We started the day with a nice breakfast in the historical center of Pontevedra. I wanted to try churros for quite some time and finally got the chance to do so. Hm, what can I say about them? They were very good, as all fatty and sweet food is :). I was wondering what it was, but after trying it, I’m sure it’s something my grandma calls “štraube”, and usually makes them around Mardi Gras (pustni torek), although to be fair, they do look a bit better than my grandma’s but in the end it’s just fried dough. So while we were sitting in the coffee place and dunking churros into the hot chocolate it started to rain, again, so another day of walking in the rain ahead of us. The path on this stage was nice, it was mostly out of the urban area.
Around noon, we walked through some small village, and like in a cartoon, amazing smell of roasted pork, flew around the corner. It was like in cartoons, when smell actually calls people inside, haha. Aljoša is still joking about it today (October). After smelling it, we couldn’t help but follow the smell back 100 m and enter the restaurant, that looked like the likeliest candidate of being the source of the smell. I’m mentioning this, because this was probably the best price/performance of any restaurant that I have been in past 10 years if no more. For merely 10 € you got the following:
Hot soup with vegetables
Roasted pork ribs with baked potatoes
1l of wine (yes, each one got a bottle of whine, haha)
The restaurant is called As Eiras, if you are in the vicinity, by all means go try it out.
You know, how they say the world looks better with a full belly? In our case it actually was true, the weather cleared, and we reached our next destination in Caldas de Reis early afternoon. There is no official albuerge there, but a private one, for the same price (8€ in Spain) was waiting for us. The town is known for its hot springs, but I think everything was closed at that time of the year.
The town had several stores, so we were able to raid the necessary supplies, including some super cheap, but good (ish) wine. Before we started preparing dinner Jakob tried his best to persuade anyone, who would listen to him to go swim with him to the hots pings – basically it looked like random fountain outside, in the end surprisingly he didn’t persuade anyone but managed to annoy everyone, so he actually went alone. While Jakob was swimming in the rain I did other stupid extreme and went for a run, well at least I didn’t try to persuade anyone to follow me.
After good lunch it’s only natural that even better dinner follows. Well, I can’t say about the quality, but I can definitely testify about the quantity. This became the day, know as the day, the three of us, ate 1kg of pasta in one sitting. I’m not sure, if we should be proud of this or not, but damn haha, it really gives you energy.
Next morning we were flying toward Padron, the last stop before Santiago. We barely made one short stop in the middle, to eat a snack on this 19 km stage. This leg of the journey was one of the best, most of the path was going through the forest and fields, if it wasn’t raining again, it would have been perfect. The albergue in the town was in an old monastery beside the church and it was again really nicely maintained. It must have been renovated not so long ago, the interior was mostly wooden and there were plenty of heaters provided so it was nice and warm.
All in all I have to say that albergues in Spain are really superb. Especially if you account that they only cost 8 € a night, but more on this later.
Next morning Jakob and I went through the old city again, as I didn’t saw it yet. It was truly magnificent, haven’t seen fortress on so many levels before. After about an hour of walking on the high wall and through some tunnels and underpass we were on the other side, the only thing separating us from Spain was a long bridge over the river. Soon after we were able to say ¡Hola Espagne!
It took us 5 days to reach Spain, about 125 km were behind us and about 140 ahead of us. The first city on Spanish side was Tui, we didn’t spend much time there but continued walking. We were pretty lucky with the weather so far, it has been more or less clear sky, well until now. The weather forecast for today was some scattered storms, luckily it wasn’t as bad as we were afraid. It only rained on us enough, so we unpacked all our rain coats and waterproof gear and then it stopped after about 10 minutes. Still, we were happy when we reached our destination, O Pporino, it was relatively easy day, just 20 km.
This was an optional stop, which at the beginning we weren’t planning to make, but since the weather wasn’t the best and the next stop Redondela, was additional 15 km away, we decided there was no point in hurrying and stopped here, and wow, we weren’t sorry.
The albergue in O Pporino was amazing, it must have been quite new, no more than 10 years old, had actual floor heating! The downside was, that it had no kitchen utensils. Supposedly people didn’t clean them enough and people started to get sick, so there was some law, that forbade albergues from having them, supposedly for whole Galicia – which is basically the whole north-western part of Spain. Luckily in a couple of days, this turned out not to be true. Though we were quite sad about it, and since we knew that Spain was more expensive than Portugal, I was already carrying couple kgs of pasta.
