This is, unashamedly, a picture gallery of the last days I spent in Madrid with my eldest daughter, Alice, and her lovely friend Heather.
There are no kilometres of northern Spanish paths to walk with a rucksack on my bag here in the city; but kilometres of pavements and grand monuments against those ever-blue skies. So much to see!
I have definitely fallen for the coloured buildings in Spain, especially rose pink and ochre together. As well as walking around the tourist areas, we were lead into the less well-known-to-tourists parts, and discovered, as you do, unexpected delights.
Gorgeous church ceilings.
I found the detail of street signs and graffiti very attractive.
We met Gill for lunch so she could bring me my bag – many thanks for your kindness in the middle of a hard working day, Gill. I visited the APSE centre. It turns out that Shiatsu rooms are the same the world over. How reassuring!
The early evening and nights saw Madrid in just as beautiful a light. The Temple of Debod is ‘one of the most unusual sights in Parque del Oeste, a park near the Royal Palace. The temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis once stood on the banks of the Nile. The construction of Egypt’s great Dam of Aswan meant that several historic monuments had to be moved in order to preserve them from flooding. Spain stepped in to assist and as an expression of gratitude, the Egyptian government gave the Temple of Debod to Spain in 1968’!
Whilst being happy in the present company, I was aware of also wishing for the hills and Camino in the midst of this busy metropolis. One of the reasons I came to Spain was to give myself time and space to discover where I am happiest, and I seem to be rural at heart!
‘To be bound in nature is perpetually distracting. Everything talks to you, greets you, demands your attention.’
I travelled by bus from Carrión (where I left the Camino for the second time) to Palencia (the main town of the Palencia region of northern Spain). I had space to walk around and see some sights, as well as spend an age in a phone shop. I bought a little, old-fashioned mobile phone from home so that I could use a Spanish SIM card for texting and phoning when I was there, and it was really useful.
Manolo, my host in Santander, had kindly taken me to get it sorted out, but getting it topped up, when it was initially registered in his name, turned out to be tricky. Afterwards, I sauntered back to the bus station with 20 minutes to spare, only to realise that I had left my charger in the shop. I ran as fast as I could, with my enormous backpack bumping around on my back, severely disturbing my previously calm morning, and risking missing the bus, only to find the place had shut for lunch. I did make it back alright, but not having the charger meant I spent a good deal of time borrowing from other people in the weeks to come!
Alice (my eldest daughter) arrived that evening from Scotland, and we initially stayed with Elisa. It’s a complicated relationship but here goes: my mother’s cousin, Angela (who I stayed with in the New Forest, see blog post 1) has a daughter, Sophia. Sophia has a Spanish family on her father’s side, and Elisa, her cousin, offered to look after us for 2 days. Elisa showed us around, cooked us meals, and was an overall great host.
Here’s an example – Alice did a lot of research before she came (she’s like that, well-organised, and she’s very interested in food), and when she said she was interested in trying sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup), Elisa upped and made it, showing Alice how to cook it into the bargain. Like many of the women I met in Spain, Elisa has a strong connection to her parents and grandparents, and she often cooked with the delicious ingredients from the kitchens and garden in the mountains outside Segovia from where her family originate.
Later I was telling them I had been served gulas at Rosa’s in Santander (blog post 3). (They are imitation Angulas, baby eels, which are now an expensive delicacy), and next thing I knew we were being served them too – delicious!
Another Shiatsu contact (see many of my other blogs, significantly #2) came from Rebecca for Bélén. How lovely to be able to meet up with a kindred spirit in the middle of a foreign city, somebody I had never met before, and be taken to see interesting sights, hearing all the while about the Spanish Shiatsu scene, its personalities and habits, and be bought the first sherry (jerez) I had drunk in years!
It’s a great way to discover a place, to wander around in company with a local; and when we met up later with Elisa and Alice, we continued altogether visiting the covered market, Mercado San Miguel, with its pescy delicacies, and any manner of ‘street food’, full to burst with foodies on their lunch breaks, in their smart working clothes.
