Via de la Plata Camino – Seville to Guillena

Beginning the Via de la Plata from the start this time. Seville to Guillenna, 25 kms. 16.5.17

Jésus kindly dropped me off at a very early hour, still dark, to begin the Via de la Plata in the city of Seville, in deep southern Spain.

Negotiating my way out of town I see a beautiful doorway, the flash of my camera lighting it up. What lies through the metaphorical portal for me at the start of this camino?

All the Spanish caminos have Santiago de Compostella as their final destination. I had completed the Camino Francés in late November 2016 and fancied continuing to walk, so started the VDLP (as it is known in ‘the club’!) from the end, in the direction of Seville where everyone else starts it. In fact it was very tricky to negotiate the signs and arrows going backwards, so I only did 10 days or so and promised myself I would recommence from the beginning. And here I was, 5 months later!

It was actually pitch dark at 6.15am except for the parts with streetlights.

‘He gathered these details as he walked, and he could not have gathered them had he not opened himself to the kinds of encounter and perception that travel on foot makes possible. Walking, Lee notes, refines awareness: it compels you to ‘tread’ a landscape ‘slowly’ to ‘smell its different soils.’ The car-passenger by contrast, ‘races at gutter height, seeing less than a dog in a ditch’. Lee, like Leigh Fermor, believed in walking not only as a means of motion but also as a means of knowing..’. taken from Robert Macfarlane’s introduction to ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ by Laurie Lee.

Camino de Santiago is carved down the right hand side of this stone marker at the edge of the bypass.

Like Laurie Lee, I had travelled across Spain, unlike him I had spent one day in fast cars (Zaragoza – Madrid – Seville), and so I resonated with the above quote. I was so very glad to have my feet back on the ground and be moving at what felt like my natural pace again.

And of course I got lost as usual, attempting to find my way away from the urbanisation. Seville is a beautiful place, but my heart lies in the rural landscape and I was keen to move on there. The birds, my constant companions, were wide awake. I trundled through wasteland searching for the yellow arrows – scouring the edges of benches, trunks of trees, discovering one wrapped around a lamp post, and another on a motorway bridge underpass.

These photos are in order along the path.

My advice to fellow travellers: everyone knows the way, ask, and/or wait patiently for a sign.

Do not go too fast, look back so you get sights of the sprawl you are leaving behind.

And if, like me, you have left before dawn, you will have the added bonus of seeing the sky lighten gradually at your back.

Like many parts of all the caminos, the outskirts of cities and large towns are less than salubrious, but because I was so excited, and have been practicing appreciation of all that is around me, there is beauty if you look in the right way.

I was not really going that fast, but there were 3 Germans walking out at the same time as me, and they went ‘like the clappers’. I needed to keep up with them, so I thought, because they were so confident, but it was not my natural speed and there was not enough time to take focused photos. I have kept it in as a record of the route.

I was hastening to keep up and did not take the time to stop long enough to focus.
Crossing the River Guadalquivir further up.

There were trees laden with oranges (no photos) lining the streets, and I kept on going straight.

Racing Germans speeding ahead.
And horses tethered by the roadside. I was to see many of them as I made my way north. Good, free grazing.
Another dreadfully blurred photo, not for show, but for those following the route as well.
It is an exercise in appreciation of the industrial.
Sun all but up now.
We all 4 lost our bearings here. We asked someone who, most unusually, sent us the wrong way.
Hints now of things to come. See the yellow and white decorations on the church with a flat bell tower?

I dashed into a cafe for a take-away croissant (no breakfast – very stupid – I never learn), and promptly lost the others. I panicked thinking I would never find the way on my own, so I ran to catch up. Ran! It is no fun with a backpack I can tell you.

Gave the casino a miss though.
More motorway.
Dull weather.
But at least I was starting to see a view of the countryside and not just railings and dual carriageways.
Before I left, Pedro dealt me a card for the journey. It was ‘Amistad’ meaning friendship. When I came across this around 8am, it seemed like an auspicious sign.

The unmistakeable sound of a peacock heralded my arrival in Santiponce, 7km from Seville, after two hours. One of the richest artistic and cultural heritages in Andalusia, it is sited on the banks of the River Gualdaquivir, which suffered several floods. One caused its surviving inhabitants to take refuge in the monastery (see below), which then granted the highest land for the safe re-building of the town as it is now.

I searched for the squawk. It was on the roof, silhouetted against the morning sky.
I do not know what tree these seed pods come from, but I liked the shape and colour against the cracked earth.
Early morning sweeping in her pinny. Seemed like a classic Spanish sight somehow.

There were more orange trees and the sun was trying its hardest. I have to say that after yesterday’s scorcher, I was rather glad that it was not as hot, given it was my first day back on the road with the rucksack and all.

Beautiful though isn’t it? The ex-Monastery of San Isidoro del Campo, founded in 1301, on the edge of the town.

A very attractive place, Santiponce.

I took a detour to see the Roman Theatre but it was shut. Only open in the summer (I guess May is not the summer) for performances. The nearby Tourist Information was very helpful though and it had lovely clean toilets.

