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A Sunday in Poland

Life in Poland on a Sunday is extraordinary. In most countries, people would be about enjoying their free time, family time, hobby and sport time….in Poland, however, everyone is in their Sunday best, either coming from or going to Church, and invariably ending up in a restaurant for lunch.

People are constantly on the move, in groups, walking with a purpose…..there is a buzz. People are animated, chatting as they go along…..but it is obvious, everything hinges around church attendance, and masses seem to be on offer almost every hour of the day.

Poland is officially 95% Catholic, with a declared attendance rate of over 60%, probably the most observant country in Europe. This contrasts sharply with one of its neighbours, the Czech Republic, which appears to be the least observant country, not just in Europe, but the world.

In one small town, I saw a group of 4 clerics heading towards the church at 1.30pm….and there are probably more than that serving a relatively small community. In the UK, 6-7 villages will be lucky if they share one vicar amongst them.

The road I was following today changed its status at one point, and banned people like me on a bike. I was ushered onto this…

…which was rendered as this on the translation app…..

….and turned out to be a real mixture of gravel, cobbles and asphalt.

But you will, no doubt, be pleased you are now enlightened about the following crucial elements of digital life

…and I defy you to correctly pronounce the name of the village I spent last night in….

In summary

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…..now that’s an interesting thought.