Saturday, June 19, 2010

An Odd Occurrence in Madrid

Tuesday June 15th, 2010 began as another day on the job for one officer of the Madrid Police Department. However at around 5pm, his routine patrol of the park was shaken up by the appearance of a very strange site... A frightened and confused Templar Knight.
Now the truth behind the Myth:
Kevin S followed directions from Lucy and Elizabeth and found his way to a Medieval armor shop. Exercising an incredible amount of self control (as opposed to last summer when buying a full suit of Roman Centurian armor), Kevin purchased a Templar cape instead of armor. Eager to take his new look for a spin, he went to the park with Mike D, Diana, and Colleen. As soon as the coast was clear and no tourists were in sight, he donned the armor and went for a run... right into a police patrol. Stricken with fear of being arrested for general buffoonery, he discarded his knightly valor and fled.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Santiago: We have arrived

On June 12th, the Fordham Camino 2010 came to its conclusion as we made our triumphant arrival in the city of Santiago de Compostela. Apologies for the delay in blog posting, but internet access was limited in the hectic excitement of our journey's end.

Our day began early, nearly an hour before dawn, when we awoke to find that, at long last, the rain had stopped. We rejoined the Camino and headed into a dark patch of forest, still before sunrise, and began our walk. Despite being a respectable 20 kilometers, the day's walk felt much shorter, since we left so early, and walked so eagerly once Santiago was in sight.

When we got to around ten kilometers left, Katie J, Sarah, and myself (Kevin) stopped for a break and encountered a busload of what can best be described as "fake pilgrims." If their lack of backpacks had not given away the fact that they were only walking for the day, their pristine white sneakers would have done the job just as well. After spending two weeks trudging through the sun, rain, and mud, we felt entitled to looking down on these folks, and question the necessity of walking sticks for the mere two hour walk from the point where the bus dropped them off. Almost everyone in our group had a similar experience with these ¨bus pilgrims.¨ A group of tourists even parted to make way for Diana and Kevin S., calling them ¨pelegrinos,¨ and giving them a sense of superiority over their pristine walking companions. However, we were put back in our place upon remembering that others had walked four times as long as we had, and by the thought that our very own Dr Gyug had completed the walk multiple times.

After a frustrating diversion from the traditional route of the Camino which took us around the modern airport, the city of Santiago de Compostela came into view from the top of the Monte del Gozo (Mountain of Joy). Despite having roots in earlier Roman and Swabian settlements, Santiago de Compostela derives its name and its prestige from events which took place in 813. A hermit by the name of Pelayo saw a mysteriously glowing mound of wood for several nights. He informed the bishop Theodimir, who returned with his entourage to find the bones of the apostle James and two of his disciples. Santiago, of course, is the Spanish for Saint James, while "compostela" means "field of stars," an allusion to the lights seen by Pelayo.

As is often the case with our large group, we arrived at the cathedral in Santiago in various smaller groups. The first to arrive were Dr Gyug, Katie B and I (Colleen). For the next half an hour we met our other walking companions in the plaza. Our arrival in front of the cathedral was something of a whirlwind, at least for me (Kevin). The combination of bagpipe music, cheering crowds, and the daunting facade of the cathedral we had walked so far to see was quite disorienting. The group met up again with congratulatory hugs from one another, and a quick group picture, before rushing over to drop our bags at the hotel and make it back in time for the pilgrim's mass.

As 2010 is a holy year, Santiago's streets were teeming with people. We arrived at the pilgrim's mass 15 minutes early and waited in line until we were able to enter the cathedral through the southern facade. Unfortunately, the mass was so crowded that three of our group were turned away at the door and those of us who were able to attend had to stand. The cathedral, as it is now, was built from 1075 to 1122 and finally consecrated in 1128. It is the largest Romanesque church in Spain and one of the largest in Europe. The outside is decorated in an ornate, baroque style featuring almost countless depictions of St. James.

Inside the church, one of the most impressive features is the Botafumeiro. (See the video, located at the end of this post). The Botafumeiro is the largest censer in the world. It was created in 1851 and is usually not in use. However, luckily for us, it is used in every pilgrim mass during holy years. Eight men are needed to control the censer, which while swinging almost reaches the top of the cathedral and hits speeds of up to 60 km an hour.

