Postcards from Spain

Postcard No 1 – From Somewhere in Spain!

So, here’s your test. From where I was to where I am now and family are not allowed a guess.

Postcard 2 – from Oviedo

Y’know, I’m sure I was born the wrong side of 22 degrees. Still outside talking to some wonderful locals in Spanglish. Much to the amusement of a family of Dutch folks who are obviously completely fluent in both. They’re also conversant in another three languages that they keep in reserve – language chameleons I call them and admire them completely.

I blame the cannabis ??. G x

Postcard 3 – From Oviedo

So my two days of exploration of Oviedo are over and I’m on platform 10 ready to board the bus to Llaves

It was a toss-up between the bus and the train and the former won due to the time that it arrives in Llanes. The train doesn’t get in until gone seven in the evening and the bus will have me there at four giving me a little more time to chose a hotel whilst I sit in the sun with my trusty phone and Tripadvisor.

‘Hotels near me’ usually does the trick and last night came up trumps with a heavily discounted four star place in Oviedo booked whilst sitting in the hotel foyer. I had approached the girl on reception hoping to get a bit of a deal by booking direct but it wasn’t to be. She quoted 60 euros but had them down for £39 translating to about 42 euros, I’m not stingy and would have paid the price but if it’s between me having a meal on them then I’m up for the meal!

At 1427 the bus appears ready for its 1430 departure and that’s what happens. I’m always amazed at the timekeeping of Spanish transport, they haven’t let me down yet. I do have to say that if the arrival time by train had been more acceptable then that would have won although it does take an hour and half longer, it goes through some outstanding mountain scenery through which gives it the edge. That said, the bus is pretty spectacular with the scenery too so no complaints.

Oviedo hasta luego and Llanas, in a couple of hours, hola.

I’ve put a snap of the hotel in Oviedo. Definitely recommended and if you get a deal even better. I’ve also put a couple of snaps of the journey but they’re through glass so please take it into account.

Enjoy. G x

Postcard 4 – From Llanes

The bus puts me down just off the middle of Llanes and the walk into ‘el centro’ is a delight. The place is very medieval down to walls and buildings and looks to me like it never got mixed up with the revolution – certainly, the only damage I see is due to age.

I take a break in the “Placé Major’, I don’t think it’s called that but it would be in another town. The waiter addresses me in Spanish and I’m on my back foot for a few seconds as I work through the phrases that I’m supposed to recognise and come to the conclusion that he wants my order so a beer is summoned. Most of the other people here are shaded as am I.

There’s s small group of Brits sitting in full sun and squinting. There’s one with a baseball cap on the wrong way round and he’s got his hand in front of his face to shade his eyes, I’ve seen this sort of clown on Facebook but I didn’t expect to see it in real life. I do try to get a snap but I think he rumbles me and turns it around; I’m disappointed!

Tripadvisor is summoned and the usual criteria established ‘hotels near me’ and there it is… if the price is to be believed and if it really is on the cliff looking out to sea then I could be on a winner.

Google Maps is telling me that a five minute walk will get me there so I slow down with the drink and ask for some tapas or pinchos/pintxos/Pintus in these parts. Spanish waiters are generally switched on with food tolerances and this guy is no different. I ask him for ‘comida sin lactosa’ and he’s on to it arriving with two small dishes both of which have a slice of baguette as the base, one with avocado and something pickled, the other with some meat. At a euro each I’m a happy boy and order a Fanta Limón to fill the gap until tonight.

All is well until a coach arrives with group of Spaniards. I’m not sure what the collective noun should be for this wonderful nation of people but ‘cacophony’ would probably be accurate and before long my watch is reporting a decible level that could damage the ears if sustained.

This lovely group injects a joyful atmosphere that spreads throughout the restaurant and adjacent bars. Out of nowhere two guitars appear with gifted humans who start playing Everly Brothers music. A lady calls out some instructions in Spanish and a box thingy appears that she promptly sits on and accompanies them. It’s a cajon and she knows what she’s doing. The Spanish coach party respond immediately and there is dancing in the square as the sun disappears over the eves. Twenty minutes later there’s a call in Spanish and la quenta is settled and they’re gone.

Next thing I know I’m walking along the narrow harbour taking some snaps and realise I haven’t recorded any of the wonderful stuff from half an hour ago but it’s well anchored in my memory; you can’t buy moments like these.

The hotel is looking good and after a brief Spanglish episode and a degree of flirting with the receptionist I’m in with a room overlooking the sea. There’s a grass area directly in front of my patio door with a couple of seats overlooking the cliff edge which has generously removed any anxiety by setting itself a few yards away!

If I can get the same terms, I might stay another night.

Enjoy the snaps. G

Postcard 5 – From Poo

Yes you read that right.

Time for a nibble here’s the view.

Enjoy the snaps. G xx

Postcard 6 – from Llanes

I just drifted around aimlessly and managed a sticky coconut thingy baked in the shop and still warm. Washed down with a beer it made a more than adequate end to the day and sleep was easy by nine thirty. It’s amazing what a bit of fresh air can do for you.

Enjoy the evening snaps – more to come after Poo (hope you read the previous post or that may sound gross).

?G x

Postcard 7 – From Barrco

I leave Llanes after lunch so that I can explore in the daylight. I also need to replace my selfie stick (palo para selfies – I do rather like this translation). You may have noticed there’s been a dearth of snaps with a rather handsome ageing hippy with hair that could do with a dark tint, well that part of your holiday is over! A final circuit of town is conducted taking in a small market where I note that the offerings are rather more artisan and local than those in Tenerife and Benidorm where the same plastic crap can be had at grossly inflated starting prices and a greasy sales pitch is made if you slow down or show any interest. Here, it’s different, the traders allow me to wander in and out of the stalls without even a ‘hola’. I like these people, I’m comfortable browsing and if I fancy anything then I’ll make the first move. Just to manage expectations, I didn’t buy anything ?

At the hotel I’m greeted by a lady who has some English but she allows and encourages me to use the little Spanish that I have and I enjoy it, then with a hearty hasta luego I’m off.

