A Travel-Blog

For friends, family and anybody who may be interested in our adventure. Welcome!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Final Wrap-up

Vila Nova de Milfontes
Lots of "ringed" rocks at the beach

Layne on the beach

We're home in Seattle! We were scheduled to return on May 25, but the early arrival of our grandson. Ryan Andrew Sandberg, prompted a change of plans (not easy with an "awards ticket") and we walked in our door at 2 am May 20. Ryan was born at 7:30 on May 19, but we got to see him while he was still quite fresh, so we're happy about that. This blog is about the trip and not about grandchildren, so I will proceed with my wrap-up.

The Portugal portion of the trip was my pipe dream, and I had visions of ancient whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets spilling down to the blue ocean. While Porto was delightful, and we were enjoying Lisbon, I felt the need to travel down the coast in search of my vision. I selected a town called Vila Nova de Milfontes, primarily from a description in Lonely Planet, and we arrived there after a 4 hour bus trip. Well, at first I was sorely disappointed. Not only were the houses much too new and the streets paved, but there were practically no tourists there. We didn't want the place to be overrun, but it's somewhat like being the only patrons in a restaurant- it feels weird to be the only people there. We found a really nice pension with a friendly host, and I worked on revising my expectations. As it turned out, we spent 2 nights there, and enjoyed the time due to a really appealing beach (with wonderful "ringed" rocks and golden sand) and exceptionally nice people at our lodging and at a little family run restaurant in town. The last night we were there we struck up a conversation with 2 Finnish women who were delightful company and left us feeling pretty good about our time there. Then, on the bus trip back to Lisbon, we noticed that many of the oak trees had their bark stripped 4-5 feet up the trunk. We realized that they were "cork oaks". Portugal produces half the world's cork, and Spain is the #2 producer.
So, next on my list was a "well preserved, charming medieval town called "Obidos" north of Lisbon. My plan was to visit Obidos and then Sintra, which is only about an hour north of Lisbon- then back to Lisbon. Well, Obidos was a disaster. Yes, it was a well preserved medieval town- and charming- but overrun with tourists and all the trappings that accompany tourist sites- souvenir shops, etc. It was awful It was there that we discovered, when we checked the internet, that little Ryan was due to arrive via cesarean on Thursday morning. That changed everything for us, and we immediately took the bus back to Lisbon, followed by a taxi to the airport and then a rather stressful series of events leading to our ultimate safe arrival in Seattle.
So here are my final comments- little bits and pieces that may have been left out of earlier entries: 1. we are so spoiled as Seattlites having a varied and tasty selection of food; we found the food in both Spain and Portugal (mind you, we weren't in cities like Barcelona or Madrid) to be bland and uniform. Also, they have a strange little custom in Portugal where they bring bread and olives and other goodies to your table prior to your meal- but if you eat them, they get added to your bill. Fine, if you know the custom, but if you don't....
2. In thinking about the Portugal experience, I think that in the future I would rent a car to visit rural and/or small villages, concentrating more of my time in the bigger cities. The Camino was perfect, because most of the towns we walked through would not have been "worth" a train or bus trip, but were wonderful to walk through. I fear that most of the smaller towns either hold limited interest or become very tourist oriented, and thus less appealing to us. 3. I would recommend the Camino to anybody who wants an inexpensive vacation, a cultural experience and fitness (I lost 7 pounds!) and is flexible enough to deal with co-ed albergues and less than thrilling dining experiences. We got lucky with the weather, but I would definitely go for the same time of year- or possibly October. The crowds and the weather make it pretty unappealing in the summer.
So, there you go. That's it for me and my comments; on to summer in Seattle!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Living at the Castle

Stairway to our pension by the castle

View of Lisbon from the veranda
Yesterday we decided to upgrade our accommodations and moved to a pension that we discovered when we walked to the castle (our window is only about 50 feet from the fortress wall!). And, wonder of wonders, it´s actually less expensive! Maybe because you have to trudge up some steep cobblestone roads, then climb a 3 story circular staircase to get there- but it's SO worth it! Not only is our room nicer and quieter, but there´s a beautiful veranda overlooking the most marvelous view of the city. Yesterday we hung out there for awhile and there was opera music resonating from some unidentifiable source below us. We liked it so much that we decided to picnic rather than eat out, so I went to the store and bought provisions. One of those "small world" incidents happened when we struck up a conversation with a fellow guest. Turns out he´s doing research for one of the most widely read travel books in Germany and Austria. Turns out I know the author- Michael Mueller! I haven´t seen him in 25 years or so, but he lived in Seattle for awhile, and was a friend at that time. He was in the same business, but hadn´t yet achieved his current level of success. It´s great to see that he´s doing so well.
Yesterday morning we had coffee with a man who´s a friend of a friend in Seattle. He and his family moved to Lisbon from Seattle 10 years ago, and own several guest houses. They also are very involved in volunteer work in the city, mostly with homeless people (thre are many). He had some interesting insights on the current economic situation, and on the psyche of the people. His attitude was very upbeat, and it we came away feeling that Lisbon is lucky to have people like him who have a "tough love" approach to helping them solve their own problems.
Last night we attended an art opening near our pension. The artist and her husband are from New Zealand and live in the Cook Islands. The gallery owner is from Brazil. She also had interesting observations about Portugal- and they were consistent with those of the man we talked to earlier.
Once again, the internet minutes are ticking away- 2 to go. Bye for now!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Porto and Lisbon