After mass we split up for various lunches, after which many of us collectively agreed that, having grown tired of the choice between wearing pants or muddy shorts, some shopping was in order. In preparation for our final evening together, at least half of our group headed out to the retail shops of Santiago, where we worked as a team to make sure everyone was looking their most stylish. We eagerly await the shopping montage, set to the song "Supermodel," in the final act of the film adaptation of our story.

We later met up at a local restaurant to have our final meal together. Many toasts were made over our raciones and pilgrim meals. Since the World Cup also began a few days ago, we were able to watch the United States and England play while we ate. Afterward, we headed to a bar nearby to partake in a drink called queimada. Queimada is a traditional Galician drink that is made by stirring various alcohols together and lighting the concoction on fire. (Our Queimada is pictured above, prior to its being lit.) More toasts followed and the night ended with dancing and David Bisbal at another local bar.

The next day, many of us parted ways. Some of the group continued on to other cities in Europe to further their travels and many of us returned to Madrid for a few days of sightseeing and readjustment to city life after weeks in the Spanish countryside.

-Kevin C. and Colleen

Kevin Soravilla's Video Roundup

Hola friends!
If words are not your thing, here is a video to demonstrate the glory of Santiago!

P.S. Here is the queimada in its more or less full glory, being prepared. - Elizabeth

Friday, June 11, 2010

How´s the Walking?

For anyone that wanted to ask, ¨How has your trip been so far?¨

Please let this response from James Franco sum up our collective opinion:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Melide! (pulpo y llueve) or the day we sang the "I love mud" song

Today was a shorter day, only 14 k from Palas de Rei to Melide. However it has not stopped raining! Apparently Saint James heard our prayers for agua while we were walking on the other side of the mountain and is, well, he is sending us water.

The rain let up a bit today and we´ve all invested in this amazing garment called a poncho! Not only does it keep you mildly dry and colorful on a grey wet day it can keep your pack dry while making you look like a turtle or a funky cult member! We continue to be a party of poncho wearers.

Walking up to Melide was quite shocking. For the past week and a bit we´ve been walking through cow town, meaning one building aside from the barn and possibly a cobble stone road. If you look on google maps (as I did in preparation for my in-class presentation) you may think to yourself "wow, only two roads such a small town!" Sorry to dissappoint it is in fact a small city, in comparison to the past week. We´re all a little worried about how we´ll react to a "true" city. We got to see the Iglesia de Santi Spiritus, a church built from the stones of the Castle and part of the Convent in town. The castle and the wall were destroyed during the revolts in 1467. We dodged the rain drops to see the Crucero San Roque, which is in the center of town and upon discovering that the romanesque church next to it was closed we dashed to the Pulperia Ezequiel for pulpo!

The reaction to the pulpo, the famous dish of Melide, was mixed, personally it was good, but not for people who dislike seafood. The best part of the restaurant was the large group of locals singing, quite boistrously, and banging the table in a quasi rythmic manner. Very entertaining for the first twenty minutes, they unfortunately left before us but most of them waved goodbye. We also got a couple orders of shrimp and razor clams; one is not supposed to eat the pico peppers that come in the shrimp sauce, which is what Kevin C, Mike, Collen and Reed did do, they had a lovely twenty minutes of breathing fire.

Fortunately we are all doing well physically with slight dismay when we think about walking the 32k in the rain tomorrow. We´re off to tackle our penultimate day of waking, (que triste!) all of us surprised how quickly time has passed since O´cebreiro. With three minutes left I bid you Hasta Luego, stay dry and warm and there will hopefully be pictures added later, as well as information about the lovely museo in town!


B Squad Radio

Today we´re in Melide, and despite it being Emilee´s official day to post on the blog, we, Kevin C, Mike Diamond, Katie J and Sarah wanted to share a few thoughts with our fans back home. As we are usually among the last to finish walking each day (mostly by choice), and proud occupants of top bunks each night, we have dubbed ourselves the Fordham Camino 2010 ¨B Squad.¨ Not as glamorous as the A Squad who lead the way into town, we do fulfill a few vital roles. Since we take our time travelling, we need to find ways to occupy our time. Thus, ¨B Squad Radio¨ was born, in the pouring rain somewhere between Portomarin and Palas de Rei. Here we share with you some of what we spend our time talking and thinking about. We feel we´ve produced enough innovative and entertaining discussions to fill a 24 hour talk radio station. Without any further adieu, we give you B Squad Radio: where getting there is half the fun.

