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Spain

    Europe Travel

    Touring Andalucia

    Sevilla, Malaga, Granada, Gibraltar & Cadiz

    Location: Andalucia, Spain

    Spain is a big country.  Over the past two years we have had the wonderful opportunity to see many of her charms.  From the Pyrenees to Barcelona, from Galicia to Madrid.   We haven’t seen it all, but we have loved the beauty, hospitality and pace of life in Spain.

    I recommend visiting the famous cities such as Barcelona and Madrid – but I also recommend taking the slow tour and indulging in the beautiful smaller and towns, such as in the alluring Andalucia (And-a-loo-THEE-a) region.  The rich history, bewitchingl music and dance, sublime scenery and delicious food

    Touring Andalucia

    Roughly our route

    make Andalucia one of my favorite regions in Spain.  Touring Andalucia is easy and fun.

    With a fascinating story that includes Phoenicians, Moors, Romans and Christians – Andalucia is a treasure chest of ancient history, architecture and lore.

    We had two weeks for touring Andalucia.  We wanted to take our time and languish in the towns.  So we didn’t see it all, but here are our recommendations for enjoying and touring Andalucia on your holiday.

    Sevilla

    Sah- VEE – ya

    How to get there – Most people would arrive in Sevilla by plane from one of the major Spanish airports such as Barcelona or Madrid.  We recommend starting your tour in Sevilla so arriving by plane is the best

    Touring Andalucia

    Real Alcazar, Sevilla

    option.  We flew from Madrid.

    What to do – Sevilla is an absolutely splendid city.  If you are short on time, take a Free Walking Tour which will give you a great feel for the city.  Don’t miss the Cathedral, Plaza de Espana and our favorite site, the gorgeous, ancient Real Alcazar de Sevilla palace.  Book Alcazar tickets online ahead of time.  You may still stand in line by doing so, but it will be a MUCH shorter line.

    What to eat – Well, tapas are the name of the game in Sevilla, and the Triana neighborhood is the place to go.  Here you will enjoy a wide variety of tapas, elbow to elbow with locals.  We spent hours eating, drinking and enjoying Triana.  Read our tapas blog here.

    Hidden Secret – Sevilla is the undisputed Flamenco capital.  There are

    Touring Andalucia

    Flamenco, Sevilla

    many options to see live Flamenco shows.  We recommend the Flamenco Dance Museum  for an authentic and intimate experience.

    Malaga

    MAL- a-ga

    How to get there – We took the train to Malaga from Sevilla and it was super easy, fast, inexpensive and comfortable.  About two hours.

    What to do – Malaga is a resplendent mediterranean city.  Although

    Ceiling in the Cathedral, Malaga

    we were here in the winter, it was still beautiful and I can only imagine how lovely it is in other seasons.  We did a Free Walking Tour (as usual) and learned about this amazing historic city.  The Malaga Cathedral was beautiful.  We also enjoyed the Mercado Central de Atarazanas, and highly recommend walking all the way up to Castillo Gibralfaro for the views.  It’s a tough hike, but well worth it.

    What to eat – Tapas!  Yes you will start to see a theme here about tapas.  But here in Malaga it’s all about seafood tapas, locally sourced and so fresh and delicious.  Our favorite tapas we had were the boquerones (anchovies) at the Mercado Central.

    Hidden SecretThe Picasso Museum (Picasso was born in Malaga) is well worth a visit.  Even though we have enjoyed Picasso museums in many other European cities, this one was very well done and focused

    Touring Andalucia

    View of Malaga from the Castillo

    on smaller works, including sculpture and ceramics, that most people have never seen.  Bonus secret is to go down into the basement of the museum to see the 7th century ruins of the ancient Phoenicians that this building is built on top of.  Really amazing.

    Hidden Secret #2 – if your Free Walking Tour doesn’t take you to Cofradia de los Estudiants, take the time to go there yourself to view two of the cities incredible parade floats.  These floats are owned and maintained by one of 47 Brotherhoods in the city.  They only come out during the Easter week celebration.  They are a marvel.

    Granada

    Grah – NAH – thah

    Touring Andalucia

    Easter float covered all in real silver, Malaga

    How to get there – we did not go to Granada, and I’m sorry we didn’t.  I hadn’t realized how close it is to

    Malaga.  You can go on a guided bus tour (the best way for a day trip) and it’s a two-hour bus ride.  If you want to go on your own, the train takes about three hours.

