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    Camino De Santiago De Compostela - Days Five & Six

    Mooney reporter Katriona McFadden is walking the Camino De Santiago in Spain this week and is sending us back ‘Audio Diary’ reports. She is walking it with her fiancé, JP. One of JP’s jobs is to give Katriona a boiled sweet before she has to walk up a hill. Otherwise she gets cranky apparently!

    Katriona is travelling courtesy of caminoways.com, an Irish company specialising in accommodation, transport & luggage transfer along the Camino.

    DAY FIVE – ARZUA TO AMENAL (23 KM)

    A little Spanish goes a long way on the Camino! Most pilgrims are Spanish and, as a result, not all cafe owners and receptionists speak English. It’s advisable to learn a few basic phrases. A phrasebook would have certainly helped me last night at dinner. The menu was entirely in Spanish and I decided to order a starter with a name I didn’t understand, just to be adventurous. Tripe soup is what was served up to me! The waitress was very understanding when I told her I wouldn’t be eating it.

    Some beautiful forest paths today. That is Australian Steven Matthews up ahead in his cricket hat. He is walking the Camino alone to give him time to think about the future of his marriage, he says.

    Today we had four seasons in one day, sun, rain, thunder and hail. Another pretty walk through the Spanish countryside and forests. In a cafe just before Amenal we met Steven Matthews from Sydney. Steven is walking the Camino alone. He had planned to walk it with his wife, Meg, he says, that is until she had an affair with another man and left him. However, her lover didn’t leave his wife so Meg returned to Steven. "Her default position" he says. Steven says he is walking the Camino to have time and space to think about their marriage and their future.

    Steven walks with us a while and we stop at a roadside memorial to a Kilkenny women, Myra Brennan, who died in her sleep in Santiago 10 years ago.

    Memorial to the late Myra Brennan, just outside Santa Irene.

    She was only 52 and had walked the Camino twice. Her friend "Brigid F" erected the memorial to her on the 5th anniversary of her death. We take a moment at the memorial before carrying on to the Hotel Amenal. We are now only 14 kilometres from Santiago and the end of our Camino!

    Romance on the Camino!

    DAY SIX – AMENAL TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA (14KM)

    The great thing about booking on a half-board basis is that you don’t have to walk the streets with your tired feet looking for food, you know your breakfast and dinner are provided at your hotel. The dangerous part about half-board is that dinner always comes with wine. A bottle of wine. Each! As a result we were a little later than usual starting out today. More rain but we are now accustomed to it. What is it that Billy Connolly says? "There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes"

    Santiago in the distance. We're getting close!

    The outskirts of Santiago de Compostela

    We had a few hills to climb today but before long we found ourselves at a large stone marking the outskirts of Santiago. Only 11km to go. Pilgrims had made makeshift crosses out of twigs and attached them to the fences.

    Twig crosses stuck into fences on the road to Santiago. Only 11km to walk!

    We walked through suburban Sarria. The city well and truly came into sight at about 5km. We followed the scallop shells on the footpath the whole way to the Pilgrims Office, showed our Pilgrims Passport, filled out a form and got our 'Compostelas' (certificates) with our names written in Latin.

    Our certificates! Yes, we really walked 110km!! My rain poncho is in shreds but has served me well. 

    My Compostela

    Yay! Tomorrow it will be read out at the 12pm Pilgrims Mass in the Cathedral that two Irish pilgrims completed the Camino by travelling from Sarria. That’s us! We meet Scotsman John Walker in the Pilgrims Office. He volunteers there. He says unfortunately we won’t see the ‘Botafumeiro’ at tomorrow’s mass (that’s the gigantic incense burning thurible that is twirled around the Cathedral by ropes). It’s only on display at certain masses, he says, but if we go to mass on Thursday night we will see it.

    The Hotel Monumento San Francisco

    We are staying at the Hotel Monumento San Francisco. It is a converted part of a functioning convent. There are signs up warning “Silencio” for guests who wish to explore the grounds. This is the real deal! At the end of the Camino, over a glass of wine, we reflect on the people we met along The Way and their reasons for being here. For most people it’s about time, making the most of it while you have it. To anyone now inspired to do this great walk I say “Buen Camino!”

