Finding food on the Camino

Finding food on the Camino

How often did you have trouble finding food on the Camino?

This is a complaint that comes up on a regular basis in Camino groups. It usually has to do with one of these 2 scenarios:

  • Pilgrims are trying to get cena (dinner), but restaurants are closed and no one is serving hot food.
  • Pilgrims want to buy supplies on a domingo (Sunday) or festivo (public holiday).

To avoid either of these situations, you must understand how things work in Spain.

 

So, what do you need to know to avoid not finding food on the Camino?

Let’s start with the second situation: domingos y festivos.

Most businesses are closed on those days.

Bars and restaurants are usually open. So, eating out on a Sunday or holiday should not be a problem. At least, not at lunch time. Dinner could be tricky.

Panaderías (bakeries)  will open in the morning. But supermarkets and other shops in general will be closed. So, you could get fresh bread and pastries in the morning. But, if you’re hoping to buy something else… well, ¡buena suerte! (good luck).

In smaller towns you may find that shops close on sábado (Saturday) evening too.

Something else to keep in mind: buses and trains are less frequent on Sundays and holidays, but that’s not our topic for today, so let’s focus on food.

 

Finding food when it’s not a Sunday or holiday

Now we know what happens on Sundays and holidays. But what happens the rest of the week? Why do some people struggle to find food? And no, the answer is not siesta, in case that’s what you’re thinking.

 

The first thing you need to understand is that there are specific times for each meal in Spain. Finding a place that serves hot food outside of those times is a rare occurrence. You can find snacks, but not a proper cooked meal. 

For more info on what you can find and where, check ¿Dónde vas a comer?

Breakfast is the least important of all our meals and, as such, it’s more flexible. Most Spaniards will have a cup of coffee and a tostada (toast) or a couple of galletas (biscuits or cookies, depending on where you’re from) before heading off to work. A second breakfast, pretty much like the one pilgrims have, is common.

Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain. And lunch happens typically between 1.30-4.00pm. After 3.30 (or 3.45 at the latest), the kitchens in the restaurants close and they don’t reopen until dinner time.

 

When is dinner time?

Late, for other countries’ standards. Having dinner at 9.00, 10.00pm or even later is perfectly normal. But not such a good plan if you’re starving because you’ve only had a few snacks throughout the day. Or if you need to be back at the albergue before 10.00pm. 

Finding food

Restaurant kitchens usually reopen at 8.30pm for the dinner service. 

In this restaurant they have their kitchen times posted outside. You can see that their kitchen opens 30 minutes earlier, for both lunch and dinner, than what I said above. 

Not every single restaurant opens and closes at the same time, obviously. But finding a place that starts serving dinner before 8.00pm and lunch before 1.00pm is the exception rather than the norm.

 

What can you do?

Your best bet is to try the Spanish way: have lunch as soon as you get to your destination for the day, as long as you finish walking before 3.00pm. You can shower and rest after you’ve eaten. And then you can have something light for dinner, like a drink and a tapa or two.

Doing it like this will also give you more options, since the menú del día is usually available for lunch but not for dinner.

 

If having your main meal earlier in the day does not appeal to you, you have 2 options: starve until dinner time or find a shop selling food and buy something to help you make it until dinner time. 

 

Today’s Spanish words

For the pronunciation of siesta (and for an explanation of why siesta is usually not the answer), check 5 things you need to know about Spain.

For the pronunciation and more info on what menú del día is and how it works, check Menú del día.

For the pronunciation of tapa, check ¿Dónde vas a comer?

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

The cathedral rooftop

The cathedral rooftop

We’re going on a tour today. In Santiago. A tour of the cathedral rooftop.

I’d been wanting to take this tour for a while. I was finally able to do it a couple of months ago and I was not disappointed. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it.

 

About the rooftop tour

Let’s start with the practical stuff.

You can book your entradas (tickets) online in advance (up to 60 days), from the cathedral’s website. There are several visits available here. The rooftop tour is the one called ‘Cathedral museum, decks and Carraca’s tower’ in the English version of the website.