    What to doa guided tour will take you to the highlights of this ancient Moorish city including Alcazaba, Nasrid Palace, and the Generalife Gardens.  With a tour you will have a “skip the line” guarantee.

    Hidden Secret – if your day tour gives you some free time, don’t use it to shop because the shops are all the same as in Malaga.  Instead wander up the Camino del Sacromonte for spectacular views back to the city and the surrounding beauty.

    Gibraltar

    Technically not in Andalucia.

    How to get there – you can take the train to Gibraltar and you can also do a Gibraltar day trip from Malaga.  However, we chose to rent a car, and just make a couple of hour stop in Gibraltar on our way to Cadiz.

    What to do – I wasn’t frankly very impressed with Gibraltar.  And honestly, unless you are hell-bent on

    Touring Andalucia

    The Rock of Gibraltar.

    adding it to your “been” list, I would skip it.  It felt tired and in need of some serious TLC.  As a British territory you need to pass through passport control.  We had no problems but in the summer it can get very busy.  We walked the 3.5 km to the cable car.  The touristy streets are overrun with tourist “crap”.  We took the cable car up (30 English pounds – expensive), and it was cloudy so we did not see anything.  I imagine on a clear day it would be beautiful – but not sure it’s worth the crowds.

    What to eat – since we have been in Spain so long we decided to eat something truly British, and went to a pub and enjoyed a really good fish and chips meal with a pint on the side.

    Hidden Secret – had we enjoyed better weather, we would have taken several hours to hike around on top of the rock.  The trails looked excellent and I am sure, in the sunshine, the views are grand.

    Cadiz

    KAH-deeth

    How to get there – We drove from Gibraltar and easily returned our rental car at the Cadiz train station, which was very close to our Airbnb.  There are many trains throughout the day to Cadiz from Sevilla,

    Touring Andalucia

    On top of the Cathedral Bell Tower, Cadiz

    Malaga and others.

    What to do – considered the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe (although some will argue differently, including Sofia Bulgaria), Cadiz is packed with historic sites.  Start your visit with a Free Walking Tour. The old town, situated on a point that was once an island, is larger than I expected.  It has beautiful architecture and is a living, breathing city, not just a tourist destination.  Our favorite sites were the Roman theater, the Cathedral and Bell Tower (definitely worth the climb), the Camera Obscura and the La Caleta beach area bounded by the Castillo des San Sebastian and Castillo de Santa Catalina where we did our morning run each day. Cadiz is not on the Mediterranean sea.  Once you pass through the Strait of Gibraltar you are now on the

    Touring Andalucia

    Ancient Roman theater, Cadiz

    Atlantic Ocean.

    What to eat – Seafood is the name of the game here in Cadiz.  Find your way to Barrio de la Vina where the locals go for tapas and meals.  It’s not on most tourist radars, so you’ll find yourself enjoying a very authentic Cadiz experience at any of the wonderful restaurants there.

    Hidden Secret – The neighboring village of Jerez (he-RETH) is the sherry capital of Spain (the name sherry is  an anglicization of ‘Jerez’). It is an easy day trip from Cadiz on the train, but if  you can’t go to Jerez, we recommend Taberna de Manzanilla in Cadiz.

    Farewell Andalucia

    We returned to Sevilla via train from Cadiz for our flight.  We really enjoyed this part of Spain and I can imagine how great it is in the

    Touring Andalucia

    Fortress Wall on the Atlantic, Cadiz

    summer too – having spent a month in the Algarve of Portugal which is very close.  I hope to return again, and enjoy this fascinating country.  It is so full of prodigious history, diverse scenery, spectacular food and friendly and hospital people.

    Gracias Andalucia.  Gracias Espana.  Espero verte de nuevo.

    Fabuloso!

     

     

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    Europe Travel  --  Food & Drink

    My Favorite Tapas of Spain

    Eating My Way Through Spain

    Location: Sevilla Spain

    It’s no secret I love to eat.  Our grand adventure involves a lot of food.  Travel is a conduit to cuisines of the world.  And I couldn’t love that more.

    I’ve been asked often what my favorite cuisine is.  It’s a tough question.  I love the comfort noodles of Asia, the rich stews and meats of the Balkans, the fresh seafood of the Mediterranean.  I adore any

    Anchovies

    cuisine made with the freshest local produce.  And I am also endlessly fascinated with the culture and history behind regional cuisine; pierogi of Poland; khao soi of northern Thailand; peka of Croatia, shopska salad of Bulgaria, tagine of Morocco.  These foods are both storyteller and palate dancer.

