The Camino Frances

The Camino Frances

Friday, October 26, 2012

Geneva, and the end, and the beginning

I'm in the business center of a hotel in Geneva, putting in time until I fall asleep. I would be wandering the city, but it is raining and I have a 4:30 am wake-up call, to catch a 5:17 am train to the airport, for a 7:30 Air France flight to Paris, and a 11 something flight to Toronto. I should be home in my cozy apartment by 4:30 at the latest. Of course, that would be 10:30 Swiss time, so I will be mixed up for a while.

Josef came with me on the train from Zurich. We traveled first class, just for the fun of it, but the only difference was more leg room, and a wider seat. But the countryside was lovely, with vineyards now turning yellow, and a long leg of the trip was beside the lake. It was interesting listening to the announcements. When we started they were in German, French and English. Then French and German, then just French. The language thing is fascinating to me. If we had been travelling in the south of Switzerland, they would add Italian to the mix. Lots of people here speak at least 4 languages, and they reply to you in whatever language you address them in. I wish we were more multi-lingual in Canada.

Josef and Maria have been kindness itself to me on my visit. Their patience and care has made it so much fun for me. Maria especially has worked hard to accomodate my meat and gluten free wishes.
I could not have wished for more accomodating and adventurous hosts.  Thanks, you two.

What will life be like for me at home? A whole new transition, but I am up for the challenges.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jacobsweg in Switzerland

The camino in Switzerland, also known as Jacobsweg (James`way) is a challenging path. How could it not be, given the terrain it has to cross. We took buses and trains to arrive at an entry point into the Camino, and it was up and down. If you check the map of the way in Switzerland at and find Einsiedien, that is approximately where we walked.

The walking was very strenuous. It was up, quite steeply, for the first hour and a half, likely about 5 km. There was a new shelter built in 2008 on the way up, and we stopped for a snack, and to sign the guestbook. We were the second entry for the day. At the top was a restaurant, and we had soup and some fresh pressed apple juice. At the next table was a guy who was walking for a week, from his home just over the border in Germany, to Lucerne.We knew because he was wearing a tee shirt with ' Konstanz to Lucerne' amd a shell on it. Josef talked to him and got his story. The restaurant filled up with hikers, but we couldn't tell if they were pilgrims or not - no one else was wearing a shell.

But the prize at the top was the view. When we started at Alptal, at 1000 meters, the sun was shining above the clouds. At the top - Haggenegg, we could see a vista of mountian tops in the distance, and they seemed to be floating in a sea of cloud. It looked more like a field of snow, as my brain just couldn't make sense of it.It really was magical. There are pictures on this site                                                  
 but none of them do it justice.

This link
has google earth on it, and the sattelite image doesn't do it justice either.

We walked down - this time to Schwyz, which is farther down. It took us 2 hours, and every step was downhill. Some of it was so steep, that I slipped a few times on the gravel, but I caught myself in time. the view was worth every step.

This is a slideshow

And this is what the signage looked like today.

This may be my last post for a few days, as I travel to Geneva tomorrow, and fly to Toronto Saturday. There will be more reflections to come. Meanwhile, thanks for reading, and post if you care to.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Davos and Klosters

Lunch today was amazing! We took a bus, 2 trains,and a bus, then walked along a lake at 1500 meters to the Schweizer Restauant. At first glance, the menu had nothing that was red meat and gluten free, so I checked out the salad buffet. Wunderbar! I composed a salad bowl of leaf lettuce, radiccio, arugula, marinated artichokes, 2 kinds of beans, tuna, cheese and a slab of what tasted like fabulous feta, a stuffed grape leaf, grated carrot and radish, topped with pepitas and walnuts, lemon and basil oil.  And to top it all off, the waitress offered a gluten free bun, which came half way through my salad, and was freshly baked, and had a wonderful crust. Lavished with tangy swiss butter, it was a great treat.The sparkling apple juice turned it into the best restaurant meal I have had in Switzerland.

The other bonus for the day: when we left Wettswil, it was misty and damp and very dark. When we got above 1200 meters, just before our walk, we were above the clouds, and had brilliant sunshine and warmth after lunch as we visited Davos and Klosters.

Davos is where the World Economic Forum meets each year in February, and where the rich gather to ski. Today it was very quiet, as it is between seasons, and no one was visiting their holiday home here.
Check out for the flavour of the town.

Klosters is where the royal family - the British one, that is, skis.

This website tells you all about it.

Tomorrow Josef and I will hike on a part of the Swiss Camino. I am looking forward to a bit of the camino before I return home.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Zurich and Marc Chagall windows

There were several highlights of my 2 trips to Zurich with Maria today, and one of them was the perfect dark chocolate truffle that I enjoyed from So unbelievably good that one was enough.

Another highlight was seeing the wonderful stained glass windows by Marc Chagall in the Frauminster church. This website has beautiful pictures of the church and the windows. There are 5 of them, each  in a different primary colour, in their own chapel, and I sat and gazed in wonder at them. As with the work that I know from Chagall, there were many images interwoven, and each panel was a puzzle to me as I tried to sort out the images and make some sense of them. There was Christ on the cross, of course, and Mary and baby Jesus, and assorted angels, and much more.the above website explains them.

Maria and I walked the old part of Zurich in the morning. The streets that line the river have wonderful old buildings, beautifully preserved, and it was hard to know where to look! The street level was lined with expensive and exclusive shops, like Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana. Piaget, Guess, Chanel - the same shops that I see on Bloor Street at Yonge. But some of these stores have security guards, dressed in black suits, at the door. As we were walking along., the church bells struck 11, and from the shop we were passing, we heard swiss folk songs (I think) being played on an array of bells above the shop. Then appeared a series of swiss folk figurines, each about a foot tall, on a panel that revolved as the music played. There were about 25 - all in folk costume. A woman with a churn, a shepherdess with a sheep circling her, 2 shepherds with decorated bells, dancers, and more. It was charming, and we stopped to listen and watch the display.

We returned home to make lunch then back to the city - a 30 minute bus or train ride. I was trying to shop, but the sticker shock kept me from buying anything except a paperback for the flight home, and that was when I was shopping in the Caritas charity shop!  Prices are about one and a half to 2 times what they are in Toronto, I think, though I have tried not to compare.