I’ve been struggling a bit with the weight of my rucksack and today is no exception. It’s no heavier than the last time I walked these parts but I’m not as fit as I was and I do notice it. Walking with all your worldly goods is an eye opening experience, before the first one I was helped by the Pilgrim who’d done this before (several times) and she encouraged me to aim at 10kg max and that’s what I’m carrying today. Three of everything. One is being worn, one is in the latter stages of drying and one is clean ready to put on. The one (or pair) that is in the latter stages of drying is quite often decorating the outside of the rucksack as I walk, I think it’s this that draws the greeting from the locals who recognise a peregrino by, amongst other things, these decorations. Quite often there is also a scallop shell that flaps loosely on the outside of the bag. The signs that guide us usually have the shell in yellow often supplemented with a yellow arrow. I carry my phone and refer to that for accurate idea of my position on the map but it’s only been necessary in the mountains or, on occasion when I’ve missed a marker.

The first mile is along the main road into Llanes then I see the shell on the other side of the road indicating the lane that crosses the narrow gauge line and into the fields. I take it as the incline becomes more steep I mutter thanks that the sun isn’t out (yet). There are numerous meadows still with flowers with docile cows chewing their cud and watching me as I labour my way by.

Today The Way is well marked although it varies from the map as I pass through Poo – A town with that name is not a welcome site for an elderly person with IBS but it’s pretty and the locals smile encouragement with a ‘buen camino’ and a wave. As I’m passing through the village there are numerous signs that indicate the new way and I ignore the gps on the phone for the new instructions. It’s taking me towards the sea and the promise of wonderful views along the Atlantic coastline but first I have to pass a processing plant. It’s processing the poo of Poo and the smell is challenging. I noticed the smell before I’m anywhere near and think it’s something that’s been sprayed on the fields but it becomes more intense and by the time the processing plant makes an appearance I’m breathing quite shallowly with a mask on my face (masks are still mandatory here for public transport) but this one doubles or even triples as a ‘poo-smell-defeating poo of Poo device’. I’ve not experienced a smell like this since the demise of the Tan Yard in Northallerton and whilst that was worse, this gives it a good run for the money. I pass it and see there are men working on something that seems to imply it’s not working as it should. Although the sun isn’t yet out, it is warm and they’re dressed in protective gear that I’m sure will not be air-conditioned, they have my admiration and respect as I hurry by – well I hurry all I can with a heavy rucksack on my back! Immediately following the interesting processing plant there is a steep hill that demands heavy breathing, I could do without it anyway but I really could do without it now.

/* Start wobbly scene

At the top of the hill I can see the sea and I smile as I think of the annual bus excursion organised by the Catholic Church to Redcar. We went rain or storm but I can only remember the sunny days and the shout from the fortunate kids in the front of the bus as we descended into Redcar, “I can see the sea” was the call and we’d all join in pretending that we’d seen it first. As years went by the call would go out early as we learned the point when we might just get away with it but it came to blows between two of the bigger lads on the back seat when one of them shouted – in Guisborough. The driver threatened , “I’ll kill you ‘til you’re dead” much to the amusement of all in the bus.

*/ End wobbly scene

The path variously kisses the coast and then drops back giving wonderful views of the sea then the mountains whilst undulating just enough to test me on the up and excite me on the down.

Towards the end there are a couple of villages that give me the opportunity to sit down and look for accommodation and the one that stands out is in a bay four kilometres further supposedly overlooking the beach but the clincher is £35 for the night. It tuns out it’s on the other side of the road and there is another hotel actually on the beach. I suppose if you manage to book room 201 and get someone to hold your legs whilst you hang upsidedown from window there’s every possibility that you can see the sand and if the tide’s in you may be able to see the water too. But, hay, £35 it’s clean, it’s a double bed and as it turns out, the meals are first rate.

I take a shower and put my dirty clothes in the bath so so they get a good pounding from me walking about on them. I then wash them in the sink and rinse them in the shower. They’re drying now on the shower rail and if they’re not dry in the morning then I’ll point the hair dryer at them for five minutes and if they need airing then you know where they’ll be for the day. Buen camino.

Enjoy the snaps.

Love G x

Postcard 8 – From Barrco

Barrco has a wonderful bay and the hotel comes with great recommendations. The other hotel that was open has the better position, it’s actually adjacent to the beach. My decision to go ultra basic in the albergue was scuppered by the fact that it was shut. The small group of pilgrims kicking their heels at the gate would have suggested there is still a need but the other two hotels in the town were already shut. My choice had been limited between the one that was more like a motel and the one on the beach. I went for the one with the nice photos and excellent reviews and in fairness it is nice enough it would just have been nicer to have been in the one on the beach. OK, so it’s hotel-envy, it’s about the same as food-envy when you’ve placed your order and the next table along get served with something spectacular and you’d like to change.

My reception is greeted with a mixture of mild surprise and what seemed a hint of indignation that I was going to single handedly be responsible for dirtying one of their nicely cleaned rooms. At £35, I wasn’t expecting the Ritz, just a nice welcome. In this part of Spain there is very little English spoken so I have no choice but to use what I’ve learned and I’m comfortable with that. What throws me every time is the speed at which they respond. Words that I’ve been trying to learn (and succeeded in some cases) for the last couple of years hit my ears like bullets from a machine gun. They do respond well to, ‘mass despacio por favour’ and repeat themselves at a more leisurely pace but the knowledge that there’ll be a hurricane response makes me anxious with the initial attempt. It was a few minutes later that I discovered the reasons for the cool reception, it turned out that the reservation hadn’t materialised and they were on the back-foot with my confident assertion that I had actual pre-booked. It had been made whist sitting on a wall in the next village along the coast so whilst I had all the evidence of a confirmed booking, head office (wherever that may be) havn’t actually passed it on. As the mystery solves itself attitudes change and I’m made most welcome. It’s a small room but en-suite and I’m cat-free anyway so the inability to swing one is not an issue.