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Shrimp

    What could be more fabulous?

    Spanish Cuisine

    We’ve been in Spain now for more than a month.  Last year we spent more than two months in Spain.  I have learned to enjoy what is really a simple cuisine here in this country – locally sourced, simply prepared and not overly seasoned.  Although the many regions of Spain have their individual specialties, the focus of the overall cuisine of Spain is fresh and seasonal.

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Fried sardines

    My only complaint about Spain is how late they eat their meals.  Breakfast is barely a meal – just coffee and a croissant, maybe a tortilla (here in Spain ‘tortilla’ is an egg and potato dish, aka Spanish omelet) around 10am.  Lunch isn’t until 2:00pm and dinner rarely gets started before 9pm.  For this American, that is well past my bedtime.

    One of the reasons Spain eats so late is because they are in a crazy backwards timezone.  Ever since Franco wanted Spain in the same timezone as Germany, Spaniards have lived with a VERY late sunrise and a VERY late sunset.  So, they have adjusted their eating habits to accommodate.  Unfortunately my internal clock is not so easily adjusted.

    So the answer for me, when in Spain, is to live on tapas – the luscious

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Stuffed olives

    little dishes served all day long.  I have become a fan of tapas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    The Tapa Life

    We have enjoyed my favorite tapas of Spain in Madrid, Santiago,Leon and Barcelona.  But Sevilla loves its tapas bars (there are no tapas restaurants only bars – tapas are always served with alcohol) and the abundance of options is both fun and a bit overwhelming.  In fact many will argue Sevilla is the birthplace of the tapa. We studied up a bit on where to go, what to eat and some history, then we set out on our own little “tapear”, the Spanish word for tapas hopping. Time to find my favorite tapas of Spain.

    As we set out on our excursion we were happy to know there really wasn’t anywhere better we could be eating tapas than in Sevilla, and specifically in the historic Triana neighborhood.  Myths and legends abound about tapas. One of the most

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Cold tomato soup

    popular is King Alfonso the 10th, The Wise King of Spain, had once been stricken with a serious illness which only allowed him to take in small portions of food with small amounts of wine. After recovering from his illness, the king issued a decree that no wine should be served at inns unless it was served with food. (credit A Brief History of Tapas, Pita Jungle).

    My Favorite Spanish Tapas

    We did not have the opportunity to try every kind of tapa Sevilla is famous for, but we indulged in many and here is a list of some of our favorites both from our tour of Triana and our time throughout Spain (see photos and captions of

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Pork in whiskey with potata

    several throughout this blog); croqueta (very popular bite size fried cheesy nuggets often with jamon but we enjoyed it with duck as well as mint), montadito (tiny bite size jamon and pork sandwich), solomillo al whiskey (pork in whisky sauce), los pajaritos (tiny fried quail), patata (fresh potato chip), tortilla bites (egg and potato omelette), tortillita de camarones (fried shrimp pancake), espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and garbanzo beans), salmorejo (cold tomato soup), stuffed olives, thin sliced jamon iberico de bellota (acorn fed Iberian ham), pancetta frita (fried pork belly), grilled shrimp, boiled shrimp, sardinas ala parilla  (grilled sardines), mussels, pulpo (octopus), razor clams, fried calamari, boquerones (anchovies) on toast, sausages and rabo de toros (bull’s tail).  And those are just the ones I can remember.

    Simple, Cheap & Delicious

    It’s a wonderful way to eat.  But the great thing is, even if you are only stopping for a glass of wine with a friend, the bar will always set something to nibble in front of you (because the King said so).  It will

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Grilled sardines and grilled shrimp

    probably be a plate of olives, perhaps nuts or sometimes bread with ham and cheese or tortilla.   It’s said that the original tapas were probably bread with jamon, which was used to cover your drink (the word tapa means ‘cover’).

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Croqueta

    Despite the origin of the word, it now describes a cuisine unto its own.  Though southern Spain and particularly Andalusia claim it, the popularity of tapas has spread, particularly to South and Central America, Mexico and the United States.

     

    The day of our tapear we ate and drank (both beer and wine) for several hours at six locations.  And our total spending for the afternoon? Less

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Tiny fried quail

    than $50.