Next day was nothing truly remarkable, the weather was so-so, so we had to walk a bit in the rain, nothing too bad though. We reached our next destination Redondela in early afternoon. What was exciting about it was that the albergue was in an old defence tower in the city centre. We were quite excited to sleep in it, although to be fair, when we actually saw it, it wasn’t as poetic as it sounded.
The albergue was without kitchen utensils again, so we decided to try to buy a pot or at least pan in the local supermarket. As it turned out, it was mission impossible. As it seems in Spain they only sell kitchen utensils in some specialized stores, and since it was Saturday afternoon when we went on this mission they were all closed, as opposed to the supermarkets that are open until 9 or 10 pm. I must say, I was really annoyed but it, much more than Aljoša and Jakob, maybe it was that kg of pasta that I was carrying for 35 km already.
Since it was still early afternoon, and the sky cleared up, I again went for a run on a nearby hill with nice views. In the evening we sat down the table and played some games – yes, Jakob actually brought Settlers of the Catan board game with him, not the whole box, but just playing pieces. We were laughing at him about it at the beginning, but I must admit, it felt pretty awesome to play the game, in the following days we actually managed to though the game to some other pilgrims.
The next day was nothing exceptional either, the path lead us through some villages, near the coast. It rained for most of the day, so that took all the joy from the hike that day. When we reached Pontevedra in about 20 km. The albergue was again very nice, with floor heating, but what was even better, it had kitchen utensils! I don’t remember, when was the last time I was so happy to eat pasta – plain pasta without a sauce that is. Note:I have (or rather had) something of begrudge against it (all kinds of pasta), since in my childhood, we ate it literary every other day... We spend the evening playing the board games again and talking with our friends, it was a nice end to a mediocre day. Also, Aljoša bought a couple of slices of the expensive Iberrian prosciutto in Redondela and today was the day we tried it!
We arrived to Pontes de Limas something past 8pm, again, we were luckily, the Alberuge there closes at 9. At first, we were really happy, at least we made it, but then we realized, we won’t be able to go out for dinner, since they will close the albergue in less than half an hour (literary they lock you in). So in the end, after a lot of persuasion, Jakob convinced me to run with him to the close by Liddle, that was still open, and just in the distance where we thought we could make it there and back in time. So after the whole day of walking, we conjured just enough strength for the 3 km run, and made it back in time with about 5 minutes to spare. I’m telling you, pasta never tasted so good than that day.
The next day was supposed to be a hard leg of the journey, we were suppose to walk on a “hill”, so we played it safe and started early (well, early compared to previous and later days, at around 9). After navigating out of the city, we were soon faced with a picturesque, yet flooded path. It took us almost an hour to navigate through it. At first we were jumping over the rocks from edge to edge but then toward the end Aljoša and Jakob smartly took off their shoes and just walked through the water. I for some reason really wanted to find the “dry” path, so after about 15 minutes of trying I finally stepped ankles deep into the marsh, yeey, my socks and shoes were wet for the rest of the day.
After the initial ordeal with wet footwear our spirits soon lifted as we started walking through beautiful landscape and slowly ascending the hill. The weather again was perfect and the hill was not steep (or high) at all. Somewhere in the middle, when we were resting an interesting old man, came to talk to us. He was very friendly, yet couldn’t speak a word in English nor Spanish (Jakob knows Spanish). Yet that didn’t bother him, he just kept talking. At one point we think he asked if I’m the son of Jakob, haha I guess that felt nice (for me at least), but we probably misinterpreted that part.
Before noon we were already at the top of the hill, way ahead of the schedule. We took a short break, playing some cards and sunbathing on the warm winter sun. In the early afternoon we reached Albergue.
Since the day was quite easy, I decided to go for a quick run before dinner.
The following day was supposed to be an easy one, we were to make it either to Valenca (Portugal) or the neighboring city Tui (Spain). Since Spain is a bit more expensive than Portugal, and we were in no hurry we decided to stop at Valenca. Again we walked through picturesque forests and rural areas, the walk was especially easy, since it was mostly downhill. We reached the Albergue before 1pm, so we actually had to wait for it to be opened.
After we checked in Jakob and Aljoša decided to go explore the city a bit. Valenca is an old fort city, designed abit similarly as Palmanova (Italy), in a star shaped fortification, yet I believe it’s even more fortified as latter. I decided to go for a “quick” run on nearby hill, that towered above the city. While the run was quite intense, the hill was about 400m high, the view from the top was worth it. I could see as far as the sea, the sun was shinning and on top of the hill there were some horses running around (with no enclosure) munching on the grass.