First up, is a representation of everyone´s favorite aspect of Spanish culture, the incredibly overdramatic, overproduced, over the top music video. The following is the group´s collective favorite example of Spain´s greatest export since Antonio Banderas. The song is called Bulería, performed by the velvet throated god otherwise known as David Bisbal. Make sure you stick around for the anguished scream at the end, much like our own anguished screams tomorrow, as we walk thirty two kilometers through the rain and mud (we hope its mud, though there are a lot of cows around).

Second, inspired by the casting of ourselves in the roles of Lord of the Rings characters, B Squad Radio determined who will be cast as each member of our own group in the inevitable film adaptation Steven Speilberg´s Fordham Camino 2010: The Major Motion Picture Event. (In 3D, naturally.)

What follows is the tentative cast list, and a few backups, in case artistic differences split apart the original crew:

Dr Richard Gyug: Anthony Perkins (Backup: William Hurt)
Lucy: Gwyneth Paltrow (Backup: The Ghost of Ingrid Bergman)
Elizabeth: Liv Tyler
Katie B: Heather Graham circa 1997
Reed: Bradley Cooper (Young Reed (in a flashback): Zach Efron)
Diana: Reese Witherspoon
Colleen: Joan Cusack
Emilee: Sandra Bullock
Maryann: Rosario Dawson
Kevin S: A Back to the Future-era Michael J Fox
Mike: Keanu Reeves
Katie J: Charlize Theron (Only because Katie broke the ¨don´t try to cast yourself¨ rule so many times that we were completely out of ideas for her, since she had said every talented and attractive actress working today.)
Kevin C: Joel McHale
And Natalie Portman as Sarah Mutter

This has been B Squad Radio: We´ll get there when we get there.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Portomarin: Mother Nature and Cake

Snakes. Why´d it have to be snakes?

-Indiana Jones

Rain. Why´d it have to be rain?

- Mike Diamente

The brave group of pilgrims from Fordham University awoke in Sarria today to cloudy skies, a wet ground, and rain on the forcast for the foreseeable future. Undeterred however, the group set out to our next destination, the glorious city of Portomarin.

The rain held out for a good while, with the cloud cover keeping everyone cool, and morning coffee assuring that everyone was warm. Today´s walk took us through a variety of landscapes, starting with an uphill climb through areas of thick forests (in which my first Camino traffic jam occured. It involved two bikers and a steep hill) straight out of an enchanted Disney universe, and across rolling dairy fields with countless number of cows.

Along the way to Portomarin our group passed a road marker showing that we were 100 kilometers away from Santiago. According to the Church, 100 kilometers is the minimum distance that one has to walk in order to obtain the same indulgences and spiritual rewards as someone who walks any other greater distance.

Before I continue I must say that both the Kevins had a rough day today. While making his trip to Portomarin, Kevin S. unfortunately was unable to avoid the fresh droppings of a cow, while Kevin C. had water and wine spilled on him at lunch.

Once we reached Portomarin I felt I was obligated to start off our tour in style. We unofficially began our tour at a local bar after lunch, where everyone in the group tasted a local traditionally made liquor that was 100 proof. This liquor is not regulated by the Spainish government in any way, as long as it is made using traditional equipment and techniques. Although many did not like the moonshine, it was good to see everyone trying something unusual together as a group.

Since the city of Portomarin is the unofficial captial of the Spanish dessert cake ¨Tarta de Santiago,¨ I felt that I should provide my fellow pilgrims with some to start off our tour. With our taste buds satisfied I was able to start the tour of the city.

The city of Portomarin was originally built on either side of the river Mino, the largest river in Galacia. People began to settle there in the 12th century becuase of the bridge built by the Romans. The left bank of the river was known as the town of San Pedro de Portomarin, and the right bank was known as San Juan de Portomarin.

This bridge was one of th eonly ways to cross the river without using a boat, which made Portomarin an important location, not only for pilgrims, but also for economic and military reasons. Because the bridge allowed for control of the river, the town was always garrisoned in its history. During the Middle Ages the city became an important location for the Christian orders of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller.

