31 Oct – A very fine day.

We only walked about 17 kms today. A bit of recovery has been needed after yesterday! It took us ages to walk out of the huge urban sprawl we’d become sort of mired in as of about noon yesterday. Vigo is a large place and city walking really isn’t pleasant. The constant traffic noise. The exhaust. The dodging of people. The unrelenting pounding of feet against hot hard pavement. The constant search for the correct route. The frustrations when a Way Marker is missed because a delivery van was parked in front of it…..

But we finally made it into a more tranquil country-side and enjoyed about 6 kms of off road walking. Bliss!

This evening we are back in an Albergue. 14 beds in our room. A few other pilgrims. We are hoping for a few more as there is a group of Boy Scouts waiting to get in if there is room. We hope there will not be room! The building we are staying in is a reworked 16th century mansion in a beautiful old part of Redondela. There is a washing machine here – omg so wonderful! Here’s Pat under our laundry – happy days, and Pat in our dorm – so far all women – here’s hoping because Jan’s doing a great job sending the stinky guys into the room next door! 

27, 28 and 29 Oct – On being a Pilgrim…

We’ve enjoyed another three days of wonderful walking. Some ups and downs and into the coastal hills from the dunes of the shoreline. Through farm land, forests and charming old villages. This part of Portugal and today into Spain seems quite affluent and some of the homes we’ve passed by are palatial. Swimming pools built into rocky outcrops by the ocean, lush manicured gardens, high walls. Farm fields are well kept and prolifically producing vast quantities of fall veggies. We’ve walked along quite a few cobble stone lanes between high stone walls interspersed with intricate wrought iron gateways between stone pillars and archways. We’ve crossed ancient stone bridges over burbling brooks. We’ve popped into tiny smoky cafes for water breaks. We’ve enjoyed delicious bakery concoctions and coffee for breakfasts. (Well Pat and I succumb to the sweet baked delights – Jan shows restraint and eats a dry bread roll with her coffee. I know – the model of dietary decorum.) We’ve enjoyed balmy breezes off the Atlantic and walked to the sound of waves crashing upon the beach. The churches are numerous and all quite ornate – both large and small. There are numerous stone crosses along the route as well. “Our” yellow waypoint arrows and shell markers – guide us along this diverse winding route of the Compostela seeking pilgrim. This walk is a much easier endeavour than the Via Egnatia! It is also rather more friendly. Here people we pass wish us well on our pilgrimage. It’s friendly and our quest understood.

We have also continued to stay in Albergues – some of dubious comfort. Yesterday evening we were in a damp basement room that could accommodate 64 pilgrims in bunk beds. All in one room. Not my idea of pleasant but – we three have the place almost to ourselves so despite the dampness it was marginally acceptable. The other two occupants were a pair of fellows from Hungary. The showers were hot and that makes up for a lot of other comforts that at lacking. The mattresses are often thin and plastic as are the pillows. There are sometimes no towels. Now the previous night we had flannel sheets on the equally thin mattresses, towels and sheets but the shower was fairly dismal and mixed gender so one never knows. The night before there was a tap – just like Nepal for a shower. 
Tonight our albergue is outstanding! There are comfortable mattresses with sheets, a blanket and pillow with case. All clean and dry! We had a delicious dinner served to us because there’s no where around that’s open…. Really the best place so far. But also the most expensive – 10 euros each! And the water was hot. And there is a place to hang our clothes. Life is good. Internet is generally abysmal. Mostly non existent. With luck this will eventually be sent from an Internet enabled Cafe……
It is our custom to wash our clothes in the evening. This entails a scrubbing and rinse while we shower or in a sink afterwards. We hang them somewhere to sort of dry then in the morning we pin the still wet items around our packs so they finish drying as we walk. A usual scenario is to have a pair of socks, a pair of knickers and a shirt plus a towel draped on our packs as we walk. As the day progresses and things dry they get tucked inside. This evening when Pat went for her shower she had a terrible fright. Her clean knickers that had been drying on her pack were gone. Vanished. Somewhere back on the 25 km trail presumably. We each have two pairs of this essential item. One to wear and one to have drying. So this left Pat in a rather desperate situation. This story ends well. She did eventually find the missing garment hiding and dry at the bottom of her pack! The pilgim’s trials and tribulations know no bounds! 

Back to the scenery – it is lovely here and this is why I walk. Pictures are worth 1000s of words so here are a few….