I have a confession to make. I have had to temporarily suspend my boycott of Nesle products. They are hard to avoid in Switzerland, the home of Nestle, especially since Maria's coffee machine is Nespresso (the brand that Tim Hortons is using for their espresso), and the cups that go in them are Nestle too. And the coffee is sooo good. So my personal boycott will be back on when I leave here. I doubt is Nesle notices one way or another.

Only 3 more days in Switzerland, then I will be home, reflecting on my wonderful adventures.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Schaffhausen and Steim am Rhein

 Schaffhausen is the town where Maria was born and lived until her early twenties. It has a strategic position on the Rhine river, just one km from Germany. It has a fort, with a magnificent tower. has a great picture. We climbed the tower and looked out over the town. It has many well preserved buildings, including a church where Albert Schweitzer was the organist.  The tower still has a resident guardian, who lives with his family in the tower. One of his tasks is to care for the deer and elk that live in the moat. Because of its position on the Rhine, close to Germany, it was bombed during the Second World War by the Allies, perhaps by mistake.(Maria was living there at the time). Switzerland was neutral during the war, so they were vey angry about the bombing.The country still has a strong military presence. Today, there were hundreds of soldiers on our train, perhaps transfering to a new location. They don't have a  grooming code it seems- dyed hair, pony tails, facial hair, and rather weird looking camouflage pattern on their uniforms.

Our second visit was to Stein am Rhein, an architectural jewel straddling the Rhine with its medieval houses in the Canton of Schaffhausen. This small town with its pretty facades, abundance of oriel windows, quiet corners, fine half-timbered houses and inviting promenade along the river bank, is the place where the River Rhine flows out of Lake Constance. In 2007 Stein am Rhein celebrated a thousand years of its existence. Today 3200 inhabitants live in the town .It has a connection with St George, and the church tower is decorated on its four corners withprojecting metal sculptures of the dragon.

We traveled by train along the shores of Lake Constance, once again approaching but not crossing the border into Germany. The lake is beautiful, with small castles, and even smaller cottages, along the shore.
And once again, we were home in time for dinner.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Training walk - for the next Camino?

Josef and I went on a training walk this morning. He trains 2-3 times a week in order to stay in shape for his next Camino. He has walked the Camino every year since 2007, when we met. This spring he walked part of the Vezelay route, and will continue where he left off next spring, and hopefully end in St Jean Pied de Port. He has a fancy watch that monitors his heart rate, distance, time and pace. We walked 9 km in 90 minutes, which is a 6 minute km, which is faster that my usual pace. On the Camino, with a backpack, of fairly level ground, I could walk a 15 minute km, averaging about 4 km per hour. That doesn't allow for breaks, and on the day I walked with the 3 Canadian women from Calgary, I took my breaks with them. They knew how to take a good break, and in the afternoon, I had a shandy with them - half lemonade, and half beer. Consequently, I didn't arrive in Palais de Rei until 5:30, and got the last bed in the municipal albergue. That day I averaged 3.5 km per hour.  So today's hike was a challenge, at almost twice the pace.

In the afternoon we drove to Bremgarten, where we met Maria's daughter Edith, who acted as our tour guide. Bremgarten is a perfectly preserved town, with a surrounding wall and pedestrian only streets. Most of the buildings had elaborate paintings on the outside. Edith pointed out the witches' tower, where uppity women were imprisoned, and given 2 choices. Plead guilty and be executed, or plead innocent and be thrown in the river. If you survived the dunking, it meant you were guilty and were executed. Thankfully, that doesn't happen too often today, or I would be in trouble. Bremgarten also has the best Christmas market in Switzerland, and an Easter market, and several others. The town is all about tourism.

After the town tour, we walked along the river, through the covered bridge, and had ice cream on a patio overlooking the river, where kayaks were training by paddling against the current at the foot of the small dam. Quite a contrast to the mediaeval town.

My time here is winding down, and so is my camera battery. Hopefully I can rescue it, as there is more to see. Here is a picture of the highlights of Bremgarten. Check out for more pictures.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lake Lucerne

Saturday October 20. We could not have had a better day for a cruise on Lake Lucerne. In the early mornings, there is a mist over the village, but as the sun rises it dissipates, and the temperature rises to the high teens. We arrived in Lucerne about 10 am,and I was astonished by the design of the buildings which line the river. The fronts were all decorated with wonderful paintings. The farmers' market was lining both sides of the river. The fruits and vegetables look great, though in Europe they don't seem to require perfection, and some had some blemishes. Every apartment seems to have a balcony, so there are a great many potted plants displayed, and there were many examples at the market. It inspired me to go to the local garden-flower shop when we got home and get a potted plant for Maria's patio. I was assured that it would last through the winter and bloom in February!

After the market, we walked across the river through a covered bridge and boarded a cruise ship for a 3 hour trip down the length of Lake Lucerne. The views from the boat were wonderful, and since we had an all round view, and were going at a slow speed, I could really appreciate the mountains, and the lake, which was a beautiful teal green. We passed by Rigi, Queen of the Mountains, and got another perspective on it. There are villages every few kilometers, and more mountain chalets which are distant from the villages. I also got a different view of the railway lines and tunnels, and the roads, which hug the sides of the mountains.

We had a formal lunch on the boat, complete with white linen table cloths and dinner napkins, and a 360' view.  We spent the rest of the trip on the deck, enjoying the view and taking pictures. We passed by the William Tell chapel. The trip home took about 90 minutes by train. I am still marvelling at how well the public transit works, and trying not to think of the poor planning in Toronto by the current administration.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Appenzellerland is a kind of fantasy land. The village of Appenzell is a wonderfully preserved piece of the Swiss past. The facades of all of the buildings have wonderful paintings, especially the pharmacy which has medicinal herbs painted on arched panels covering the shutters. The main church of St Maritius is over the top with a decorated sanctuary and gold everywhere. I liked the church and convent of Maria the angel much better. The cemetery is quite unique. Each and every plot is planted, some with a kind of rug of evergreen, others with  flowers.There are also pieces of stained plexiglass instead of headstones, and angels and knick knacks galore.