    We leave Sevilla and head next to Malaga – about 205 km south, on the Mediterranean.  We expect to continue our tapas exploration and enjoy

    a bounty of fresh goodness from the sea. Fabuloso and delicioso!

    Malaga here we come!

     

    Read my blog about food in Barcelona.

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    Adventure Travel  --  Inspire

    Camino de Santiago Final Thoughts

    Enjoy our Fun Video

    Location: Camino de Santiago Spain


    We say farewell to the Camino de Santiago with this fun video we put together while walking the Camino Portuguese.  We hope you enjoy it.

    And we share with you some final thoughts.   If our blog, our travels and our Caminos inspire you in any way, to go do things you never imagined you could do, then we are fulfilled.  Because life is short, the world is amazing, and each one of us has a spark inside that, with a little bit of oxygen, is ready to flame.

    Don’t wait to find what makes you happy.  Go be Fabulous today.

     

    Our journey now continues with two more weeks in Spain and then on to Florida, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil and much more.

    Thanks for following.  Go. Be. Fabulous.

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    Adventure Travel

    The End of the Earth

    Ending our Camino at the Atlantic Ocean

    Location: Muxia Spain

    Over the past two years I’ve spent nearly three months of my days in the beautiful country of Spain.  I’ve seen a lot of it’s wonders.  And yet, here I am at the ‘End of the Earth’- totally surprised and in awe of this beautiful rugged coast – unlike anything else I have seen in Spain.

    I’m so glad we came.

    Finisterre.

    Bronze boot at the fini

    Finisterre & Muxia are located on the Coste de Morte (Coast of Death), at the most western spot in Spain (and some argue in Europe).  Located in the autonomous community of Galicia, both Spanish and Galician is spoken.  The Coste de Morte is named thus because of the countless shipwrecks that have occurred on this rocky coast over the millennia.

    For many pilgrims, this rocky coast is their final destination, after visiting the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.  It’s a three-day walk to Finisterre and another day on to Muxia.  For those who don’t have

    Camino de Santiago

    Santiago Cathedral

    the time, bus tours are available so pilgrims can come and see the historic and beautiful location.

    Final day walking

    Horreo a Galician corn crib

    It was Saint James who brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula. In 44 AD, he was beheaded in Jerusalem and his remains were brought back to Galicia. Following Roman persecutions of Spanish Christians, his tomb was abandoned in the 3rd century. In 814 AD, legends have the tomb rediscovered, and King Alfonso II of Asturias and Galicia is responsible for ordering the construction of a chapel to house the tomb, on the site where today’s Cathedral stands.  This created the gradual development of the pilgrimage to the tomb.  

    The beach at Finisterr

    As pilgrimage to Santiago grew, pilgrims also started arriving in Finisterre to worship and see the “End of the Earth”. The first hospital (hostel) was built in 1479.

    Sculpture at Muxia

    For the people of ancient times, the Costa da Morte was the last redoubt of explored land, the westernmost part of continental Europe, the final stretch of an itinerary traced in the sky by the Milky Way.

    Legend has this ‘End of the Earth’ also as the place where pilgrims would collect a scallop shell, to prove they had made the journey to the sea.  The scallop shell has many meanings to pilgrims and the Camino de Santiago, read about that here.

    Our Lady of d Barca Muxia

    So visiting Finesterre and Muxia was something we wanted to do.  We had the time and seeing the Atlantic Coast of Spain was high on our list.  Although the weather is cool and cloudy I’m still glad we came.  The stormy coast is a great place to relax and enjoy a few cozy days before we continue on our journey. The End of the Earth as we know it.  And I feel fine.

    Note: We continue our Spanish journey in a few days.  On to Sevilla, Malaga and Cadiz.  Watch for more

    The End of the Earth

    Many people don’t realize how far west Spain is. Finisterre is on the same latitude as Boston

    about those destinations soon.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Adventure Travel

    Gotta Be Flexible in our Fabulous Fifties

    My Camino Week Two

    Camino de Santiago

    Location: Camino de Santiago Spain

    We had planned to walk from Santiago de Compostela on to Finisterre on the Atlantic and then on to Muxia.  That was always our plan.  But two major factors created a need for us to reevaluate our plans.  Gotta be Flexible in our Fabulous Fifties. Gotta be flexible on the Camino de Santiago.