I’ve walked about 8 miles with the detour at Poo and it’s something I do most weeks back at home but with all my worldly goods on my back it’s left me with aching thighs and ankles not to mention my shoulders due to laziness in not adjusting the various straps to ensure that the weight is carried on the hips and not the upper body. All this after the care that I’d taken packing it – lesson learnt – again!

So, I take the opportunity of a short snooze but return to reality when a donkey announces to the world that it’s bored and lonely and would the owner bring its friends to the field. Well, some of this has to be supposition as it continues its bellowing until the owner lets three of his mates in. It’s at this time that I realise that it is more than loneliness that is the cause of his grief. The three that have been allowed into the field still have four legs and my noisy chum is now quiet but sporting five legs. I’ll leave you with that picture and take you to the beach.

The cove is directly over the road and accessed by walking past the hostelry which is the subject of my hotel-envy. As I pass the lovely restaurant area that overlooks the beach I see a sign inviting non-residents to use their facilities. I think it really means buy a meal and some drinks and I’m not ready for either yet so I partially comply with the invitation by going for a pee.

As I step back into the sun the beauty of the cove strikes me. I’ve been to lots of nice places and this is up there amongst them. Part of the beauty is the colour and long shadows being cast as the sun goes down. I take a walk around the bay and come back relaxed. I wasn’t particularly tense in the first place but if ever there is a place to completely relax this is it.

There are so few people on the beach and all of them Spaniards this strikes me as the perfect way to end your day.

It’s seven o’clock when I return to the hotel and ask if I can order some food, the response made me smile. Spaniards tend to eat later than us so he took my order but added, “No servicio por una hora!”. Ah well, he did warn me.

Enjoy the snaps G x

Postcard 9 – From Barrco onwards

I’m up and breakfasted early as the forecast is for electric storms later in the day and whilst I’m OK walking in the rain (for a day or two – then I go to Mallorca!) I draw the line at lightening.

The morning is dull and oppressive, just what you expect before a thunderstorm and I cover a couple of miles then, in an instant, it clouds over and I find safety in a shelter and the heavens open. It lasts about twenty minutes then hovers ready for another go and that comes within half-an-hour whilst I’m passing a camp site and get invited into their cafe area by a guy that has no intention of taking ‘no’ for an answer. This is fortunate as I’m not about to give him a refusal.

I take the opportunity to get some liquid into my body, ironic really considering what drove me in here. I do like a good storm now and again and this one is really good with flash-flood and the full, noisy, works. I resolve not to take the coastal route and use the ‘old way’ which is along the side of the road but delimited with a white line a bit like the ones ignored by cyclist and motorists alike in the UK. In Spain though I’ve found the drivers are thoughtful and considerate. They also tend to comply with the rules especially around pedestrians. I suppose knocking pilgrims over would be bad for the economy so I’m happy with that.

Not walking the coast is off-the-wall boring but at least it’s safe from lightning and after an hour of this I go back on to the paths and lanes that take me through the gentle lower extremities of the mountains that vary from small woods and copses to rolling grass fields. Many of the fields are populated with dairy cows all of which have bells around their necks. The whole thing feels and sounds like a scene from Heidi and I catch myself remembering Miss Wise again. She was a teacher of huge influence in my junior-school and she would read a chapter of Heidi at the end of the school days if we’d been good. We must have been a bit special because I can’t remember her not reading something at the end of the day. The Applegarth was, and is, a wonderful school and I’m pleased I went there.

The long drag into Ribadesella seems to take an age until I fall in with some peregrinos that I’d seen earlier in the day. They’re variously from Germany, Holland and UK. The dynamics of a walking group seem to be that you suddenly find yourself talking to someone then, equally suddenly, it’s someone else. That’s the case here but I don’t end up talking to the Brit but you never know, there’s still a bit of walking to do and he may crop up again, who knows?

The German is an engineer working for BMW and has spent a lot of time in the UK. He’s sad about Brexit but from a company point of view he says it’s great because it takes the UK out of the equation and they always saw us as the real competitors. It’s only a bit later when I’m walking with his Dutch friend that I find out that he’s the guy that manages the Directors that run BMW plants in five countries! No-one seems to look for glory on the Camino, it’s a community that supports each other and quite often they’re from a part of society that you wouldn’t expect – and I mean that both ways.

I’m still in down-market mode and find a little Pensión (a small hotel but adequate – not communal). It’s thirty euros for a double room and certainly adequate for my overnight stay and appears to be run by a couple of Hippies, I like hippies, I gravitate to them so that’s it. I’m in a tiny hotel of what I think is four rooms sitting in a back street of this lovely town and I’m helping some delightful people live their dream – what’s not to like.

I take a short nap – I’m getting good at this – then I’m out and about on the harbour walls. The thunder is beginning to wane and best of all, in the west there is blue sky with sunbeams reflecting off the remnants of the clouds. I have a field day (or night) with my phone-camera then retire to the town square where I know the locals will have congregated and sit with a family who have a perro pequeńo (small dog) who takes a shine to me. I tell them about my dogs back home and become a little homesick but their little furry bundle fills the gap and I’m rewarded with some cerveza and bocadillos sitting in a warm square with children playing games and families having fun.

/*Start Wobbly Scene

When I was about nine I would be told to go to bed and my room was at the front of the house. In the front garden was a honeysuckle that filled the air with its strong scent presumably advertising its pollen to passing insects. My Mam and Dad would stand outside talking to the neighbours leaning or sitting on the wall and five-bar-gate below my window. (I can smell the burning tobacco in his pipe as I write this and I’m bathed in nostalgia). I would lean on the windowsill – not too far forward or they’d see me – and listen to them talking. The words have long since gone from my memory but I do remember the sense of belonging, not just to family because that was always present, but to the community – I was brought up by the community and knew that if I was out of order in any way then any one of them could give me a bollocking that would be supported or even reinforced by my parents.

*/End Wobbly Scene

This is community at its best and they do have the work/life balance just about right.

More to come mańana.

Enjoy the snaps G x

Postcard No: 10 – from Ribadesella

There’s a Michelin Restaurant attached to the Pensión (hotel).