Illusionist performer in Lisbon

Layne on the veranda of Taylor's port bodega

Circus student performer (he's dancing, suspended from  a window)

Fish frying outside our lunch venue in Afurada, near Porto

Laundry is usually part of the scene; Afurada

Tram 28 in Lisbon

Looking out on the street is a common pastime; Porto

Enjoying a day in Lisbon
Porto from across the river
Our Portugal vacation began in Porto, in the north of this long skinny country. The old part of Porto is comprised of steep and winding cobblestone streets that change names practically every block. It´s guaranteed that you will get lost- but it doesn´t really matter because if you go down you´ll end up at the river and if you go up, you will eventually finds some recognizable monument and thus get your bearings. We found Porto to be irresistably charming; gritty old buildings, comfy old shops and restaurants with an occassional trendy modern interior thrown into the mix (sometimes they keep the facade and build a completely new building behind it). Old ladies hanging laundry on balconies- many people either don´t own dryers or opt not to use them when weather permits outdoor drying. We paid a laundry service the equivelant of $9 to wash and dry all our clothing. It felt great to get a fresh start. While our clothes were being laundered we walked across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, a separate city with over 60 port wine "lodges" , most of them along the river front or uphill from the river. Most are owned by the British, and we toured the Taylor facility. It was a very informative and fascinating tour, and we enjoyed free tastings afterward, as well as some "down time" on the view terrace surrounded by English gardens. Really a nice experience. Afterward we walked along the riverfront a couple miles to Afurada, a tiny old fishing village that retains much of its old time flavor. Lots of people were out on the streets, just passing the time of day or frying sardines on charcoal grills. We had lunch at a seafood place where you identify "your" fish and they grill it up for you and serve it with potatoes, bread and salad. We just happened on this place, but heard afterward that it´s the best place to go. It was quite the cultural experience (pictures to follow).

So on to Lisbon. Actually, this was another of my bonehead moves. We bought tickets for the train to Coimbra, a charming university town, and I intended to work our way down to Lisbon via Pineche, Obidos and Sintra, destinations that I chose from the Lonely Planet guide that we bought in Porto. But I missed the stop! Jed was dozing, and I was busy reading the Lonely Planet, and the stop came sooner than I expected. The conductor was very kind, and let us go on to Lisbon without charging us more, but I was really bummed that my plan was foiled. But "that´s the Camino", as we say now, you regroup and move on. So for the rest of the journey, I dove into the Lisbon part of the book and found us a cheap pension in the oldest part of town, near the river. By now, Jed, who hasn´t felt well all day, is actually feeling pretty sick, so we got him to his bed in this rather divey but clean room and I after getting him a coke to settle his tummy, I went out to explore. He´s almost back to his old self today, and that makes him a much better travel companion for me. We walked up to the castle on the top of one of the old hills, had a lovely lunch on the grounds of a "circus school" that we stumbled upon on the way and were treated to a performance by a young man who danced his way down the side of a building froma 4th story window to the tune of "All that Jazz". You just never know what you´ll discover when you travel! I got some great pictures of that too. Tune in in a couple weeks.

