Via de la Plata. Day 14. A day in Santiago de Compostela

After thirteen days of cycling it was good to enjoy being in Santiago de Compostela. We went to the pilgrims office to collect our final stamp and certificate and to the ‘Nederlandse Kamer’ (Dutch Room) to have a chat and a coffee. There we learned that we could get and extraordinary, extra certificate from the Saint Francis church. They give certificates once every hundred (!) years, and 2014 is a lucky year. It’s 800 years ago that Saint Francis from Asisi came to Santiago de Compostela as a pilgrim.

After our final-final stamp and extra certificate, we were just on time in the catherdral to get good places for the holy pilgrims mass. The cathedral was filled to the last standing place when the ceremony started. An older, friendly nun taught the community how to sing some of the songs during the holy mass. She did a very good job.

Although many visitors will attend the holy mass on religious grounds, the big attraction of the event is the swinging of the Botafumeiro, the largest censer (Dutch: wierookvat) in the world. Officially it is only used on special occasions, but we understand that nowadays it is used during every (= daily) pilgrims mass.

Botafumeiro
Priests with the Botafumeiro

Wikipedia:

A dome above the crossing contains the pulley mechanism to swing the “Botafumeiro”, which is a famous thurible found in this church. It was created by the goldsmith José Losada in 1851. The Santiago de Compostela Botafumeiro is the largest censer in the world, weighing 80 kg and measuring 1.60 m in height. It is normally on exhibition in the library of the cathedral, but during certain important religious high days it is attached to the pulley mechanism, filled with 40 kg of charcoal and incense. In the Jubilee Years, whenever St James’s Day falls on a Sunday, the Botafumeiro is also attached in all the Pilgrims’ Masses. Eight red-robed tiraboleiros pull the ropes and bring it into a swinging motion almost to the roof of the transept, reaching speeds of 80 km/h and dispensing thick clouds of incense. One explanation of this custom, which originated more than 700 years ago—although incense has been used in Catholic ritual from the earliest times—is that it assisted in masking the stench emanating from hundreds of unwashed pilgrims.

The rest of the afternoon I visited the very interesting Cathedral Museum, while Jos and Marjo had their own program.

We enjoyed a last tapaz meal with a bottle of Rioja wine. Tomorrow we fly back home.

Via de la Plata. Day 13. Rodeiro – Santiago de Compostela 80 km

Yes, we arrived in Santiago de Compostella!

After 1150 kilometers of cycling in the heat and the cold, in the rain (we had heavy rain this very morning) and in bright sunshine, early this afternoon we arrived in Santiago de Compostela.

Our last cycling day was actually a normal day, with a seven o’clock breakfast in rural Rodeiro, various weather conditions and our full portions of up-hill and down-hill slopes. Finally Santiago de Compostela came into sight. It was nice to arrive on the big square in front of the cathedral, but it takes a bit longer to realize that we don’t have to cycle tomorrow.

Santiago de Compostela is full of pilgrims and ‘ordinary’ tourists. We walked around in the rain, visited the cathedral and managed to get an early diner. Tomorrow we will have time to visit the city more thoroughly.

In front of Santiago cathedral

Via de la Plata. Day 12. Allariz – Rodeira 80 kilometers

‘Thou shall not take shortcuts through big cities’ should be in my manual for future cycling tours. Today we did take a shortcut through Ourense, which saved us 20 kilometers on a cold and rainy day. I must confess that it was my proposal and that I was the one that suffered most. Jos and Marjo were not so stressed by the long, long descend to Ourense on the busy N-525. They also could handle the many busy crossings, roundabouts and exits with crossing traffic.
To me it could be added as another level in Dante’s Inferno. Fortunately Jos and Marjo guided me through it.

After Ourense we followed the N-525 another 20 kilometers until we came back on the Via de la Plata. It started to rain, it was cold, the road was ascending for a long time, but we enjoyed this part much more. The scenery was rough and beautiful, the monastry in Oseiro impressive and the country roads very quiet.

The weather forcast told us to expect ‘moderate to heavy rain in the morning and patches of light rain in the afternoon’. Fortunately it was close to dry all morning and for the first time we had the wind in our back. The afternoon was indeed rainy.

We arrived in Rodeiro, where we stay in Hostal Carpinteiras. The reception was more than welcoming. The hotel could not be found on the internet, but should soon be mentioned.