 

The visit includes access to the museo (museum), Pazo de Xelmírez, Torre da Carraca and a guided tour of the cathedral rooftops. You need to choose a date and a time slot. This is for the guided tour. You can visit the museum in your time, either before or after the guided tour.

 

When I took this tour, it was available in Spanish only. I heard there used to be English tours in the past, but I don’t know if they’re coming back.

 

Pazo de Xelmírez

The visit starts in the Pazo de Xelmírez (or Palacio de Gelmírez, in Spanish). You enter through the door that is located between the cathedral’s main staircase (in Obradoiro) and the arch to the left. 

 

This building is named after the archbishop who ordered its construction and it’s one of the main civil constructions of the Romanesque period in Spain.

 

One of the highlights of this visit is the big  ceremonial hall, on the first floor, built in the 13th century.

The stone carvings on the arches depict a banquet. 

part of the cathedral rooftop tour

From this room you keep going up to the rooftop. There’s a total of 105 steps. La escalera (the staircase) is not super narrow, but the steps are higher than usual.

You finally come out on the tejado from one of the towers, the one on the left as you face the cathedral from the square. 

I was lucky to do this on a clear, sunny day. The views of Santiago are amazing! And you can also see all the plazas that surround the cathedral.

 

A couple of interesting stories

Did you know that the cathedral’s bell ringer used to live on the cathedral rooftop?

Yes! Up until 1962, bell ringers and their families had a house in the area next to one of the towers, the one with the bells.

 

The last bell ringer lived there with his wife and 3 children. They had a vegetable garden, 3 goats and some chickens too. That’s right, a family of cinco (5) with their goats and chickens living on top of the cathedral and growing their own vegetables up there too. Can you imagine?

The house is no longer there but I would have loved to see it…

 

The rooftop is made of stone slabs. There used to be ocho (8) torres (towers) and battlements. Out of those 8 original towers, only 2 are left, although you can still see where they used to be. A balustrade replaced the battlements. 

 

What else is up there, apart from the amazing views?

 

A big stone basin with a ram a a metal cross where apparently pilgrims used to burn their clothes.

Some scholars think this may have originated during a plague, as a measure to prevent transmission of the disease. There are no records of how common cloth burning was or when it stopped.

 

Berenguela

The clock tower is known as Berenguela after Archbishop Berenguel de Landoira, who ordered its construction in the 14th century to defend the cathedral. That’s the reason why the lower part of the tower is quite sturdy. The upper part, where the clock is, is finer. It was added 3 centuries later.

 

This top part has 3 main elements:

  • the main campana (bell).
  • the reloj (clock).
  • the lantern.

The bell in this tower is also known as Berenguela and it’s the biggest in the cathedral. It weighs 7 tonnes. The bell we see nowadays is not the original. That one had to be taken down in 1990 because it was cracked. It’s kept in the cloister. 

The clock was added in the 19th century and has one peculiarity: it has one hand only.

The top part had a light that was kept on at all times to guide pilgrims to the cathedral. Nowadays, the light is on during Holy Years only.

You can see the light at the top of the Berenguela tower on this picture. 

Berenguela guiding pilgrims

Torre da Carraca

After the guided tour of the cathedral rooftop, you go up to the Carraca tower. If you stand on Obradoiro square, facing the cathedral, this is tower on the left.

The one on the right has bells. This one has a carraca (rattle) instead. This huge rattle is used on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, instead of bells.

From up here, you truly have a 360 degree view of Santiago. 

 

You know what they say… am image is worth 1000 words. So, I’ll let the pictures speak. Enjoy the views!

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

*entrada means entrance too, as well as ticket.

For the pronunciation of plaza, check this post on Santiago de Compostela.

For the pronunciation of cinco, check this post on the Holy Year.

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

The Camino with no Spanish

The Camino with no Spanish

I often see questions about whether it’s OK to walk the Camino with no Spanish or whether it’s a good idea to learn some before your Camino.

The answers range from “no need, a smile is enough” to “the more your learn, the richer your experience will be”.