The main square is called the Landsgunendeplatz, and is the scene of local parliament. All elections and parliamentary business are publicly debated here and voting is by a public show of hands. Apparently this was the last area in Switzerland to allow women to vote - about 10 years ago. Unbelievable! You can check it out, and see wonderful pictures at, and there is an icon to click for english.

After lunch and wandering around, we took the train one station to Gontenbad, then walked to Gonten along the barefoot walking trail. It is some kind of local tradition, and they have a website, of course.

There were about 2 dozen people that we encountered walking barefoot along the trail, not counting the cows who crossed our path. One little guy, about 2 years old, was covered in mud, and enjoying himself. Some of the adults had mud up to their knees too, and there were baths where you could wash your feet. The walk was a leisurely hour, then we reboarded the train to make our way back to Wettswil.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rigi, Queen of the Mountains

Rigi is one of Switzerland's more favourite excursions, with good reason. We traveled by bus,2 trains, and the cogwheel  mountain railway to the peak, at 1800 meters, and it only took us about 2 hours. The travel time was beautiful too, beside the lake of Zug and through the town of Goldau. The view from the top was 360' of breathtaking  peaks. Apparently, you can see as far as the Black Forest in Germany, and the Vosges in France. There are 120 km of trails, and we walked down from the summit at Rigi Kulm, where we had lunch, to Staffel, at 1604 meters, where we had espresso and pastries. (I only ate the filling).

Every view was really unbelievable, and the weather could not have been better. It was clear, with a wind from the south, and the temperature was about 15'. Josef pointed out many peaks, and tried to orient me to the trips that we had aready taken, and the ones he has in mind. Tomorrow we are going to a village high in the mountain - Appenzell, I think, in the north east corner of the country.

The transportation system here is really unique. Today we took 4 separate vehicles, and we never had to wait more than 10 minutes for the next one. Josef could look up all the timetables on his smart phone. There are no escalators in the stations, but the steps are not steep, and there is always a wheelchair accessible path to where you need to go. They do, however, allow smoking on the platforms and property, unlike Toronto. The whole place runs like clockwork, and I continue to be amazed by the workers I see working on cleaning and trimming the public places. Truly an amazing country.

If you want pictures, try, and choose the language in the top right corner, and just picture me there. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rosti and tidyness

Food! Maria is a great cook, and she continues to make fabulous Swiss food.
Today, she cooked for a group of people who meet every other Wednesday to break bread together. The menu was cole slaw, goulash and rice, quark and quince puree, and wine supplied by a deceased member of the group, who put the wine in her will. Maria made me mushrooms and spinach with garlic in place of the goulash. There were 2 women in the group who spoke English, and one had had a private english lesson that morning, so was happy to converse with me. We connected, as she has Lyme's disease, which I know a bit about. I complimented another woman on her cardigan, and she told me she got it at a second hand shop in Zurich, so we were off on a shared interest.

Dinner was rosti, another famous swiss dish. You take cold potatoes, shred them, heat them up very slowly in butter in a cast iron frypan, inverting them with a plate in order to brown the top, and place a layer of cheese ( in this case, leftover raclette cheese) on top to melt. It was served topped with a fried egg. It was delicious, and crusty brown around the edges. I will definitely work on making this at home.

I went for a walk in the morning, trying different paths, and finding the library which was closed. This afternoon Josef and I took a 90 minute walk along a trail to the next village. We took a train and a bus to get home, and the transport only took us about 15 minutes. The swiss countryside is so neat, and shows evidence of much prunning and clipping. Nothing is left to grow without maintenance, and there is no bare earth showing anywhere, except in private gardens between plants. All the paths seem to be paved. There is a new law that all dogs must go to school, and are never off leash. I wondered about cats, as we saw several roaming this afternoon.

I did visit the library when it was open, and the librarian very kindly allowed  me to borrow 2 books, even though I had no card and was a visitor. That shows trust! I was really missing reading, and there is nothing in English that I could find until the library. Now I can read and do sudoku, and let Josef and Maria have time without me.

Tomorrow we are going on a day trip to the top of one of the highest, snow covered mountains, by bus, train and maybe even funicular. The adventures continue.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuerlersee, Uetliberg, and Raclette

 In the morning we went to Tuerlersee, which is a protected area, and we walked the circumference of the lake. It took us about an hour. The lake was alive with birds and ducks, and there were even blackberries to snack on.There are signs all over Switzerland, it seems every block or less, saying Wanderwege, with  yellow signs which identify the destination. This path was well signed with these yellow arrows. This week is a school vacation in Switzerland, and many people were out walking and hiking and jogging along these trails. It seems you can get everywhere in SW either on foot on one of these trails, or by bus. The roads don't seem crowded with cars, which is just as well, as the roads are narrow and so winding that there is no space to pass. This is a link to some pictures of the lake.
 Another strenuous climb, this one up a mountain near the village. It was all up, and the sign said it should take 1 hour and 10 minutes, and sure enough, in spite of panting, and stopping numerous times to catch our breath, we made it to the top. The view was unbelievable, as you can see if you click on the link above.
Zurich was spread out at our feet, with the lake beside it. But in the distance you could also see the unbelivable view of the white capped mountains, which seem to hover above the hills. We could see the village, Wettsweil, where we started, far below us on the opposite side of the mountain.  The descent was a lot longer in distance, but much gentler. There is a train that will take you almost all the way to the top, and I saw mothers pushing strollers to the top from the train. Switzerland is dense in terms of villages and cities. The villages in this area are only a km or 2 apart, but there are cows grazing on every piece of farmland, and everything is still green. Even the forests are groomed in this neat and orderly country.

Our reward for our strenuous activities today was dinner of raclette. Maria has a tabletop raclette maker, which is a grill with small pans below the broiler, and a rectangular pan above. We place slices of raclette cheese in the pans below, and mushrooms in the pan above. The melted cheese was poured over boiled potatoes, and it was all delicious, and fun to cook.

Maria and Josef live in a kind of co-op, and tomorrow is a lunch for people who live here, and tomorrow Maria and a friend are the cooks. Food makes the world go round.

This is a link to raclette as served in restaurants.


Monday, October 15, 2012


Belated pictures of Tea Time and checking pilgrims into the albergue at Rabanal.

