When I first started hiking a number of years ago, a fellow hiker gave me some important advice, “Don’t forget to look back.” When I see a memorable view I capture it with a camera so that I can revisit this moment in time. If the view is mediocre I turn back and resume hiking along my merry way with camera packed. As a photographer I have found this advice helpful, but even more I find it applies to life.
We all know life isn’t always pretty and we may stumble and step in crap from time to time. Learn, move on, without dwelling on these unfortunate moments. Likewise, there may be some unattractive elements in an image, but look beyond and see the beauty…
September 26, 2016: Down we go… Joan was missing this section of the Camino from El Acebo to Ponferrada, so descending down this mountain path was necessary to finalize the journey.
After a taxi ride speeding up the dark, winding mountain road, the driver drops us off at El Acebo and at first we are amazed at the changes in this charming village. A huge, new albergue greets us complete with swimming pool, restaurant and a deck overlooking the valley below. Where is the quaint little village we remember so well?
We wait for daylight, slowly making our way down the mountain and I now remember why I love this stage of the camino. The scenery is becoming greener and the mountains provide layers of beauty which makes it difficult to believe this is our last day of hiking. Seems like we should keep going. We arrive back in Ponferrada later that day and go in search of an establishment willing to provide us with a celebratory meal even though it’s much earlier than the usual Spanish meal time.Thankfully, family owned El Portiel Meson adjusted their schedule just for us and cleaned out their refrigerator to provide a hearty meal complete with wine and a complimentary after dinner liquor. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
I will confess that I am a camino addict and a large part of me doesn’t want the journey to end. I love the simple life… get up, put the backpack on and start walking (To my first cup of coffee). But that isn’t real life, is it?
I’ve been choosing my top three picks for photos from each day of this camino and to wrap things up I’m also choosing three words I hope will provide meaning and impact in my daily life.
Top three photos and top three words to bring it home:
1) Acceptance ~ It is what it is.2) Endurance ~ Personal growth from experiences no matter how difficult.3) Appreciation ~ Live in the moment and enjoy the journey…no matter how long it takes.
Third time’s a charm…Thank you to my sister, Joan, for all of the planning along with her meticulously designed spreadsheets, and especially for including me in these adventures.
September 25, 2016: Short and sweet today with a bus ride from Astorga to Ponferrada, Spain which is the last major town on the French route of the Camino de Santiago until Santiago de Compostela.
Taking a step back in time, we tour the magnificent 12th century Templar castle. Originally a hill-fort and later a Roman citadel we peer through the windows and peepholes viewing the city below and the mountains in the distance.
At the beginning of the 12th century, the Templar knights took possession of the fortress. They reinforced and extended the building for use as a palace as well as provide protection of pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela. Its twelve original towers reproduced the shapes of the constellations.The castle hosted the Knights Templar’s Grand Master of Castille. Unfortunately, the Templars were only able to enjoy the use of their fortress for about twenty years before the order was disbanded and its properties confiscated. ~spain.info
According to andaspain.com, The Knights Templar were disbanded in 1307 by King Philip IV of France due to growing mistrust of the organization, as well as the Kings large financial debt to the group. It is thought that most members were arrested and tortured into giving false confessions, resulting in being burned at the stake. Mystery and speculation grew due to the swift disappearance of this immense and mighty group. Even now, many hold on to the belief that the Templars did not dissolve but went underground and continue to exist today. Interestingly, King Fernando IV gifted the castle to his butler once the Order of the Templars was dissolved. Hmmm… strange, indeed.
September 24, 2016: Camino Completion ~ third time’s a charm. Another dot is connected as we walk into Astorga, Spain.
Cruceiro Santo Toribio is a stone cross that commemorates the 5th century Bishop Toribio of Astorga who supposedly fell to his knees here in a final farewell having been banished from the town. Wonderful view of the city of Astorga with the mountains looming in the distance.This gentleman has welcome wagon duty today along with tending to the flowers and shrubs near the stone cross.Tonight we sleep in the loft of a very old building, Albergue de Peregrinos San Javier located on a narrow street near the cathedral. 110 beds and we are up three levels in the top loft area. As you can see, we both get a front and center bottom bunk tonight surrounded by our international roommates. Friendly conversations are a bonus to this situation and we experience absolutely no bedbugs. A full kitchen is on the bottom level of the building so we are able to cook our own meal tonight and converse with other pilgrims doing the same. Flashlights are close and ready for action in case we need to walk down the dark staircase during the night to a lower level to use the facilities. Watch to the end of the video on this blog post and you will take a walk with me from top to bottom of the albergue. I’m glad there wasn’t a fire during the night because we would surely have been toast.Inside these doors… Astorga’s cathedral was built between the 15th and 18th centuries and combines various styles including Gothic and Baroque. The edifice was begun in 1471, within the same walls of its Romanesque predecessors from the 11th-13th centuries. Construction lasted until the 18th century which explains the inclusion of elements from later styles. ~Wikipedia Is Harry Potter home? Opposite the cathedral is the Palcio Episcopal designed by Anton Gaudi for the bishop of the time who was a fellow Catalan. The palace’s bizarre appearance and enormous cost horrified the church and no future bishops ever lived in it. It is now home to the Museo de los Caminos, an excellent museum of the pilgrimage to Santiago. ~spainthisway.com
We were not able to visit Museo Chocolate also located in Astorga, Spain. Here you can see a display of tools and objects that represent the history of chocolate production: instruments for roasting, refining and rolling, as well as pans, mortars, moulds and machines from the early 19th century.