Through the day I’ve been dreaming of giving myself a treat and indulging in some fine dining whilst I can, as a nomad the chance may be transient; however, there’s no-one here of authority as the cleaning staff are working their magic so I leave the booking until my return.

I’m clad in shorts and boots with the intention of continuing the walking so that my muscles don’t seize up. The town is not huge but it does sprawl along the estuary with steep banks on either side, it’s a bit like Whitby but more spread out. My target this morning is Ermita de la Guía. It’s a small chapel sort of thing that sits on one of the promontories at about 500 feet so it should exercise my lungs. It’s also about a mile along the banks of the Sella so an exercise warm-up will not be necessary. I call off at one of the cafes on route for a breakfast. It’s a bacon bocadillo and provided you don’t consider it a bacon sandwich, it’s outstanding. As an aside, I can’t get over the coffee in Spain, it’s wonderful.

Anyway, fed and watered, I’m off at a brisk walk (for me) along the river bank and watch the tide sluicing the floating leaf debris that is evidence of the season. It can detract from the beauty of these places but here it’s so colourful and within an hour it’s been washed away ready for new colours refreshed from the autumn fall into the next high tide.

Near the end of the promenade there’s a small sign indicating the Ermitage is up some steep steps that zig zag up the cliff-side like photographs of the hairpins in St Gothard’s Pass. It’s well managed and easy going but I note with a smile that there’s no concession to safety where the steps make their zig or zag, the landing area is completely without railings and I’m reminded of a comment many years ago in a Spanish Bar, “parents here are expected to take care of their children”; I like the concept but it still leaves a bit of room for a full grown adult to fall off. I’m amused as I think these things and laugh out loud at the top when I make a final step up and there isn’t one. The half dozen people at the Ermita express concern as I impersonate Frank Spencer on rollerblades after taking steroids and a snort of cocaine. I mutter, “welcome to the show folks, here’s the turn”.

…two people laugh and then something is said in Spanish and they all laugh. With the potential embarrassment removed there’s a flurry of people taking photos. First in line is a young couple getting a photo on their ‘real camera’ by a priest, then there’s me taking photos for a family on their phone and finally, we all had a selfie together. Absolutely wonderful fun but guess who forgot to get a copy of the last one?

I make a brief tour of the grounds. Initially I’m looking out over the sea from a long way up so the view is impressive. Quite often, especially looking out over the Mediterranean, the sky and the sea are almost identical in colour and you can’t see the join. Here, looking our over the Atlantic, they are completely different shades of blue with a broad white area as the delimiter hovering between the sea and sky several miles away.

It gets better, as I make my way around the modest little chapel the inland scene is even more impressive and I’m able to get some photos without the haze that builds up in the warmer months.

I choose a different route down and disappear for a short period into some bushes. The steps are ancient and images of old monks or nuns are in my head when I feel a presence, it feels spooky, then something wet touches my bare leg. A man with IBS doesn’t need this stimulus and I turn slowly to find a large and beautiful golden retriever looking as soulful as a retriever does. He’s clearly expecting some attention so he gets a gentle pat and a stroke and I tell him he’s a lovely dog but I don’t think he’s been taught English so the dialogue may be a waste; the gentle stroke is appreciated though and his tail goes into overdrive. His owner is clearly pleased with my response and smiles, I’m just pleased it’s not a long dead hermit and smile back but my smile, unlike hers, is relief!

My new chum is fickle and is going back to his mum whilst I make my way down the ancient steps still in a heightened state of awareness for the elderly dead or even young undead, the dampness on my leg is no longer from a wet nose.

The square is a hive of activity and it takes me a few minutes to figure out what’s happened, it’s school escape time and there’s football, skipping and other ball games using the trees in the middle of the square as variously, goal posts, counting posts, hiding places and a thing to tie one end of a long skipping rope to. Marvellous!

A light snack later and I’m over the river checking out the loop walks that are illustrated on some signage by the harbour. I’m fortunate in that I don’t start the five kilometre one that l fancied as black (very black) clouds make a sudden appearance and the rain starts complete with pyrotechnics. I’m chased back to the hotel and very pleased with the result – I’m still dry-ish.

Ah, well at least I can complete this memory leisurely and take some time out for a snooze.

PS: I got upgraded for booking the second night direct – result!

It’s gone five and I’m heading back to the centre but not before calling off at the Michelin Restaurant below…

…It’s shut! But on the up side all of the screens in the Spanish cafes are displaying the image of a soon to be ex-prime minister so I struggle to be unhappy.

I must have smiled or made some kind of observable movement that displayed emotion because I’m shouted at by a duo of Irishmen who recognising my Englishness. They ask me if I need to drown my delight!

With regard to recognising nationality, the Spanish are the best at this, they communicate in the language they think is appropriate to your nationality and they’re nearly always right. It doesn’t happen in these Northern States though, these folks tend to only have Spanish, and why not? However, they only have to hear you try to use three words in their language and they help you with the rest.

The Irish are a joy to be with so I sit with them and get ridiculed in the most acceptable way. Then there’s a bit of an awkward moment as a lady from the UK takes exception to the frivolity over a very serious thing. She’s right of course but the Irish guys take no prisoners and within another minute she’s smiling too, but she really doesn’t want to!

If you’re Irish and reading this, I love you all, just keep being Irish.

Signing off for tonight on a bit of a high but not without worry.

Enjoy the snaps. G x

Postcard 11 – from Santiago de Compostela

“I’ve landed at Santander”

It’s a text from the Pilgrim who’s staying overnight and then catching a very early bus in the morning to walk to either Vega which is about 8km or 20km to Colunga.

The reason for the discrepancy is largely down to the availability of accommodation and there is a possibility that the one at Vega is closed, we’ll find that out when we get there. I’m not normally a pessimistic sort but the last three days have taught me that the assertions in the guide that I’m using are not always accurate, in fact, the leg from Llanes ended with booking the local hotel at Barro. I was fortunate but I felt for the pilgrims that had gathered outside of the closed and locked gate of the only albergue in the village. They had a serious trek ahead of them or there was the possibility of wild camping for two of them who came equipped with a small camouflaged tent presumably that colour because the Spanish are not at all keen on wild campers.

