Friday, 7 October 2016

Day 42 - Paris to Toronto

We were awake at 5 am out of habit, but we both sat in the hotel room until 8 am, uncertain what to do with the extra time. By 9 we had enjoyed a brief breakfast in the lobby, checked out, and boarded the shuttle to the Charles de Gaul airport. Checked in, we were on the 11:30 am flight from Paris to Montreal before changing aircraft for a short jump from Montreal to Toronto. Our flights were again long, but safe and uneventful. Without the excitement of the Camino keeping us awake as we crossed the Atlantic this time, we both slept well and arrived into Toronto at 8 pm. Here we again gathered our luggage, and waited for the Airlink bus which took us from Toronto to the small town we currently call home. We arrived home at midnight. Here it did not take long for the silence of our own home in our own neighbourhood to get to us. Ironically, after weeks of being frustrated by the noises of others at night, and the hurried mornings on the Camino, it is the silence of our own house which is irritating. The hum of the refrigerator, the click of the furnace, the sound of the pool pump, are now all unnerving electronic noises. The snoring of the albergue, the rustling of others in their bunks, the crickets outside, and the smell of fresh cut hay are all just memories. Our adventure in Spain has come to an end and the trick will be figuring out how to make sense of it all and keep it fresh and meaningful in our daily lives.

As we sit here, safely back home, I want to say thank you to everyone we met along the way, and to everyone who helped us make this possible.  Although it hasn't sunk in yet, I think we are different for having made this journey, and we couldn't have done it alone.  Thank you!
Practical information:
Distance: 6,017 km
Max Temperature: 15°C
Accommodations: Home, Simcoe Ontario

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Day 41 - Santiago de Compostela to Paris

We awoke this morning early and wandered back to the cathedral to spend some time watching excited pilgrims rush into the main square. It was here that the depression began to settled in. Our trek was done and we didn't belong in the flood of new pilgrims who came with their groups to finish their quests. Two days after arriving it is clear the transformation from piglrim to tourist is complete, and it is time to go home and figure out how to fit the Camino into our lives back in Canada.

With all of this in mind we began our homeward journey. We hired a taxi from our hotel to the small, clean, and modern looking Santiago airport to catch our Air Iberia flight to Madrid.  At first his was a stunning experience, as the taxi was travelling at a much faster speed than we had been for the past 4 - 5 weeks.  However, by the time we arrived at the airport we had already begun to adjust back to the pace of automated world we had left behind. With few other people in the airport we were quickly checked in and took the time to admire a scale model of Santiago and the Cathedral which was set up in the waiting from. 

We caught our flight to Madrid, where we had a two hour layover before catching a flight back to Paris.  By 8 pm we were back in France, and from the aiport we caught a Le Bus Direct to the Ibis Styles Paris Roissy hotel. 

Given our late arrival into Paris we were advised to order dinner before closing time. As such, after rather basic fair in the hotel restaurant, we were back in our room by 10 catching up on our final journals and preparing for our morning flights from Paris to Montreal and then from Montreal to Toronto, and our final shuttle drive back home. By the end of the day both of us had sore legs and sore backs - ironically from sitting all day on planes and not being able to get out walking or hiking. How quickly our bodies began to expect certain lifestyles and physical demands. Ultimately today was relatively uninspiring and uneventful, but I suppose that is how you want things to go when you are on a series of plane flights. In the end we are grateful to have been able to safely travel from Santiago to Madrid to Paris without incident and to arrive at our hotel in time for an evening meal. 

Practical information:
Distance: 1,495 km
Max Temperature: 17°C
Accommodations: Ibis Styles Paris Roissy Hotel (95.95 Euro / room)

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Day 40 - Santiago de Compostela

We awoke early on our final morning in Santiago in order to return to the Cathedral and partake in the early morning mass at 8 am. Today's itinerary had been the subject of debate for almost a week prior to arriving in Santiago. Shortly after leaving Portomarin we had begun discussing the possibility of what to do with our extra day. We had explored the notion of taking a bus to Finisterre and back, but thought that it would be better to have the time to more fully enjoy that route.  We had also considered moving our flights by 2-3 days in order to hike to Finisterre and Muxia, but that option came at the cost of almost $800.00 in fees. Added to all of this was the fact that any of these choices meant that we would have to essentially walk away from our friends after the pilgrim's mass without any time for goodbyes or reflection. As a result, for our "extra day in Santiago" we ultimately decided to spend the time, enjoy the city and museums, and to have a final dinner with our companions. In the end, we made the right decision!

Following mass we enjoyed a cafe con leche and fresh pie in a cafe located beside the cathedral. After this we spent several hours exploring and photographing the cathedral interior, which was beautifully illuminated by the morning sun. After a second breakfast we sat in the main plaza awaiting the arrival of our Canadian friends at the conclusion of their Camino. At around 11 am they came trekking down the stairway, exciting by their achievement and stunned to see that so many others had waited to cheer them on. 