In Wettswil, just outside Zurich

Today we spent most of the day travelling. The weather is raining and misty and not conducive to sightseeing, so we decided to head for Zurich this morning. We had some lovely yogurt for breakfast at the hotel, so we found the source before we left and bought some. It is a dairy cooperative which operates in this little village, and they produce their yogurt in 10 flavours, in little glass bottles. We also had some local goat cheese. Wish I could have spread it on the wonderful smelling rogenbrot that is also made in the village.

We boarded the bus for the  40 minute trip down, down, down to Domodossola, in Italy. After a quick but delicious espresso, we boarded a train with wonderful panoramic windows, for the 2 hour trip through the Centrovalli. This is a video of the trip. It was so picturesque, with deep chasms, a waterfall tumbling down the vertical valley walls every hundred feet, and beautiful green valleys.

That train trip ended in Locarno, Switzerland, where we had lunch at the train station, before the 3 hour trip to Zurich. Another fantiastic journey, and it snowed during the trip. We exited one tunnel to find the snow piled up 8 inches deep. All the mountains were snowcapped, and the evergreens were lovely, as if they had been lightly sprayed with fake snow.

When we arrived in Zurich, we ran for the tram, then ran for the bus, which took us to this small town outside Zurich. Maria, Josef's partner, had made a lovely homecooked meal, the first for me since Gordon's albergue, and before that, the last one was with Meghan and Cy the night I left home.

So, I expect to spend a week doing day trips and taking it easy before returning to Toronto on Oct 27.
Stay tuned for more adventures!


Sunday, October 14, 2012

In Switzerland, at Hotel Fleichhorn in Simplon-Dorf

All went well with the trip to Switzerland.  I was worried about the weight allowance for carry-ons, so I weeded my backpack thoroughly, and then they never even weighed it at the airport. I had also put a lot of stuff in my pants pockets, so of course when I went through security, they made me empty them into a tray, and the security guard made a comment - looks like a supermercado (supermarket). I flew Easyjet, and you cannot book seats, so seating was a free for all. We also walked across the tarmack both times to get on and off the jet.

Josef met me at the airport, and the hotel was only one stop away on the subway. Up for breakfast - would you believe the hotel had no cereal without gluten, in the country that invented bircher meusli?
Lots of bread and pastries and cheese and cured meats, though.

We took a train along the side of Lake Geneva. It was a 2 hour ride through a beautiful countryside, and when we entered the canton of Wallis (Valois) the intensive farming was remarkable. The mountain sides are all terraced, with many of them growing grape vines. We had lunch at Brig, then caught a postal bus up the mountain to the Simplon pass - at 4000 meters above sea level. Wow - the vertigo was hard to control, but I kept telling myself that the bus drivers do this many times a day, and we don't hear about buses and cars falling off the  mountain. They truly are works of great engineering.

We are stayiing in Simplon-Dorf, down a few feet from the top. The weather is either misty - that is, in the midst of clouds, or raining, so we wandered around the town and visited a museum about the building of the Simplon Pass. Dinner was another challenge - no fish or chicken on the menu, and no vegetables either, but I ended up eating rosti with cheese and tomatoes, and it was truly delicious. And they are letting me use the office computer to write this, so I am grateful for their generosity.

Tomorrow we will get back on the bus for a 30 minute ride down the mountain ( I think) and into Italy for lunch at Domodoloroso, or something like that. Then the canton of Tessine, which is very Italian. On the train ride the announcements were always in German, but sometimes also in French, and or English. But English is a fourth or fifth language here, so the menus are not always translated into English, and neither were the captions in the museum. In Spain I could puzzle out the general meaning, but here I am lost with German.

Wish I were multilingual, instead of lingually handicapped.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Last day in Santiago

Saturday Oct 13 in Santiago

I´m doing the draft of today´s post in the Santiago Public Library.  I feel so at home here, even though the staff doesn´t speak Spanish. And it is only a few blocks from the albergue. Yesterday I pared down my backpack: let´s hope it is under the regulation 10 Kilos for Easyjet. I made a list of the food I had on hand, so that none of the weight will be made up of food. So this morning, in the kitchen of the albergue, before 9 am when I had to be out of the bedroom, I had yogurt and oats and some of Father Pius´s elderberry jelly. I gave the rest  of the jelly to Bill, an American who appeared in the kitchen while I was eating. He had stayed in Rabanal when I was working there, and was still in Santiago because he walked to Finnesterre and came down with a cold, so he is holed up here trying to get better. Though this is a very noisy albergue. There is no curfew, so my roommates can come in at any hour. And one floor below, under my window, is a bar, and there was a lot of celebrating last night, until the middle of the night.

After breakfast I  walked to the daily market. It was huge! It reminded me of the St. Lawrence Saturday morning market, but instead of tables, the local vendors set up on the ground or on stone benches. And the meat and fish and seafood sections were wide open, not behind glass, though they were in the building. There were also some vendors selling used clothes. Yesterday I refound a vintage clothing place that I had seen in 2007. But I have no weight allowance left for clothes, unless I wear another layer. I don´t think they will weigh me, so I will fill my many pockets with stuff, and wear my raincoat over my black jacket in hopes of making the 10 kilo cutoff.

Sitting here, I can imagine that I am home in Pape library in Toronto. There are so many things I miss about home. My level of appreciation and gratitude should definitely improve when I return. Cooking my own food is high on my list, but on the top are family and friends. Meanwhile, I am here, with plans to visit another museum and the Cathedral, eat the cheese and crackers from my stash, post this later at the albergue, and catch a bus to the airport. Next report should be from Switzerland!

Darlene, the intrepid traveller

Friday, October 12, 2012

Free meals in Santiago

Fri, Oct 12 in Santiago

Fiesta day! The Spanish mostly have the day off. Half the restaurants, shops and museums are closed, and families are wandering the streets. There were big crowds in the cathedral, and I am glad that I visited St James when there was no line-up. There are even children on the streets, kicking balls, and running away from their parents. Most of the city where I spend my time is car-free, so it is safe for children to run and play. There were mimes - one of Gandhi, all spray painted white. There were actors dressed like cardinals ( the priests) and St James, the pilgrim, and you could have your picture taken with them. I took an audio tour of the cathedral this morning, and counted. There were multiple depictions of Jesus on the cross, and about 20 small and larger chapels, some with seats of up to 100, some with a few benches, and some with no seating. The famous plaster statue of St James the Moor slayer is there too. So many wars and battles committed in the name of religion.