As you can imagine, I don’t agree with the first group. If that’s how they want to do their Camino, that fine. It’s their Camino. And their loss too.

The most common reasons people give to learn at least some basic Spanish:

  • it’s the polite thing to do and it makes the locals more receptive to your needs. True.

 

  • it reduces the chances of feeling frustrated when you need to communicate and you can’t. Also true.

 

  • it also reduces the chances of of feeling lonely and isolated if you happen to have no English speakers around you. Again, true.

 

Let me add another reason. It is not mentioned so frequently, but it’s equally important, in my opinion.

  • you learn so much about Spain and broaden your mind.

 

You’re going to spend some time in the country. A few días (days) at least. A few semanas (weeks) in many cases.

And you don’t learn anything about the country you’re walking through?

A silly example:

I can’t believe how many people think these are mausoleums… or chicken coops! 

They’re called hórreos and they were used to store mainly maíz (corn), but other food too.

They vary a little depending on the region. But they are all elevated from the ground to keep the crops dry and to keep rodents out. 

Combarro, on the Variante Espiritual

More serious examples

I’ve witnessed this many times:

People post on social media about their Camino. They share pictures, as well as their general comment about a number of things.

The kind of stuff I read sometimes… let’s just say there’s a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking coming from me.

You can tell that these people came to Spain with a mochila full of stereotypes and preconceived ideas. Everything they see, they interpret it through those stereotypes and misconceptions.

They speak no Spanish.

They don’t talk to any locals.

So, they go back home with the same incorrect beliefs they had when they started.

They learn nothing about Spain. Their wrong beliefs are reinforced.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

 

 

People with no Spanish at all

Not too long ago, I started following someone’s daily posts on a Facebook group about their Camino Portugués. The reason I started following was the captions of some of the pictures: any resemblance to reality was pure coincidence.

Clearly, these people had this idea of Spain as a deeply Catholic, very traditional country. And that’s how they saw it.

A random building was, in their eyes, a church.

A mural, in a fishing village, depicting fishing scenes, was a religious painting.

A person begging outside an iglesia (church) was someone dressed in traditional clothes.

A couple of other things they said, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.

 

According to their own comments, these people did not speak a word of Spanish, they didn’t interact with any locals, other than to try to get food and accommodation. They completed their pilgrimage and went back home having learned nothing about Spain. A missed opportunity.

 

 

People who know better than you

But there’s another type of pilgrim that totally baffles me. The one who arrives with their mochila full of stereotypes and misconception… and refuses to accept that they are wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I had to make a huge effort to not be rude to someone on social media. This person shared their thoughts about their recent Camino experience.

Among other things, they said that supermercados (supermarkets) in Spain have small puertas (doors) to protect the front of the building because ‘these people have lived with civil war in their country up until recent times’.

I replied that the Spanish civil war ended more than 80 years ago (it took place between 1936 and 1939) and that the size of supermarket doors have nothing to do with it.

Well, apparently I know nothing about my own country. This person went on to give me a lecture on Spanish history.

I ‘learned’ that we were having civil wars in Spain up until the mid 70s. Maybe we weren’t as affected in my area, that’s why I don’t know. Really?

I don’t claim to know everything about Spain. I know I don’t. But not knowing if I’m living in a civil war?

Excuse me while I roll my eyes again.

 

And I won’t get into the siesta comments because I get very triggered by those and I could be ranting here forever. If you want to know more about the truth behind siesta, you can check this other article I wrote a while back.

But can anyone truly believe we sleep up to 7 hours in the middle of the say? A recent post I saw reminded people that ‘most towns have siesta from around 12.30pm to 5 or 7pm’. I love my sleep but seriously?

So, please, don’t be like these people and don’t waste the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Spanish culture. You don’t need to be super fluent. But make at least an effort. You will be rewarded for it.