In the 1960´s the river Mino was dammed to create the Belesar reservior, putting the old village of Portomarin under water. However, most of the buildings of the town were moved brick by brick and reconstructed in a new location on top of a hill. This means that the town we viewed today is not actually the same city of mearely 50 years ago. The Spanish King Franco was the main voice behind the preservation of the city of Portomarin which I find interesting to note considering how strongly Franco felt towards the Camino and the Middle Age history of Spain. Franco believed that the Camino could be used as a symbol of a new Christian Spain, and the preservation of Portomarin was certainly a step towards that plan.

After talking about the history of the city, and finishing up any last pieces of cake, we moved on to the Templar Church of San Nicolas of Portomarin. The Templar church is located in the middle of town and was built in the late Romanesque style, but is unusual becuase it is designed to be both a church and a fortress. The church contains the usual elements of Romanesque architecture such as rose windows and rounded arches, however the church also includes parapets and other defensive military features to allow for its protection. The religious and warlike nature of the Templar´s is personified very well in this particular building.

After viewing the church, a few of us in the group went to find the famous factory of the Tarta de Santiago of which we were told that earlier Fordham groups were kicked out of. Although we were not kicked out, we did not find any more success as far as figuring out the secret of the holy cake, as the old woman running the shop simply closed the door on us and went back to her grandchildren.

Finally, a couple incidents during the day made me believe that I was truly a long lost resident of Portomarin. First, walking through the city I was asked 3 seperate times if I lived in the city and if I could give directions(I don´t and I couldn´t). Lastly, the waiter at the bar where many in the group had dinner was supposedly an identical twin of mine, so much so that Dr. Gyug came to find me to tell me to go see myself at the bar. Of course I was better looking.

(Since no one has the city after Portomarin let me just say, it rained really hard after Portomarin).

Mike (is awesome)

Chanson de Geste

You have already read about our band´s thrilling experiences in Ponferrada, and our appreciation of its mighty stronghold. There is, however, still more to come. Dr. Gyug, our fearless leader, suggested that it would be only proper to honor this noble fortress with a tournament. And having had a tournament, we decided that it would be only proper to honor it with a chanson de geste. (It´s like ¨If you give a mouse a cookie...¨ for medievalists.) And now it is time for this chanson, three days in the composing, to make the transition from memory to written record.

´Twas early in the month of June
When but half waned was the moon,
When on Ponf´rrada´s grassy height,
There met a troop of noble knights.

These knights so brave, so fair, so bold,
They rivaled worthies sung of old,
Kevinus led the Templar band
Against the Frenchmen for their land.

The leader of the chevaliers
Was Reid ycleped, a prince of peers,
While Pious Kevin with his lance
Did lead the Templars against France.

Ah! had I the true poet´s art,
O hearers, it would glad your hearts
To hear the histories of each,
But my tongue lacks heroic speech.

Now Ponferrada, castle strong,
Had been a Templar fortress long,
But now the French do claim their right
In Ponferrada´s stony height

Whose noble walls and towers high
Do proudly greet the Spanish sky
As Ponferrada through the years
Keeps its inhabitants from fears.

Bright in the sun the armor shone
and bravely, silken pennants flown
Proclaim of every knight and dame
The noble house and nobler fame.

¨´Twere shame indeed,¨ the leaders said,
¨To see the blood of heroes shed
In putting valor to the test;
We´ll break our lances but in jest.¨

For such a conflict ´twixt such foes
Three chroniclers the heroes chose:
Kevin, Colleen and Katie hight
The scribes for this most valiant fight.

Eager the knights to start the fray;
The marshal cries, ¨Laissez aller!¨
And ¨Deus vult!¨ the Templars cry.
The French do bravely shout ¨Mountjoy!¨

Of mickle valor Maryanne:
Couched is her lance; she takes her stand.
But Lucy´s spear her shoulder found--
The damsel´s body met the ground.

Elizabeth, with leveled spear,
Of Sarah´s flail showed no fear.
Undaunted heart, unwearied arm
From Sarah´s flail take no harm,

For Sarah, on her taking ruth,
Did hold her blow--so ´twas, in truth--
Noble the maids, noble the deed,
On Ponferrada´s grassy mead.

Fair Katie rode into the fray
Upon a mettled steed of gray.
At Kevin and at Liz she thrust;
Her stirrup breaks--she greets the dust.

On Kevin´s shield Mike´s shattered lance
Did strike a mighty blow for France.
Then wheeling round to join his king,
Mike´s sword against Diana´s rings.