The upside is the beauty of the cove which makes the Bounty adverts look average.

I’m up at seven and packed ready for the arrival of the Pilgrim who meets me on the bridge with a hug and a “How do?”. It’s a bit of Yorkshire understatement that makes me smile, we’re in the back woods of Northern Spain! That said, it’s not quite “Dr Livingstone I presume?” We’re not in the backwoods of Africa but I still find it surreal as we drop our bags off at the hotel and head into the town centre for a coffee and breakfast bocadillo to get the heart started.

We’d discussed going to meet Otto, our friend from Canada and his beautiful and special friend Ana. Ana is leading a group of Brazilian peregrinos on their Camino further south on the ‘French Way’ whilst we trek a couple of hundred kilometres north on the Norte (Northern Route) I’d even got Kathy, our shared amiga in St Louis, to surreptitiously contact him to get his expected date of arrival in Santiago de Compostela but the wheels fell off at this point as they extended their walk to Finisterre which, in fairness, is not unexpected. When they reach Finisterre they decided on a trip to Portugal so my idea of sitting in a bar as they walked in just wasn’t going to happen. Otto, in the meantime, has published his whereabouts just as I was entering Ribadesella and the Pilgrim landed at Santander so our walk today will certainly be to Vega but when we find the albergue shut we decide to return to Ribadesella where we can book a last-minute bus to Gijón that will enable a five hour run to Santiago and a few hours to explore the city.

In the morning we take the 0930 bus to Gijon and it drops us right in the middle of the town. There are six hours to kill so we do a bit of exploring, it’s what could be termed a ‘work-a-day’ sort of town and it is Saturday so the families are out with their children and there are societies with kids doing all kinds of planned usually competitive things from skateboarding to football (especially football) and some skipping. We sit by the sea for a while and watch this lovely scene then, as the weather holds, we just drift around the city.

The bus is timetabled for 1600 but makes a late start at about six minutes past. My reason for mentioning this is that I’ve used Alsa bus regularly and have found them reliable and always punctual, so it is unusual to say the least. The bus has USB sockets for charging devices and a small screen in the back of the seat in front with a list of movies and a facility to choose the language. There’s also plenty of space so if you haven’t used an Alsa bus please give it some thought if you’re in Spain. Also, a four-hour journey on the ground allows you to see the countryside whilst air travel can seem much quicker but when you add the thirty minutes to get to the airport, two hours to get through security and check-in etc, the one hour flight followed by the thirty minutes to pick up luggage and get through the airport after landing plus the thirty minutes or longer to get from the airport to the town and you will find it’s quicker; I’m a big fan.

The journey to Santiago de Compostela is initially a treat as beautiful coves appear on the seaward side of the bus. We cross bridges spanning soft valleys then rush into tunnels that last seconds and back out to cross a gorge sometimes with villages and occasionally a factory or mine but the coves, well they’re all astonishingly beautiful and, in terms of the Camino, they’re yet to come.

I’m becoming a bit noddy as the light fails and then it begins to rain. We knew it was raining in Santiago, Otto had mentioned it and the BBC weather app more than verifies this reality with emojis of lightening and three drips with a 100% guarantee of rain, so we’re ready with our waterproofs on the outside of the rucksacks ready for action.

Santiago bus station is modern but still in construction so it takes us a little time slightly extended with some inaccurate but well-meaning advice from a couple of locals. We eventually find a taxi through a mixture of tenacity and deduction but really, mostly, it was luck!

The journey to the Airbnb is rapid and we’re quickly relieved of 10€ which isn’t bad for the length of the ride but quite a lot when you consider we paid 17€ for a five-and-a-half-hour bus journey. Our host meets us in a typical Spanish square that’s busy with peregrines all bouncing with the thrill of having finished their Camino and I look forward to the time that I’ll finish mine. We’re only seconds away from the apartment which is on the second floor and includes a bedroom with private facilities but a shared kitchen. The other bedroom is occupied by a lovely French pilgrim who does a bit of impromptu translation when Elena, our host, gets over-enthusiastic and takes her word count to unbelievable heights. He’s leaving tomorrow so we take the whole apartment for about £70 and tonight is only £35 – we’re happy bunnies.

It’s about nine thirty and with careful planning and a stroke of more luck we find ourselves about four minutes from Otto and Ana’s hotel which is one street removed from where we are. The weather is variable as we make our way to their hotel reception but the sense of anticipation is like a lot of birthdays coming at once. We saw Otto last on the ‘Coast to Coast’ in England but the first time I met him was here in this lovely town five years ago. I’d flown in to meet the Pilgrim at the end of one of her Caminos and met Otto in a small bar with a number of other peregrinos. It was late afternoon and the atmosphere was joyous and celebratory as it should be for many of them including Otto had just walked 800km (500 miles) and now was the time for celebration. One of the walkers had an apartment in town and a party was being arranged for the evening but now, in the sunshine, I took to this gentle-man with an easy smile and after a short introductory period I asked, “Well Otto, what’s your story?” He feigned indignation and told me that was his line, apparently, that was his opener with many of these happy pilgrims when they met on the track or in the bars or albergue where becoming close was an expectation when you’re sharing a room with a dozen or more of these precious folk. We talked of our respective wives who had tragically passed away about the same time and after more than one beer and a few tears and a lot of laughter we welded a friendship[ that is quite special.

Tonight, we expand the friendship to include his incredible friend Ana who is a perfect mix of soft and tender with a lovely sense of humour blended with firm and authoritative when the need arises. She leads groups of adventurers like those on the Camino and also into the mountains in Northern Brazil and Venezuela where hard decisions may be necessary and a firm approach to people who may not be willing to deliver what is expected. I can see in only one night she’s made of formidable material and when your life’s at stake she’s the one you’d want around. Cecilia has already experienced one of her Northern Brazil expeditions and has her in high regard and affection. Getting here was less than easy but being here is very special indeed.

