Toledo! But the Camino Still Holds Our Hearts

We are so happy with our three choices of towns to visit in this after-Camino segment of our trip. Each intriguing. Each different from the other two.

Ronda is knock-your-socks-off beautiful, clinging as it does to the gorge of the Tajos River. The sidewalk cafes, bull ring, city parks, Spanish guitar concert, and meandering through the old parts of town each day, set off our relaxation time at our resort-like hotel.

The view from the museum where we attended the Spanish guitar concert, with 8 other lucky folks.

Cordoba’s narrow, whitewashed streets leading to the amazing Mezquita, where we spent parts of two mornings, the synagogue and other sites to visit, were visit-worthy. But we were also in a town where people live and work, less of a tourist site, despite the Mezquita and all else we enjoyed seeing. That made eating different too. Small restaurants full of locals called to us.

A car passed us on this street as we walked toward the Roman bath site.

Now we are in Toledo. A hilltop village with Roman, Muslim, and Christian history and cultures. There are more sites that interest us than energy to climb to all of them. The tours are everywhere from about 10:00 to 6:00. But the place is so vibrant and beautiful that the industrial-strength tourism does not ruin it for us post-Camino visitors. We take to the quiet corners in midday and explore before the buses of day-tourists arrive from Madrid and after they leave. It is as beautiful as Rhonda, with the hilltop buildings here impressing the way the nature-carved gorge did there.

Today is 56th anniversary. Toledo is a great place to spend it. An unexpectedly amusing highlight was to ride the touristic train, with a pushy old woman butting herself and three friends in line ahead of us and a loud wannabe-tour guide mother behind us repeating everything the guide said to be sure her eye-rolling teens didn’t miss a word! The views and the comedy of it all made for a great way to spend part of our day

Tomorrow we head to Madrid and step back into the travel zone, where fate and luck will be in charge. The town visits were spectacular. The Camino still rules our adventure-hearts.

Cooler Weather, Delightful Exploring

Being lost in the streets of Cordoba is as intriguing as visiting the sites. We have been going out early and late. Tour groups are abundant in the middle of the day and it is nicer to have the streets and sites to ourselves. As has been true everywhere we have been, the food and cafes are a highlight.

Visiting the baths
Narrow streets with whitewashed walls keep it cool in summer heat.
A round high school!
What a back-bar at this cafe where we stopped for a break from sightseeing
The only synagogue in Cordoba. A single room with elaborately adorned walls. Women could only go to the balcony room.
The bell tower at the Mezquita
Visiting the Mezquita early in the day before groups can enter
Afternoon sketchbook relaxation

Wonderful Ronda, Intriguing Cordoba

The gorge, a tiny-venue Spanish guitar concert, Muslim architecture, bull fight history, being lost in the streets and parks without worry…Ronda, we love you.

The gorgeous train ride to Cordoba morphed into a bus/train combo. Not quite as scenic but still up close with the mountains. We are now in Cordoba. We have a boutique hotel in the city center (again thanks to our camino friends Cindy and Pat). A delightful night cap in the garden topped our transition day.

Russ in the oldest bull ring in Spain
Amazing to see!
Gazpacho for lunch
Last visit to the park
The train couldn’t make the mountain. Thus they sent a bus. It was fine 😊
Made it to our Córdoba hotel by 8:00. Lovely patio for a relaxing drink.

Counterpoint to the Camino

Having finished our 2022 Camino, we embarked on our trip to the south of Spain. We spent all day Thursday, June 16 getting to Ronda. We walked through Leon in the morning, walked through Ronda in the evening, and spent all day seeing Spain, from north to south, from the train.

Walking to the train station

I was struck by the number of small villages that appeared in the distance along the northern part of the route. We saw crops being planted and irrigated, and vast distances between villages in this bread basket of the nation.