27 Oct – a beautiful day by the beach

We had a glorious sunny warm walk today. Much of it on board walk along the Atlantic coast. So very nice to walk on the springy surface of a wood rather than the cobbles. Although we had a fair bit of the dreaded cobble too. We are now about 25 kms further north than we were this morning in a small town called Marinhas. Once again we are in a “by donation” Albergue. This one a nice old stone building. There’s  a large mixed gender bed dorm but only occupied by the three of us, a family of four on a year long trip from Belgium and “our” young Spanish man who was at last night’s hostel. All of us are Camino pilgrims as only pilgrims are permitted to stay in these places. As pilgims we have special credentials which we must get stamped along the route. It’s really quite a fun experience. The local people we meet are very keen to point the way and wish us a good pilgrimage. The way is also well marked with various yellow arrows and shell tiles as signs. Some are obvious, some are in funny partly hidden places but they are always there to guide us on our way. 

Here in Albergue S Miguel there is a kitchen, not well equiped like last night, but we have Jan and she works miricals in ill equiped kitchens. Here too is a washing machine! Oh wow. Pat and I have only had our clothes machine laundered once since we left home so this was an amazing luxury. We now have a rather frightening amount of laundry hanging on a drying rack. Hoping it’s dry by the morning. Back to the kitchen and Jan –  We’ve had a dinner of salad and chicken and a litre of wine for euros 4.00 each! Food here is so much less expensive than Greece or Turkey! And these albergues to stay in are also quite handy! So life is good. Here’s a few pictures from today.

26 Oct – on the trail again – now in Portugal

We spent most of a day flying Thessaloniki – Munich – Lisbon – Porto. All connections went well. Our trekking poles showed up – we’d checked them. They were a tiny bundle which slid down into the carousel in a huge plastic bin. Pat had checked her knife carefully stowed in her pole bag but it had done a mysterious escape during transit. Otherwise just a long uneventful day of airports and planes.

Getting metro tickets to ride into Porto from the airport was a mission. A very user unfriendly system. Just four machines for all the people coming off planes. Very poor instructions  so there is one person per two machines helping people. The process was excruciatingly slow so the line ups long. We did finally hop on a very crowded metro train and were deposited within a few short blocks of our hostel. Pat and I arrived in daylight and have the aid of “pocket earth” on our iPads  so it was a quick and easy find. Poor Jan arrived about 11pm in the pouring rain with no pocket earth so she wandered around in the dark for quite some time before locating the small unlit red door which is the entrance to the hostel. Needless to say Pat and I had been fretting for a few hours about where she was as her plane had arrived much earlier. We were very relieved to see her! Jan seemed pretty relieved to be in out of the rain!

The day before yesterday we became pilgrims. I’ll tell you more about that in a separate blog. We set off under sunny skies! The clouds having emptied themselves overnight. Our first day of walking took us out of Porto to just north of the airport! Seems funny that we spent the entire day retracing the distance of the previous day’s half hour metro ride. City walking is noisy and hard underfoot. It’s not my favourite by a long stretch. The achetecture is really interesting here though. Many houses and buildings are faced with tile. Entire walls of blue, or yellow, or green or brown tiles. Some are plain – just one colour – but many are patterned. It’s distinctive  to this area I gather and it is very pretty. Most of the roads we walked along are cobbled. Even the newer ones. Vehicles driving on cobbled roads make a tremendous rumbling racket. Our walking poles click away incessantly and sometimes get stuck in the cracks. One has to be careful to not trip over the uneven bits which are especially prevalent at the roads edges. Hmmm – cobble stone looks nice but I’ll be glad when we’re walking on a quieter softer surface.

We stayed the night in Vilar de Pinheiro. Our hostel was an OK place. Three little beds in a row. Bedding dubious – we used our sleeping bags. An ancient dysfunctional TV. One light bulb to light the entire room which burnt out so we packed up in the morning with our head lamps. Damp towels – straight off the line with their drying incomplete. Hot water for our showers though, despite a scuzzy bathroom. Our dinner was at a delightful family owned menu-less restaurant where, through the suggestion of our charming and amusing waiter, we enjoyed an enormous plate of fried cod and chips washed down with excellent wine. Of course a second bottle managed to find its way back to our room with us for a wee night cap. That bottle cost us 3.00 euros! OMG after the crazy prices Pat and I had been paying in Istanbul, this is a wonderful change!