We walked around the magnificent El Retiro park the next day, admiring the peacocks, discovering the famous red madrono fruit trees (symbol of Madrid), until it started to spit with rain.
We retired (sorry!) into the glass house where there was a sound installation, but drops became sheets, and, poorly dressed as I was for this weather, I became soaked through to the skin on the way to the restaurant. There I divested myself of my wet trousers and attempted to dry them under the hand drier in the Ladies. Damp, and with a necessary and warming red wine (Alice had vermouth and now has a taste for it!), Iwas introduced to another strong, interesting woman, Amanda, and there followed fascinating conversation and enormous plates of delicious pulpo in their own ink – it’s not often I have eaten black food.
Alice had booked an airbnb flat for night 3 onwards, and it was in a brilliant choice of area. Late on Saturday afternoon, after normal British closing time, we squeezed our way through shopping streets as crowded as the last shopping day before Xmas on Princes Street (Edinburgh), to Calle de Valverde, much quieter and with an admirable selection of excellent wine bars and, I think they are called, eateries!
We had a very, very late and enjoyable night catching up on each others’ news and sampling many types of wine and tapas, martini, tea and oh, so much more. We liked the Ribiera Garcia Viadero, which was a dry white, but not as dry as the Nivarius Rioja tempranillo, and didn’t go well with cheese; whereas the the third white, Sauvignon Arbeor, had honey undertones (we agreed), and was delicious with the manchego we were offered (it turns out there isn’t just one sort, as our supermarket packets would suggest, but many types of Manchego).
Sunday was street market day! The El Rastro is amazing, with street after buzzing street full of cool dudes selling hippie gear, affordable but original jewellery, and all manner of anything you might need or fancy, like new desert boots and leather purses decorated with Frida Kahlo. The side streets were full of shops selling vintage and antique furniture and clothes, and all the cafes seemed to be offering deals for 12 or more (acceptedly small) bottles of beer, which we saw a couple with a child ordering and drinking their way through.
After the rain, there were spectacular, more blue than blue, skies.
1.11.16 Castrojerez to Frómista 25.2km; 2.11.16 Frómista – to Carrión 20.5km
Camino pilgrims rise very early in the hostels, intent on packing up rucksacks, having breakfast, and getting on the road just before daybreak. And today it’s another gloriously beautiful morning as we leave Castrojerez, still walking in the Castilla y León region of Spain.
At the end of the first climb there’s a more unusual monument with the signature coquille St Jaques shell carved in stone.
Then the walk continues along the flat meseta landscapes in the hazy light.
Crosses the ancient, arched bridge, with autumnal trees making a grand backdrop…
… into the province of Palencia…
…where we walked past mountains of sugar beet.
As you walk through fields along this Way, with farmers driving tractors on Sundays, and the warm, earthy smell, the soil and rock colours changing as the kms go by, past varying crops of fruit and vegetables, you do get some idea of the rural life here, and certainly feel connected to the turn of the seasons. Despite the continued warmth, I know that the year is heading towards winter.
In an almost deserted town, where the bars listed in the book were all shut, and it looked like we wouldn’t get a drink, I spotted a sign and left the Path, rounded a corner where, is there? a little further? yes, an oasis. I was flagging and ready for a break!
Renewed after 20 minutes without the back pack, there’s always something new to see. Here are idyllic rivers, some with bulrushes standing tall – velvety brown or bursting open like cotton wool candy floss;
there, other waterways stretching into the distance under stone arches, sun glistening on the luminous surface.
‘The Canal de Castilla was a huge hydraulic engineering project of the second half of 18th century and beginning of 19th century. The Canal goes through parts of the provinces of Burgos, Palencia and Valladolid and was built to facilitate the transport of grain to the ports in the north coast so that they could be shipped overseas.’ *
I stayed that night at Frómista with its picturesque Romanesque church.
The next day there was road walking, always tougher on the feet than softer paths, and alongside, simple churches.
And I haven’t got tired of wondering at nature’s detail;
and trees glowing against the contrasting blue sky.
