SPAIN: Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Part 1, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Signpost to Santiago de Campostela, Spain
My friend and fellow children's book writer, Gretchen Woelfle, is an avid and accomplished cyclist. Here is her report of her recent bicycle trip in Spain following the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The second half of her report will post next week. 

Back around 840 CE, a bishop reported that a pile of bones had washed up in a stone boat on the northeast coast of Spain. He claimed they belonged to St. James the apostle.  How James, beheaded in Jerusalem, got to Spain is unclear. Some say transported by angels. In any case, by the 11th century, the bones and their many attributed miracles brought a stream of pilgrims from all over Europe to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. This stream shows no sign of drying up.
A welcome coffee break along the way
Today tens of thousands of people make their way to Santiago from France, Portugal, and northern Spain. In the past, most walked while the rich rode on horseback or in carriages. Today most still walk and some ride bicycles. I was one of the cyclists this past September. 
The scallop shell is the Camino's logo and can be seen everywhere along the route
Our group began in Leon, 340km (211 miles) from Santiago and cycled for six days. All day long we passed backpacking pilgrims and exchanged greetings: “¡Buen Camino!” Many hikers stay in spartan hostel or monastery dormitories.  We stayed in hotels with hot showers. We met two older couples who walked all day, but hired a taxi to take their backpacks from inn to inn.
A bicyclist's view of Galicia
The Camino grew steeper and more scenic as we entered Galicia with wooded mountains, streams, rivers, and ancient villages – and its own language. Restaurants offered reasonably-priced “pilgrim’s dinners” which included good local wines. We saw the Camino logo, a scallop shell, everywhere – on doors, gates, and signposts, in gift shops, and tied to walkers’ backpacks.
Gaudi palace in Astorga
In Astorga we had a view from our balcony of the Bishop’s Palace, designed by Gaudi. In Molinoseca, a small village, we cooled off in the Meruelo River.
O Cebreiro bagpipe band
A stroke of serendipity found us in the hilltop village of O Cebreiro on the feast day of the Virgin Mary. Dozens of vendors selling cakes, honey, cheese, garlic, and other regional specialties joined thousands of people who had come to celebrate. The small church, lit by hundreds of votive candles, echoed with medieval organ music. Outside, a bagpipe ensemble harkened back to Galicia’s Celtic roots.
Tympanum of San Xoan, Portomarin
The Romanesque church in Portomarin drew me to its unadorned elegance. In the 1960s, it and the entire town were relocated stone by stone from a nearby valley when a huge hydroelectric dam was built. Rambling through the cobblestone streets, I couldn’t imagine the effort that went into such a project.

Look for Part 2 and the completion of Gretchen's bicycle pilgrimage next week, November 21, 2016

For more information on the history and geography of the Camino de Santiago, see http://santiago-compostela.net
I booked my cycling trip with Exodus Travel: https://www.exodustravels.com/usa


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