We have two wonderful nights of food and there may have been the odd drink and now it’s time for goodbyes again with a hug and a promise it’s time to part. We’ll see you again Otto and Ana but next time let’s not make it three years.

To steal another line from Otto: Life is good.

Enjoy the snaps…G x

Postcard 12 – from – well I’ll tell you that a few paragraphs in…

We’re talking about returning to the Camino del Norte, well actually, we’re talking about going anywhere. The weather has truly set in here, Otto and Ana are leaving today and tomorrow respectively and a walk to Finisterre is not looking like an option if there are nicer places to go. So here are the options:

1. Stay here in Santiago de Compostela

2. Walk to Finisterre

3. Go back to Ribadella or perhaps a little further along the northern coast and pick up where I left off

4. Head south to Madrid

5. Go to one of the Balearic Islands

The last one was not as facetious as it looks. When looking at Skyscanner for flights there was a flight to Minorca for 4€ so it came back into the decision-making process as a go-er.

Number one is a non-starter, the weather is set-in and the rain is viciously gusting in squalls with rivers running down the streets and into the gardens and yards. Just to emphasise, these rivers of water following the squalls are like cataracts in the street, not one little waterfall but lots of them at each of the corners and down the steps (of which there are many). Water is coming out of the concrete where down-pipes are trying to shift the water from the roofs it’s like little boys trying to pee the highest up the wall but without running out of pee. Anyway, the idea of number 1 is a non-starter so that’s easy.

Number two doesn’t commend itself as the weather around is just as inclement so time doesn’t need to be wasted on that one.

Number three has legs; however, I have had some problems with the accommodation on the Norte over the last week. The weather up there; however, is 21C which is ideal for walking so it’s not yet written off.

I’ll deal with number five and then come back to number four. The 4€ flight to Minorca is appealing but the pilgrim is apprehensive about being locked in on an island for a long time so it’s written off. The real clincher for me; however, is the cost of getting back off it next week. When I look it’s over 250€ to get back to Blighty and more as the week progresses so Minorca is off-the-cards.

You might have guessed by now, Madrid is favourite and we’d really like to go to the Alhambra so Granada might be a good follow-up.

So, Madrid it is – or maybe it isn’t!

The debate on North or South is still ‘bubbling under’ as we walk from the accommodation to the bus/train station. The decision’s been made but it won’t be believed until we’re either on the train or in a hire car heading north. If the latter becomes reality then Madrid is off and the Northern Route back on. More interrogation of the Ryanair App and the final spoiler that they throw in, and this is after you’ve gone through the routine of putting details of your name, address, age, gender, the colour of underwear, name of next of kin and your ferret’s maiden name is that it will cost 90€ to drop it off at a destination different to the one you pick it up. Madrid is looking good.

After a coffee and a bit of a run-in with the lady in the cafe as we try to buy some breakfast, the decision seems to be ratified and I make my way to the ticket clerk to make the purchase; however, I return with a minor fly-in-the-ointment. There are only ‘business class’ tickets left! After some more to-ing and fro-ing the clerk responds to a question from the Pilgrim, you can buy senior citizen railcards for 6€ and it’ll save us 20% off all future rail travel for a year. This makes the business class tickets cheaper than the standard class although if we’d been able to get standard class they would have been even cheaper. So we are now sporting our ‘golden tickets’ and we’re off to Madrid but that’s after a brief fight with a luggage scanning machine that spots a knife in the Pilgrim’s rucksack. The scene is as follows:

“You have a knife?”

How the lady knows that the Pilgrim is English is a mystery but that’s the way it is. Spanish is like many languages that use upward inflexion to change a statement into a question so even when delivered in English, “You have a knife?”, with an upward inflexion (to put it in a nutshell it’s like an Australian talking normally where every statement they make is a question and by the time they’ve finished speaking you don’t know whether they just told you something or asked you a question).

Back to now, “You have a knife?” The statement is in English but with an upward inflexion so it’s clearly a question and you don’t mess with security people.

The Pilgrim replies in the negative. The queue behind shuffles about uncomfortably knowing that they’re next whilst the people who have already passed through security look back from the platform in laid-back fascination. The train is due in four minutes and the people on the platform are ready to board so they’re relaxed; however, they certainly remain interested in the real-life cabaret being enacted at the entrance to the platform – the ones waiting to be scanned are looking in the direction from where the train will be coming and are getting edgy.

So, it’s looking a bit tight.

The Pilgrim is being asked about the knife and denies all knowledge. I grab my rucksack and move it off the scanner then reach to take hers and get a ‘look’ from the security lady that I haven’t seen since my mother died, I put the rucksack back. The security lady’s colleague puts the rucksack on the belt for another ride and the security lady stops it mid-scanner and there’s a long pause – I hold my breath, the pilgrim holds her breath, the people behind us hold their collective breaths and the people who have passed through and are now mere on-lookers, start taking bets.

The security lady looks at the screen and makes a number of adjustments using leavers we can’t see. She stares intently at the Pilgrim’s face and then back at the screen. There’s a whirring sound as the conveyor belt allows the rucksack to make another appearance and fifty pairs of eyes look at the bag and then at the security lady who, in turn, looks accusingly at the pilgrim and forms an opinion that this innocent-looking lady isn’t going to cause trouble and allows her to pick up the rucksack – but she still gives her a ‘look’.

The train arrives and we’re encouraged to take our allocated seats. It’s slightly disappointing as we’re not yet in business class, this train doesn’t have it so we slum it in entirely adequate seats for 50 minutes until we reach the station hub that will deliver our trains with the posh seats.

It’s as we leave the Santiago de Compostela platform that I can now say this is a Postcard from Madrid.

Bang on time, the train arrives and we take our seats. I’m delighted with the space and comfort although in the UK we’d get a coffee or even a sandwich, there’s nothing like that but we’re happy and even better, we’re comfy.

The journey itself is through the real plains of Spain where the rain may fall when you’re practising your elocution but, from the look of it today, this summer hasn’t seen much rain, even for posh speakers. It’s boring but interesting too. I appreciate this is conflicting but that’s the way it stands and we endure and enjoy the journey for what it is in equal measure.