September 23, 2016: Two options today ~ follow the highway path or take the longer alternate path. We naturally opt for the longer route since we rarely seem to do anything the easy way.
Short video of the day featuring the inspiration for our morning mantra ~ …Coffee Town:
As usual, we follow an arrow to proceed straight ahead. What’s this? A set of large railroad tracks loom ahead and we are hesitant to cross since neither of us like to break rules. Hmmm…? Turn around and back we go to find this little arrow pointing to a road that winds us through town, up and over a pedestrian railroad crossing. Safety first and it’s a good thing we like to walk.
The 13th century bridge taking us into Hospital Orbigo is the longest one on the Camino at 204 metres long (approximately 670 feet) and has 20 arches. The river that it crosses doesn’t seem to appear to warrant such a lengthy bridge, but prior to a dam being built at Barrios de Luna the river was a lot wider. ~Galicia Guide
This bridge has facilitated trade since Roman times including the passage of livestock as part of the cattle trail Camino de la Canada, as well as sweaty pilgrims. ~John Brierly
I see our albergue! A sign can be spotted from the bridge so we have finally arrived. The albergue tonight is connected to a bar/restaurant which means we have a zero kilometer walk tonight. Yes!
9-22-2016: Breathtaking… remarkable… amazing…First ancient Roman baths, then a palace and finally León Cathedral, dedicated to Santa María de la Regla, which was declared of Cultural Interest in 1844. It is known as the Pulchra Leonina and is a masterpiece of the Gothic style of the mid-13th century. The design is attributed to the architect Enrique. By the late 16th century it was virtually completed. ~WikipediaI found it fascinating that the stained glass on the north side of the tower features cool colors to represent the Old Testament; the south side’s stained glass uses warmer colors to show how Christ brought light to the New Testament. This design also takes into account the movement of the sun during the day. Now that took an architect with keen attention to detail…
Before leaving the hostal, I check out Facebook and notice an American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook friend is staying at the famous luxury hotel called the Parador. Thinking I’m clever, I leave a comment that I will wave at him as I walk by in about an hour.
Around noon we leave the historic center of Leon with a 7 kilometer hike to Virgen del Camino as our destination.
Short video from our short journey today.
Approaching this magnificent building, we speculate that it must be a museum. I sit on a bench to tie my boot. Hmmm… this can’t be the Parador… Backpacks and hiking poles are dead giveaways that we are pilgrims. A gentleman approaches us and we begin to visit. Little did I know, but this was the same Facebook friend I was planning to wave to as I walk by. Small world. He confirms that this is, indeed, The Parador. This five star Parador was originally a monastery founded in the twelfth century to provide lodging for the pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. It later became the headquarters of the Order of Saint James whose soldiers provided protection for the pilgrims. ~www.paradores-spain.com
Our conversation expands to include a wonderful young man traveling in a camper van throughout Europe with his wife and dog. I’m thinking that is a great plan as you’d always have a place to sleep.
As we approach our hostel for the night, the neighborhood is looking dodgy.
No key issued to us for the front door of Hostal Sota and we are only allowed in by the lone hostal employee. In fact, we may be about the only people staying here. Nice lounge area in the basement and our activities are constantly monitored.
Why does the song “Hotel California” keep playing through my mind?
Top three photo picks of the day: Lottery ticket sales appear to be going well before mass outside the Catholic church.
Why does it seem to take so long to get to the historic part of Leon? A population of 130,000 may have something to do with it as well as getting off the Camino path. Where are those yellow arrows?
We fumble our way to the cathedral and are happy to find beds for tonight close to the cathedral.
Leon was a Roman military garrison and base for its VIIth Legion, hence the name derived from Legion. Later it became the capital of the old kingdoms of Asturias and Leon conquered and re-conquered by Visigoth, Moor and finally Christian forces. ~John Brierly Guide
The Latin name (Legio) converged with the word for lion (leo) over the centuries as Latin grew up and became Spanish, ending with the city name of Leon. ~A Texan in SpainThanks to Blair from Australia/Ireland we are made aware of a significant building in the historic city center. Above you see a Neo-Gothic style building designed at the turn of the century by famous Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi .
Looking closer, we see a stone sculpture of Saint George as he is slaying a dragon above the principal entrance. During the restoration of the building in 1950, workers discovered a tube of lead under the sculpture containing the original plans signed by Gaudí and press clippings from the era. ~Wikipedia