The Roman Theatre.
Attractive detail on the main street.
I just love pink houses.
And the famous Seville oranges. People were picking them up off the street and eating them.

The Anfiteatro de Italica opens at 9am and one of my favourite blog writers recommended seeing it (see end of page), so I sat and ate an orange, listened to the birds, and rested my back until I could get in.

Wish my dad had been with me to see this.

So very old.
The amphitheatre itself – I could almost hear the bellowing of the crowd.
And feel the fear of the gladiators.

There were gardeners planting and tending red roses, just like characters from Alice in Wonderland. But it was hard to rest and enjoy when I knew there were miles to go. So I rejoined the Way and the flora and fauna.

An hour from Santiponce and it was starting to get hot. The smell of a jam factory meant I was headed back into an industrial area, and a massive motorway junction followed.

Not great.
At least I knew I was well on my way now. No need for anyone to guide me.

After a little while I was rewarded with beautiful wild flowers – azure cornflowers, cow parsley like big white iced buns with a beetle instead of a cherry on top, silver grey thistles, reeds, irregularly shaped fields of wheat – green and pale yellow – as well as pylons and traffic sounds competing with the birds.

Avenues of plane trees.

I was on my way again – this was what I had waited for.

Thought it was a beetle in the middle, then I realised they all had them and that it was a seed.

The path was stony and my feet were getting sore.

The plants were undulating in the welcome breeze.

What were those yellow flowers in the distance?
It looks pretty but this flooding on the path was somewhat challenging to manoeuvre.

Piles of ants descended on scraps. Their diagonal queues dissected the path and I tried to avoid them. Birds played together in the breeze.

Ah, that’s what they are! Turning their heads as they follow the sun around, like submarine periscopes. Beautiful vertical rays of brightness.
The backs of the sunflowers like bonnets, their faces all to the sun, hiding the fact that each one is swarming with bees.

More flowers: Bindweed and borage. I was totally alone. There were no words except the occasional ‘buen camino’ to and from cyclists flying past, shoulders up to their ears. Now I was able to breathe in time with my walking steps. To notice a butterfly I hadn’t seen before – pale green with a splash of yellow and just a few black dots like Kandinsky, beautifully blended with the flower colours. I saw a dragonfly. I felt happy.

‘Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart’. Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit p.5.

It was a lesson in endurance. When you are tired, you look into the distance and never believe you will ever get there, but you do. And it is joyous, my arrival into Guilenna.

‘Bienvenido’ = welcome.

There was quite a way before I really arrived. White houses with terracotta roofs greeted me at the end of the very dusty road. It turns out I should have gone over the bridge, not round by the river. I should have known when I found myself climbing over fences! The yellow arrows were once again hard to see.
Here was the prettiest church ever seen.

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Granada.

The first hostel was shut and I had to ask many women before I finally arrived at Hostel La Luz at 12.15 and it was 25 degrees by that time. The lady at reception was lovely – friendly, and informative. I was the first to arrive and had a dorm to myself next to the small courtyard, on the ground floor. The facilities were basic but fine for me, I had everything I needed.

I had decided to send things back to the UK (no use for my swimming things, or so I thought) to lighten my load. The post office was so, so slow – I sat and waited, watched and listened to the excitable Spanish conversations, and eventually it was my turn. It was a simple thing to do, not very expensive, and I sent some post cards as well. I rested and then had to go out again for food – what a very long main road it was in the 28 degree heat at 5pm! Or in fact 35 degrees depending where you looked (phone or electronic sign in the town).

I went to the start of Mass in the evening. Inside, it was highly elaborate as you would expect of a Spanish Catholic church, although there was a simple wooden roof: one part with stars, and other pale yellow vaulted stone. There was a very life-like, full-sized Virgin wearing a real black velvet dress embossed in gold with a fantastic silver tiara and beautiful lace scarf and collar. The women were all in attendance, one with the sound turned up on her mobile, tap tapping in response to the message,which sounded very loud reverberating around the nave.

Such a pretty place.

The little girl who entered in her gold shoes, bracelets had a carrier bag with a pink ball in it. She put her finger to her lips for a loud shush to grandma and great grandma. Extended families wore their everyday clothes. The deeply tanned young men in white t-shirts ranged around looking at the iconography. I was attthe back and attracted attention presumably because I was not local. It was very much of a social gathering before the service.

Later I enjoyed my own brand of spirituality – t’ai chi on the terrace in the evening sun with the village roofs on two sides, the countryside I had just walked through on a third, and the place I will walk into on the fourth. I gave thanks for the whole situation.

Another blog about the VDLP http://viadelaplata.canalblog.com/

Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1019332.As_I_Walked_Out_One_Midsummer_Morning

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/06/03/wanderlust-rebecca-solnit-walking/

Madrid 2, Spain

7 November 2016

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This is, unashamedly, a picture gallery of the last days I spent in Madrid with my eldest daughter, Alice, and her lovely friend Heather.

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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!

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Leafy streets, dappled sunshine

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.

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Iglesia de San Andres

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Gorgeous church ceilings.

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San Francisco El Grande

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I found the detail of street signs and graffiti very attractive.

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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!