...Believe it or not, dear readers, there is a LOT more of this. But: another day, another day´s walking, and another afternoon´s tour, which is calling me now. But like the good medievalists we are, we are keeping this poem alive in our vibrant oral culture! Watch this space for the rest of the battle and the poem´s moving conclusion!


Sarria: Camino success story

Ever since its incorporation by Alfonso IX of Castilla y Leon in the late thirteenth century, the town of Sarria has been animated by the traffic of the Camino. The king himself was en route to Santiago when he died in Sarria in 1280. The town´s history dates to the Roman period, but its heyday was in the high Middle Ages when, as now, a stream of pilgrims passed through it. One of the counts of Sarria, Rodrigo Alvarez (d. 1181) founded what one author has called ¨one of the less successful military orders of the twelfth century.¨ Today, the pretty town between the rivers of Sarria and Celeiro has both a historic center (on the top of its hill, where our pilgrim albergue was) and a sprawling newer section. While we, of course, judged the latter inferior, we were happy to stroll along its riverside walks and take advantage of its Farmacias, supermarket, tobacconists´, and banks.

After a few hilly days, and over a week into our trek, we all felt that our stroll of 18 km to Sarria was a fairly easy one. Arrived early, we ate communally and heartily in ¨O Meson das Tapas.¨ If our Spanish-speaking readership is scratching its collective head over that spelling, there´s a reason: now that we´ve arrived in Galicia, it´s hillier, rainier, and Gallego, which the rest of Spain calls a local dialect, is the language, with Castellano a separate one. Our afternoon tour took in a thirteenth-century church, a ruined tower ditto, and the Monasterio de la Magdalena. Founded by the monks of Our Lady of Ransom (an Iberian order founded for the benefit of Christian captives in the peninsula´s endless wars) the monastery is today a pilgrim hostel and hospital, as well as a religious community. Kevin S. and I went to evening Mass there, where we observed Day 5 of a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, got a sermon based on the Beatitudes, and admired the Romanesque and Gothic carvings, the Baroque reredos, the singing of the monks, and the congregation of Spanish church ladies. Then we returned to the albergue where we got dinner! thanks to the collaborative exertions of about half a dozen of our merry band. Pilgrim communitas continues to flourish among the members of our party, as well as with those we meet along the way. Ultreja! As a man outside Molinaseca observed when he heard us all singing, Saint James is waiting for us with open arms.

Lucy Barnhouse

Monday, June 7, 2010

O Cebreiro: Before Us Stands A Mighty and Perilous Mountain

Starting the day I received our projected plan through Spain the name O Cebreiro loomed in my head. The ascent looked like an exponential curve at the end of the day and scared me to my bones...I do not like hills. To make matter worse, O Cebreiro was to be the longest day we had hiked so far and we were to ascend the mini-mountain after walking what was generally a normal day for us.

In preparation for what someone in our group called "The Big Game", we awoke at the very medieval hour of five (that´s 11 PM NYC time, so hopefully we were all adjusted to the time difference). The day was cool and dark as our group coasted along the highway, stopping in small towns to enjoy rare Fair Trade coffee, a bathroom break or simply a rest for tired feet. Everyone wanted to go nice and easy in preparation for the trip. We also had a second motivation to slow things down, for the first two peregrinos in O Cebreiro had to stay in the public hostel, while the rest of our crew had rooms reserved in a hotel. (The pilgrims who stayed in the hostel have reassured me that it was actually very nice and none of us had to fear).

A highlight of the day came when our group stopped for snacks and rest at the foothills of O Cebreiro and Kevin Soravilla raised our spirits with a rallying speech. Kevin told us,

"Men and Women of Fordham arise! Before us stands a mighty and perilous mountain. Though many before us have fallen, take heart, we shall prevail, for we are of Fordham. By day´s end we will be feasting in fair O Cebreiro, atop the belly of the foul beast. Show no fear, no mountain can stay our stride! Arise brave pilgrims, to the summit of victory we march! Go with God´s blessing and mine!¨

The speech was quite powerful and lifted our spirits, which were then crushed by the mountain. I won´t was hard. It was hot. I was sweaty. Some peregrinos loved the hike, loved the rush of blood in their ears and the burn in their legs, but I´m just not that kind of girl. As we ascended however, the mountain started to warm itself to me. From one of our resting points we had an amazing view of the valley below and enjoyed a cool mountain breeze. Then as we ascended further we entered a cloud and the mists covered us and cooled our overworked bodies. It was very refreshing, even for a pilgrim such as myself who couldn´t help but wonder where the godforsaken town was.