The plan now is more Lisbon over the weekend, then take in the Sintra, Peniche, Obidos destinations next week, followed by a little trip to the southwest coast so that I can get a taste of the whitewashed buildings spilling down the hillside that I have always wanted to see. There are many more of those in the south, but we understand that they have been somewhat spoiled by tourist business.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


In the next day or two, Layne plans to describe the beginning of our Portugal interlude and a couple of amazing days in Porto, but I thought of a couple of things worth mentioning before we wrap up the Camino de Santiago;
Finisterre-end of earth-is at the coast of Spain, about 60 miles beyond the official end of the Camino, and a few pilgrims weºve met have gone on to Finisterre.  The story I read is that St John (Santiago)was sent there to preach to the strange native pagans at the end of the world.  He then went back to Jerusalem, where he was beheaded by King Herod in 44 AD.  One story has the virgin Mary bringing his body (bones) back to Finisterre, where politics and religion each played a part in the ensuing battles that required them to move inland to Santiago, where his bones were interred. 
The next story is about our plans for continuing on from Santiago after completing the walk.  We decided no need to have two full backpacks to lug around for a couple of weeks, so consolidated essentials in mine and packed the remainder in Layneºs, then off to the very crowded Post Office to send it home.  After a long wait in line, our number was called and we managed to explain that we wanted to send the pack home.  The lady found and altered a cardboard box and packed it away with lots of tape, then address label.  Just before paying, I asked Layne about our return airline ticket information.  Her face turned kind of white, and I then had to inform the lady that we needed to unpack the whole thing.  She responded with better humor than I expected as she repeated the packing process after we retrieved the tickets.  We kept our heads down as we exited the Post Office to avoid the scornful looks of the dozens of people waiting in line. 

Porto house

Porto view over the rooftops of Vila Nove de Gaio

We done!

Completing the Camino!

Santiago Cathedral

Encountering some of our Camino friends
Monday, May 9 we walked into Santiago at about noon-finishing a walk of 500 miles.  Can't say we had any deep emotional feelings, just relief and gratitude for good weather almost throughout.  We'd intended to continue on to Finisterre (end of land) about 60 miles beyond, at the coastline, which a few pilgrims decide to do, but decided to begin our Portugal vacation instead. 
Santiago is another modern city with an ancient core with about 250,000 people, similar in size and style to Pamplona, Burgos and Leon, any of which is worth days of exploration. But having seen the others and eager to move on, we strolled the winding narrow stone streets, observed a pilgrim mass in the legendary cathedral where the bones of St  James are reputedly interred, enjoyed a final beer with Camino friends, and headed out the next AM.
Pilgrim friends:  we enjoyed a brisk walk on our penultimate day with Phillip and Judy from England, who filled us in on travel in S. America-next year's travel idea.  On our final day we were accompanied by John from Calgary, who walked into Santiago with us, completing his third Compostela.  His wife has completed it four times!  His reason for walking was to lose weight and strengthen his knee for upcoming surgery.  Everyone has their own reason. 
At the beginning of the walk, we heard heart wrenching stories from people hoping to find peace or resolve problems.  Toward the end, we saw fewer familiar faces and had less meaningful contact, as many people entered the walk at about 100 kilometers back, the minimum required distance to receive the compostela.

One other pilgrim story-leaving Santiago we were seated on the bus behind a Korean guy, and he spoke pretty good English.  His name is Simon and his family has been Catholic for about 400 years, with numerous nuns and priests among his relatives.  He left Seoul in mid December on a ship bound for Vladivostok, Russia, then boarded the trans Siberian railway for a 30 day trip across Russia, with an occasional overnight stay in a town along the way.  He then visited Moscow and St Petersburg and made his way to Southern France, where he began his walk on the Camino at the same starting point as Layne and I.  He is one pilgrim who did continue to Finisterre, and at that point he burned some paintings he had done for his ex fiance as an act of letting go and moving on.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

24 Miles to Go

3 Italian ladies (one pulls her luggage)

I promised a photo of the 3 amazing Italian ladies, one of whom pulls her luggage on what looks like a modified golf cart. We have been doing 16-22 miles a day and think we´re pretty hot stuff, only to find that they are already at the albergue. We´re been leapfrogging them for a few weeks , and though the language barrier is severe, we acknowledge each other with smiles and waves.

We are now in a town only about 24 miles outside Santiago. Tomorrow will be a light walking day- only about 13 miles- and the next day we should arrive. We had thought about going on to Finistere- an additional 3 days walk, but we´re now thinking that we´ve had just about enough extreme walking and are ready to be tourists in Portugal. It´s funny, but the most tiresome part of each day is the void between arrival at the albergue, usually around 3-4pm and bedtime at 9 or so. Besides having a beer or wine and a bite to eat, there isn´t a lot to do. Sometimes we meet up with some fellow pilgrims and sometimes not. Yesterday Jed and I were the only ones in a rural place meant for 10 people. There was a heavy rainstorm that knocked out the power, so we had very little light. We were pretty darn bored and couldn´t wait til the next day when we could walk again!