    A Galician bagpiper busker welcomes up to Santiago

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    Camino de Santiago de Compostela - Days Three And Four

    Mooney reporter Katriona McFadden is walking the Camino De Santiago in Spain this week and is sending us back ‘Audio Diary’ reports. She is walking it with her fiancé, JP. One of JP’s jobs is to give Katriona a boiled sweet before she has to walk up a hill. Otherwise she gets cranky apparently!

    Katriona is travelling courtesy of caminoways.com, an Irish company specialising in accommodation, transport & luggage transfer along the Camino.

    DAY THREE – PALAS DE REI TO MELIDE (15 KM)

    Because it is Easter week and the schools are out, many families are choosing to walk the Camino. At breakfast we met Michelle Sparks from Johannesburg and her two daughters Cassidy (13) and Tanika (12 - pictured below).

    Cassidy (13) and Tanika (12) Sparks from Johannesburg. They were walking the last 220km of the Camino with their Mum, Michelle. Michelle walked the entire French Way last year (800km) and vowed afterwards she would never do the Camino again! After a couple of months she missed the Camino and saved up enough money to bring her two girls along this year on their Easter Holidays.

    Michelle walked the entire French Way last year (800km) and decided to bring her girls with her this year to walk the last 200km. Tanika thinks the Camino is a great way of ‘getting to know your inner self and deciding if there is anything you would like to change about yourself’ – wise words from a 12 year old!

    It was raining again this morning when we said goodbye to the Sparks and started on our merry way. Palas De Rei didn’t have an outdoor shop after all but the raincoat problem was solved by a newsagent who sold giant plastic ponchos for €4. Happy days!

    His and hers rain ponchos!

    Today’s walk was a lot prettier than yesterday’s, lots of forest and farmyard and very little main road. It was also the most challenging, mud-wise. We encountered lake-like puddles and took our time finding the best way around them.

    Mud, everywhere!

    Tired, anyone?!

    We also past the halfway mark (pictured below). We took a photo of the 55km milestone to remind ourselves that we are getting closer and closer to Santiago.

    Halfway to Santiago - yay!

    Melide is a charming little town, the sun came out as we approached it and we were here in time to explore and eat some delicious ‘Pulpo’ (pictured below). Pulpo is Galician octopus, it is on every menu we have encountered, and we were told that Melide is one of the best towns to eat it in.

    Pulpo or Galician octopus

    As we walked in the door of ‘Pulperia Garnacha’ we could see an old lady standing at a counter furiously chopping up an octopus with a knife. It is then drizzled with oil and sprinkled in paprika and sea salt and it tastes... Yum!

    We shared a bench with a Spanish couple and told them (in broken Spanish) that we are from Ireland and are walking the Camino de Santiago. They congratulated us on finding the best Pulperia in Melide! We are staying in the Hotel Carlos 96. The manager, Luis Castro, lived in London until he was 20. His family then moved back to Melide to pursue their dream of opening a hotel.

    The best Pulperia in Melide!

    He tells me that people travel for miles to eat Pulpo in Melide. When he hears we are interested in food he brings us a cheese tasting plate. Arzua (our next stop on the Camino) is famous for cheese he says. “The second-best-selling cheese in Spain after Manchego” He also offers us some local wine. The region is known for its white wine but they’ve started making some good reds he says. Winemakers had all but given up on trying to produce red wine. Temperatures in the valley were warm by day but cold by night. Totally unsuitable conditions for red wine production. Local monks persevered however and discovered the key to growing grapes for red wine was to place large stones in the soil. The stones absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release it at night when it is colder. Another local delicacy are the ‘Pimientos de Padron’ (pictured), little green peppers cooked and rolled in salt.

    Pimientos de Padron - delicious!

    My left hip started to hurt today, walking up and down stairs wasn’t easy. JP says I am turning into an old woman. But no blisters and another easy walking day tomorrow, only 13km to Arzua.

    Here’s hoping that the sun will still be shining tomorrow!

    DAY FOUR – MELIDE TO ARZUA (13KM)

    The sun has got his hat on. Hip hip hip hooray! Today’s walk was the prettiest yet, market traders were setting up their stalls as we left pretty Melide and we encountered lots of quiet country roads, footbridges and forest paths.