We had to change train stations, not just trains, in Madrid and were proud of ourselves for figuring out that our ticket to Ronda allowed us to take a shuttle train between them. The stations were both very busy. We managed to grab a sandwich on the old Atoche station before boarding for Ronda

Crowds at the train station. The train system works really well for getting us around the country.

The ride to Ronda is a long 4 hours. The terrain in the initial section was industrial agricultural, as opposed to the more village-centered farms in the north. Large sunflower and rape seed farms spread over the hills. Beautiful, of course. The next section was hours of olive trees. Hundreds of miles of them! Amazing to see.

We stalled out at the Bobadilla station for almost an hour. What a bore. We may have been waiting for a train to come from the other direction because beyond there, the track appeared to be single file. And, we think they changed to a diesel engine.

From that point on, we traversed mountains. It was gorgeous! I had no idea the mountains in that region are so stark and steep. What a spectacular train ride!

About 7:30, we arrived and walked to our hotel. Thanks to Cindy and Pat Day who stayed here pre-pandemic and liked it. It is quite a resort, welcome in the heat.

Resting from the train trip 😊

We will be here several days. We are enjoying shorts walks around town, time in the pool, sidewalk cafes with marvelous Andalusian food, and pleasant evenings watching the sun go down over the gorge on which Ronda is perched.

View from our room. I bought a swim suit!
Ronda is on a gorge, as the next several pics show
The bridge
The gorge
A mirador ledge we did NOT walk out on
Around town
Fun exploring

Transition Day

We planned to walk 8 miles to Sahagun, and then take a train to Leon for the night. Given the forecast heat, we opted to taxi those 8 miles, catch a bus that was earlier than the available train, and spend a bit more time in lovely Leon.

The earliest a taxi could come was 9:00, but the driver got us to the bus station in Sahagun in time to catch the 9:30 bus 😊

We had a great hotel in Leon, just outside the city walls, behind the cathedral. We wandered the streets, staying in the shade. We spent a shady hour at El Patio bar with fun tapas, and had a super dinner of seafood and local pork at our hotel.

As always, we hate for our Camino time to be over. Still, we are looking forward to seeing some new-to-us places in southern Spain.

Not an unpleasant wait on the albergue’s terrace for our taxi to Sahagun
The bus stopped briefly in El Burgo Ranero on the way to Sahagun. We were hospitaleros there for 2 weeks in 2013 and hosted hundreds of pilgrims. Whew! What an experience!
Ah, Leon!!
Our lovely hotel. The room two above the center umbrella was ours.
View from our tiny balcony
Good beer and chips at El Patio in the shade of the afternoon
Nice wine too

The Heat May Change the Plan

We started early today, walking almost 6 miles and stopping to cool off and drink Aquarius at an ugly outside but pretty inside bar/albergue. It was close to noon when we arrived at our place for today. Many were jumping off the camino, opting for a shorter than their planned day in order to get out of the heat.

We have a small private room. Most of the beds here are in shared rooms with bunks. It looks like the temperature will be near 100 later, great for doing laundry 😊

If it is still near 80 in the morning, we will taxi ahead and replan. Taking what the Camino gives us!

Result of my sketching yesterday
Trail is pretty, even when a bit 🥵
The red fields of poppies have given way to the purple fields of wildflowers
We were happy for the break even though the bar was not abundant in ambiance
It was pretty on the inside on the way to the WC
The only pilgrim we have met in our age cohort!
Our stop for the day appearing in the distance. Hurray!
Hmmm. Doing the laundry presented a learning curve.
Found a way!
Ought to dry in no time. Using my safety pins because there were no clothes pins.
Time for beer on the breezy, 95 degree terrace.

An Early Start to Beat the Heat

We hit the trail about 7:30 today. Although Spain is having a heat wave, it cools overnight. We walked our 6 miles in 60 and 70 degree temperatures. The strong breezes are with us all the way, hurray!