Today we had a local specialty for lunch at a pretty interesting place (see above). It´s "pulpa", which is squid tentacles cut into rounds and prepared with a lightly spiced sauce. It´s pretty meaty and flavorful- and not at all tough. The "pulperia" serves primarily this specialty dish, and they fish the squid out of a huge pot of booiling water and cut the rounds with scissors. The guy didn´t even look as he cut, and we feared for his fingers.

These guys (the cows) are responsible for road hazards!

We had the rain gear off and on about 3-4 times today, but only one blast of intense rain, and that occurred while we were eating. This part of Spain (Galicia) is noted for changeable weather, so we get a little of everything. All in all, it´s been really great walking weather, and the paths and the scenery have been most enjoyable. This is farm and dairy country, so we spend some time dodging sheep shit and cow pies-just a few of the hardships we pilgrims face on the Camino.

As usual when I find a computer that will load photos, I´m a happy camper. Add to that, a nice shower and a friendly albergue, and I´m set for the evening. Signing off for now.....

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Free Internet!!!!!

Pilgrim monument
This is such a treat. Usually it costs about a Euro ($1.45) for half an hour or so, and we burn through that pretty quickly. This computer is old and slow, and I already caused it to freeze once by trying to load pictures, but I´m happy to have it. We are in a village called Trecastille (sp?) which means 3 castles in Spanish. None of the 3 castles still exist, and the town is nothing special, but it´s a good stopping point with 5 albergues. There are a lot of people walking kind of funny around here (limping peregrinos). For the first time last night we found the albergue to be full, and we had to get a private room in an inn- not such a bad thing once in awhile but we just had a private room the night before! We hear that after tomorrow night things will be even more crowded, as it´s possible to get the official Camino seal after walking only 100 km and the town of Sarria is at the 100 km point. This is nothing compared to the summer crowds but we have had the luxury of a leisurely, uncrowded Camino and we hate to give that up. It´s a hard thing to quantify, but in the beginning nearly all the peregrinos we met were committed to doing the 500 mile trek. As others have joined in Burgos, Leon, Astorga, etc. we are joined by less gritty types, many have their luggage carted by taxi from town to town and only carry a small backpack. One Canadian lady we met stays in 3 star hotels and has her luggage carted. She told us that somebody had dubbed her a "limousine pilgrim" and she rather liked the title. In addition, she started smoking again on this trip, as there was something that appealed to her about the European-ness of it. At least she had a sense of humor about it.all...by contrast there are 3 Italian women, none under 60 years old nor over 5´2" tall who miraculously turn up at nearly every town we land in. The really remarkable thing is that one of them pulls her luggage on something that looks vaguely like a golf cart. We can´t figure out how they make it over some of the rutted and rocky roads. I have a great picture of them that I will post when I get home, if not before.

The last couple days have been gorgeous, with hilly and mountainous terrain. We were getting a bit tired of the ¨meseta¨ that offered easy walking but rather boring views. We have also tired of the pilgrim menu (as mentioned before) but things seem to be looking up with more rustic bread and a ÿummy vegetable soup called¨"Caldo Galicia". This evening, for the first time, we opted to make a simple meal at the albergue from items purchased at the "supermercado"...translate- small grocery store. Speaking of Galicia, we have entered the region of Galicia ("Galithis") which has Celtic roots (who knew????) They have their own language, although most also speak "proper" Spanish". Some houses feature thatched rooves, and names of towns may start with O´ something.  Bagpipe music can be heard from recordings.

A couple other things we have wanted to mention: Spain has its own version of dollar stores in the larger towns,run by Asians. They are not called "Euro stores" as one might expect, but "Bazars". I bought a pair of sunglasses there, as I lost my (cheap) ones and wanted another cheap pair to replace them, lest  I lose those as well.

Also, we loved the last town- "Villefranca". It is surrounded by hills and vineyards, has several wonderful medieval buildings and a lovely river and bridges. In addition, we stayed at a delightful albergue run by a young couple and their dog, who all contributed to a homey, caring, experience. We hooked up again with our German friends Marco and Bernd for beers and dinner. Haven´t seen them in the last couple days, but you just never know who will turn up- nor when.
From the window of the albergue

Pilgrims in the mist

Passing through a village

House on the hill

Thatched roof in O'Cebreiro

Our albergue in Villefranca

Picnic and foot relief by the river
One more thing (Jed here)  the other morning on our way out of town we found a cafe open, so ducked in for a cafe con leche before hitting the road.  This was kind of an upscale place, as they had a tv on the wall, which usually broadcasts either soccer or tennis, but we saw stern faced announcers and pictures of Osama, with captions under, the only word I could make out was ¨muerte¨, so we came to the conclusion that he is dead.  Further exploration on google verified this. 

Signing off from Triacastella,
Layne and Jed