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Romanesque church, Finisterra

Finisterra to Santiago 91kms (57m)

As I crept out of the albergue in Finisterra, where people were sleeping on bunkbeds ‘cheek by jowl’, there was a massive crowd waiting at the bus stop. Finisterra had truly been the end of their journeys, and they weren’t tempted by the 90 kms trek back to town. As I set off, the friendly 30mph wind of yesterday blowing me southwards, was now directly in my face……and there was a lot of uphill to boot! Half way to Santiago I stopped at the same bar as on the way out, because the lady owner had fed me jamón and chorizo without charging me. She was delighted to see a return customer, chatted incessantly and added a little cake to my coffee (again without charging). Such are the little kindnesses of people. She was full of interesting tales about passing pilgrims.

Along the way, I chanced by other pilgrims, some already friends of the Camino, but others new faces.

Chatting with Ole, from Denmark

Ole, from Denmark, was struggling up the hill out of Finisterra, and when he saw me, he started extolling the merits of the flatness of Denmark, and tried to persuade me that it would be a good cycling destination for me. When he revealed that Denmark had only one mountain, and that was only 200 metres high,  I quietly told him I was never likely to go to Denmark for a cyling holiday. He smiled wryly and took my point.

Antonio from Cádiz

Antonio, a walker, and I had coincided in Lourenzá (he’s from Cádiz) and I said if we were to meet again on this trip, then something was seriously wrong…..! We did meet again…………and he coyly admitted he had caught a bus. I said to him “Qué más da?” (so what?). Everybody should do the bits of the Camino that suit them. He wasn’t chasing a

Irek from Poland

“Compostela” just for the sake of proving he’d completed the journey.

Irek, from Poland, had a serious language problem. His only other language was Russian, and he knew so little English that we resorted to sign language and common international words to get by. I gathered he had done the whole of the Camino francés and was about to return by bike to Lourdes. He certainly understood my farewell greeting of “buen camino”. But he must have spent several weeks communicating his way across Spain with minimal language.

José and Lucía

José and Lucía had cycled the Camino portugués from Lisbon, and we had met in a restaurant in Finisterra as I was tackling a plate of chipirrones en su tinta (cuttlefish in its own ink). José turned out to be a fan of Barcelona, and he was trying to convince me that Man U had no chance in the Champions Final. He realized quickly that he didn’t have to try too hard. Like many Spanish men,

Cuttlefish in its ink!

he was utterly puzzled as to why I had no interest in football nor in supporting a team. The next day, we met by chance in Cathedral Square (Plaza do Obradoiro), and marked the occasion with this photo, and an invitation to visit them at their home in Tenerife.

Marc (from Tarragona) turned out to be one of those larger than life characters

Marc from Tarragona

who was bubbling all the time, and you never needed to find a topic to keep the conversation going. We met at the pilgrim’s free meal at the 5* Hostal Los Reyes Católicos, where we went for breakfast this morning. This is a fringe benefit of being a “Compostela-holding” pilgrim. For three meals each day, this luxury hotel opens its doors to ten pilgrims (and no more) and you make your

The free 5* breakfast!

way through the refinement of the hotel to a staircase that takes you down to the basement. Entering the kitchen, a waiter will serve you, and you take your food to a small dining room to dine with your fellow pilgrims. This morning we enjoyed a huge tray of pastries and churros, with as much coffee and colacao as you wanted. This time, there were only five of us: a Brazilian, German, Argentinian, Spaniard and me, and the common language had to be Spanish. The poor German was reduced to sign-language! Even his English amounted to only five words. This tradition of giving free meals to pilgrims dates back to medieval times when the Hostal had formerly been a hospital for arriving pilgrims, and food and clothing had been dispensed, as well as being a place for recovery from the trials and tribulations of the journey.

As I draw the line under this final post, having a few non-cycling days in Santiago is a huge attraction. It is such a monumental city that you need a quiet time of contemplation to absorb it. But before I sign off, for those who live in or near Kimbolton in the UK, where Catherine of Aragón died, I heard a very interesting story from one of the Cathedral guides this morning. When Catherine came on pilgrimage to Santiago, before heading north to marry Prince Arthur, the huge censer (botafumeiro) fell from its moorings as it was being swung during the pilgrim mass. Remember, this is a huge 95 kilo weight! Enough to kill a few people. Apparently it has fallen only twice in its 1000 year history. The people at the time thought this was an evil omen for their Princess. Mmn… that’s an interesting thought.