    Camino de Santiago

    Santiago Cathedral where the pilgrims arrive

    The Best Laid Plans

    The weather of course was the first reason.  After walking in low forty degree temperatures and pouring rain we both agreed we didn’t want to do that.  We have some rain gear but not gear for the

    Camino de Santiago

    Cold and wet

    thermometer dropping into the 30’s…unseasonably cold for Spain in late October.  Our last day hiking left me stiff and sore and it took me hours to thaw out.

    The second reason came just as unexpected as the freezing weather.  We learned on the day we were walking into Santiago that the courier service we have been using to transport our bag only operates through the end of October.  Wait. What?  Shouldn’t they have mentioned this to us a little earlier?

    We can’t walk the Camino de Santiago with a roller suitcase, even though it’s not very big.  With at least five more days of walking, we sat down and reevaluated our plan.

    Camino de Santiago

    Approaching the Cathedral from the south

    Santiago de Compostela

    Arriving in Santiago was fun, although a bit anti-climatic compared to last year’s arrival after walking for 41 days. The best part was seeing the gorgeous cathedral sans the scaffolding it had been wearing last year. We took the time to do the cathedral tour (which we didn’t do last year) and admire the remarkable gold altar and the relics of Saint James, housed in the beautiful silver tomb. This 1000 year-old-cathedral is one of the most important in the Catholic faith.  And you don’t have to be Catholic or even religious to be in awe of the history that is housed here.  For me, the idea of the millions of people who have all made the walk here for all their own reasons is absolutely

    Camino de Santiago

    The gold nave

    fascinating, spiritual and worthy of respect.

    We took all the obligatory photos, picked up our Compostela (certificate of completion) and had a delicious dinner and lots of wine to celebrate and warm up.  While drinking wine and eating Spanish tapas we made the decision to take the bus to Finisterre instead of walking.

    The End of the Earth – Finisterre

    Finisterre was where the devout pilgrims to Santiago came to collect the proof of their pilgrimage in the form of the scallop shell. In medieval times this rock was the end of the known world, where the sun set into what was then thought of as the end of the earth. The word Finisterre derives from the Latin finis terrae, meaning “end of the

    Camino de Santiago

    Arriving in grey Finisterre

    earth”.

    So a four-day walk became a three-hour bus ride. We are here in Finisterre for two days and will walk and see some of the Camino sights here, as well as enjoy the bounty of Galician seafood. With the weather forecast improving, we plan to walk on Friday the 20 miles to Muxia and send our roller bag via taxi to meet us there.

    Camino de Santiago

    Tapas in Santiago

    Hopefully this will work out, and given our extra time, we can relax and enjoy a comfy Airbnb in Muxia for five nights. I’ll certainly be blogging on how these plans unfold. Fingers crossed.

    Our Journey Continues

    In the meantime, feeling accomplished to have made it this far.  I have no need to prove anything to anyone including myself, so I am perfectly happy with our current plans.  And watching the weather forecast with a hopeful heart for a warming trend in the days ahead.

    Buen Camino!

     

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    Europe Travel

    A Special Treat – A Stay In a Spanish Parador

    My Camino Week Two

    Location: Camino de Santiago Spain

    When walking the Camino de Santiago most pilgrims find overnight lodgings as cheaply as possible.  This usually means an albergue (hostel).

    Spanish Paradores

    Paradores started in 1928

    For us, we mix it up staying primarily in low-budget hotels, an occasional albergue as well as guest houses, pensions and Airbnb’s.

    While walking the Camino Frances last year I looked longingly at the magnificent Parador Hotel in Leon, knowing this stately hotel was beyond our budget.

    Spanish Paradores

    The beautiful lobby

    What I didn’t know is that there are 94 Paradores throughout Spain, and some are quite affordable.

    “Parador’ is the name given in Spain to luxury hotels managed by a state-run company and usually located in buildings of historic importance such as fortresses, monasteries and castles; but also new buildings set in nature reserves and areas of outstanding beauty.

    Spanish Paradores

    Street View

    Paradores de Turismo de España, the public company managing these luxury hotels, was founded by King Alfonso XIII to promote tourism in Spain. The first parador, Parador de Gredos in Ávila, opened in 1928 by the King. Today there are 94 paradores from 3 to 5 stars all across Spain, many along the Camino de Santiago.

    Spanish Paradores

    Antique furnishings

    Spanish Paradores

    Breakfast

    Parador comes from the Spanish ‘parar’ which means to stop, halt or stay. The concept behind parador is to open exceptional historic properties to the public, and use the hotels profits to maintain these beautiful buildings. Most of them also have excellent restaurants offering traditional
    cuisine at a high standard using local and seasonal produce.

