Welcome friends! In case you’re new around here, allow me to introduce this crazy adventure! Last summer I did the craziest thing of my life so far and walked 500 miles across Northern Spain with my 18 yr-old brother as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago. It took us five full weeks to get from St. Jean Pied-de-Port France to Santiago on foot and I’m so excited to finally be sharing the photos and stories of our journey! I have committed to a five-week series where each Friday I post the next installment of our journey. Be sure to follow the links above if you’ve missed any of the earlier installments and hit the subscribe button to be the first to know when the next installment goes live!
DAY TWENTY-TWO: Mansilla to León || ≈ 17.9km (11.1miles)
To be completely honest, I don’t really remember the first half of this day and I don’t have any pictures to remind me of what the earlier portion looked like. What I do know is that the second half of the day was spent walking through the industrialized area surrounding León. This meant passing lots of busy roads, businesses, car dealerships, factories, and apartment buildings. It was a lot of sidewalks and not a lot of scenery and that’s probably why I didn’t take too many pictures. We were also exhausted this day and even though we only walked eleven miles which was definitely one of our shorter days, the day seemed to drag on forever. The few pictures I do have of these day are not very pretty and certainly nothing compared to some of the other more scenic days, but it’s an accurate representation of the Camino because sometimes you only see the beautiful scenic pictures and it’s good to know that portions of the trip were rather bland and boring as you walked through industrial settings.
The city of León itself was fascinating, but we were so wiped out that we didn’t explore all that much. We did walk around the main historic section and although we didn’t go inside the main Cathedral (similar to our reasoning in Burgos, we didn’t want to pay to go inside a Church and similar to Burgos, I do sort of regret this and wish we had spent the 5 or 6 euros to get inside) we did go inside the Basilica of San Isidoro because they had perpetual Adoration and free admission to the Cathedral. We spent some time in Adoration and then enjoyed a wonderful dinner out on the square across from the Basilica. It was a beautiful evening and was one of the few times we splurged and ate out for dinner and it was well worth it. (And in case you’re wondering, we ate an Italian restaurant because we saw the menu and suddenly both craved pasta and well there you have it, when in Spain, we ate Italian. Hahaha)
DAY TWENTY-THREE: León to San Martin del Camino || ≈ 25.4 (15.7 miles)
I have even fewer pictures of this day than I did of the day before (in fact I probably have the least amount of pictures from this day out of every single day on the Camino). Occasionally the route along the Camino split into two options and our guidebook would explain the pros and cons of the two options and the stops along each route. This was one of those days that we chose the less scenic route simply because it was much shorter than the “preferred” route. The vast majority of the day simply followed a major highway and our view looked a lot like the picture below for most of the day.
DAY TWENTY-FOUR: San Martin del Camino to Astorga || ≈ 23.7 (14.7 miles)
According to our guidebook, this crazy long medieval bridge was the site of a legendary medieval jousting competition. As the legend goes, a wealthy and heartbroken knight called a jousting tournament and singlehandedly defeated 300 knights and then he proceeded to make a pilgrimage to Santiago in thanksgiving for his victory. Whether or not the legend is true, it makes for a really cool story and this was still the most fascinating medieval bridge we crossed.
When you start your journey with 800km to Santiago, seeing signs that reminded us we were under 300km away was so exciting:
A huge portion of this day was spent walking through this crazy orange clay paths in the middle of nowhere.
Entering the outskirts of Astorga. Do you see the yellow arrow in the photo below that is showing us which way to turn?
Astorga was a very pretty city and it was the perfect size too. I decided that after missing out on the Cathedrals of both León and Burgos, I was not going to miss the Cathedral in Astorga. John Paul stayed back in our albergue while I made the short walk through the streets to the historic 15th-century Cathedral. Right next to the Cathedral is the Palacio de Gaudí. It is one of the few works of Gaudí’s that is found outside of Barcelona. Apparently it was built as a palace for the Archbishop but then was unnocupied and sat empty for a long time before it was turned into a museum and opened to the public in 2017. It was Saturday night and we were going to a vigil Mass that evening and after spending awhile in the Cathedral, I didn’t have enough time to go into the museum. But I appreciated Gaudí’s impressive work from the outside!
After Mass I chose a seat at a table outside one of the many cafes that lined the streets and spent some time reading and journaling while drinking tea and sampling some Astorga chocolate.
As the sun was preparing to set, John Paul and I took a walk through the park that sits atop a section of the original medieval walls of the city.
The yellow and brick building on the left of the photo below was the municipal albergue which we stayed in. Our bunks were on the very top floor which meant we had the lovely joy of climbing four stories to reach our room.
DAY TWENTY-FIVE: Astorga to Rabanal || ≈ 20.5 (12.7 miles)
As we left Astorga we were leaving the Meseta behind us and we were VERY excited for a change in scenery and to reenter mountains. We would be entering the Cantabrian Mountains the next day, so this day was mostly flat as we approached the mountain range although we did hit some of the foothills by the end of the day.
The beautiful sunrise as we left Astorga:
Look at those mountains in the distance!! After days of the flat Meseta landscape, this was such a welcome sight!
Entering the town of Rabanal del Camino where we stopped for the night:
We chose to stop in Rabanal, even though our guidebook heavily suggested pushing on to the next town to prepare for the heavy ascent the next day. But I am so glad we stayed here. There was another donativo albergue which is the reason we chose this town and it was one of the highlights of our trip. It is run by a group of volunteers from the UK and they were so friendly and welcoming and since there were only a few other pilgrims who stayed in this albergue with us that night, we all felt like we got to know each other by the end of the night. The UK volunteers organized an afternoon tea for all of us pilgrims and we gathered in lawn chairs in the backyard and drank tea and ate homemade cookies and introduced ourselves and it was delightful. The group of pilgrims gathered included a couple from Poland, a couple from Israel, a man from Rome, a girl from Italy, a man from the UK (but living in Barcelona), and of course us two kids from the USA. The volunteers were actually from four different countries, even though they work for a UK organization: Italy, Australia, Ireland, and Belgium.