On the train, we both work through and Airbnb to identify a room for the night. The spread of prices is phenomenal with multi-bed-hostels at 30€ (they’re our fallback) and posh (and not so posh) hotels in the 3500€ per night – a bit top-endish for us but all credit to them for trying. The Pilgrim spots one near the centre, it’s a complete apartment on the third floor just off the main square for £80 a night and has a washing machine – now there’s a bonus. We book it for three nights and make arrangements for the owner to bring the key and show us the place. It’s in the gay quarter of Madrid and there are beautiful multi-coloured flags fastened to downpipes and occasionally suspended from wires that double as support for the Christmas decorations being put up ready for the official switch-on next month.

Whilst streaking our way across the plains at 250kph (about 156mph) the Pilgrim talks of Jabalgar a mutual FB friend. He’s also a fellow peregrino whom she met several years ago. I feel that I know him well as I follow his (many) walks in various parts of Spain and he’s been following my antics on the Camino and has made numerous comments of encouragement as I’ve described the places I’ve stayed. Within seconds of the Pilgrim sending him a message he’s back to us with an offer to pick us up at the station and deliver us to the apartment, plus what we don’t know yet is that he’s going to throw in a brief guided tour in his car.

Jabalgar picks us up as promised and takes us around the city talking nonstop about the buildings and facilities then he parks in an underground car park near the centre so that he can escort us to the Calle where the apartment is. He’s a kind and generous man and tomorrow he spoils us even more when he arranges to meet us at a ‘proper’ Spanish cafe for a meal and then give us a walking tour of Madrid, the man is a star!

We arrive in the Calle and let our hosts know we’re outside the building and they respond with a promise that they’re on their way. The meeting spot is on the pavement outside our apartment so we have a few minutes to observe the area and that’s when we see the multi-coloured flags and Jabalgar tells us it is a gay district. This fills us with confidence that we are safe and Jabalgar confirms that Madrid (unlike Barcelona) is a ‘people city’.

The process surrounding the booking of apartments on any of the websites may sound a bit iffy but I’ve done the same thing walking alone on the Camino on the northern coast. I’d booked a very adequate room in a block but had to go to the local butcher’s to pick up the key and the following day the same again but this time at a panateria (bakers). The trick is to cross your fingers.

The city is wonderful. We make plans to visit a huge park and gardens and also take in what turns out to be a marvellous art exhibition of Goya, Velazquez, Brueghel and El Greco in the Prado.

It’s a fabulous park and a beast of an exhibition plus a wonderful day and evening with Jabalgar who ends it with a perfectly timed walk to a gift from Egypt.

The Temple of Debod was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government to save it from floods following the construction of the great Aswan Dam and stands on a high spot looking west. The sunset is quite magnificent and the setting is divine. The evening is capped off with a walk to the palace, a couple of beers at a bar followed by a beer at another bar followed by a few beers at a bar in a backstreet near the centre of the city and run by a young man who’s English is so good he could have been a BBC Newsreader.

By 1100 we take our leave and Jabalgar disappears into the Madrid crowds whilst we walk a few yards to the apartment to finish our packing and make ready for the bus trip to Granada.

Thank you Jabalgar your kindness is much appreciated.

Enjoy the snaps. G x

Postcard 13 – from Granada

Ready for the fray and make our way out of the apartment. There’s the usual ritual of opening drawers that have never been used, looking under beds even though they’ve already been looked under and checking cupboards, wardrobes and the safe. Bum-bag is checked for the passport (it used to be checked for tickets but they’re generally on the phone now or yet to be bought).

The Madrid metro is good but the system of lines and platforms makes me wonder what sort of mind would dream it up. The circular is a particular test with the only positive being that if we get the platform wrong at least all we need to do is stay on the train and it will eventually arrive at out destination station. Of course, getting to the station where we change trains is a bit of a challenge; however, we have set off with more than enough time so even that has a little bit of room for error. The good news is that we don’t make the errors that we’ve built in the time to cover and arrive at our destination with nearly two hours to spare. Believe me, there’s only so much people-watching you can do at a bus station although I would say that Spanish bus stations are like Malaysian ones; more like airport terminals with clean and comfortable cafes and very acceptable food. There are two buses for Granada at ten thirty. One’s a double-decker but, sadly, full. The other’s a single-decker – with facilities – and it’s running two-thirds empty which means we get a double seat each and promptly spread out.

The journey is a little bit more interesting than the 256kph dash across the plains and includes wonderful olive groves and vines. There’s evidence of other crops too and the odd area that’s scorched and quite possibly a reminder of summer.

There’s a half-hour break on this service right in the middle of the trip. It’s in the middle of nowhere so not much to see; however, the catering facilities are up there amongst the best except in France, no one has yet beaten the French at motorway services with the exception of Tebay in Cumbria.

We roll into Granada mid-afternoon and transfer immediately to a local bus that takes us to el Centro where the instructions to access the apartment told us to alight whilst we enjoyed the Wi-Fi facility on the bus.

Everything is controlled via the internet so we press the bell button at the end of the access corridor. A disembodied voice talks to us in English and talks us through pushing the door as they hold the lock open. We’re instructed to take the lift to the first floor and guided to a locked door that magically opens itself as we push against it. From there, the mine-host signs off and we walk into the living room where two sets of keys are sitting in the fruit bowl.

It’s a single bedroom but the living area has a bed settee in it so it would easily accommodate two couples. It all looks very good value and its position just out of the main square means that everything is within easy walking distance including the buses to the Alhambra. It’s walkable but there’s a lot of walking up there so we heed the advice that we get from the Tourist Information Centre and take it. We also heed their advice regarding the entry tickets. Online there are numerous offers at the top of the Google listing and many of them are a rip-off. That said, they may well be worth considering if you require a guided tour.

Here’s a little advice regarding the official tickets – in October 2022 they cost 14 euros and guided tours were anything up to 72 euros – you pays your money and takes your choice. The official site has tickets released every few minutes so even if it’s showing as sold out keep trying but when they’re released and you manage to select a date don’t hang about, we lost out and had to go through the routine a few times to eventually get our tickets for the following day.