Yesterday’s walk brought us into a less heavily populated area but we’ve essentially been walking through the extended hinterland of Porto. We are now in Povo de Varzim. Still the hard on the feet cobble roads all the way. Pretty much more of the same scenery – tiled houses, lots of churches, rumbling traffic, but a bit more green space. We are staying in a “by donation” hostel. Our nicest accommodation in Portugal so far. Huge well equiped kitchen/dining room. But no crockscrew. What kind of self respecting kitchen is lacking this esential item? Pat and I are however now experts at breaking into bottles with our special chip and hammer technique. The only other downer of this place – not much hot water. My shower was cold – I detest cold showers. No towels of course. We shopped for groceries and ate in – total cost for the three of us including supplies we bought for breakfast euros 4.40 each! Now there’s a deal. We enjoyed another warm sunny day too which is another bonus as the weather forecast had not been promising.

Will send pictures a bit later. Am writing this while Pat and Jan sleep (it’s 6:30 am) and I’ll rustle around too much during the process of getting my pictures loaded from camera to I Pad. 

Our last few days in Istanbul

Last night we caught the night bus back to Thessaloniki Greece. We’ve had such a good time in Istanbul and feel we got to know the city quite well. We did the usual tourist things then walked and walked. We explored all sorts of interesting neighbourhoods. We walked up one side of the Golden Horn. We walked up a good chunk of the European side of the Bosporus. We took the ferry, rode the city buses, trams and metro. There’s a card for that which made this an easy method of getting about. We had our favourite Turkish delight shop, same for wine – the owners of both shops quickly came to know what we wanted before we even entered. We had our favourite take out food place, and of course our fish place by the bridge. 

We encountered no problems worse than saying no to cheeky carpet sellers. Twice we came across police and crowds of noisy men shouting and running. We just turned and went in the opposite direction. Never heard anything about either event on the local news so remain clueless. 

We had our hair cut at a very odd little place – good thing hair grows! Not the best cuts we’ve ever had. We mailed parcels home to ourselves and had fun at the post office. No one spoke English there but everyone was willing to help us out. As we showed up with our stuff in a couple of plastic bags this included getting us boxes and taping the contents up…. For no extra charge by the way. Can’t see Canada Post being quite so helpful.

So, here we are back in dirty, dilapidated Northern Greece. Such a marked difference in attitude, and activity level. No one here has a carpet to sell and even if they did they’d likely not bother to ask if we wanted to buy it. Those Turks hustle customers to buy a coffee. The Greeks sigh if a customer enters their coffee shop because they have to then go to the trouble of making a coffee or two….

Ten days in Istanbul was however enough. It is a busy, crowded (17million), noisy city. It is also mostly beautifully looked after. Yes there are rubbishy bits (but work is on going on those parts) yes there is some garbage around (but there are numerous street cleaners) yes some of their side walks could do with some work (and in many places that work is being done). There is pride. The smallest parks and the largest are tidy, there is no graffiti, weeds are pulled, flowers are planted, shrubs and trees are trimmed. Here – not so much – there is no evidence of pride here at all and it shows.

Some parting shots from Istanbul.

16 Oct – Lunch at the fish market and other stuff

Today Pat and I walked over to visit Galata Tower on the other side of the Golden Horn inlet and then had lunch at the fish market – also on that side of the inlet. We’re getting to know our way around these neighbourhoods quite well now so we took a shortcut through the palace gardens. Across the bridge we went – and then up the hill on the other side. We arrived at the tower really quickly  – and decided to not go up it due to a rather long line to get in. Besides it was lunch time… The fresh fish called! I mean the food was the real attraction! Historic towers  – Ho hum!

Down we went to the fish market. It was just as busy today as the last time we were here. A friendly fellow filled us in on the etiquette for acquiring a fresh fish sandwich. One of the cheapest best meals we’ve had in Turkey materialized before our eyes. The sandwhich was a loaf of bread slit lengthways and involved a whole fish minus head and tail plus salad and a large chunk of lemon.  We headed off to the near-by park where we’ve seen locals consume these delights. It was quite a messy business but we eventually devoured everything! 

Our next mission was to figure out how we will get to the main long distance bus station on the day we leave here. This accomplished – there’s a local bus that we can catch – we searched for the post office – unsuccessful but we do now know where it isn’t. We have a few things to mail home! Then commenced our usual search for affordable wine, some olives and cheese for dinner.

Istanbul mostly delights. It is fairly clean and really beautiful. There are parks and squares and open places. However – this is at times a demanding city. The relentless requests to look in this shop or that, to buy carpets, to eat here or drink there. I imagine Morocco will be worse. Even so there is sometimes a certain edginess when we say “no thanks.” Tourist numbers are down a little so perhaps that is a cause, but some men here might want to adjust their manners if they really want to encourage customers. We continue to be more than slightly flabbergasted by the mixed messages sent by some women’s fashion choices. We have concluded that the women – especially young – attired in Niqab are thus clothed as personal statements of fashion, rebellion, extremist ideologies, or provocativeness …… Not because someone such as a father, brother, or husband has told them this is how they must present themselves. And yes Niqab can be an outstandingly provocative garment – wearing it is clearly not necessarily about modesty.

