for cooked food at a restaurant along the river. Oh, boy!

  In honor of the Camino and its scallop theme, we feasted on some grilled shellfish. The ones on the left are grilled with a delicious crême sauce while those to the right are more traditional olive oil and garlic based. In case you were wondering, neither Frank nor Mikey could decide which was better. 

For the main course, we both opted for fried local river trout. Having passed SO many streams and rivers, we mutually concluded that there must be something tasty in the water. Yep, Mikey and Frank called this one spot-on. 

Unlike American-style fried fish, the Spanish do not batter their catch. Instead, they clean said delicacy and drop it into a shallow pan of sizzling olive oil with garlic. A pinch of salt and pepper finishes off the dish perfectly. That is to say, “fall-off-the-bone perfection!” 

Well, that’s about all for this leg of our journey. Tomorrow will be a short walk TO a city and a LONG walk through all it offers. Stay tuned for Ponferrada! Buenas noches, vos. 

Day 14: Reliegos to Leon

Frank and Mikey woke early to begin the 25km march to Leon. The morning began with a beautiful sunrise before totally drenching us later in the day. Oh, well. Due to weather, Mikey was conservative with the camera. Still, we have a rest day in Leon, so maybe a few more pictures next time. 

The morning sky leaving Reliegos. 

 Frank in front of the city walls in Mansilla de las Mulas.  

For whatever reason, this emergency call box sign REALLY disturbed Mikey.  

Impromptu markers like this are common on the Camino. Either someone died or retired their boots here some time ago. Frank and Mikey kept going. 

  We kept going, that is, until reaching a footbridge with most detailed instructions for passage. Frank’s still not sure if we executed our crossing correctly and Mikey has since vowed to swim across rivers when at all possible. 

A little confused, we stopped halfway across to snap a picture of our efforts. 

 After miles of rainy weather, we were happy to see this overwhelmed bridge at the entrance to Leon.  
    
We dried out a bit before going to the cathedral square for a late night dinner and a few pictures. The cathedral was closed for Saint George’s Day, but we will tour it tomorrow and will have some shots from the interior. G’ nite!