Finally, just when I thought I would go mad, O Cebreiro appeared from the mists. It felt like I had journeyed from the summer in Spain to the late winter in Ireland or Scotland in the matter of an afternoon. O Cebreiro is a town with Celtic origins, so bag pipes were playing, and it is very cold and snowy in the winter, so the ancient pallozas (round huts with straw roofs) were built solidly, to conserve heat and protect from winter´s winds. It was different, but beautiful and refreshing. I for one was happy to be cold again, and to not wear sunscreen for once.

While in O Cebreiro we also had a quick tour of the town, as we stood huddled for warmth in the entryway to Santa Maria del Real, a medieval church which is both the site of a Eucharistic Miracle and the home of an argued Holy Grail. The story of the Miracle is quite interesting. The legend tells that a poor farmer struggled through the snows one winter´s day in order to attend mass. He arrived during Mass, as the priest was about to perform the Eucharist and the non-believing priest belittled him and asked why he had risked his life for a piece of bread and a sip of wine. At that moment, the bread became real flesh and the wine became real blood and the magic of the Eucharist was reaffirmed. It´s a little gruesome, but a cool story. We also learned that our hotel was a famous pilgrim hostel and used to be the monastery of the church.

I know few people really enjoyed getting to O Cebreiro, but I think everyone enjoyed being there and it really was almost magical the way the mist obscured our view of everything more than 100M away.

Diana Moore

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Villafranca del Bierzo (Cerezas y Cervezas)

Today we journeyed from Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo. This well-preserved (yet unfourtunately hilly) town is the last we will be stopping in before reaching Galicia. Feeling somewhat epic and courageous after "playing castle" in Ponferrada, we were ready for a much longer day of walking. Our first strech was a shortcut through a somewhat depressing main street populated mostly by empty building, furniture stores, and car dealerships. However, once we rejoined the Camino route we were rewarded by the rolling hills of Spain´s El Bierzo wine region.
This was a welcome reward after a fairly boring couple of hours walking out of Ponferrada. Not only were the landscape gorgeous, but we happened to be walking through during the peak cherry (cereza) season! I bought a gigantic 3 euro bag of cherries from a man selling them on the side of the road and ate them before we even reached Villafranca. I was walking with Kevin C., Emilee, and Sara. About 5 kilometers from Villafranca we stopped at a bar that was really a very nice old man´s garage for some refreshments. Naturally, Emilee charmed what we dubbed ¨the Sal Pugsley of Spain¨with her Spanish speaking skills- he played us some bolero music, made Emilee a delicious sandwich, a pourned me a very cold and yummy cerveza.

Fortified by our snack, we forged on to Villafranca only to be met with...more cherries! Emilee charmed yet another Spainard into giving us and entire tree branch of fresh ripe cherries.

Finally, we reached Villafranca del Bierzo. We were immediately greeted by the sight of the Iglesia de Santiago, a twelfth-century Romanesque church made famous by the Puerte del Perdon or ¨Door of Forgiveness.¨This northern entrance is granted the same spiritual grace as the cathedral in Santiago so that pilgrims near death could receive the same indulgence as those who reached the Camino´s final destination. The door is closed now but luckily none of us had to use it anyway.

Nearby the Iglesia de Santiago is the Castillo de Villafranca. This castle is considered to be one of the best-preserved castles in the El Bierzo region and was built by the Marquesado de Villafranca in the late fifteenth-century. It is now privately owned so we could not go inside and play castle, but it is still an impressive sight.

As we journeyed to our albergue, we wandered down the Calle de Agua. This narrow (and a bit treacherous, considering that medieval people didn´t have any reason to build sidewalks in anticipation of motor vehicles) contributes to Villafranca del Bierzo´s medieval charm. Once inhabited by the nobles of one of Villafranca´s marquesados, Pedro Alvarez de Toledo, the houses bear the many crests of these medieval families. I like to think of it as a medieval lawn ornament.

Finally, we reached our albergue and went out to lunch as a group. Naturally, we shared a few bottles of the region´s famous wine. Between lunch and touring the city, a few of us decided to lounge around on the banks of the River Burbia. After cooling our aching pilgrim feet, we watched the clouds and identified some Camino arrow-shaped clouds in the sky. Perhaps the universe is encouraging us on our way to Santiago de Compostela!