    Regardless of the parador date or style, they all are refurbished to high standard offering all modern comforts, as long as they comply with protected building regulations. Prices at Spanish paradores will vary depending on the room, region and season but they are a real treat to the pilgrim!” (source www.caminoways.com)

    Spanish Paradores

    Stately furnishings

    So the other night my husband was booking rooms for us ahead a few days, and he booked the gorgeous Parador de Pontevedra as a surprise for me.  And it’s only $100. Incredible!

    Spanish Paradores

    Garden view

    The Parador, once the residence of the counts of Maceda, is located in the old quarter of the magnificent city of Pontevedra. The entry boasts a stately carved stone staircase leading to a beautifully furnished sitting area. The building is decorated with antiques and very valuable classic furniture. It combines regal, noble and stately styles with charming rural elements.

    Our room was very comfortable and beautifully furnished with a full and modern bathroom and a lovely view of the garden in back.  We did not eat dinner in the restaurant but we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the morning as well as drinks in the stately bar.

    This Parador is not as grand as some, like the magnificent Five Star Parador de Santiago de Compostella, one of the oldest hotels in the world.  But I loved it.  A perfect little sanctuary as we make our way north on the Camino Portuguese.

    Thanks for the special treat honey.

    Read our blog about our first week on the Camino here.

     

     

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    Adventure Travel

    Comparing the Camino Portuguese to the Camino Frances

    My Camino Week One

    Camino de Santiago

    Location: Camino de Santiago

    Here we are.  Walking our second Camino de Santiago.  Why you ask?  Why not?  It just seemed like we should.  Six months ago when we were planning our fall itinerary we were looking at being in Madagascar in October.  Until we looked at the airfare. Yikes.  Madagascar will need to stay on theCamino de Santiago bucket list for a while longer.  So we turned our attention back to one of our favorite countries, Portugal.  And well, here we are.

    Having completed the 486 mile Camino Frances last September, I wasnt sure if the Camino Portuguese would be different.

    It is different. While also being somewhat similar.  One week into the Camino Portuguese, I don’t think I can say I prefer one over the other (yet), because each is special in its own way.  But I have found  myself during week one on the Portuguese Way comparing it to the Frances Way.

    Here are my thoughts so far after one week of walking;

    Distances are Different

    Of course the biggest difference between the two walks is the distance.  When setting out to walk the  most popular Camino Frances many people begin in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France.  This is where we began on September 1, 2017. Forty-one days and 486 miles later we arrived in Santiago, Spain.Camino de Santiago

    On the Camino Portuguese we started in Porto, Portugal on October 21, 2018.  We plan to walk to Santiago and then beyond to  Muxia on the Atlantic Ocean.  This walk will take us about 15 days and will be 217 miles.

    It is a significant difference in distance and days walked – making some of the comparisons here not really fair.

    We are Different

    We are not the same people we were a year ago.  And so this is another major difference.  A year ago we had never tackled anything like walking the Camino de Santiago.  We were a bit frightened, naive and apprehensive.  I think we over trained and over planned and over stressed.  I spent too much time reading what other people thought Camino de Santiagowas best.  Ultimately most of that wasn’t best for me.

    This time we hardly trained, barely planned and did almost zero research.  In fact I stayed away from the Camino Facebook pages (which I found last year too judgmental) and just went with what felt good for us.  We did use the John Brierley books again – a valuable resource for any Camino pilgrim.Camino de Santiago

    We also don’t feel any pressure this time to “succeed”.  We are just enjoying it.  If we don’t finish – no worries.  If it pours down rain and we hop on a train, so be it.  If we get sick or tired and decide to sleep all day – well Buen Camino.  Our Camino, our way.

    Our Bags are Different

    Last year I walked the first 100 miles with a 15 pound pack.  But eventually it was too much for my plantar fasciitis and I began shipping my pack ahead each day.  This year I decided to do it from the very start.  It’s so much better.  I last longer and feel better at the end of the day.  My Camino, my way.Camino de Santiago

    The Terrain is Different

    Over these past six days we have seen quite different terrain than what we enjoyed walking across Spain.  We have spent a lot of time in beautiful wooded areas of eucalyptus, cork and pine trees. We have also spent a lot of time on rocky paths climbing over mountains.  In Portugal in the suburban areas, and even on country roads, we were forced to walk on difficult cobblestones –  both ancient and new.