Now left with the afternoon to ourselves, we decided to visit the nearby pilgrim museum and to take the roof top tour of the cathedral. Our first stop, the Museo Das Peregrinacions e De Santiago (1.20 Euro / individual admission), or the Museum of Pilgrimage and Santiago is a collection focused on the history of pilgrimage to the region. Inside we enjoyed displays on historical and worldwide pilgrimages, with the main focus of course being on the Camino throughout Europe. We also got to see artistic representations of pilgrims and saints, displays on symbols, rituals and documents related to pilgrims, and examples of ancient Compostela documents including copies of the original Codice Calixtino! We thoroughly enjoyed all of this.

Next we visited the Museo Catedral and purchased our tickets for a roof top tour of the Cathedral (10 Euros / person) later in the afternoon. The Cathedral Museum itself is fascinating and includes art, historical displays, descriptions of the cathedral's restoration, as well as various other religious pieces including previous butofumerios. During our visit we were able to wander the hallways of the building and visit the upper balconies of the cathedral to get a great view down into the church. We were also able to go out onto a narrow outside balcony which overlooked the main plaza in front of the cathedral. 

While we wanted to continue our visit, our roof top tour was set to begin at 4 pm, and so we returned to the museum entrance to meet our guide. Our tour began with a brief history of the cathedral during which time we were lead upwards through a series of long narrow stair cases to a doorway which opened outwards onto the roof and set between the two front spires of the western facade (front) of the church. Once on the roof we were led onto the stone tiles over the nave of the cathedral, where we were allowed to walk around freely. Surprisingly, despite the slant of the roof everyone was able to walk with great ease and stability while the guide detailed the history of the church and the city. In the roof we were able see the back of the state of St. James on the front of the Cathedral, and we able to walk to both the central tower and the clock tower. From our vantage point we could see through windows down into the church, walk under archways, see down into the surrounding plazas, and see the nearby Seminario Mayor, which is the main lodging for most pilgrims in the city. As with most of our trip, today we were truly luck to have had a wonderful and clear day to visit the cathedral roof and enjoy such a beautiful view of Santiago. I would certainly suggest that anyone who visits Santiago should make the time for this tour, even if one in your native language is not available.  It is still well worth it.

When the roof top tour came to an end we realized that it was nearing time for us to meet our friends for our final meal together, as most of us were set to either hike onwards or take a bus to Finisterre and Muxia the next day, or fly out to Paris, London, or Madrid early in the morning. We all met at 7 pm outside of the Parador beside the Cathedral and together made our way to a nearby restaurant, the Casa Manolo. Here, after a long meal, we slowly made our goodbyes to most of our comrades, and returned to the cathedral with others, where we gathered outside in the plaza, and then slowly parted ways. Afterwards we wandered the city, talked some, photographed some, but in general we mostly just tried to put off returning to our hotel. By 1 am however we are back in our room, packing and preparing for our morning flight from Santiago to Madrid, and then from Madrid to Paris. And just like that, the Camino is done, our friends are returning to their lives, and we are about to return home. 

Practical information:
Distance: 0 km
Max Temperature: 19°C
Accommodations: Hotel San Lazaro (45 Euros / room / evening)

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Day 39 - O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

Our apologies for posting a day late. The excitement of getting into Santiago, meeting old friends, and enjoying our evening celebrations together made sitting, typing, and posting somewhat less of an immediate priority.

Yesterday morning, after an uneasy and excited "final sleep" on the Camino, we were up very early to hike out in order to be checked in, cleaned up, and at the cathedral in Santiago for the pilgrim's mass at noon. From O Pedrouzo to Santiago we had just under 20 km to hike, which we accomplished at what felt like an absurdly fast pace that let us cover the distance in 4 hours! Setting off into the early morning dark meant that the previous day's exploration of the Eucalyptus forest paid off (given how confusing such areas can be) and we were able to adeptly navigate our way along the pathway without difficulty. 

Surprisingly, a short way along the trail we ran into a Dutch lady who was collecting pilgrim stories on the Camino. As she joined us we were told that she had completed part of the Camino Frances and then turned north, explored the Camino Norte, and recently returned to the main route to finish in Santiago. As we listened to her story we ended up hiking together for several hours while making our final push. En route we also ran into many of the German, American, and Canadian pilgrims whom we had met and talked with along the Camino, and we all promised to find one another again later in the day. Energized we continued onwards.