I also toured the museum of Pilgrimage. It had a 6 lovely videos of the different paths to Santiago, taken with stop action photography, and made into a video. There also were several interactive videos, which were interesting. I took a 30 second movie as I walked around a scale model of the Cathedral. Ask me and I´ll show it to you.

It was a beautiful day - no rain, for the first time in 5 days. I spent a few hours people watching, as I got 3 free meals today from the Hotel dos Reis Catolicas, the Parador. We waited in or by the parking garage, and on showing our Compostela and passport, up to 10 people are admitted. I went to breakfast, with 3 others: a man from Luxembourg, a girl from Quebec, and a Spaniard. The Luxembourg guy had eaten there several times ( you can eat 3 meals a day for 3 days after you arrive). He led the way. We got 2 carafes of expresso, a carafe of hot milk and piles of churros ( deep fried twisted pastries) batons of whole wheat and plain sweet buns. I took my meusli.

Lunch was salmon, make your own ensalada mixta, with lettuce, onion, tuna, sweet corn and tomatoes, fried bacon, bread and eggs, a leek and carrot saute, and a piece of salmon, not to mention caviar on melba toast, and a bottle of wine - for 2 of us!

Dinner was 10 - Spanish, German and French, and me.It wasn´t as good for me: pasta salad, pork, french fries and a melange of zuchinni and red pepper, plus wine of course.

So tomorrow I am off to Switzerland, and the solo part of my journey is over. I wonder what that will be like? Always an adventure.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Cathedral

Today I spent most of the day in and around the Cathedral.  It is one of the best conserved historic centers of the world. I began by doing a circumnavigation of the exterior of the cathedral. It has a plaza on all 4 sides, and is opposite San Martin Pinario Monastery, on the side of the Plaza de las Inmaculada. I am going there tonight to meet Annie, whom I met at Rabanal. She is staying there before returning to Ireland and we are going to have dinner. The Obradoiro Plaza is faced by the Parador, where I hope to have a free meal tomorrow. The other sides have the Plaza de Quintana, faced by another monastery, and  the Plaza of Prateras, where there are many souvenir shops.  Prateras translates as silverworker, I think.

 Then I did a walk around the inside of the Cathedral. It is so huge - overwhelming, really, and around a big section of the exterior walls are chapels dedicated to kings, and apostles, and Mary, and El Pilar, who will be celebrated tomorrow. It is a festival day, and most shops will be closed. It combines the day of El Pilar, Columbus´ discovery of America, and Army day ( big parades in Madrid).  The decoration is over the top, and everywhere you look there is carving on the walls, the blocks of stones, and the wood. I visited St James, who is the centerpiece of the altar. You can walk up behind him - he is larger than lifesize - and give him a hug. Then you can visit his bones, which are in a silver box in the crypt underneath the altar.

Then, at 11 am, I had a 2 hour tour of the roof, and upper areas. We actually went onto the roof of several sections of the church. The roof is stone, so even though it rained at least half of the tour, it wasn´t slippery, though I did have a bit of vertigo. Fortunately there were only 4 on the tour, so the guide held on to me several times when I looked nervous. The roof is full of monuments, bell towers, including one where the ringer used to live, and his animals roamed on the roof. There are towers with clocks too. The guide pointed out the chimneys on surrounding buildings. Apparently, the richer you were the bigger the chimneys. We also walked the balconies overlooking the main part of the church. Amazing!

Then I walked around the city, and that is where I  met Annie, who was amusing herself playing her penny whistle in the arcaded parts. I fortified myself with a cafe con leche and a piece of tarta de Santiago - I can only eat that pastry and one other, so I did enjoy it. It is made with almonds, eggs and sugar - did I mention it before? - I think so.

Next, I took a tour of the museum of the Cathedral. 4 floors of exhibits, plus an exterior balcony and the crypt. The audio tour was only 1 euro, so  I took it and I learned a lot.  There  were many pieces of art,  and I especially liked one of Madonna and child with an exposed breast. I will check the museum shop tomorrow to see if there is a reproduction on a postcard. It was a plaster picture in a frame, done by a woman in the 17th century, I think. There were rooms full of tapestries, and some were designed by Goya at the royal workshops for weaving. In the chapter house, there was a real live nun, who I think I saw singing in the service yesterday. She was folding a series of white gowns which I think the priests wear, and laying them out neatly folded over very antique benches. The cloister is where the priests are buried, so the walkway is lined with tombstones, laid into the cement and stone.

So, tomorrow, I will try for the free meal, visit the market, and see a few more museums. Most of them are free, or inexpensive. Then on Saturday, I fly late in the day to Switzerland. So far, I think I have used my time well. I left the albergue this morning at 8 and just now returned to use the internet. It is not a very comfortable place, so I am headed out to find a bank machine, and meet Annie for dinner at 8 pm.

Enjoy your day!

Darlene, the tourist, and recovering pilgrim

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Wednesday, Oct 10, Arzua to Santiago - 20 km

I´m here in Santiago. I felt like I had to go through purgatory to get here though. I decided to try to make the 12:00 mass for pilgrims in the Cathedral, so I figured I could walk 20 km in 5 hours, and I did. But it was a challenge as usual. I left in the dark at 7 am, with my headlamp. The trail was through a spooky woods of eucalyptus trees - no birds, and lots of mud. It also was very difficult to find the trail at some turning points, and contrary to my expectations, there were not a lot of pilgrims on the trail. At times I felt very alone, and when I walked under the runway of the airport, with planes landing over my head, it felt very surreal. I had a cafe con leche at about 9 am, with only 13 km to go. The owner says she loves the Camino, but it has become very commercial, and there are too many pilgrims and not enough beds in the summer. When I came out of the bar, I could finally do without my headlamp, and I felt very strong from then on.

The rain held off until just before I entered the cathedral, at about 11:50- just in time for the mass. That was a very powerful walk, to accomplish today in 5 hours, and the whole thing too. Today is Oct 10, and I started walking  September 11, so I spend 15 days walking, and 15 in Rabanal. Quite a feeling of accomplishment for me!