We booked a studio apartment for today. Perfect, since we arrived by noon and it was too hot to want to be out exploring in the afternoon. So we sketched, wrote, and read. We wandered out for a while, had a beer, shopped for a “picnic” dinner at the tienda, and returned to our apartment to enjoy our wine, chorizo, olives, white asparagus, bread, cheese, and calamari , with peaches for dessert and leftovers for breakfast. Another excellent camino day!

Hitting the trail early this morning
So pretty in the morning sun and breeze
We could see mountains in the distance
Potatoes growing. They serve them with every meal here.
Our destination appears!
Our studio apartment for the day
There is a park outside our windows, which have screens. No flies in this room.
Sketching time!
Our “picnic” dinner

Towns too far apart, Upscale hotel on a farm

The early morning brought a stormy downpour into which many of our fellow pilgrims walked, ponchos draped.

The next town with accommodations was beyond our comfortable walking distance. We rolled over and slept through the storm, then got ready to meet the taxi we had reserved to take us ahead to the too distant town at 8:30. The driver wanted coffee when he arrived. Love this chilled out way of life.

We joined him in having a cafe con leche, donned our mandatory in transportation masks, and watched the 15 miles slip by in minutes on wheels instead of hours on foot.

Fromista was still not very awake when we arrived. We had wanted to visit a church-turned-museum that we admired when there in 2011. It wasn’t open yet. So, we headed out on the trail.

We are beyond the rolling hills and have descended to lower, dryer elevations. More of the wheat has been harvested making the fields brown instead of green. Vegetables have been planted where wheat was. They are poking up their heads, but we can’t identify them. Some look like potatoes, which is surely wrong given the summer hot weather.

We had a nice chat with a Korean pilgrim we met on a bench where we all rested and a British one who took a photo for us and vice versa.

Six miles later, we arrived at our sort-of upscale hotel on a farm (fly-filled, of course) in the middle of absolutely now where. What could be better!

Now we are sitting in the garden, drinking a beer, and watching our clothes dry on the line. We are enjoying the folks who also didn’t carry swim suits in their backpacks but decided to swim in the pool in their underwear. It is about 90 degrees. If it gets hotter, or the beer runs out, we may join the other swimmers. It got hotter.

The gorse was fragrant along our path out of Fromista.
Flat, brown fields all the way today.
We saw irrigation lines and ditches here, not previously
This hand was in the front yard of an albergue we passed. Hmmm?
Even a flat, dry camino is full of wildflowers
The photo taken by our British “friend”
Rain in the distance did not reach us
View out our hotel window
Got more and more tempted to jump in. Finally I did. Great idea. Cold and renewing!

A Popular Place to Stay

We started early today, for us on this trip, that is . . . About 8:00. It was supposed to get HOT and we ate so much at dinner that we didn’t want breakfast. The Camino did not disappoint. The temperature was in the 60s, with full sun and a strong breeze. Perfect.

The path was most flat, occasionally rather like a goat trail, and more than half a way along a seldom traveled rural road. Beauty was bountiful.

We arrived in Castrojeriz after about 7 miles and found our hotel easily. It seems this is THE place to be in town. It has both an Alberque with nice bunk bed rooms and a hotel, a lovely garden, a hopping bar and restaurant, and outdoor tables just below our room’s windows. Happy noise! Loving it.

It is almost 90 degrees out now. We are ensconced in our room, blogging and reading. Thinking about going down for a glass of wine in a bit. Our host introduced us to Bill from Jacksonville and we had a beer with him earlier. He is staying in the albergue, which is how we got a peak at that space. Another good Camino day.

A beautiful morning!
The off-road trail we walked
The ruins of San Anton where pilgrims were cured of St Vitus Dance in medieval times
The road we walked
Looking out our window when we first arrived
Our room No bunk beds for ur this trip
The garden where we can hang clothes to dry
Walking through town
At the Plaza Major
Another bar dog!

The Meseta is Beautiful!