During our tour, we also visited the Iglesia de San Francisco. This church was allegedly founded by Saint Francis when he went on his pilgrimage to Santiago in the thirteenth century. It is famous for it´s Mudejar ceiling and a retablo from the sixteenth century. I think all that anyone will ever recall from the Iglesia de San Francisco is the giant staircase we had to climb to reach it!

At the end of the day we shared a lovely picnic dinner in the town square. Dr. Gyug talked to us about the next day´s walk to O Cebreiro. Notice the upward hand motion. Yikes! Diana will tell you all about our arduous climb to this Galician town in the next blog post.

(Note: I have a few more pictures to illustrate this post, but albergue computers are not exactly lightening speed and they are talking forever to load…check back and I will post them soon!)

Katie J

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fellowship of the Camino: Lord of the Rings Cast List

While bored on the trail we have come up with several character matches for different movies and stories for the pilgrims of our group, perhaps the most extensive is that of Lord of the Rings. Due to the previous mentions of Tolkein jokes and comparisons we felt it was important to share these thoughts.

Dr. Gygug: Gandalf
Diana: Merry
Kevin S: Pippin
Mike: Gimli
Kevin C: Boromir
Reed: Faramir
Katie J: Haldir
Katie B: Elrond
Lucy: Galadrial
Sarah: Eomer
Liz: Eowyn
Maryanne: Arwyn
Emilee: Tom Bombadil
Colleen: Prince Imrahil

Signs and Wonders

As properly penitent pilgrims, we've experienced a number of signs, wonders, omens, miracles, etc., sometimes of unclear intent. Nevertheless, like good chroniclers, we record them for future generations:
  • A fountain which appeared outside of San Martin del Camino when wished for.
  • An apparition of Jesus on a wayside cross (who wanted 1 euro for a photo).
  • Bird signs: a baby swallow making its first flight successfully, some hawks, and many, many storks.
  • A charitable hermit atop a plateau at the Casa de los Dioses, a shack, who appeared to supply us with free water, fruits, and cookies.
  • Kevin S.'s continued presence with us after Ponferrada.
  • Katie' B.'s gift of tongues to converse with French people despite previous ignorance of French.
More to come...

Molinaseca: A Katabatic Journey

The trip to Molinaseca could be described as trying at best and there are not words for the worse. The morning began with a steady uphill into the fog/clouds. Up the mountainside we journeyed, onward into the mists. As we topped the cloud cover on the mountains there was a starkly beautiful view of the sky half grey with cloud and half brilliant blue. But the descent did not end, it continued on, through a series of winding paths, difficult rocky steps, and lovely wildflower fields.

At the top of the first peak there was the Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross. At the base of the cross is a massive pile of rocks, each brought by a pilgrim from their homes and left behind on the mountain top. Then a descent began, it was mostly gentle at this point and in the company of Liz, Reed, Lucy, and myself we formed something of a singing quartet to pass the time.

Due to the amount of songs we performed other pilgrims began referring to us as the singers from New York, which was rather entertaining.

Onward we tread into Majarin which sported the an avid supporter of the Templar and his store/lodge. Kevin S. of course spent a good deal of time there... The rest of the town was something of a ruin, as were most of the towns in the area.

Up we went again, and finally down, and what a down. The descent lasted for approximately 1000m closer to sea level.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ponferrada: The Order of the Knights Templar vs the Kingdom of France

Never had a more noble host of peregrinos assailed the majestic walls of Ponferrada.
Today we completed the journey to Ponferrada, a town of great importance along the Camino, the cultural center of Él Bierzo region and the last major city before Santiago. The name Ponferrada is derived from the period of Roman occupation, (Pons Ferrata) literally referring to iron supports added by Roman engineers to a main bridge travesing the River Sil.

During the reign of Augustus the town grew to great prominence as a center of gold mining making great and frequent use of the nearby mines of Las Médulas. The great Roman chronicler Pliny refers to the process by which the Romans mined as "The ruin of the mountain". Roman engineers would empty large volumes of water into the canyons, breaking up the rock and allowing miners to sift through the upturned sediment to find gold. Following the Visigothic conquest of Spain the mines fell out of use and the town fell into disrepair.