    Leaving Melide

    Bright yellow butterflies fluttered along beside us as we walked. We came across a little unmanned ‘honour shop’ en route (pictured). Pilgrims were free to buy a punnet of strawberries or a slice of cake from the stall and leave the correct amount in the money tin.

    An unmanned 'honour shop' at the side of the road - take what you want and leave the correct amount in the money tin.

    Because we only had 13km to walk today we decided against stopping for lunch and pushed on to Arzua instead. We made only one short stop, to have a Coke in the newly-opened ‘German Cafe’. The owner told me he opened it last year and is delighted with how business has been so far. The last time we walked the Camino (2010) we couldn’t get accommodation in Arzua. We felt like Mary and Joseph getting turned away from every ‘albergue’ and hotel we tried.

    In the end-up we slept on a basketball court inside a sports centre with a hundred or so Spanish secondary school students who insisted on playing football all night long.

    Pretty countryside en route to Arzua

    Today it is nice to know that our accommodation is pre-booked for us. The Pension El Retiro is our guesthouse and is the first building we see on the left as we enter Arzua. On Luis’ instruction, we will try some more cheese tonight. A big walking day tomorrow. 23km to Amenal.

    Listen

    Camino de Santiago de Compostela - Days One And Two

    Mooney reporter Katriona McFadden is walking the Camino De Santiago in Spain this week and is sending us back ‘Audio Diary’ reports. She is walking it with her fiancé, JP. One of JP’s jobs is to give Katriona a boiled sweet before she has to walk up a hill. Otherwise she gets cranky apparently!

    Katriona is travelling courtesy of caminoways.com, an Irish company specialising in accommodation, transport & luggage transfer along the Camino.

    DAY MINUS ONE

    We received our Pilgrims Passports in the holiday pack supplied by caminoways.com and brought them to the Guinness Storehouse and St James Church in Dublin to have them stamped. This is totally optional but many Irish pilgrims like to get their first stamp in Ireland.

    The Pilgrims Passport is essential if you want to receive a ‘Compostela’ (certificate) at the end of your Camino. You must prove to the Pilgrims Office in Santiago that you have walked at least 100km. You do this by getting your passport stamped in hotels, shops and restaurants along the Camino. You can buy a pilgrims passport from The Irish Society of the Friends of St James, St James Church in Dublin or in certain places along the Camino.

    The Scallop Shell is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. There are many theories why. My favourite is that the lines on the shell symbolise all the "Ways" there are to reach Santiago (The French Way, the Portuguese Way etc). All the lines meet at one point. Wherever you see a scallop shell you know you are on the right path. This scallop shell was one of a series on the footpath leading out of Sarria.

    We flew to Santiago via Madrid as the direct Aer Lingus flights don’t start until April 1st. The lovely Cruz was waiting for us in Arrivals to transport us to our starting point, Sarria. There is also a direct bus that you can take from the airport to Sarria.

    Sarria is a very popular starting point for ‘Pellegrinos’ (pilgrims) because it is 110km from Santiago – just a little over what is needed to get your certificate!

    Only 110 km to Santiago!!

    The journey from Santiago to Sarria was 90 minutes by car and very depressing. Lots of rain. Cruz pulled the car over several times to gape at flooded fields and rivers which had burst their banks. She said it had been raining for many days and the forecast was bad. However, the countryside was beautiful, very green, and reminded me a lot of Ireland.

    We checked in at the Alfonso IX Hotel in the heart of Sarria, beside the river, and enjoyed their ‘Pilgrims Menu’ – 3 courses for €8.50! Many restaurants along the Camino offer a similarly-priced set menu aimed at walkers.

    DAY ONE – SARRIA TO PORTOMARIN (23KM)

    Curtains open. Phew! No rain! The receptionist smiled as we checked out at 8.30am to start the Camino. Most people had checked out by 7.30, he said, and we were the last to leave. We left our suitcases at reception to be transferred to the next hotel and carried a daypack with waterproofs, water and snacks. Starting the Camino slightly later than most meant the Way was relatively quiet and we often had it to ourselves for stretches. The terrain was wet and muddy from the previous day’s rain and walkers struggled to find dry spots to tread on. It is traditional to wish the person you are overtaking a “Buen Camino!” (“good walk”) and for them to say it back to you. It makes for quite a jovial walk as you must speak to everyone you meet. This was how we met farmer John Martin and his solicitor niece Aoife Martin from Roscommon (below).