In the evening, all three of us took another walk through the old town, which was completely empty then (a bit scary) and then found a restaurant that served Pilgrim’s menu. We are actually not sure what we ate, it was some kind of fish (bacalao?) and potatoes, looked like they put the scraps of food that were left over from the day together and served it to us, but it was surprisingly good. I think this was one of the general idea of this kind of menus, kitchens just used some leftover ingredients and prepared some really low cost meals. With it, of course, we had some wine.
Wine in Portugal (as well Spain) needs another post all together, but I’ll try to squeeze it in here. It is so unbelievable cheap that it defies logic. You actually have a very decent choice of (local) wines in the supermarket that cost less than 2€ per bottle (yes, glass bottles with actual corque). I think I even saw one that was 0.80 € or something. I don’t understand, how this is, the glass, transport and water in it must cost more than a €. Anyway the prices of wine in the restaurants are not much higher. The cost was usually no more than 5€/bottle, or was even included in the meal price (which was 5-10€). I’m not some wine connoisseur, but the wine tasted quite ok, and even Aljoša and Jakob, who know much more about wine than I do, agreed that they are surprisingly good, not even for the price, but in general, they taste good.
We arrived to Porto in the late evening and were in our hostel in around 11PM. To ease into the hiking culture, we decided to make a ho(s)tel reservation for the first night, with a private room for the three of us.
Next day (Sunday), we got up at 9, went to the main cathedral in Porto, where we got our pilgrim’s credentials. With the credentials you get the “ability” to sleep in special hostels called Albergues, that are open only for the pilgrims and are very cheap 6€ in Portugal and 8€ in Spain, that is at least for the state run ones. Of course, you can go into the private ones that give you more amenities but are much more expensive. The problem is, however, as the February is the least touristy month of the year – it’s supposed to be the rainiest month in Portugal/Spain of the year, most of the privately owned Albergues are closed, so the only choice are the state ones.
After getting our credentials, the journey started, we were at km 0.
In general the way is well-marked with the yellow arrows, and blue seashells – emblem of the pilgrimage., despite it, it can be a bit confusing in some places, so not long after starting we got lost a bit but with today’s phones it was not too hard to find our way back on track. Ah, one more thing I should mention, on the last day, we found out a great app for the pilgrims, that shows you the different paths you can take, information about albergues and such – Kamino Ninja.
There are 3 ways to reach Santiago from Porto, Costal, spiritual and central path – because of the month we were travelling we took the central path, as it is the most popular, so basically the only one where even the state Albergues are open (more or less). Although from the information we read the coastal one might be the most interesting/beautiful.
On the first day we walked for about 26km, so when we arrived at the monastery in Vairao, it was already dark. We were lucky, as we found the woman, who was taking care of the Albergue – in this case monastery, already preparing to go home. As it turned out, we were the only ones sleeping there for that night. It was an interesting experience all in all. The monastery was not heated, the walls were thick at least 2 m, so it was cold and moist inside. It was actually warmer outside, so we let the window open during the night, but I was really really happy I had my warm sleeping bag with me.
So how to Albergues even work? This mainly applies to the state ones, although the private ones do not differ much. You can only stay in them for 1 night, you get a stamp in your pilgrims credentials and then you have to move on. They are basically a stripped version of ho(s)tels, normally with bare beds, so you have to have sleeping bag with you, and the majority of them have kitchenet with kitchen utensils (however, this does not apply to the first couple of them in Spain, as there are some laws that prohibit them from having kitchens utensils in hostels – something about people not cleaning after themselves and then getting sick). During the summer, in the most popular months they get full quickly, so people usually get up in the middle of the night, so they can arrive at the next albergue before 14.00, when they usually open. It is impossible to make a reservation in advance so if it’s full you are basically left with not much choice but to continue until the next town (which can be 10s of km away) or go into a private one – if they still have some room. Luckily in our case we were at most 10 people, usually even less. And despite having to sleep with total strangers, it doesn’t feel that weird or bad, you are all there with the same reason – pilgrimage, so it’s easy to talk to others, meet new people and you don’t feel like someone is going to murder or rob you in the middle of the night .