I was feeling rather empty in the mass, and was sitting on the floor of the cathedral - there were no seats to be had. I could see no one I knew, and felt connected to. It was all in Spanish, with some brief speeches from the foreign priests there. But just when I thought it was done, they swung the botafumero, and I started to sob. I guess then it finally hit me, that I was here, I am done, and this was part of the reward - as I didn´t see it when I was here in 2007. But it is going to be hard to stop walking.

I checked into the albergue, and made a list of what I want to do and see, as I have 3 days here. I have walked a great deal of the old town and  I found several restaurants, and I want to try and get a free meal at the Parador. You have to line up, so perhaps I will check it out tomorrow. I am going to take a tour of the roof of the cathedral! I hope it clears up for the tour. It is so misty, and I am not sure if my laundry will ever dry - it is supposed to hang in the air shaft of the albergue! I had wet socks for 2 days, and they don´t smell too pretty - we call it pilgrim perfume.

So I am done this part of my adventure. I hope I can relax and enjoy the time here. I hope that the other 4 occupants of the room here will want to go to bed by 10 pm - light out are at 11. Santiago is a beautiful city, with fabulous buildings everywhere you look, so I have the time to really appreciate it.

Blessings from
Darlene, the complete pilgrim

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More FAQ

Monday Oct 8  Palais de Rei to Rivadiso - about 26 km, and about 44 to go

Today the weather couldn´t make up its mind. Rain for about 30 minutes, steadily, then threatening for quite a bit of the day. Strong sunshine at times, and very humid. It was another long day for me, but this time I was on the road before 8, and consequently, arrived here at the municipal albergue, about 4:30, and they still had lots of beds. I stayed here last time too, and have good memories of the outdoor showers, and the lovely brook running by. However, I didn´t remember all the hills. I think they must have changed the path.

Here are some more FAQ (not)

How steep are the hills? Imagine going up and down the steep parts of Hampton and Logan all day long, and you still won´t be thinking steep enough.

Most unusual pilgrim? I young man from Venezuala is doing it in a wheelchair seat which is balanced on one wheel. There are bars front and back, and there seem to be 3 men taking shifts pulling/pushing/driving the support van/walking with the mother. They are videotaping part of it, and it is a fundraiser for cerebral palsy, I think, and I think that is what the young man has. Today, up the steepest part, they had 6 people pushing and pulling. When several young girls went by, I asked if they could pull me up, but they said they were having enough trouble themselves.

Best u-turn? I was lost in a lost village on the short way from Tricastela to Sarria. A woman was hanging out on her balcony, and I think she made a practice of redirecting pilgrims. When she told me in Spanish, of course, that I had to turn around, I almost cried. I did ask in Spanish if she had any water, as I was out, and she came out with a 2 liter bottle of cold water, and filled my water bottle. And the backtracking was only the equivalent of a block.

Best octopus? Pulperia Ezekiel in Melide. I had lunch there today, with a glass of lovely white wine. Lunch was fresh cooked octopus, served on a wooden platter, sprinkled with salt, hot paprika, and olive oil. I joined an Italian couple, who are here are the albergue, and it was delightful. Thanks for the picture Tim

A river runs through it

Tuesday, Oct 9, Ribadiso to Arza/Pedroza - 24 km

It rained all day today, except for a few brief times. Light, but relentless rain. There was a stream, and sometimes a brook, running down the middle of the camino. Fortunately, there was a bar right beside the albergue, so I was able to have my cafe con leche, and hot milk with meusli in it, before I set off. Today was a day to snack on chocolate, though I also had cheese, a mandarin orange and a lovely local pear. The trail today was mostly downhill, with very few ascents, except at the beginning, so it made for a less exhausting day. I arrived fairly early in the town with 2 names - one is Castillian, and one is Gallician, I think. I am in a very nice albergue, and my laundry is done.

Most people seemed very lazy in the albergue this morning. When I left at 7:30, lots were still in bed, and everyone has to be out by 8. I think the rain was discoraging them, and many people have said they were slowing down, as they were reluctant to leave the trail and have it all end. Many seem to be in transition in their lives, and probably were hoping for a big revelation. Perhaps it arrived, or perhaps in the cathedral, or perhaps in returning to their old life. I expect changes in my life, and I hope to be less busy, but that may take a lot of work to get to that place.

On the way into town there was a tourist info, probably sponsored by an association of albergues, and they offered to book something in Santiago, so I took advantage of their service, and tomorrow I will be staying at O Fogar de Teodoriro, near the Cathedral, and for 3 nights!! This is the first time I have booked ahead, but I know my destination tomorrow, for certain. I am 21 km from the cathedral right now, so I expect to arrive early afternoon. I am very excited, and am making a list of things to do while I am there. Any suggestions? I don´t think I will be in time for the service at 12, but I think I will go every day, to see if I can find any pilgrims I met along the way

I´m off to dinner. No pulpo tonight. Tomorrow I post from Santiago!


Sunday, October 7, 2012

A pefect day

Sunday, Oct 7  - Vilacha to Palas de Rei  - 26km and 72 to go

Today was another glorious day, with lots of shade and breezes, and about 27´ . I walked in a short sleeved t shirt and shorts most of the day. As usual, it was a lot of ups and downs. I slept very well last night, so I didn´t get on the road until 9am! I just checked into the municipal albergue in Palas de Rei at 5:30 pm and I got the last of the 60 beds! It is much nicer than I remembered - only 2 bunks in my room, with an ensuite bathroom with shower, and since I was the last one in, no one else was waiting to use the shower. However, there was no hot water left, so the shower was quick.

So I walked most of 9.5 hours. How did that go, you ask? Well, what made it not only bearable, but fun, were the people I walked with. A couple from New Brunswick.  A young woman from Portland Oregon, who was on her second day, and suffering. A retired midwife, who has worked all around the world, including a stint at obstetrics at Central Hospital in Toronto. I think it is now closed. 3 women from Calgary  that I met yesterday, who started in Sarria. I walked with them most of the day and had my 2 breaks with them. First break was lunch, about 12:45, and I had the rest of my cheese, a large apple, 2 rice cakes and a piece of chocolate. The second break was around 4 pm, and I threw caution to the winds and had half a glass of beer, with half a glass of lemonade. I asked my walking friends to monitor me for staggering, but I was fine, and I am sure the alcohol burned off fast in the heat. I also snacked on almonds and dried fruit.