 After just over an hour of hiking along a forested pathway we arrived in the village of Lavacolla, where the three of us enjoyed a brief breakfast in a trailside bar, called the Cafe a Concha, which consisted of bagged chocolate croissants and weak coffee. While hardly the best fare we've had on the Camino, the warmth and energy it gave us was quite welcome. The village of Lavacolla has a historical resonance along the Camino de Santiago. The name itself literally translates into "Ball Wash", and purportedly was the location in which pilgrims traditionally washed themselves after a final evening of enjoyment with prostitutes before heading to the cathedral in Santiago to be "cleansed" of their sins. Sadly, in the dark we could not locate the historical ponds or baths, and so we continued our trek past a beautiful Celtic cross, up a large stair case, past the local church, the Iglesia de Lavacolla, and back onto the Camino Santiago.

As the darkness lifted the trail ceased moving through forests and along dirt pathways, and instead travelled between buildings, along the roadway, past the Santiago airport, and into the suburbs of the city itself. If it wasn't for our excitement, much like Pampalona, Burgos and Leon, I would say that a great deal of this section was uninspiring. Indeed, on any other day this type of trail would have been met with critique, but today, as we enter Santiago, it symbolizes our arrival after more than a month of hiking!

After meandering through residential neighbourhoods we soon arrived at Monte do Gozo, from which pilgrims get their first look at the Cathedral in Santiago. Traditionally, many pilgrims stop here the night before hiking into the old city of Santiago to reflect upon their journey. For our part, I cannot imagine, given our level of excitement, how anyone could stop so close to the end on the very edge of the city! I will admit that I can appreciate the symmetry of beginning in a large albergue like Roncesvalles, and concluding in the one at Monte do Gozo. While we did not spent an evening here, we nonetheless spent some time admiring the nearby monument to Pope John Paul II, and briefly visited the iconic Pilgrim monument, whose arms point out the direction of the cathedral in the distance. We also took a moment to visit the small chapel on the hillside, the Capilla de San Marcos. 

With less and less time before the Pilgrim's Mass, we headed downhill into the city of Santiago, and found ourselves now almost speed walking through the city streets in a steady stream of other pilgrims. Along city sidewalks, through parks, and across roads we hiked, and along with lines of other pilgrims we trekked with one similar goal in mind - following the bronze shells inlaid into the sidewalk towards the Cathedral. We rushed past the sign for the city of Santiago and past countless crosses, churches, monuments, and other adornments in our haste. 

Though we wanted to get to the Cathedral with everyone else, we had decided last night to check in and drop off our bags before the service. As we passed on the municipal albergues we stopped to get a room, only to discover that they were already full at 9:30 am! We tried again at another albergue, with the same result.  Stunned by this, we were (bless the kindness of the albergue volunteer) directed to a wonderful residence about a block away, the hotel San Lazaro. Now unreasonably worried about missing mass, we inquired about a room, checked in, took very quick showers, changed or clothes, and resumed our race towards the Cathedral!

Along the route through the city we found quotes engraved in the ground, among which one stood out the most: "Europe was made on the pilgrim road to Compostelle". Having "just" traversed the width of Spain never had such a sentiment seemed so true! We soon found the cathedral, hiked past the beautiful gardens in the Plaza de la Imaculada, through the arch of Pazo do Palacio, down the stair case, past the Parador Hotel, and arrived at the front of the iconic Santiago de Compostella Cathedral. A massive structure, imposing in the large plaza - the Praza do Obradoiro! This was a site it was difficult to imagine ever seeing, and ultimately we would only see half of it, as the historical structure was covered in blue scaffolding. Neither the excitement nor the disappointment can be expressed. The cathedral itself was a welcome sight, it was our goal, it was the "prize" we had been working toward for weeks and across hundreds of kilometers. 

After several moments of excitement and reflection we were struck by the odd thought, where do we go now? I am done, is this the end? Fortunately that question was easily (if only temporarily) answered for us, given that the pilgrim mass was due to start within 1/2 an hour of our arrival.  We did not have much time to enjoy the achievement and instead we found our way into the Cathedral to find two seats. Once settled we soon began to see, meet with, and hug those whom we had not seen in over a month, those we had trekked with and knew by sight but had never met with, and many whom we had hiked with continually day after day for weeks! In the end, almost all of our Canadian, America, German, French, and Australian companions arrived for the same pilgrim mass. Those who we could not find we were soon told were only a day behind and we would see tomorrow. What a perfect reunion!

Highly emotional, we sat throughout the Pilgrim's mass reflecting on our hike, on our friends, and all that we had been through. At the conclusion of the service we were fortunate to be able to see the Botafumerio swing in the cross nave of the cathedral! Once a regular tradition, the Botafumerio is only used one day a week (not today) and on special occasions now.  Apparently we are very lucky, at is was being swung today owing to the visit and generosity of a royal visitor to the cathedral. We felt very fortunate!  For those who do not know, the Botafumerio itself is a large incense burner suspended from the ceiling of the cathedral, filled with Frankincense and swung across the nave of the structure, filling the building with its scent. Historically the Botafumerio was used to bless pilgrims at the conclusion of their pilgrimage and, on a more practical level, likely to cover the smell of their bodies after such a long trek. When in action, it is mesmerizing. 