There was a beautiful evening prayer service in the Catholic Church directly next to our albergue.
On the wall in the kitchen was this poster which shows the flags from every country that has ever had a pilgrim stay in this particular albergue as well as the numbers. I thought this was so cool!! The Camino is such a unique universal experience which unites people from literally every corner of the world and this represents just a small portion of this.
DAY TWENTY-SIX: Rabanal to Molinaseca || ≈ 24.9 (15.4 miles)
Although this was a physically challenging day because we were climbing up and over the Cantabrian Mountains, it was one of the most visually rewarding days. Unlike our very first day crossing the Pyrenees, we had stunning weather and incredible views all day. It was also really cool at the end of the day to reflect back and compare ourselves from the first day to now and realize how much stronger and resilient our bodies had become over the past 3 1/2 weeks. We had just crossed another mountain range and while we were tired at the end of the day, we were not anywhere close to as dead exhausted as were after the Pyrenees.
The Cruz Ferro is the highest point of the entire Camino de Santiago and for centuries pilgrims have brought a stone from their starting point on the Camino and carried it with them and left it at this point to represent leaving their burden at the foot of the Cross. John Paul and I found small stones on our very first day while crossing the Pyrenees and had faithfully carried them in our backpacks until this point.
Occasionally along the Camino we encountered donativo food stands that offered refreshments for weary pilgrims on a completely by-donation basis. It was always such a welcome break.
The descent out of the mountains was actually the hardest part of the day because it was so steep and rocky and it was a miracle I didn’t slip and twist my ankle at any point! I had to go very slow at many points because it was such a treacherous path. At the base of the mountain was the town of Molinaseca which we happily stopped at for the day.
There river outside of town is a popular swimming spot for locals and weary pilgrims alike and after settling into our albergue, I came out and sat on the edge of the water and rested my tired ankles in the ice-cold mountain water. It was so nice, although I did think the people who were full out diving into the water were crazy because when I say it was ice-cold, I mean it it was freezing water.
DAY TWENTY-SEVEN: Molinaseca to Cacabelos || ≈ 24.1 (14.9 miles)
This day started off a little boring as we walked alongside a main road from Molinaseca to the bigger city of Ponferrada about 7km away. Ponferrada was neat but since we were just walking through it instead of stopping, it meant a lot of sidewalks and “industrial” sections for the first half of this day.
However, once we got past the outskirts of the city we found ourselves in beautiful vineyards with the mountains of Galicia in the far distance ahead. We would be crossing those mountains in a few days.
The albergue in Cacabelos, where we stopped was highly unusual but I actually really loved it. It consisted of tiny rooms with two bunks each in motel style that circled the Church. At the rear of the Church there were bathrooms and the washing station for clothes as well as some tables and chairs for resting.
The only con to this albergue was that there wasn’t a kitchen which meant our options for dinner were limited. So we opted to eat out at one of the local restaurants in town and get the pilgrim meal.
DAY TWENTY-EIGHT: Cacabelos to Vega de Valcarce || ≈ 24.6 (15.2 miles)
This day brought us to the edge of the Galician mountains and was another beautiful day as we passed through the town of Villafrance del Bierzo which is considered one of the most beautiful towns along the Camino and rightfully so.
If you saw my post about Longwood Gardens a few days ago, you might have seen me mention that I was so excited to see Scarlet Powder-Puff Trees at Longwood because we first encountered these on the Camino and I had never seen a tree like this and I had no idea what it was called. They literally look like they could be out of Dr. Seuss!
We had planned to stay in the municipal albergue in the town of Vega de Valcarce, but when we entered town the first thing we saw was the albergue in the photo below on the right. We were waved over by the family sitting outside and as it turns out this was a brand new albergue so it wasn’t even mentioned in our guidebook. We ended up staying here and it was incredible. It is run by a Brazilian family who moved to Spain to open an albergue two years ago. The husband (sadly I didn’t write there names down!) had walked the Camino too many times to count and the last time he walked it about four years ago, he got a call a few days outside of Santiago that his wife was in the hopsital and the doctors had found a tumor and she was dying. He made arrangements to fly home immediantly, but his wife called him and told him to finish his Camino and to offer up the last days for her healing and to beg the intercession of St. James. His Camino family spread the word and by the time he reached Santiago a few days later, dozens of pilgrims had heard his story and dedicated the last few days of their own Camino to the intercession of his wife’s healing. He returned home to discover that his wife had been miraculously healed to all of the doctors utter confusion. Him and his wife were convinced it was the intercession of all the pilgrims that granted her healing and so they decided they wanted to relocate their family to Spain to serve the pilgrims and give back out of their gratitute at the wife’s second chance at life.
This family was so incredibly generous and shared everything they had. It turned out to be the wife’s 50th birthday the day we arrived and they were outside eating a birthday lunch when they saw us walk by and waved us over and insisted we join them. Later that evening his wife prepared a huge and delicious meal for the family and the few pilgrims who were staying with us and we all sang Happy Birthday in our own languages to the wife after dinner. If you’re planning to walk the Camino at any point, I cannot recommend stopping here enough.
And that wraps up week four! We walked approximately another 100 miles (99.7 to be exact) in this week and we couldn’t believe we were only one week away from Santiago! We just had Galicia left and I for one, was so excited to enter into wooded forests again!