So it was an uneventful day, full of the joys of the Camino, prefaced by a wonderful evening and sleep at Casa Banderas.

Tomorrow I will be in Melide around noon, and it is famous for octopus (pulpo), so that is what I will be having for lunch, instead of eating out of my pack. Then perhaps stay at Ribadiso, another municipal albergue with a perfect pastoral setting. I can´t believe I could be in Santiago in 3 more days!

Have  a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, if you live in Canada.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Wine and whining

Sat, Oct 6 2012 - San Mamed to Vilacha - 25 km

A delightful day through small villages in Gallicia. Most of them didn´t have the name posted, so it was hard to keep track of where I was, though Gallicia has concrete signposts every 500 km, with the supposed distance to Santiago. Yesterday, from one post to another, they added 5 km ( very disturbing!) and they still are not correct, according to my guidebook, so I expect another correction soon.

In order to get a compostella, one needs to have walked at least the last 100 km, so there were many pilgrims starting today in Sarria. I saw one group leave the Hotel Alfonzo at 9am, with their teeny backpacks. But even though they started out in a group, they soon disperse, and the road was no more crowded than usual. I walked the last 2 hours with a group of 4 women from Calgary, who had just started their Camino. It made the last 8 km much easier to bear. It seems after lunch, the body just plows on, like a machine, but it is tougher going than when I am fresh in the morning.

 I saw a group of young men today that I have seen many times. They sometimes stay where I stay, and are walking about the same distance as me. Of course they walk much faster than me, but I keep catching up, and finding them drinking beer at the roadside bars. I don´t drink the beer, as I can´t walk with alcohol in the system, and it is possible to consume a lot of calories in beer, if it is your primary hydration method.

Speaking of alcohol, I am sitting in Gordon´s beautiful  2 story, log ceiling salon/dining room, sipping a glass of very local wine. Apparently he likes the new wine, which is consumed within a few months, and is made in stainless steel rather than oak. He prefers to avoid the oak taste. Plus, as it is not made to keep, it has no sulfites, so if preferable. I am not a conniseur, but I am enjoying this wine with my blogging. Please blame any mistakes on the wine. He is making chicken paprikash, with local red peppers. I can hardly wait!

I met Gordon on my first Camino in 2007. At that time he had bought his place, and named it Casa Banderas, for the flags he hung outside. It has taken him 7 years, from purchase to the first paying pilgrims in April of this year. The dorm is lovely, there are disposable sheets, and the shower is totally amazing! I has a choice of 3 water streams: a regular handheld, a rain shower head in the ceiling of the shower stall, and a seat with jets that pulse on your back. And it is painted an amazing red! And there is a clean bath mat! It might never get better than this, at least in an albergue. There is a roof over the drying area! And I was met with a warm welcome, as we are facebook friends.

So I sign off in a very happy haze (already!)

Have wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends, with many blessings

Love Darlene

PS bodyspeak
Stomach: I think the meusli supplied by the albergue this morning was mostly wheat flakes. I ached most of the day, but am better now - is it the wine?

Friday, October 5, 2012


Fonfria to San Mamed - 24 (I´m sure it was more!) km, 9.5 hours from start to finish

Today was very hard - why is it so difficult this time? The blisters are ok now, but the road is hard. The first 3 hours were downhill all the way, though not as hard on the feet as the descent from El Acebo into Molinseca. Then I took the shorter route, not through Samos. It was up and down and down and up, constantly. The views were spectacular, but a lot of the route was through very rough ¨roads¨, more like cow paths, with the smells and cow patties  and cows to prove it. Sometimes the path looked like the bed of a stream. Good thing there hasn´t been any rain, or most of the road would have been mud and boulders.

I am in a lovely albergue. 4 people to a room with our own ensuite bathroom - unbelievable! We are just outside Sarria, so I expect the crowds to start tomorrow, especially since it is the weekend. All those who will just walk the last 100 km for the compostella. Dinner will be vegetarian - yeah!! and my tummy is rumbling, as I have really just snacked all day. It is too hard to walk on a full stomach. Even a bowl of oats with hot milk is challenging to walk with.

Now for the FAQ ( I am making them up - nobody is asking!)

Flora and fauna - see any? Yes, hawks today, and a salamander. Total of 3 snakes, and lots of grasshoppers and yellow butterflies.. Blackberries always, and fall crocus, figs, saffron flowers? fall asters, and a dandelion!

What do you wear? Long underwear bottoms and long pants, short sleeved merino, long sleeve merino on top, then my merino hoodie with the hood up, then gloves. I lose the layers as I go along, as I am sure it was about 25´today. Right now I am in my checked capris, as it is still warm.

Why are you doing, this - are you crazy? Well, for lots of reasons. Red wine, cafe con leche, fresh orange juice - just squeezed , in the bars, for the solitude, for the camraderie of people from around the world, for the challenge, for the fun, to be in my body rather than my head, to have time to think, for the opportunity to focus only on my own needs, because I am crazy.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oh what a beautiful morning!

I did ship my bag, and it was here when I arrived. Yeah! It made a terrific difference in my ability to enjoy the climb. We started off before the sun came up, but it was light. I walked with Brunie for a while, then with Jude and Roz for the rest of the day. The views were so incredible! It could not have been a more glorious day. Often O Cebreiro is foggy, and it is difficult to see the views, but today the sun shone all day, and it was about 17´though that varied according to whether we were in the sun or the shade. It might have been difficult for anyone with a fear of heights, because often the hill dropped away immediately, and the view went on forever. We walked up for about 3.5 hours from Ruitelan ( where we were awakened by Ave Maria and Nessen Dorma (sp?).Then we were at the top, or so one would think. But from O Cebreiro to Fonfria, where I am sleeping in a large dorm, there was very little flat walking, and we continued to go up and down. Sometimes the up was very steep! I was grateful, when walking near the edge, that my daypack was so light, as sometimes the large backpack can make me feel unbalanced. So it was a successful experiment, and I hope to carry it the rest of the way, without shipping it again.