 

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Muxía

Muxía

After making it to Santiago de Compostela, many pilgrims decide to continue on to the sea, to the ‘end of the world’ in Fisterra. Others prefer to go to Muxía, also on the same stretch known as Costa da Morte (coast of death) but further north. And some, of course, go to both places. They’re both close to 90km from Santiago, and they both have a connection to the Camino. 

 

We’ve already visited Fisterra in a previous post, so today we are taking a walk through the history of Muxía with Sarah Blanquet, who lives there

 

 

Muxía and the Camino

This little fishing town, located on the coast of Galicia, is considered one of the last stops of the Camino de Santiago. But in order to understand how this small remote village became an essential part of the Camino, we must dive into history.

 

Since the beginning of time, different populations have lived in this beautiful region in the northwest tip of the Iberian peninsula. Megaliths such as the Dolmen de Dombate (Dombate dolmen) bear testimony to ancient settlements and remind us of the strong connection between nature and  spirituality in this area. Indeed, these monuments reveal that stones in this region have always been sacred. Stones marked spiritual places. Stones held healing powers. Stones connected humanity to the great beyond.

These stones and beliefs transcended time and faiths.

Centuries later, they were to help the apóstol Santiago (saint James) himself. Legend has it that he fell to his knees in despair on the very coast of Muxía, where he was preaching the gospel without much success. Suddenly, the Virgin Mary appeared to him on a boat. It was, of course, a boat made of stone. She comforted and encouraged him and, while her words dissipated in time, she left behind a stone boat that can still be seen to this day.

Muxía

Stones on the coastline of Muxía.

Muxía

Church of the Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Barca.

The stone boat ran aground in the Santuario de la Virgen de la Barca, where it was divided into multiple parts: a sail, a rudder and the ship itself. But what’s even more fascinating about this legend is that, to this day, many of the piedras (stones) are still surrounded by mysticism. 

 

 

Pedra dos Cadrís, Muxía

Pedra dos Cadrís, the sail of the stone boat that carried Mary.

The sail, also known as pedra dos Cadrís*, is said to heal back pains if you go under it nine times.

As for the ship, the Pedra de Abalar, it has a perimeter of almost 31 square meters and belongs to the set of so-called oscillating stones. This means the stone can move slightly when people walk over it. Over the centuries, this characteristic was believed to have all kinds of purposes: fortune-telling, magical-healing and, above all, fertility-inducing.

 

As you can see, myths, traditions and catholicism merge in this powerful location. That’s probably why it is no wonder that, overtime, pilgrims started to walk from Santiago to this holy site in order to finish their Camino de Santiago

Nowadays, Muxía is part of the extension to Fisterra and many pilgrims decide to “walk the extra mile” and enjoy the wonderful views of the sunset in the Océano Atlántico (Atlantic Ocean). 

What about you? Where do you want to end your Camino? 

Today’s words

*pedra dos Cadrís: ‘pedra’ is the Galician word for stone (piedra in Spanish). Cadrís is also a Galician word and it means hips.

Abalar is another Galician word. It means to rock or swing.

For the pronunciation of Fisterra and costa da Morte, check this post.

 

Sarah Muxía

 

Sarah Blanquet is a passionate Spanish teacher who lives in Muxía. She studied a Translation Degree then a Master’s in Teaching Spanish. She helps learners speak confidently and enjoy their learning process.

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Galician language on the Camino

Galician language on the Camino

We’re not going to learn Spanish today. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the Galician language. More specifically, I’m telling you about the Galician language you’re more likely to see on the Camino de Santiago.

 

Yes. I know this page is called Spanish for the Camino and (almost) every post includes a few Spanish words or phrases you can use on the Camino, or elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world. But Spanish is not the only language spoken in Spain. It’s not the only language you’ll encounter on the Camino either, as we discussed in previous posts.

For instance, you will come across Basque as you walk through País Vasco and Navarra. Oihana teaches us some basic words in this post.

 

Also, once you enter Galicia you’ll start seeing and hearing galego (Galician). Rest assured. Everyone can and will speak Spanish. But it can be nice and even helpful at times to be familiar with some common words you’re likely to see often.