We began the morning with breakfast provided by our inn in Hortillos. From there, it just got better and better. We walked almost 7 miles, a long gradual uphill, a lovely plateau with a top-of-the-world feel, a sharp downhill into Hontanas where we are spending the rest of today and the night.

Every step was beautiful. There were hillsides painted red by wild poppies, wild flowers everywhere, multiflora roses, piles of white rocks pulled from the fields by farmers of yore, blue skies, whispy clouds, dancing wheat, and singing birds.

What a day! We are so lucky!

Thursday’s Fantastic Walk

Yesterday’s walk was just over 7 miles. Today’s, just over 6. We enjoyed each and were happy to stop when we did.

The first couple miles today, were flat and easy. They took us into Rabe, a lovely village with what appeared to be many weekend homes as well as all-the-time resident homes.

Many barns and municipal buildings had murals with scripture references and large modern photo spreads.

There was a charming chapel where a local woman stamped our pilgrim passport with a “sello”, gave us a little medal and a blessing to keep us safe on our walk We appreciated it. At each place we stay and many other places, like chapels and gathering places, we get a sello in our pilgrim passport. It is a perfect souvenir of the journey.

Beyond Rabe, the trail start a gradual uphill for several miles. We are walking the Meseta, the relatively flat plains of north central Spain, the bread basket from the time of the Roman Empire until now. Today’s climb was over the Alto del Meseta. The final mile and a half was a too-steep-for-comfort downhill into Hornillos. Our toes were very happy to arrive at our inn, Sol a Sol.

Our room here has everything we need, in a smaller space than last night’s room, which was downsized from our Burgos suite. Hmmm, wonder what the Camino will bring us tomorrow Hahaha.

After resting , showering, and doing our wash, we hang our clothes on the lines in the garden, wondered the town, scoped out a restaurant for tonight’s pilgrim dinner, bought some snacks at the market, sat in the garden sketching and resting. Delightful way to spend the afternoon!

What Did We See Today?

Another gorgeous day! We had a luxurious breakfast buffet at our hotel — local cheese and chorizo, fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, juice, cafe con leche.

We walked out of Burgos, through fields of wheat and poppies with flitting sparrows and wheatears, and into Tardajos. We are staying tonight at the Casa de Beli.

Our clothes are washed and hung to dry. Time to sketch and have a beer. Dinner will be here, with the locals.

We had our first “pilgrim dinners” in years tonight. They used to be the only choice. Later we were able to just have tapas and pinchos, which made wonderful dinners. Tonight we returned to the traditional pilgrim dinner. There were many choices for each course. We had lentils for our First, pork and anchovies for our Seconds, and cheesecake and queso fresco with quince jam for Thirds. No complaints at all!

Airplanes, Buses, Burgos

Our flights went smoothly. The four-hour layover in Charlotte was decompression time. We watched CODA while flying over the ocean, thought of all our Gallaudet friends, and really enjoyed the movie. We arrived early, apparently with a good tail wind, causing another long layover waiting for our express bus. We slept the two+ hours to Burgos.

The day is hot and sunny. It felt great to walk into town, past the cathedral with kites flying overhead, and easily found our hotel, which is not our norm. Often we have wandered in circles despite maps and GPS. Our Camino for the Ages started well.

After a bit of a rest, we joined the locals at the Plaza Mayor for paseo. It seems the whole community comes out for a walk and some ice cream, beer, or tapas.

Tomorrow we will have a leisurely breakfast, rearrange our packs for optimal weight distribution, and start walking village to village.

Pam and James Arrived

Stela will be in good hands while we are gone. Pam and James arrived this afternoon, with Blue to keep Stela company. They will take care of everything while we are away. We had a great pizza and beer dinner. Blue and Stela ran lickety-splits around the yard. Now, for the last minute packing and repacking. We think we are ready!

Then, Unfamiliar Preparations

Little did we guess how hard it would be to navigate the Covid protocols.