    Uncle & niece John & Aoife Martin from Roscommon. John wore corduroy trousers and Aoife wore pink runners. I'm not sure how they fared when the rain started on Day Two!

    We chastised John for his choice of corduroy walking trousers and Aoife for her pink runners but they didn’t mind a jot! John says the small fields and the stone walls remind him a lot of home. They are also walking from Sarria to Santiago so no doubt our paths will cross again.

    The countryside is beautiful. Walking the Camino gives you a real insight into rural life in Spain. Wearing shoulder bags is frowned upon among walkers, weight should be balanced in a backpack. Oops!

    Today was a mixture of dirt tracks, small streams and paved and tarred roads. We passed through many farms - often smelling them before we saw them - and we saw the farmers at work. Many will wish you a Buen Camino but others seem a bit fed up with all these chirpy pilgrims and keep their heads down! There are lots of basic little cafés along the Way. Lentil soup was our choice of lunch. There is nothing like it for powering the legs. We walked for 23 kilometres today and thankfully the rain held off.

    Thirsty?!

    Bootloose and fancyfree!!

    The road is long with many a winding turn...

    Spotting Portomarin in the distance was a great feeling and we practically skipped towards it. We are now in the Hotel Pousada de Portomarin and a rooster is cock-a-doodle-dooing below the window. Our room overlooks the River Minho. Dinner starts at 8 (Spaniards love to eat late) so I am nibbling on crisps to stave off the hunger until then. Day One was a big success. Let’s see if I am still ‘skipping’ tomorrow!

    When in doubt, follow the yellow arrow!

    I hope Laura eventually met up with the message writer in Portomarin!

    Two farm dogs who walked alongside each pilgrim for a while then turned, went to the top of the hill and posed for a picture. Very cute!

    JP thought it was important to let Irish pilgrims know that they weren't far from home!

    Arrived in Portomarin!!

    DAY TWO – PORTOMARIN TO PALAS DE REI (23 KM)

    Rain fell heavily last night but the skies are clear this morning as we set out. The roads aren’t as pretty today as we are walking alongside roads a lot. They’re also quite muddy.

    Today we were walking along several busy roads...

    ...which eventually turned into forest roads

    About an hour into our journey we meet Bill and Sharon Mayhall from Tucson, Arizona (pictured below). They’re a retired couple and agree to walk with us a while. They’ve walked all over the world they tell us and booked to do the Camino de Santiago a year ago.

    The heavens had opened by the time we met Bill & Sharon Mayhall from Tucson, Arizona. They are 70 years old, walking on four knee replacements and Sharon is currently receiving treatment for cancer. They were a total inspiration!

    They say they can’t get used to the late dinners either. Bill tells us that they both have had knee replacement surgery – that’s four new knees between them! And Sharon confides that she is currently receiving treatment for cancer. If you’ve ever been thinking about doing the Camino but lack the motivation, well they are it! Bill and Sharon were a joy to meet but we overtake them eventually, promising to try to meet up tonight in Palas de Rei for a drink. They have seen horses along the Camino but we haven’t yet, although the evidence of them is everywhere! You must be on the constant lookout for horse poo on the paths! Horseriders and cyclists must complete 200km in order to receive a certificate in Santiago. Some pilgrims have brought their dogs along. The dogs seem to love the Camino. Soon after meeting Bill and Sharon the heavens opened. And my raincoat really let me down. Mental note: spend money on a good quality raincoat next time! I wavered back in Dublin between buying a top brand raincoat for €70 or a cheaper version in a well-known chain store for €20. I chose the cheaper coat (it did say “waterproof” on the label) but today I got soaked through to my skin while JP sauntered along dry as a bone in his North Face jacket!

    Taking shelter from the rain!

    There were people much worse than me, however. One Spanish family decked out in shorts and runners were absolutely saturated! I wonder how John has fared in his corduroy trousers and Aoife in her pink runners. We are staying tonight in the Complejo de Cabana just before the town of Palas de Rei. I hope to throw out my cheap rainjacket in the morning and buy a new one (hopefully Palas de Rei has an outdoor shop). My legs started to feel the burn today but no blisters yet. Tomorrow is an easier day, just 15 km.

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