 

I wrote another post about the Galician language before. In it, I gave you a very summarised history of the language, and your first basic words (greetings, please, thank you…). You can read that post here.

In this post, I thought I’d focus on things you will see around you, like names of towns or signs.

 

But first, let me give you some more background, so you understand the sometimes difficult linguistic situation we have over here.

 

Some more history of Galician

As I told you in a previous post, Galician was banished from public life in the 15th century, and it remained so until the 19th century. During this period, the upper classes spoke Spanish, while Galician remained the language of the lower classes. Add to this the fact that Galicia became impoverished during this time and many had to emigrate. In many cases, these people were ridiculed and made fun of because of their language.

 

These 2 facts contributed to create the belief, that many still hold today, that Galician is an inferior language, that if you want to do well in life, you must speak Spanish and not Galician. This explains why during that period many names of towns (and family names too) were changed to make them sound more Spanish.

 

Today, the official name of every Galician town is in galego, but there are still remnants of those old beliefs. To use an exampled I’ve mentioned before, Fisterra is the official name of the town where many end their Camino, but you’re likely to see Finisterre too.

 

Not every town has 2 names, but there are several well-known Camino towns where this happens. Wikipedia, for instance, tends to favour the Spanish name. Certain apps will only display the Spanish name too.

 

Muxía is an example of this. The Spanish-sounding version is becoming less and less common, but you may still see Mugía in places. Melide may sometimes appear as Mellid and Tui is still frequently spelled as Tuy (no change of pronunciation in this case).

 

Galician on the Camino

The use of galego varies across the region, so how much of it you see or hear will depend on where you are. But there are common words you’re likely to see.

Rúa (calle in Spanish): street

Praza (plaza in Spanish): square

Igrexa (iglesia in Spanish): church

Mosteiro (monasterio in Spanish): monastery

Concello (ayuntamiento in Spanish): town council

Castelo (castillo in Spanish)

 

Galician language
Calle Peregrina Pontevedra

What is your experience? Has this ever caused confusion for you? Share your anecdotes!

 

Today’s words

For the pronunciation of calle, iglesia and monasterio, check Camino Inglés: de Ferrol a Neda.

For the pronunciation of plaza, check Santiago de Compostela.

For the pronunciation of castillo, check Finisterre.

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Through a field of stars

Through a field of stars

Through a Field of Stars

Brian John Skillen, is a professional filmmaker, author, and international dance instructor. His many adventures around the world have strongly influenced his life, but nothing has affected him more than his pilgrimages along the Camino de Santiago. He was first inspired to write the Through a Field of Stars trilogy on his pilgrimage in 2017, where he was told about the clues the Knights Templar left behind on the Camino de Santiago.

Since 2017 he has walked over 1,000 miles across Spain doing research for the trilogy. He has walked the miles his characters have walked and learned the lessons they have learned. All of the characters in the novel that aren’t based on historical people are based on pilgrims Brian met on his Camino. Brian’s goal with the trilogy is to inspire one million people to take a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.

He tells us more about in this guest post. Over to Brian!

Flecha azul

 

 

Have you ever seen something so amazing it changed your life in an instant?

In 2017, I took an epic pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. I saw many amazing things, but when I first saw the Arc of San Anton, I knew my life would never be the same. To me, it looked like something that could only exist in a movie or a novel. Stepping through the Arc was like stepping into another world. Something about me and my life changed as I emerged on the other side.

 

I didn’t know it then, but that was a defining moment for me as a person. I didn’t know that after stepping through the Arc of San Anton, I would  hang up my dance shoes and trade them in for a story. I didn’t know that I would face one of my biggest fears and achieve something that I thought was impossible… 

 

Just past the Arc of San Anton is the city of Castrojeriz—a hilled city with the ruins of a castle on top. Once again my breath was taken away. When I first saw the city, I thought, My God, someone has to write a book about this place! Little did I know I was going to be that someone.

 

Every Camino is like a lifetime—you begin as one person and end up leaving as someone completely different. 