We knew from family and friends who have traveled to Europe recently that we had to have a negative Covid test to return to the US. The research to learn where, when, and how to get the test was challenging. Finally we settled on planned redundancy. First, we purchased 2 boxes of tests that can be tele-supervised from our hotel room or a hotel computer to assure that we take the test correctly and that it actually shows a negative result.

The boxes are light but cannot be crushed because if they are opened before the proctor is watching, they are invalid. Hmmm. We needed a somewhat larger backpack to give them some elbow room.

Next, we learned that there is a testing site at the Madrid airport and it takes appointments. Thus, our redundancy. We have the boxes of tests and we have appointments at the airport testing center the afternoon before our scheduled flight home. If there is a positive results, you must stay and isolate. We really still don’t quite get how that would work and whether the positive person(s) would need to stay for 10 days, or until a negative test result. Therefore, we are bringing additional home tests to test ourselves if we need to figure out if we are negative yet. Luckily, the travel insurance company, Allianz, has a concierge service that might be helpful if needed.

We also had to get a QR Code form the Spanish Travel Health office, showing our vaccination status. Our American, handwritten cards were not acceptable once in Spain. The app on my phone didn’t work correctly and changed my birthdate and date of arrival to one day earlier than I entered. A 45-minute phone call to Spain resolved the issue. Whew! We have our QR’s now.

We expected the planning to be familiar and easy. The first part was. The Covid part, not so much, but we think we are on track and we leave tomorrow morning.

The Familiar Preparations

We decided that the pandemic was in a slow period and we would grab the opportunity to get in a short Camino walk and some time in Spain before a potential uptick in Covid in the fall and winter. Much of the planning is familiar and most is fun. We decided on the section from Burgos to Sahagun, which is relatively flat and had many towns with accommodations. That allowed us to plan to walk about 10km/6.2miles a day. We will have plenty of time to enjoy the countryside views. to sketch or read or write each day, and to sample whatever the towns have to offer,in local cuisine and culture.

We selected a relatively flat section, for our Florida flatlander legs!
Stela wants to come.

We ordered new boots and some new hiking clothes. We updated our guidebooks, buying electronic versions when they were available, and dusted off our trekking poles and backpacks. We bought our plane tickets and then bought tickets for the bus to Burgos and trains from Sahagún to Leon, Leon to Madrid, Madrid to Ronda, Ronda to Córdoba, Córdoba to Toledo, and Toledo to Madrid.

Next we looked at each village where we hoped to stay while walking and made a reservation. We opted for private rooms in small pensiones and inns. We booked online and can’t wait to see if they are as quaint and authentic as the guidebooks indicate. But, whatever, it is the Camino and we will adapt and adjust as needed. For the time in southern Spain, we selected hotels based on friends’ recommendations. Those were super easy to book online.

Voilà. Planned!

Back to the Camino

Russ and I had been talking about how each of our Caminos was different, and how each was alike. It made us wish to go back again.

I mentioned it when I was at a picnic dinner with friends. One said, just do it! I told Russ who said he’d been thinking the same thing. Bam! We bought tickets. We’re doing it!

Visiting our Camino Mentors and Picking up Stela

After a delightful night’s sleep at Pam and James’ home in Fredericksburg, we took off on Friday morning to have lunch in Williamsburg with our Camino mentors. Russ’ sister Phyllis and her husband Otis introduced us to the Camino in 2007 when they walked it for the first time. We thought they had lost their minds when they told us about their plans. However, their photo of relaxing in Molinaseca changed our minds and we too became Camino lovers. It was wonderful to share some time with them on the way home from this adventure.

From there, we went to get our Stela. She remembered us and was happy to see us. Daughter Meg and son-in-law Steve loved for to pieces, and were not really sorry to have us take her back. She is a lot of dog, especially for dachsund enthusiasts. We had another good night’s rest and drove the 12 hours to Florida on Friday, beating Tropical Storm Nestor to Gainesville. A perfect ending to the trip!

Home Sweet Home