After surviving our first freezing night we continued to Barcelos. The path took us over some picturesque bridges and villages, but the vast majority was done on the roads through some urban areas. After about 28h we arrived to Barcelos, where it was dark again. Due to some miscommunication, or maybe because we were tired, who knows, we decided to just find the first Albergue we could and sleep there – as it turned out this was a privately owned on. It cost 10€ / night and I can’t really say it was much better than the state owned ones. Here we also met with another pilgrim, Nina, from Germany, with whom we basically synchronized our walking stages almost until Santiago, but more on this later. Since it was late, we went out for a quick bite and then quickly fallen asleep. Waking the whole day really tires you and the next day was supposed to be a hard one.
The path on the third day was a bit more convoluted thorough side roads and paths, so it was nice to walk, as opposed to walking the whole day on the main road. What I really liked about it was how the natives were used to the pilgrims and everyone you saw greeted you with “Bon Camino”. Some even left some fruit / water in their yards for the pilgrims and there were plenty of orange, tangerine and lemon trees along the road, full of ripe fruit, just asking for the taking. During the first days, we must have eaten kilos of oranges and tangerines.
We continued walking for the better part of the day, until we reached Vitorino dos Piaes, where the next albergue was supposed to be. We must have read the information wrongly, as the town only had privately owned albergue, which was closed on that day. So with terror, at 5pm, we realized we need to make it to the next town – Ponte de Lima, about 15 km further and over a hill. This was by far the hardest day we did, for the last 2 hours we were walking in the dark, luckily we had some flashlights with us. We barely reached the albergue, again, just before it closed, and I must say my legs really really hurt after the whole day of walking, I can’t imagine how Aljoša and Jakob must have felt, not to brag- but I was by far in the best shape of the three of us. In total, we were on our legs for about 13 hours and did about 36 km.
The hardest part of the Camino was behind us – or so we thought.
I have been thinking about going on an adventure, go somewhere and don’t plan the whole trip well in advance. See how you feel each day and find hostel/hotel in the city you are at the end of the day.
Luckily such an opportunity presented to me at the beginning of January, when two friends, Jakob and Aljoša asked me if I want to join them on their hike – the famous Camino de Santiago – Portugal edition. Everything happened so suddenly, after three days we already bought plane tickets and in two weeks, we were off to Porto, Portugal. I have never done anything so spontaneously like this before, but I was really excited about it. To me, it felt like the perfect thing to do, a new experience, a new me, journey to my 4th decade. As it happened, I have turned 30 on the day of our departure.
The last days before the departure were a bit frantic. We were all scrambling to buy the last of the supplies, we thought we would need. Some waterproof water-resistant pants, rain jackets, this and that, the list goes on. The hard part was balancing what is really needed and should be brought with us and what we could live without. In the end, I ended up with full to bursting 30l backpack, the majority of space was taken by the sleeping bag. In total, I took with me 4 underpants, 3 pairs of socks, 1 running pants, 1 hiking (water-resisting) pants (which I wore most of the time), 3 long and 3 short sports shirts, quick dry towel, chargers, kindle, headphones and a bit of food for the first day of walking – Sunday, since we expected the stores would be closed. In retrospect, I think I could also manage with 2 pairs of underpants, but in total, I don’t think I brought much more than I needed. I don’t think there was an item in the pack I didn’t use – if I don’t count the first aid kit.
The 1st of February came soon enough, and I barely manage to have a nice meal with my parents and a piece of cake. This year, I made it myself, wanted to experiment a bit with red velvet cake with lemon filling, it turned out quite ok, but next time, I really need to go back to my favorite type of cakes – fruit cakes. It was nice chatting with my parents, they bought me a new Garmin watch, and I was truly happy about it. I’ve been doing much more sports lately, and the FitBitCharge 3, I had for the last year just didn’t cut it anymore.
So on Saturday afternoon, my ride was ready, I picked up my backpack, boarded GoOpti (popular shuttle service in Slovenia) and I was on my way to the adventure of my life. Because of the birthday(s) (fun fact, Jakob also has a birthday on the same day as I do) we decided that we were going to meet at the airport, since we wanted to spend some time with our families, on our birthdays.
We arrived at Treviso airport in the early evening, went through the security and were excitedly waiting to board our plane. Our first destination was Porto,Portugal, from where we would start our journey and hike around 240 km, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. We were planning to do it in roughly 10 days, and if weather would permit, we would continue to the Finistère at the Atlantic coast, about 90 km from Santiago.
Waiting at the airport went by quickly in the good company and soon we were in the air, the adventure awaited us. But not before extending our birthday, for 1 more hour (yes, Portugal is in UTC+0 time zone).