The town again emerged into prominence as a stopping point along the Camino de Santiago. In 1178 control of the town was gifted to the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon; better known as the Templars, as a gift for their successful participation in the Reconquista. Once under the stewardship of the Templar Order the town´s walls were greatly expanded and improved and its iconic castle began to take shape. The now famous Castle of Ponferrada served as the headquarters for the the Grand Master of the Castilian priories of the Order.
The Templars themselves were a monastic order dedicated to the Crusades. Saint Bernard describes these warrior monks as "A new knighthood", devoted to the true Lord, Jesus Christ and not to any fallible, feudal authority. The order became answerable only to the Pope himself and quickly grew in wealth, prestige, and importance. Not only an elite fighting force on fronts in the Holy Land and Spain, but the Order´s massive wealth came to rival and surpass many of the great kingdoms of the middle ages. It is very possible to conclude that the Order reopened operations in the long abandoned Roman gold mines and used this newly acquired gold to finance the construction of the castle as well as many of the great cathedrals and churches of the Kingdom of Leon.

The Templar dominion over the castle and town of Ponferrada ended in 1308 when the Grandmaster traded its control to Prince Philip in exchange for protection and safety during the upcoming purge of the Order. Following the disbanding of the Order and the return to royal control, continued renovations were made to the castle by the various counts and lords who held dominion over the Bierzo region. Finally in 1486 Ponferrada was absorbed into the Crown of Spain where it would remain.
A second major site of the city is the Basilica of the Virgen de la Encina. The beautiful 16th century Renaissance church was built to house a wooden relic portraying the Virgin and Child, supposedely carved by the hands of Saint Luke the Evangelist. According to legend the relic was lost in Spain during the early middle ages, only to be found in the forest by the Templars while cutting down a tree to be used in the restoration of the castle. Sadly the "true" relic has since been lost and a replacement has been constructed to take its place. The Virgen de la Encina has come to be a powerful local devotion attached to the region.

Being a young and ambitious medievalist with a great Templar obsession, today was beyond a doubt my favorite stop thus far along the Camino. Not only a great day to rest my feet after the hard climb yesterday, our group decided to play a game of Templars vs the French Government on the open fields of the old castle courtyard. With a shout of "Deus Vult!" the two armies charged forward into a pitched battle of pretend steel, invisible shields, and vain glory. Despite protestations from both sides, the match was declared a draw and a glorious Chansons de Gest was composed to honor the occasion. As expected I was remembered for bravely leading the Templars into the fray as Kevinis the Pious. The Castle stamp also contributed to a glorious afternoon as it is by far the most epic Camino stamp in the land. Buen Camino!

In honor of the Templars, I write this blog post keeping in mind that this page is "Non Nobis Domine". Kevin the Pious, Grandmaster of the Templar Order

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rabal del Camino

Carthago delenda est...

Today we arrived in Rabanal del Camino. It is a small town founded in the 12th century solely for the use of pilgrims on the Camino. We walked up hill most of the way, and though the incline was gradual the steady thinning of air was noticeable. Tomorrow we will reach our highest altitude at 1508m above sea level and the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross).

We have been told that the third day of walking will be the hardest and after this point we will find the days easier and find ourselves with more energy, hopefully this is true. The walking itself maybe tiring, but it is the ground surface which has proved to be the most difficult factor. Asphalt and concrete are to be dreaded as they leave feet aching and joints sore. However in the final kilometer of approach to Rabanal the path turned into a forgiving clay, which was much easier to walk on.

The scenery is, of course, stunning. The day varied from long expanses of flowered fields to quaint towns and villages. The mountains which previously lay ahead move closer around us and loom ever in the distance. Though the area becomes dryer and the plants more desert-ous the view remains surreally spectacular, stretching as far as the eye can see.

We have found the best cure for failing spirits while walking is a song to move to, be it the Battle Hymn of the Republic (an excellent marching song), the entire first act of Les Miserables (which takes up considerable time), or just a chorus of humming the Lord of the Rings theme while cresting a hill (always inspiring); entertainment is never hard to find. There are also, of course, quite times where there is nothing to be heard but the tread of your own feet and the wind about you. I have found that both situations have their benefits be it for camaraderie or introspection.

Tomorrow is a steep up hill followed by a rapid decline into the village of Molinaseca. As both one of the longer and more difficult walks it shall prove to be an interesting experience.

-Katie Bowens