Just before Rodeiro a couple of angry dogs appeared out of thin air. Gladly two Dutch guys (Wim and Joost) were with us. They carry a small anti-dog high frequency sender to scared dogs off. It’s now on my wish list.

monastry in Oseiro
Jos and Marjo with rain coats

Via de la Plata. Day 11. Vendas da Barreira – Allariz 68 kilometers

We continued along the national road N-525 all the way to Allariz. After a mild climb, a very long descend followed. Combined with the light fog (actually we cycled in the clouds) the low temperature of only 2 degrees Centigrade made the descend an extremely cold experience.
Early on during our tour we needed the downhill stretches to cool down, now we need the uphill kilometers to warm up a bit.

My tubes needed a little bit of extra air, which is normally an easy job at any gaz station, but this time we needed the gaz lady to get the job done. Two guys who we met in our hotel tried to pump some air into their tubes, but ended up with a hand job.

scenery along the national road N-525

My tubes needed a little bit of extra air, which is normally an easy job at any gaz station, but this time we needed the gaz lady to get the job done. Two guys who we met in our hotel tried to pump some air into their tubes, but ended up with a hand job.

It started to rain from time to time, but we made good progress and our target was not to far away. A huge climb and another long descend took us after 65 kilometers to Allariz, a nice little town. We decided to stay here because there is not much ahead of us with a few hours cycling.

We stay in the Hotel O Portelo Rural, which is a nice place with conventional rooms. As always, there is no problem to put our bicycles somewhere inside.

Some air in my tube

Via de la Plata. Day 10. Puebla de Sanabria – Vendas da Barreira 72 kilometers

While the weather is hot at home in The Netherlands, we are freezing in Spain. But we don’t complain, it only started to rain after 70 kilometers, where we found a comfortable place to stay.
We started the day In Puebla de Sanabria by going back to the main road, the N-525. This is, like the N-630, a long national road that runs in parallel with a new autovia (high way). There is hardly any traffic, so it looks like a main road during the final of the World Cup soccer.

Many villages along the national roads lost most of their business after the autovia was constructed. People move away, leaving the villages more and more emptied.

Today was by far the coldest day so far, but the weather forcast is not predicting much good. Jos  and Marjo were better prepared against the cold, but I have some extra clothes tomorrow if needed.

An empty road can be dull when you are just watching the asphalt all day. Some parts of today’s track were indeed not so interesting, being close to the autovia. But other stretches were going through beautiful scenery, wilder and more mountainous than most of what we have seen before. At a hight of 1200 meters we had to go through a tunnel which had good lighting. A next tunnel was quite dark, with wet spots and holes. It’s certainly not my hobby to pass those tunnels. The viaducts are sometimes spectaculair.

There are few villages in this area, but fortunately we saved some food from breakfast.

Jos
Marjo

Jos had a special experience when a deer crossed the road at high speed a few meters in front of his bicycle. We were just in a sharp descend, going over 40 kilometers per hour.

The forecasted rain arrived when we passed Vendes da Barreira after 70 heavy kilometers. We permitted ourselves an early stop at this extremely dull spot, where it smells smoky, but where it is at least dry.

Via de la Plata. Day 9. Villarinn de Campos – Puebla de Sanabria 110 kilometers

Sunday in Spain means it is even more quiet in the villages than on other days. At least that is what we expected. But that’s not the case. In the first place the villages look deserted every day of the week. More importantly, we found a nice café to drink coffee in the otherwise deserted village Bretocino.
Actually it was funny. I asked two old ladies ‘aqui possiblo bebir cafe ahora?’ And to my surprise they understood me and answered ‘si’, which means ‘yes’ in Spanish. We discovered a completely closed bar and tried the door… which opened. We got the most friendly welcome possible.

The scenery was nice most of the time and temperatures were fine.

We saw how cherries are picked. This is an agriculture region. It is also famous for its cherries.

After a long track we arrived in Puebla de Sanabria. It is a historic village with a castle and narrow streets in the ‘down town’ area, which actually is very high.
Not so nice was that the local ATM swallowed my bank pass when I tried to get some cash. No real problem, but not so friendly!

Via de la Plata. Day 8. Fuentesauco – Zamora – Villarrin de Campos 80 kilometers

The first part of today’s track was from Fuentesauco to Zamora. We had a cold start with temperatures of around 10 degrees Centigrade. That means an extra jacket, extra warm gloves (which Jos and Marjo have, I don’t) and extra leg warmers. It stayed cold most of the day, except when sitting in the sun, out of the wind. Again, we had lots of wind.

Zamora is a beautiful town, but when we arrived around 11 am, it was still empty. Finally we found a reasonable place for a coffee and cake. During the 42 kilometers before Zamora we had not seen any bar or other place to drink a coffee.

For the rest this was no spectaculair day. We enjoyed the scenery every now and then, but there were also dull, windy streches. We had a drink in a tiny bar in a tiny town. The kind of places where I usually think “I’m so glad not to live here!”.