After the church service we took a few minutes to say hi to many of those we recognized, and enjoyed some quiet time to sit and reflect in the grand structure. We also wandered the cathedral photographing it's vaulted ceiling, huge windows, the large golden alter, the beautiful side alters, and the walkways above. The artistry throughout the structure ranged from the simple and dignified to the ornate and overdone. Unfortunately, as with the outside, much of the interior of the cathedral was also covered in scaffolding or closed off.  This included the Portico da Gloria, with its iconic Central Mullion, which is a central pillar that centuries of pilgrims have approached on their knees and laid their hands on, thus wearing a handprint into the stone.

After visiting the cathedral we lined up to walk through the Holy Doors, or the Puerta Santa. The Holy Doors on the Cathedral in Santiago are open only during Holy Years, and 2016 was declared the Holy Year of Mercy by Pope Francis. As we entered we were able to admire the artistry on the face of the door showing the life of St. James. The ornate and carved doorways are beautiful, and worth a few minutes. Once inside, the line proceeded behind and around the main alter to a small stair case. Here we stepped up and were able to hug the golden statue or Effigy of St. James and get a quick glimpse of the cathedral from behind the alter. I was fortunate enough to be able to hug him and kiss his back, but Sean had to step aside and missed his chance to do so as a woman ahead of him in line had become very emotional and refused to let go of the figure despite security's best attempts to extract her. In order to keep the line moving security asked Sean to move on and so together we both proceeded downstairs, where we briefly paid our respects to the remains of the Saint in the crypt below, which purportedly reside a caged silver box.  With little  for space in the small room we were quick to move on to allow others their time with the saint.


With everyone gathered after mass, we found out that while many of us were staying for a couple of days in Santiago, several were leaving almost immediately. As such we all moved to the nearby Plaza de la Quintanata underneath the Cathedral clock tower and near the Pilgrim Holy door, pushed a few of the restaurant tables together, and celebrated all of our achievements. For several hours we all sat together, consuming large plates of tapas, bottles of wine, and decanters of Spanish Sangria while we talking and reminiscing. By 3 pm we dispersed, with some people heading off to find an albergue, others heading to the airport or train station, and still others (such as ourselves) intent on getting our credentials.

The new pilgrim office, several blocks away from the cathedral, was easy to find. Once there, we waited in line for some time with hundreds of other excited pilgrims with our stamped passports. Despite reports and rumours to the contrary, the volunteers in the pilgrim office were wonderful, curious, kind, talkative, and supportive. We both decided that in addition to the pilgrim credential you can receive for free upon presentation of your stamped passport, we would purchase the Latin credential and cardboard tube to transport them home.  On the Latin credential the volunteers fill in your name in Latin, as well as the place and date you began your pilgrimage, and the date you finished.  Perhaps the most exciting part for me was to receive my latin name! I also have to say that the artistry of the credentials is absolutely beautiful! While in line for my credential a volunteer told me that to be completely absolved of your sins you need to walk through the Holy Doors at the cathedral with your documentation, and so I quickly trekked back to the church and went back through for a second time, figuring that since I am here, I might as well be extra sure. 

Soon afterwards we returned to our hotel room, washed up again from a day spent in the warm sun, and set back out to stroll around the old quarter of Santiago. Some of the confectionary shops, and papery stores were beautiful to look into. Certainly one of the most interesting parts of being in France and Spain must be the gorgeous window displays, which shops still assemble each day. Around 7 pm we met everyone back at the cathedral and trekked off for a communal celebration dinner together at the wonderful Casa Camilo. Here we pushed 5 tables together and sat on the patio in the warmth of the evening. In so many ways our Camino was now completed. It was a night of extreme excitement at having achieved our goals and being together, but extreme sadness with the realities of being done, and the realization that many of our companions had already headed home. In other words the evening was full of a range of emotions, thoughts, and conversations which are hard to describe or put into words.

With our meal completed we all wandered back to the plaza in front of the Cathedral and lay on the ground watching the stars - on a beautiful clear night. Nearby we heard a group of musicians playing and so walked over and listened to the group of singers called Tuna de Derecho and danced. We also purchased their CD which I am listening to as I type this. 


Nearing midnight we all said our good nights and made plans to again meet the next day for dinner in order to include one Canadian couple with whom we had travelled but who were now a day behind - and also because we wanted to hold onto the moment for as long as possible. Afterwards we returned to our hotel room and, unable to sleep, I decided it was best to write my journal and update the blog while everything was still so fresh in my mind. What a wonderful day and what a beautiful conclusion to our Camino in Spain!


Practical information:
Distance: 19.8 km
Max Temperature: 21°C
Accommodations: Hotel San Lazaro (45 Euros / room / evening)