    Camino de SantiagoSimilar to the Frances we have also spent a lot of time in bucolic farmland with cows, sheep, horses and goats (there is a distinct Camino aroma!).  Most enjoyable is passing miles of vineyards, corn fields, chestnuts, vegetables of all kinds and many fruit and nut trees.  Here along the Portuguese way these things are grown altogether.  In Spain there were more distinctive sections of types of agriculture.

    We left Portugal and entered Spain on day five. Here the path meandered through lovely creek-side Camino de Santiagoshaded paths before we had a major climb with a very steep descent into Redondela.  We are now in Spain’s Galicia region, one of our favorite areas last year on our walk. The mountains bring cooler weather, and marine air from the ocean just 8 miles away.

    On both routes we enjoy the incredible medieval villages, most fully functional and still living, breathing towns – on the Camino Frances it felt like many of these towns were only there because of the Camino – not so much on the Portuguese.   For someone from the USA where old is 200 years, seeing 900 year old villages and 2000 year old Roman bridges and roads still in use is just mind-boggling.

    The Portuguese People are Different

    Perhaps because the Portuguese Way is not as popular as the Frances, or perhaps because the Portuguese people are only beginning to learn how to be Camino entrepreneurs as The Way becomes more popular; for whatever reason there just are not as many businesses catering to pilgrims.

    The accommodations are fewer, the food is definitely not as available and we never encountered anyoneCamino de Santiago just trying to make a buck off of the pilgrims.  Last year in Spain it was a normal sight for someone to be set up on the side of the road selling things to pilgrims.  Restaurants, bars, cafes were abundant.

    But we have found the Portuguese Camino much less developed for pilgrim services.

    The Portuguese people are a bit more shy and quiet.  They nod and say Bom Dia but keep more to themselves than most of the Spanish we encountered on the Frances.

    We expect this to change now that we have arrived in Spain.

    Vandalism is Present

    The first day we entered Spain our guide-book gave us a choice on routes.  We could take the shorter “industrial” route or the slightly longer “scenic” route.  We chose the scenic route.

    Immediately, and for the first time on either the Portuguese or the Frances, we began to see a clear Camino de Santiagoeffort to vandalize signage, misdirect pilgrims and disrupt progress on the “scenic” route.  Beautiful granite markers splattered with paint, arrows blacked out and other arrows trying to get walkers to go another way.  We stayed the course using the map on our phone.

    Our assumption is there are locals not wanting pilgrims to go this way.  I’m sure it’s not all locals, but it was a disappointment to us.  On the Francis we always felt welcome.

    The Pilgrims are Fewer

    The most striking difference to us in week one is how few pilgrims there are.  Last year we found ourselves on the Camino Frances during Camino de Santiagoits busiest September ever.  We had chosen to walk in September because we had read it was a time with fewer pilgrims than in summer but still with good weather.

    Well clearly we were not the only ones who had read this recommendation.  It was very crowded.

    Most days it didn’t matter, but as we got closer to Santiago it was busy and not very peaceful.  Rooms were hard to come by and so we started booking several days and even weeks ahead.Camino de Santiago

    Late October on the Portuguese Way is very quiet.  On our first day we did not see any other pilgrims.  That night at dinner we met a man from Holland.  We have now seen him several times.  We also have often seen a young couple from Italy/Australia and  few others along the way.  But until day five the total number was only about a dozen.

    Camino de SantiagoOn day five we began to encounter more Pilgrims.  We learned many start walking in Valenca, the border between Portugal and Spain.  We met a woman from Seattle (who had heard about us), another woman from Ottawa and another woman from Russia.  We met a group from Australia, a couple from Germany and a couple from Mexico.  We have also seen two young men walking with a dog, several cyclists and a handful of people walking the other direction.  The Portuguese Camino also supports the route to Fatima going south.  Some people walk south from Santiago to Fatima Portugal, a town between Porto and Lisbon where an apparition of the Virgin Mary was considered a miracle and brings pilgrims.Camino de Santiago

    We have enjoyed week one.  We feel healthy and capable.  The forecast for the week ahead has much rain, and we will take it day by day to see how we proceed.  Meanwhile,  I am very happy to be here, experiencing once again the magic of the Camino de Santiago.

    More soon, from the Way of Saint James.  Buen Camino!

    Read about our Camino Frances last year here.

     

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