The Knights Templar

At the albergue (pilgrims Shelter), I looked at my credencial (pilgrims passport) and noticed that the stamp for the city was the cross of Jerusalem. After seeing some Knights Templar symbology at the Arc of San Anton and in the city, I made a comment about the Templars. The hospitalero (person who runs the hostel) raised an eyebrow and asked, “What do you know about the Knights Templar?”

This question led to a long discussion about the importance of the Templars on the Camino de Santiago and in Castrojeriz. The hospitalero told me that there used to be several Templar commanderies in the city, and that the entire hill was hollowed out with tunnels that the Templars had used for rituals and to store their treasure. As we were finishing, he lowered his voice and told me to look for the clues that the Templars had left behind on the Camino.

The next morning I woke up with the hospitalero’s stories still in my head. As I was leaving the town, I did something significant that has changed my life. I took my most valuable possession—my dance shoes—from my backpack and left them at a second-hand store. I said to the world, “I will trade these in for a story.” This may not seem like such a big deal, but for someone who has been a professional dancer for the past twenty years, it was huge. This was my symbolic gesture of stepping into a new time in my life.

Every day after I made that declaration, the people I met and the experiences I had, all came together to form The Way: Through a Field of Stars. 

There was only one problem though, I grew up with dyslexia and a third-grade reading and spelling level in highschool—who was I to write a book?

 

Writing the story

However, once it has been unleashed, nothing can stop inspiration. On the Camino, I woke up every morning before the sun and walked under the stars. As I hiked, The Way: Through  Field of Stars played like a movie in my head, and I dictated exactly what I was seeing into my phone. 

By the end of my Camino, I had the entire story outlined in an audio format. Now, I had to face my biggest fear, actually writing the book down on paper.

I mix up letters in words, and I didn’t learn the rules of grammar—so writing a book was something I never thought I would do. As I returned home, I committed to writing 2,000 words a day no matter what. At first it was incredibly hard and took a very long time—as I had to teach myself the rules of grammar. But, I stayed committed—and within three months, I had finished the first draft of my novel. I thought it was perfect, however as most of you know, the Camino doesn’t always provide what you want, but exactly what you need to fulfill your life’s purpose.

When I showed the book to my girlfriend (who is now my wife), she answered honestly and said it needed some work. After learning more about editing and publishing, we reached out to fifty agents and all we got in return were two rejection letters and forty-eight other agents that didn’t even bother to write back.

In 2020, we realized the book was as far as we could take it ourselves so we ran a Kickstarter to hire professional editors, formatters, designers, etc. We raised $10,000 in presells on Kickstarter and since publishing The Way: Through a Field of Stars, it has won an Eric Hoffer Award in the Spiritual Fiction category and has also reached the #1 Amazon Bestseller spot in several categories.

 

My wife and I are currently launching the second book in the series Back: Through a Field of Stars on Kickstarter until July 9, 2021. Follow our Kickstarter link to get both books and support the creation of a new novel. Also, if you are interested in how we launch books on Kickstarter, you can join our free group on Facebook—Kickstarter to Amazon Best Seller. We believe in a life of contribution and are happy to share some of the things we have learned along the way.

 

My wife and I returned to the Camino in 2019 and my favorite phrase to say was Soy escritor. I declared that “I am a writer” in Spanish, long before I did in English. I hope your Caminos bring you as much growth, inspiration, and love as mine did—Buen Camino!

 

Some of our favorite Spanish words and phrases we use on the Camino

Zumo de naranja – Fresh squeezed orange juice

Tortilla – an egg dish they serve at breakfast

Leche de soja  – Soy milk

¿Dónde está el albergue municipal? – Where is the state run hostel (these are usually the most cost efficient)

¿Cuándo es la misa?  When is the Mass?

Through a field of stars

For more on Brian and his novels, follow this link.

 

Today’s Spanish words

For the pronunciation of credencial, check ¿Cómo vas a hacer el Camino?

For the pronunciation of albergue, check ¿Dónde vas a dormir?

For the pronunciation of hospitalero, check El albergue.

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!