Day 15:Fidenza to Aulla 74m (120km)

Got up at 6am (still dark) and out by 7am as sun was rising. It is so delightful riding in the coolness of the morning. Last  night, the Polish parish priest who is looked after by his parents, spoilt me. They provided me with food and wine, with no expectation of payment.

Passo della Cissa This climb dominated the day’s journey, landing right in the middle of the route. Though not in the same category as the Gd St Bernard, the climbing begins (seriously) 36km (23m) from the top. So that occupied about three hours, taking photos on the way up, and meeting a few very interesting VF pilgrims.

This Dutch couple (I hope they will be in touch to remind me of their names) started their trek a few days ago to complete the final 600kms to Rome (she had done stages of the route before). Charming people and I hope to meet them again. (Delighted to say they got back in touch with me on January 6th 2011 and they are called Peter Lammers and Stans Ligthart. They finished their pilgrimage on the October 29th).

This German gentleman had taken up long-distance cycling only 4  years ago, and has completed the route to Santiago, and has started the VF in  Milan.He said he used to weigh 86kilos and is now down to 70. No wonder! If you look carefully behind him, he is towing a trailer.

Motor bikers I had been warned the Passo della Cissa was a favourite climb for bikers from Parma. They always “hunt in packs” (usually of six or more) and they race up behind you and tear around the corners. They stop at their favourite watering hole and stand around admiring each others’ bikes and, yes, they are all men! All in their mid-forties and above and this is obviously their mid-life rejuvenation activity. However, some do come to grief, as you’ll see here.

An invention needed. Any volunteers? When I’m climbing big mountains, I always begin wondering how I can save weight. For some a few pounds of body-weight would help! But then I got wondering…….My drinking water (1.5ltrs) weighs about 1.5kilos, and I have both bottles full before beginning a climb. What if someone developed weightless water (or its equivalent)? There would be a good market for it amongst cyclists and walkers.

Some views from the climb today.

Castle accommodation I am using a computer at the Castle of Terrarossa, and have just been informed by the warden that I can stay the night! In fact, he will give me the key and I will have this enormous place all to myself. My first question, of course, was to ask if there are any ghosts! He assures me there aren’t any………………………….


Day 7 Brienne le Chateau to Langres 67m (108km)

Thanks to all of you who are leaving messages on my blog. I really do appreciate all of them, but due to sporadic use of the internet, I can’t personally reply to you. Please forgive me, but do keep the messages coming.

Hairy caterpillars. Let me deal with this while it’s fresh on my mind. Here in France, they willy-nilly crawl across the road with a suicide wish, and so far I have avoided killing any….yet, but I do see the letters RIP writ large every time one appears. So I have decided to start a movement to save the hairy caterpillar…………….. and it has the initials STBP. Anyone who can guess what they stand for will get a true blogger’s pat on the back!

Be warned! Never eat any food left behind in a bunkhouse by a previous occupant. I ate a few biscuits left behind, and suffered throughout the night. Having expelled the offensive material (hope children are not reading this!) I was able to get on with life as normal this morning. Phew!

Met my first pilgrims/travellers. Passed a group of at least 60 walkers, and stopped to talk to a few stragglers. All Italian, and all doing a section of the Via Francigena, in the opposite direction. To prove it, they pulled out a map of the entire route, and said the wanted to complete it one day. They were very excited to meet me, and going to their capital city too!

Lone pilgrim. Then I came across Martin, who was the very image of the pilgrim: large back-pack and a pilgrim’s staff. I jumped off the bike and walked beside him so he wouldn’t lose his rhythm. He was French and had started his route in Reims, and had just completed a week. Funny, I forgot to ask him how far he was going. So watch out for messages left in Italian and French!

Two interesting features. The Abbey at Clairvaux, established by St Bernard, a very austere monk, has now been converted into a high securty prison. There must be a message in that somewhere.

The Abbey at a tiny village called Morment, was used as a hospital for crusaders, run by the Knights Templars. But I am sure, though no reference made to it,  that it was also used by pilgrims to Rome. Ideally situated by the roadside.

VF signs. As a cyclist I am not best placed to see roadside signs as I whizz along, but I saw my first sign for the VF since Liques, in N France. I know that the closer I get to Italy, the waymarking will be in greater evidence.

Accommodation. Though nothing like the provision on the Camino de Santiago, refuges and bunkhouses are slowly appearing on the VF. I’ve had 5 nights in France so far and paid for only 3. Tonight’s is in a simple but clean hostel, with a room to myself (no N Africans this time!) for 15 euros.