The prices in Spain are so low! For instance, last night the bed was 5euros, with clean sheets and pillowcases. And for 7 euros, the dinner was the same as 5 years ago: carrot soup, best ensalada mixta I have seen, and exactly the same as my picture from 2007. Then he made me rice carbonara, while the rest had spaghetti carbonara. Dessert was a custard like pudding, made with eggs and rennet, I think. Plus all the wine you could drink, and bread, all for about 9 canadian dollars.

Today I had a cafe con leche in La Faba - like a latte, but with less milk, and it came with a little chocolate biscuit. Almost the same size as a mug at home and it cost about 1.30 Canadian, and it was delicious!

When I arrive at an albergue, I have felt exhausted, and young people wonder what I think I am doing, trying to walk to Santiago. But then the next day, they are astonished to see that I am at the same location as them! It is very satisfying to see the astonished look on their face. Today I didn´t even need a nap. It gets better every day!

Hasta luega

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A dilemma

Wed Oct 3 , Cacabelos to Ruitelan - 27 km

I´ll admit it - I was absolutely wasted when I arrived in Cacabellos yesterday at 2 pm, and the municipal albergue was not too welcoming. I could barely speak, and dragged myself to the showers and laundry. But with a nap I was able to wander the town looking for internet - couldn´t find any, so yesterday´s post got done today.

In contrast, today felt better, though the blisters are speaking, and so are the calves and thighs. I walked until 4 pm today. I took more breaks, and ate and drank more, and changed into my sandals half way through the day - all these elements helped. Plus, I walked with a few people and chatted, and it helps the kms to go faster.

I am at a favourite albergue in Ruitelan, and the meal is here, and they will make rice for me instead of spaghetti carbonara, and they have meusli for breakfast, so this is a fine place.

I am mulling over a decision. I think I will send my bag on tomorrow. It is a very challenging climb, and my bag still weighs about 11 kg - about 25 lbs. I think it is the food I am carrying, which I wouldn´t need if I could eat the bread. On the one hand, I prided myself on walking and carrying every step of the way last time. So I already proved that I could, so perhaps it is ok to send it up this time. And it will save my feet - it should be a pleasure to do the climb tomorrow, not weighed down. On the other hand is it cheating? Who am I cheating? I don´t like to see others walking with daypacks. But maybe they are doing it the only way they can. Oh well, I will give it more thought. Tomorrow I hope to stay in a recommended albergue in Fonfria, and it is about 20 km, including climbing for 8 kms

The body speaks

Tues Oct 2 - Molineseca to Cacabellos  23 km

It is said that the first week on the Camino is all about the body, so it is my turn to speak.
Here is what the body parts have to say:
Thighs, calves and shins: Going down yesterday, we spoke to her at every step, and today we can´t shut up, especially as there is sidewalk walking, and those curbs are brutal! She had the sense to do the zig zag for part of the way, and that helped, as the descent isnt as steep that way.
Feet: We produced blisters on both buniomns, and between 2 toes. - she should have listened to us and changed her socks, or just stopped sooner!
Eyes: lots to see - half the time was through the old city of Ponferrada, the newer part, and suburbs. Then vineyards - and rolling hills. Some of the vines were wired up, and some just slumped on the ground. They were ripe, and there was harvesting going on
Stomach: What does she think she is doing? Hard to discern a pattern here. Breakfast was oats with hot milk and jam - not bad! She is a great forager, and fed me blackberries, an unripe fig, and something like a high bush blueberry with a stone. Pineapple juice at a winery - good thing too, as I refuse to move on with wine in the stomach - it is hard enough to get to bed after 2 glasses. Hot chocolate in Ponferrada, and a very small chocolate bar on completing. Then dinner - chips, fried egg, small salad and chicken, with wine. Not sure she is doing a good job fuelling the journey.
Ears: today´s earworm was Always look on the bright side of life.
Bowels; moving - enough said.
Posted one day late by the boss, Darlene

Monday, October 1, 2012

I will go on with joy, and gratitude

Foncebadon to Molinaseca 20 km

Today was soooo hard. Up at 6, and out the door at 7.30 with my headlamp on.  Up to the Iron cross, where I left stones for Judi, Peggy and myself. The sky was spectacular as the sun rose. I could see, at various times, the lights of Rabanal, Astorga, and even Leon. Then Manjarin, where I once again used the pit toilets. Thank God they were available. Then up more, then on the level to ElAcebo. From there it was downhill all the way, and the terrain was varied. Molineseca is at 500, so we descended 1000
meters over about 4 hours of walking. It really was brutal. Stone and rocks in various formations on the path.I slipped a few times, but my sticks saved me, and I knew then it was time to take a break.

I am here in a lovely albergue in Molenaseca. They are doing a communal dinner, but it is lentils and spaghetti, and I want something different, so I will walk back into town to eat. When I arrived here, I put my legs up the wall, then took a nap for 45 minutes. Now my laundry id out drying, and I had a shower.
 Hopefully tomorrow won´t be as challenging. Almost flat, with a bit of descent.

So here is my list of joy for today.
Hot oats with apricot jam for breakfast
Walking out of Foncebadon, using my headlamp for the first time, with the moon and the stars in the pre-dawn.
The view of the sky - immense - as the sun rose.
The Iron Cross against the sunrise.
A pit toilet, just when I needed it.
Birdsong in the forest - it sounded like  chickadees but unlikely
Dew soaked blackberries
Blackberries for snack all along the path.
A chat over cafe con leche with Bonnie, from the USA
Lunching on chocolate with almonds
 Vistas of green covered mountains
A body that works
Gregorian chant at Manjarin

And here is my gratitude list:
Heather and Lola for the purse and silk sleep sack
Michael, Ryan and Aislinn for the loan of a great sleeping bag
Keen for terrific boots and shoes and socks
Meg and Arlo, Lola and Cy for the walking sticks ( though I left them at home and bought some to dump here)
Louisa for the red merino shirt, which was perfect for today
Leslie for the gloves which I used for the first time today, and the teal shirt - great for cold days - and the toilet kit
Dave for helping me pick out a new backpack
Judi andPeggy for the stones, which made the visit to the Iron Cross so meaningful
You people reading my blog and encouraging me.
Everyone I have met through Caminoing
The Canadian Company of Pilgrims, Toronto branch
Hikers who walked with me in the winter.
My family, who always believed in me.

Love to you all

Darlene, the pilgrim