Granada is a delight, and we wander around aimlessly (except for the visit to the Tourist Information Centre – that’s a must wherever you are if you’re not familiar). It’s a woody centre with lots of shade and so many cafes you certainly wouldn’t starve or suffer from thirst.

The cathedral is magnificent if you like old buildings but the streets are as old as the hills and every turn has something novel or different.

We’re here for two nights and manage to bag two exceptional meals in different squares. The promenade of the Spanish families is always a joy as they meet up and talk whilst the children play.

It’s a late start for the Alhambra but it’s not an issue as the tickets get you into all of the gardens anytime but have an access time for the main building at four-thirty and it’s easy to wander around for four hours, we even walk back into town and have a variable snack at a cafe on the way down. I won’t describe the visit to the Alhambra save to say please do it. Just look at the snaps. The superlatives in the literature are entirely appropriate.

The following day it could be Benidorm or Malaga – and turns out to be neither!

Apologies for the number of photos – They were exceptional days and nights.

Enjoy the snaps. G x

Postcard 14 – from Benalmadena

Granada has been wonderful and the Alhambra didn’t disappoint. It was the first time that I’d been to either the city or the astonishing palace-cum-fortress and I don’t think it’ll be the last.

We need to be out of the apartment by eleven and after a leisurely packing of rucksacks, we’re on our way looking for a temporary storage facility that will allow us to explore the centre for a few hours without the weight and inconvenience of our ‘worldly goods’ that would impede entry to some places and be something of an issue for the security staff in others not to mention knocking small children into the gutter or clearing a crowded, narrow street with a simple body swerve as we look into a shop.

We find an automated place a couple of streets from our apartment and also very close to the centre and after a little play with their app we entrust our rucksacks to a cavernous, secure box controlled by codes, good luck and eight euros over the internet.

A bit lighter and with a spring in our step we can negotiate the crowds (which vary) and also get to see the opening scene to a wedding in one of the chapels in the cathedral together with an awesome visit to the cathedral itself. It’s like a lot of Spanish religious buildings in as much as it is well over the top in decoration and embellishment with smaller alters dedicated to various saints and their alleged good deeds and, generally, awful death. There’s the usual obsession with virginity and if you were a woman in the early years of the church it seems the only way to reach the highest levels of distinction was to be a virgin, do something nice for humanity then die an excruciatingly painful death for a myriad of different reasons:

1. supporting the wrong religion

2. for not accepting the religion currently being favoured by the king or queen

3. Preaching the gospel of another church that had been disapproved of by someone important

4. generally being disliked by the king or pope

5. or going to an area that doesn’t like your religion and telling them how good it is

…they really knew how to kill a heretic in them days!

As I read the small plaques with helpful English translations it becomes plain that the men were killed in equally brutal ways but they could go out on a full-scale, hedonistic rogering spree before they met their fate (or that’s what’s implied by the lack of reference to their virginity).

All that said, the smaller alters and alcoves are as ornate as you’re going to get and the main alter area is astonishing. If you’re in any of these wonderful cities do go into these buildings, you don’t have to be a believer to appreciate the wonder of the architecture and the level of skill of the artisans.

We manage a bite-to-eat at one of the small cafes in a side street and then we ‘people-watch’ for an hour. Then it’s time for the recovery of our rucksacks, this is a moment of anxiety as we are completely reliant on the technology and programming skills of the people that make it work. We arrive at the little unit that has three banks of boxes in three different sizes big, bigger, and the one that we chose, biggest. I type in the number that had been sent to me by both text and email (no sense in taking chances) and hold my breath. There’s a pause that’s longer than I would have preferred and then a clunk followed by the door of our box flying open to reveal two rucksacks and both of them are ours. It’s all magic!

The earlier busses had all sold out so I booked us onto the four o’clock and the time is now just after two so we decide on taking the local bus to the main Estación de Autobús and spend our waiting time there in an out-door-cafe in the sun.

We arrive at about 2:45 so, in a fit of hope, I stroll through the indoor area and straight out to the driver of the 3:00 bus and asked him in halting Spanish if there are any no-shows and, most importantly, ‘can we have their seats if there are?’ I show him my tickets for the 4:00 and he nods. There are currently five people that haven’t been ticked off his list so we ‘hover’ in anticipation. The next five minutes seem to drag then suddenly, and disappointingly, three people arrive. Bollocks I think, two seats left. The next couple of minutes takes longer than the last five minutes and that was an eternity. Two more arrive and I move over to the vending machines but still ‘hover’ just in case they didn’t have appropriate tickets but they do and my heart sinks. Ah well, it’s only an hour and we’ll be on our way on our timetabled bus then he calls to the Pilgrim and waves me back to look at his list. He still has some spare seats but they’re not together. Our rucksacks are stored in seconds and we prowl happily up and down the aisle finding the spare seats.

This bus makes its way to Malaga and then to the Airport. Our tickets are for Malaga and there is quite an exodus there leaving about half a dozen of us on board. The Pilgrim has used a rail service from the Airport to Benalmádena several years previously and she remembers it being very efficient and quick so we just stay on and it turns out to be an excellent plan.

We meet the owner of the accommodation in the reception of the managed block of private apartments and he takes the keys and shows us to the top floor and into a very nice apartment that has sea and mountain views and a huge opening window that allows the warm evening sunshine in. It’s another nice discovery from the Pilgrim and it’s only £135 for five nights – result!

I was last in Benalmádena more than a couple of decades ago and it was run-down and tired but now there’s been investment and we spend a lot of time just walking with the high point (literally) at the top of Mount Calamorro via cable car. It is very definitely at the end of the season though and finding a music venue proves difficult but the bars we do find are busy enough and we certainly manage a couple of nice meals and the odd beer but where we really score is meeting a lovely couple who have lived out here for some time and know both Benalmádena and Malaga like the back of their hands. They’ll feature in the postcard from Malaga.

Enjoy the snaps. G x