Until we arrived at the monastery turned hostel in Carrión.
Storks, which I thought were herons as they looked similar from a distance, are birds I was to see for many kms, if not on the top of steeples, then on their very own purpose-built towers (presumably to stop them making their massive nests on religious architecture). Did you know that they have a wing span of 10.5 feet (over 3 metres), and their nests have therefore been known to grow to over six feet (two metres) in diameter and about 10 feet (three metres) in depth? And a pair nested at the top of St Giles Kirk in 1416!
Carrión, next morning, was sunny with puffy, white clouds, as we collected in cafés for breakfast and to say our goodbyes.
The 3 English women were reluctantly leaving for home, and given a tearful send-off; and I was returning to Madrid again, this time for a pre-arranged reunion. I had mixed feelings: a heavy heart with leaving the Camino and friends behind, and joyful anticipation of seeing Alice (my eldest daughter) again.
30.10.16 – 31.10.16 Burgos to Hornillos to Castrojerez
This photo looks as if it was taken in the countryside, but is part of Burgos. I visited a number of places where the local councils have provided beautiful pathways in and/or out of their cities, and after 28kms walking from San Juan de Ortega, it eased the weary end-of-day-feeling.
The next morning, it didn’t take so long to get out of the urban environment I had spent the night in, and thankfully I was back into the countryside before too long, even if there were a few wrong turns to start with! It’s lucky that a friendly walker always seems to be there just as I am standing around looking bewildered, viewing first one, then a second possible turning, and somehow missing the yellow arrow.
Not long afterwards I started traversing km after km beside fields of dead sunflowers. They were a bit creepy, and sad. Maybe, I ponder, the seeds will be harvested later rather than all going to waste? But I discover through research on the web when I get home, that there are situations where this is not the case. Due to EU subsidies the farmers do not actually need the crop. What a dreadful waste.
We walk through villages where the Camino is their main livelihood, and so some decorate their houses in blue and yellow with the familiar logo, making sure we walkers feel welcome, and presumably encouraging us to spend money in the bars.
We pass delightful churches. Many are very simple with a single tower and entrance, charming in their structural naivety, and so attractive against the blue sky. They are not usually open, and when there is a long way to walk, we don’t often stop and view the interiors. They contribute to the overall spiritual atmosphere, reminding us that we tread in the footsteps of pilgrims through the ages. Their presence encourages silence.
A largeish town, Hornillos del Camino (see that the name reflects its dependence on the Path), is in the region of Burgos, Castille y León. It is a well-kept and sturdy town, with wide streets of grey/yellow local stone, a Catholic church tower, and wooden balconies, and will be full of travellers in the summer months.
The atmosphere was convivial that evening at the albergue: I shared a ‘pilgrim menu’ (3 courses with wine for 10 euros) with the others, and a good time was had by all!
Hornillos has a backdrop of hills, which does not prepare you for the meseta, the flat and open countryside which follows for several days. Not having to watch for boulders or strive uphill does mean that one km merges into another, and that releases the Mind.
‘Think while walking, walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.’ p.20 A Philosophy of walking, Frédéric Gros
I only just get used to being able to see my destination an hour ahead, when something very unexpected happens: The sign to the ruins of the Convento de San Antón is unasssuming, suggesting to me that it will be another small religious building. But there is the sound of heavenly music, and it gets louder and louder, until I round a corner to be faced with astonishing flying buttresses right across the pathway.
It is an architectural spectacle! I have to stop and gaze at the most detailed and highly carved archway, replete with stone figures many of whose heads are missing due to the ravages of time, and there, there’s a donkey (or is it a camel?).
In addition, on the right is a courtyard from which I discover the music emanates, together with familiar faces enjoying drinks and a toilet break. It turns out to be one of those amusing tourist interludes where the barman produces a ‘bag’ with a long, thin spout, full of wine, that you hold up high and pour into your mouth (or all over your face if you aren’t careful!).
After these antics, we once again split into various groupings, and make off on the trail to Castrojerez with its idiosyncratic signage, and large shared dormitory for another night of snoring!