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APSE – Asociacion de profesionales de Shiatsu
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http://www.shiatsu-apse.es

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’!

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Temple of Debod.
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Catedral Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena

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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.’

p.54 A Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros

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The hills in the distance – far away

Tourist Attractions in Madrid blog

Stitches of Time blog Madrid – Doors Galore!

Madrid 1, Spain

3 – 7 November 2016, Madrid (via Palencia).

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Cathedral, Palencia. Noble against the Persian-blue sky

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!

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Plaza San Pablo
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I believe that this sculture is a monument to the University of Palencia, the first university in Spain, founded by Alfonso VIII
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St Paul’s Convent, Palencia

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.

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Elisa and Alice in El Retiro

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!

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El Retiro park, Madrid

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Glass houses, El Retiro

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.

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El Retiro has many aspects: formal gardens, wide and sandy paths for walking, and ornamental ponds with ducks and fountains

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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.

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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!), I was 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.

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Look at the size of that (free) tapas!

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!

That's a madrono tree which the bear is leaning against.
That’s a madrono tree which the bear is leaning against.

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).

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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.

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After the rain, there were spectacular, more blue than blue, skies.

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And the next day we toured the well-known sites of Madrid – see blog to come Walking without a donkey 17: Madrid 2

Recipe for sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup). Replace the chicken stock with vegetable if you don’t eat meat.

 

 

Walking without a donkey 13: Camino Francés

Days 5 and 6. 28-29 October 2016. Nájera (Camino Francés) – Burgos – Cortiguera – Madrid – Aranjuez – San Juan de Ortega (back on the Camino)

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Pantano Reservoir, Logroño on the way to Najera 28 October 2016

I made a promise to visit Gill (who had already put me in touch with so many lovely Shiatsu people to stay with) in Aranjuez, which is 50km south of Madrid, before the end of October. So I left the Camino at Nájera, after only 5 days of walking (blog posts 9, 10, 11), and went there via Burgos (90km, 1.5 hours by bus), Cortiguera (blog post 12, 70km north of Burgos), and Madrid (250km, 2.5 hours back down south) – a very long way round!

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River Arlanzon, Burgos

I only spent a little time in Burgos this time, but the sun shone and the bus station is central, so I was able to walk across the river, into Cathedral Square where I sat and ate my sandwiches, walked around the adjoining streets, visited a cafe for a green tea and wifi, and photographed the famous pilgrim statue.

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Afterwards I returned to get my link to Cortiguera to see Dirk and Charo.

This was where I saw a group of vultures circling at eye level in front of majestic rocks above the slit of river far below.

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On the way to Cortiguera

I wrote in my diary on the bus: ‘This time the ‘bird’ I see as I approach the city is a silver plane rising in the blue sky. After the outdoorsy life I’ve been living in the country and small villages, I’m nervous about entering the capital city for the first time.’

I was right, it was a serious contrast, and I found travelling across Madrid a terrible strain. After calmly walking through the regions of La Rioja and Cantabria, with their expansive silence and disinterested wildlife, the thoughtful travellers at a regular pace, the noise, the numbers of people, the difficulty in negotiating the ticket machines at the underground stations – it was all an onslaught to my system – and I couldn’t take any photos.

On arrival at Aranjuez, I partook of a glass of wine and settled myself. Later I was treated to a pizza (urban food!), and taken to Gill’s amazing kitchen garden. Here she grows fruit and vegetables, and bakes delicious bread in an open oven which she shares with her neighbour. Alongside giving and teaching Shiatsu, hosting visiting tutors, leading chi gung classes, and generally keeping a large sector of the Spanish Shiatsu community connected, she delivers this fresh produce to people in the local area.

I had not bargained for the power of the Camino, and the next morning I overturned my plans to stay south for 5 days, and returned to the north, via Madrid and the bus station I was getting to know and love, back to Burgos and the Way. Thank you Gill and Jorge for being so understanding.

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Hostel at San Juan de Ortega

It turns out that getting to San Juan de Ortega in the evening is tricky. It was hard to get information and a taxi would have been extortionate, so I waited 4 hours (witnessing drunken fisticuffs in the street), before joining a local bus service which several people had told me would go there and for which I had a ticket. Needless to say I was the only foreigner. The large family group which made up the majority of the other passengers, were friendly and interested in me and why I was there. They chattered loudly, not seeming bothered by my pigeon Spanish, offering to share their snacks with me, and laughing hilariously at my escapades up and down the country.

When I was the only one left, and we were driving through the pitch dark (by now three quarters of an hour late), the driver asked me where I was going and ‘Si, si’, he pointed into the distance. He told me all about his wife and kids, and where he was going on holiday, and eventually deposited me in front of the former monastery, where I was met by a kind, but rather worried, fellow walker. He had been told that the bus usually drops folk off at the previous village and was ready to come out and escort me in case I met wolves walking through the night forest. Apparently the bus had made a detour especially for me. Being so late meant there were no beds left, but this same kind man had negotiated an alternative – in the library – as well as having supper waiting for me. I always knew I would get there safely, but those around me were not so sure until I actually arrived!

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San Juan church

The next day we walked to Burgos!

Last 2 photos courtesy of A. Bec