The five times daily calls to prayer erupt as loud wailings which send seagulls and pigeons fluttering. Cats and dogs twitch and stir but no one else seems to pay much attention. I’m sure someone somewhere grabs their prayer mat and rushes off to a mosque but we’ve not seen that happen. Business is conducted as usual if one can hear to haggle over the general din. There are so very many mosques and minarets here – the beautiful slender spires dominate the sky line – but every single mosque is on a slightly different schedule! The resultant call to prayer is an exotic but unsynchronized racket. Have to say – we like it. Well maybe not the one that happens about 5:45am!

With that in mind – time for shut eye. Will send pictures in the morning.

15 Oct – A surprising Hamam experience

Well! We are clean. So very very scrubbed and soaped and oiled! Rather a delightful experience with a few odd moments tossed in.

We started our day with a visit to AyaSofya – originally built by the Romans, it has been a venerated Christian church, then a proud Muslim mosque, it has been subjected to numerous riots and burnings yet has always been rebuilt. Each rebuilding has been grander than the previous. Multi domed and cavernous it is now a museum of significant majesty and grace. Numerous Christian mosaics decorate the walls and vaulted ceilings upon which hang large wooden discs of Islamic inscriptions. I have to say these circular inscriptions seem a bit like hastily placed decals despite their enormous scale. To think that both ideologies live in harmony within this space would be naive. The mosaics were once damaged and plastered over. Their preservation is due in part to the building now being a museum. Regardless of a troubled complex history, the place is impressive and to visit Istanbul without entering AyaSofya might be considered touristically sacrilegious.

Our next stop was to explore beneath the city into the depths of an ancient Roman water cistern. Also cavernous, but quite damp. A place of remarkable engineering and subtle beauty but not particularly spiritual….other than Medusa’s upside down head. Weird. We didn’t turn to stone when we looked at it so all is well. A bit of a creepy place of dripping water, low lighting, fish and perhaps other creatures rippling the waters. Pat saw a dead rat the other day so has been wondering about other places where they may be…perry much everywhere no doubt. There’s a bar down there in those dank shadowy depths, but we chose to return to the warmth and sunlight at street level.

After lunch we went to our neighbourhood Hamam. We’d checked out a few and this one appealed. It’s historic – been in use since 1777. Not one of the oldest by a long stretch. It is local to where we live – so “legitimate” if you like. It has a women as only time and doesn’t have hanky panky advertised. Say what? Clearly – from our research – some Hamams are covers for various forms of prostitution. We didn’t want to support such a place.

So our Hamam experience went like this:

Upon entry we were shown to our changing room. Changing isn’t really what happens – one simply takes off all one’s clothes. A smallish cotton towel is provided. Once modestly wrapped we were shown into a warm domed room. In the centre of this space is a raised marble slab on which we lay down. People have been doing exactly this in this place for 240 years. Amazing. It was warm enough for us to begin to sweat. After a while we went one at a time into another room. This was smaller and also marble. Here was a marble bench upon which we lay – totally naked. Our washer – also naked – (yup that was a surprise) dumped warm water on us and set about scrubbing us as if we were filthy old pots. And filthy we were. More water was dumped on us to rinse away a rather alarming amount of dead skin. Then back on the marble slab we were lathered up with masses of lemon scented bubbles. Rubbed and rinsed we were finally declared clean. This nakedness of ourselves and our washer felt a bit odd at first but after a few moments it seemed quite natural and comfortable. I guess it saves on laundry as she got quite wet in the process of getting is clean. Next came dry robes then apple tea. This was followed by a vigorous oil massage in yet another room. The massage woman kept her clothes on. We had oil rubbed everywhere! Our skin is so soft and smooth now – I’m pretty sure our pores are all functioning optimally. I can understand the attraction of Hamam bathing practices – it sure beats the mundane practice of hopping in the shower!

Once back in our clothes we set off on our usual evening pursuit of finding a bottle of wine and some take-out food. We are trying to mitigate the exorbitant cost of eating out by eating in!  And so here we are, culturally enlightened, clean, fed and sipping on nice heavily taxed Turkish wine.

First picture is in the Hamam. Second is in the cistern. Yes, Medusa’s head is upside down. Some Roman’s idea of a joke I guess. Last two are of  AyaSofya. See the Islamic discs and the Christian mosaic.