Hotels are difficult to fond in this area, so we were happy that the friendly lady in our last hotel offered to find someting and make reservations. So we ended up in another stony village with concrete roads, empty squares, a ‘Plaza España’ and a few bars. We stay in a ver fancy ‘hotel rural’ and my room is decorated in Moroccon style.

Via de la Plata. Day 7. Guijuelo – Fuentesauco 88 kilometers

Yesterday we left Extremadura and entered the region of Castillo y Léon. This region is wel known for its green scenery and coolness. We can confirm that it is much greener than Extremadura and also that it is cool, very cool, especially during the morning.

We left Guijuelo around 7.30 am and it was not cool, it was cold. The first ten kilometers were going down, so we made some speed. Once we were down on a small bridge we were frozen. Going up warms you up from the inside, but our hands and legs stayed cold until our first stop, a few kilometers before Salamanca.

Salamanca is a beautiful city, but we did not stop for sightseeing. We have to come back to see the cities without our bicycles and without our goal to reach Santiago de Compostella.

After Santiago the road was first busy and dull, with stormy winds in our face. This made the final 30 kilometers far from easy. It felt a bit like cycling in a Dutch polder on a bright spring day with a strong northern wind. The sun radiation is strong, but the air is cool.
Closer to Fuentesauco the scenery improved dramatically. This looks like a very fertile country with gentle hills.

Fortunately the hotel Los Parros in Fuentesauco still existed and had room for three pilgrims. Actually it is a very nice place. The hotel breathes the grandeur of the early 20st century with big rooms and a beautiful gallery. Still te prices are moderate. Downstairs are the bar and restaurant where locals gather. There is a big table for the old men, playing card, watching bull fighting on tv and having their drinks. Another big table for the elderly women, all with their neat hair-do and camel vests. We had a good meal with cod, tomato sauce, white wine, bread, a salad, cuttlefish and coffee.

The village itself is stony and looks very dull, but we are happy to be here to spend the night.

Via de la Plata. Day 6. Plasencia – Guijuelo 85 kilometers

The USA has its Famous Route 66 and also the spectacular 101. Spain has its N-630, a road from South to North (vv), but we don’t know if it is famous. Since the new autovia De la Plata has almost been finished, the N-630 is now very quiet. We decided to follow the N-630 from Plasencia all the way to Guijuelo, a distance of 85 kilometers.

Most of the road was indeed quiet, at a friendly distance from the ‘autovia’. The old road goes up and down, but mostly up. We passed the highest point of our trip at 1202 meters.

There is not one formal Via de la Plata. There is the centuries old walking path, that mostly follows the old Arab South – North route. More recently the Via de la Plata for cyclist became popular, with various guide books and gps tracks. Today we cycled in parallel with the walking track and met some pelegrino’s. So far we met only one or two other cyclists.

The Romans had their own sign posts; the one in the picture is a replica.

We came closer and closer to the snow, which was a strange sight, sweating as we were, climbing another slope.

Guijuelo is an uninteresting village, which we will forget as soon as we leave it. Although, the bakery’s pastry is well worth to be reminded.

Roman road sign (replica)
Snow covered mountains in the background

Via de la Plata. Day 5. Trujillo – Plasencia 80 kilometers.

The highlight of today’s track was the National Parc of Monfragüe with its rocks and impressive griffon vultures (Dutch: vale gieren). These birds have a wing span of 2.3 to 2.8 meters and can stay in the air for hours without moving a wing. We saw many of them searching for a prey. Last year they ate a woman’s body who had fallen to death in the Pyrenees. A rescue team found only her bones and clothes. We are happy to have survived those birds.

The challanges of today were the slopes and the fierce wind that blew from the east and was extremely strong in the valley of the river Tajo (Dutch: Taag). I already imagined some headlines in the regional paper: “Tourist blown off his bike and eaten by griffon vultures.”

Fortunately we reached Plasencia were we hired rooms in the nice Alfonso VIII hotel (actually too luxurious for pilgrims). After five days of cycling we permitted ourselves an early stop after 80 intensive kilometers.

We wondered what kind of trees are dotted all over the countryside. After consulting a Dutch gardener we guess these are almond trees. Unfortunately we are too late to see them blossom.

Plasencia is another historic town with its own hero, King Alfonso VIII (picture), who founded the city in 1186. It would be nice to spend a day to see the historic buildings, but I had to restrict myself to a visit of the cathedral (picture).

We had a nice, early tapazmeal with Iberico ham, a tortilla payatas and a small ice cream.

Cathedral in Plasencia
King Alfonso in Cathedral in Plasencia